The Down and Dirty on Clean Eating

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When I started this blog, I did a mini-series called Dirty Little Clean Secrets that to this day are some of my most popular posts. This is amusing because I knew very little about blogging back in 2012 and was just writing what I cared about. What’s even more amusing is that two years later, I haven’t learned much about blogging – except that “dirty little secrets” provides interesting and unsavory search traffic. But I have gained a wealth of knowledge through experience about clean living and eating and I still love to share information to help others.

There are very few conversations that cause me to take a firm stance and they generally fall into one of two categories: faith and food. While I love to talk about my faith, I want to focus on the many, many questions about what I feed my family and why. I realize the food choices that are common for us seem odd to others. Straight away – pause the background music – I want to be clear that I am not telling you what or how to feed your family. Our family’s journey to a healthier lifestyle is ours – you need to be responsible for yours. In fact, our very definition of “healthy” is probably different. But I am telling you to be an informed consumer and make educated decisions and sharing ours.

Our journey to clean eating started when I was pregnant with Emery and has changed and evolved several times. But at the core, my numero uno food rule is to eat real food. One of my favorite quotes on this is by Dr. Alejandro Junger (yes, this same Junger) who says, “The problem is that we aren’t eating real food anymore; we are eating food-like products.”

Right?

I have yet to meet anyone who truly believes processed foods are better than the real deal. But we live in a culture that promotes taste over function and sacrifices nutrients for convenience. Before we started eating a cleaner diet, we were eating under the advice of a well meaning personal trainer who encouraged low fat dairy, artificial sweeteners, fortified grains and diet sodas. Josh and I were both working long hours and many of our food choices were based on convenience. We trusted that this professional knew more about our health than we did. We wised up and cut out the processed grains and started making our own bread. A few months later, we started thinking hard about organic produce. And then looking at where our meats came from.

I know what it’s like to be pressed for time, money and energy and pulled like a Stretch Armstrong between all the new “right” ways to eat. It’s overwhelming to figure out what a clean, healthy diet looks like – I get it. Paleo. Low carb. Vegan. Vegetarian. Organic. Local. Raw. Every supporter claims their way is the right way. Regardless of who is “right,” I promise you that making even small steps away from processed, empty-calorie foods will show a big return on your health. The journey to clean eating and natural living is a journey – it’s a process, trial-and-error, failures and grand successes. It doesn’t have to be all-or-nothing. It’s taking baby steps that turn into bigger steps that eventually lead to a stride.

There are thousands of blogs that do a great job of highlighting the reasons why we should eat unprocessed foods. so why am I even talking about this?

A few reasons. My passion is holistic health. That means I want to help people life their fullest, most satisfying life possible. Eating a clean, unprocessed, organic, locally sourced – whatever you want to call it – is the most important piece of a healthy, natural lifestyle. It doesn’t matter how many vitamins, supplements, fermented foods, non-toxic cleaners, yoga sessions or essential oils you use – if your diet isn’t strong, neither is your health. It’s my goal to help others improve their overall wellness but a strong foundation in good nutrition is necessary.

Secondly, I’ve been there. And it wasn’t until food allergies forced us to examine our diet that we finally made serious, life-long changes. We had to do a dramatic overhaul of our diets – multiple times – and quickly. We were in for it, sink or swim, praying we would swim. Our first dairy allergy diagnosis forced us to make a change but that doesn’t mean it was easy and in hind sight, we made a lot of decisions then that I wouldn’t encourage now. But it’s a process.

Third, I’m not Paleo. Or vegetarian. Or anything. I strive for clean. Unprocessed. Nutrient-dense. I may subscribe to certain aspects of a diet theory but health is not a one-size-fits-all approach. That does not mean I’m perfect or in perfect health (obviously). We eat out. We give in to cravings. We live on a budget. We travel. I have kids who want sugar and junk and treats. I don’t make everything from scratch.

