What Does Eating Clean Really Mean?

TomatoesI often mention how I’m eating clean or how I lose weight by eating clean, whole foods, but do you wonder what eating clean is really all about?

I started using this term about 3 years ago in 2005 in the 6WBMO weight loss forums. I came up with it as a way to say that I’m only eating clean, whole foods that are a part of the 6-Week Body Makeover, which is similar to saying that you’re POP (perfect on plan for the 6WBMO).

As you might already know, I do have a problem with refined sugar and flour and when I eat these substances I end up wanting more (one isn’t enough) and they set up continuous cycles of cravings in me. It’s no wonder since refined sugar creates the same reaction in the brain as opiates (i.e.: morphine, heroin) do, however that’s another topic.

UPDATE 2013: Note the date on this post (4/2008), five years ago. The truth I know and coach my clients to today is the fact that 90% of your challenge in achieving struggle-free permanent weight loss is your mindset. Once you get a weight loss mindset then there is no more struggle to eat clean. My clients do not think of themselves as sugar addicts and neither do I.

A weight loss mindset makes the 10% (clean eating and exercise) easy for you to DO! Grab my Free 5-day E-course to learn more.

So I started saying that I was eating clean to mean that I was sticking to whole foods sans the sugar, added sodium, chemicals, and unhealthy fats, even dairy.

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Specifically, my definition of eating clean is that I’m eating:

  • Lean proteins (chicken or turkey breast, fish, egg whites … )
  • Fresh fruits that aren’t high in sugar (berries, grapefruit, bananas, apples, pears … )
  • Whole carbs (brown rice, regular [not quick oats] oatmeal, steel cut oats, sweet potatoes … )
  • Vegetables (green beans, broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, tomatoes, mushrooms … )

I also drink clean:

  • Clean water (just plain water, although I do use a reverse osmosis treatment unit)
  • Black tea (nothing added)
  • Herbal tea

I could add fresh lemon or lime to my water if I wanted to, and this would still count towards the 100oz of water that I drink each day per the 6WBMO. I was also on a coffee kick for awhile with either the flavored coffee beans or using some Splenda to sweeten it. I haven’t had coffee for over a year though, but I really like my tea!

So, this is what I mean when I say that I’m eating clean. I’m off of the refined sugar, flour, added sodium, unhealthy fats, dairy, and I’m sticking to food that is unprocessed and doesn’t contain the added gunk. Now after I get to my goal weight I’ll add in some other items while monitoring my weight, fruits like grapes and oranges, which are high in natural sugar. I’ll see how it goes by adding in Larabars too, which are also high in natural sugar. I’ll eat those with a protein though, not alone.

As far as the refined sugar and gunk goes, does this mean that if you’re eating clean that you never get to eat anything with refined sugar or flour in it, ever again? If you are a true sugar addict the answer is yes, just like an alcoholic doesn’t drink again, but one day at a time remains sober.

For myself, I am staying in the present moment, and in this present moment while I write this, I know that the best thing for me is to keep eating clean and avoid the refined sugar and flour. It just isn’t worth it to get back into the cravings, but that’s what works for me. If you are able to eat a little of this and a little of that without binging or feeling cravings for more, then you’ve got a good thing going.

Now this is my own definition of eating clean and as far as I know there isn’t an official definition for it, but if there were I would think it would be in the body building community. I have noticed though, that over the past 6 months or so there are more people talking about eating clean and I wonder if this is because of the popularity of Tosca Reno’s book, The Eat Clean Diet.

Whether that’s the reason or not, there are many other folks who are working on their health and fitness and talking about eating clean. In fact Zandria wrote about eating clean today and shared how she really doesn’t even want the sweet stuff anymore; it simply doesn’t appeal to her.

What about you? Are you eating clean and feelin’ fine? If you used to eat a lot of processed and/or junk food, what are the differences that you notice in your level of energy (or other areas) now that you’re eating clean?

Let's Connect!

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  • http://www.andrewisgettingfit.com Andrew is getting fit

    I’ve been eating (predominantly) clean for about a year now and I feel better than ever.

    Processed food makes me feel logey.

    Andrew is getting fit’s last blog post..Couch Potato to Runner

  • Wise Diva

    I really like your writing style, you manage to make it sound So doable! Could you share a couple of stores that you frequent? I usually hit my local farmers market, and Whole Foods isn’t far from me. What’s your primary/favorite source for fresh, unprocessed food purchases?

