With my second arm surgery, I made a decision to reclaim my body. I couldn’t control what happened to my arm, but I could take control of the rest of my body and make changes to better care for it and improve my health and well-being. I didn’t want to throw myself into something I couldn’t maintain, I’ve done that too many times before. This time was about small, lifelong changes that were not about dress size but longevity.
I’ve had issues with food almost all my life. I’ve joined Weight Watchers half a dozen times, done Atkins, grapefruit, South Beach, low carb, high protein, counted calories, took Diet Fuel, cut out certain foods like bread and pasta, was vegetarian for many years, vegan for a few months, and in between adopted some pretty bad habits.
At Emerson’s birthday party this January I was chatting with the mother of one of her friends; she had lost a lot of weight and mentioned that she joined Overeaters Anonymous. Though she was telling a positive story, my eyes were filling with tears because everything she said I felt. It was an AHA! moment. I’m not a failure for being fat, it’s not because I’m weak or lazy. I’m addicted to food. All the times I’d hide in my car or office gorging on food, waking up in the middle of the night having to eat pasta or leftover birthday cake, lying about what I had consumed, eating until I hurt… or didn’t hurt any more. I said once I got through the seasons of birthdays and Valentine’s Day, I’d look into doing something to break my food addictions.
And then I broke my arm, and broke it once more. Pretty much everything went on the back burner as I just struggled to deal with my injury, the bills, the insurance confusion, work, family, and daily life that was still going even though I wasn’t. I promised myself to use my time on disability to eat good quality food, but when you’re sad and frustrated and angry and bored it’s easy to go off the rails. Not only that, loved ones try to help with frappucinos and brunches and cupcakes. So by time my cast came off I was 10 pounds heavier than I was at Em’s birthday.
Deciding on Whole30
I’d seen so many friends and fellow bloggers do Whole30, and honestly I was completely turned off by their Instagram photos of what looked like baby poo with a side of avocado. But for some reason one day I looked at all the photos under the #Whole30 hashtag on Instagram and went from being disgusted to inspired. I saw pictures of food that looked a lot like what I already ate, and people who didn't just look thinner but healthier after only 30 days. I downloaded “It Starts With Food” on my Kindle and ended up devouring the whole book in one weekend. If 30 days could kill my carb and sugar cravings, I was willing to try. It’s ONLY 30 days, I can commit for just one month. I decided to start July 1st.
July 2nd Karl, Emerson and I went to dinner at a local restaurant. I tried really hard to follow Whole30, ordered a steak, asked how the veggies were prepared, did some substitutions yet my steak came with some sauce on top and I could smell the butter on the green beans. I was so upset and frustrated and felt there was NO WAY I could do this diet and live a normal, happy life. I scraped off the creamy sauce on the steak and ate the meal, but it wasn’t satisfying in any way. July 4th, I made a Whole30 compliant dip with crudité and brought it to our friends’ Independence Day party, but once I got there I threw the plan out the window and consumed French bread, sangria, and even a mini cupcake. Eh, I’ll start Monday.
And Monday, July 7th, I did start, and I stuck to Whole30 for the whole 30 days. And the plan did everything I hoped it would do and more.
I won’t go into details about how the plan works because it’s easy to find anything you desire to know on the Internet (and if you’re interested I highly recommend reading the whole book too). But after two weeks I no longer craved pasta, tortillas, beer, or chips. A few days later, the idea of a cupcake or mint julep just seemed too sicky sweet. I had stressful days at the office, but after a couple weeks, I no longer had the desire to self-medicate with a bourbon and ginger, glass (or two) of red wine, or a bowl of pasta.
The Week After Whole30
When I started Whole30 I had a whole list of things I looked forward to when I finished – sourdough bread with butter, sushi with soy sauce, tacos, chocolate chip ice cream, Boston cream pie. But once I finished, most of these things sounded pretty disgusting right off the bat. I bought a pint of coconut ice cream (was scared to try the cow milk version and Whole30 made me a mega coconut convert) but took three days to finish it instead of one episode of Project Runway. My first post-Whole30 meal was sushi with soy sauce and it was as good as I remembered, but I ordered corn tortilla tacos from District Taco (with cheese and sour cream) and they messed with my stomach and made me feel sluggish all day and funny enough the smell of the corn (and since then even if a bag of tortilla chips is open near me) sort of makes me feel ill.
This past weekend I decided to try ALL THE THINGS; not what they recommend but I wanted to see and didn't want to wait – beer (NOT GOOD, so bloated, gassy, and felt terrible for a whole day from just one), white wine (totally fine, no issues), pasta (two forkfuls from Em's dinner plate and it neither tasted as good as I remembered and almost immediately made me feel heavy and tired and gassy), a Dove chocolate-covered ice cream pop (delicious but didn't sit well at all), popcorn (as awesome as I remembered), bits of sugar (no issues that I could tell). What I noticed was even in small amounts as soon as I tried a non-plan food, even if it made me feel like ass, I began craving it again. Just this Tuesday I had a crappy day and caved and just like pre-Whole30 and self-medicated with a bowl of buttery pasta topped with parm. That night I tossed and turned and had a crazy dream about being chased and woke feeling stiff and bloated with a headache down at my nape. I went to put on a pair of pants that the week prior was loose and they fit again. That did it, I was going back to primarily paleo. Since then, I've consumed salad dressing with seed oils and had soy sauce with sashimi and I know I will drink wine this weekend, but I'm cutting out the things that make me miserable and send me straight back to Crave-ville.
