Episode 053: Defining Clean Eating and How to Put It Into Practice
“I’m already eating clean?” is a response I get from a lot of people, who are working in improving their health but still struggling.
When I review how they're eating, I see gaps between their perceptions of “eating clean” versus what it actually means, and I’ve come to realize that many people just don’t understand what clean eating is and then wonder why they aren’t seeing the progress they’re expecting.
In this episode, I share:
How I define clean eating
What foods to avoid
How to put it into practice
And much more!
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Click Here to Read the Episode Transcript...
I recently had someone reach out to me, let’s call her “Jill” which is obviously not her real name, but a name I’ll use to refer to as, as I share her story. Jill was extremely frustrated. She had started gaining weight and had no idea what why. She wasn’t someone who necessarily had to watch what she ate because she was an athlete who was very active in community sports.
Jill wanted my thoughts on what was going on, especially since she had been taking birth control pills for years and was just now starting to hear how they can cause more harm than good for women’s health.
Now, I get questions like these a lot, usually from people sliding into my Instagram DM’s. Questions about hormones, weight, skin problems, headaches - you name it.
And while I absolutely LOVE connecting with and hearing from people, I cannot give them advice - whether I know them personally or not - because I don’t know what’s going on with them.
You have heard me talk time and time again about bioindividuality. There is no “one” answer that I can give anyone that will explain anything that’s going on with their health because there are so many factors that go into every aspect of how our bodies perform.
Asking someone to give you advice without the opportunity and context for a full assessment isn’t fair to the person who is doing the asking or the person being asked. This kind of guidance should only be done in a formal client/practitioner relationship.
Now, all that being said, I happily give general suggestions on areas they might want to look at for somewhere to start. And if you’ve been listening to the show for a while, then you know that with me, this always starts with gut health and how we eat is where I would start with for most people. Why it's important and How It's Show Up for People You might roll your eyes at this. You might be thinking, “its my hormones, not my diet.” Sound familiar?
How many times have you heard someone say, “I’m breaking out because of hormones.” “I’m moody because I’m PMS’ing”, implying that their hormones are off. Or “I’m gaining weight because of hormones.”
But what exactly does this mean?
Yes, most people are probably correct in that assessment because hormones influence EVERY bodily function - they are the chemical messengers in our bodies. And more importantly, if your problems are indeed caused by hormonal imbalances, what do you do about it? How do you balance your hormones?
If you recall, in last week’s episode, Episode 052, and if you haven’t listened to it, please go back and give it a listen, I talked about how essential it is to “back things up” and start with addressing our diet and lifestyle, what we call “Tier 1” in functional nutrition, BEFORE moving on to more advanced protocols and treatments in Tiers 2 and 3.
And what I’ve found is that EVERYONE wants to skip right over Tier 1 and go straight to Tiers 2 and 3.
As soon as someone hears something might be a hormonal problem, they want to quickly go straight to expensive lab tests, medications, hormone replacements, advanced supplements, all the things that are addressed in Tiers 2 and 3, without truly and consistently addressing Tier 1.
And this is not necessarily because they don’t believe in doing the work required in Tier 1, but because they think they’ve already addressed it!
And this was the case when Jill reached out to me about her weight gain. She wondered if perhaps she was having hormonal imbalances, whether it be adrenal fatigue, thyroid or something else, and quite honestly, she probably was, but I can’t say for sure because she didn’t give me the opportunity to do a full assessment.
But regardless, there are things I pointed her to that she has full capability to do for herself without lab tests, medications or even a diagnosis. Remember, thinking functionally isn’t “WHAT” especially in complex cases where there’s probably a lot of “WHAT’S” going on, but it’s always “WHY” - “WHY” are these things happening.
So for Jill, I suggested she back things up and take a look at her diet. How was she eating?
“I’m already eating clean?” is a response I get from a lot of clients, but when I review their food journals, I realize that there is a wide gap between their perceptions of “eating clean” versus what that actually is.
I’ve realized that many people just don’t understand what clean eating is and then wonder why they aren’t seeing the progress they’re expecting.
This is what happened in Jill’s case - she told me that she had already cleaned up her diet and was eating really well.
Now, from what I saw, Jill likes to post photos of her food on her social media accounts so what did I do? I clicked on over to her profile to see what her diet was really like because often times there’s a gap between how we THINK we’re eating and how we’re ACTUALLY eating.
And you know what? She DID clean up her diet!
Further back in her feed there were lots of photos of cookies and candies and cakes and ice cream, soda, and other sugary junk food. But more recently, there were fewer photos of those things.
