When I learned that the food I was eating was triggering my IBS, I knew that I was going to have to make some changes in my diet. The first step I took towards this goal was trying to eliminate processed foods.
I know this can seem overwhelming. If you work full-time and you’re raising a family, convenience foods are a part of your daily life. When I started this elimination process my son was already grown up and moved out and I was living alone. I’m not sure if I would have been able to do this as easily when I had a family to feed. If everybody in the house isn’t agreeable to this it would be quite a bit more difficult. The main goal though, is to stop eating fake food.
I decided my first step was to start making lists. One with all the processed foods I was currently consuming in a normal day and the other with healthy whole foods that I could replace them with. Making the change to clean eating was a long process that took some time, will power and dedication. That was four years ago and I am still learning!
Some foods I didn’t even think of as processed food, like margarine and vegetable oil. I didn’t take those out of my diet until I was a couple of years into this challenge. Why? I didn’t even realize they were bad for me or that there were healthier options like butter and olive oil. Read the labels on packaged food and see what you are really getting.
Anyway, back to the lists. I started by listing the meals and snacks I would normally eat each day. On the other list I would think of whole food options I could eat instead. For instance, cereal and milk with fruit was my go-to breakfast on working days. Unfortunately boxed cereal is loaded with high fructose corn syrup, artificial sweeteners, preservatives, colorants and a host of other additives. I decided old fashioned or steel-cut oats seemed like a great replacement. If you read the ingredients you will see the only ingredient is steel-cut oats. No added salt, sugar, preservatives or chemicals. There are a lot of other healthy grains to choose from but this was a start for me. I stirred in some milk and honey and topped it off with fresh fruit, nuts and seeds.
A morning snack for me in the past usually consisted of a packaged granola bar and a banana. Granola bars can be loaded with high fructose corn syrup, hydrogenated oils, artificial colors and GMO’s. I traded this snack for a piece of fruit and a serving of raw nuts, nut butter or seeds. I sometimes have homemade granola or energy bites that I make myself so I know what goes into them.
I used to eat so-called “healthy” frozen dinners, a can of soup or a lunch-meat sandwich for lunch every day at work. These poor meal choices are loaded with sodium, trans-fats, preservatives, nitrates, artificial color and high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS). I replaced those lunchtime toxins with a fresh salad and roasted or grilled meat that I cooked myself. Don’t spoil your salad by topping it with bottled salad dressing. Store bought dressings have a multitude of chemicals, artificial ingredients, fat and calories that are definitely not healthy! I make my own dressing with olive oil and lemon juice and herbs (dried or fresh) for flavor. I stopped eating packaged lunch meat and processed cheese. Instead I sometimes take left-over meat and vegetables from my dinner the night before. Roast a chicken on Sunday that you can use for lunches and meals over the next several days. Start buying produce when there is a sale and chop it and freeze it for use later in soups and other dishes.
An afternoon snack for me was as easy as grabbing a cup of yogurt from the fridge. Yogurt is good for you right? Yes, as long as it’s not chock full of artificial sweeteners, flavors, colors, HFCS, and other chemicals. Opt instead for plain organic yogurt; sweeten it yourself with honey or fruit. You can also use yogurt to make your own herb dip for fresh veggies.
I always cooked dinner for my family. I made pasta, pizza, enchiladas, chili, lemon chicken, roast beef dinner, just to name a few. Of course after I was on my own I became less enthused about going to a lot of effort just for myself. It was the perfect time to transition to clean eating. I buy meat (organic when affordable) and fresh veggies and I still prepare a nice meal for myself; these days it’s just a lot healthier. There are so many ways to find recipes online now for clean eating and the food choices are endless. I love to roast a chicken in the crockpot and when I get home from work the house is filled with the delicious smell of dinner cooking in the kitchen!
I’ve always enjoyed an evening snack and in the summer months it’s always been ice cream. There are one or two brands I’ve found out there that only have whole ingredients but I found this idea online that is just about as good. I slice up bananas and freeze them and when I want ice cream I just have to put some frozen slices (about one banana) in the blender with some milk and a splash of vanilla and whip it up. It comes out thick and creamy just like ice cream. You can add nuts and chocolate chips or anything else you want and have a healthy treat!
