A Mid-Winter Clean Eating Challenge

| Posted On Feb 15, 2013 | By:

clean eating foodsThe middle of winter is a perfect time to do some deep cleaning, not just for your home, but also for your body.  We’re in limbo between the craziness and overindulgence of the holidays and the relaxed, more carefree days of spring.  This is a perfect time to clean the junk out of your pantry, refrigerator, and your body, and give yourself a healthier start for spring.

I’m not talking about a celebrity endorsed detox diet, colon cleanse, or weeklong juice fast. There is no scientific evidence that these diets are helpful, and in fact, extreme detox diets can be damaging or even dangerous. They can destroy the healthy bacteria in your digestive tract, disrupt the body’s electrolytes, and not eating enough calories actually ends up slowing down your metabolism.  Probably not the results you were looking for.

Instead, I recommend – for 4-5 days – eating several meals and snacks each day, but sticking to a “Clean Eating Plan” which consists mostly of fruits and vegetables, nuts and legumes for protein, and healthy fats.  During this time, don’t focus on how much to eat, but rather, focus on mindful eating – eat only when hungry and stop when you are full.   Take time to taste and appreciate the food, and notice how your body feels before, during, and after you eat.

Following this clean eating pattern for just a few days allows your body’s own detox system (the kidneys and liver) to flush out any toxins or unhealthy chemicals.   Practicing mindful eating makes you more aware of your body’s hunger and fullness signals.  The end result is that you’ll feel (and probably be) lighter, more energetic, and more alert in just a few days – hopefully so much so that you’ll be encouraged to continue eating clean.

The following foods are good to eat during the challenge:

These foods should be eliminated during the challenge: 

How to prepare:

Try to start gradually by slowly limiting caffeine and sugar the week before.  Both of these can be addictive and cause withdrawal symptoms like headache or irritability if stopped suddenly.  Eliminate alcohol, stock up on healthy groceries, and get rid of any junk foods which can tempt you to get off track.

Don’t stop taking any prescription medications and check with your health care provider to make sure your medications won’t be impacted by a sudden change in your eating habits.  The doses of some medications, like Coumadin or insulin, are prescribed based on your “typical” diet, so a change can be dangerous.

Clean Eating Sample Meal Plan

Any of the foods on the above “good to eat” list are fine to eat for meals or snacks.  Since they’re all low in calories and high in fiber, there are no restrictions on portion sizes, except to eat when you are hungry and stop when you feel full.  Also make sure you drink plenty of water or herbal tea throughout the day.  Some examples of meals include:

Upon rising in the morning:

Drink a warm glass of water with the juice of ½ of a lemon.  This is a vitamin C rich diuretic, which also gets the digestive tract moving and starts the cleansing process.

Breakfast ideas:

Snack ideas:

Lunch ideas:

Afternoon snacks ideas

(same as above)

Dinner ideas:

Try to follow this plan for a few days, or up to a week.  After that time, feel free to add back lean proteins like chicken, fish or turkey and low fat dairy if you like, but try to keep the “junk food” out as much as possible.  Let me know how you do!

 

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About Anne Danahy, MS, RD, LDN

Anne Danahy, MS, RD, LDN has been a Nutritionist with Harvard Vanguard Medical Associates for the past 15 years, and she currently works as the “Virtual Nutritionist." Her professional interests include weight management, heart disease, and women’s nutritional issues. When she isn’t working, you can usually find her in the kitchen testing recipes that are healthy AND delicious.

Comments

  1. You lost me at caffeine. Why do you suggest giving it up? Unless you have high blood pressure or other complicating factors, is there any real reason to eliminate it? Moderate consumption of caffeine might be protective against cognitive decline and some types of cancers.

    Comment by Jessie on February 27, 2013 at 1:53 pm
  2. I too love my morning cup of coffee, and I agree that it may offer some benefits. But – caffeine is a stimulant and one of the points of my challenge is to practice mindful eating by relaxing, eating quietly, and listening to your body’s hunger and fullness signals, and how you feel after eating “healthier.” Caffeine might make this more difficult for some. Try to substitute decaf, or just limit the amount you drink.

