The concept of “clean eating” has become a common buzzword in our society. For Angela Fussenegger, it is a way of life.
Fussenegger has been following a clean dietary program for the past eight years. She works directly with Jessica Lee Reader, master nutrition therapist at Centered Yoga and Wellness in Greenville, an integrative health coach who provides her with a host of tools. The two work together to develop meal and lifestyle plans. Reader also provides an ever-changing program of cleanses and “resets,” which vary depending on the season.
“I am now entering my 40s, and I follow the plan to help with pain, reduce my stress levels and to help reset myself,” Fussenegger said. “Whenever I complete one of the cleanses, I definitely feel much better.”
Although Fussenegger lives in Colorado, she regularly meets with Reader, who recently relocated to South Carolina. The two get together virtually to discuss her health goals and eating program. Their discussions range from which foods to eat and which to avoid to shopping list suggestions and wellness activities. Fussenegger chose to continue working with Reader, developing individualized programs that address her specific issues, despite the distance between them.
While Fussenberger’s clean eating regimen is a voluntary endeavor, others follow a strict diet for medical reasons that might otherwise degrade their quality of life. In Mego Lockett’s case, she had struggled with digestive issues caused by a small-intestine condition for most of her life. Her doctors wanted to treat her symptoms with medication, but Lockett was able to improve her situation by following a self-described “therapeutic diet.”
Lockett, who currently lives in Florida, went through a long trial-and-error process in experimenting with her food choices. The goal was to determine which foods did not wreak havoc on her digestive system. Through the years, she realized that finding the right things to eat was not a one-size-fits-all approach. Instead, it became an individualized journey.
“I’ve learned over the years which foods cause symptoms and which ones don’t,” Lockett said. “I was eating minimal foods to understand what was causing a reaction.”
Lockett, now 24, has enjoyed a relatively episode-free lifestyle in recent years.
“I’m at this really great place,” she said. “This is the first year of my life where I can go to any restaurant and find something that I can eat.”
Although Reader has not worked with Lockett, she can relate to the ongoing struggle that her clients have experienced in finding a plan that works for them. She encourages those who are considering the journey of clean eating to begin with a simple step.
“Clean eating starts with reading every single food label,” she explained. “Many people read a label from the top down, but they’re not really looking at what is actually in the food.”
Reader suggested that individuals consume fresh fruits and vegetables, as well as products bearing a USDA-certified organic food label.
Although there are many benefits to be gained by following a healthy food regimen, Reader cautioned those who may be enticed by a crash diet or other drastic changes to their lifestyle.
“You definitely would want to work with your doctor, as well as a nutrition therapist before you make any dietary lifestyle changes,” Reader said.
One of her recommendations is to be tested through a comprehensive lab panel annually. She advises to add a vitamin D level check to the panel because this common deficiency can impact bone health and cause lethargy and depression.
Reader said she strives to help her clients identify any underlying concerns that often create symptoms that negatively impact their well-being. The next step is to find the specific foods that work best with their body.
“If something that you’re eating is impacting your overall digestive health, it needs to be explored,” Reader said. “We all have biochemical individualities, based on our genes and the environment that we’re in.”
Lockett has a similar perspective. She often found that foods that were considered “clean” were triggering negative reactions. Over time, she developed the ability to listen to what her body was telling her.
“Clean wasn’t always the answer. It was more about finding what specifically worked for me,” Lockett said. “Simple eating always wins at the end of the day.”
By Holly M. LaPrade