Tips on ‘eating clean’: Going from fast food to healthful meals

by Maggie Fazeli Fard

The Washington Post.

Writer and former fast-food junkie Maggie Fazeli Fard gave an online Q&A with her readers about the journey to healthful eating. Here is an edited excerpt.

“Eating clean” usually means avoiding processed food, but there can be different understandings of the term. What do you use as your general guidelines?

Clean eating does mean different things to different people. I’ve been chastised for eating baby carrots because they undergo an industrial process to make them “baby.” I try to eat food with minimal or no packaging. If it has a package, I look at the ingredients and make sure I recognize everything. I once heard that a good way to look at ingredients is to ask: “Would my great-grandmother have recognized this?”

I’m always confused about dairy products. I’m always hearing about people who cut them out and feel so much better or lost weight. Did you cut them out?

I’m wary of anyone who classifies any food as good/evil. If you tolerate dairy and enjoy it, fantastic! If you don’t feel well eating it or if you simply don’t like it, that’s another story. I personally don’t like most dairy products, apart from ice cream and the world’s more pungent cheeses. I definitely don’t stress about dairy either way.

Any advice for how to keep up clean eating when the significant other is less than excited about it?

The situation with your significant other is a tough one. I assume that although he isn’t on board with these changes for himself, he’s not actively undermining your choices, either. One tactic that friends of mine use is to set aside one or two cupboards or pantry shelves for foods that your partner or roommate eats. Hopefully he or she wouldn’t mind an area of the kitchen devoted just to him, and if the foods are out of sight, maybe you won’t be as tempted.

Last year, I joined Weight Watchers and lost about 12 kg. Since then, I’ve gained 6 kg back and am just completely stuck. I’m eating exactly the way I was eating when I was losing, but no longer losing. I’m trying to add in exercise, but any other advice about how to get off this plateau?

Oh, I totally relate to this! I flip-flopped between different diet plans because something would work for a time, then suddenly not work anymore. It took a long time to realize that what my body needs will vary from day-to-day, week-to-week, year-to-year. I would suggest that you not try to replicate what you were doing last year, but try to figure out what your body’s needs are now. If aspects of your lifestyle have changed (new job, different sleep schedule, more exercise), the nutrition that your body requires might have to change too. My response to you makes me cringe because if someone had given me this “advice” when I was in your position, I would have been disappointed by the lack of specificity. But just remember that you live with your body, you know it better than anyone else.

How do you find healthy recipes?

Most of my meals are not based on recipes. I honestly don’t have the time or patience for it. That being said, I love cookbooks, and there are some great resources online that I go to for inspiration. Usually I can figure out a way to modify recipes to suit my needs, if something that isn’t “healthy” strikes my fancy.