My name is Reneé, and I’m a clean eating addict. Phew, glad that’s out of the way! But what is clean eating?
Clean eating simply means eating food that hasn’t been processed, and making your own meals and snacks from scratch. For some it equates to a raw vegan diet, and for others (like my family) it’s more aligned with a paleo diet.
For me, the most important thing is sourcing the very best quality ingredients. Our meat comes from a top butchers in the City whose animals are truly free range, and feed on pasture. I buy organic nuts and oils. Our eggs come from a farm ten miles up the road. I buy mostly organic fruit and veggies, a lot of the time from farmers markets.
What exactly do you eat?
Our diet consists of meat, fish, veggies, eggs, nuts, fruit and raw or home fermented dairy. As a rule we don’t eat any grains. This means no bread, rice, oats or pasta, including gluten free versions. We only eat natural sugars, in the form of fruit, raw honey or maple syrup. And we avoid corn and all it’s derivatives like the plague (due to Polly’s corn allergy). A typical mid-week meal in my house would be this beef stew.
I’ve asked myself time and again why people mock the term clean eating and have come to this conclusion. It’s easier to make fun of something you don’t understand, than try to wrap your head around it. If you know, deep down, that your diet could be a lot cleaner than it currently is, then I guess laughing at those who eat courgetti or cauliflower rice is a form of self-preservation.
If you are willing to open your mind, then grab a cuppa, and allow me to tell you my story.
My ten year slow and steady clean eating journey
As I’ve mentioned before in this post, I started coming away from refined sugars and processed food 10 years ago. This is a long time, especially in faddy diet terms. This thing is, clean eating shouldn’t be a fad, it should be about making gradual life long changes, that lead to a healthier you.
My own journey began after being diagnosed with polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) in 2007. I was told I was not ovulating, and would need medical assistance to conceive. Understandably I was devastated, but never one to just accept my fate as given, I did a ton of research into my new condition. I learnt about insulin resistance, which means that my body doesn’t absorb carbohydrates (sugar) the way it should. I also discovered that lots of women with PCOS go on to develop type two diabetes later in life.
My research led me to the glycemic index (GI), which correlates to the amount of carbohydrates a food contains, and how they affect blood glucose levels. Everything we eat is considered either low, medium or high GI, and the lower GI the better for an insulin resistant body like mine. High GI foods are typically heavily processed, made from white flours and refined sugars. Medium GI foods are less refined – things like oats, other grains and some fruit and veg. Low GI foods tend to be meat, fish and other fruit and veg.
It all seemed pretty straightforward, and gave me a natural alternative to what the doctors were saying. I could potentially prevent a lot of heartache later on if I simply cleaned up my eating. So that’s exactly what I did.
My first steps were cooking even more from scratch than I already was. I swapped out white flours for wholemeal and started using sugar alternatives. I took my own food into work, and stopped snacking on chocolate bars. I had given up fast food chains in 2003, but was still rather partial to take away back then. I remember being amazed at how much extra cash we had after stopping our weekly Chinese delivery, and late night pizzas. It didn’t take me too long to figure out how to recreate our favourite dishes, in a much healthier way though.
Once I’d established good habits in the kitchen, it became easier and easier. Being organised was essential, and making sure we never ran out of key ingredients meant I could whip up delicious treats when we were in the mood for something sweet. Nowadays, this mindset comes without the slightest effort.
After gradually eating less flour based food, we went one step further in 2012 by going paleo. We cut out all grains, and noticed an immediate difference in our energy levels. I have never regretted this decision, and it’s only elevated my abilities in the kitchen. These days I make cakes from nuts, pureed veggies and dried fruit. Our food sustains us, and the word treat genuinely means treat. Check out this post I wrote which contains easy wins for becoming healthier.
A pleasant surprise
Back to the late naughties. Within two years of my PCOS diagnosis, and having dramatically changed my diet, I found myself pregnant with Polly. I do not think, for a single second, that this was a coincidence. The internet is full of testimonials from people who have reversed health conditions by changing the way they eat.
It’s also worth mentioning that I didn’t have any trouble conceiving second or third time around either. Now that I’m finished having babies, and my periods have returned, they’ve never been easier or more regular. Gone are the 50 day cycles. Gone is the week long PMS misery. I still get one day a month where I’m on edge, but it’s not a fraction as bad as it used to be.
Why I don’t use stevia, and other alternative sugars, to sweeten my treats
Ten years into my clean eating journey, and I can honestly take or leave sweet food. I can walk past even the most artisan bakery without salivating. I was at a blogging event recently, where stunning donuts were on offer, but I don’t even look at them as food anymore. I see past the beautiful icing, and the joy on everyone else’s faces while they’re being devoured.
I see excess sugar. I see type two diabetes. I see a bunch of ingredients that would have me needing a nap after three bites. This isn’t food for me. Food should lift us up, leaving us revived. It shouldn’t zap our energy leaving us feeling rubbish.
Remember when we were told fat free was the way forward? Or that agave was diabetic friendly? Or that margarine was better for our health than butter? We have been duped time and again, so I’d prefer to rely on my instincts when it comes to food. I truly believe that the only way to cut down on sugar is to have less of it.
Which is why I don’t use too good to be true alternative sweeteners. As the saying goes, if something appears to be too good to be true, it almost always is!
I only use raw organic honey or organic dried fruit in my baking. Over time I’ve created some fabulous recipes with very little natural sugar in them. Check out the video below for my paleo brownies, which contain just 1.5tbsp honey in a batch of 8.
The clean eating trade off
As I agonised over the perfect shot of my free-from-everything-but-flavour cupcakes at the weekend, I had an epiphany. My food will never look as good as it tastes, and I’m comfortable with that.
Get real, you’re a blogger, I hear you cry. People taste with their eyes. No-one cares about the story behind the bake, they just want it to look fab.
Ahhhhh, well, as long as it looks fab that’s all that matters right?
The taste should be the most important thing. Also, as a blogger, I think I have a social responsibility to be honest. It would be ridiculous to post incredible photos of my recipes, if the food didn’t actually look that way in real life. It would only lead to massive disappointment when my readers try and recreate my food. I figure it’s best to do what I can with the tools I have available.
My food might not look amazing, but I (and anyone else who eats it) know how good it tastes. This might not lead to mega viral recipe blogs, but you won’t see me compromise my integrity for the perfect photo.
If you want true food inspiration, created by a person whose been eating this way for a whole decade, you’ve come to the right place.
If you want to see super low sugar treats, then yay. If you want to see family friendly recipes that won’t mean you spend all day in the kitchen, woohoo. If you want to see natural food, that is grain free, not just gluten free, then I’m here to assist.
If you want to change your lifestyle, and become healthier, it starts with food.