|Steel cut oats with strawberries, pecans and cinnamon from BreadCo|
Okay, moving on... so as I've just finished the 8 weeks, I thought I'd offer a retrospective of what I've learned, what worked for me, what was difficult for me... and to be honest, this is mostly for my benefit... so I can look back and remember what worked and what didn't if I struggle in the future. I am still nowhere NEAR an expert on clean eating, but I feel I'm certainly an expert on what has worked for ME in the last 8 weeks.
First of all, the difficulties... There were some times that were more difficult than others. The most difficult times:
- The first two weeks of eating clean... period. My body craving unhealthy things like mad, I didn't know which ingredients to have on-hand to help with cravings, and 8 weeks felt like forever away.
- Grocery shopping while hungry... this is something I've always tried to stay away from, but it seems even more difficult while eating clean. I could smell the bakery from all the way across the store, it seemed like! But if I was full while shopping, it wasn't nearly the temptation as it was when I was hungry!
- My hormonal time of month... enough said!
- When I was caught off-guard with tempting "treats." If I knew ahead of time I was going to a party with lots of unhealthy foods, I would fill up with clean foods before I went... it was those times when I wasn't expecting to see "yummies" that were more difficult for me.
- If I wasn't fully stocked on healthy snack foods, I was more tempted to eat unhealthily.
- If one of my "trigger foods" that I love were staring me right in the face. For example, when my kids are finished eating Goldfish (which I LOVE), I put them right back in the pantry rather than leaving them out on the kitchen table for a while. Too tempting!
- Road trips! Oh my goodness... I had no idea how much I "let loose" on road trips. I packed a TON of seeds, nuts, fruit and raw veggies for the trip, but I still wanted Twizzlers and Fritos (my road trips snacks, apparently).
For me, the key to dealing with the difficulties is knowing when/what my triggers are, and trying my best to plan for them.
|Steak Bites from Pioneer Woman and roasted green beans|
So, then, if there were such difficult times, why do clean eating at all? First of all, I have had issues with food for the last 3 years or so. I know that dairy is a trigger food for me (makes me ill), but I still frequently feel awful after eating. So, I wanted to cut out all the "bad" foods to see how I felt... if I felt any different, if I felt better... I tried eating paleo last year (no grains at all... only meat, beans, nuts, eggs and seeds), but that was also too harsh for my body. My gall bladder went CRAZY... and I think it's mostly the nuts. So even now, I have to limit my nut consumption. So I wanted to see if I felt better. Secondly, I wanted to see if I lost any weight (I tried not to make that be my foremost reason... but it was honestly one of the reasons). I have worked out regularly for the last year and a half, and while my body has changed a lot for the better, I haven't lost a pound. So I thought that my nutrition was the next logical way to take control of my body.
So, what did I eat?
- Meats - We just bought a 1/4 cow, organic, grass-fed, etc. So, I do a lot of beef. Chicken. Turkey. Fish. Some pork.
- Eggs - Again, my body doesn't always handle whole eggs well, so I normally have scrambled egg whites. I buy farm fresh eggs from my niece who raises them. I do occasionally eat whole-egg omelets, but maybe only once a week.
- Nuts - see above. I don't eat a ton of them, but I will occasionally have them in something else I'm eating (for example, when I make my Coconut Curry Chicken, sometimes I'll put a few cashews on top). I also discovered a natural "protein bar," called Larabar. It is made of ONLY nuts and fruit. My favorite is the cashew cookie, which is made of only cashews and dates. It's a good snack when I need to take something on-the-go.
- Seeds - I stick mostly with sunflower seeds. I put them on my salads a lot. I also eat natural sunflower butter. It does contain a little sugar, but I can't eat natural nut butter, so this is what I eat with apples a LOT. I also put chia seeds in my oatmeal every morning, and they are also in my vegan protein powder.
- Clean eating allows for natural grains, such as oats, potatoes (some clean eaters don't eat white potatoes, but I did on a limited basis), sweet potatoes, brown rice and whole wheat (although I didn't have any whole wheat during my 8 weeks, because I keep reading about GMOs and how wheat is actually a genetically modified grain... so I decided to cut it out as well).
- Oils - I only use olive oil or coconut oil. I also use avocados for another healthy fat option.
- Dairy - again, I can't handle dairy. So I use a lot of coconut milk. I did buy the bigger containers of coconut milk until my friend pointed out to me that the bigger containers of a LOT of "healthy" foods and drinks contain Carrageenan (I linked to one article about it if you click on the name). As I'm working really hard to stay away from the bad stuff, I think it's important for me to stay away from this as well. So I buy the cans of Light Coconut Milk (found in the Asian food aisles typically). These are more expensive than the large containers, but they have much more natural ingredients (the full-fat coconut milk and the light have the same ingredients... my understanding is that the full-fat milk just contains more coconut cream than the light version). I use coconut milk in my smoothies, heated up in my coffee (for a treat), and in place of milk in recipes (I even used it for mashed potatoes, and my kids loved it!). Almond milk (unsweetened) is another great alternative for dairy, but again... my issues with nuts have kept me away from that. I keep hearing more and more about soy being genetically modified, so I've stayed MOSTLY away from soy products in this 8 weeks as well.
