Throw out everything you think you know about clean eating.
There are no “off-limits” or “bad” foods (unless you have an allergy or sensitivity).
There are no “cheat meals” or “going off your diet.”
Learning how to eat clean does not mean backing yourself into a corner with limited food choices.
It does not mean eating salad after salad and never indulging a little.
What is does mean, however, is eating good and healthy food and discovering a newfound love for nourishing your body with what it needs.
These tips will show you a gradual, sustainable approach to eating healthy so it becomes part of your lifestyle, which is exactly what your diet is supposed to be.
Clean Eating Basics
1. Know Why You Want to Eat Healthier
Before you start anything, you need to know why you want to do it.
In this instance, you need to know why you want to start eating healthier.
Maybe it’s to lose weight, be healthier, or relieve symptoms of a health problem.
Whatever it is, you need to know what you’re working towards.
It will serve as a constant reminder of why you’re choosing to eat healthier so it can help guide you along the way.
I personally choose to eat healthy, whole foods because it’s what my body NEEDS.
Certain food sensitivities, Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, and a lack of vital nutrients from my old diet are all my why when it comes to clean eating.
Related: Why Can’t I Lose Weight? 15 Common Reasons Why You’re Not Losing Weight (and What to Do About It)
2. Clean Out Your Fridge and Pantry
Now you can start cleaning out your kitchen, all the way from the fridge and freezer to the cupboards and pantry.
A good rule of thumb is to get rid of highly processed and refined foods, as they contain almost no vital nutrients and therefore don’t do much for your health.
You can figure this out by looking at the nutrition label and ingredients list.
Anything that contains added sugar, high levels of sodium, tons of carbs (aside from fruits & veggies!), and several ingredients you don’t recognize should be tossed.
These will give you an idea of the things to get rid of:
- Granola bars (no, they aren’t actually healthy)
- White bread & pasta
- Mac & cheese
- Packaged meals
- Frozen dinners
- Ice cream
- Vegetable oil
- Condiments (calorie-dense salad dressings, barbecue sauce, mayo, etc.)
For all of the unopened cans and boxed foods, donate them! Just because you no longer need them doesn’t mean somebody else won’t eat them.
3. Stock Up on Healthy Staples
Right about now your fridge and pantry are probably feeling a bit… empty.
Don’t worry, you’ll fill them back up in no-time with healthy staples.
One of the most important things to remember is that when you remove something, you need to find other alternatives to take its place.
Otherwise, it will feel like you have nothing to eat and you’ll fall back to your old eating habits.
When it comes to picking the rights items to stock up on, you should always focus on whole foods and items made from simple and minimal ingredients.
The fewer the ingredients, the better.
Here are a few healthy staples to stock up on (in no particular order):
- Fish (salmon, cod)
- Nut butters (make sure the only ingredient is nuts!)
- Olive oil
- Coconut oil
- Collagen protein powder
- Dark chocolate
- Whole wheat pasta
See? There are SO MANY healthy items to keep your kitchen full, you won’t even have room for junk food.
4. Follow the 80/20 Rule
The fact of the matter is, you’re going to crave certain foods, and that’s alright!
I personally crave a good burger and fries, pizza, and cookies every now and then. And you know what?
I eat them!
It’s important to allow yourself to eat not-so-healthy foods every now and then (if that’s what you want) so you don’t feel a constant urge to go back to your old eating habits.
And if you can find or make a healthier version of what you’re craving, even better.
Your diet should not be restrictive and torturous, because it’s meant to be a sustainable lifestyle approach to eating.
You should focus on eating healthy, whole foods about 80% of the time and indulgent foods (think pizza and ice cream) the other 20% of the time, within your daily caloric needs.
If you eat a burger, you’re not “unhealthy” or “cheating on your diet.”
Because none of that’s true!
You’re simply allowing yourself to eat something you’ve been craving without going overboard.
And that’s the key to a healthy, sustainable diet.
5. Eat Foods That Excite You with Simple Swaps
Clean eating is focused around nutritious, whole foods, but that doesn’t mean you can’t eat something that excites you.
And believe it or not, there’s a healthier version of pretty much anything, you just have to look for it.
Your favorite meals can be made healthy by swapping out heavily processed and refined foods for simpler, nutrient-dense alternatives.
Simple things like swapping:
- Fried –> baked or grilled
- Butter –> coconut oil (depending on the recipe)
- Milk chocolate –> dark chocolate
- Sauces and condiments –> herbs and spices
- Vegetable oil –> olive oil
- White flour –> whole wheat flour
- White sugar –> honey or maple syrup
- White pasta –> whole wheat pasta or veggie pasta (i.e. chickpea, lentil, zucchini noodles)
You get the idea.
These are just some of the many food swaps that can make your favorite meals healthier, and they all taste just as, if not more, delicious!
6. Cook Your Own Meals
Fast food, takeout, restaurants, frozen dinners – one thing they all have in common is that you don’t know exactly how they’re made.
You don’t know the ingredients they were made with and they contain way more many calories than they need to.
So the simple solution?
Make your own meals.
Now I get it, going from little to no cooking to making every meal is nothing short of a challenge.
But if you want to start eating healthier, it’s what you have to do… most of the time (more on that next).
To make the transition a lotta bit easier, I highly recommend using the $5 Meal Plan.
