At the beginning of this year I outlined areas of focus for my journey with the word space. There was one area noticeably absent in this survey, though I did touch on it in my February progress report: my weight.
It was the dead of winter, one of the worst in years, and I just wasn't quite ready to deal with it. I put space in my body on the agenda, knowing that eventually I would have to start addressing the elephant (ha, perhaps literally) in the room.
It turned out to be the right choice. When this summer rolled around, I was ready and without excuses. My efforts to create space in other areas of my life resulted in a lightbulb moment. Yes, I did have time to cook and to exercise.
I also knew I wanted to jumpstart this lifestyle shift with a Whole30, thirty days without sugar, dairy, legumes, and grains.
I first heard of the Whole30 program two years ago when Stacy Julian shared her daily meals on Instagram. Even then I was attracted to the colorful plates of fresh, real food. Already knowing that my body prefers fewer carbs, I was incredibly curious to find out how food affects me physically and emotionally.
I am excited to share my Whole30 story.
As my members know, I love to begin with the victories. Over the past thirty days I have:
- Lost 11 pounds
- Stopped drinking pop*
- Started exercising
* Funny story. When I told my dentist that "I gave up pop 18 days ago," I'm pretty sure she thought I said pot.
Of course, there's more to the story than these results! This month-long adventure was at times easy and at others, impossibly difficult. The first week was the hardest, but not just because of the food.
Surviving the First Week
I had consumed 4-5 cans of diet pop a day for 20+ years. Sometimes I'd even open one in the middle of the night and drink the whole thing. On most days all of my hydration came from pop.
Having given up caffeine during my pregnancy, I knew my addiction was actually to the bubbles. Pop has a unique mouthfeel and it took me two weeks to not crave it constantly.
Today I drink a combination of sparkling water (Faygo brand is my favorite, but La Croix is also good.) and iced tap water, plus a cup of coffee most mornings. To me, this victory was even bigger than the 11 pounds.
My beverage challenges compounded withdrawal from the convenience carbs that had slipped into my diet. For most of the first week I craved pizza and specifically, the Jet 10. I held steady but there was crying involved.
I recall one night around Day 7 where I went through a two-hour mental battle with myself over ordering that pizza before finally cooking our compliant meal. I think I went through all the stages of grief that night.
The first week taught me that I had a serious and seriously unhealthy emotional relationship with food. Eating out was how I relaxed. Now there was no escape from my feelings.
Searching for Tiger's Blood
The second week of Whole30 was the easiest. I wasn't missing anything and enjoyed crafting meals that filled half my plate with veggies. I had the "I can do this!" feeling on most days, even though challenging social situations.
My biggest realization during this time was that each meal left me satisfied. While I had battled emotional deprivation, this way of eating never left me feeling quantity-deprived. This was a stark contrast to any other approach I've taken towards better health.
Around Day 13 for the first time in my life I wanted to exercise. This has never ever happened before. Within 48 hours I had a gym membership, new shoes, and a new outfit. (I'll save my whining about finding plus size workout clothes for another time!)
That weekend was the only time I felt "tiger's blood", a Whole30 term for feeling full of boundless energy.
Holding it All Together
After the halfway point, it got a little harder again. Looking back, I see a clear linkage between my hormones and energy level. In the past I've described this as the lightbulb being on for half the month and off for the other. (I am hopeful this will improve over time.)
With my lightbulb dimmer, the second half of my Whole30 was imperfect but good enough. We ate out a little bit more, where I had sugar in commercial salad dressing a few times and likely a little hidden butter on my food. I continued to feel good overall, though my energy was lower.
There was also a really bad day that involved a few Pringles and several attempts at creating technically compliant desserts. I didn't enjoy any of it and recognized that my emotional food monkey was still clinging.
While adding 15-30 days would have likely been a good choice, I needed to get the point of answers. Setting my sights on the education of reintroduction helped me to make it through. I wanted to be armed with solid information about what my body prefers, in order to craft a sustainable "life after Whole30" eating plan.
Takeaways from Whole30
I am so glad that I invested in myself and this experiment. I don't want to say that Whole30 changed my life, because I sincerely believe in personal responsibility. I am changing my life and Whole30 was an effective tool to help me get started. Here are my top takeaways from the experience:
1. Vegetables keep me full. There's a bit of carb cult here in the Midwest and I feel like I've had to battle my way out over the past 6 years of living here. Now my husband will even eat zucchini, asparagus, and kale!
2. I need to watch my starchy vegetable and fat portions. In the beginning of Whole30 I used sweet potatoes and mashed avocado as grain and dairy surrogates, respectively. Long-term weight loss will require some moderation of these items.
3. Dairy will be a rare treat. My dairy reintroduction had mixed results, with some items causing some digestive issues and others not. However, I did feel that it affected my allergy symptoms (post-nasal drip, itchy eyes) and increased my joint pain.
4. Sugar isn't a big problem for me. For a long time I've avoided overly sweet foods because I don't like how they taste or make me feel. Whole30 actually helped me broaden my range of breakfast foods to healthy, sweeter items.
5. I care about food quality. As I scanned ingredients lists this month, I was a bit shocked by how much artificial junk had been going in my body. Whole30 reminded me that real food tastes and makes me feel best.
Note: I wanted to get this post written while the thoughts were fresh, but I still have gluten and non-gluten grains to try. If I have any additional takeaways from that experience, I will update this post.
I'd love to answer any questions you have about Whole30 in the comments.