My Week of Clean Eating


Caprese salad with chickpeas makes an awesome lunch! Recipe below!

By Tara Cushing (@TheBravoBlonde)

Ah the signs of spring…sunlit evenings, chirping birds in the morning, people dieting like crazy for the impending swimsuit season. Add social media to the mix and the diet game has achieved a whole new level. There are now Facebook groups devoted to challenges of all sorts where people can share photos of food, exercises, and bare midriffs to show their progress.

I’ve always been very self motivated when it comes to fitness, I’m also extremely competitive, so when a friend posted about an ab challenge I was all “Sign me up!” One week in and I started seeing a difference, at which point I got invited to do a clean eating challenge. Sure, my abs will really look awesome…”Sign me up!” About an hour later I regretted that choice. The group, lead by my friend and Beachbody Coach, Maria, came with guidelines, rules, and forms to fill out. I hate guidelines, rules, and forms. However Maria convinced me it would be fun, besides, it was only for 5 days. How hard could it be?

Day 1: 

My first obstacle, I realized, would be my morning caffeine ritual. Healthy Tara starts her day with green tea, but on the way to work, unhealthy Tara stops at Dunkin Donuts for a Vanilla Chai. I know it has 330 calories, but I’m a runner, so I ignore that. My Vanilla Chai is my security blanket. I shuffle into work clutching it each morning. It is my lifeline. “Are you aware that it has 45 grams of sugar?” Maria texts me. ‘Killjoy’ I think. “Go ahead and have it,” she tells me “just be aware.” Ha, permission I think…or maybe it was reverse psychology, because by the time I pulled into DD all I could imagine was a syrupy cup of sugar. I reluctantly ordered a small skim unsweetened cappuccino. I saved myself 250 calories and 36 grams of sugar, and I actually enjoyed it. This may actually be an easy challenge. Later that day a colleague offered me a pretzel which I declined (no processed foods on this challenge) she shook her head and as she walked away I heard her  say “Who doesn’t eat pretzels?” Lesson learned day 1, gain healthy habits, become the office weirdo.

Day 2:

Maria (who by the way tells me this is not a diet but my new Vanilla Chai-less lifestyle) convinces me that my daily breakfast of 1/2 a bagel with vegan butter is devoid of protein. I’ve been eating this same exact breakfast every weekday for at least 8 years. I want to tell her that Dr. Oz says that we should eat the same breakfast everyday, but I bite my tongue. Maria suggests I add an egg white. I get up 5 minutes earlier to fry an eggwhite. I then proceed to stress my entire commute that I might have left the burner on and that my beloved dog will perish in a horrible fire. For lunch I’ve made some random chickpea, pasta, basil salad. It’s surprisingly delicious, but I’m also hungry enough to eat my desk. Maria was worried that I wasn’t consuming enough food for my active lifestyle, I’m beginning to realize that Maria knows everything and perhaps I should have her pick my lotto numbers too. I come home to find that my dog and house are safe. At dinner I enjoy some baked french fries without any (sugary) ketchup. I feel like I just did something sacrilegious. I plan tomorrow’s meals wondering if there’s a way to convince Kraft to make egg white singles.

Day 3:

I’m starting to feel the positive effects of this diet, I mean life change, though I honestly thought I was a pretty clean eater before; except for the Vanilla Chais, tortilla chips, pizza, and nightly sinful dessert. While on the topic of dessert, I’m a diehard liberal, but at this point I may sell my vote to the Republicans for a cookie. Maria says I should make healthy cookies, like I have time to make cookies. Overall I’m tired from staying up late watching Tuesday night Bravo, and it’s raining which translates to “I’m the hungriest I’ve been all week.” I succumb to eating part of my lunch at 11am and having some multigrain flaxseed crackers and cheese after work. The crackers are the crunchiest things I’ve eaten all week and it takes all of my strength not to eat the whole package. But the positives, yes those positives, my pants are looser, I have no bloat, and I’m wearing a top that I usually think reveals bumps and lumps in all the wrong places, it only reveals the right ones. Ah, progress. Oh I’ve also learned to check the burner on the stove 6 times before I leave in the morning.

Day 4:

I’m hungry again around 11 am. I decide that the drastic reduction in calories from the way I ingest my caffeine is the reason. However, I’ve grown quite fond of unsweetened nonfat cappuccinos so decide I will from now on eat the fruit portion of my lunch at 11 every morning instead of reverting back to Vanilla Chais. Speaking of fruit it’s been a stressful day and I’m missing the liquid variety, but I’ve sworn off alcohol for this challenge. Tomorrow night can’t come quick enough.

Day 5:

I’ve made it five days without any processed foods, sweetened lattes, decadent desserts, or alcohol. I’ve surprised myself with how many meals I can concoct from a can of chickpeas, a container of grape tomatoes, and a package of basil.I feel less bloated and have more energy, but I ran 7 miles this evening and it’s pizza Friday. I compromise with a salad slice and half a banana for dinner, and I fall asleep before I even have a chance to pour the glass of wine I’d worked so hard for. Tomorrow I have a baby shower to attend. Free from the bonds of clean eating I might just throw myself into the cake. I’ve decided that calories consumed on Saturdays (or any opportunity to eat cake for that matter) just don’t count.

What a difference 5 days of clean eating makes! Bikini season here I come!

What a difference 5 days of clean eating makes! Bikini season here I come!

