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How to Eat Clean: The Do’s and Don’ts of Healthy Clean Eating

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I shared my thoughts on clean eating and how it can become unhealthy about a month ago.  I truly appreciated the positive feedback, and felt as though it resonated with many of you.  Sticking with the “clean eating” topic, I thought it would be fun to share my own personal “Do’s” and “Don’ts of how to approach clean eating in a healthy way.  As I mentioned in my first post, I am not a registered dietitian, nor do I have a medical degree.  I am simply basing these how to’s off of my own experiences with the highs and lows of clean eating.

dos and donts healthy clean eating graphicHow to Eat Clean: The Do’s and Don’ts of Healthy Clean Eating

vegetablesDo base the majority of your food choices around whole foods.  Focus on making the bulk of your food choices fruits and vegetables, lean proteins, whole grains, and healthy fats.

Don’t fear processed foods when eaten in moderation.  Sure, I’d love to be able to eat whole foods 100% of the time.  But that is simply not practical for me, nor is it practical for most people.  Plus, I thoroughly enjoy crackers, cereal, chips, and pre-packaged popcorn way too much to give them up!

Don’t follow an all or nothing approach.  You do not have to make “perfect” food choices in order to benefit from clean eating.

veggie burgerDon’t feel guilty about eating out more frequently than normal while on vacation or for special occasions.  Food is a part of celebrations in our society, and that is something we should embrace and not fear.  Of course, this does not mean you have to make unhealthy choices while eating out.  Often times I like to go for the monstrously large veggie burger and enjoy a salad on the side if I know I will be eating out a lot within a small time period.  Balance, balance, balance!  And if you truly want the veggie burger AND the fries, I say go for it!  You will soon fall back into the pattern of cooking at home more, and everything will equal out.

Do make choosing water a habit.  Does this mean you can never enjoy a Diet Coke, beer, or glass of wine?  Of course not!  But aim to choose water the majority of the time.

Don’t  feel as though you must over-exercise in order to compensate for a “not so clean” day.  As I mentioned before, some days will be more “clean” and whole than others.  These will balance out, and we should feel comfortable keeping our workout routine consistent from day-to-day.

christmas sugar cookieDo eat cake on your birthday, pumpkin pie on Thanksgiving Day, and cookies on Christmas.  Seriously, people.  Don’t give up your favorite holiday treats out of fear that they are not “clean” enough.  There are 365 days in the year.  The holidays are not going to make you or break you.

Don’t label foods as “good” or “bad.”  The second you do that, the easier it is to feel guilt-ridden if you eat too many “bad” foods and not enough “good” foods.

Do meal plan and prep food on a free day in order to set yourself up for a healthy week.  I also find that incorporating new recipes each week helps to keep healthy eating exciting and enjoyable.  I am not one of those people who can eat a salad every day and feel satisfied.  Serious props to those who are able to!

Don’t feel guilty if you stray from your meal plan.  It is there as a guideline, but does not need to be rigid.  If you get invited to go out to dinner with friends on a day you were normally planning to make a healthy, “clean” meal at home, be spontaneous and adjust your plan.  Life is really about experiences, not rigidity.  Being able to be flexible with our diets is an important quality to have. <– This is something I am really working on!

pizzaDo treat yourself to your favorite restaurant meals.  A side of french fries or several slices of pizza once every couple of weeks are not going to ruin your healthy lifestyle.  In fact, making these food choices now and then are generally a sign of a healthy relationship with food.

Don’t make comparisons when it comes to food.  This is, of course, much easier said than done.  But listen to your body and eat what you know will make you feel best- both mentally and physically.  Eating choices that work for one person may not work for another person.  Our diets are not universal.

salmonDo cook healthy meals with family and friends.  Not only can this cause healthy habits to rub off on those we care about, but it is proof that healthy eating experiences can be fun and delicious.  Remember, it is all about finding balance between the healthy and not-as-healthy social experiences!

Do  listen to your body.  If your body is craving healthy fats, it probably needs more fats.  If your body feels better when you eat meals and several snacks throughout the day, that is probably the eating pattern that your body thrives on.  Some people function best on three large meals per day.  Others prefer three meals paired with snacks in the morning, afternoon, and/or evening.  Just because one person is not a snacker does not mean you shouldn’t be either.  Our bodies are pretty smart.  We would do ourselves a lot of good if we gave them a bit more credit!