  • http://www.fearlessfatloss.com JoLynn Braley

    Hi Andrew, congratulations on your clean eating, I’m so glad that you’re reaping the benefits.

    You made me laugh when you said you feel logey when you get off plan. :)

  • http://www.fearlessfatloss.com JoLynn Braley

    Hi Diva,

    Thank you so much, you’ve made my day with your kind words. :)

    You’ll probably be surprised but I do most of my shopping at Costco. They have a large section of fresh fruits and veggies, and their fresh (not frozen) chicken breasts don’t contain any added sodium or hormones.

    I have some more tips and I think this is a great question to turn into a post, so I’m going to do that, should be up next week (other posts planned already for the rest of this week). Thanks for the excellent question! :)

  • http://befitandstrong.com Curtis Penner

    Hi JoLynn,

    I usually eat “clean” six days a week and relax on the seventh day…eating whatever I want.

    But this past weekend, after eating junk all Sunday, I woke up on Monday feeling absolutely out of sorts – depressed even.

    I’m rethinking my “free” day. Like you, I am sensitive to refined sugar. My free day has been helpful in keeping my junk food consumption down, but for some reason, I seem to be getting more sensitive to it.

    Curtis Penner’s last blog post..Lower Back Exercises: The “Bird-Dog”

  • http://www.fearlessfatloss.com JoLynn Braley

    Hi Curtis,

    I’ve found exactly the same thing – the longer that I’ve been eating clean, the more sensitive I’ve become to not only the refined sugar & flour (which isn’t good for me anyway since it strikes up my addictive cravings), but also to dairy. Now if I eat dairy I start coughing soon after, it really messes with me. Same thing with the added sodium – it hurts my body.

    And with the depressed feeling you felt, you are spot on! The junk food might feel good at first but it quickly does a turn on ya and whips back around with a vengeance. That’s why you then want more of it to feel better – quite a cycle of ups and downs that you don’t get when you’re eating clean.

    You’ve given a great example here of how the body loves to be fed clean fuel and gets used to it, and then when you put the low grade fuel back in the tank the engine starts knocking and sputtering. 😉

  • http://www.losethattyre.co.uk Mark

    Hi JoLynn not been here for a bit see you have a new look looks cool, btw I watched fast food nation quite a eye opener to say the least.

    Sorry to hi jack this comment thread hope you don’t mind at least its not a nice post comment eh :)

    Mark’s last blog post..Test

  • http://10stepstoweightloss.com/blog Alexa Cooper

    I got to agree that eating clean is so much better. Thanks JoLynn for pointing out what eating clean really means to you. I think we have all been so used to sugar and white flour that we can not imagine living without it at first. However, once I got off of it I don’t even want it anymore. In fact, I have two birthday parties coming up and I am already wondering how I’ll manage to get around all the cake and coffee.

    Alexa Cooper’s last blog post..4 Tips For Keeping a Food Journal The Easy Way

  • http://www.mizfitOnline.com MizFit

    (me again. with my clean-rambles :))

    I do but I also find that I fall off the wagon frequently.
    it’s by CHOICE (Im gonna have these sprees at the movies!) but its also because I forget until I do it AGAIN what an ugly spiral it is for me and how CRAPPY I feel the next day….

    it IS as you say…akin to alcohol (and what is wine? SUGAR!) and a one day at a time thing.

    MizFit’s last blog post..Viewer Mail.

  • http://filme.hitmeister.de/ filme

    Curtis, i totally agree, i feel the same after eating junk, i feel down and horrible in my guts, best to save the processed foods for the students!

  • http://www.amdsupport.ca/ Barry Wheeler

    My wife and I made concious efforts to “eat clean” and have dumped refined sugars, and began eating more organically grown vegetabls. Our consumption of fish increased as well, given that we live on the ocean, it was an easy choice for us to make in that regard.

    I do find that I miss the sugar though, and it’s been several years!

  • http://www.fearlessfatloss.com JoLynn Braley

    Hi Alexa, np, I wanted to let everyone know what I was talking about, especially since I have the term “eating clean” in my blog’s header! :)

    You are so right, that it’s hard for many folks to imagine getting off the refined sugar and flour, however once you actually do it, you can see what you were missing – increased energy, clarity of mind, freedom from food obsession, and the drop of the cravings. Sounds like a good deal to me. 😉

  • http://www.fearlessfatloss.com JoLynn Braley

    @Mark, hi to you, too, glad you stopped by!

