“I eat clean. What am I doing wrong?"
Let's talk about this phrase.
I hear this every single day.
So many people eating "clean".
But what does that even mean? What is "clean"??
I know what they mean...they mean that they're eating mostly vegetables, very little sugar or treats, and not too much of anything.
But who decided this was the way to eat?
Certainly not me…because the second I hear those words "I eat clean and I don't know what I'm doing wrong", I know exactly what kind of food log I will get.
Breakfast: 1 egg + 1/2c oatmeal
Lunch: salad with grilled chicken
Dinner: Salmon with asparagus and sweet potato
If you log these meals into MFP (or honestly just log any of your meals if this comment is something you'd make), you'll find that this "clean eating" totals to maybe 1000 calories.
THAT is why you're not getting results.
Somewhere along the way, we demanded everyone eat "clean" and defined “clean” as eating close to nothing.
I get really fired up about this topic...because it's so prevalent and is 100% why you're NOT seeing results you want to see...and because this way of eating is what caused me to have a full breakdown and eat a full jar of peanut butter (knowing I was allergic). I don't want you living this way.
You're not fueling your body's basic functions for survival. How can you lose weight (an energy expensive process) when you're not even giving your body the energy to produce hormones, have a healthy digestion, have a functioning liver, etc.??
Then what happens?
You eventually reach a breaking point and hit rock bottom. You either go on a complete uncontrollable binge, are miserable, or finally reach out (hopefully to a good coach) for help.
Unfortunately, there's often only one solution...add food. Increase intake. Improve food quality. Allow more treats. Free yourself from these “clean eating” chains that are keeping you held captive.
But this way is met with more resistance than during the Boston Tea Harbor Rebellion. It's not your fault...it's all because of society, celebrities, influencers, marketing and advertisements who've drilled this mindset in your brain.
You’re constantly surrounded by people eating less than what is needed for survival.
Eating clean has become synonymous with just not eating because it just encourages eating a predominantly fruit and veggie diet. Protein is demonized. Grains and starches are the evil carbs that will spike your weight in a heartbeat.
Not eating enough, or enough of one thing (like protein, fats, or carbs) leads to a slew of problems. Too little protein and your metabolism will slow. Too few carbs and your sleep suffers, energy tanks midday, stress build up, and more. Too few fats and you lose a sex drive, suffer worsening PMS symptoms, and suffer from chronic inflammation.
Yes, you should have a predominantly whole foods diet, what “clean eating” preaches and tries to do, but you should still include some more voluminous foods and indulgences in order to have some sustainability.
If you are one who “eats clean” but still not seeing results, then here are 5 steps you need to take to start seeing results!
Step 1. Track your intake
How much are you eating? How many calories? How many grams of each macro (protein, fats, and carbs)?
The reason for this step is awareness. It also will serve as proof as to why your “clean eating” isn’t working. It will show you how little you’re eating, which explains why you’ve 1. not seen results and 2. not felt good in the process.
Track your intake using some tracking app, such as MyFitnessPal for 5-7 days. Make sure you include at least one day over the weekend.
Maybe you’re “eating clean” Monday through Friday…then come Saturday and Sunday you succumb to all the binges and treats out there. Tracking is simply an awareness tool to provide necessary insight into your current intake.
Step 2. Add in calories
Most likely this will involve adding in food because as I previously mentioned, “eating clean” usually means a predominantly veggie and fruit diet…both foods very low in calories and volume. It would take a lot of veggies and fruit to come remotely close to even just your BMR…and remember that’s just the calories needed for survival…and we’re trying to do more than survive.
First, calculate your BMR. Best estimation for this is to multiply your bodyweight by 10.
Ex. 150lb x 10 = 1500 calories
Now factor in your activity factor. For most individuals, this is between 1.4 (3-4 days of exercise) and 1.6 (4-6 days of exercise).
Ex. 1500 x 1.4-1.6 = 2100 – 2400 calories
This would be the general range for a 150lb individual wanting to eat around maintenance calories. If you’ve followed me for a while or have downloaded my free nutrition guide to setting up your diet, I go more into how to adjust your calories depending if you want to lose or gain weight.
For this step, I’m not going to go further into those topics for a couple of reasons. The first reason is because all you have to do for that information is download your free copy of my nutrition guide. The information is all there…and more. The second reason is that if you’ve been eating “clean” for a while (more than a year), you’ve likely been in a deficit for way too long and actually need time at maintenance to repair some metabolic adaptations that came about from chronically undereating. You don’t want to be in a deficit for more than 3 months, give or take…and there’s a strong change you’ve been in this unintentional deficit for years. In this case, you’d first want to just spend some needed time at maintenance and let your body heal.
