You’ve heard of the five stages of grieving, right? This week I’ve decided there are also five stages of clean eating: that process by which you go from a seemingly content consumer of food to a crazed person on a mission to eat clean and healthy or else!
First, Denial. Many of us think we already are eating healthy food. After all, we buy whole grain, yogurt, nuts, and sports bars. We eat this food thinking it’s “health food,” and then start looking at labels. That’s when we notice that the whole grain bread is full of preservatives, the yogurt is filled with sugar, our nuts are drenched in oil and salt, and our sports bars are really just candy with a picture of someone exercising on the package. That’s when we get to the second stage.
Confusion. We like this food. We feel betrayed when it turns out it’s not as healthy as we thought, and don’t want to stop eating it. That’s also because we’re kind of hooked on it. Processed food has a way of tapping into the reward centers of our brains and getting us addicted to their perfect fat/sugar/salt combo. But, in the spirit of health, we begin to shop for cleaner foods. That’s when we encounter…
Anger. As we start scouring the grocery store for products that don’t have artificial sweeteners, preservatives, chemicals, and flame retardant, we start to get ticked. What the heck? Why is all of this stuff in our food and why do pickles need high fructose corn syrup? What are we supposed to eat? Is there nothing that is “safe?” Realizing that there is very little on the grocery store shelves that isn’t laced with junk, we go sit in the corner and sulk for a while.
Then, slowly, we enter Acceptance. We realize that this is the world we live in, and that we’re surrounded by food that is manufactured for profit, not health. We know there are organizations and initiatives in progress to change the way our food is produced, marketed, and distributed, but while that change is underway we begin staging our own personal revolution at home. We learn how to look for the Certified Organic seal, what different eco-labels really mean, and how to appreciate the simplicity of single-ingredient foods. It starts to get easier.
And finally, we find that we have arrived at the final stage of clean eating: Elation. It feels good to eat clean. We begin to lose the love handles, our skin clears up and energy increases, and even cellulite seems to dissolve. Sugar cravings decrease. Headaches go away. We start looking for opportunities to learn more about the food we eat, and encouraging others to clean up their act. And, we look back and wonder why we waited so long.
Clean eating is rarely a cold-turkey decision. Over time, as we learn more about the food around us, we evolve into healthier people. But that doesn’t mean the process is always easy. The good news is that it is never too late to start eating clean.
Are you in denial? Take a look at the labels of the food in your pantry and fridge today and ask yourself whether you’re ready to make some swaps. Start your journey today!