In Conclusion:

Despite all of my whining, clean eating really wasn’t that hard, or that different from how I normally eat. The changes I’ve made were easy enough that I believe I will continue to eat clean during the work week and indulge just a little bit on weekends. The results I saw in just 5 days are enough to keep me going! Many of you have asked for my meal plan so here is a sample of what I ate in a day along with recipes where necessary:


*1/2 whole wheat bagel w/ Earth Balance soy free spread, egg white, nonfat/unsweetened small Dunkin Donuts cappuccino

Snack 1:

* 1 mandarin


*caprese/chickpea salad: 1/2 cup chickpeas, 1/2 cup chopped fresh basil, 1/2 cup sliced grape tomatoes, 1/3 cup fresh mozzarella in bite size pieces, 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar,  1 tbs olive oil : layer all ingredients in lidded container & shake

Snack 2:

*2 tbs peanut butter w 1/2 a fuji apple


*salmon burger (no bun) spread with goat cheese

*handful Alexia brand yukon gold baked fries (no ketchup)

*broccoli w/ garlic & almonds: package frozen organic broccoli, 1/2 c slivered almonds, 2 diced garlic cloves: in covered pan on low heat, heat all together until broccoli is thawed and warm


* mock caramel apple pie: 1/2 fuji apple, 1 tbsp peanut butter : chop up apple half into teacup, place peanut butter on top, microwave until peanut butter is melted and apples are soft (about 30-45 seconds)

*For more clean eating ideas, recipes, and to find out about Maria’s coaching please follow her @MariaPaulercio on Twitter.

Jersey Shore Poor

Our family sandcastle.

Our family sandcastle.

Memorial Day weekend I needed to get away. I’d been stressed and busy for so long that I needed some downtime away from it all to just reconnect with my family. Being it would be what America has accepted as the official start of summer, what better place to go than the beach? I found a three night deal at a typical Jersey Shore motel (aka, a humid room where your bathing suit never dries and the shower has the pressure of a watering can) and then left it up to chance. If the dog camp had an opening then we should go. The vacay gods were in our favor. Our dog got his accommodations and we got our own. Hooray, beach bound!

We booked our weekend in Point Pleasant, NJ. This was the same beach I shared with Rosie Pierri two summers ago. Now this is not the reason I went back, as much as I do adore Rosie. I’ve been visiting Point Pleasant since I was a fifth grader in camp. It’s great for both day trips and overnights from where I live. It’s been a happy constant in my life. So happy, in fact, that I was married in the neighboring town of Spring Lake in a beachside ceremony. Last summer I may have been Hamptoning with New York’s Housewives, but my true roots are in the land of Snookie.

Back in the day the Jersey Shore trip was the bare bones of summer family travel. The bulk of your budget went to the damp motel room, or share of a house not quite different from the shack John Candy and company ended up inhabiting in the 80’s film Summer Rental. You spent little during the day, sustaining yourself on pizza, ice cream cones, and funnel cake. The largest expense was if your sunscreen ran out and you had to be the chump who spent double for it on the boardwalk.

Lord how things have changed! My weekend in Point Pleasant left me feeling like the Point Peasant. That pizza is now upwards of 4 bucks a slice, parking (which I used to do for free on some side street) is now commanded by those municipal  meter machines (lining the streets like little soldiers of financial warfare) that charge $3 per hour, and dinner at restaurants that serve your tartar sauce in a package can cost your family around $80!  My vacation budget went right out the window!

Beyond food and parking there are the entertainment costs; $9.50 per adult to get onto the beach, $25 for the smaller book of ride tickets…and the rides cost 3-5 tickets each; if you want to go to the aquarium,funhouse, or miniature golf course, be prepared to shell out upwards of $30 for a family of four. It’s truly out of control.

I’m not sure if it’s inflation or the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, but being Jersey Strong costs an arm and a leg. It also seems you can build a pretty dope house with insurance money. The rebuilds there are  gargantuan mansions…and these are only summer homes?

On the upside we had a fantastic time and made many beautiful memories. Interacting with little ones at the beach is priceless. The joy as my twins and I (ok really I) built our first family sandcastle was worth every inflated penny I spent. However, if you are going to the Jersey Shore, or on any summer getaway, in the next 3 blissful months here are some tips for saving:

*Bring some things from your own supermarket to save on extra spending:water, juice boxes, iced teas etc. as well as easy to pack snacks. Having some of your own food and drink will carry you between meals and many motel rooms do offer a small refrigerator and microwave. If you rent a place with a kitchen you can cook many of your meals for even bigger savings.

*BYOB- Whats the beach without a cocktail? Bring a bottle of your fave and imbibe before or/and after a night on the town. If you are traveling with kids please do it after!

*Locate the nearest CVS or other big name pharmacy. Go there if you need any toiletries, sunscreen, etc. If you buy anything at a beach shop it will be 150% the price. Even better if you use a coupon!

*Locate the nearest Dunkin Donuts and grab your breakfasts there. At DD’s we spent an average of $10 per breakfast. The morning we went out for pancakes we spent $32! (Be really frugal and bring a bag of pre-sliced bagels and your favorite spread and put it into that motel fridge)

*Don’t always buy on the Boardwalk. An ice cream sundae cost us $7 on the good ol’ BW. It was half that at a popular shop in town.

* Go to budget stores like Christmas Tree Shops and invest in your own beach gear as opposed to paying umbrella and the like rental fees.

Oh and one last piece of advice, that silly ticket from the evil parking machine? Make sure it’s got center stage on your dashboard. We got a $48 parking ticket because an officer felt it was not displayed right. Then there was an additional $2 fee to pay it online. There’s a fine line apparently between Jersey Strong and Jersey Gipped!

Happy summer everybody!