BUT...and you know there was a but coming…
I was still seeing lots of eating out, lots of bread and pasta, lots of fried foods, lots of heavy sauces, alcohol, you get the idea.
So while she did clean up her diet, there was still a lot more that could be done there, especially when taking the “food as medicine” approach to support the healing process.
Which brings us to the question - what is clean eating?
Is it just eating fewer sweets and desserts?
What exactly does “clean eating” mean?
I did a quick Google search to see how the interwebs defines clean eating.
Wikipedia said: “Clean eating is the belief that eating whole foods in their most natural state and avoiding processed foods such as refined sugar offers certain health benefits. Variations on the clean eating diet may also exclude gluten, grains, and dairy products and advocate the consumption of raw food.” This definition is one of those things that falls into the “true, but partial” category.
Here’s how I define “clean eating:”
- Eat real foods
- Eat nutrient-dense foods
- Eat anti-inflammatory foods and avoid foods that promote inflammation
- Eat foods that are in seasonal - which is something I get into in Episode 045
- Eat foods that will nourish you and avoiding foods that harm you
Let’s dive into these things.
Eat Real Food and Eat Nutrient-Dense Foods
Eat foods that are real and whole, not processed, that are full of vitamins, minerals, and nutrients versus foods that lack them.
Let me share this excerpt that’s directly from the 21-Day Sugar Detox book to explain this point, using carbs as an example:
“Whole, unrefined, nutrient-dense sources of carbohydrates like vegetables, fruits, roots, and tubers give your body everything it needs to effectively turn the calories in those foods into energy.”
Because your body has to process the foods you eat and convert them into usable forms. It's not just a matter of eating a specific food and then thinking you’re good to go.
It’s like Vitamin A. When I was in elementary school, I learned that we need Vitamin A and we get Vitamin A by eating carrots. But carrots are actually a source of beta-carotene and your body has to then convert it to usable forms of Vitamin A. And in order for that conversion to happen, there’s a hell of a lot of things that need to be going right in your body for those mechanisms to happen.
To further illustrate this, when I read how keratosis pilaris, the bumps on the backs of my upper arms, are a sign of nutrient deficiency, including Vitamin A, I can’t just eat a ton of carrots and expect it to clear up. I need to also do a lot of gut healing and liver support to ensure that my body is able to convert those nutrients into usable forms to support that.
Okay that was a bit of a tangent, but continuing on with this excerpt from the 21-Day Sugar Detox Guidebook:
“To metabolize carbohydrates and turn them into energy, your body needs to use micronutrients—in particular, B vitamins and the minerals phosphorus, magnesium, iron, copper, manganese, zinc, and chromium. Bad carbs don’t contain those vitamins and minerals in naturally occurring forms. Without both macronutrients and micronutrients in your food, your energy levels would plummet because your cells literally wouldn’t be able to make energy and power your body.
So again, this refers to mechanisms that go on inside of our bodies after we eat to convert the nutrients and vitamins and minerals from food into usable matter that will nourish us.
To further illustrate this point, this is one of many reasons why eating things like pasta isn’t always the best option, especially when trying to use food as medicine. It’s a manmade food, not a real food. I think where people get messed up is that they think of carbs only as being bread and pasta but there are plenty of solid sources of carbs from fruits and vegetables alone.
So this is why its so important to eat not only eat real, nutrient-dense food.
Eat anti-inflammatory foods and avoid foods that promote inflammation
In Episode 052, when I talked about non-negotiables, I talked about how it was important for EVERYONE to avoid foods that promote inflammation and the MOST common ones are sugar, gluten, dairy, and soy.
It's also important to avoid foods that your body uniquely cannot tolerate.
If you know that you have a gluten sensitivity, you don’t even have to have Celiac’s disease here, you can still be sensitive to and intolerant of gluten.
So if you have a known sensitivity to gluten, you know that it elicits some kind of reaction, and really, insert any food here that you know you have a reaction to, and by a reaction I mean - GI distress, brain fog, breakouts, fatigue - any kind of reaction where you know the food is causing you some kind of response, and you continue to eat that food, even “just on occasion” know that everytime you eat that food it’s causing an inflammatory response in your body.
If you know that dairy makes you break out but you ate some ice cream or cheese anyway - that breakout if an inflammatory response from your body. And that breakout is only what you can see externally, imagine what's going on internally! This is how things like Leaky Gut Syndrome happen and I’ve detailed extensively in past episode all about that.
Other things that are inflammatory, because sugar, gluten, dairy, soy, genetically modified food, and other personalized non-negotiables that you’ve identified through careful tracking and experimenting, are cooking oils!
