Home Clean Eating Boot Camp Easing Into Eating Clean

Easing Into Eating Clean

by Erika Nicole Kendall

I received an e-mail the other day that called me “a beast” at this healthy living thing. That tickled me – partially because I think of a picture of me hulk smashing some carrots and broccoli when I hear that phrase – but it also humbled me because I remember when I truly thought I was going hard [in the paint], but it was only the beginning.

I used to do some hilarious stuff, man. Seriously. I used to go out to eat, get something to take home, eat it right before bed, wake up, pull out last night’s to-go and get to munching. I specifically remember this 7-layer nacho dip that I used to tear up… and be proud of it, too! I mean, it was good! I was slaughtering that dip at 8 in the morning. Never mind the fact that I’d be sluggish for the rest of the day.. that didn’t matter. What mattered was that I was feeding that craving, and that food fulfillment was making me happy.

Then, I evolved a little. I wasn’t creeping out to that restaurant and getting that dip… I’d just buy some “guacamole” from the grocery…and eat that for breakfast. At least I wasn’t eating 7-layer nacho dip anymore, right? I actually remember talking to one of my fit guy friends one morning, and he heard me banging around in the kitchen.

“What are you doing over there?”

“Looking for the rest of my chips!”

“Chips? At 9 in the morning?”

“Yeah! I’ve got to finish up my breakfast?”

“Wait — what are you eating?”

“Guacamole! It’s goooooood, too!”

My lovely-giant-sunset-pepper omelette! Looks awful, tasted delicious! LOL

Dead silence. I’m not sure if he knew what to say, but I do remember finding my chips and not being able to bite into any of them. I thought I was doing good! I was eating stuff at home instead of ordering out! This made sense! But his silence left me with another confusing proposition.. actually thinking about what I was eating at home.

I won’t lie… I was kinda pissed. I have to think about that too? I was still looking for a shortcut. Some kind of default understanding that would give me some kind of foundation… so that I wouldn’t have to think so much. I eventually found it, but I had to struggle a bit to get it. You might be wondering why I didn’t just ask him for what he does and eats, and I don’t mind telling you – I didn’t want to just copy what someone else was doing. I needed to find what worked for me, so that I’d know for a fact that I’d actually enjoy myself.

So, I created a list of things that I knew I couldn’t have anymore. Soft drinks? No. Bright, eerily colorful cereals? No. Chemical-laden foods? No. I knew what I needed to avoid and I knew why I needed to avoid it. And, I was off.

So… I had my boundaries that I couldn’t break. But dang, that felt like my everything! It felt like everything was off limits! It felt as if everything I was into, I had to let go. I was really distraught! The more I learned about eating and how food was meant for my body, the more I realized: I wasn’t limiting myself… I was freeing myself.

I get it – that sounds corny – but let me explain. My options were only as limited as my access, my cooking ability and my creativity. I’m no longer limited to horrible sugary crap in a box for breakfast. I can buy a pound of oatmeal for $1.30, buy my own maple syrup and my own brown sugar (both of which I keep on hand for baking, anyway) and make my own maple and cinnamon oatmeal. And because my ingredients are so much more flavorful, I use less of them – a flavorful enough maple syrup and the right cinnamon? I’m set.

I don’t even have to eat grains for breakfast if I don’t want them. I can eat – get this – fruit. Or vegetables. I don’t even have to drink milk if I choose. I can have an omelette. I can have biscuits and apple butter. I don’t have to short change myself and limit myself to what’s in a box… or feel like I should skip breakfast altogether just because I can’t sit down and cook something. Cooking “from the aisles” (which, really, isn’t cooking at all) was far more limiting than anything else I could come up with on my own.

Having said that… it’s obviously about being a half-full or half-empty type. My experience with food turned me into a half-full type.. because for my health, I couldn’t afford to see my kitchen as “half-empty.” Looking at the situation from a negative standpoint pretty much ensured that I’d spend the rest of my life unhealthy and overweight… and that simply was not an option. Was it difficult to give up what I loved? You’re damn right it was, but was my desires and cravings more important to me than my own person? My desire to drink a soft drink outweighed my desire to be healthy? Um, no. Never that. Especially when I can eat natural foods, eat less and enjoy them just-as-much-if-not-more? C’mon, there’s no contest, here.

