Your gym’s marketing efforts notwithstanding, the truth is that a strong, healthy body isn’t built in the gym – it’s built in the kitchen.
Cleaning up your diet is the single best thing you can do to increase your energy, boost your immunity and even extend your lifespan. (Oh, and did I mention that you’ll look a hell of a lot better, too?)
Implementing any of the 11 tips below will improve your health; implementing all of them will skyrocket your efforts to become your best self.
11 Easy Ways to Eat Clean
1. Eat Fruit for Breakfast
(and don’t you dare skip it!)
You probably already know that breakfast is the most important meal of the day – and you probably still scarf down a donut, a bagel or some other unhealthy crap, if you eat anything at all.
Starting your day with fruit helps energize you (without the accompanying crash that comes from processed sugar or caffeine), and provides an instant hit of vitamins, fiber and healthy carbs, all in one delicious little package.
Plus, research suggests that eating a healthy breakfast will make you more active the rest of the day, which produces all sorts of other downstream benefits, including increased odds that you’ll continue eating healthy and get a better night’s sleep.
2. Cook Once, Eat All Week: Prep Your Meals on Weekends
One of the most effective and confidence-boosting things I’ve ever done was get into the habit of grocery shopping on Sunday morning and spending the afternoon prepping my meals for the week.
Prepping in advance takes the decision-making – and thus, the unhealthy temptations – out of your meals for the rest of the week. Since you’ve already invested both your time and money into preparing a healthy meal, you’re much more likely to avoid the call of the fast food joint.
Here are a few easy steps to take on Sunday to set yourself up for a healthy week:
- Buy a pack of boneless, skinless chicken breasts and bake the whole pack, then save the cooked breasts in a tupperware container in the fridge. You can quickly reheat the chicken and add it to salads or other dishes all week to ensure you’ve always got a lean, healthy source of protein on hand.
- Grab a head of romaine lettuce and chop it up, then keep it in the fridge too. You can combine it with the chicken for an easy and super healthy salad, or have it as a side with other meals.
- Buy a bunch of berries (I favor strawberries, blueberries, raspberries and blackberries). Chop up the strawberries, throw them in a strainer with all the others and rinse them well. Put all your mixed berries in a tupperware and keep it in the fridge. You can add them to oatmeal or shakes throughout the week to add an easy and delicious shot of fruit.
3. Read Eat Move Sleep by Tom Rath
I know, I know: you didn’t start reading this blog post only to be told you have to read something else.
But Eat Move Sleep is the single best book I’ve ever read for both informing you of the benefits of eating clean, and motivating your ass to do it.
4. Live by the Label
Most products nowadays come equipped with a nutritional guide telling you exactly how much sugar, salt, saturated fat and other suspect substances are included in the product.
Get into the habit of checking these labels religiously. Sugar and salt, among other dubious substances, are often snuck into everything from bread and pasta sauce to breakfast cereals. You often won’t know how much of it you’re consuming unless you start checking for yourself and adding it up.
Read the labels of your favorite products, and whenever possible, opt for ones that have less sugar, sodium, saturated fats and other artificial ingredients.
As a general rule, if a food is packed full of substances whose names you don’t recognize, you probably want to avoid it.
5. Pack in the Protein
The key to building lean muscle, protein is a must-have nutrient for every man.
“Research shows that eating protein before and after exercise helps increase muscle recovery, promotes muscle synthesis and serves as effective muscle ache treatment,” according to Dr. Axe, citing a National Institutes of Health study.
But protein’s benefits extend beyond muscle repair. Protein fills you up faster than empty carbs, making you less hungry and therefore less likely to give into temptation and fill up on shitty foods.
Protein has also been shown to stabilize blood sugar, ease anxiety and improve cholesterol, among other benefits.
Check out this article from Dr. Axe (also linked to above) for an in-depth look at how protein promotes health.
6. Avoid Protein Bars
While protein is absolutely essential, not all sources are created equal. In fact, some sources are created exceptionally poorly – and then marketed as if they’re super foods.
In general, don’t waste your money on the protein bars they sell in GNC and other nutrition stores. Yes, they’re rich in protein, but they’re also packed full of artificial ingredients, including sugar – some protein bars have as much, if not more, sugar than actual candy bars.
Instead, opt for natural sources of protein like meat, fish and nuts, and supplement your diet with a sugar-free protein powder that you can mix with fruit, nut milk and other healthy options.
7. Say “See Ya in Hell, Sugar!”*
Sugar is a silent killer, which as mentioned above, gets snuck into way more foods than you might expect.