These are just a few of the do’s and don’ts that I have come up with on the topic of clean eating, and I am sure there are many more.  While some of these may not be applicable to you, I truly believe that the majority of these can be helpful guidelines for those who are just starting out with, or looking to positively change, their quest for a “clean eating” way of life.

Do you have any personal do’s and don’ts for healthy clean eating?

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{ 65 comments… add one }
  • Nancy February 3, 2015, 12:32 am
    This is an awesome post! I am always looking for better ways to eat :) Thank you for sharing! Nancy recently posted...Sweeter Than Tulepo HoneyMy Profile
    • ClnEatingVegGrl February 3, 2015, 9:25 am
      You are so welcome, Nancy! I hope you found something helpful that you can relate to :)
  • Dixya @ Food, Pleasure, and Health February 3, 2015, 6:32 am
    so many great reminders! Dixya @ Food, Pleasure, and Health recently posted...Kale, Leek, and Cheese FrittataMy Profile
    • ClnEatingVegGrl February 3, 2015, 9:28 am
      Thanks Dixya! I hope others can relate to it and keep them in mind when making food choices.
  • Lisa @ RunWiki February 3, 2015, 7:30 am
    This is great Hannah. All of your do's and don't's are right on and this is exactly how I personally choose to approach clean eating. Everything in moderation, but I must say that there will always be people who take it to the extreme and hide behind the label "clean eating" as a way to justify their eating disorder. I am in no way judging, because that is the very last thing someone needs who has a problem, but simply bringing up the truth. A few weeks ago I wrote a sponsored post about this subject that hasn't been published yet-- I wish had been able to link this article to it. I'm going to do a "part 2 " and will include this. Great post! Lisa @ RunWiki recently posted...How I Made Money Running Last Year–and I’m not fast.My Profile
    • ClnEatingVegGrl February 3, 2015, 9:31 am
      I look forward to reading your post!! I have definitely seen the unhealthy side of clean eating firsthand, so I love posts that encourage others to focus on clean eating in a health/nonobsessive way.
  • Farrah February 3, 2015, 7:30 am
    These are awesome reminders and tips! <3 I'm definitely with you on the meal prepping! Farrah recently posted...Rebel Fish & ProYo TreatsMy Profile
    • ClnEatingVegGrl February 3, 2015, 9:32 am
      Thank you, Farrah! I hope others will take these to heart and approach clean eating in a healthy way!
  • Alli O February 3, 2015, 7:38 am
    Great post! I also like to pre-portion a lot of my snacks. That way I know I won't over eat and feel guilty later. It's ok to indulge in the not-so-healthy snacks but this way it doesn't become a bigger issue.
    • ClnEatingVegGrl February 3, 2015, 9:33 am
      Yes!! I think splurging and eating less healthy food/snacks is great, as long as it is done in moderation. Happy eating :)
  • AJ @ NutriFitMama February 3, 2015, 7:51 am
    Yes! These are all great tips and reminders! It's so easy to develop an unhealthy relationship with food for so many people. I find the healthier and more clean I eat, the easier it is to stick with it because it really makes me FEEL good. AJ @ NutriFitMama recently posted...Skinny Copycat Orange Julius RecipeMy Profile
    • ClnEatingVegGrl February 3, 2015, 9:34 am
      It is amazing how food can make us feel. We are so lucky that, for the most part, healthy foods make us feel good. Then we want to eat them more! :)
  • Linda @ Veganosity February 3, 2015, 7:55 am
    Great advice Hannah! It seems like the world is full of three types of people. Mindless eaters - those who go through their lives not thinking about what they eat. Obsessive eaters - those who can't enjoy food because they constantly count calories, avoid certain foods, etc. Mindful eaters - those who eat a balanced diet but don't stress out if they eat a piece of cake or a bag of chips once in a while. If everyone could get on the mindful eating plan I believe a lot of the health issues in this country would be eliminated. Unfortunately, psychology plays a huge role in how and what people eat, so it's not so simple. Linda @ Veganosity recently posted...Vegan Spinach LasagnaMy Profile
    • ClnEatingVegGrl February 3, 2015, 9:36 am