It takes all of the guesswork out of what to eat for dinner every night so you barely have to give it any thought.
Once you choose your meal plan, you take the pre-generated shopping list and pick up what you need to make quick and easy meals.
You literally don’t have to put any thought into what’s for dinner, making it a heck of a lot easier to ditch the processed and fast foods and start eating clean, homemade meals.
7. Be Mindful When Eating Out
For those days (and nights) when you choose to eat out, you should always be mindful of what you’re ordering.
I get it, sometimes you just really want a good burger and fries, and as mentioned above, that’s okay, so long as it’s in moderation.
But other times, it’s simply because you don’t feel like cooking dinner or you just don’t have the time.
When this is the case, you should always choose the healthiest option on the menu, such as a hearty salad, lean meat and vegetables, or grilled tacos.
At first it’ll be a challenge to not order your usual side of cheese bread and a medium pizza for yourself (guilty).
But over time, you’ll learn to seek out healthier options when eating out, since the more you do it, the more it’ll become habit.
Some helpful tips for eating out:
- Stick to the basics
- Salad w/ dressing on the side
- Lean meat (baked or grilled)
- Ditch the condiments
- Skip the bread basket
8. Meal Prep
Meal prepping is when you prepare some, or all, of your meals ahead of time so you always have something to eat.
Think of it as the healthier, homemade version of TV dinners.
It’s such a powerful, time-saving tool when it comes to clean eating for beginners that I highly recommend you at least give it a try.
What you prep all depends on what meal(s) you struggle to eat healthy with.
For example, if I don’t have leftovers for lunch, I tend to gravitate towards not eating until dinner and then craving pizza or chicken wings since I’m so hungry.
The simple solution to keep me on track to eating healthy is to meal prep lunch and maybe even dinner. This way, there’s no excuse not to eat or to go out to eat since there are healthy, homemade meals sitting in the fridge.
Preparing your meals ahead of time doesn’t have to take all day. In fact, it’s usually 1-2 hours depending on the amount of meal prep and dishes to clean up.
This one simple tool will help you build healthy eating habits and since you’re making the portions, keep you from overeating.
And it’ll free up a lot of time during the week since you won’t have to cook every night!
Related: 25 Healthy Chicken Meal Prep Recipes You’ll Actually Enjoy Eating
Note: If you try meal prepping and find it’s not for you, the $5 Meal Plan will definitely make eating clean, homemade meals so much easier.
9. Track Macros
One of the biggest reasons people struggle to eat healthy is because they feel like they’re not eating enough.
Going from heavily processed and refined foods that digest quickly, and therefore make you feel hungry more often, to eating whole foods that increase satiety makes it seem like you’re just not eating as much as you were before.
And it makes you feel like you need to eat more.
Which makes you think the clean eating lifestyle just ain’t for you, am I right?
Trust me, I know the feels. But here’s the deal.
Instead of just eating more or reverting back to your old eating habits, the smart and healthy way to determine if you need more food is to track your macros (not count calories).
Macros, or macronutrients, are carbohydrates, fat, and protein and are the nutrients required in large quantities that provide the body with the energy it needs.
Each macro has their own purpose in serving your health and your body needs a certain percentage of each to function properly.
When you eat a balanced diet, you’re consuming a proper ratio of carbs to fat to protein based on what your body needs.
By tracking your macros, you’ll KNOW if you need to eat more or not, eliminating the excuse of “I’m hungry” or “I didn’t eat enough.”
When tracking macros, I recommend you do two things:
- Use the MyFitnessPal app (it’s free) to: 1) calculate your daily caloric and macro needs and, 2) track your meals so you can make sure you’re eating enough carbs, fat, and protein (and not overeating!).
- Weigh your food with a food scale. Eyeballing your food isn’t very accurate so without properly measuring your food, what you enter into MyFitnessPal may be off, thus throwing off how much you’re actually eating.
10. Figure Out the Cause Behind Your Cravings
Having a healthy relationship with food means you don’t restrict yourself from eating something you want every now and again.
That’s just part of a healthy diet and lifestyle.
But what are you supposed to do the other 80% of the time when you constantly crave unhealthy foods?
The first thing you need to do is figure out the driving force behind your cravings, because chances are there’s an underlying issue that’s causing it.
Are there thoughts, feelings, or emotions influencing what you want to eat? Are you tired, stressed, anxious?
These are all things that can influence what you think you want to eat, even though deep down you know you shouldn’t.
So what do you do?
Once you’ve figured out what’s causing the craving, search for healthy alternatives and make them!
As I said earlier, there’s a healthier version to just about any recipe, you just have to look for it.
And all it takes is a quick Google or Pinterest search.
11. Get Your Family On Board
This can make or break your success when it comes to clean eating.
If you live with other people, you need to get them on board with you.
Otherwise, their junk food will be a constant temptation that is honestly very difficult to ignore.
And having your family ditch the junk food and eat clean foods is good for their health, too, so make sure to remind them of that!
You Can Do It!
Clean eating is a lifestyle change.
Don’t beat yourself up if you indulge a little more than you should at first.
Don’t expect to be perfect at it right away.
Old habits are hard to beat but with consistent changes to your diet, no matter how big or small, you’ll eventually develop clean eating habits that’ll last a lifetime.
The only way to fail is to give up, so as long as you keep practicing clean eating habits, you’ll be just fine.