Sure, you might see “Oh, so I can have an omelette or some oatmeal for breakfast.. but that’s only two options.” Not if you’re creative with your ingredients. I can add peppers, chili powder, coriander and a sausage and pow. Mexican omelette. Cheese, mushroom, tomato.. boom. French omelette. Chilies, onion, sausage? Pow.

Want me to keep going? I won’t. Team BGG2WL loves to talk about oatmeal, too.

Easing into clean eating is first and foremost about reframing the situation – you are not limiting yourself… you are giving yourself more options than you’ve ever had before. You are not depriving yourself, you are using your time to explore other possibilities. You aren’t unhappy about giving up your old favorites… you are nervous about finding new ones, but still willing to try. Willing to try because, well, our health depends on it.

Do you have any tips for someone who needs help easing into clean eating?

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Streetz September 10, 2010 - 10:47 AM

I didn’t want to just copy what someone else was doing. I needed to find what worked for me, so that I’d know for a fact that I’d actually enjoy myself.

This right here is the key.

A lot of people get the perception that eating healthy is chewing on tofu (which I will never eat unles im paid to do so) and rice cakes. Natural, healthy food, is robust and tasy, if you know how to freak it. Like you said, it’s finding what you like and don’t.

Start with the basics. What’s your favorite foods? Then, figure out how to prepare/get meals that reflect the healthy version of your favorite foods. You can even derive this from your favorite fast food! Love fried chicken? Sorry, eat it grilled. Just as good if not better!

That’s what I found worked for me. I may have a “bad” meal here n there, but I no longer crave it, or “Need” to have it. I told Erika before, I’d have cheat days and get to the day and #kanyeshrug the meal because it wasn’t that serious. I’d eat it more out of principal. hahahaa.

Good blog!

Kirsten September 10, 2010 - 11:26 AM

I’m saying…can we get some recipes?

I, like you chose to make a lifestyle change, rather than ‘diet’ and found myself eating raw and vegan. It was a great place for me to be in at that time, but when I got pregnant, I found it difficult to sustain – I wanted MEAT. Chicken would be calling me…

Since then, I felt that the only way to eat healthy was a vegan/raw lifestyle. Clean eating makes as much sense to me as that way of life did, and I find it ultimately sustainable and very much in line with what I was doing before.

Seriously, I would like to speak to you about some coaching, (and some other things) because I could SO use it.

Erika September 10, 2010 - 11:31 AM

LMAO! I have like literally 23 queued up to go.. I’m just trying to decide how I want to do them to make them more consistent.

Hit up that contact form, mama. 🙂

Shawn September 10, 2010 - 4:07 PM

Thank you for this article! I am struggling right now because of poor time management/over-extending myself. Between carpooling with my whole family 4 of us going different places and rushing and 4 of us getting picked up and rushing and football and night school…I really need to get a better food schedule. I’m eating on the run so I need to make healthy food that travels or goes on the run!

I’m going to buy some more storage bowls this weekend and try making everything for at least 3 days(lawd help me) so I’m not eating just anything. I so want to have a healthier food life so I can have a healthier life.

Thank you again for such an inspiring story!

Kim September 11, 2010 - 8:17 PM

Oh wow – thanks for writing this. You are, indeed, a beast – and I mean that in the absolute best way possible.

Reframing right now 🙂

Erika September 11, 2010 - 8:21 PM


Sweetpea September 12, 2010 - 4:29 AM

I’ve started on my healthy journey recently. I’ve changed so much mentally and some parts physically, but my body doesn’t reflect it. Thank you for your encouragement Soror!

