Clean Eating 101

Clean Eating 101 - How to Eat Clean and Healthy

I use the term “clean eating” a lot.

An argument could even be made that I overuse it.

But that’s because it is the single most important thing you can do if you want to get fit and healthy!

There is a good reason that the second Law of the Jerd-Herd is “We Eat Clean & Exercise Regularly“!

“We know that more than half the battle we have with ourselves is over what we cram into our faces on a daily basis. We know that unless we are fueling our bodies correctly, no amount of gym time will get us where we want to be.”

But you know what there isn’t good reason for? Me, not explaining what that really means. That has been an epic fail on my part, and today I rectify it!

What is “Clean Eating”?

Clean eating, in its simplest form can be boiled down to this:

Eat things that look like they did when they grew out of the ground, or eat things that eat the things that grew out of the ground.

It really can’t get much simpler than that!

Your regular diet should consist of:

  • Fresh Vegetables – A ton of them. The more colorful an assortment, the better!
  • Fruits – The first person to say “but they are full of sugar” gets a Batman punch to the throat. “I shouldn’t have eaten that kiwi” said no fit person ever; not to mention the fact they are a great way to help curb your sweet tooth.
  • Lean Proteins – Low fat cuts of beef (grass-fed is best) and pork, chicken and turkey, fish (try to avoid farmed fish is possible) and eggs. Avoid processed lunch meats and the like if at all possible, and just get fresh cuts from the butcher.
  • Whole Grains – Grains are not some evil super-villain waiting in the shadows to assault your health, it is the over-processing of them that gets you, so just stick with whole grains and you should be fine. Things like oats (rolled or steel-cut), brown rice, quinoa, barley, etc…
  • Nuts and Legumes – Beans, lentils, peas and raw (not roasted) nuts are great in moderation! They are high in proteins, healthy fatty acids and fiber.

What about dairy?

Dairy’s a tough one, not going to lie.

Setting the fact that a good portion of the world is lactose intolerant aside, we are the only animals who attempt to drink milk beyond infancy. That’s kind of weird, right?

I stopped drinking cow-juice a long time ago and haven’t looked back, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t enjoy the occasional slice of cheese or cup of yogurt. The key word is “occasional.”

The chapter on the dairy industry in “Salt, Sugar, Fat” should clear up why we constantly have milk and cheese forced upon us. I recommend being stingy with it, or avoiding it altogether.

So let’s break down my recommendations for how to structure your diet for clean eating.

Clean Eating 101 - How to Eat Clean and Healthy

I honestly believe that if you follow these simple rules you will look and feel better in no time!

Why is Clean Eating So Important?

Clean Eating 101 - How to Eat Clean and Healthy - Green Lantern

Food is what fuels you.

I’ve said it a million times, you can’t outrun your fork!

It doesn’t matter how much exercise you do. If you eat garbage, your body will show it and you will more than likely feel like crap. If you eat clean, healthy and fresh foods, your body will thank you with the power you need so that in brightest day, in darkest night, no evil shall escape your sight you can make it through your day and workouts feeling strong!

Just as important though is the fact that it basically eliminates the need for counting calories.

I am lazy… I am not even going to try to hide it. I don’t want to have to keep track of how much I’ve eaten or how many grams of protein or potassium I’ve crammed into my face-hole on a given day.

I’m telling you, if you adhere to the clean eating philosophy you can stop worrying about counting calories. Honest! Just eat until you’re no longer hungry and get in the best shape of your life at the same time.

I know it sounds crazy, but you have to remember not all calories are created equal! 300 calories of ice cream does not affect your body in the same way 300 calories of high-quality meats and vegetables does.

How Do I Start?

Clean Eating 101 - How to Start Eating Clean and Healthy

Depending on your goals, and where you are on your Heroes’ Transformation, adopting clean eating can be accomplished in a few different ways.

Method #1 – This method is for those of you who are working hard on losing weight, and it is surprisingly easy. Do not deviate from eating clean! Period. End of story. When you are first trying to get a handle on the basics of healthy eating it can be hard to avoid pitfalls or temptations, so giving yourself no wiggle room might be the best way to go.

Method #2 – This method is for all of you who are feeling pretty good and are near your target weight. I call this “maintenance mode.” You guys can utilize the 80-20 rule. Don’t be afraid to enjoy the occasional cheeseburger or donut! Just make sure that at least 80% of what you eat is clean. (Here are some tips on how to cheat on your diet guilt-free!)

Method #3 – This is for you guys who are just looking to remove the chemicals from your daily diets. Your focus isn’t on losing weight or building muscle, but on general health. I this is your focus then follow the above advice, eat as much organic produce as you can and avoid processed foods of all kinds.

Regardless of which method you plan on using, it can be a little daunting to start eating clean and healthy. So here are the first steps I recommend:

  1. Get Rid of Temptation – Remove all the junk food from your house. Exterminate things like sodas, chips, cookies and anything that proclaims itself to be “fat-free” with extreme prejudice! It’s going to take a few weeks for your body to adjust, and your cravings will be strong. Don’t let temptation derail you. If there’s no food in your house to tempt you, it will be much easier to stay on target.
  2. Make Shopping Lists – Just like a soldier doesn’t step onto the battlefield without a plan, you shouldn’t wander into the grocery store aimlessly. Think through the meals you want to make, write it down ahead of time and don’t get suckered into impulse buys. Here is a printable shopping list you can hang on your refrigerator!
  3. Learn How to Navigate the Grocery Store – Stay on the perimeter of the store! All your fresh and clean foods will be there. Avoid the the middle aisles unless you need something specific like steel cut oats, spices, whole grain pastas, frozen veggies or household items; grab them and then get out of there before pretty packages and advertising sucks you in! The easiest way to eat clean is to eat as little food with a nutrition label on it as possible.
  4. Prepare Your Own Meals – The more you invest in cooking and preparing your own meals the more likely you are to use clean and fresh ingredients. I know it is a hard habit to get into, and the siren’s call of convenience is alluring, but do your best to limit eating out until you get a handle on things. I like to set aside an hour or so on the weekends to bulk cook, that way I have tupperware containers of clean and healthy lunches to chow down on during the work week. The key is building up a recipe book filled with meals you enjoy… you can find some recipes in our Iron Rations section to get you started!

