My Clean Eating Challenge, Part Two

I did it! I completed the Buzzfeed Clean Eating Challenge as promised. I journaled every day to track my progress, and ended up with a LOT to say. Here’s the first part of the challenge. In upcoming posts I’ll have the rest of my journal, an overall assessment, as well as recommendations on which recipes are worth trying and what I’d do differently if I did this challenge again.

Day 1

I was pretty off-put by the Blackberry Yogurt Parfait at first. I’m used to berry things being sweet, and it wasn’t sweet at all. I almost put a dollop of honey in it just because. The thing is, after a while the lack of sweetness didn’t bother me. I wasn’t exactly overwhelmed with love for the dish, but somewhere near the halfway mark it stopped tasting like it lacked something. Of course that might work with any food – you eat enough in one sitting and it’s bound to start getting better or worse. Can I train the sweet tooth out of me? I’ll have to see if this translates to other unsweet dishes.

Lunch was the Asian Chicken Salad. The original recipe called for napa cabbage, which I couldn’t find at the store. I’d like to give this salad the benefit of the doubt and suggest that a different cabbage would have changed things. As it was, it was flavorless. It was like an experiment to see how difficult you could make it to eat chicken. Between the cabbage and the carrots, it felt like so much water and connecting fibers, and very little actual nutrition. Perhaps when the challenge is over I’ll try it again with a more rich and flavorful leaf, like spinach.

Cauliflower-SteaksI was really hungry by the time I started my Cauliflower Steaks with Lentils. I was nervous about the cauliflower steaks because it felt like one of those recipes that looks good on Pinterest but doesn’t work in real life. I’m happy to report that it looked weird but tasted great. My lentils were soupy, but that might have been due to some inattention on my part followed by impatience as the cauliflower was done so much sooner than the lentils. Either way, the combination turned out great.

I made it through the day with average energy levels. I experienced the usual late afternoon, post-lunch slump. When I went to bed I was still hungry.

Day 2

Feta & Scallion OmeletEverything I made today tasted great. I don’t think a Scallion and Feta Omelet is something I would normally reach for, but it turned out really well. My smoothie snack was sweet enough for me, though not as sweet as the smoothies I usually make. I suppose there’s a telling lesson in that sentence.

Lunch was Greek Salad with Lentils. The salad itself seemed huge, at first I didn’t even think I could eat all of it. The photos clearly indicated that the lentils were supposed to resemble beans, but mine were confidently oatmeal-like. I opted to make them a side dish, and they were a delicious complement. I wonder what it tastes like when you make them correctly.

Greek SaladI have never bought fennel in my life. On my shopping trip I circled the produce section four times before admitting that I had no idea what fennel looked like and asking the man stocking salad dressings. When it came time to chop it I had to enlist my boyfriend to help me figure out what they meant when they said to cut it into wedges. But in the end the Roasted Chicken Breast with Fennel and Spinach was amazing, and a testament to how much one can do with just salt, pepper, and olive oil.

I was hungry when I came home from work today. The same was true yesterday. The challenge is somewhat calorie-restrictive, but I’m wondering if it’s too restrictive. Or perhaps I’m normally eating too much. Is it possible to be gluten dependent?

Caluiflower OmeletDay 3

Today did not go well. I’m normally not very hungry first thing in the morning, so it made sense to start on breakfast after making and packing the rest of the day’s food. As I was putting the finishing touches on my Cauliflower Omelet breakfast I started to feel weak. I was suddenly very hungry. I guzzled some water, it didn’t help. I felt a knotted emptiness in my stomach. By the time the food was on the plate and the plate on the table, I wasn’t even sitting up straight. I hoped that my breakfast would fix the problem, but it didn’t work. I felt weak and dizzy. I wanted a spoonful of peanut butter. Just one spoonful. Anything to feel like there was gas in the tank.

Blueberry Qunioa Fennel SaladI moved to the couch to alternate between lying down and forcing a few bites down. I told work I’d be in late. I could feel the cooked egg in my stomach and it didn’t feel good. I thought about the smoothie I had made as a snack yesterday and it sounded good. It would be a deviation from the plan, but it would be sticking with the same ingredients. I gave myself another 20 minutes before I caved and made the smoothie. I started to feel a little better instantly, but the unsettled stomach would be with me for most of the day.

Lunch was a disappointment. I think I would have been okay with my Quinoa-Fennel-Blueberry Salad with Mint and Lime if it had a lot more blueberries – and maybe no lime. But I ate it anyway. I still didn’t feel great.

In the late afternoon I attended a meeting where the host had provided snacks. This was a real test. The cheese and crackers were calling me, especially after the morning’s struggles. But I stuck with it. I ate a couple grapes to be polite, then got out my pre-packed carrots with hummus.

Salmon on LentilsMy Simple Roasted Salmon dinner turned out well. I had no idea I could buy a salmon fillet from the store and just stick it in the oven for 8 minutes. The only seasoning is salt, pepper, and lemon. I’ve been afraid of cooking fish for a long time thinking it would be hard to get right. But this was easier than Kraft Macaroni & Cheese.

Mmm. Cheese.

Day 4

Lunch today was Arugula Salad with Salmon, Green Beans, and Dijon Vinaigrette. Mine was rather understated because I hate green beans and didn’t make any. In eating this salad I discovered a very important fact about myself that has always been true but never previously identified.

I hate arugula.

I know I’ve had it before. I’ve had it many times. But it was always mixed in with other things and prepared by someone else. It was one of many leafy greens in a salad mix, or added to the top of a pizza. The taste is familiar and extremely unappetizing to me. Arugula tastes like plant. I realize that I eat a lot of plants, but arugula actually tastes like one. It’s like when you’re a little kid and you eat the leaves off of weeds just because. It’s plant-flavored.

Salmon ArugulaUnlike all those occasions when I’d had arugula in a restaurant or at a friend’s house, this time I knew exactly what was on my plate. There was no mistaking it, no shrugging it off as a weird spice mix. It was straight up arugula, no apologies. And it was gross. I still ate the whole thing. I was hungry.

This is exactly the kind of thing I was hoping would happen during this experiment: I would try new things and learn more about cooking and my personal tastes. The fish and the vinaigrette were fine, I just would have preferred a different green. And now I know. I suppose my only regret is that I still have a lot of arugula waiting for me in the fridge.

I can’t help but notice a pattern formingI haven’t felt full in days. I get hungry, and then less hungry once I eat. I talked with a co-worker and she recalled similar problems when she went on a paleo diet for a while. Her paleo friends warned her that the transition might be hard. “Your body is used to a certain number of calories from certain sources at certain times of the day.” She suggested I might just be going through an adjustment phase, and I’ll feel better next week. Here’s hoping.