In fact, cooking oils are some of the most inflammatory foods out there, which is why dining out all the time can be problematic, even though you may be ordering seemingly healthy dishes!
Now I grew up in a family that used a lot of canola oil and vegetable oil, but let me tell you - there is nothing “vegetable” about vegetable oil.
You want to stay away from man-made fats like “I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter” something I ate a lot of in college, margarine and even something like “Earth Balance” which because of its name people assume its a healthier option and its not.
Avoid genetically modified fats and oils as well as unsaturated fats and oils, things like vegetable oil, sunflower oil, soybean oil, grapeseed oil, because they are unstable and oxidize easily. Instead, opt for more stable oil that has a higher smoke point for cooking like coconut oil and ghee. Olive and avocado oils are also stable oils, but best used at cold temperatures, like in salads.
Now there’s one more point I want to make. When you are trying to use food as medicine, eliminating gluten may not be enough. You may also need to exclude grains. And I know how hard this is to hear. When Dr. Melissa, from Episode 002, first told me that I might want to consider eliminating grains I started crying because I loved having gluten-free steel cut oats for breakfast every morning. Like, I went to bed dreaming about it with a dollop of almond butter in the middle of it!
But grains is one of those things that depending on how its sourced, can also elicit an inflammatory response in your body and it might be best to avoid it, while you do some gut healing, why you work on your non-negotiables, perhaps even do an elimination diet, something I talked about way back in Episode 009, and then see how your body does with it after reintroduction.
So if I bring this back to Jill, yes, Jill did a great job in cutting out the soda and sugary treats she was eating. But she can take it a step further in reading labels and understanding other sneaky places that sugar hides - like in sauces and condiments, cutting out gluten, grains, dairy, soy - and soy is in EVERYTHING so more label reading will be required - or better yet, eat foods that don’t come canned or package that don’t have labels, cook with stable oils and maybe even dine out less and eat home-cooked meals more.
And it also goes without saying, or maybe I do need to say it, that we ALWAYS need to know where food is sourced from, which is why we always want to eat organic produce, as much as possible, locally sourced and in season is even better, and eat animal protein that’s grass-fed, wild, grain-free, cage-free. That’s why when you shop at Whole Foods, they list those things out both for produce - where it came from, and also they have the color-rating for seafood and animal protein.
Now everything that I just covered is what we get into, in great depth and detail in the 21-Day Sugar Detox. This program is much more than a sugar detox. It teaches you WHAT IS real food and HOW to transition to a real food way of eating. And the best part is that it meets you where you are.
Look, I understand that it’s really hard to make these kinds of changes when you’ve never made them before. But if you know that your body can’t tolerate gluten or dairy or any food and you continue to eat it, you are giving that food priority and power over your own well-being.
If you know you are struggling with hormone imbalances, an autoimmune disease, metabolic syndrome or some other health challenges and you know that food can be medicine but you haven’t been able to make the changes you know you need to make that’s understandable because its hard do!
And that’s why there are programs like the 21-Day Sugar Detox, that give you a framework to work with, oh and have multiple Levels to meet you where you are! And it’s not an all-or-nothing type of program. If you happen to slip up on Day 10, you don’t have to start over and go back to Day 1. This is not about making you feel guilty or a failure - it's all about teaching and learning as you go so that there’s changed behavior - so that you don’t have to keep doing programs like this over and over again - it becomes your new normal.
And because we know it's not easy, simple but not easy, that’s why there are people like me who have been through this before and we’re here to guide and support you through your process of finding YOUR new normal - not mine, not someone else's - yours.
So if you are interested in doing the 21-Day Sugar Detox or even go a little deeper, make sure you head on over to my website, www.livefablife.com and click on the Work With Me page and request a private consult or shoot me a message through the Contact page and let’s have a conversation on what’s going on with you and figure out what the best option for you will be.
That’s it for this week! Once again, you can find me at www.livefablife.com, join my email list for insider exclusives, weekly updates and find out when my next 21-Day Sugar Detox group program is happening. Thanks for listening and see you next week!
Naomi Nakamura is a Functional Nutrition Health Coach. Through her weekly show, The Live FAB Live Podcast, programs, coaching services and safer skincare solutions, she helps people with chronic skin issues clear up their skin by teaching them where food meets physiology and how food, gut health, stress, and toxins are intricately connected to the health and appearance of our skin. Naomi resides in the San Francisco Bay Area and can often be found romping around the city with her puppy girl, Coco Pop!
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