healthy eating african american woman

“Clean eating” is the latest trend on the fitness scene. Everyone’s food is “clean.” Everyone’s meals are “clean.” Clean foods, clean plates…clean clean clean. But all the phrase really means is you’re not eating processed or unnatural foods and instead you’re only putting fresh, natural foods in your body.

To help demystify what it means to eat clean, last year, I broke down the whats and whys behind this lifestyle, and I’ve been covering it on my own website for years now – as it was and is an integral part of my own weight loss transformation – but one of the things I hear so often from my readership is “But Erika, there’s sooooooooooo much information! I don’t even think I know where to begin!”

Of course, Big Sis has got you covered.

If you’re new to clean eating and want a few tips on where you can begin to implement major changes, here are a few places to get started:

1) Look at what you’re drinking. So much of clean eating is about coming away from chemical processing and unhealthy additives and preservatives that are hiding just about everywhere, especially your drinks. Just about all commercial drinks, unfortunately, have at least one unrecognizable ingredient in them, and that’s enough to exclude the drink from the “clean” category.

If you must go for something flavored, think low in sugar (for health reasons, and also because many – if not most - sweet drinks are sweet due to high fructose corn syrup and other unhealthy sweeteners like aspartame, splenda, and the like) like coconut water, or go for fresh-pressed juice.

Don’t fall for that “all-natural” stamp on the front label, though. That’s not as reliable as we once thought. Instead, look at the list of ingredients to be sure of what you’re drinking. 

2) Skip the candy. I know, I know, you’ve got evil co-workers who love to sabotage one another by continuously filling up the candy jar, but you’ve got to rise above and beyond. Oftentimes, people mindlessly dart to candy and other kinds of tempting sweets (office birthday cake, anyone?) when things start getting stressful in the inbox or at the desk. No one understands that better than I do. I also understand how hazardous a habit this can become if not properly checked.

Consider keeping fresh fruit on hand. I am notorious about keeping different kinds of fruit in the house for when I get the inkling that I want a nice bite of something sweet. Pineapple, watermelon, strawberries, carambola (otherwise known as ‘star fruit’), raspberries? That’s nature’s candy, right there. And they’ll not only give you that little bit of sweet you’re looking for, but they’ll also give you vitamins, minerals, nutrients, and fiber. Whereas candy could easily turn you into a bottomless pit, fresh fruit will actually fill you up in a way candy couldn’t.

(To help with your transition, go for big bags of frozen fruit until you can do all fresh. Frozen fruits are less expensive than fresh, and they last longer because they’re frozen!)

3) Re-calibrate your breakfast. If there was one meal where people are most likely to eat the least clean, it’s breakfast. Mornings are rough! Getting up early, getting ready, preparing for the day, making sure we have everything we need… it all takes time. The same time that we struggle to set aside for a healthy breakfast. Either you skip breakfast, eat something “quick” like cereal, or “pick something up along the way,” three things that leave you pretty vulnerable to added chemicals – and calories. Skipping breakfast could contribute to a desire to overeat at your next meal; eating that “quick” cereal or “instant” oatmeal could leave you hungry for something equally sugary and sweet; and “picking something up along the way” could result in you picking up many more calories than you originally anticipated, and still leave you hungry in the end. What do you do?

You plan ahead.

Make yourself a pot of overnight oats – savory or sweet – or, when you have free time, make yourself a crunchy granola cereal to replace that sugary treat you tend to love. Rest assured, there’s no amount of sugar you can put in your own homemade cereal that will compare to how much sugar is in your favorite box of Cap’n Cocoa Krispies (and even if you tried, I guarantee it would be inedible).

Outside of what’s in your pantry and freezer right now, these three spots are the primary sources of grief when it comes to converting to clean eating. Though there are many resources out there to help you make the change – including my own free Clean Eating Boot Camp – starting here will have you feeling better, looking better, and feeling encouraged to take that next small step into great, big changes. As I always say, your body will thank you for it!

Erika Nicole Kendall is the certified trainer and writer behind the award-winning blog, A Black Girl’s Guide to Weight Loss. Ask her your health and fitness-related questions on twitter at @bgg2wl.