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Propello Life blog five reasons you're struggling to eat clean

Five reasons you're struggling to eat clean

By: Britt Maughan, RD, CPT, CPPC

The term clean eating can mean a lot of different things. For most, it means eating whole foods that are minimally processed. It can also be referring to the manufacturing process - avoiding foods made with antibiotics, pesticides, and/or hormones. It’s not an official term, meaning, there’s no certification process or private entity that’s been accredited by the USDA. It’s really up for interpretation. 

That being said – when someone is told to “eat clean,” the endless list of questions about each food inevitably follows. Is this clean? Is this okay to eat? Is this bad? What if it’s a processed food, but the ingredient list looks “clean?” How can I eat out, and still eat clean? As you can see, it gets complicated.

Obviously all food is not created equal. Some foods have more benefits and nutrients than others. And while I’m 100% in support of choosing whole, real foods (with ingredients you can pronounce) most of the time, trying to simply adhere to “clean” eating comes with a few challenges that might be getting in the way of your progress.

  1. It creates an unhealthy relationship with food.

Food should not be good or bad. It just is. Some food provides more protein, fiber, vitamins & minerals, and others less. Assigning a moral value to food makes the food itself, right or wrong. You’re either eating clean or you’re cheating. This can lead to guilt about the “unclean” food you ate, and can lead to binge eating on the weekends, where often a “cheat meal” turns into a “cheat weekend.” This not only creates an unhealthy relationship with food, but it can really throw off your week, and hinder your progress – especially if you’re dieting to lose weight.
    1. It can create social anxiety.

    Life happens. Weddings, holidays, birthdays, and vacation are some of the greatest moments of our lives – and are often paired with food. Limiting yourself to a select list of foods makes it harder to not only adhere to the diet, but actually enjoy yourself during these events. Enjoy yourself in these moments, don't feel bad about it, and get right back to eating clean the next day.
      1. It can make it harder to hit your calorie and macro targets.

      If you’re trying to gain muscle, you typically need to be in a caloric surplus. This means MORE food and more calories – typically in the form of carbs and protein. Eating clean can make it difficult to hit a high calorie target when you’re eating nutrient dense, high fiber foods; especially vegetables.
      There can be too much of a good thing! While fiber is an important part of your diet, too much can lead to GI distress, constipation, and bloating (this happens because fiber pulls water into the gut). Aim for about 10-15g of fiber per 1000 calories. Trying to eat a high calorie diet (which can be hard for some), is difficult when you feel full and are backed up!
        1. It can hinder your performance for strength & endurance athletes.

        If you’re an endurance athlete, you need quick digesting carbs (aka SUGAR) to fuel your body quickly and efficiently. General recs call for about 200-300 calories per hour for athletic events over 90 minutes. This is where sports drinks, cyclic dextrin, fructose, glucose, gels, and chews come in handy. Technically these aren’t “clean” foods because they are processed and are mostly sugar. But when you’re an athlete and you burn through your glycogen storage (aka sugar stored in muscles and liver), you need to replenish them before you bonk (aka run out of energy).
        If you’re a strength athlete, quick digesting carbs can help you power through a high intensity workout (like CrossFit) and help support muscle building. This means you can push weight harder and longer and build more muscular strength and endurance. Eating high carbs before and after a workout also avoids the risk of your body breaking down muscle for fuel, and supports better muscle building and recovery.
        As a rule of thumb, you burn through your energy (glycogen) store in about 45 minutes. So if your workout, training, or game is longer than 45 minutes then you will want to consider consuming easy digesting carb sources. The target would be about 20-50 grams of carbs per hour.
          1. It’s simply not sustainable. The best diet is one you can stick to.

          A diet shouldn’t just be a point in time where you watch what you eat just to lose weight. The definition of diet is “the kinds of food that a person, animal, or community habitually eats.” It’s simply what you eat – all the time. If you don’t intend to eat clean forever, don’t make it your diet. If you don’t intend to cut carbs forever, don’t make it your diet. If you don’t intend to eat keto forever, don’t make it your diet.
          A diet should be flexible and sustainable. A diet should be something that you can adhere to, that includes some of your favorite foods, that allows you to have a healthy relationship with food, and provides balance. Just remember - sustainable methods create sustainable results!

            While I’m all for eating colorful fruits and vegetables, pasture raised eggs, organic chicken and healthy fats, I aim to eat these foods 80% of the time. I make sure I hit my protein, fat, and carb targets – and I make room for the foods I love…like DONUTS. I go and get a burger with my kids, I eat birthday cake at parties if I feel like it, and I go out on dates with my husband and enjoy a pint and pizza (and sometimes, I intentionally don’t track. Crazy, I know).

            My definition of clean eating has changed over the years. I realized that my performance and my ability to diet successfully (and keep the weight off) was hindered by too strict of a diet. I didn’t have powerful workouts, I didn’t have great recovery, I felt super limited with my food choices, and I had guilt when I couldn’t be consistent. Shifting to a more flexible diet and allowing myself the freedom to choose how I allocated my calorie / macronutrient “budget” was liberating. I could navigate social situations better, I built more muscle in a diet phase, and looked leaner in a cut phase, and above all else, it was sustainable.

            Coaching my clients this way has made such an impact on their adherence and overall success – and it’s become a part of their lifestyle, beyond a month-long challenge or weight loss goal. They feel empowered and have learned to become aware of what foods make them feel good and what foods help them perform better. They are more mindful of what they eat – based on their individual preferences, not a food list of what to eat / what not to eat.

            Check out this related article on 4 reasons you are eating clean and not losing weight.

            Propello Life article 4 reasons you're eating clean and not losing weight

             About the Author: Britt Maughan

            As a collegiate rower, Britt learned the importance of proper training and nutrition. Not only did this play a major role in her performance on the crew team, but became her passion as she studied to become a registered dietitian at NYU. After working at Los Angeles County Hospital as an R.D., Britt soon realized her goal was to work in the field of sports dietetics, helping athletes and weekend warriors program their nutrition for performance.

            Over the past few years, she’s worked with professional and collegiate athletes competing in CrossFit, Paddle Boarding, and Triathlons. In addition to pro athletes, Britt works with clients looking to create better lifestyle habits that help them become stronger, healthier and happier! She values the one-on-one coaching connection and puts a focus on full mind and body wellness - helping her clients manage stress, set a solid foundation, and learn how to properly gain muscle and lose weight in a way that is enjoyable and sustainable. 

            She lives in Tennessee with her husband and three kids. She loves protein shakes, donuts, and lifting heavy weights! You can follow her @brittmaughanrd on instagram.

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