Erica September 13, 2010 - 10:27 AM

great blog! I’m in the process of easing into clean eating now. I can’t really say it’s hard because I honestly haven’t gone full all the way…YET. I’ve just been making small changes. I need to start grocery shopping and be one with the produce aisle! lol

SKP October 5, 2010 - 4:15 PM

I recently made the decision to start “clean eating”. I must say that I am a bit overwhelmed, but your blog has been a godsend in this area. After finding your blog a few weeks ago, I was tempted to go and throw everything away that was in my pantry, but I figured I better slow down and take a little time to digest as much info as I could. Easing into clean eating seems to be the best way to do it. Dont want to take drastic measures to fast and burn out shortly thereafter.

Traci R. November 7, 2010 - 8:19 PM

Yay! I’m so glad I found this blog. On a recent move to Portland, OR–American wonderland of organic, natural, healthy eating– I recently started following the guidelines outlined in the Tosca Reno books. Very quickly after my move, I had gotten back into working out regularly and knew the only way I’d see weight loss was to really do something about my eating habits. So far I’m about a month into doing both together. However, I’m not experiencing the rapid weight loss I’m used to when I go on a diet-diet. Admittedly, I fight discouragement on this everyday because it kinda sucks BUT the one real benefit that started immediately that I love was having so much energy throughout the day. Literally, I feel like my energy levels are higher than I can ever remember in my adult life. I trust that this is a bigger change for me than losing a few pounds in a few days but this is going to change my lifestyle for the better and longterm. I’m so happy to connect with you and all the other black girls who enjoy eating clean…let’s get it!

Maliika January 23, 2011 - 9:11 PM

Thank you posting this. I will be transitioning to a clean eating lifestyle tomorrow. I love your site!

Nikki February 22, 2011 - 7:06 AM

Both glad & mad I read this article this morning! I just set myself up to have Restaurant Style Salsa and chips! And it is 6 a.m.!!!! (Both LOL and SMH at the same time) I love the salsa but I guess the chips can go. About to make eggs and put the salsa on them! Thanks for such a great blog!!!

Arnita May 23, 2011 - 3:38 PM


Tawana May 23, 2011 - 4:52 PM

You hit the nail right on the head when you said that you had to find what worked for you. This is something that I’ve struggled with for years and as a result, I haven’t been able to stay on the “get healthy” wagon lol. I’ve just recently started on a new journey to get healthy and I feel much more confident that I’ll be able to sustain my lifestyle change for the long haul.

By the way, your blogs and articles have been a tremendous help to me in trying to figure out the how and why of why I want to get healthy. Thanks for sharing your weight loss and health journey with us!!

Jocelyn April 12, 2012 - 5:55 PM

this blog is on point, I realized I was sabotaging myself by thinking it would happen over night. I’m taking my time finding what foods I like and what I don’t. Over the winter I found out that spinach does not agree with me as much as I love it I think because of my thyroid whenever I eat spinach I get dizzy so i had to stop. One of the best blogs you’ve written was the one comparing the labels of “fat free” or “low fat” with the regular version and I found so many labels where there was more added ingredients in the “fat free” version than in the regular. So thanks to you I feel like I will be able to start and keep going this time.

Angela April 12, 2012 - 9:10 PM

I too eat clean & I find planning my meals in advance helps to keep me grounded & eliminates that stress eating.

Kudos with your weight loss & this site is awesome!

Naija April 30, 2012 - 1:47 PM

🙂 I stumbled upon your site via the magic that is Twitter, great post!

I started clean eating about 2.5 years ago and I never feel deprived.. Ever. I don’t eat anything if it doesn’t taste awesome, and if it won’t keep me awesome. I think the interesting part is once you start, it just becomes part of who you are. I had a living social coupon for Shari’s Berries and decided, “Why Not?” The berries came and after eating one I realized they were made with Trans Fats.. What type of devil puts trans fats with fruit??! The money I spent wasn’t worth it and I tossed the whole thing. It was then that I realized that this clean eating thing is really real, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. 🙂