A growing body of research and evidence suggests that sugar is a particularly toxic chemical responsible for all manner of health deficiencies, including liver disease, metabolic syndrome, type-2 diabetes and even cancer.
Because it’s so commonplace in the modern Western diet, it can be difficult to avoid sugar entirely.
But you can do yourself a huge favor by passing on the foods you know to be rich in the white stuff, like pastries, baked goods, candy, soda, fruit juice, etc.
If you really need to get your fix, try replacing candy or other sugar-rich bad habits with a natural source of sugar, namely fruit. Fruit has enough sugar to satisfy your craving, but it’s also got fiber, vitamins and enzymes that help your body process it.
All that healthy stuff is stripped out of processed sugar, which is one of the reasons it’s so damn dangerous.
*Note: Only say this to actual sugar. Saying it to a person would be chauvinistic and derogatory. Plus, it’s way too old-timey to make for an effective burn.
8. Shake it Up
First of all: let’s take a moment to pause and reflect on how much discipline it took for me to resist the urge to title this section with a terrible Taylor Swift pun.
With that out of the way, making shakes (I refuse to call them “smoothies”) is a quick and effective way to combine fruits, vegetables and protein into a pretty delicious snack.
If your chief complaint about eating breakfast is that you don’t have time in the morning, well, your complaining days may be over my friend. Whipping up a protein shake is a perfect solution, especially if you make it the night before and keep it in the fridge.
You can also just Google “protein shake recipes” for approximately a gajillion – that’s right, a straight-up gajillion! – more.
9. Avoid the Aisles
You may not have noticed this before, but at most supermarkets, 90% of the healthy stuff isn’t sitting on a shelf in one of the umpteen aisles. It’s usually in some kind of refrigerated area located along the perimeter of the store.
Do a lap around the perimeter of your store and you’ll likely pass the produce section, where you should stop and stock up on vitamins and minerals, the butcher and the fish monger, where you can pick up some lean protein, the dairy section, where you can grab Greek yogurt to add to your breakfast or shakes, and bins full of almonds, cashews and other healthy nuts.
When you hit the grocery store, make this lap before venturing down any aisles. You should only have to pop into the aisles for a few things that will enhance your meals, like condiments, coffee, etc., not for the meal itself.
One word of warning though: even though it’s along the perimeter, don’t linger too long in the frozen foods section. Those pre-made meals are stuffed with sodium and other preservatives that neutralize (at best) any health benefits you’d get from the protein or vitamins they might contain.
If you feel like you have to buy frozen for either convenience or cost purposes, at least do some Googling and find out which frozen foods have the least sodium.
10. Drink More Water
The effectiveness of this tactic might be masked by its simplicity, but as you’ve just heard from no less a source than The Waterboy himself, hydration is immensely important to health.
(Sidebar: What happened to you, Adam Sandler?)
According to Sheila Tucker, a dietitian at Boston College, two-thirds of Americans still aren’t drinking enough water, despite widespread acknowledgement that we all need at least eight cups a day.
This is a problem, because water is pretty f@¢&ing rad (yeah, I said it). In addition to helping keep you, you know, alive, it also helps fight fatigue, improves your mood, stave off headaches and a whole host of other benefits.
As awesome as water is, don’t be taken in by major corporations’ attempts to make you pay for it. The United Nations recognized the right to water and sanitation as a human right back in 2010, and in most corners of the developed world, governments do a pretty good job of making sure that safe, sanitized water flows from your taps.
If you want to go one step further and make sure your water is as pure as possible, invest a small amount in a Brita water filter rather than spend exorbitant amounts of money on bottled water, which carries its own health risks, to say nothing of the environmental impact.
11. Assign a Cheat Day
(and eat with abandon!)
Nobody’s perfect, and trying to be will simply set yourself up for failure. Instead of trying to eat clean seven days a week, pulling it off for a week or two and then backsliding into the unhealthy abyss, why not set yourself up for success?
Assign one cheat day per week where you’re allowed to pig out on whatever you want. Pizza. Cake. Whatever those things Deadpool likes so much are called.
Allowing yourself one cheat day per week gives you something to look forward to and earn, which will keep you motivated to eat clean for the rest of the week.
And don’t fret about whether or not you’re setting yourself back by indulging for a day. Eating healthy six days per week and then pigging out one day means that you’ve got a 6:1 ratio of healthy to unhealthy, which puts you way ahead of the pack.
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