If you’re anything like me, you’re slightly stunned that this year is nearly over. Where, oh where, did the time go?! I’ll tell you what, though, in many ways, 2021 has been absolutely transformational. I implemented life-altering clean living strategies, and I’m ending this year so much healthier and happier than I began it. Curious to learn more? Keep on reading!
This post has been sponsored by Responsival.
5 Clean Living Strategies that Dramatically Improved My Life
If you’ve been around this blog for a while, you know that I’ve been upfront about my journey towards physical and emotional wellness. For years, I struggled with crippling anxiety and panic, made much worse by my inability to cope with hard feelings. The last few years have felt like a marathon in white-knuckling. I felt like I was struggling to be a competent employee, loving wife, capable mom, and happy person.
To give me credit, I tried ALOT to feel better, but despite how much I tried, I never really seemed to make leeway. And all the trying left me feeling exhausted and even defeated. I knew I needed to stop trying so hard and genuinely give myself a system reboot, one led with self-compassion. I found that fresh start through clean living.
What is clean living?
Clean living can mean different things to many people, as a quick internet search will reveal. For me, clean living isn’t a diet or a one-off choice. It’s an overhaul in mindset.
Clean living is a way of life created with intentional, mindful choices about nutrition, wellness, and our environment. By filling myself and surrounding myself with health and wellness, I’ve changed myself from the inside out.
I get it: that sounds like an awfully big thing to do. Let me chat through some of the major changes I’ve undertaken this year – the 5 clean living strategies that dramatically improved my life.
I cleaned up my nutrition.
I’m going to be honest: I’ve been on a diet since I was nine. I remember writing in my diary that I was only allowed to have two peanut butter sandwiches a day – that’s it! Needless to say, I’ve had a love and hate relationship with food and my weight for the majority of my life.
For the last three years, I have tried so, so many diets to lose my baby weight. From keto to weight watchers, I’ve tried them all. I could stick to a program for 30 days or so, but nothing ever seemed to fit long term.
It’s only when a trusted friend shared one mind-blowing fact that my entire perspective on food changed. She said, “Cynthia, did you know that 95% of your body’s serotonin is made in your gut?”
Wait, what? It’s true. Most of our bodies’ happy hormones (and hormones in general) are made in our microbiome.
Down the rabbit hole, I went. I had NO idea of the connection between nutrition and mental health. I stopped eating with the goal to lose weight and started eating with the goal to improve my mental health. For me, that meant eating an anti-inflammatory, paleo-friendly set of foods. Like what? Lots of fruits and veggies, nuts, eggs, and lean meats. I’ve cut out grains, soy, processed sugar, and dairy. Not only am I so much happier, but I’ve finally lost the thirty pounds I’ve been struggling to lose … without really trying.
We’re getting into our vertical garden.
It’s so funny to me that we all know fruits and veggies are healthy, but in general, we struggle to incorporate them into our meals. Since most of us buy produce from the store, we’ve become distanced from the idea that we can grow our own nutritious foods.
I’ve noticed, too, now that my kids have really been paying attention to how mom eats. I want them to understand the benefit of taking the time to cultivate a garden so they feel empowered over their nutrition.
We don’t have a lot of room in our backyard to start a garden. When we bought our house, it came beautifully landscaped with drought-resistant plants and a rock garden, and our back grass is faux, which is a dream when we’re overwhelmed taking care of our small children. We toyed with the idea of hiring a professional landscaper to turn the rock garden into raised garden beds, but we really couldn’t justify the expense.
A few years ago, when my husband and I lived in an apartment, we had a lot of fun making a balcony garden. I was shocked at how many vegetables we could grow on our balcony in such a small space!
Getting a vertical garden seemed like a great option for us to grow our own vegetables and herbs in our backyard so we could teach our kids how to grow their own food.
Plus, vertical garden planters are really cool; they come in a lot of different shapes and styles. We really love this composting vertical garden planter. This particular vertical garden rotates, and it can grow up to 50 plants in only 4 square feet. Also, we can show the kids how we can turn kitchen scraps into organic fertilizer that feeds the plants.
Since we’re heading into winter, my husband is hard at work mapping out what we’ll plant in our vertical garden. He’s particularly excited about growing radishes and garlic, and this winter vegetable guide for California has been really helpful for our planning.
I started consistently exercising.