Dee May 5, 2012 - 10:37 AM

Speaking of oatmeal, I actually prefer to use it to make my own lower-fat granola. Using some of the same ingredients you mentioned you can mix raw oats, nuts, cinnamon, maple syrup or agave, with a little oil (last time I used sunflower oil) and stick it in the oven until it is brown and crisp. So much tastier than what you buy out of a box. Throw in some raisins, date and/or coconut for extra sweetness and fiber. Yum! This is especially great for people who have kids who can make this themselves. You can experiment and change your flavors each time. Serve with slice apples or a fresh banana for your necessary fruit serving or make a yogurt parfait that you grab and go in the morning. Full recipe can be found here: http://www.thedailymeal.com/homemade-granola

Zhay May 5, 2012 - 3:02 PM

One thing I’m starting to do again is stop at a grocery store instead of a drive thru when I’m on the go. The deli bar or just fruit are a better, cheaper option.

Suzette Robinson May 17, 2012 - 9:56 PM

I can’t thank you enough…along beside the reading of the bible in the A.M. – you are next on the list…I started my new lifestyle a month ago; and your site keeps me going STRONG…..Loving the SUPPORT!

Jaida June 10, 2012 - 1:16 PM

I’m really trying to get on the health & fitness bandwagon and clean eating is really difficult to overcome. I haven’t been at it very long so I still give into cravings, but I think it’s about comfort and laziness on my part. I have to tackle it though. This article just put things into perspective and makes me want to work harder at watching what I eat.

Sonja July 12, 2012 - 12:42 PM

I have wanted to become a “clean eater” for a while now. While I have removed most of the processed foods from our diet we have a long way to go. I stumble when I have a 5 and 7 year old who go to bed hungry rather than eat my “clean food”. My personal issue is that I don’t eat a lot of meat but I occassionally like chicken or turkey. I buy the organic products but is that acceptable in a clean diet? Plus I am not a big veggie lover….not sure if there is hope for me!

Katia January 3, 2013 - 7:59 PM

After a 3 week vacation in India of eating whatever and whenever I wanted, I realized that I had loss weight during the trip. I admit that I worked out as well, but not to the level as before my vacay. Then I started to look back at what I was eating and realized that I had not eaten any processed food during the trip….NONE (and no artificial sweeteners). This was a huge epiphany for me and I have thrown out all of the processed nonsense in my freezer. I feel better (and fuller) already.

Honey February 2, 2013 - 9:57 AM

Great article. I have a question though: how is eating a sausage “clean” eating?? Are we defining “clean” as eating non-processed foods or eating low fat high fiber low sugar. I always assumed eating non-animal products was in the realm of “clean”.

Erika Nicole Kendall February 2, 2013 - 10:01 AM

The former.

Christa April 2, 2013 - 9:56 PM

What is an unprocessed sausage and where can I get some?

Erika Nicole Kendall April 4, 2013 - 7:41 AM

One that doesn’t have a bunch of weird chemicals and trash in it. Your local butcher likely makes his sausage by hand. I also think some Whole Foods stores make theirs in-house.

Danielle December 12, 2013 - 11:43 AM

I’m eating gluten free. I’m a breakfast person and so much of my old favorites aren’t gluten friendly. I got some Udi’s gf bread and made french toast! It was delicious. Sometimes it takes a little time to think outside of the box. =)

Angela S December 14, 2013 - 4:19 PM

Thank you for this. I was a ” I’ll never eat tofu” person. But if youust eat fast food and have a CHIPOTLE in your area they have tofu that is delish! Of course they don’t call it tofu- and you have to look real hard on the menu for it. But you can skip the tortilla and get lettuce and tomatos and salsa and feel very satisfied. If you must eat a few chips take 4 or 5 and throw the rest away. I’ve found myself in situations where you have to improvise – but more and more eating establishments are providing decent ( if not healthy) options.

Melissa Craig June 19, 2014 - 1:12 PM

Great post.

Off topic question: How come some peoples comments show a pic and not the others?! Just curious. I want to join whatever you joined! lol

I’m sure you are starting to see a pattern. I am addicted to your blog, I read it every chance I get lol Love it!

Erika Nicole Kendall June 19, 2014 - 3:01 PM

Go to Gravatar.com!

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