As some of you know (I've mentioned it a couple times here and several times over on my Snapchat), I followed a clean eating challenge for the month of May. (I'm actually doing it again right now for June, but more on that in a while.) A good friend who had a baby about three months before I had Emmett had been following it and she looked amazing, from her skin to her body to her overall vibe. Her regiment focused on whole, healthy foods, and she cut out all processed foods, sugars, and artificial ingredients/additives, etc. She was also working out six days a week - not in a way that was killing herself, but doing strength training and yoga at home, which I find to be a wonderfully balanced approach. While I've always considered myself a healthy eater for the most part, I had admittedly been giving into pizza and fried foods and candy on a pretty regular basis, which I think was mainly carried over from being pregnant (because when I had pregnancy cravings, I let myself enjoy the foods I was craving, period). I also hadn't been exercising much, and just felt very blah. So I decided to let my friend's success inspire and motivate me to follow a similar routine. I didn't adhere to any specific plan with a lot of strict rules (like Whole 30) - I just talked to my friend, did my own research, and put together a system that I felt would work best for me. And today I'm going to share exactly what I did, as well as my results.
The first thing I did, after researching more about what clean eating really meant, was to make grocery lists and go shopping. I stocked up on organic produce galore - apples, oranges, pears, grapes, nectarines, avocados (so many avocados), sweet potatoes, spinach, carrots, squash, tomatoes, spring greens, kale - you name it. I bought packages of raw almonds and containers of raw almond butter. I got sprouted bread. I also ditched the fat free dairy products and went for 2% or, when available, full fat. This was a very new thing for me, because I'd always been of the mindset that lower fat dairy meant lower calories and therefore less fattening - but the lower the fat content, the more the dairy product has been processed. (I'd also read a lot about how low fat products really backfire in the end - you can find a lot of information about this online in a quick search if you're interested in finding out more.) I bought plain Greek yogurt. Lots of it. I also bought cottage cheese. While cheese is out for a lot of clean eating challenges, cottage cheese is often considered "acceptable" despite additives and sodium content because it's so high in protein. (Since I'm also a vegetarian, protein is a big deal.) I bought lots of organic eggs. I bought frozen fruit for smoothies. I bought organic popcorn kernels. I bought coconut oil. I bought organic whole wheat spaghetti noodles. In end the end, I was pleasantly surprised by how easy it was to fill up my cart with clean foods.
Next, I started experimenting with different meals, snacks, and desserts. We ate a lot of clean food bowls already, but I knew those would get boring quickly. So I made a game out of being creative with the ingredients I had on hand. Some of my favorites became southwestern loaded sweet potatoes (baked sweet potatoes topped with black beans, corn, fresh salsa, avocado, Greek yogurt), different kinds of avocado toasts using sprouted breads and fruits, smoothie bowls topped with almonds and frozen blueberries, apples dipped in raw almond butter or Greek yogurt (I eat this snack like it's going out of style), and tacos with clean corn tortillas (just corn, water, and lime), sweet potatoes, black beans, and a sauce made from avocado, Greek yogurt, and lime juice. One night I had a killer sweet tooth and I blended frozen pineapple chunks and a can of full fat coconut milk in our Ninja blender and made one of the most delicious "ice creams" I've ever eaten.
While exercise isn't technically part of a clean eating regiment, I felt like it was necessary to the whole body (and mind!) routine I was trying to establish to incorporative it. So I worked out five to six days a week for twenty to thirty minutes, and tried to walk as much as possible everyday. I am not a fan of exercise - it's just not my jam, man. I guess that makes me lazy, but it's the truth. But I did learn to like it better than ever before by switching things up. I'd do two days a week of strength training (one abs, one butt), one day a week of full body strength training, two days of yoga, and one day of whatever felt right for that day. The butt and ab workouts were hard, so I got them out of the way early in the week, and that made the rest of the week seem like a breeze. (I especially looked forward to yoga days.) I also tried to work out early in the day, which I found made it much easier to avoid exercise getting pushed to the bottom of my daily to do lists and ultimately not getting done.