Much like nutrition, exercise has always been something I thought about in the context of losing weight. I never actually exercised because I liked it, I exercised to be a smaller, skinnier version of myself. In fact, in an earlier post about struggling to lose the baby weight, I talked about how I ran a whole marathon just to outrun a body I didn’t like.
I had to reframe exercise as something I did for fun, something that improved my mental health. To do that, I tried something I’d never tried before – spin classes. Riding a bike felt fun, and I didn’t have any self-punishing thoughts associated with it as I did with other forms of exercise. When I clip into my bike, and the music starts pumping, I’m almost instantly in a better mood.
I also joined a nice gym. In the past, I would always join the “budget” gym because I never wanted to spend money on myself. Now, going to the gym feels like a treat, and the cost is an investment I make in myself.
I stay committed to personal growth.
Much like joining the gym, I’ve realized that investing in myself requires a commitment of time, effort, or money. One of the biggest commitments I’ve made this year is to attend ongoing counseling. I appreciate that for many people, seeing a counselor can be cost-prohibitive. In the past, money and time were reasons I didn’t talk to a counselor long-term.
I’m really lucky that my employer offers an employee assistance program (EAP) as a benefit. EAPs can provide access to treatments and services at reduced or no cost, for a pre-determined period of time. My company’s EAP got me in the door to get the resource I needed.
Once I used up the benefit, I felt more empowered to pay out of pocket to continue. Staying committed to my personal growth has been a game-changer. I show up for myself every week, not just in counseling, but also in the books I read, friendships I cultivate, and areas I give my attention. I’ve discovered the joy of nourishing myself.
I walked away from destructive habits and relationships.
For me, clean living means intentional choices about what to bring into my life as well as intentional choices about what to remove. Sometimes, the former is much easier than the latter.
This year, I stopped drinking alcohol. Once I cleaned up my nutrition, I could very clearly see how much my body suffered when I drank wine. I wouldn’t say I was an alcoholic, but I definitely enjoyed my glass of wine each night after work!
To put the effect wine had on my body in perspective – once I stopped drinking, I lost 7 pounds in 4 days. Seriously! Alcohol makes my body so inflamed and upset, which makes my mind anxious and frazzled.
I had to have an honest conversation about why I felt I needed wine to relax. After all, for me, clean living is an intentional choice about wellness. So why did I need wine to relax? And why does our society giggle about wine culture for moms?
Our lives are challenging, you guys. I don’t think the goal is for them to be easy. But if we’re never really allowing ourselves to wind down, without buffering away our anxieties or frustrations, how can we ever find peace?
I also walked away from hobbies that took up too much of my time, that didn’t allow me sufficient rest. You’ll notice I post fewer major woodworking projects on this site right now. While I love woodworking, in this season of my life with two small children, I can’t keep my cup full when buried under sawdust. I gave myself a graceful pause.
Similarly, I’ve had to have an honest conversation with myself about certain relationships I’ve sustained, ones that always left me feeling depleted or anxious. I’ve spent many hours this year reinforcing healthy boundaries, and here’s one piece of wisdom I’ve learned: the more I focus on my wellness, the easier it is to reinforce boundaries. When I continue to pour into myself, I care much less about needing to be likable or agreeable.
How can you get started with clean living?
Clean living advocates get started in many different ways, whether that be finding an informative book, identifying with a leader online, or starting just one “clean” routine. For me, I picked up a copy of Dr. Kellman’s book The Microbiome Diet, which opened my eyes to how our food impacts our overall health and wellness. He includes several interesting research studies that helped me reframe food as a way to feed my mind and body, rather than as something to use to get skinny.
I also started following Danielle Walker, the chef behind the website Against All Grain. She approaches wellness with an ease and a joy that feel nourishing. I’ve fallen in love with preparing healthy meals for myself using produce, in part because of the inspiration I’ve found following her. I’m excited to use produce from our vertical garden planter in some of her recipes.
Needless to say, 2021 has been absolutely transformational. Not easy, not straightforward, but transformational. If you told me in January where I would be now, I don’t know if I’d have believed you. Looking forward, though, I feel like anything is possible. Clean living has fundamentally changed my perspective on life, worth, and joy.
Have you ever considered adopting a cleaner lifestyle? Which of these clean living strategies could you envision yourself adopting? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below!