- Beans - I use tons of black beans in my meals... I use chickpeas (the main ingredient in hummus... yum!). Fresh green beans roasted are a favorite in my house.
- Seasonings - I use lots of seasonings to make things more interesting. I do use a little salt sometimes, either kosher or celtic sea salt.
- Fruits - of course!
- Vegetables - again, of course!
- Honey - in moderation, this is the only sweetener I've used.
|A smoothie, before and after being blended.|
Tricks that have helped me:
- I cook a lot of meat at once (sometimes in the crockpot... sometimes on the stove), then use the leftovers until they're gone. I use the leftovers for omelets, and for Mexican bowls (I put baby spinach, my meat, some brown rice, black beans, avocado, and a little salsa on top in one big bowl), which I frequently eat for lunch.
- I order a product basket from a local co-op once every two weeks. That helps ensure that I have produce always available.
- I made smoothies, and drink half immediately and save the other half for later. (a typical smoothie has spinach, carrots, kale, apples, frozen mixed berries, sometimes protein powder, sometimes almonds, coconut milk and/or coconut water) A quick story of something that DIDN'T work for me: I read about using raw eggs (as long as they were organic, farm-fresh ones) in your smoothie. I finally tried it last night and felt so disgusting the rest of the evening (could have been all in my head, but I did feel bad!) that I'll not try that again. Don kept calling me Rocky all night.
- I eat a HUGE breakfast. This keeps me from overeating the rest of the day. I have oatmeal (I use old-fashioned... 1/2 cup of oats, cooked in 1 cup of water... 2:45 in my microwave), then add frozen berries, chia seeds and a touch of honey. I also have 3 scrambled egg whites. And black coffee, of course (I did NOT cut out my coffee).
- When I really crave something sweet at night (which is when I typically crave sweets), I fix a cup of decaf tea and add a touch of honey. It's enough to make me feel better.
- I've been shopping in the gluten-free section of the grocery store for some things. I found brown-rice pasta there that only contains ground brown rice and flax seed. It was decent tasting, and fulfilled my craving for pasta. I also found gluten-free crackers (haven't tried them yet... they might be disgusting) for those times I want a crunch.
|Homemade sweet potato "chips" - sliced thinly then roasted with olive oil in the oven.|
- I try not to do a lot of it anymore, but I have found some things that work for me. At our FAVORITE Mexican restaurant (which we eat at every Sunday almost), my favorite waitress helped me come up with my meal. First of all, I put my giant glass of water directly in front of the chips so I don't accidentally mindlessly grab them. Then I order grilled tilapia with guacamole, pico de gallo, and beans w/out cheese, and a side of green salsa. It is DELICIOUS!
- My other favorite kind of food is Thai food. And thai recipes typically use coconut milk instead of dairy milk in a lot of their dishes. So as long as I order brown rice with my meal, I usually can order green curry or red curry and it is "clean." YUM!
- At everywhere else, I stick with plain meats and steamed veggies or else a salad with no cheese or croutons with oil/vinegar on top.
|An egg white omelet with spinach, mushrooms and chipotle pork|
So was it worth it?
- For me, YES! I can't even tell you how much better my body feels now. I was so used to being bloated a majority of the time that I can't believe how little I am bloated now! I also rarely have the gastro-intestinal issues I did before after almost every meal. So that's HUGE (no bloating pun intended).
- I lost 8.6 pounds in 8 weeks. Again, awesome! :)
- I feel like my entire family is eating healthier, so that's a big deal as well. While I don't always make my kids eat what I'm eating (they HATE spicy foods), I am cooking much more frequently which means they are eating what I've cooked way more than they did before.
|Spring mix salad with leftover turkey, grape tomatoes, avocados and lemon juice|
- Now I keep eating this way. It's become a habit at this point (which is great), AND I feel like it would be foolish NOT to eat this way when I feel so much better doing so.
- But, I'll have a cheat meal once a week now. My next step is figuring out how to balance this new lifestyle into my forever reality... because I do intend for this to be my new reality. But that doesn't mean I won't ever eat another chocolate chip cookie... or whatever that "thing" is. Like today, I'm planning on having 2 pieces of dark chocolate, which is what I've been craving. Then I'm eating clean again the rest of the week until Easter dinner. That'll be my one cheat meal for that week. And on and on and on.
So, that's it. My 8 week story. I'm still looking for new ideas, new recipes, new encouragement. ;)