Jenni Murphy is a personal trainer with Fit Studios and she has kindly taken the time to write a guest post for us in order to help Balls get in shape. Jenni is a big fan of clean eating and has successfully kicked all those fad diets into touch.
How has she done it? Have a read to find out.
Just like most people I had an unhealthy relationship with food. When I was younger I often listened to other people and believed that in order to lose weight I need to eat less food and follow whatever fad diet was the latest craze. I’m pretty sure I’ve tried them all in the past, to me they all had one thing in common, they all restricted your intake in at least one particular food group or macro nutrient; no carbs, no sugar, no fat…
It was only really when I hit my late 20s and I really got into fitness that I began to investigate how your body works and especially how it breaks down and uses the various macro nutrients in our food (proteins, fats and carbs). There is just so much conflicting information and opinions out there that I began to feel like I was drowning in it, that was until I started going to the Fit Studios, where I am now a trainer, three years ago and began working with the team here.
They taught me the importance of eating a well-balanced diet and how skipping out on carbs and sticking to other fad diets were dramatically effecting not only my over all health but also my ability to get an efficient and effective output from my workouts. Whilst studying for my qualification in fitness and health we studied sports nutrition and what we need to eat in order to maintain a healthy body.
This in-depth look at how good healthy natural REAL food works on a cellular level versus the damage and stress that processed junk causes combined with the physical positive outcomes, at the time I was beginning to see in my own body and workouts from eating healthy drew me to one conclusion: that a clean eating lifestyle was only way forward for me.
So what is Clean Eating exactly?
Clean Eating is the ultimate 'un-fad' diet. It is about eating more of the best and healthiest versions of each of the major food groups (carbs, proteins and fats) —and eating less of the not-so-healthy ones. That means embracing foods like vegetables, fruits and whole grains. It also means cutting back on and trying to limit your intake of refined grains, added sugars, table salt and unhealthy saturated fats (artificial flavorings, artificial colourings, and sugar substitutes).
Clean Eating is not a new revelation. It’s the way our Grandparents used to live, there were very little processed foods back in their time, modern ways of living and technological advancements has introduced us to words like, Hydrogenated fats, E numbers and chemical sweeteners.
Clean Eating has re-emerged out of a necessity to try and combat the increasing numbers of deaths every year in Ireland related to bad health from a poor diet. Heart disease, cancer, stroke and diabetes are in almost every household in the country including my own. They are for the majority lifestyle related conditions. We’re all affected by it. There is a common misconception that eating clean or healthy is more expensive than fast food/processed food choices.
With the introduction of value supermarkets like Aldi & Lidl I don’t find this to be the case at all. There is a personal labour cost involved I will admit that, in that you have to put in some prep work and time to make your owns foods but I think this should be considered an opportunity cost, the opportunity being you have a healthy body. People seem to put more time into selecting their car, clothes and holidays than the food they put into their bodies.
1. Eat a wide-variety of whole unrefined and unprocessed foods in a form that’s as close as possible to how the foods appear in nature.
Whole foods are foods that haven’t been processed. So instead of being made in a factory they come straight from the source like a farm (fresh fruit & vegetables, whole grains, lean meats, dairy products, unsalted & unbleached nuts, and seeds). I try and eat local organic Irish produce as much as possible, not only because I want to help the Irish food industry and farmers but also because we have some of the best standards in Europe when it comes to our meats, fresh fruit and veg. You honestly cannot beat a punnet of fresh Wexford strawberries.
A good example of as close to nature as possible is apple juice. So you’d assume that apple juice, even your own freshly pressed version, is very healthy, well yes you’d be partially right is saying so. HOWEVER actually eating the entire apple is far healthier for you because instead of just using the juice and throwing away the pulp of the apple you are getting the following benefits by eating all of it:
There is fiber in the flesh, vitamins, minerals and energy in the juice, and powerful antioxidants in the skin. If you only have the juice you are consuming 1/3 of what an apple actually has to offer on a nutritional basis.
2. Try avoid processed sugars and food where possible
Technically processed foods are any food that has a label. However not all foods that come in a box or a tin are necessarily bad for you, there are many “clean” processed foods that come packaged this way, Fromage Frais, porridge oats, chickpeas, brown rice, Tamari sauce are just to name a few. So my two top tips/rules that I go by when I am trying to decide if something is a “clean” processed food or not is to:
1) Read the ingredients on the label. Bad processed foods are full of extra bad salts also known as sodium, artificial sugars, stabilizers and preservatives.
Known as E numbers, added refined sugars and bad cholesterol laden saturated and hydrogenated fats. Unfortunately they are usually cleverly and purposely hidden by their Latin or chemical names. The fact that there are no “label police” or laws in Ireland allows food companies to do so. I make it my goal to make myself familiar with them. Also if the list is particularly long and contains lots of ingredients that I can’t pronounce, I stay clear.
2) If I can make a home made version of it then I will always try that instead e.g.: lasagna, curry sauce, tomato ketchup, humus, burgers, pestos, chicken nuggets ... there’s pretty much always a homemade clean recipe for everything if you look hard enough.
