“How did that clean eating smoothie plan ever work out for you?” my editor asks me a few weeks ago.
“Well,” I say hesitantly, “that depends on when you asked me.”
Almost exactly a year ago, I wrote about my New Year’s resolution to throw myself headlong into a new lifestyle adventure — clean eating, as inspired by North Palm Beach nutrition and fitness expert Ivy Larson’s “Clean Cuisine,” which advocates eating food in its “most natural and nutrient-rich state.” Clean eating definitions vary, but in Ivy’s version that means whole grains, a farm-load of fresh fruits and veggies, very little sweets and dairy, and lots and lots of green smoothies.
And throw myself, I did. Every morning I took all of the prescribed vitamin supplements and made a refreshing green smoothie (i.e., salad in a glass) in my new, fancy Vitamix blender. I premade my lunch every day, from baked fish with quinoa to other dishes involving quinoa, because now I like quinoa. Every meal that wasn’t linked to a work assignment was “clean,” or as close to as I could get in a restaurant.
I gave up sugar and the toxic chemical stuff I used to substitute for sugar. I even made soups from scratch, including steaming, pureeing, seasoning and cooking tomato soup from scratch and ignoring my husband when he offered to just go get some Campbell’s. I’d also re-upped at the gym and was boot-camping regularly.
I was all in — until the end of March, when our two-person family added a third member, a young relative who came to live with us. Suddenly, steaming my own tomatoes took a back seat to the care, feeding and cleaning of a human being.
Goodbye, homemade dinners and hello, diapers.
The scratch soups were the first to go. Then microwaved easy meals (those sneaky buggers) started sneaking back into the house. My schedule went loopy, so the workouts got shorter, and then dwindled to once or twice a week. And because small humans are joyful but stressful, it was a slippery slope to tater tots.
By the summer, I’d gained back all the weight I’d lost and more. I was sluggish, avoiding jeans and most clothing with zippers, hostile to any attempts to take full-bodied photos of myself. In May, I was photographed with the Bangles, one of my all-time favorite bands, and I am so bloated and uncomfortable in that photo that I can barely look at it. I was ashamed of the ground I’d lost. I’d taken a clean break from Clean Cuisine, and I was miserable.
But eventually something clicked in me. It happened one day when I was working at home and realized I was out of pre-prepared food. But I had bananas and I had spinach. So I threw them in the silent, fancy blender with some almond milk, and I made a smoothie.
I was startled by how good it tasted, how good it made me feel and, somewhere between sips, I promised myself that I would do my best that day to not mess up my momentum.
And I didn’t.
I got up the next morning, went to Don Victorio, my friendly neighborhood vegetable market, bought a bunch of leafy greens, came home and made a stir-fry. I was a member of CrossFit CityPlace for a few months, which led me slowly but surely back to my running, my true fitness love.
And guess what? My jeans fit again. They aren’t the jeans I want to be wearing. But it’s a start. Just a few months earlier I’d have told you that 2014 had been a complete and epic disaster in the diet and fitness department, but as I stare down 2015, I’m in a good, hopeful position to have a healthy, happy food year.
Here are five rules I’m living by:
1) Make a date with a smoothie: As a semi-professional dieter, I am well-versed in artificial sweeteners, which have zero calories and zero nutrition. So when I ran across plump, juicy dates at the store, I remembered that many smoothie experts, including Ivy, swear by them for their natural sweetness. (That is, if you can stop yourself from eating them all before they hit the blender.)
2) Can’t do from scratch? Do plus fresh: My days of completely homemade soup are gone, but I can add veggies and fruits to other basically healthy foods, like adding fresh mushrooms to a thin crust organic pizza like Newman’s Own, or putting those ‘shrooms and carrots and fresh herbs in a premade organic soup base. (Ivy likes Pacific Naturals.)
3) Be very veggie and forcefully fruity: When I confessed my bad, bad backsliding ways to Ivy, she told me not to sweat it. “If you can at least try to eat all of the fruits and vegetables that you can, every day, and that’s all you can do that day, you’ve done enough that day.” Roughage, of course, fills you up and leaves less belly room for foolishness. And that leads me to …
4) Being selective about your side dishes. I eat out a lot, sometimes for work, and when things got stressful this spring, I admit that my self-sabotage started with side dishes. Sure, I’ll have the sweet potato fries instead of the sweet potato. Just this once! And the risotto instead of the steamed brown rice. And just one of my hubby’s tots … OK, three. But I’m back to being sensible — if there are veggies, order them. Don’t even think about it. If there’s an interesting grain, like quinoa, get that.
5) Don’t beat yourself up. Notice that this is NOT the same as “Let it go.” (That may have been Elsa from “Frozen“‘s motto, but she’s a thin, fictional character.) I’ve accepted that for the moment, my life doesn’t allow me to 100 percent follow an eating plan to the letter. Sometimes I’m just going to really want dessert, and I am not being “bad” for having it occasionally. Food should be nourishing and pleasurable, and if my clean-eating adventure taught me anything, it wasn’t to avoid the foods I like, but to discover new foods and new delicious ways of eating them. Shoot for at least one day to try a new, healthy recipe and make enough for leftovers. Get moving in some consistent fashion at least three or four times a week. Drink a lot of water. Reach for the spices rather than for the butter. Chew slowly and enjoy whatever it is you’re eating. Resolve to be better. You’ll be surprised how well that works.
Recipe by North Palm Beach nutrition and fitness expert Ivy Larson.
1 cup frozen chopped pineapple
3 tablespoons raw, unsweetened, shredded coconut
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
1 handful baby spinach leaves
3 pitted dates
1 cup water
4-5 ice cubes
1. Place all ingredients except for the ice cubes in a Vitamix (or other high-speed blender), and process until smooth and creamy.
2. Add the ice and blend again. Drink the smoothie ice cold.
Makes 1 smoothie.
CINNAMON APPLE SUPERGREEN SMOOTHIE
Recipe by Ivy Larson, CleanCuisineAndMore.com.
1 frozen banana, cut into bite-sized pieces
1 Granny Smith apple, cored and chopped (keep the skin on)
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 large handful baby spinach
1 cup cold water
2-3 pitted dates
½ teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
4-5 ice cubes
1. Place all ingredients, except for the ice, in a Vitamix (or other high-speed blender) and process until smooth and creamy.
2. Add the ice and blend again. Drink the smoothie chilled.
Makes 1 smoothie.