    Comment by Harvard Vanguard on March 8, 2013 at 2:03 pm
  3. I am surprised you did not address how many people have sensitivity to gluten. The numbers seem to vary but from what I can find tend to land around 1 in 100/133 have some level of sensitivity or an actual allergy. Seems that gluten would have been a good food element to remove from this “clean eating” to give everyone the opportunity to see how they feel without gluten. I think this might be one of the up and coming health concerns of our decade.

    Comment by Tyson Smith-Ray on February 27, 2013 at 3:19 pm
  4. You are correct that gluten sensitivity, without a diagnosis or celiac disease, seems to be a problem for a growing number of people. The gluten free diet is very restrictive and not necessarily helpful for all. Nonetheless, it’s not harmful, so feel free to make it a personal challenge to eat gluten free for a week or two to see if you feel healthier, and if so, continue it.

    Comment by Harvard Vanguard on March 8, 2013 at 2:04 pm
  5. Where do eggs fit in? They are not mentioned in foods to avoid, foods that are good to eat or foods to slowly add back in….
    Thanks!

    Comment by Andrea on February 27, 2013 at 10:44 pm
  6. Thanks for your comment. With the exception of foods with added sugars or sweeteners and highly refined foods, the list of foods to choose/avoid for the Clean Eating Challenge are suggested, but not set in stone. Eggs, soy products (tofu), peanut butter, and milk products were included on the “avoid” list because they are the most common allergens. Eliminate these foods for a few days, and take note of how you feel without them. If you don’t feel different (better), feel free to add them back in, but try to use those without lots of added sweetener or additives.

    Comment by Harvard Vanguard on March 8, 2013 at 2:00 pm
  7. In all fairness, “there is no scientific evidence that these diets are helpful” also applies to this “clean eating challenge” diet. It might be a good combination or might not, but the diet itself has not been subject to controlled studies. Eating plenty of fruits and vegetables is sound advice, but the notion that any such regimen can “clear the body of toxins” has no scientific basis. This site should follow the advice of its own blogger Dr. David Rubin about becoming a “health detective.” “The principles of [dietary detoxification] make no sense from a scientific perspective and there is no clinical evidence to support them.” (Br. Med. Bull.)

    Comment by Larry Constantine (Lior Samson) on February 28, 2013 at 7:15 am
  8. Can you provide any recipes or recommend brands for the lunch and dinner ideas e.g. lentil soup, black bean & vegetable chili, chopped vegetable and kidney bean salad, lentil & vegetable stew. Thank you!

    Comment by Katrice Edozien on February 28, 2013 at 10:14 am
  9. I recommend looking at Cookinglight.com, or vegetariantimes.com for recipes and suggestions on vegetarian or specialty diets. In addition, many companies print recipes right on their package label, so check the back of the lentil or black bean package for ideas. Of course, our Harvard Vanguard dietitians are also an excellent resource for help with healthy meal planning.

    Comment by Harvard Vanguard on March 8, 2013 at 2:01 pm
  10. Indeed. No science here. WHy is this silly stuff being sent out under the Harvard vanguard name?

    Comment by Lorraine roses on February 28, 2013 at 3:17 pm
  11. I was wondering if you allow egg whites or tofu on this clean eating challenge.

    Comment by Yvette Kelliher on March 2, 2013 at 2:05 pm
  12. Thanks for your comment. With the exception of foods with added sugars or sweeteners and highly refined foods, the list of foods to choose/avoid for the Clean Eating Challenge are suggested, but not set in stone. Eggs, soy products (tofu), peanut butter, and milk products were included on the “avoid” list because they are the most common allergens. Eliminate these foods for a few days, and take note of how you feel without them. If you don’t feel different (better), feel free to add them back in, but try to use those without lots of added sweetener or additives.

    Comment by Harvard Vanguard on March 8, 2013 at 1:59 pm
  13. One year later after I read the suggestions for a 5 day cleaning diet I want to thank you for changing my earing habits. Having your list about what to avoid in my head it helped me to be more disciplined while living in Munich Germany. The numerous butcher stores and bakeries did not tempt me and I went down in weight some pounds instead of up up up….. Got rid of some lactose intolerance as well.
    No alcohol, no sugar, no meat and eating small portions every three hours and nothing in between that is a great way to keep healthy and not to suffer in any way. Not even necessary to be strict every single day but just in general as a lead is for me helpful.

    Comment by Martina David-Ault on January 28, 2014 at 10:00 am

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