And although our diet is clean, my kitchen is messy. Like, really messy. Don’t stop over unannounced. Does anyone want to do my dishes?

So, what Down and Dirty of Clean Eating topics are we going to talk about?

  • What is a Clean Diet?
  • Making Time
  • Eating on a Budget
  • Eating on the Go
  • Clean Eating for Kids

Guys, I’m ridiculously excited about this.

I want to hear from you! What topics do you want to talk about? What stops you from eating a less-processed, nutrient-dense diet? What tips work for you? Please share!

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Detoxing and Discoveries.

On the first day of Dr. Alejandro Junger’s “Clean” detox, I felt great. I loaded up with my morning smoothie and went off to exercise. I came home and had some chicken and roasted brussel sprouts for lunch – still feeling strong. But by 3 p.m., the headaches began. Oh, caffeine withdrawal, I loathe you. I don’t consider myself to be a coffee-addict but it’s incredible how much simple things affect the body. By 6 p.m., I went into Naked and Afraid mode. Have you ever seen the show on Discovery Channel? Basically, they lay around in the wilderness exhausted and hungry (and naked) and wait for their 21 days to pass. While I was fully clothed, my body was preserving calories and I was “mentally” hungry. That evening, Josh was running late and I still had to cook dinner, bathe and put the girls to bed. By the time it was all done, I passed out in bed too tired to brush the evening smoothie from my teeth.

My first day is exactly how you shouldn’t approach a detox.

Although I thought I had planned well, I wasn’t prepared for how tired I would be and the caloric deficit I would have because I was still exercising with my normal intensity.

This was my first and second mistake. I typically shoot for 300-400 calories for lunch each day but that is definitely not enough when it’s your primary meal. I should have added quinoa or rice for a starch. Secondly, Junger recommends lower impact exercise like walking and yoga while on the detox. He does mention that routine exercise can be continued if you add in an additional protein smoothie post workout. I didn’t do this and suffered for it. After burning upwards of 700 calories in an hour of boot camp and hip hop, my body was beyond exhausted and needed that extra energy.

As day two arrived, I went back to my Clean manual and approached it better prepared. I planned out my meals appropriately and significantly upped my fat intake in the morning. I’ve never gone through so much almond butter, raw nuts and coconut milk. I added a snack of apple slices and almond butter in the afternoon. I started adding protein powder to my evening smoothies.

Here are a few of my favorite Clean Detox meals:

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I began with the smoothie recipes provided on the Clean website but I began mixing and matching ingredients to create my own as the week progressed. Since the focus is on eliminating toxins, I made sure to use organic and local ingredients when possible.

Junger recommends getting plenty of sleep each night which is pretty easy . But I was surprised at the quality of sleep that week considering I’ve been dealing with insomnia and restless sleep for nearly a year. I woke up refreshed and awake – despite the lack of coffee. The caffeine headaches lasted until day 4 and then I felt great. I was still tired in the evenings because although I was giving my body a break on digestion and eliminated irritants, it is still working hard to detox which takes energy. Clean recommends Yerba Mate as a coffee substitute (coffee is eliminated because of it’s acidity, not necessarily because of the caffeine) so I had picked some up the weekend prior without really knowing much about it except that it’s tea-like and people used to drink it from gourds. I decided to brew a cup late one afternoon and much to my surprise, Yerba Mate is rather caffeinated. This normally wouldn’t be a big deal but when you’ve been off of caffeine for several days, the effects are much more obvious. Yowza. That was the only night I had trouble falling asleep.

When I started the detox, I decided to track my calories using MyFitnessPal for two reasons: 1. I wanted to make sure I was getting enough calories and 2. I was curious. I want to emphasize that although the Clean isn’t about caloric restriction, I’m sure most people end up eating less than they normally would because there’s no late night snacking, sugar, alcohol, convenience foods or packaged foods. On a normal day, I eat around 1,700 calories but was averaging around 1,300 while on the detox. This is hard for me. Having dealt with disordered eating most of my life, it’s a slippery slope for me to reduce calories. Because of this, I decided not to weigh myself during the detox. Most anyone gets a thrill when they see their weight decrease but this can be particularly dangerous for someone who used calorie restriction as a way to seek control. I had to frequently remind myself of why I was doing this detox – to discover why I have been feeling so miserable and find answers.