      I love the way you put that, Linda! That is SO true! And yes... our mind plays SUCH a huge role in our eating habits (along with society <-- majorly). I wish I could snap my fingers and we could eliminate all of the social norms regarding food and just eat what is natural and good for our bodies! I truly believe our bodies will crave healthy foods 90% of the time when given the choice (if social influences are not included).
  • GiGi Eats February 3, 2015, 7:56 am
    I have been eating out so much more these days and I don't feel guilty at all because I am a master at the menu! ;) GiGi Eats recently posted...Britney Spears is Drenched!My Profile
    • ClnEatingVegGrl February 3, 2015, 9:37 am
      Yay for guilt-free cooking and eating!!! It's all about the balance :)
  • Rebecca @ Strength and Sunshine February 3, 2015, 8:04 am
    Love it! These are all so true! Just focusing on whole real foods is best but still eating some processed is all good! I love my zucchini, but I also love my cereal! It's all about variety and eating what makes your body thrive!
    • ClnEatingVegGrl February 3, 2015, 9:38 am
      Yay for balance. I hear you... we all need cereal in our lives ;)
  • Anna | richaskings February 3, 2015, 8:25 am
    Love that you take the emphasis OFF of guilt! It is so important to not beat ourselves up. This was a great post--thanks for sharing! Anna | richaskings recently posted...A Whole Month of Whole FoodMy Profile
    • ClnEatingVegGrl February 3, 2015, 9:40 am
      Thank you, Anna. I am so glad you feel that way. We definitely need to work on embracing and celebrating happy eating (this includes the not-so-healthy foods in moderation) and stop beating ourselves up for it. If we eat healthy 80% of the time, the other 20% isn't going to make or break us!
  • Channing C February 3, 2015, 8:39 am
    I try to do the same, and mix health foods with processed foods. Like you said, as long as you eat in moderation, it's okay. Channing C recently posted...8 Other Ways To Spend Valentine’s DayMy Profile
    • ClnEatingVegGrl February 3, 2015, 9:40 am
      You got it!! Moderation is key. Now if only society would get on board with that!
  • Em @ Love A Latte February 3, 2015, 8:40 am
    Great post! For me, healthy clean eating just means sticking to a plant-based diet for the most part. I eat eggs occasionally. I don't skimp on desserts ever and I just really try to enjoy food and have fun with it. Em @ Love A Latte recently posted...What I Eat as a Plant-Based Eater, Full-Time Working, Nursing MamaMy Profile
    • ClnEatingVegGrl February 3, 2015, 9:42 am
      I love that philosophy, Em! Keeping things mostly plant-based (my goal as well) really leads to eating predominantly healthy. If we are eating healthy 80% of the time, the other 20% of desserts/pizza/etc. aren't really that big of a deal. It is what we do regularly that matters, not what we do on occasion :)
  • jess meddows February 3, 2015, 10:53 am
    Hannah, this is all such sensible advice. Life is far too short to do all or nothing! :) (says me who just did the low fat no oil vegan diet LOL) jess meddows recently posted...Glow Worm Tunnel NewnesMy Profile
    • ClnEatingVegGrl February 3, 2015, 1:56 pm
      Haha, well hey we can try everything once, right? Just so long as we ultimately settle on moderation the majority of the time :)
  • Miranda @ Miranda Writes Blog February 3, 2015, 10:58 am
    I was going to write out a long comment, but then I realized it would just be easier to say "I agree with everything!" because I totally do. ;) Miranda @ Miranda Writes Blog recently posted...Quick & Easy 'No-Makeup' MakeupMy Profile
    • ClnEatingVegGrl February 3, 2015, 1:57 pm
      HAHA! Thanks, Miranda. I am so glad that others have a similar way of looking at clean eating :)
  • Alex Caspero MA,RD (@delishknowledge) February 3, 2015, 11:16 am
    Love these rules, especially not fearing processed foods in moderation! It's life! Clean eating doesn't have to be so black and white, these rules are great! :) Alex Caspero MA,RD (@delishknowledge) recently posted...General Tso’s CauliflowerMy Profile
    • ClnEatingVegGrl February 3, 2015, 1:58 pm
      Thanks Alex!! Great comment about not making clean eating black and white. When I first started on my healthy journey, I thought it was black and white and that I was either eating "good food" or "bad food." Now I realize that the gray area of clean eating is what gets us to the healthy part of clean eating. Moderation not obsession is the way to go!