I also decided to switch up my daily vitamin to a cleaner choice. I'd been taking a generic store brand prenatal for years (because I went from trying to conceive to getting pregnant with Essley to breastfeeding Essley to getting pregnant with Emmett to breastfeeding Emmett without a break), and because this clean eating challenge meant creating healthier habits for myself all around, it felt like the perfect time for a change. I decided to switch to New Chapter Vitamins. I really liked how New Chapter takes a sustainable, whole-food approach to vitamins and supplements that deliver industry-leading standards of quality with not only every product, but every ingredient too. I also loved how they ferment their individual vitamins and minerals with beneficial probiotics and whole foods - so basically, multivitamins are transformed into whole-food fermented nutrients, resulting in truly nourishing supplements (that are gentle enough to take on even an empty stomach, for people like me who often forget to take them until right before bed). And I can easily order them anytime on Amazon, which is always a bonus. New Chapter has a great prenatal (called Perfect Prenatal) but they also have a postal (Perfect Postnatal) that is exactly what I need right now. Perfect Postnatal incorporates targeted nutrients that help nourish and provide energy, mood and lactation support for new moms.* It is a multivitamin formulated with vitamins and minerals recommended specifically for breastfeeding women (including Vitamin B6, Iodine and Vitamin D3). And the whole-food fermented B Vitamins work to support energy needs during early motherhood.* It's also vegetarian, made with organic vegetables, and non-GMO. By taking New Chapter Vitamins, I not only felt like I was better adhering to the clean eating challenge, I also felt like I was making the best overall choice for both myself and Emmett.
I'll be honest with you guys - some days were harder than others. There were times when every meal or snack idea felt incredibly old, and I just couldn't think of anything new that sounded appetizing. There were days I didn't feel like working out (or, in truth, couldn't, because I had to take care of two tiny children and finish work deadlines in the same day, and my husband was on the road for the weeks and couldn't help, etc.). There were days I weighed myself and nothing had changed, despite what felt like so much hard work. But I found solutions. I quickly learned to put my scale away, only weigh myself once a week at most, and put on pre-pregnancy clothes for a measure of progress rather than counting pounds. I allowed myself one cheat meal and one cheat treat a week (and man did I go for it; I'm talking deep dish pizza and candy bar ice cream - and it was glorious). If I had a serious craving for cheese, I let myself have a few slices. I forgave myself and let it go if I couldn't work out in a given day (or days). And I turned to the internet to find inspiration for new recipes and snack ideas.
At the end of the month, I looked at myself in the mirror, and instantly decided this was one of the best things I'd ever done for myself. And I don't mean because I looked thinner. I mean because my eyes and skin looked clearer, I looked more well rested (which trust me, I wasn't), I looked (and felt!) stronger, and I just looked happier - which might sound silly, but that's the only way I can think of to explain it. I lost about nine pounds (which was a bonus) and clothes that hadn't fit me since before I got pregnant fit again (which was a huge bonus). My joints ached less (I have mild Fibromyalgia). A knuckle on my hand that had been swollen and inflamed since my pregnancy with Essley, for the first time in years, shrunk - and I can't think of anything else to which I can attribute that. I also felt that I was setting a good example for my kids, because they (especially Essley) were consistently seeing me make healthy food choices and taking care of my body, and wanted to do the same. And most importantly of all, I felt good about myself - because while I had grown accustomed to focusing all of my time and energy to my kids, my job, my family, my house, etc., I had finally made a conscious effort to focus on myself as well. I also felt that through eating well everyday and being constantly active, I'd established what will hopefully be a long-term lifestyle change rather than just a month-long challenge. But I'd decided to look at it as a challenge again for June, ya know, just in case.
And that brings me to today. Thank you for letting me share this journey with you all! This is the first time I've ever done something like this and it has been a learning experience in many ways. And I'm continuing to learn as I go. I'd love to hear from those of you who have done something similar!
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