Clean Eating Challenge: 7 Things I Learned From 7 Days of Eating Clean

Holy cow, we made it.

Today is officially the last day of the Clean Eating Challenge.

Once I finally got out of the kitchen, the week flew by. I am really looking forward to hearing what my “Partners in Clean” Allison, Allie and Holly have to say about their experiences. It was a positive one for me, and I have to say I feel pretty proud of myself.


As a refresher, here’s what I cut out for the week:

  1. Refined grains and sugars. Goodbye sugar, white rice and pasta, etc. I will allow myself whole wheat pasta, brown rice and sweeteners like raw honey and maple syrup in moderation.
  2. Processed foods. Out goes anything with more than five ingredients on the label, or ingredients that I can’t pronounce or don’t have in my own kitchen. For example, all those meat substitutes. Yes, they make my life simpler. But this week, I’m going to try to find “whole food” substitutes for my substitutes. Tofu, tempeh, seitan etc. are still allowed.
  3. Alcohol and excessive coffee. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with either of these in moderation, but for the sake of the Clean Eating Challenge, I’m going to cut back.

As you might remember, I was not feeling terribly confident in my ability to follow through on my goals. Halfway through the week, I seriously considered diving headfirst into a bowl of ice cream. But with the end of the challenge just hours away, I have a different perspective. Here’s my reflection on the week.

 7 Days of Clean Eating: 7 Insights

1) Hard things are worth doing (and not usually as hard as you expect).

I was ready to back out of this challenge right up to the day we started. I’m glad I didn’t.

First,  it wasn’t as bad as I expected. It reminded me that most of the things I build up in my head as big and scary and impossible are almost never as bad as I imagine they’ll be.

I didn’t cheat once. Sure, it helps that I made my own rules, rules that allowed me two cups of coffee each day and a couple beers over the weekend. But maybe it’s good that I set myself up for success, because small accomplishments like this make me feel like I can take on bigger challenges.


2) Today’s weird new foods might be tomorrow’s old favorites.

Of course, I made a few of my old standbys this week. But I was forced to expand my culinary horizons a bit, and I’m glad I did. Last night, I finally tried a recipe for Three Bean Chili with Spring Pesto that I had torn out of Real Simple in 2008 but never made. I found out I like quinoa for breakfast. I made something called “cornpone.” I discovered my new favorite frittata: asparagus, basil and goat cheese. Just like the granola I started making during last year’s detox, I expect that some of these foods will become part of my regular rotation.

3) I’m stronger – and more resourceful – than I give myself credit for.

On Thursday, we were down to the dregs as far as groceries were concerned. I didn’t make it to the store that morning, and by lunch I was hungry and nervously eying the refrigerator. Rory’s PB&J was looking really good. The plate I put together of hummus, carrots, cucumbers and a hardboiled egg was not.

hummus plate

I finished my sad lunch and started poking around my Clean Eating Challenge Pinterest board. I found a recipe for an orange smoothie and whipped it up (for what it’s worth, I added a frozen banana). It took a few extra minutes, but it was delicious, I was full, and I stayed on-challenge.


4) I don’t have to eat every bite of food that is offered to me.

Most of you probably learned this, oh, I don’t know, when you were three years old. Not me. I love the samples at the grocery store as much as the kids do. I haven’t encountered  a free donut, piece of pizza or scoop of ice cream that I haven’t gladly accepted.

But at the grocery store on Thursday, I passed up sample crackers and pieces of bread, even though I stopped to get them for Noah. On Saturday, we went to a birthday party. I knew there would be a cake situation, and hadn’t made up my mind what to do about it. But at the party, when I was offered a piece of cake (and I mean that piece of  moist chocolate deliciousness  was a millimeter from my hand) I said “No thank you.”

And guess what? I survived. Not only that, but I felt inordinately proud of myself for doing it.

6) Always be prepared.

Yes, I did a crazy amount of cooking at the beginning of the week. But it paid off. I was able to coast on leftovers for a good part of the week, and was still eating the hardboiled eggs, hummus and Chocolate Peanut Butter Oatmeal balls up through the weekend. (P.S. I’m really glad I doubled the recipe for those balls. They are the perfect solution for a sweets craving. I need to make another batch today.)


I will admit, I was also glad to be at home this week. I’d like to think I could have done as well if I were still working full time. But I have to believe it would’ve been much harder. After all, at home, I can control my environment. At work, resisting cake, candy and donuts is such a near-daily activity, it might as well be written into the job description.

When you’re in the office for 8+ hours a day, eating healthily requires so much more advanced thought and preparation. If I had been at work on Thursday with my sad hummus and hard-boiled egg lunch, I wouldn’t have been able to pull out a blender and make a smoothie at my desk. And it’s safe to say I would have found that piece of cake instead.

7) Support and accountability matters.

I’d been thinking about trying to eat cleaner for a while. I knew that sugar had a worrisome hold on me. But I probably never would have attempted to give it up if Allison hadn’t thrown down the gauntlet. Doing this along with her, Allie and Holly kept me motivated – I didn’t want to be the sole slacker in our group. I also got some great recipe ideas and tips from their posts this week.

It also helped that I had to report my progress here on the blog. Whether or not any of you care if I cheated on the challenge or not, you provided accountability for me. And I think I’ve waxed poetic enough about donuts and frozen custard and cookies and pancakes enough for you to know that giving those things up is a big deal for me.

So, what now?

My first instinct is to stay up until midnight and then devour a giant brownie sundae.

But actually, I’m going to try to keep going with the challenge.

Yes, you read that right! Specifically, I want to see how long I can stay off the white stuff (flour, sugar) and processed foods. Of course, as I write that, I immediately want a cookie. But I’m going to see if I can do it a few more days.


Because this feels good. I’m not bouncing off the walls, but I do have a bit more energy. My workouts last week felt better than usual. Pat may disagree, but I think I’m slightly less crabby. I didn’t really lose weight, but I’m on the low end of my typical range, so I guess those three dozen Chocolate Peanut Butter Oatmeal Balls did more good than harm.

I certainly don’t expect to go the rest of my life (or the rest of my 35th year, for that matter) without bread or crackers or cake. I just can’t see that working for me. But I do like the idea of those becoming “occasional” foods rather than staples in my daily diet. And I figure the longer I can go without them, the easier it will be to keep them on the periphery when I do start eating them again.

And I wouldn’t mind finding out what this tiger blood thing is all about, either.

If you did the Clean Eating Challenge with us this week, how did it go? Working folks, do you agree with my assessment that it’s harder to eat well at the office? And if you were a betting person, how long would you guess I can keep this up? Challenge me!