And I did.

While following the detox, my hives stopped. The burning sensation in my hand disappeared. My lip no longer tingled. My night sweats were gone. Despite being very tired and desperately wanting a glass of wine, I felt better than I had in many, many, many months.  The only reactions I had that week were after eating out and because both were stand-alone events, it helped me narrow down the offenders. The first was an apple pecan salad from Wendy’s with no cheese or dressing but I did eat the nuts. The second was when I ate a quinoa salad with chicken from Zoe’s Kitchen. I knew that both items were gluten and dairy free. I did, however, forget to check for other allergens…

When the detox ended, I had to reintroduce foods to determine if there was a particular food causing my reactions or if my liver just needed to detox. Junger recommends adding foods in slowly and tracking how you feel after each meal. Because the excluded list is extensive – eggs, strawberries, nightshades (peppers, tomatoes, eggplant, etc.), red meat, pork, shellfish, peanuts, pistachio and bananas to name just a few – it’s hard to not rush back into normal eating habits. So I went very slow. On Monday, I kept with a detox-friendly smoothie for breakfast and enjoyed a slice of gluten-free buckwheat bread from a local bakery. Soon, my hand began to burn. Interesting. Fortunately, the bread had an ingredient list. Rice flour, buckwheat flour, milk, cinnamon… soy lecithin. I went back and looked online for an ingredient list for the apple pecan salad – the salad itself was nothing more than lettuce and apples but the pecans – contains soy. Interesting. I checked out Zoe’s Kitchen’s allergen list and, sure enough, their chicken contains soy.

I’d say three makes a pattern, wouldn’t you?

I literally jumped out of my chair and ran to my kitchen and began pulling gluten free items out of my pantry. Glutino pretzels? Soy. My go-to Van’s gluten free waffles? Soy. Gluten free cinnamon thin cookies? Soy. Soy, soy, soy. It’s a common ingredient in gluten free items and considering I’d been eating them several times a day, it’s no wonder I felt worse since cutting out wheat. I’m embarrassed because prior to my wheat allergy, I was always aware of soy and avoided it when possible. Why? Some say soy can increase estrogen levels and I’m already estrogen dominant. Also, almost all soy is GMO. But when we began cutting out large food groups due to allergies, I relaxed because I could only cut out so much. Lesson learned.

I had a follow up appointment scheduled with my allergist and I shared my discovery. The doctor seemed less than interested but agreed to do another allergy test with wheat and soy. Wheat positive, soy negative. Which means I have a soy sensitivity that is more severe than my wheat allergy. And with that, the allergist passed me off to the next doctor to try and navigate the rest of my health issues. I love traditional Western medicine. Regardless, I was pleased with myself.

My biggest take away from the detox?

You have to take control of your health.

You know your body. You need to find the answers. If five doctors dismiss you, find a sixth. Don’t be dismissed as paranoid or a hypochondriac. Don’t write off your symptoms as stress or anxiety. And? The simplest solution is usually the best.

I’ve gone off my allergy medicine and now only take it as needed. I wish this was the end of my health journey but, alas, the road to discovery continues on. I’ve eliminated one problem but am now working on sorting out others – I promise to keep you posted as things progress and I make new discoveries.

Xoxo.

Doctors and Detox Prep.

