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If anyone asked me to identify the most important component of a successful weight loss regimen, I’d say, plain and simple: for the love of kale, eat clean!

Over the course of my own weight loss journey, I’d spent an inordinate amount of time in the gym lifting weights, busting my tail on the treadmill, and didn’t lose anywhere near as much weight as I should’ve been losing. When I discovered the principles of eating clean, that all changed. Why?

1) I was no longer eating food engineered to compel me to overeat. When you have tons of articles coming out discussing the fact that processed food manufacturers make their money by making you overindulge/finish a box/can/package quickly, why go buy another? Rest assured, both you and your waistline are guaranteed to lose. Clean eating, because of its focus on embracing produce and healthy sources of protein, helps you avoid all that.

2) My body was finally getting full nourishment from natural – not synthetic – sources. Our bodies require vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients and gut flora to operate optimally. There’s no possible way you can last long – healthily, that is – without those components. As recent research is proving, synthetic “fortification,” which is when vitamins that were stripped from food during processing are replaced with synthetic facsimiles, isn’t enough to get us by long-term. Not only that, but according to law, manufacturers are only required to replace nutrients that are deemed scientifically important. The government does minimal nutrition research, and research dollars are consistently being cut; who do you think gets to determine what’s important? Food processors. Clean eating bypasses all that; you’re getting the full Monty, and you’re getting it the natural way.

3) I was no longer being overpowered by the sugar/fat/salt trio. And they always came in pairs – sugar and fat, or salt and fat, or sugar and salt – in a way that left you helpless to fight them. Our brains are naturally wired to want these things, and want them in high doses; and in an era where cheap, poorly constructed food choices are available far and wide, you were pretty much damned to eat them. With most fat in junk and fast food being the carcinogenic trans-fat for a long time, coupled with the fact that fat is more than twice the amount of calories than your usual gram of carbs or protein, you and your weight loss efforts were both screwed. Clean eating sidesteps all of that; you get a vast array of healthy fats to choose from – because, yes, you need fats – and you get to control just how much of them you get, yourself.

4) I was controlling the excess chemicals that entered my body. Do you know if monosodium glutamate is really rocket fuel or fertilizer? Do you know if text-instant is really modified food starch, and if so, from what food is it modified? Do you even know what the hell “fructooligosaccharides” are? If the answer is no, do you really know how your body will manage it? While many of these chemicals are aimed to encourage me to want to overindulge, the reality is that they mess with the hormonal systems meant to control hunger – ghrelin – and satiety – leptin. Long after you ditch processed food, you spend lots of time trying to regain that understanding of “full,” “not full,” “almost full,” “too much” and “why did I put this much on my plate.” Clean eating simplifies this; the fiber in the natural foods fills you up much quicker, and helps you redevelop your relationship with food as well as helping to normalize your hormones.

5) I finally felt free. Free from my emotional eating habit that was only fueled by the bad food, free from the trashy cravings, free to eat healthily happily, and free to actually commit to eating how I should, and working out how I wanted. I no longer felt like a slave to my pantry. I finally felt normal, like I wasn’t ruled by poor decisions.

I lost 30lbs working out without changing my eating habits; I lost another 120 after getting it all together.

I said all that to say, if you’re going to begin a weight loss journey, embrace clean eating. Like I always say, your body will thank you for it!

Erika Nicole Kendall is the writer behind the award winning blog, A Black Girl’s Guide to Weight Loss, where she blogs everything from fitness to food, weight loss to wellness, body image and even her own 160lb weight loss journey. A trainer certified in women’s fitness, fitness nutrition and weight loss coaching, she can be found taking over your Internet on YoutubeFacebookInstagram and Twitter.

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