The road to learning clean eating habits can be a long one. For most of you, overhauling your diet doesn’t happen overnight. It starts slowly – first you swap your soda habit for sparkling water, next you cut back on your cheese addiction, and then one day you wake up and find yourself noshing on a kale salad and sipping a kombucha like a true-blue health nut.
First, let’s all just give ourselves a pat on the back for the willingness we have to make better choices than we did yesterday – or 10 years ago. Eating clean is an evolution, as science and research continue to give us more insight into how we should best nourish our bodies for optimal health and wellness.
But if I know one thing for sure, I know this: Many of you are still incredibly confused about what to eat. And it’s not your fault.
One day you’re told that eggs clog your arteries, and the next you’re advised to eat them. You hear that sugar causes cancer, but artificial sweeteners are a no-no, too. A friend says she lost 10 pounds going vegan, but another friend says the same thing about her paleo diet.
What are you supposed to believe?
In my opinion, clean eating involves getting back to the basics, but that doesn’t mean it’s simple, per se. You may think you’re on track, but some nutritional choices that seem healthy may be doing more harm than good.
In addition to eating your veggies and sipping your smoothies, avoid these top five mistakes that could be sabotaging your efforts to eat clean:
1. You think whole grains = good.
There’s a lot of dialogue happening on the topic of grains these days, but my philosophy is fairly simple: I tell my patients to eliminate or significantly reduce gluten consumption. Whole grains get a lot of good press, and while they’re better than processed “white” breads or grain products, gluten (which is found in wheat, spelt, kamut, rye and barley products) is one of the top “offender” foods that probably isn’t doing your body any good.
There is a growing body of scientific research to back up this idea – I recommend reading “Wheat Belly: Lose the Wheat, Lose the Weight, and Find Your Path Back to Health” or “Grain Brain: The Surprising Truth About Wheat, Carbs, and Sugar – Your Brain’s Silent Killers” if you want to delve deeper – but suffice to say that whole grains are still grains. In my practice, I’ve seen that when patients eliminate gluten, many different health issues show significant improvements.
2. You swap sugar for artificial sweeteners.
I hate to break it to you, but there’s just no getting around the sugar situation – the healthiest thing to do is simply reduce your intake. Swapping sugar for artificial sweeteners can actually increase sugar cravings. Research published in Trends in Endocrinology and Metabolism last year found that artificial sweeteners interfere with hunger and satiety cues. Why? You taste something sweet but reap no caloric benefit from it, confusing your body’s feedback system that lets you know when you’re full.
3. You “compensate” for bad diet days.
Do you ever decide to drastically restrict your calorie intake or even fast after a day of dietary indulgence?
“Compensatory” behaviors may seem like a logical thing to do, but eating regularly is one of the tenets of true clean eating – it helps stabilize your blood sugar, your hormones and your mood, and it allows you the opportunity to practice the art of nourishing yourself, even on days you’d rather adopt a punishment mentality.
4. You overload on fruit.
I’m not saying that fruit is bad. It’s not. Fruits are packed with good-for-you nutrients that nature intended for our bodies. But clean eating doesn’t mean you can consume unlimited amounts of fruit and still be healthy. Higher-glycemic fruits, like bananas or grapes, can raise your blood sugar quickly, leading to that vicious cycle where you crash, burn and end up with sugar or carbohydrate cravings. While they’re of the natural variety, the sugars in fruit can still create blood glucose spikes, and therefore they shouldn’t be a “free” food on your diet plan. Lower-glycemic fruits, like berries or apples, are a smarter choice if you want to prevent blood sugar highs and lows.
5. You avoid fat like the plague.
Again – it’s not inherently bad to read labels and track things like fat, calories or carbs. But clean eating is less about how much you’re consuming and more about whether or not you’re getting a good balance of the main macronutrients: protein, fat and carbohydrates.
Healthy fats, like those found in avocados or nuts, are essential for overall health. Carbs, too, aren’t the devil – as long as you’re not going overboard. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that all calories are created equal or that eliminating all fat from your diet is the key to weight loss or health. Just focus on fueling your body with the right foods (in healthy portion sizes), and you’ll become a clean eating pro.
Lastly, don’t beat yourself up if you’re not entirely “there” yet with your eating habits. Change that lasts is change you can sustain, so start small and do what you can to clean up your diet.
If you avoid these five mistakes, you’ll be well on your way to better habits, better health and who knows – maybe even a slimmer waistline.