// I swear I didn’t intend to leave such a cliff hanger and then disappear for two weeks. In my defense, we had an unexpected death in the family and then Emery started kindergarten last week. Big sobs //

Back when life was simple and less about my myriad of health issues, the hardest part of moving was finding a new hair dresser. Don’t get me wrong – a girl has got to get her wig busted. But once we got settled, I had to find a pediatrician, an allergist, a chiropractor, a dentist, an OBGYN, an ENT and a basic primary care doctor. And a hair dresser, of course.

Seeing that we move every few years and knowing what I learned working with medical professionals back when I had a “real” job, I know that I prefer a primary care doctor who is a D.O. – Doctor of Osteopathy – versus an M.D. – Medical Doctor.

Wow, Liz, I never thought about the difference before – enlighten me! 

Of course. According to Mayo Clinic,

“A doctor of osteopathic medicine (D.O.) is a fully trained and licensed doctor who has attended and graduated from a U.S. osteopathic medical school. A doctor of medicine (M.D.) has attended and graduated from a conventional (allopathic) medical school.”

That’s crystal clear, right? Basically, in my non-expertise experience, D.O.s tend to be more hands on, looking at the body as a whole and not just treating the most obvious symptom. They have additional training on the musculoskeletal system and can perform manipulations (like a chiropractor) to alleviate other medical issues. They are not as thorough as, say, and internist or a functional medicine doctor but D.O.s have always suited my needs. I’m sure there are M.D.s out there that are equally awesome but looking for a D.O. has always been a beneficial search parameter.

So, I had my first appointment with a D.O. who was part of a large hospital system. I told him my (lengthy) recent medical history and went over my questions. Could my allergies be effecting my hormones? Could my allergies be effecting my Meniere’s? Could he offer support for this anxiety? Was there anything else I should be doing to help my body work to the best of its abilities?

:::crickets:::

So, the first doctor was a bust. Obviously not all practitioners are created equal. I did some more research and scheduled an appointment with another doctor – also a D.O. – but she is part of an internal and integrative medicine practice. I could give or take the “internist” part but was intrigued by the integrative medicine portion. Given my interest in natural living and my previous work in public relations at a hospital, I was familiar with the use complimentary and alternative medicine but hadn’t tried any under the direction of a medical professional. Integrative medicine is, to me, the best of both worlds as it uses homeopathy, aromatherapy, essential oils, massage, herbs and acupuncture to treat conditions or compliment Western medicines. On a “crunchy” scale, they are not as far East as naturopaths (who don’t and can’t deal with prescription medicines) but still far from their traditional Western MD counterparts who are typically in with Big Pharma.

Still following?

I’d seen three doctors in three months for these same health conditions and everyone thought I should just deal with it. I know, people live with really awful, debilitating illnesses and symptoms every day because not everything has a clear cause and solution and by comparison, I was still living a pretty full life. But why did I go from nearly perfect health to constant hiving, itching, insomnia, burning sensations, hair loss, blurry vision and on and on and all anyone could label was “allergies”? When my appointment finally rolled around, I was incredibly nervous. Unlike with the previous doctor, I was no longer concerned with whether or not I seemed crazy – I know I sounded a little batty because I was. No, now I was more concerned about what I was going to do if this doctor didn’t listen to me and try to help because this was my last viable option.

When we began the appointment, she listened while I talked. A lot. I laid out all the issues, when they began, what I thought was going on, why I didn’t think previous answers were adequate. And she went through with me, one by one, and addressed it all. She spent 50 – fifty – minutes with me.

Could my allergies be effecting my hormones? Probably not but inflammation can effect all body systems and it’s worth considering. Could my allergies be effecting my Meniere’s? Effecting? Yes. Causing? No. Could she offer support for this anxiety? Yes, what I feel is real and justified. Here is a non-habit forming medication to take as needed. Was there anything else I should be doing to help my body work to the best of its abilities? Yes.

Yes, yes, yes.

