It is done. My first Whole30. It was a journey, with all the bumps and hills that come along with a journey, but very much worth it.
I should preface this by telling you that my diet prior to the Whole30 was, what I considered, actually pretty healthy. Just full of grains and legumes and the occasional treat (maybe a handful of chocolate chips or some syrup on my pancakes or my twice a week bowl of Coconut ice cream with all the fixin’s). I gave up dairy almost 6 years ago, when William was born and had allergies. I felt so great (ahem, digestively speaking) that I never went back. I also went through phases of no soy, no egg when William, Andrew and Katie were all a year and under. I don’t really do soy unless it’s in something (and it does show up in quite a bit of processed things) but I do add back in eggs as soon as the babies are able to handle them in my milk. We don’t do a lot of processed foods around here…well, let me clarify. We don’t do a lot of prepackaged, ready-to-go foods except the occasional snack for the times when we’re out and about (which isn’t often!). Those are usually quick snacks like peanut butter crackers or Kashi’s cereal bars. We do eat refined grains like white rice, honey wheat sandwich bread, pasta and (my favorite mid-afternoon pick-me-up snack) cereal (cheerios, raisin bran, shredded wheat and the like).
Daxson was absolutely baffled when I announced my Whole30 plans. He couldn’t see any compelling reason to change my already pretty healthy diet. But I did. I was literally being controlled by that doggone sugar demon and I was ready to slay that beast. While I didn’t eat a lot of sugary treats, I craved them. I thought about them. I walked past the refrigerator thinking about them. In the middle of a school lesson, I’d suddenly find myself dreaming about an apple turnover or a crepe filled with fruit and sugar.
So with three weeks to prepare (I wanted to start my Whole30 right around the onset of Lent), I read It Starts With Food and I scoured my Paleo cookbooks for meals that looked tasty AND easy (I had no desire to fight a food battle with my picky little ones and Daxson was still baffled as to why in the world I would want to give up the doughy goodness of bread). I tried a Paleo meal here and there just as a test to see if I could really survive without a starchy grain at dinner (and I could!). I watched Food, Inc. for a little extra nudge and I talked to people who eat like this 90% of the time. I was inspired. I was motivated. I was ready.
I’m not going to pretend it was easy. My body went through a little shock (no carb flu, though!). I had grumpy days as I tried to adjust to new foods. A lot of it was purely psychological. I had no idea that food had such a hold on me! I hit a rough patch, right around day 9 that lasted until day 13, and it was rough. Really, really rough. In hindsight, I’m not even sure it was the diet, so much as my hormone levels or maybe even the lack of sun and social visits, but either way, it made those days really rough. I threatened to quit. I’m pretty sure I cried. My anxiety levels skyrocketed. I increased my carbs and upped my b-vitamins. And then suddenly, the cloud lifted on the evening of day 13. And oh, what a beautiful view. I suddenly had an endless amount of energy (I’m pretty sure I was told a few times to stop being so peppy!) and I really felt great. All those stories you read about people feeling incredible? Yep, I felt it. And it continued from that point on. The best way to describe it would be to say…you know that jolt you get after a cup of strong coffee? That’s how I felt…all day, every day, but without the jitteriness that goes along with caffeine (and without having to drink that cup of coffee!). No more 2 o’clock slump, no more groggy mornings. Life was good on the downward slope of the Whole30 and I learned so many things.
I learned that everything tastes better with some baby bellas sauteed and spread on top.
I learned to savor my food. I stopped rushing. I sat down and actually chewed. And I found that I actually tasted my food and enjoyed it.
I learned how to tell when I was full. And I learned to stop shoveling in bite after bite (because being over-full so totally sucks).
I learned that some things are just worth waiting for…when I first started, I was too impatient to wait around to heat up the coconut manna. Then one day, I waited. Ecstasy. Completely worth waiting for.
I learned that there is rhythm to be found in the kitchen. I just had to find my rhythm. I found that after a few days, the meal prep became predictable and manageable (still time consuming and tedious, but totally manageable). And the tedious task of washing and chopping and peeling and dicing opened up my mind for pondering and meditating. Two things I hardly do these days. In hindsight, I should have taken more advantage of all that time in the kitchen…an audio book or a podcast would have been a great use of time.
I learned that I can live without sugar…and be happy! And have energy! And sleep well! And make it past the afternoon without needing a boost of energy!
I learned that food is a very mental thing for me. The first few days, I convinced myself that there was no way I was getting the right vitamins and minerals. Really? There I was, eating a rainbow of fruits and veggies and I was convinced that without the bread, the pasta, and the refined-in-a-box snacks, I could not possibly be feeding myself correctly. How messed up is that? I had actually become reliant on assuming that the boxed goods were properly balancing all my nutritional needs when in actuality, I probably wasn’t even absorbing half of them correctly! I obsessed about eating enough calories (something I never think about in my normal day-to-day diet) and I had a really hard time learning to trust my body’s hunger signs. Totally mental. Totally psychological. Totally hard barrier to cross.
I learned that I am just an oral creature. I thought maybe by doing the Whole30 and learning to respond better to my body, I’d quit snacking, but I’ve come to realize that it’s not about the nutrition or the food, I like to snack because it gives me something to do. Like how some people chew gum. Or smoke. Or drink. I just like to be chewing on something yummy. But now my snacks look more like snap peas or sliced bell pepper than the old snacks. And I’m totally fine with that…as long as I’m chewing.
So where to go from here? Well, that’s the question I’m pondering long and hard these days. I don’t want to go back to incessant cravings. I don’t really want to go back to eating tons of grains. I like life in the Whole30 lane, but maybe not this extreme. I don’t like feeling like I have to sacrifice an afternoon outside with the kids or reading a book to Katie so that I can cook yet another meal. I don’t like feeling dread as I think about eating yet another sweet potato (after finding my sweet spot with the carbs, I was afraid to cut back!). I need a little more variety (although as I learned through the Whole30, there is plenty of variety to be found in fruits and veggies as long as I step out on the limb a little). There are things that I miss. Miss, not crave. Like peanut butter and cereal, a bowl of lentils and a glass of almond milk (not the kind I have to make myself, gosh darn it!). I miss eating ham and bacon and pickles (yep, all of those things at my grocery store have sugar in them!). I feel like I’ve trudged down this path and I’m not sure I want to trudge back completely, but I’m also not sure how far I could trudge back even if I wanted to because I know things now that I didn’t know before…like how many things contain sugar and how much better I feel without the sugar and grains. Knowledge is power, but at the same time, ignorance is bliss.
So here I go…beginning tomorrow, I’m free to eat what I want once again. The question is, armed with the knowledge and experience of the last 30 days, what will I choose? The plan, however vague it might sound, is to go slowly. Let my body re-adapt to some of the things I did without and see how I handle it. And if I don’t like the effects? Well, I know I can live without it. The things that I don’t miss (like beans and pasta) will probably be left out. I’m good with that.
Melissa Joulwan’s says in her book Well Fed 2 that “minor transgressions are possible because I make deposits in the good health bank the rest of the time. Every workout, every good night’s sleep, every paleo meal is a deposit, so that every once in a while, I can make withdrawals for a food treat.” Sounds good to me.