Eating Clean vs Eating Healthy

I sometimes think there is nothing more simple and yet so complex as nutrition. At its core, we all know eating healthy is a good thing; we all know we should do it. We also have a pretty good idea of how to do it. Eat more good food, eat less bad food. Intuitively, we understand this. Potatoes are good, potato chips are bad. Vegetables are good, veggie thins are less good.

This fight isn’t even close.

We all know this, and if nutrition were that simple we’d all be in great shape with amazing, healthy, vibrant bodies. Unfortunately, it’s not that simple. Searching for ‘diet’ on Google gives approximately eighty-trillion different results. Some diets have names, like the paleo diet, and then there are variations and sub-variations of that diet: paleo with rice, pseudo-paleo, half-paleo, vegan-paleo, dinosaur-paleo, etc etc. There is extensive literature here, and that’s just one type of diet. The rabbit hole goes down seemingly forever.

Given this, some people blanch at trying to sift through all this minutia. I’ll admit, I’m one of those people. I know very little about nutrition. For example, I know that starch is a thing, but I don’t what it is, if you should have it or how much or how often or anything like that. I know that cholesterol is a thing, and that there is apparently good and bad cholesterol, but I couldn’t tell you what makes it good or bad, or why, or how much I should have or anything else like that.

I’m not alone in this. Most people can only spout platitudes when it comes to nutrition. Proteins are good, fats are bad. Except for healthy fats. Healthy fats are good, at least in moderation, sometimes … right? And when it comes to protein, some kinds are better than others. Animal proteins are more easily to absorb, unless they’ve been heavily treated with antibiotics. Or if they are cooked the wrong way. Or eaten too closely together. Or not eaten with a specific combination of BCAA or other nutrients.

Hmm. At some point, the base platitudes break down and we’re still left with a mess. That’s where I basically gave up. The more I learned, the more I was confused. It didn’t help that different experts had different opinions on everything, both the big points and the small points, and I figured I would never get to the bottom of it. Better to just give up.

I didn’t belabour this decision. I reasoned, quite well I think, that I didn’t need to get my nutrients 100% accurate. Don’t let perfect be the enemy of the good: eating even 70% right is better than nothing, and I was confident I could get most of the easy stuff right. I mean, just avoid junk food and the rest should take care of itself, right?

Turns out there’s more to nutrition than just this.

For about a month, I cut all junk food out of my diet. That was an excellent first step, as that surely cut a lot of unnecessary calories and anti-nutrients … but I didn’t replace them with anything. Instead of chocolate and chips, I had breads, pasta and a type of organic vegan cracker sold at a health-food store. I was eating better, certainly … but I really wasn’t.

This is called addition by subtraction. As we all learned in math class, taking away a negative is the same as adding a positive. If that’s all you do, though, then you will reach a point it stops working. For example, paying back your loan is a smart use of your money, but once the loan is paid off, you’ve got to put your money elsewhere. Adding more payments won’t get you anywhere; you need to invest in something different now.

Did I feel better when I cut junk food from my diet? Yes, but not as much as I thought. I felt mostly mental satisfaction at doing ‘the right thing,’ as my mind put it. I might have had more energy, but nothing too major. I might have dropped a point or two of body fat, but I’m already pretty lean, so I might have just imagined it.

You see, I didn’t have a terrible diet. I bemoan my junk-food habit, but in truth, it’s likely less than the average person. At one point, I drank three cans of pop a day. That was a terrible diet, and when I stopped that I noticed a big increase in my general health. By comparison, my current diet doesn’t have as much for me to subtract. I need to do something more.

This is where the difference between eating healthy and eating clean comes in. Eating clean means not eating bad things, which is an excellent first step. Unfortunately, I and most people treat is as the only step. Not so. You need to replace those empty calories with something more nutritious.

Intuitively, we all know the answer: vegetables. Eat more veggies. Don’t stop eating them. The thing is, that’s tough. Vegetables take time to prepare, time to shop, some taste like dirt and they don’t fill you up. You can eat an entire broccoli, the whole thing, and still feel hungry. You wouldn’t want to eat any more broccoli, but you’d still want to eat something.

Vegetables are also apparently nightmare fuel. I’ll never look at mushrooms the same…

When I started my anti-junk food vendetta, I planned on mostly eating vegetables instead. That stopped after about three days. Too much work, not filling enough. I began eating more rice, potatoes, breads and pasta. These aren’t bad foods, and they certainly filled me up, but they aren’t very nutritious. That is, they might not be bad foods, but they aren’t exactly good foods, either. Let’s call them neutral.

Again, at some point, cutting out bad foods stops working. You need to add good foods. If you simply replace the bad foods with neutral foods, you won’t go anywhere. This is exactly where I was at: to make nutritional progress, I need to add good foods, and that leads me back to my quagmire I mentioned at the beginning: which diet plan to follow? Which good foods, when, and with what?

In the end, I decided to just trust an expert. There’s no way I’m going to understand everything, not in an afternoon of Internet research, so I figured I’d just trust someone and get to work. That expert is Jeff Serven, the co-author of GB Thrive. I’ve mentioned this briefly in the past, but I haven’t truly jumped into his program. That changed last week. It’s now his suggestions all day, everyday.

That’s Jeff. He’s a pretty strong guy. And funny, too.

I’m not saying everyone should go get Jeff’s program. Of course not. Thrive, though, is nutrition specifically meant for athletes. That’s who I am, and that’s what Jeff is. He walks the talk, and that’s good enough for me. If my goals were different, I’d follow a different expert. If I wanted to be a bodybuilder, perhaps I’d follow Elliot Hulse; if I were a vegan, I’d look for vegan athletes.

In the coming weeks, I will write a detailed review about Thrive. First, though, I have to live it, and already, in one week, I see a difference, a much bigger difference than when I simply cut junk food out. For instance, I’ve lived most of my life not eating any healthy fats. I wasn’t even sure if healthy fats were a thing. As I’ve added them into my diet, I’ve noticed I’m less hungry between meals, even while eating less. I’m not trying to eat less, but it’s just working that way. There’s no need to eat more.

My birthday resolution this was to eat not just clean but healthy. This is how I’m doing it. With the exception of one donut-filled cheat day, I’ve been true. Wish me luck.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.