If you've read any kind of health news recently, the term "eating clean" was likely thrown around. Why is this catch-phrase getting so much air time? What does it mean to "eat clean?" Why would you want to? Most importantly, how can eating clean get you lean in 2018?
To me "eating clean" just means only consuming the things that my body does well with. I know, after much experimentation, that dairy, most grains, and sugar, just don't make me feel well. My skin, mood, and digestion are just not in their best shape when I eat any of those things. Instead, I aim for lots of healthy fats, loads of fibrous veggies, and only the highest quality proteins.
When we eat foods/ingredients that cause inflammation within our systems, we are not "eating clean." That means that eating clean for you may be very different than your trainer or your spouse says. Maybe you do great with dairy, but can't handle simple sugars. Maybe starchy vegetables are fine, but rice and pasta not so much...
Not eating clean, whatever that means for you, most definitely causes inflammation. Inflammation, in excess, can wreak havoc on our systems. Excessive inflammation can lead to mostly every serious disease state we know of: diabetes, cancer, heart disease, cognitive decline, etc... (1) Inflammation is the body's natural response to an injury or infection. The immune system goes into action to help expel the intruder and heal the area affected. (2)
Inflammation only becomes an issue when it's chronic. When your body is constantly bombarded with the same issues over and over again, inflammation never dissipates.(3) For example, when I was eating grains, my immune system was constantly fighting off gut inflammation that was ensuing. When it became too much, the excessive inflammation manifested in eczema spots that seemed to never heal.
So, if we use the idea of minimizing chronic inflammation as the basis for "eating clean," the definition becomes clearer:
Eating clean means only eating things that bring you health and vitality; avoiding things that cause disease and inflammation.
By default, eating clean also means that you can optimize your health. With only minimal inflammation, the body can then thrive: no bloating, great digestion, getting all the nutrients it needs for energy, cognition, hormone production, etc.
To help give you a visual, I'd like you to look at this picture of our 45th president:
When I see this, I see inflammation: blotchy uneven skin, puffy eyes and neck, wiry hair, overweight, you name it. It's there.
Let's juxtapose this with a fit man the exact same age:
This man does not look like his collar is choking him, his skin is taut and smooth, and there's no redness to be seen. (full disclosure, he's also my dad, so I'm a little biased).
Okay, so you get it: looking like a tomato is not so cute. But how can eating clean lean you out? When you eat only foods that your body processes easily, are nutritious, and don't cause inflammation, you'll be surprised how easily your extra puff and bloat just disappear. Food-related inflammation disrupts gut health, immune health, and overall well-being. Your tissues hold extra fluid and can be swollen when reacting to ingredients that don't agree with you. (4)
Having reactivity to foods is not limited to the traditional allergic reactions we all think of (hives, anaphalaxis, etc). You can easily be reacting to a whole slew of foods that your body has determined are inflammatory invaders. Basically, years of offending foods, stress, even environmental chemicals can cause "leaky gut." When food particles are not well digested and get through the gut barrier, they can set off an immune cascade that gets inflammation going out of control. It can go on for so long that we don't even notice we react to foods anymore because we are in a constant state of inflammation. When I got off dairy, I was surprised to see that my dermatitis keratosis just disappeared. I was told that the "chicken-skin" on my arms and legs was just normal and to use better moisturizer. I was inflamed and had no idea that the dairy proteins weren't working for me! Years later, an occasional indulgence in cheesecake or ice cream brings it right back. (Though sometimes it's SO worth it!)
The easy way to find out if something is inflammatory for you is to just cut it out for at least a month. A simple elimination diet is always a good and relatively easy go-to. But when you cut it out, make sure you go all the way. If you suspect gluten to be the issue, for example, check your sauces, your cereals, everything. You'd be surprised to see where wheat ends up! I find that often when you have a suspicion about a food in particular, you're often already on the right track, so "go with your gut" and cut that one out first.
If guessing is a little too obscure or hard for you to do on your own, I'm happy to work with you to do some food sensitivity testing. The Oxford Biomedical Mediator Release Test is my favorite. They test for every type of immune reaction possible to up to 150 different chemicals and foods! I was really bummed to find out pork was on my high reactivity list, but took it out for a couple months and now do just fine with it. If you're interested in getting your own test done, I'm happy to order that for you.
Regardless of how you decide to "eat clean," just remember, it's always specific to YOU. What works for you is individual to your body, your history, your chemistry, your life in this moment. If you'd like some help in figuring out how to dial this in, I'm here for you!!
Yours in Health,