3. Eliminate refined sugar
Sugar is everywhere and not all of it is bad infact we need sugar to power our workouts, perform most daily activities and power our brains. ALL carbs get broken down into sugars at a monocular level; they become either simple or complex sugars. Simple sugars like table sugar (Sucrose), sweeteners in most processed foods and sweets (Dextrose and Maltrodextin), break down really fast in the body. This means that they cause a blood sugar spike or a rush of energy in the body, which can be swiftly followed by a “crash” later on. These crashes and spikes can cause a series of bio-chemical reactions in the body that eventually lead to fat storage. On top of this simple sugars like refined table sugar offer no health benefits, no nutrients or minerals other than being calorie dense. Instead Clean Eating suggests that you use sweeteners and sugars that occur naturally to sweeten your foods such as, fruits, Raw Organic Honey, Agave syrup, Brown Rice Syrup, Coconut Sugar, Barley Malt and Organic good grade Maple Syrup. Simple sugars are addictive the more you eat the most we get used to the flavor of sweetness, the more we need to be able to taste it.
4. Try limit the use of saturated fat and avoid all trans fats. Substitute for healthy, good fats such as monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats
Fats in general have been given an awful name due to the 'low fat' craze that took over most of the 80s. This was a term before researchers realized that not all fat is bad and in fact we need good fats in our bodies to sustain a healthy and long life. I find this the subject of fat in foods is most difficult for my clients to comprehend. Good fats that are high in monounsaturated and polyunsaturated are found in oily cold-water fish like salmon, nuts (especially almonds, walnuts and pecans), nut butters almond and peanut are my fav, flax seed, avocados, nut oils, and olive oil.
Your body needs a certain amount of all three fats, saturated, mono and poly in order to produce hormones and repair tissue. Fat also lowers the glycemic load (the rate at which carbohydrates release insulin into the blood) of foods, so when you eat healthy fats with complex carbohydrates, it slows digestion and keeps blood sugar and energy levels more stable. An example of healthy saturated fats are organic free range eggs..
5. Always try to have a balance meal, combined of complex carbohydrates, lean protein and some healthy fats
Clean Eating tries to ensure that you are getting the maximum nutrition and balance in all of your meals. This in turn will creates energy, the feeling of fullness and less hunger, and eventually, increased fat loss. Combining these macronutrients creates a synergy between the food itself and the phytochemicals found in them, which together increase the impact of antioxidants in the body.
I love that Clean Eating is about flexibility, unlike other fad diets that limit one or more food groups. So while it encourages always combining complex carbs, lean protein and healthy fats, you can mess around with your ratios to find the combo that works best for you.
6. Try to spread your food out over 5-6 smaller meals, consumed every 2-3 hours
This is about not about eating more food but rather distributing your daily food intake over smaller, more frequent meals. The main reasons for this are:
- You start to only eat what you need during that meal to last you for 2-3 hours until your next meal. This discourages people from overeating vast amounts of food and calories that they don’t actually need at different times of the day and teaches you about portion control.
- You have more energy. Eating smaller meals, more often, helps to keep your blood sugar levels stable, which prevents sugar crashes. Blood sugar spikes also encourage excess calories to be stored more readily as body fat, so when you keep blood sugar stable, it can help you lose fat or at least maintain leanness.
- It takes energy to digest food. Eating more frequently can have a positive impact on your resting metabolic rate. Which in turn means you burn fat at a higher rate.
I do a lot of weight and resistance training in the Studios esp. on the TRX machine so it is important that I always get a healthy variety of my macro-nutrients (Fats, proteins and Carbs).
Reducing my body fat percentage, while building muscle, requires food — and your muscles NEED carbs, fats and protein to recover and grow. By consuming food every 2-3 hours, you always make sure there is enough energy available to fuel recovery.
7. Avoid “empty” calories found in fast food, soda, snacks, cakes and cookies, and substitute in nutrient-dense homemade snacks
With the exception of my “treat” meals, which I make sure I have, I still try and avoid fast food, fizzy drinks, and cakes like the plague. To me they are just empty calories that could be better used elsewhere. Empty calories will usually have very low fiber, high carbohydrates (especially sugars), high in fat, and low in protein. They will also often list either sugar or white flour as one of the first ingredients on the label. When I fancy a cake I will make a clean, healthy homemade version. The same goes for Chinese food. In fact my family actually prefer my versions of they’re fav Chinese dishes to those from the local take away and it’s a fraction of the price.
8. Watch your portion sizes
Clean Eating isn’t a free-for-all at the buffet table though and depending on your desired goal (weight loss, building muscle mass, lower body fat but staying lean…) you will need to vary your portion sizes accordingly. When it comes carbs especially, the likes of brown rice and quinoa, the golden rule I run by is one handful of it uncooked per person. Below is a helpful chart I try to stick to when I can.
9. Drink LOTS of Water
Most people walk around every day in a dehydrated state. Adding certain foods and activities to this day further dehydrates you and causes tiredness, concentration levels to drop and a variety of other health problems. Drinking water will keep you hydrated, aid in digestion, improve your concentration and energy and can help you feel fuller over the course of the day. Drinking water instead of empty calories like fizzy drinks can decrease your overall calorie intake for the day.