She suggested I look into Dr. Alejandro Junger’s “Clean” detox and diet. I picked up the book from library the next day and was a bit skeptical. Really, it sounded too good and too simple to solve the problem so many other doctors couldn’t. Regardless, I started reading the book that evening and Junger’s philosophy made sense. In a simplified layman’s nutshell, Dr. Junger’s 21-day detox concentrates on creating a balanced system within our body to help it heal itself. The liver is one of the body’s top organs for processing toxins but because our diets and environments are typically processed and contaminated, the liver has trouble functioning optimally and removing these toxins. This, in turn, spills over to other body systems creating a spectrum of issues like hives and allergies (hello!) to more serious conditions like diabetes and cardiovascular issues. Junger’s detox removes allergenic foods as well as foods that are harder for the body to digest. By giving the body a break on digestion and feeding it what it needs, there is more energy to dedicate toward healing. And because the detox follows an elimination diet, it is easier to recognize what foods your body is sensitive to as you add them back in.

Eating while on the detox meant a smoothie for breakfast, a full meal for lunch (a carbohydrate, protein and vegetable), and another liquid meal for dinner (either a smoothie or a pureed soup) – all from the detox-approved food list. Snacking and juicing throughout the day is encouraged as this isn’t about deprivation. The only stipulation is that you must fast for 12 hours between your last meal in the evening and your first meal the next day. So if dinner was at 8 p.m., breakfast is at 8 a.m. This  window gives the body enough time to digest all food and then flush toxins.

I made a plan to start the following Monday. Although the full detox is 21 days, I decided to try it for seven since we had company coming to visit the following week. Truthfully, I thought the detox wouldn’t be that much of a transition since we’re already wheat and dairy-free. I roughly outlined a meal plan for the week and I did my grocery shopping and picked up Junger’s suggested supplements. I had read most of the book and had the best of intentions – that should count be as prepared, right? I knew that if I was going to figure out why I felt so awful, I was going to have to do my own detective work.

The dangers of the silent child.

All parents have one fear greater than all others.

Silence.

Parents: if you encounter silence, run towards it. Whatever you are doing is not, I repeat, not as important as what awaits you. The repercussions of ignoring it are costly.

I was showering before laying B down for her nap and settling E in for quiet time. We had spent the playing, ran to the gym and swung by Target for enough oranges and bananas to feed all of Savannah. The girls had been really well behaved – or perhaps I was more tolerant after the luxury of sleeping until 7 a.m. – so I thought I was golden to get a quick shower while they entertained themselves.

While I was in our master bathroom, I heard B rummaging around in our bedroom. She’s been known to dig around in our bedside stands so I yelled a warning and the noises stopped. After a quick rinse, I stuck my head in the bedroom and saw nothing amiss and assumed I was in the clear.

I threw on a pair of comfy pants and a sweatshirt and realized my bathroom mirror needed cleaned. Oh look, more socks on the floor. Have a brushed my teeth yet this morning?

And then I noticed the silence.

I stuck my head into the hallway and spotted E sitting on the couch with a book.  Since she’s typically the ring leader in their sisterly shenanigans, I assumed that B was playing with her blocks in the front room.

Me and that assuming. Never again. From now on, I will always require visual confirmation.

After a few minutes, I made my way into the living room and spotted B across the room, hiding in the corner. She spotted me and ran. Not good.

When I caught the little mischief maker, this was what I found.

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A little blurry? Sorry, that’s because I was chasing her around the living room.

Let’s take another look:

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That would be my very thick, rather pricey Tarte under-eye concealer. All over B’s pretty little face. In her nose. Caked deeply in her eye lids.

IMG_5063I couldn’t even be angry. Trust me, I wanted to. But she wanted to be like her Momma. Secondly, she looked outrageous. Third, it was already past her nap time and I needed to focus all my energy on getting that kid in the bath and figuring out how to get the makeup out of her pretty little lids.

This is why I buy products that I believe are the safest not just for me, but for my kids. Because things like this happen.  Tarte’s products are eco-friendly, cruelty-free and have no parabens, synthetic fragrances, SLS and other nasties (source). I can’t imagine what poor B’s super sensitive skin would have looked like if she had gotten into traditional cosmetics. She probably would have been a walking, talking, 28-pound hived eczema patch.

