October 5, 2017


I just finished Whole30, which is a 30-day commitment to not consume any sugar, alcohol, grain, dairy, soy, or legumes. What does that leave? Veggies, meat, fish, fruit, nuts, and more veggies.

This is the second time I’ve completed this endeavor. The first time was two years ago, and I wrote about it with the breathless enthusiasm of somebody discovering how to eat “real” food for the first time.

This time, I was a little more cynical.

I’d been around this block, and I knew where I ended up. I kept a few of my Whole30 habits, like ditching artificial sweetener, but I skipped the part about reintroducing foods slowly and celebrated my first weekend off the program with pizza and moscato and maybe some ice cream.

I know.

It took me two years to muster up the courage to try again. I knew there was a kernel of magic in this program, something that I wasn’t finding in my attempts at weight loss through calorie counting and carb cutting and intense exercise. I remembered the peace and well-being.

I also remembered the things that were hard last time: the days of physical withdrawal punctuated by crushing headaches. The social isolation. That time I cried in IKEA because I was hangry and I couldn’t eat anything there and I didn’t know which bookshelf I wanted and why was I foolish enough to go to IKEA on a Saturday along with 40,000 other people?

I started with some skills up my sleeve. I knew the lingo; R2D2 is not just a droid, but also Whole30 shorthand for “Round 2, Day 2.” I had favorite recipes on Pinterest and Lara Bars in my pantry. I had an Instant Pot, and I knew how to use it.

My secret weapon is my husband Sam, who would never post a blog like this, but was 100% committed to Whole30 and knocked this thing out of the park.

What we did

We cooked really tasty food. Our kitchen was simmering with fragrant coconut milk curries, veggie-laden soups, and tender roasts falling apart in the Instant Pot.

The kids ate the same dinners as us 90% of the time, with an occasional hot dog night when we were eating something too far outside their comfort zones (or I didn’t want to share the bacon-wrapped scallops). They tried new recipes and fell in love with kalua pork, Felix dubbing himself the Pork Monster. 

It was easier than I remembered. The headache lasted one day instead of five, I felt more energy by the end of the first week, and I knew to stay away from IKEA.

We didn’t cut ourselves off from fun. Friday cocktail night became Friday Netflix night. Saturdays, we went out to dinner with friends. It felt strange at first to order grilled fish and unsweetened tea while our friends enjoyed burgers and bourbon, or tacos and margaritas, but these outings are about the company. We talked, we laughed, and we woke up without hangovers the next day.

Sam and I learned an important lesson from last time. We didn’t think of October 5 as the end, but the beginning of our next healthy chapter. We had long, thoughtful conversations about which pre-Whole30 foods and behaviors we’d welcome back into our lives, which ones we’d enjoy in moderation, and which ones we are tossing overboard. Friday cocktail night is special enough to bring back, but vodka soda is the default drink instead of sugary cocktails. Ice cream is a thing we occasionally take the kids out for, not a staple we keep in our freezer. Pizza is a once-a-month treat instead of a weekly one, and only the good stuff. Frozen pizza is dead to us.

My results

I lost 13 pounds and reduced my waist by 4 inches. I can’t fit into any aspirational jeans and my body doesn’t look remarkably different, but I can see a change in my face.


My complexion is where my Whole30 results are the most obvious. I took this “Look how tired I don’t look” selfie at the end of a long work day, when I was still feeling fresh and bright.


The biggest benefits aren’t visible from the outside. My energy is steady, and I don’t crash in the afternoons anymore. The mental fog has lifted and I’m able to think through things – including my own emotions – with focus and clarity. I feel present in my body in a way that I didn’t before.

Fixing my nutrition didn’t fix my life. But it's a start.

I haven’t felt like my shiny, sunny self for several months. My summer trip to Poland was a bright spot, but I fell into a darker place after returning home. I can’t point to a single thing that’s causing this, but a combination of emotions stirred up by turning 40 next year, parenting a pre-teen, writing a World War II novel, witnessing the American political and cultural climate, and trying to figure out how I want to live in this world.

We all have things that we use to fill the holes in ourselves. Some people exercise, some people buy things they don’t need, some people do drugs. I eat. Food is my shortcut to pleasure, followed by regret and shame. It’s an emotional roller coaster that distracts me from real issues that are trickier to sort out.

Eating vegetables and meat for a month didn’t solve my problems, but it did give me the mental clarity to better understand them.

The first time I did Whole30, I felt triumphant. I wouldn’t use that word to describe myself today.

After Round 2, I feel awake. I feel self-aware. I feel ready to move forward.

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