When I began lifting weights, I started hearing a whole lot of talk about “clean eating.” If you’re not familiar with what that is, it’s basically eating foods that are whole and unprocessed, like fruits and vegetables, proteins, nuts and seeds, etc. It can definitely be a healthy approach to eating for those who need a little help getting their nutrition on track.
I will always agree that whole, unprocessed foods should definitely be emphasized in a healthy diet. However, I will always be an advocate for keeping things balanced as well. I think especially for those of us who may have struggled with disordered eating in the past, it’s important to not make any foods “off-limits.” Doing that will only make you crave those foods more. Also, if you’re going to get really technical about things, even things like yogurt aren’t considered exactly “clean”–so if you were to try to follow a “perfect” clean diet, you would probably be cutting out some pretty healthy foods as well.
All the talk about clean eating can be confusing. When I first began hearing about it, I was under the impression that the only way I could have a lean, fit body was if I completely stopped eating anything that wasn’t on “the list” of clean foods. I felt guilty if I ate a couple Hot Tamales, or even if I had a few bites of white rice with my stir fry.
But then, I started learning how nutrition and your body really work: Even though clean eating is great because it helps you make sure you’re getting all the vitamins, minerals, healthy fats, protein, fiber, and other good stuff you need, what it will always come down to in terms of weight control is the amount of energy you’re taking in (calories) versus what you’re putting out (how much you’re exercising).
Technically, I could eat nothing but Hot Tamales and marshmallow Peeps all day long and not put on any weight, as long as I was eating the right amount. But I would also probably feel cranky and too tired to exercise. And even if I did work out, my body wouldn’t have the nutrients it needed to build muscle. So even though my weight might stay the same, I would be in pretty poor shape!
The key here is balance. The only way to keep your body in the best and healthiest shape for you will always be to listen and respond to your natural appetite. As long as you’re eating healthily, and keeping a healthy mindset without depriving yourself, you will probably crave things like apples and asparagus just as much as (or more than!) you crave potato chips or brownies.
Please note that if you are recovering from disordered eating in any form, it will probably take awhile for your natural appetite to return, and for you to learn how to respond to it. So before that can happen, you must talk to an experienced dietitian who will help you set up a proper meal plan. You will need to follow that meal plan until you start learning to eat intuitively again (there is also a fair amount of information related to that in my book, which will be published this spring). Even if you’re having trouble with restricting food, or bingeing at times, this will go away once you start giving your body and mind the nutrition they need. That whole “crazy hungry” feeling is simply your body’s response to starvation, and your mind’s response to deprivation.
Above all, remember to just stay balanced–both with what you’re eating and how much you’re working out. I’m a firm believer that everyone’s body has a “set point” weight where you will feel your healthiest and happiest. Your body will get there once you finally learn that balance–both physically and emotionally. You just have to trust it!
Love, Hope, & Prayers,