Clean Eating: The Challenge Is Done, But I’m Not

fruit and yogurt
It’s hard to complain when this deliciousness is allowed, you know? Credit: Average Jane, Flickr

I mentioned a couple of weeks ago that I was taking part in the 10 Days of Real Food Pledge, and I’m happy (in more ways than one) to say it’s over.

Overall, I think it went really well, but let me be clear—I wasn’t perfect. I slipped up a few times without meaning to, adding a splash of an “illegal” sauce to a dish without thinking or making a bit of an exception to the “5 ingredients or less” rule for packaged foods. But, with a few compromises (and maybe one emergency fro-yo trip), I stuck more or less to the plan.

At least, I did when I had control over the food. It became a hell of a lot harder when I left the house.

This wasn’t much of a surprise to me—I knew that going out to eat or going to a party would be a challenge, and with a couple of close friends celebrating birthdays the weekend of my pledge, I knew those were challenges I’d have to face. I decided to give it a shot in a “real life” type of way, meaning I would make an effort to follow the rules, but I wasn’t going to pack my own food to take to a restaurant or skip out on a party in order to avoid breaking a rule.

(Not that I have a problem with doing that, for the record. I know that making allowances can be a very slippery slope—I’ve taken a few slides down that slope myself. But, since my goal with this pledge was to become more aware of how much of my normal food doesn’t really qualify as “real,” I was okay with a little sliding.)

Anyway, I started out strong. We went out for sushi, and I ordered an avocado and tuna salad, which was delicious. But, when I saw some of my husband’s sushi (with delicious spicy sauces, of course) just sitting there, lonely and uneaten, I couldn’t just stand by. And when the cake from an amazing local bakery came out, I opted to have a small slice. It was delicious, and I didn’t regret it for a moment, especially because, as far as cake goes, this was made with as many “real” ingredients as possible.

Later in the weekend, things got a bit tougher. Dinner after happy hour (yes, beer was allowed) was mostly on track, but the French fries on the side? Not so much. And although I brought watermelon to the pool party I attended on Sunday, well, no amount of watermelon makes me immune to the siren song of chips and salsa. (Or homemade ginger snaps, if I’m being honest.)

I’m not about to beat myself up about not following all the rules, all the time. The point of this pledge, for me, anyway, was to gauge how many of the things I eat regularly that are overly processed, and to determine whether I could easily swap those items out for better choices. And I definitely learned some lessons.

I cut out my beloved flavored lattes, instead opting for coffee (big, big coffees) with a bit of half and half and a sprinkle of cinnamon, and honestly, it’s delicious. By the end of the 10 days, I hardly even struggled with ordering a Venti Blonde instead of a Cinnamon Dolce Latte. (We’ll see how that goes when Pumpkin Spice Lattes come back, but hey, it’s a start.) I made a point to stick to plain Greek yogurt instead of flavored ones, and as long as I had some fresh fruit cut up and ready, that was a piece of cake. And, for early morning workouts, instead of a flavored yogurt or a granola bar or something else with added sugar, I grabbed a couple of medjool dates, sometimes with a smear of almond butter, and found it to be easy, delicious, and all I need for an hour or so of exercise.

I also learned that I probably need more than 10 days of strict rule-following to get me out of the habit of having something sweet at night. Most of the time I was just fine with some fresh fruit, but every once in a while, I felt a serious need for something more. Hence the emergency fro-yo mentioned above. But you know what? I’m pretty okay with that, at least for now.

The pledge itself might be over, but me? I’m nowhere near done. I like the way eating a little cleaner makes me feel and fully intend to continue following the rules…albeit loosely.

Have you ever done a clean-eating challenge and vowed to stick with it after the fact? How did that go for you? —Kristen


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  1. I did a clean-eating challenge the month before my wedding – Whole 30. It was 30 days of nothing fun at all – no added sugar at all (not even honey), no grains, no dairy, no legumes (I had to live without peanut butter), and no alcohol. Basically, nothing but meat and veggies, and a little bit of fruit and nuts. It was especially difficult at restaurants – I know everyone hated me – I constantly had to say “can you make sure that’s cooked with nothing but salt and pepper.” And I did cheat once – I had a glass (or 3) of champagne at my bridal shower. I felt great, had tons of energy, lost 8 lbs…and really missed wine and peanut butter. I did realize that I can live without dairy, and I have not reintroduced it to my diet. Biggest lesson learned: read labels. sugar is in almost everything! I’m pretty sure the only thing that kept me motivated on this challenge was the thought of that wedding dress. I don’t know that I could have done it otherwise, but I did learn a lot, and I think it changed how I look at food as a whole.

  2. Good for you! It sounds like you’ve been really levelheaded about this whole challenge, and I love the idea that you mainly did it as a way to examine your own diet and what you can change. I’m really glad you’re not beating yourself up over your few “indiscretions” and keeping in mind that balance means some treats and not feeling guilty about them, too. Awesome write up!

  3. I totally notice that any time I spend eating good food, I just feel way better all the time. Eating a lot of good food is kind of like having a good night’s sleep. It just makes you feel healthier. I guess that’s because you are!

    Excellent post.

  4. I am thrilled to hear you’re going to KEEP AT IT!! I have been clean eating for 11 years (NO CHEATS EVER)… And I can confidently say, I don’t miss any processed junk AT ALL. I seriously haven’t cheated once. No sugar, no dairy, no wheat, no gluten, no nuts, no fruit (yes I know the last two are healthy but my body cannot process them). Its a good thing I adore fish and veggies, or else I would be screwed!LOL!

  5. I think you did an awesome job! Emergency fro-yo trips are beyond necessary sometimes. Sounds like you tackled the challenge head on and learned some great new substitutions for items you were previously using. I did a clean eating challenge when completing the Live Fit program and it was so hard! I stuck to it for four solid months with a few cheats here and there. I think it’s time for a new challenge though to get me back on track. Would love if you created one to share! Could be a fun challenge to help you break the late night sweet habit (I’m totally guilty of that too and need it to stop).

  6. Before we went on vacation this summer, I had vowed to not eat cheese for 3 weeks (I really love cheese), cut out Diet Cokes (and all sodas) for 2 weeks & lattes for 1 week. Not eating any cheese for 3 weeks prior to my vacay was the hardest. By the time we went on vacation to Hawaii, I thought I would end up binge eating cheese during my trip. Fortunately I ended up not craving it during those 7 days. By the time I got home, I was able to eat cheese in moderation & it was the best thing I could’ve done.

  7. Good for you!! Eating clean is difficult at first, but once you get used to it you will never miss those old terrible foods. Keep it up!!