  • Erin @ Her Heartland Soul February 3, 2015, 11:31 am
    Great post! I agree with all your do's and dont's. I would add don't beat yourself up if you fall off the clean eating wagon. Just pick yourself up and start again at the next meal. Erin @ Her Heartland Soul recently posted...Honey For Your HoneyMy Profile
    • ClnEatingVegGrl February 3, 2015, 1:59 pm
      GREAT one!! That is so important. Having an "off" day or week is completely normal and does not mean that we have to start back at square one.
  • Sam @ PancakeWarriors February 3, 2015, 12:20 pm
    This is perfection! Love how real this makes clean eating. Meal prep makes eating clean so much more enjoyable! Clean eating has made me so much more creative in the kitchen as well. I love making my own food, especially snacks! Sam @ PancakeWarriors recently posted...Citrus Dressing on Goat Cheese Beet SaladMy Profile
    • ClnEatingVegGrl February 3, 2015, 2:01 pm
      I definitely agree with you on that, Sam. I NEVER had to be creative in the kitchen before, but now I love the challenge of seeing how I can make certain foods healthier or vegetarian/vegan. And the more we cook at home, the better we get at it!
  • Dana | fresh simple five February 3, 2015, 3:25 pm
    Love these tips! I especially like how you really emphasize balance, enjoying the joy food brings and to focusing on being perfect. I think all of these things add up to a really healthy relationship with food. Dana | fresh simple five recently posted...Scenes from a Snow DayMy Profile
    • ClnEatingVegGrl February 3, 2015, 4:31 pm
      I have come to find that it really is all about balance! I was very much into the black and white view point when I first started with clean eating, which ultimately led me to an unhealthy relationship with food. I hope to encourage others to eat clean whenever possible, but to ALSO make room for the treats and splurges and NOT feel guilty about doing so!
  • Charissa (@ColourfulPalate) February 3, 2015, 4:52 pm
    Super practical post! For me, eating healthy is eating what I crave...with a healthy twist. It's chocolate..cool, I make cocoa, stevia, and coconut oil and freeze it. Or make a chocolate protein shake... It's being smart about your cravings and submitting to them in a healthy way. Charissa (@ColourfulPalate) recently posted...Oh, it’s FebruaryMy Profile
    • ClnEatingVegGrl February 3, 2015, 5:57 pm
      That is a GREAT way of looking at it, Charissa! And, lucky for us, a lot of the times our bodies truly do crave healthy foods!
  • Ashley February 3, 2015, 8:24 pm
    So many good reminders here! I so agree with you - not beating yourself up is so important! As is not taking an all-or-nothing approach!! Balance is where it is at - I make healthy choices most of the time but have learned to really enjoy special occasions (whether that just be a friday night out or christmas!) Ashley recently posted...Bacon, Brie and Pear FlatbreadsMy Profile
    • ClnEatingVegGrl February 4, 2015, 10:52 am
      Amen to that! It is important to remember that it doesn't have to be a specific holiday in order to be a special occasion or a day where we don't eat as "clean." We definitely need to treat ourselves more frequently than just the holidays!
  • Miss Polkadot February 4, 2015, 12:20 am
    Yesss! I was basically nodding at every point you made. Clean eating should always include having a 'clean' coincience: feeling good about whichever choices you made - whether they were nutritious or 'fun' foods. Living life in a constant mindset of good and bad/black and white thinking is unhealthy. Great post, Hannah! Miss Polkadot recently posted...Love is in the truffles [Healthy Vegan Marzipan Truffles]My Profile
    • ClnEatingVegGrl February 4, 2015, 10:54 am
      I LOVE the way you put that... "clean eating should always include having a 'clean' conscience." That is so well said!
  • Rachael @ Love Yourself Green February 4, 2015, 4:20 pm
    Great post, Hannah - my #1 is always listen to your body! That has served me very well. x Rachael @ Love Yourself Green recently posted...6 Easy Steps to Help You Adapt to ChangeMy Profile
    • ClnEatingVegGrl February 4, 2015, 6:59 pm