    @Miz, I know what you mean about falling off the wagon and how you forget what it feels like – I’ve done exactly the same thing before. ….and exactly, alcohol is just liquid sugar.

    @filme, thanks for sharing your experience with the junk food, the wonderful comments here are showing that the human body doesn’t like the processed junk! 😉

    @Barry, you must get a good price on fish then, that sounds great to me!

    I still have times of missing the sugar, too, but I hope that over time that will decrease. My goal is to incorporate healthy living into my mind, body, and soul so that it’s a natural choice, something that I don’t even need to think about but just do.

  • http://zandria.us/ Zandria

    Thanks for the shout-out, JoLynn! :)

    Zandria’s last blog post..Who Wants a Free Bike?

  • http://www.fearlessfatloss.com JoLynn Braley

    Hi Zandria, sure, np, thanks for writing your great post! :)

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  • http://peggyeats.blogspot.com peggy

    hey jolynn – i love your site, first off. i’m a (recovering) food addict who’s struggled with everything from binge eating to anorexic tendencies and bulimia for about 14 years now. i’ve recently found a support group in food addicts in recovery that i really like (for the most part), especially their ideas about eating clean. but i have some hesitations, and was just wondering what your thoughts might be on alcohol. personally, i’ve never had any sort of addiction to alcohol and although i recognize it’s similarity to sugar, i don’t know if i want to completely cut it out of my life. what do you think?

    also, what sort of affect does blackstrap molasses have on the body (as opposed to other sugars and sweeteners)? would you recommend completely cutting it out if i’m not eating flour and sugar?

    thanks for being out there…it is so amazing to finally tear myself away from the isolation that food addiction can cause!


    peggy’s last blog post..turning over a new leaf…

  • http://www.fearlessfatloss.com JoLynn Braley

    Hi Peggy,

    Great question about alcohol – if we were only talking about weight loss I’d say avoid it because it brings your metabolism almost to a full stop. But, when we talk about food addiction, I think it’s even more critical to avoid it.

    Alcohol is just liquid sugar – I’m like you, that I’ve never been addicted to alcohol, but it does effectively lower your inhibitions, which easily leads to eating more refined sugar and flour which then leads to getting back into the cycle of the cravings and food addiction.

    The alcohol also activates the sugar cravings cylce, since it is highly concentrated sugar.

    On the blackstrap molasses, that’s also sugar. The best thing I can suggest for sweets is fresh fruit, but even then be sure to eat lean protein first – and some fruits are high in natural sugar and could trigger sugar cravings (like grapes, oranges), so you’d need to monitor yourself.

    I’m really glad to hear from you Peggy, I hope this helps, and remember that you’re definitely not alone in this! :)

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  • Sarah

    I have been eating clean to lose weight. In the beginning it is a lot of work to plan and prepare, but now no big deal. I have heard that 1 or 2 cheat days during the week are good because they boost your metabolism, but do they make your fat cells come back larger?

  • http://www.fearlessfatloss.com JoLynn Braley

    Hi Sarah,

    I’m with ya on how in the beginning it’s a lot of work but you just get into a routine, learn to cook, and then it’s no big deal – so true!

    Re: the “cheat days”, I don’t recommend that. Why? Because 99% of the time that involves eating processed food full of refined sugar and other gunk. So, that means that you’ve been clean, off of that stuff and eating only whole foods and when you introduce it back into your system now you’ve gotta start the detox all over again.

    I don’t see any need to boost your metabolism anyway, unless you’re already doing everything right and haven’t lost weight or inches for a week. If that’s the case all you need to do is increase your protein and whole carbs proportionately for a few days and that will help your system kick start. After that go back to eating your normal portions.

    Your metabolism also burns high from eating those smaller portions of whole foods every 2.5 to 3 hours, this is how I eat per the 6-week body makeover.

    Ok, so on your question re: fat cells – it doesn’t matter about their size, you either gain fat or not. I’m not a doctor but from what I’ve learned they don’t change size per se but they “lose their fat” when you lose fat through weight loss. They never go away.

    Let me know if you have any other questions about that – as you can see I’m more concerned about how those “cheat days” will affect your system and cycle of cravings and/or food addiction than I am with your fat cells. 😀

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