summer peppers textIf you Google “clean eating”, it returns over 100 million responses. A popular term, no doubt. And why not? Don’t we all want to eat clean? Because if we’re not eating clean, are we eating dirty?

Clean eating is a not just a trend. It’s a way of life for people who want to be conscious and deliberate about the way they eat.

It goes by many names, making it hard to keep track of what eating “clean” actually means. I’ve seen a laundry list of diets that are categorized under the term “clean eating”, everything from Vegetarian and Vegan to Dairy-free, Gluten-free and Paleo.

And it’s for that reason that the term “clean eating” has become so popular. It’s broad, inclusive, and somewhat ambiguous, making it easy for people to adapt the term to suit their needs.

My favorite definition comes from HuffPost Healthy Living. They describe clean eating as the consumption of “whole foods — that is, foods as close to their natural state as you can get them. This means eating fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains and lean proteins instead of pre-packaged, processed foods or fast food.”

Clean eating has become a way of life for me. And through trial and error with my own diet, I’ve found 3 simple rules that I can stick to that allow me to eat a clean diet:

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1. Don’t make anything off limits

It might seem counter-intuitive, but the more rules and regulations I put on my diet, the less likely I am to stick to it. As soon as I tell myself that I can’t eat a certain type of food, I begin to obsess about it. What works for me is variety. No foods are ever restricted, no foods are demonized. I may find certain foods, such as processed junk, unappealing, and eat them rarely, but nothing is off limits. Just make a plan to eat cleaner foods, and don’t stress if you fall off the wagon, life’s to be enjoyed, including the occasional peanut butter cup!

2. Quality, quality, quality

Clean eating to me means a focus on high quality foods. If I’m going to eat a small amount of dairy in some cases, it’s going to be organic, or in the case of cheese, I’ve bought it at a local cheese store or high quality grocer.  Meats are bought from the butcher, where I’m aware of their sourcing, not the chain grocery store around the corner. Quality is key. The higher the quality, the more respect you’ll have for the food that you’re eating, and (an important discovery for me) the less likely you’re going to binge on it.

3. Incorporate more plant-based foods

Hooray for vegetables. Despite the broad umbrella of “clean eating” – whether we’re talking about Gluten Free, Paleo, Dairy Free or Vegan, vegetables are likely to be on the menu. But don’t roll your eyes at plant-based foods. I’m discovering a whole world out there where vegetables play a starring role in my food, and it’s bringing vivid colors, textures, and flavors to my dishes like never before.

Some quick background: In March of this year, I did a juice cleanse – a vegan, raw, 5-day cleanse by Organic Avenue. I loved the unique combination of flavors. My favorite green juice paired Orange, Pear, Lemon, Mint and Cucumber with a host of dark, leafy greens. A bright and spicy red juice combined Carrot, Pear, Beet, Ginger, Pineapple, Lemon, Orange. My cleanse taught me that fruit and vegetables can be as satisfying, even as the starring players in a meal.

Shortly after my cleanse, I began to explore the world of Vegetarianism and Veganism. Although I could never give up my cheese, bacon, and grass fed beef, I’m now realizing that I actually enjoy filling my plate with a bigger helping of plant-based foods.

Over the summer, I ate plenty of raw salads made from organic, farmers’ market vegetables, and rather than feeling constrained, I found myself starting to have strong cravings for these foods. And the best part is that I’m not searching out these foods because I want to lose weight, or because they’re what I should be eating. There is no guilt, no feelings of sacrifice.

I’m eating them because eating “clean” with a bigger range of plant-based foods is giving me the opportunity to be truly creative with my cooking. It’s like a veil has been lifted and I’m finally seeing the opportunity to create my dishes in Technicolor. The neon beets, the green and white-streaked melons. We eat first with our eyes, and there’s no better way to prime our appetites than a beautiful, colorful meal.

It’s an approach to eating that I feel comfortable supporting. It’s better for the planet, better for my body. And the results are potentially even better tasting than the foods I’ve typically cooked in the past.

To summarize, these aren’t complicated rules – I’ve called them “simple” for a reason. And the results speak for themselves. With my renewed focus on clean eating, I’m noticing that I’m slimmer, with vastly reduced bloating, and I have far more before.  Cliche, but it’s true. My hope is that you, too, will be inspired to be creative in the kitchen, to combine ingredients in new and unusual ways, and to adopt the mindset that clean eating and delicious eating can be synonymous.

Lastly, be sure to check out the Instagrammies page for quick snapshots of the healthy foods that I’ve been cooking up in my kitchen these days. Happy cooking everyone.

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