When you switch to clean eating you have to start planning ahead. Make a list of healthy meal options and start collecting recipes that will work with your new clean eating menu. There will be a little more time spent planning meals and preparing food but it will be worth every minute for the health benefits you reap from your efforts. As you fall into a routine and become more efficient this takes less effort as planning and prepping become second nature! I make larger amounts of certain foods like soups and casseroles that can be frozen and used for quick meals on days when there isn’t time to cook.
Gradually I started cleaning out my pantry and refrigerator and threw away things I wouldn’t be eating anymore. I’ve never been a fan of soda so I didn’t have to worry about cutting that out. I tossed out jars of jelly, frozen dinners, boxes of mac-n-cheese, bags of chips and cookies. Gone forever!
One of the biggest eye openers for me was finding out that after I had eliminated processed foods, I didn’t like the taste of them anymore. I used to love having a can of chicken noodle soup if I was down with a bad cold, well not anymore! It tastes like a can full of chemicals. Now I make a batch of my own chicken soup and freeze it in serving size containers. When I want the convenience of a can of soup all I have to do is pull one out of the freezer and thaw it in the microwave.
I have made huge changes in my diet over the last few years but it is still a work in progress. I still face challenges, like my sugar addiction! I have cut way down on the amount of sweets I eat but I still sneak a few in here and there. A batch of brownies made from a mix used to be a favorite for me. They taste awful to me now! If I have a craving I can’t shake, I make my own brownies from scratch that really doesn’t take much longer to make and taste way better. My go to sweet treat is organic dark chocolate. I’ve found that usually just a bite size piece is enough to satisfy that chocolate craving and supposedly small amounts of dark chocolate can be good for you.
After a couple of years of progress towards clean eating I was still having IBS issues and it was then that I discovered I had Fructose Malabsorption. This was another huge adjustment for me and made this whole process much more complicated. I realized that even some of the healthy foods that I love are extremely hard for me to digest. It has taken me a couple of years to learn about FM and make even bigger changes to my healthy eating plan. I had already eliminated pasta and rice from my diet so when I found out wheat was a problem food I eliminated bread products from my diet (insert broken heart here). One slice of whole grain bread during my day doesn’t normally cause me any issues but I no longer indulge in the bagels or donuts that magically appear at the office. I stopped buying bakery goods and bread sticks. No more baking muffins and banana bread as snack foods. No more hoagie sandwiches or hamburgers on buns. No more crusty French bread with a bowl of soup. (Dabbing my eyes with a tissue)
One of the hardest parts of the clean eating/fructose malabsorption diet for me has probably been the social aspect. I’ve had to learn to go out to lunch with friends and family, have a glass of water and just enjoy their company while they eat. No one wants to invite me over for dinner because they know it’s going to be complicated to make something I can actually eat! Sometimes I just offer to bring my own food so they don’t have to worry. You may choose to just make social events your “cheat” days.
It’s been stressful meeting guys because inevitably they want to take me out to eat. Talking about IBS before your first date is not an option! There usually isn’t much on the menu at any restaurant that isn’t processed and doesn’t have garlic and onions (and a host of other fruits and vegetables I can’t have) or wheat or fructose or honey or artificial sweeteners… So after staring at the menu forever the guy probably thinks I’m crazy or at least high-maintenance! Sometimes I just try to find something on the menu that seems the least harmful and deal with the consequences, which can last for days afterward. I’m still working on solutions to these issues!
One of the greatest rewards of this journey, aside from having healthy guts, was getting rid of my chronic migraine headaches. They didn’t go away just by cutting down on processed food. They stopped after I started managing my fructose levels.
There is a lot to learn when you decide to change the way you eat and it is a very individual plan you design for yourself. It takes a lot of trial and error. Only you will know what works for you. Keep checking my blog for healthy recipes and ideas for clean eating!