I spent a long while in a deficit eating “clean”. After some research, and starting my nutrition journey, I realized how little I was eating and just how clean eating wasn’t doing the trick…so I brought myself up to maintenance calories and stayed there for an entire year. I could have even stayed there longer! The point I’m trying to make is to simply give your body space to heal and recover…by bringing yourself up to maintenance and hanging out there for a little while (at least 3-6 months).
Step 3. Set macros
The next step to getting out of “eating clean” is to switch up your meal composition and introduce foods with more volume and substance…and this is done with our 3 amigos: protein, fats, and carbs.
Set your protein intake to bodyweight (in grams). A 150lb individual would consume 150g protein/day.
Have 25-35% of daily calories come from fats. This is the general recommended range. Lower than 25% and hormones aren’t able to function properly. Higher than 35% tends to either get stored unnecessarily as fat or simply takes calories away from the just as important carbs and protein.
Ex. A 150lb individual following a 2200 calorie diet would consume 60-85g fats = [2200 x 0.25 or 0.35)/9].
Let the rest of your calories come from carbs. If our 150lb individual is eating 2200 calories, 150g protein and 65g fats, then carbs would be set to ~250g. If this person isn’t following a highly intense modality for daily exercise (like CrossFit or OTF), then fats could be brought up slightly and carbs lowered.
Macros are important to ensuring that you’re as healthy as possible. Eating clean via a diet based predominantly in fruits and veggies forces you to miss out on a ton of health benefits.
Protein helps build muscle and maintain body composition. It also is needed for every process that goes on in your body. It keeps you full longer, increases your daily expenditure, and fights off cravings.
Fats provide fuel, produce and regulate hormones, fight and manage inflammation, and support homeostasis in your body.
Carbs fuel your brain, support your body for exercise, provide fuel for the day, regulate cortisol, improve sleep, etc.
Depriving your body of these key players in your diet does your health a disservice. “Eating clean” unfortunately does just that.
Step 4. Reverse
These numbers might be overwhelming for you and based on where you are in Step 1, maybe way too much.
You don’t…and shouldn’t…have to go from 0 to 100 overnight. Take a month or even 2 or 3 to get up to those numbers calculated in steps 2 and 3. Start first with protein and make 5-10g jumps weekly. Then move on to alternating between carbs and fats weekly or bi-weekly until you get up to maintenance.
This is what is called a reverse diet. They’re easy if you’re in the right mindset…but often times adding food brings in a lot of stress about gaining weight…stress that sometimes fulfills that self-fulfilling prophecy. Stress = cravings and a bit of retention = weight gain = confirmation that you shouldn’t have added food. This is where a coach comes in. If you’re afraid of adding food, know that you’re not alone and it’s completely normal, but hire a coach to help you along the way, easing your stress and supporting you every time a panicked thought enters your head
Step 5. Follow the 80/20 Rule
Include treats every now and then. Follow what I call a “clean” diet 80% of the time. This means that you’re eating whole foods, not just fruits and veggies. Whole foods include anything that grew, ran, swam, or flew on this Earth at some point in time. It includes high quality protein sources such as beef, chicken, turkey, and fish. It includes eggs and other whole dairy products. It includes fruits and veggies, nuts, seeds, avocados, all very healthy and good for you…just with a bit more nutritional content.
THEN allow for 10-20% of fun. This is where you include the things in your diet that make it sustainable and long-term. If you like ice cream, no diet that excludes it 100% of the time will work. Instead eat foods that aren’t ice cream 95% of the time and allow that weekly treat of a scoop or bowl of ice cream. You can do this one of two ways. The first way is a daily small treat of something that is processed and heavenly to you. The second way is 1-2 bigger “treats” every or every other week. It’s up to you and how you enjoy treating yourself.
Eating clean doesn’t have to be as miserable as it’s made out to be.
Truly eating clean, the way I prescribe, is how you build a sustainable and long term diet. Popular “eating clean” is simply just another fad diet that forces you into a box of chronically undereating…If you’re feeling stuck and fed up with the lack of results from your clean eating, follow these 5 steps and you’re guaranteed success.
As always, if this is overwhelming and you just want it done for you, apply here for one-on-one coaching. We will hop on a quick consult call so you can tell me where your “clean eating” is going wrong and I can give you the best strategy moving forward.
Resources and Coaching:
Online Coaching here.
[Free] Nutrition Guide here.