Oh, and one final thing about shopping.

If you are going to buy whole grain breads or pastas, be sure to read the label! The food industry is well aware that people are trying to eat healthier and they employ a lot of shady marketing to bilk you out of your hard-earned dollars. If the ingredient list contains “white flour,” “enriched white flour” or “wheat flour” steer clear!

So are we good?

Oh wait, I can hear it coming… the Walmart battlecry.

“But eating healthy is too expensive!”

Shenanigans.

Unless you are living on Cup-O-Noodles, Beefaroni or Spam (*shudder*) eating clean is not going to be that far off from your regular spending habits.

It’s all about priorities. If eating clean and healthy is a priority for you then you are going to have to shuffle around some things in your life. Even though it’s super easy and convenient to order a pizza while playing World of Warcraft, I would hope that your desire to become a real-life superhero will overpower the urge for that convenience; I also would hope that you’re truly committed to eating better.

Whether you are doing this for you, your family, to dominate your friends in a weight loss challenge, or whatever…. just do it! Make the effort to examine your shopping list and the contents of your wallet and make the necessary adjustments.

So here’s what I have to say to this bogus excuse:

  • Cut the crap! – If you’re on a budget but yet you stop at Starbucks every morning on your way to work, hit the vending machine every day for your afternoon snack or for that Monster Energy Drink, then you have plenty of room to trim the fat. These small $2-3 purchases through the day add up! They offer no nutritional value and are hammering away at your food budget. So cut it out! If you feel like you need caffeine then drink the “cheap” coffee at work and keep a few healthy snacks in the drawer of your desk instead.
  • Be a savvy shopper! – Look at the weeks flyers in your local paper and see which store is having the better sales, clip coupons, buy in bulk when you can. At first this is going to seem a bit onerous, but after you get used to it you won’t even notice you do it.
  • Eat all the things! – Eat everything you buy… if that means making a “Whatever’s Left Stir-Fry” the night before your shopping day, then so be it. Throwing away food is throwing away money!
  • Play Farmville Try farmer’s markets! – There’s no better option for awesome food than locally grown produce and/or freshly butchered meat. Not only will the food be fresh, and probably a lot less expensive than at the grocery store, it will also support your local economy. So hit up the Google-machine, find your local market and get to shopping!

Once you really evaluate what you eat (and how much you are spending on it), learn how to win at shopping and have a few recipes under your belt, I promise that you will realize that “food” you get from a drive-thru or a box is really not any cheaper than the real, wholesome, clean stuff!

Take it Slow and Enjoy the Journey!

This whole clean eating thing may feel a bit overwhelming at first.

I get it.

My advice is to just take it slow and just make a few small changes at a time. Making positive habit changes is not easy (luckily here’s a great article on building positive habits) so don’t beat yourself up if you make mistakes! We all screw up. Remember, it’s what you do the majority of them time that counts.

So embrace the change, try some new foods and enjoy feeling the best you probably have felt in a very long time!

Have any other questions? Let me know and I will do my absolute best to answer them!

And if you haven’t already done so, make sure you’re signed up to receive free email updates whenever I publish a new article (and get a cool free e-book)! Also check out our YouTube channel (if you want access to our Nerd-Core Fitness exercise videos), follow me on Twitter, and like us on Facebook and Google+ (there is content on both not available here on the site.) There are so many different ways for you to get your daily dose of Jerdly goodness so don’t miss out!

(Photo #1 credit, Photo #3 credit, Photo #4 credit)
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33 replies
  1. beahealthygeek
    beahealthygeek says:

    I love clean eating, although it does take much determination! Especially when you have a wife who isn’t completely on board with clean eating…though thankfully she is very supportive 80% of the time!

    If I could add one more tip to your list it would be to spend one hour a week preparing lunches and snacks for the week. I boil up rice, chicken, and section off veggies into little baggies, so that I have healthy lunches pretty much already made for the week. This has made a major difference for me!

    Thanks for writing this awesome article!

    Reply
    • TheJerd
      TheJerd says:

      Preparing in bulk helps *so* much, I totally agree!

      It is often way to easy to make a bad judgement call when you are in a hurry and hungry; if you already have some clean food prepared and in some Tupperware you are in a much better place to stave off the desire for pizza.

      Thanks for reading!

      Reply
  2. Kara
    Kara says:

    I’m not gonna lie, I followed Annalisse here (I’m one of the 4 people who run the Iggle Fitness group ;D). But I did so because the title INTRIGUED me and sounded like something I sorely need in my life!

    I lost about 20 pounds over 2 years ago by calorie counting, but have recently come to realize how now that the excess weight is off, I’ve still got a lot of work to do in terms of getting healthier. A big lesson I’ve embraced is that diet HUGELY influences your physiology, so I am really loving this post.

    Lately I’ve been struggling with figuring out what to eat. This is sometimes to lack of time to prep food, sometimes to lack of inspiration for what to cook, and a lot of the time, feeling overwhelmed by all the planning it really requires. At least my fridge has more fruits & veggies in it now compared to a few years ago when it had a lot of frozen meals, eh??? Slowly squeaking my way in the right direction, heheh.

    Thanks for this post, I’m going to be using it as a guide for my dietary conundrums!!

    Reply

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