Have you checked your makeup, hair products, and skin care items on the Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep list? Do it!

Until then, all my makeup has been relocated and I’m on high alert for the sounds of silence. Of course, that didn’t stop E from “redecorating” her bedroom while I made dinner last night. But that’s a story for another day.

Simple bread recipe for a simple life.

I find it interesting to hear how other people began their journeys to live a simpler life, a return to a simpler time. Ours began with a loaf of bread.

When E was about 6 months old, and I unexpectedly found myself as a stay-at-home mom. Up until this point, I wasn’t terribly domestic and prided myself as a career-minded woman (not that you can’t be both, I just wasn’t). With E’s birth, it was as if my eyes were opened to how crooked our lives, priorities and health had become. Here was a blank slate of purity, a perfect little untarnished being. How was I going to raise her to guard the heart and health that was naturally gifted to her?

As I became more conscious of our lifestyle, I began reevaluating everything. Was it necessary? Was it honest? Was it good? One thing that caught me off guard was a loaf of bread. We had made the switch to whole wheat and assumed it was better for us. But in a loaf of traditional store-bought, 100% stone ground whole wheat bread, there is 23 ingredients. Twenty-three!

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Dirty Little Clean Living Secret #3: The Wormy Bin.

We go through a lot of fresh food each week – fruits, vegetables, eggs, herbs and so on. Obviously, eating fresh is cleaner for our bodies and the environment but it does result in a bit of kitchen waste. Banana peels, watermelon rinds, carrot shavings… it adds up. But this organic matter is 100% reusable with vermicomposting.

Scrrreeeeeaach!

Vermi-wha? Vermicomposting. A worm bin.

When Hub first mentioned making one of these bad boys, all I could think about was Archibald and his worm babies from Yo Gabba Gabba.

I’m pretty sure my arms flailed just like Brobee’s when I first saw our worm babies in the wormy bin.

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Tossing the Toys, Part II.

Those kids of mine are smart cookies.

Yes, sir. They know when their Momma is up to something.

And chances are, they don’t like it one bit.

As I told you last week, I’ve had enough of the plastic, light-up toy madness that has overrun not just the playroom but every one of the nine rooms in this house. I set out to sort through the battery-powered piles and rid us of the chaos.

But my sweet girls caught wind. And do you know what they did? They started playing with their toys.

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Tossing the Toys.

What child doesn’t care about their toys? Mine, apparently. E is my very strong-willed child and we are constantly reading, praying and trying new methods of discipline to find what works. Most recently, we’ve found that taking away things and having her earn them back (with good behavior) is proving effective. That is, unless we threaten to take away her toys. When we said we were going to take them away, she didn’t even flinch. And this girl has a lot of toys.

She doesn’t care about the bright-colored, music-playing, flashing-lighted, battery-powered collection of plastic that has overrun a solid half of our home.

Not even the worst of it. Yes, it gets much worse than this.

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Dirty Little Clean Secret #2 – I reuse my daughter’s diapers

To those who know me, today’s DLCS isn’t much of a secret but it is definitely a topic of clean living.

I use cloth diapers.

Cloth diapering has certainly gained popularity in recent years and a fair-share of my mommy friends are cloth-converts. And yet, I still get bizarre stares and remarks from some folks when they realize I actually launder and reuse the diaper on Little Chunk’s derrière. So, here’s the (lengthy) rundown on why and how we cloth diaper.

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Dirty Little Clean Secret #1 – I don’t wear deodorant

I’m sure some of you were caught off guard and a bit grossed out when I announced I don’t wear deodorant. I mean, I live in the south where it gets hot. And humid. And smelly. But I assure you, there are no malodorous armpits in this household. I may not use deodorant, but I do deodorize.

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