I have a tendency to make proclamations (mostly internal) that I end up eating later on. “I would never want to be the only clergyperson at a small rural church,” I said to myself during seminary. False. “I could never go 30 days without wine, cheese, or bread or be ‘paleo’.” Well…after several months of trying and failing to get back to a happy weight and alternating between feeling grumpy and deprived while counting calories and heavy and bloated when I overindulged, I decided to give Whole 30 a try. My goals were not primarily about weight-loss, so I didn’t even take a starting weight or starting measurements. I mainly wanted to a) get back into the habit of cooking real food at home, b) break some unhealthy habits around alcohol, and c) re-evaluate my relationships with certain kinds of foods.
For those of you unfamiliar with Whole 30, it’s essentially “strict paleo” – no sugar or artificial sweeteners (including alcohol, honey, agave, maple syrup, etc.), no dairy, no grains or pseudo-grains like quinoa, and no legumes. But it’s more than eat-this-not-that. I was glad that I read the book It Starts with Food, even though the whole plan is available for free on the Whole 9 website, because it outlined the scientific reasons behind abstaining from certain food groups rather than going by the paleo reasoning that I’d heard, which is, essentially, “if cavemen didn’t eat it, I won’t eat it.”
Joe agreed to do it with me, even knowing it would be a lot harder for him than for me. He has long had a sugar/artificial sweetener crutch, in part to get through long and tiring days in the hospital. We had to work through what he could eat at the hospital cafeteria and what he could drink (sparkling water, unsweet iced tea, water with lemon). About two days into Whole30, he had a work dinner at a very nice restaurant, and everyone was very concerned about why he was abstaining from wine and not ordering dessert, but he persevered.
The first week (2 weeks for Joe) was really hard. We both had headaches and low energy as our bodies adjusted to not getting all of those simple carbohydrates they had been running on. My runs were terrible with my heart rate through the roof while I barely eked out two miles. But then, it got better. On Day 8, I ran an extra mile than I’d scheduled because I felt so good. My moodiness went away, my skin cleared up, and I realized that I wasn’t hungry but weight and puffiness seemed to be falling off of me.
Our restaurant spending dropped to practically nothing, though our Costco spending increased quite a bit thanks to bags of avocados and bell peppers, organic chicken breasts, and prosciutto. I don’t think I’ve ever eaten so many vegetables as I did in that first week of Whole30. Several pounds of mushrooms, giant clamshells of lettuce, and cherry tomatoes went down the hatch. Occasionally I would get a craving for take-out or a sandwich, but the hardest time for me was Friday night. All my friends would be Instagramming pictures of their craft beer at the end of the week, and I was stuck with kombucha or sparkling water. Major bummer.
As with many others who have done a Whole30, I dreamed of non-compliant food – mostly beer but a strange dream about breaking Whole30 with a Clif bar. Joe had a dream about eating a giant cheesy omelette with a chocolate chip cookie for dessert. Our relationships with food are crazy psychological.
At the end of the 30 days, I had achieved all of my goals, plus some. We were regularly cooking at home, even before going out to see a show or play. My skin cleared up and looked radiant, my clothes fit better, and my level of inflammation was so low that I didn’t have a flare-up of my fibrocystic breast disease the entire month. When everyone else was complaining about seasonal allergies, I didn’t get a single sniffle.
In my next post, I’ll include some tips that I learned from my Whole30 experience.