You chubby bunny-ed the marshmallows while the sweet potato casserole was in the oven. You ate pie for breakfast every day between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Let’s not even talk about all the (delicious) things you ate at that New Year’s Eve party.
Hey, I did it too, but there’s hope. While you’re poking at your gut on the couch considering your options, here’s an alternative to a year-long contract, paying someone to weigh you or living on lemonade: simple, clean eating.
The good news? You are going to feel amazing. The bad news? First, you will feel like shit. It sounds cool – eating whole foods, drinking water, working out to gain that lithe, Gwynnie/Goop bod – but there will be days when the only thing you want in the world is a can of Crisco and a spoon. Should you come out of an Ambien daze and find yourself in a convenience store, keep calm and buy a banana; that’s pretty much your only option.
But there are upsides. For the most part, eating clean is a lot cheaper. A one-pound bag of potatoes costs the same as a bag of Doritos at the same weight, and guess which one will feed you for longer? Second, after you get over the intense, ear-splitting, death-knell headache, you will feel awesome. You will feel healthier, have more energy and sleep better than you ever did before. Seriously. You will also lose weight. It is inevitable. Not because of some miracle drug or because you shot your abdomen full of weird hormones, but because math: You will eat fewer calories, expend more of them and still feel sated, since what you’re eating is full of fiber and good fats. (Yes, fats.)
Here, some tenets of clean eating (plus three fun recipes) to help you stop consuming crap and start the new year funky-fresh.
Eat whole foods. Everything you do will revolve around this. The fewer ingredients in a food, the better (one = best). What’s in a zucchini? A zucchini. What’s in a bag of Funyuns? No. Many dietitians will tell you that if a food has five ingredients or fewer, it’s a whole food.
Eat five or six small meals a day. You will probably want to graze, and that’s cool. The foods you eat will be less caloric, so you’ll probably get hungrier sooner than if you’d just eaten a value meal or a burrito bowl.
Cook your own meals. It’s a challenge to find clean foods on the go beyond fruit and water – even trail mix is full of preservatives and additives, plus tons of salt and/or sugar. The trick is to plan ahead and flex your kitchen skills. All you need is a (good) knife, a pan and a pot, a baking sheet and some mixing bowls.
Eliminate alcohol and coffee. Oh, you thought you could keep getting your drink on? Think again. Javaholics are probably going to end up with the kind of headache exclusive to guzzling a bottle of cheap champs, but it will pass. If you absolutely must have coffee, take it black. You’ll look like a badass and keep clean.
Drink water and green tea. Keep water on you at all times. If water gets boring, add a squeeze of lemon or try infusing with cucumber, berries or herbs. As an alternative, opt for green tea (no sugar!). Just watch out for the “mean greens” … there’s caffeine in that stuff, so don’t guzzle.
Eliminate refined sugar and salt. This sucks. However, it’s one of the best ways to banish bloat and lose poundage. Instead of sugar, honey or agave is fine, just in very small quantities. In place of salt, season well, and splash around some vinegar or lemon juice. It’s not the same, but it’s clean.
Eat good fats. Monounsaturated, that is. Olive oils, salmon, nuts – get at least a little bit every day. This kind of fat keeps you fuller longer, and does a body good by cleaning out the bad cholesterols and fats you’ve been storing since forever. Animal fats should be avoided, including butter and (sniff) cheese.
Eliminate refined grains. If you’ve already banished the Barilla for other reasons, keep at it. Oust any grain that isn’t a whole one, including bread (sad trombone), pasta and processed rice products. Consider awesome alternatives like bulgur, quinoa, farro and brown rice. The soluble fiber in whole grains means you won’t have to eat as much to feel twice as full.
Be prepared. Whether it’s keeping a bag of roasted unsalted pistachios at your desk or making a pot of butternut squash soup for weekday lunches to go, being prepared will be your bestie. In a pinch: Larabars. Most of them have five or fewer all-natural ingredients, and they work as a sweet treat after dinner, too.
Apple, Ginger and Carrot Soup
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, diced
1 celery stalk, diced
1 pound carrots, peeled and roughly chopped
1 sweet apple, like Gala or McIntosh, peeled, seeded and chopped
1-inch piece of ginger, minced or grated
1/2 teaspoon five-spice powder
1 quart low-sodium vegetable stock or water
In a large pot, sauté the onions, celery, carrots and apple in olive oil over medium-high heat, five to seven minutes. Add ginger and five-spice powder and cook until very fragrant. Add stock or water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer and cover. Cook 20-30 minutes or until carrots are tender. Remove from the heat and puree in batches in a blender until completely smooth, using a towel and pressure from your hand to keep the blender cover secure. Add stock or water until desired thickness is reached.
Kale Salad with Roasted Butternut Squash and Pomegranate Seeds
1 medium butternut squash, peeled and cubed
1 bunch lacinato kale (also called dinosaur kale), washed, massaged and torn into bite-sized pieces
1/2 cup pomegranate arils (seeds)
2 tablespoons slivered almonds
juice of one lemon
1/2 cup olive oil
1 teaspoon agave nectar or honey
1/2 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Toss the butternut squash with a tablespoon of olive oil and spread in a single layer on a baking sheet. Roast 15-20 minutes, or until golden-brown and tender. Combine the butternut squash with the kale, pomegranate seeds and almonds. To make the vinaigrette, combine all ingredients in a liquid-tight container and shake. Drizzle salad with vinaigrette. Protein options: add a few ounces of baked salmon or chicken.
Grilled Pineapple with Coconut-Banana Ice Cream
5 bananas, peeled and chopped
1 15-ounce can coconut milk
1 tablespoon coconut oil
1 pineapple, cored and sliced into rings
1/2 cup macadamia nuts, crushed
Combine the bananas and coconut milk in a blender until smooth. Pour into a container and freeze until firm, about eight hours (or overnight). Brush the pineapple lightly with coconut oil and sprinkle with cinnamon on both sides of the rings. Grill the pineapple over medium heat. Serve the pineapple with a scoop of the coconut-banana ice cream on top. Sprinkle with macadamia nuts.