      Thank you, Rachael! Yes... our bodies are pretty darn smart. We need to give them more credit!
  • Molly February 7, 2015, 9:44 pm
    Preach it. This is amazing and I wish everyone could read it. Molly recently posted...Dear Weight Watchers:My Profile
    • ClnEatingVegGrl February 8, 2015, 10:42 am
      Thank you, Molly! I hope this post with resonate with others they will not be so hard on themselves! We definitely do not have to be perfect, especially when it comes to food!
  • Amanda @ Diary of a Semi-Health Nut February 7, 2015, 10:32 pm
    Amen to all of this!! The all or nothing approach is soul-crushing when it comes to "eating healthy" or "eating clean" because what it life without cookies?? Amanda @ Diary of a Semi-Health Nut recently posted...Fab Feb Frigidaire GiveawayMy Profile
    • ClnEatingVegGrl February 8, 2015, 10:43 am
      That is SO the perfect way to describe it: "soul-crushing." I couldn't have said it better myself!
  • Dani @ DaniCaliforniaCooks February 9, 2015, 12:05 am
    Really appreciate your balanced approach towards diet and clean eating! I'm really trying to relax when it comes to meals, and not feel "guilty" if I indulge. It's a process!
    • ClnEatingVegGrl February 9, 2015, 2:19 pm
      It is DEFINITELY a process! I still have my "bad" days where I am harder on myself than I should be. But the thing to aim for is progress! I am excited for the day when I no longer think of food with guilt AT ALL!
  • Danielle February 9, 2015, 11:44 am
    Love these Do's and Don'ts! I just did a Whole30 over December (boy did I pick the wrong month....), and even though it was tough, I had a great time with all the food prep and I learned a lot. Even though I've been officially done with the Whole30 for over a month now, I still haven't added all the foods back in to my diet, and I don't plan on really going back to eating how I was (which was very healthy from a macronutrient standpoint - but it did involve a lot of processed foods). I am going to do it more like you've outlined here - maintaining a pretty clean diet most of the time and saving the "less healthy" meals for special occasions and outings. Thanks for sharing your tips! Danielle recently posted...Nutrition School: Part 1My Profile
    • ClnEatingVegGrl February 9, 2015, 2:21 pm
      That sounds like a great plan, Danielle! I think aiming for as healthy/"clean" as possible MOST of the time, but fitting in treats and splurges now and then is the way to go!
  • Ashley @ A Lady Goes West February 9, 2015, 2:56 pm
    Hi there! This is a very realistic and balanced approach to clean eating. I agree with you that it's not ALL or NOTHING. In fact, just do the best you can and let yourself enjoy life. I don't think a diet should completely control someone's life. These are great ways to look at a healthy lifestyle. Thanks for sharing! :) Ashley @ A Lady Goes West recently posted...The weekend, my workouts and the new VINT appMy Profile
    • ClnEatingVegGrl February 9, 2015, 7:34 pm
      Thank you, Ashley! You are definitely right. Food and diets should NOT control our lives. Life should be enjoyed, not filled up with feelings of guilt/worry about food.
  • Casey February 9, 2015, 6:02 pm
    I love this so much! It's nice to see someone giving realistic advice for real people!!
    • ClnEatingVegGrl February 9, 2015, 7:35 pm
      Thanks, Casey! I hope people connected with the post and will focus on the positives when it comes to food and "clean" eating, not the negatives/feelings of guilt. It's time that we ENJOY life and not spend it worried about food!
  • Amanda Park March 9, 2015, 8:17 am
    I love this! So true! Thanks for posting. I try eat clean and make the best choices I can but I no longer let it it deter me from socialising with my friends because they might want to eat processed food, drink alcohol or have cake on birthdays. It's all about balance and moderation. I've learned that clean eating isn't a punishment, it's a joy.(and on occasion so are pizza, chips (fries) and alcohol :)) P.s. I live in Scotland and absolutely love your blog! Thanks for all the effort you put in.
    • ClnEatingVegGrl March 9, 2015, 9:53 am
      I love how you put that, Amanda! Clean eating really IS a job, and it enables us to also find joy with the occasional pizza, alchohol, cake, etc.!! :)
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