September 15, 2015

My Whole30: A View From Day 8

A week ago, I began a month-long odyssey known as Whole30. No sugar, grain, dairy, legumes, or alcohol. No artificial sweeteners, chemicals, or heavily processed food.

If you're the sort of person who's interested in other people's eating habits, you're probably thinking one of three things:

a. Rock on. I tried this/heard about this/eat like this every day.
b. That sounds vaguely interesting, but also impossible, because I'd never be able to give up ___.
c. What is wrong with you?? Giving up entire food groups? That's insane.

The first time I heard about the Whole30, my reaction was firmly c. I grew up with four food groups, in a world where bread was wholesome and milk-drenched bowls of cereal were "part of a complete breakfast."

Then, I started hearing from more and more people who had tried this program, or embraced similar approaches like a Paleo diet. The sentence I heard most often: "It changed my life." Clear skin. Boundless energy. A healthy weight. Who wouldn't want to sign up for those things?

Oh, right, the deprivation.

I spent a year or longer in camp b. I would love to try Whole30, except I couldn't ever  give up cheese. Or chocolate. Or wine on Fridays. And Saturdays.

A few weeks ago, something flipped. I don't remember the exact tipping point, but it may have involved trying to button my weekend shorts, trying to run a 5k, or trying to work from home without eating any Nutella. These are all things that I was once able to do, and could no longer accomplish. My health was still important to me, but it got buried under my other priorities and I was in a backslide.

I marked my calendar. I'd start on 9/8, the first day of school. My kids would start a new year with fresh notebooks and sharp pencils; I'd turn over a new leaf with fresh eating habits.

I created a Pinterest board and began hoarding recipes. I plotted the first week's meals in a spreadsheet. I went to the grocery store and filled up a shopping cart I could proudly post to Instagram.

I felt so smug in the checkout lane. 

I took "before" body pictures and measurements. I spent a weekend saying farewell to pizza, alcohol, and ice cream. Sam and I enjoyed a romantic last supper of baguette slices and fine cheeses. Last Tuesday, we jumped in.

Here are some of the things I discovered in the past week:

The first few days are no joke. I'm not sure what caused my headaches, but it was probably withdrawal from sugar and/or artificial sweeteners. Thankfully, caffeine is allowed on Whole30. Black coffee, unsweetened tea, and Excedrin Migraine got me through the days. I drew heavily on my online fitness group for support. It gets easier, everyone told me. It's worth it.

I had been eating a lot more than I noticed. Becoming hyper-conscious of my food made me aware of all the mindless eating I had been doing. Licking the peanut butter knife after making lunches, tasting a bite of the kids' mac and cheese, eating a handful of nuts because I was walking past the snack cabinet. The kids dutifully bring me their nibbled-on pizza crusts, which I now throw away but would have cheerfully eaten a couple weeks ago.

A lot of my eating was driven by habit, not hunger. Walking into the grocery store, I thought "I should buy a latte." Sitting on a conference call at work, I thought "I wonder what snacks I have in my desk." After tucking the kids into bed, I thought "Time to relax with some popcorn." Whole30 discourages snacking except in cases of real physical hunger, which was rarely my motivation. 

Sleep is everything. Whole30 sleep is better. The first few nights, I went to bed earlier because it seemed easier than staying awake and not eating nachos. But by day 3, I noticed that I was sleeping differently. My dreams have become more vivid. I'm waking up feeling more rested, even without coffee.

I'm off the energy roller coaster. Under my old eating pattern, it took me a while to wake up, my energy peaked in the late morning, and I took a nose dive after lunch. By 3 p.m., I was exhausted and avoided starting any work that required much thought.
The last two days, I've found myself still going strong at 4 or 5 p.m. Today, I nearly missed my bus because I was in such a flow with my work. Instead of falling asleep on the commute home, I wrote this blog. My energy has been steady, until it's time for bed, and then I'm appropriately tired. As a bonus, I feel a brightness and clarity that's hard to describe, except to say a fog is lifting.

Sugar sneaks into a lot of foods. After driving across town to Whole Foods to buy sugar-free bacon, I understand why most Whole30 enthusiasts prefer to cook their meals from scratch. After reading labels, I found corn syrup in sausages, sugar in tomato sauce, and a litany of unpronounceable ingredients in salad dressing. 

Real food tastes amazing. There are a lot of "No" foods in Whole30, but there's also a whole lot of Yes. Here's to trying new recipes, eating real food with plenty of fresh ingredients, healthy fats, and a variety of flavors. Some of the things on this week's menu: 

  • Crispy carnitas pork with avocado and mango salsa
  • Bacon wrapped scallops
  • Baby green salad with citrus vinaigrette, seared salmon and sauteed apples
  • Spanish roast chicken thighs with chorizo and root vegetables
  • Tomato, beef, and vegetable soup with homemade broth

Want to come over for dinner? I might need help with the dishes.

Despite all the restrictions, this program isn't about suffering. Real food is full of nutrients and tastiness. I'm falling in love with new flavors, I've busted out of a cooking rut, and the hardest task in the kitchen is keeping up with the dishes. So. Many. Dishes.

The things I miss most aren't food. I expected to be tortured by cravings, but after the third or fourth day, they wore off. What I miss most are the social aspects of food: Going to lunch with my coworkers without stressing about the restaurant's menu. Going to a friend's house for dinner without feeling like a wet blanket. Mixing up cocktails with Sam on a Friday night. Taking the kids out for ice cream. I hate that so much of our culture revolves around food... But I also love being in the world and experiencing what life has to offer. 

After my 30 days, I will seek balance between the food that best nourishes my body and the life I want to live. 

But, for now, I'm focusing on the next 22 days.


Jim Peters said...

Good luck. Sounds like the worst may be over.

floridaamy said...