Every day it seems like there’s a new fad diet or “lifestyle” centered around elimination: gluten-free, dairy-free, sugar-free, vegetarian, MSG-free (for real though, get that sh*t out of here), it goes on.
The newest concept on the list? Clean eating. With practically every food Instagram and celebrity singing its praises, I figured it was time to gingerly hop on the unbleached, sustainable wooden bandwagon and give it my best shot.
What exactly is clean eating?
Clean Eating magazine would be quick to point out that, “clean eating is not a diet, it’s a happy and healthy lifestyle.” I’m pretty sure anything that dictates and restricts your food choices isn’t a happy lifestyle, but hey that’s just my opinion.
When I tried to find a concrete set of guidelines for the next two weeks, Google turned up with about six gazillion different definitions for clean eating. Essentially, it means eating foods that are as unprocessed, natural, and containing as few additives (yes, that’s you, sugar) as possible. The specificities, however, varied greatly. So for clarity’s sake, I made my own guidelines.
#SpoonTip: Typically, clean eating includes eliminating alcohol. Since I was trying to determine the college experience of clean eating, I didn’t abide by that rule. I did, however, make sure to cut out processed, sugary mixers and artificially flavored liquor.
What is the point?
There are countless reasons to adopt a new diet or “food lifestyle” (blech), but here are mine:
- Eat healthier
- Feel better (not totally sure what that means, but we’ll take it as it comes)
- Lose weight (this is a secondary one, but I gotta admit I’m feeling a little down from my Freshman 15)
It was definitely a trial-and-error for the first few days as my body crashed into this new food adventure. The first day, I almost fell asleep during my afternoon sociology exam, only to realize that I hadn’t eaten any protein all day. I was able to improve my concentration and energy when I started making protein a major focus in my meals and snacks.
And you know that myth about sugar withdrawals? Yup, not a myth. I had splitting headaches on and off for the first couple days, and fruit was the only way to make them stop.
There was also the issue of volume versus density. I was eating a lot more in terms of quantity of veggies and fruits on my plate, but I wasn’t used to feeling so…empty after my meals.
And the dining halls weren’t exactly helping. Not only were there very limited clean options, there seemed to be a never-ending parade of delicious “unclean” foods. How many times can a girl eat some dull combination of salad bar toppings while drooling at unlimited soft serve and Oreo cheesecake?
However, after the rocky start of my first couple of days, and after two full weeks of Insta-stalking, writing in food diaries, and staring longingly at the dessert section in the dining halls, I have to admit that I can see the appeal of clean eating.
I no longer needed a jolt of caffeine to get up in the mornings, or to make it through classes. I wasn’t bloated or tired after meals, and I found it easier to concentrate, in both my classes and my workouts.
I was feeling better – and it showed. In two weeks, I had lost about four pounds, while still maintaining my muscle mass and not over-restricting my calorie count. I went to celebrate in Miami for the weekend, brimming with self-confidence and clean, unprocessed thoughts.
What I Learned
I figured out a couple of key things from my foray into the mess of fad dieting and clean lifestyles. Primarily, I learned that no matter how nicely you phrase or photograph a diet or lifestyle based on deprivation, it doesn’t really change the fact that the deprivation is still a major part of your eating habits.
No matter how many pounds I lost or bowls of unprocessed salad I ate, I still was going to crave the J.P. Lick’s ice cream; even when I concentrated better or looked “skinnier,” a part of me wasn’t going to be totally happy. This is the nature of deprivation.
I also missed the part of food that goes beyond the ingredient label sleuthing. Food is a wonderfully social, community-based aspect of our lives – from group outings to drunk pizza orders at 2 am – and I felt I wasn’t able to truly enjoy it. And I doubt my friends enjoyed it either when I called over the waiter to clarify that I wanted no added sugar in my margarita at our group night out.
So while I really liked feeling better about myself and my food choices, I think that there’s a way to still eat healthy without restricting yourself and your experience. And I guess it’s on me to figure out the best of both worlds. Stay tuned!