There’s a great episode of This American Life called “The Seven Things You’re Not Supposed to Talk About,” in which Sarah Koenig (yes, that Sarah Koenig #SerialForever) hosts an entire show about her mother’s rules for conversation. One of the seven forbidden topics is diet. Normally, I would agree. As annoying as I find people who constantly talk about how they aren’t eating gluten or refried beans or whatever, I hate being that person even more. I was a semi-vegetarian (no red meat; bacon got me back) for about ten years, and I was always a little uneasy when someone would offer me something I couldn’t try or I pretended to eat a pork chop at a dinner party. I just wanted to eat what I wanted without having to explain myself or inconvenience others by trying to accommodate my choices. I take a quiet, libertarian philosophy when it comes to many things, including dietary choices.
So, with that, dear readers: leave now if you don’t want to hear about what I’ve been eating lately. I won’t blame you. Just know that I’m writing this because 1. my blog, my choice, and 2. I’ve felt very encouraged reading the stories of others on a journey to healthier habits (especially updates from Diana of Our City Lights). If you want to stick around, I’ll share a little of why I decided to go this route, followed by things I’ve learned. Ready? Let’s go.
First things first, I love to eat. Every vacation is built around trying the local fare, including as much ice cream and as many doughnuts as I can stomach. Kelsey and I still cry about missing Salt & Straw when we were in Portland. (We tried to find it and got very lost, but that’s a story for another day.) Anyway, as you may recall from my body image post and our New Year’s resolutions list, I hit a health hurdle last year. I started a medication that helped me gain around 30 pounds in one year. Because of that, my cholesterol shot up. Yikes, right?
I’ll admit that I wasn’t too keen on trying to change my habits. First, I didn’t want to sacrifice mental health for physical health when it came to my medicine. And I was scared to switch medicines, because I’m an anxious person. It’s a vicious cycle. Then, as someone who has long struggled with body image, finally embracing who I am – curvy shape, extra pounds and all – it was hard mentally to go back to the place of needing to change something about myself. To fix my cholesterol, I needed to lose weight, but trying to lose weight felt like giving up my principles about embracing my perfectly imperfect body. In the end, I decided health means more than principles. I switched my medicine over Christmas break and decided to go for it.
Thus, armed with a medical reason and new resolve, I started the Whole30 Program. A friend mentioned this program to me last summer, and I’ll admit that I thought she was crazy. You have to give up ALL grains, dairy, legumes, added sugar and alcohol for 30 days? Ridiculous and impossible, I thought. I read some of the It Starts With Food book that explains the program, and I remained skeptical. No one is ever going to convince me that whole grains, dairy and legumes are inherently bad for me. I’m a believer in whole foods and moderation (even when I don’t quite practice what I believe…mmm…doughnuts). In the end, I chose the Whole30 because it seemed like a good, cold-turkey, jump-start to health.
I’ve now reached the end of my 30 days, and I’m really glad I chose this route. Most importantly, it showed me that I have the discipline to make real changes in my daily habits. Aside from taking communion twice (“What Would Jesus Eat?”) and eating bacon/ham with added sugar, I didn’t break protocol that I know of. That’s not to say it’s been easy. My first day of the program, my generous coworkers offered me cheesecake, a cupcake and gourmet flavored popcorn. In one day. I felt like I was going through some kind of temptation scenario with the devil, even though it was communion that broke me. Go figure.
Anywho, I’ve been thinking a lot about what I’ve learned during this month, and I thought I’d share my top seven takeaways.
- My favorite thing about the Whole30 is that it really made me think about what I was eating. Because I had to look for added sugars, I learned how many foods feature added sugars. Not eating whole food groups had me rethink staple, fallback meals. Fast food was off the table, thankfully. (Except for Chipotle. Until they stopped carrying carnitas. Sigh.) I hope to continue this type of thoughtful consumption over the long haul.
- It reignited my cooking habit. Before I moved to Nashville, I worked at a job that paid about $23,000 a year. I had to really budget, and that meant I had to cook my own meals basically all the time. Since moving, I’ve done very little cooking. I’ve gotten lazy, eating sugary cereal for dinner or grabbing a sandwich and fries on my way home. The Whole30 forced me to cook my own meals and try new recipes. My favorite meal was this salmon with roasted potatoes and broccoli. Check out my Pinterest page for plenty of Whole30 recipes (and desserts I’m currently lusting after). Oh, and it is possible to bake brownies without licking the batter or tasting one hot out of the oven. (Cue 98 Degrees’ “The Hardest Thing.”)
- The Whole30 is hard, but it’s not that hard. A coworker was talking just yesterday about a “cleanse” he did for 10 days where all he “ate” was water with lemon, cayenne pepper and maple syrup. Now tell me, how is that healthy or sustainable? Detox, shmetox. I’ve been eating healthy, whole foods for 30 days. Yes, I complained about a lack of chocolate, cheese and toast, but I didn’t starve myself.
- I’ve always been one of those people that gets really hungry really quickly. I would have those times when I had a sugar drop and felt like I needed to eat everything in sight as quickly as possible to make up the deficit. Surprisingly, I did not experience that on this program. By eating less sugar overall, my blood and appetite felt more stable. It allowed me to think before eating and better evaluate hunger without getting to an unstable, hangry point.
- Trader Joe’s is heaven. Yes, it’s crowded and you’ll spend 15+ minutes looking for parking, but it is truly a lifesaver if you’re trying to eat healthy without spending your entire paycheck at Whole Foods. Some of my favorite finds included: packaged ghee (pan fry some sweet potatoes in it, and you’ll be so happy), freeze-dried fruit (amazing snack), almond butter (relatively cheap and necessary for my kind of Whole30) and coconut products (coconut cream, coconut flour, etc. etc.). Just make sure to avoid the Cookie Butter. Walk away. You can cry in the car.
- Though overall health is the point, I have started losing weight. Currently, I’m down about 10 pounds, which I feel like is a great start. I’ve started exercising more consistently, too. Take that, high cholesterol!
- I’ve seen stories about people on the Whole30 suddenly being cured of skin diseases, sleeping better, etc. I don’t doubt their good fortune, but I don’t have any drastic news to report on these fronts. For me, it would never call it a miracle program, but it is one that has helped me become a more mindful consumer. I feel good, and I’m grateful for that.
- A lifestyle change doesn’t stop at 30 days. If you’ve read about the program, you know there’s a food reintroduction phase. You learn how different foods affect your system, and work from there. For example, I’ll eat lots of legumes tomorrow and see what happens. Come at me peanut butter. Post putting foods back in my life/body, I’m planning to transition to a more Mediterranean/whole foods diet, which includes plenty of whole grains. Sorry, Whole30. I have to find what healthy eating means to me. Next on my reading list is Michael Pollan’s In Defense of Food and the 100 Days of Real Food blog to keep me motivated toward whole, clean eating. I’m also going to try the whole, “If you want it, you have to make it” philosophy of junk food. Want cookies? Break out the chocolate chips at home. I hope it will help me think through how much I really want to eat certain foods. Do I want it bad enough to take the time to make it? Maybe, maybe not.
The final moral of the story? I’ll see you soon, ice cream. I just won’t see you as often.
I hope some small part of this has been helpful or enlightening. Whether you choose the Whole30 or another dietary program/lifestyle change, here’s wishing you health and happiness, friends.