10. Eat clean and healthy 80% of the time means you can treat yourself 20% of the time
This is one of my favourite rules for obvious reasons. Whilst some absolute clean eating purists would never stray off the path, I personally feel that life is too short to not have the odd piece of choc, have that scoop of peanut butter cup in the cinema, the odd few chips or a cocktail with my ladies. I absolutely LOVE love love Veronica’s crisps on my treat days because I don’t feel like I am being bold at all. The sharing bag is great for the cinemas and I particularly love them if I am craving crisps or salt after a night out. I guarantee you as you go begin to progress down this Clean Eating route what you used to consider a “treat” will begin to change. Due to the fact that I eat so clean when I do eat something processed or greasy I really feel it afterwards, and usually don’t feel great which puts me off. My taste buds have changed so a can of coke or a bar of dairy milk are extremely sugary to me so much so that I couldn’t finish either, a sip or a piece will be enough to cure my pang. I often make my own Treats, which usually consist of slightly bolder healthy foods like adding coconut milk to my curry instead of Fromage Frais, making Eton Mess (my favourite meal ever) from scratch or a clean chocolate cake. So that’s it folks, my ten principles on clean eating, Not too scary is it? To help you try and understand what Clean Eating is exactly I’ve summarized the 10 main principles most people who eat clean try and stick to. They are a guide rather than a rule and you can be as strict or as lenient as you wish.
So why do I eat clean?
- Eating unprocessed food means I get more nutrients from my food, which in turn gives me so much more energy. This helps me to get through my crazy 15-hour days at the moment. I work full time in a big advertising agency in Dublin five days a week, I have college on Tuesday and Thursday evenings until 9.30pm and all day Saturday and I teach classes in the TRX studios on a Monday, Wednesday and Friday until 9.30pm.
- It’s super cost-effective. Contrary to what you might believe, Clean Eating is actually more cost-effective than eating pre-packaged food or fast food.
For example, for the price of a Super-Sized Big Mac Meal Deal, I could prepare an entire pot of healthy soup that would feed my family for a week, which will be more satisfying and nutritionally dense for them.
I work on Baggot Street and whilst the variety of lunch spots here is amazing the cost of buying lunch every day can work out at anything up to 35euro a week. By bringing in my own food in to work (breakfast, lunch and dinners before college) I am saving a fortune by doing a big weekly shop and spending 15mins in the evenings making and prepping my food for the next day.
I also know exactly what goes into my food, which to me is worth more than money.
- I personally feel like it’s a sustainable way to stay healthy … Unlike fad diets (the many many) that I’ve tried in the past, Clean Eating is an overall positive approach to eating that I believe I can practice for my entire life. You don’t “go on” a Clean Eating diet — you’re always clean eating.
- It helps to keep me looking and feeling younger and fresher. Healthy foods promote healthy cell growth and repair and can eliminate harmful free radicals and toxins in my body. This results in my skin regaining some of its natural glow and suppleness, which as I head further into my early 30s is becoming more and more relevant to me.
The downsides of it are few but here are just some of them so you can be prepared:
If you currently have a poor diet then your body will be accustomed to processed foods and may have a difficult time with the natural flavors of real food however your taste buds WILL change. If you start eating this way regularly, you’ll see that eventually, the stuff you used to love just doesn’t taste the same any longer. e.g. I much prefer the taste of dark chocolate to milk chocolate.
You will need to be prepared and be comfortable cooking your own food. I do a weekly shop over the weekend for my fruit and veg, I go to my local butchers for my meat and I go to the health stores whenever I run out of healthy ingredients I can’t get in a supermarket. More and more supermarkets are starting to stock clean versions of food, Tesco sell unsweetened Almond milk, quinoa and Tamari sauce. Supervalu, Dunnes and Spar sell coconut oil.
When I get home from either work or college at 9.30pm in the evenings I throw on my meat, (fish, chicken, steak) in the oven for 25mins, throw my rice, quinoa etc. in a pot on the stove and catch up on that night's Eastenders while they cook. I’ve invested in some good quality tubberware to bring my lunch and dinner with me to work most days. My locker and fridge in work is packed full of herbs, and spices and a variety of different foods likes, ryvita, eggs, porridge, peanut butters etc. so should I ever get hungry or not get to make my lunch I always have something healthy to eat.
Clean Eating. Getting Started
Changing your eating routine is a big step and as it is NOT a Diet so you should approach it one step at a time. I’ve helped lots of my friends, work colleagues and my family to slowly change their eating habits and over time I’ve developed what I call the Clean Eating Starter Pack. These are just some of the ingredients that you can use everyday to begin taking the step to a Healthier happier you.
So here is my starter pack… if you don’t want to leap head first and do it altogether, which can be a shock to the system then make one change a week until you eventually have a strong Clean Eating foundation. From here then you can progress and start adapting to each of the principles I’ve outlined above until eventually your will be living a Healthy Clean life and you won't remember it any other way…
You can follow Jenni on Instagram here.