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Embracing the Clean Food Challenge; One mama recenters herself with clean eating

Like generations of women before me, I developed some less-than-stellar dietary habits in my teens. It seemed that teenage girls thrived on Diet Coke and Doritos, and I was no exception. As I stumbled from early adulthood into parenthood, though, it became increasingly clear that processed convenient foods were no longer going to work. I gradually made some healthy changes for myself and my family.

Shortly after my son was born, I took a nutrition class with Katherine Musgrave that changed my life. From this class I quickly deduced that even though I could mess up a million different things in my child’s life, the one thing I COULD do was create a healthy home, build healthy eating patterns and put as much good stuff into my kiddo as I could. I may not have known how I was going to pay the rent, but I did know how to make meals that were cheap, sufficient, healthy, and full of complete proteins.


I succeeded in providing wholesome foods for my family and teaching my son about healthy eating for a few years. Until I began a full-time teaching job. Then I quickly went from planning and experimenting in the kitchen to grabbing sandwiches and chips to eat while I graded papers at work. Our healthy recipes for Thai Chicken with Vegetables and Chickpea and Spinach Couscous Bowls were gradually replaced by gas station pizza, fish sticks and french fries from bags, and lots of Diet Coke for me.

My previous healthy standards began to fall away when life got hectic. After a hard day,  I wanted mac n’ cheese! Cheeseburgers! Pizza! I somehow forgot that it took a mere 10 minutes to prepare my old favorite Chickpea and Spinach Couscous Bowls. How had I moved so far away from eating the way I knew was best for me and my family?

My VPP (very patient partner) has listened to me talk and talk and talk about how life in this frantic, busy state just wasn’t jiving. I couldn’t articulate what was out of place, or what I could do about it. I just knew that all the different pieces of my life were not working together.

I’m still not sure how food did the trick. And I guess it was less trick than a re-alignment. I feel like someone has finally created a whole person out of the big-bucket-of-legos that I felt like.

What changed? I took the Clean Food Challenge.

My friend and co-worker Emilie created a user-friendly cleanse, and named it the Clean Food Challenge. The Clean Food Challenge, now known as the CFC, is a week long simple and doable whole-foods cleansing diet.

The idea of the CFC is to give your body a chance to recover from all of the processed foods in our diets and to rehydrate. This simple goal is achieved by eating whole, natural foods and drinking a whole lot of water. Some people do these 7-day cleanses a few times a year. Some people find that they feel so energized and healthy on the CFC that they continue with these eating habits on a regular basis. Others find that they feel so much better eliminating dairy or gluten from their diets, and discover that they may have a food sensitivity they didn’t previously know about.

The Clean Food Challenge

Eat well, for one week, following these guidelines:

  1. No processed foods. None. Zippo. Zip. Whole foods only.
  2. No dairy
  3. Only lean, organic meats or fish
  4. No refined sugar – agave nectar and maple syrup are okay
  5. Eliminate all potential allergens – peanuts/nuts, eggs, strawberries and citrus, if you are suspicious of food allergies.
  6. No alcohol
  7. Drink 1 gallon of water per day
  8. Visit your doctor, of course, if you are receiving treatment for a pre-existing illness
  9. Be mindful of your caloric requirements – if you don’t have weight to lose, adjust accordingly

What can you eat in the CFC? Vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, fresh-pressed juices and smoothies, and lean, organic proteins.

Beet Juice

For me, the Clean Food Challenge boiled down to one week of purposefully creating meals. But in the longer term, it invited me to think about food in a very deliberate way again. Because I was trying to re-align the way I took care of myself and my family, I needed to plan meals for all of us.

My caloric needs are significantly lower than the grown man and growing young man I live with. To remedy this, I created a menu that would provide plenty of mix ‘n match leftovers and main dishes hearty (and tasty) enough for the boys. I sat down to many lunches with visions of sugar cookies dancing in my tired teacher head. Once I finished my lunch though (sesame blue chips with spicy beans and rice, or sweet potato and wild rice soup) I was satisfied, comfortable, and proud.

The impetus to take the Clean Food Challenge certainly came from a desire to realign my current habits with my core goals about a family who eats healthy meals, and I was happy to notice that I wasn’t the only one paying attention. My son remembered that he liked vegetables. In fact, he prefers spinach in his smoothies. He is back in the kitchen with me stirring and tasting away. My partner siphoned off nearly a 1/2 gallon of coconut milk, and frequently asks me “Is this clean?” when packing my lunch in the morning, and I’m so thankful he’s referring to food and not silverware.

Sweet potato and tempe broccoli stir fry

I no longer hide in the bathroom eating a sleeve of Chips-A-hoy when I’ve had a horrible day. In fact, I don’t hide to eat anymore. I have learned (again) what truly satisfies our bodies: simple, whole foods. I’ve embraced my slow-cooker to accommodate for my on-the-go-working-mama lifestyle, and have added recipes like this slow cooker tikka masala and a variety of bean and grain stews. I rediscovered my love of quinoa in nearly any meal. Three rounds of the Clean Food Challenge helped me make our meals a place of convergence where we think about nourishing ourselves and each other.

Eleanor Roosevelt told us to do one scary thing every day. I was scared the first time I attempted the CFC for fear of failure; but I also feared what would happen if I didn’t make a change. The anxiety of working-parenthood, kid-chauffering, homework-doing and checkbook-balancing no longer has a hold on me.  I’m breathing a little easier these days, all because I know I can create a simple, healthy and delicious meals for my family to enjoy together at the end of our busy days. I guess for me, food really was the key to change after all.

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Category: Body

Heather Webb

About Heather Webb:

A Maine girl through and through, Heather cannot resist mercurial seasons, mud, or her grandfather’s bean hole beans. She lives in Bangor, Maine with her car-obsessed partner, budding-musician son, and two high-energy dogs. When not working as a high school English teacher, Heather prefers to be running, reading, writing, playing Scrabble, cooking or doing yoga.

Comments (8)

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  1. susan says:

    Fun to read! I love when one tweak affects so much more!! Congratulations on your challenges and new food lifestyle.

  2. Elaine Redmond says:

    Heather, great article.You inspire me! Say hi to Colby for me!!

  3. Michelle T M says:

    Well written, Heather! This challenge sounds awesome. Where did you find your recipes for it?

  4. […] running for over a year now. That was a step.      I moved through three rounds of purposely clean eating to re-center how I needed food and family to converge. I went to yoga. Which, judging by the […]

  5. Steph W says:

    That wine-colored beverage looks amazing!

  6. […] read Heather Webb’s article about “Embracing the Clean Food Challenge; One mama recenters herself with clean eating”. Heather shares her own journey cleaning up her eating and how it had a profound effect on so much […]

  7. […] the Clean Food Challenge is? Here are some great posts describing the challenge and all it offeres: “Embracing the Clean Food Challenge; One mama recenters herself with clean eating” by Heather Webb “Clean Food Challenge” by me “Clean Food Challenge” by […]