7-Day Challenge, Clean Eating, Health

Clean Eating Challenge: Report

Well, I made it through—even if there were several close calls involving hidden amounts of sugar, processed-food temptations (like cold cereal), and my brain rebelling against the idea of so many banana peppers in one week.

Just for a refresher, here were the rules:

For seven days, I challenged myself to avoid processed sugar in all its forms (honey and 100% fruit juices were okay), eat only whole wheat breads/pastas, eat foods that only had readily recognizable ingredients in them, and eat only lean cuts of minimally processed meat. I allowed myself one cheat meal and one small treat in the seven-day span.

How did I do?

Confessions first—due to an unexpected dinner out with friends, I did end up having one extra treat and one extra cheat meal. Also, while in the process of making some recipes, I realized that there was sometimes one minor ingredient (a couple tablespoons or less) that didn’t quite meet one of the rules. In cases like that, I made substitutions where I could and just used it anyway when I couldn’t.

In other words, I tried to follow the plan as perfectly as possible, but because I myself am not perfect, I had a few minor slip-ups.

Here’s what I learned from the experience though:

1. I quickly realized how many times per day before I had been reaching for sugar-laced foods without stopping to think twice about it. I mean, no wonder I’ve gained almost ten pounds over the summer—I was giving into sugar cravings almost every 2-3 hours. When I took away that option, it was at first really hard to stave off the craving for more than about an hour, so I ended up eating a LOT of fruit (which is always a good thing in my book).

2. I had NO idea how many foods wouldn’t meet my “no processed foods” rule–until I started religiously looking at the ingredients list on labels, I didn’t know that even the most innocent, “wholesome” foods often contained some chemical I didn’t recognized. For example, I had planned to make a buttermilk rosemary chicken dish that sounded divine. Problem? I couldn’t find any buttermilk at the store that fit the bill. Two of my recipes called for sour cream and the brand I’d always bought had multiple processed ingredients in it. Even Greek yogurt–that superhero of dairy products–was difficult to find when shopping by the rules. Sometimes I was able to find a suitable candidate (like Daisy sour cream, which only contains cream), and sometimes I just went with the least objectionable choice (like the soy sauce I found that had only one ingredient I didn’t recognize).

3. Even though a version of clean eating this extreme would not work for my life personally on a long-term basis, I do think the experience will change the way I eat from here on out. I feel like my sugar craving mechanism has been re-set so that I’m not feeling like I need it every three hours, and my digestive health hasn’t been this good in YEARS. (Fact: I’ve had serious digestive problems since living in Central America for a year and a half. Although I’ve seen a doctor about it and tried various things, nothing has seemed to make too much of a difference. But this last week, I felt good. REALLY good. That reason alone is enough to make me eat more like this on a regular basis.)

4. I didn’t lose as much weight as I thought I would. In fact, I only ended up losing a pound. I guess I shouldn’t be too surprised though because while I set limits on the types of foods I could eat, I didn’t set limits on how much. Plus, since the challenge still allowed me to eat high-calorie foods like cheese and butter (and I did!), I can see why the weight didn’t just melt off.

5. A wise friend (thanks, Shelley!) left me a comment on Facebook that urged me to focus on more than just the numbers–she encouraged me to focus instead on how I felt inside by eating this way, and considering that she just finished a clean eating challenge herself (and one lasting 30 days and that also excluded dairy, at that!), I figured I’d better listen to her. I’m glad I did. Even though I’m a little bummed that I didn’t lose the 3 pounds I expected to, I noticed that I just FELT better all week. Sure, the cravings were hard to ignore for seven days. Sure, there were several times it really stunk that the people around me were inhaling cookies and Costco potato rolls and lunchmeat while I was eating a “sandwich” of tomatoes and cheese between lettuce strips, but for the most part, I really felt a difference. Not only did my GI health improve drastically from the change, but I felt more alert, less sluggish, and more rejuvenated overall. And when I did indulge in a cheat meal or treat, I really enjoyed it (without feeling any guilt about it either, because I knew I’d truly eaten well the rest of the week).

(Side note: That’s got to be one of the hardest parts about following a strict diet is the backlash that tends to come at large social gatherings when you’re not loading up your plate like everyone else (because of the lack of healthy options in general). Have you come up with any strategies for eating well when out at social potlucks or other such gatherings? I’d love some advice with how to politely deal with people who keep telling you your diet is too extreme or that one cookie this one time won’t kill you.)

6. Vegan “ice cream” SAVED me this week when it came to sugar cravings that just didn’t want to let go. Wanna know how to make it? Blend two frozen bananas with a tablespoon of unsweetened cocoa powder and about a half teaspoon of pure vanilla extract. That’s it! It’s surprisingly scrumptious and made it so I definitely didn’t feel so deprived. (See pic below for inspiration!)

Although I’m easing up slightly on the rules, I’m hoping that this experience will help me permanently more aware of just how I’m fueling my body and what really makes it feel the best.

Also, I know some of you were also going to try and eat clean this week (or had tried it before). How did it go? Any tips that made it easier or more manageable? I’d love to hear your experiences!

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