Is clean eating enough?

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Why just eating clean might not be enough, in fact let me take it a step further, it might actually be the cause of you not making progress or making your self feel drained and weak.

By reading this headline some of you are probably already thinking of packing it in with your new clean eating plan. Don’t worry, don’t burn your diet book just yet! I’m here to hopefully simplify this whole thing and give you a helping hand on your journey! The whole issue really got to me as I found client after client struggling with this exact issue.

In their effort to lose fat, better their health, increase their performance and ultimately look, feel and be awesome they decided to ditch their usual diet filled with cheap processed foods, expensive processed foods bought out and the booze filled weekend. Rightly so! However the newly adapted “clean eating” plan wasn’t calculated, wasn’t being measured and all progress had all but disappeared.

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When it comes to dealing with clean eaters I tend to find 2 things going on: Drastically under eating. No, half an organic cucumber, 100g of free range chicken breast and half teaspoon of organic, virgin, cold processed coconut oil is not enough for lunch. Not for a fully grown man or a woman! The issue I have with this is that people jump on the band wagon way too fast and literally within 24 hours become a clean eating guru, not realising that they are setting themselves up for a big crash and burn finale. I’ve seen this a thousand times and I bet you have seen it too. Just have a look through your Facebook feed, there is bound to be at least one person who is always on a diet. The forever dieter posting pictures of their uber clean meals for 3 weeks at a time. Why for 3 weeks - because most people starving themselves give up after 3 weeks. 1st week you lose a tone of weight and you don’t even miss any foods so naturally you accept that this is the magical way forward and that in 2 months you’ll be rocking an 8 pack. 2nd week you start noticing that you are tired and always cold ,also the training got really hard all of a sudden. You miss the nights spent on a sofa watching your favourite tv shows and you are probably slightly over training. You are still making progress so you have to keep going. 3rd week you discover that every trip to the gym starts with a 30 minute session of standing in front of a mirror crying and grabbing your love handless after which the inner drill sergeant tells you to suck it up buttercup, after which you cry some more and then finally decide that you HAVE to go to the gym. You just think about food all the time. Have no energy, progress is starting to slow down. And rightly so, there is only so long we can try and cheat our natural mechanisms of survival. In the end of the day our nature wins! You pack it in and start eating anything and everything in your sight, quickly regaining all the weight lost and then some. The whole ordeal left you feeling tired, sluggish and fatter than you started but, you remember the first 2 weeks of amazing progress and pounds dropped on the scales, so eventually you go back to it as “you know what works for you” starting the same process deemed to fail in the first place.

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Drastically over eating. No, it doesn’t matter how clean, organic, virgin, cold pressed, juiced your diet is. If you are chronically over eating you won’t get lean, unless you train 3 times a day on top of having a ridiculously heavy physical job. So this one is tricky as some people actually might make far more progress on slightly higher calories so there is always the fact that no 2 diets will be the same or that every single person will react in exactly the same way to the same calories and macro nutrient ratio. How ever in most cases I’ve seen clean eaters making 0 progress or gaining weight and not getting stronger or increasing performance. It’s usually down to lack of any tracking or calculating of the diet to your specific needs and goals. This is a big one as the intentions at the start are always good. You cut out all the crap and eat huge amounts of so called clean foods but also a huge amount of “clean treats” which from a nutrition perspective are still really energy dense, hyper palatable foods, which means you can eat a bucket of it a day and not think anything of it. Lets take nuts for instance, are they nutritious? Yes! Do they pack a lot of essential nutrients? Yes! Is it easy to over eat them especially if they are covered in some form of raw, organic, whole sugar (honey, carob, coconut sugar etc.) In the end of the day you have to remember this, too much of a good thing can cause problems especially if you tend to over eat it on a regular basis. Another fun observation I have made is none of the clean eaters I have dealt with ever over ate on fish, lean meat, broccoli, sauerkraut, cabbage… Again it doesn’t matter how organic, raw, clean it is. An organic Snickers bar is still a snickers bar!

Any of these scenarios sound familiar? Like I said in the beginning I’m here to hopefully shed some light on the issue and help out a bit!

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My approach to the whole thing and what I always tell my clients is there is a time and place for almost everything. Your diet should be as rich in different foods as possible. Including the odd bit of “bad” food every now and then, to keep your inner ape happy. It’s true I don’t eat certain foods like margarine and try and avoid cheap processed oils like canola or rapeseed. I know they have a bad effect on my body so I try and avoid them. But if I decide to get a piece of pastry, which most likely is made with cheap margarine, once a week I really don’t lose sleep over it.

The bulk of my diet and my clients diets comes from mostly home cooked foods rich in vegetables. I’ve seen people getting ripped on junk food and I’ve seen people getting shredded on ultra clean diets. To me both of those are extremes and sooner or later will lead to you not being happy or being sick in some way or the other. If you only eat junk, eventually you will develop nutritional deficiencies which will lead to health problems, more than likely sparked on by an active way of life and hardcore training sessions. If you are an ultra clean eating zealot (like I once was), eventually you will lose your social life as no one wants to have a beer with the guy who only drinks water, invite the guy who brings zip bags of food with him to the cinema or pub. Trust me I’ve been there and done that, I speak from experience.

Like with most things in life its about having some sort of balance! I recommend people count all their meals for the week and make sure that 80% comes from nutritionally dense foods, home cooked meals with a wide range of fruit and veggies. Then the other 20% of your weekly meals you can potentially relax a bit more and have some of the foods you love but are considered “bad” AS LONG AS THEY FIT YOUR MACROS.

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Which brings me to my next point. Whether “clean” or “bad” they have to add up. As said earlier you can very effectively under eat or over eat on clean foods, you will only know what you are doing if you measure the quantities and record them in a macro tracker to have an idea of where you are at.

Once you start tracking your intake of macros it’s very easy to calculate what you need to be doing and the potential cause of your lack of progress. There is a tone of useful info out there for free but if you still feel confused about it you should definitely invest in a coach to help you out but most importantly be patient! It takes time to figure out how your body works and really tune everything in. Don’t give up because you don’t have a perfect six pack after 3 weeks. Good things come to people who consistently work on improving themselves :)

Tomek