Even with regaining some cravings when re-incorporating the non-Whole30 foods, I haven't regained the habit or need for snacks. I used to be someone who always had a bar or bag of nuts in my purse JUST IN CASE, an emergency tin of almonds in the car, and a drawer of snacks at work. But now I’m perfectly sated with three meals a day, and if I eat at any other times I feel gross, sort of slimy and over-full. I don’t wake HANGRY, don’t get home from work HANGRY, and when Karl wanted to hit McDonald’s at midnight after a concert, the idea of eating that late made me feel ill. I also learned that the mornings where I didn't eat Whole30 breakfast (like the morning of popcorn and coffee or the one where I ate a peach and a few pistachios and tea) I was HANGRY by 10, and even with a Plan lunch and dinner, I was still craving food and sweets and anything constantly until bedtime.
An addiction I didn’t think I’d break on this plan was caffeine. I NEED my coffee. When I was pregnant with Emerson, it was a struggle to go down to one small cup a day, and once I finished nursing her I soon was back to three cups or more by 3pm. With the arm injury, I knew caffeine stunted bone growth and tried to cut down but was sneaking extra cups. I liked it with one Truvia and a healthy splash of International Delights French Vanilla, and the idea of going black or using plain coconut milk sounded disgusting. But I tried coconut milk in my coffee and LOVED it. I brought a little mason jar of it and kept it in the office kitchen. I missed the sweet, but liked the really creamy taste and feel, and the sweet desire slowly disappeared. And with it, the need for coffee. After two weeks, coffee became a treat instead of a necessity and I went five days without it and not even noticing. Karl and I now are both coconut milk converts! One thing I noticed post-Whole30 was the days I did consume gluten, the next day I really felt the need for coffee. I must admit I have been using half a packet of Truvia in my coffee every so often since finishing Whole30, but a whole packet it just too sweet.
Other perks came with 30 days on this plan.
- I slept better. With my arm in a cast, I’d often wake in weird positions or with my hand asleep and have trouble getting back to bed. I’d be so tired I couldn’t fall asleep, too jittery to relax, and had a lot of nightmares (often the one mentioned above where I'm being chased or trying to escape/hide Hunger Games style). Popping two Tylenol PM before bed was becoming more and more common (as was the mega big dose of coffee the next morning). After just a week on Whole30 I started feeling tired at 8, was comfortably asleep no later than 10, and my body would naturally wake by 6 (the 5am alarm wasn't painful either). No arm issues, no nightmares, and I would wake refreshed. With this change, the dark circles under my eyes that I always thought were allergy related diminished.
- My skin improved. I’ve always had pretty good skin, but this winter I started having issues with adult acne, dry patches, and just having my skin look older and tired. Without changing any part of my beauty routine, I saw my skin look more plump, the dry spots disappeared, and not a single zit.
- My PMS symptoms practically disappeared. Two weeks before my period, my breasts felt heavy and tender for one day, so short and light a feeling I attributed it to consuming too much sodium. The day before my period I had my first sugar craving (specifically ice cream) in over a week. And that’s it. No cramps, no dreading the feeling of taking off or putting on a bra, no headaches, no chewing Karl’s off for looking at me the wrong way, no anxiety at work or on the drive home. One thing to note, my period was five days early on Whole30 and that seems to be common when starting the plan or going paleo.
- I was calmer. It seems all 2014 I’ve been treading water trying to stay afloat but getting very tired of kicking. I feel constantly rushed, behind, overwhelmed. I’ve had days where I’ve had to close my office door and perform breathing exercises to prevent a panic attack or sobfest and many times at home where both have happened out of the blue. While on Whole30, even when stressful things happened, I took them in stride. It was easier to see the big picture and calm down before reacting, and I did this without even realizing the change.
- I lost weight. This was NOT something I was banking on with Whole30. I’m totally fine with being this size the rest of my life as long as it doesn’t affect my health. But without measuring portion sizes, counting calories or points, or obsessing over percentages of protein and such I lost eight pounds. I haven’t done any measurements but it seems that most of the weight fell off my arms and belly, the two places that have bothered me the most as long as I can remember. My stomach is flatter now than it has been in years, even when I was 10 pounds lighter; I think it's removing the wheat/gluten.
- I stopped obsessing. You’re not allowed to weigh yourself during Whole30, you don’t have to track portions or any other numbers when on this plan, so there wasn’t Competitive Allie rearing her ugly head seeing it more as a game than a lifestyle change. No meetings where I could show off how much I lost, or avoid when I fell off the wagon. While I used the app Day One to track what I ate and different feelings and experiences on the plan, I kept Whole30 mostly to myself so I didn’t do it to impress others, just to impress myself. It was so freeing to feel positive change, see positive change, and not feel stress or competition.
My Food Future
Looking back, my biggest fear of Whole30 was that I would be one of THOSE people. You know them, the ones who are like Meg Ryan in When Harry Met Sally when ordering at a restaurant, the ones who can’t eat anything and carry a little container of salad dressing in their purse and preach to everyone how they don’t drink anymore and they’re eating clean and you just want to pin them to the ground and shove a bacon cheeseburger in their mouth and tell them to shut the hell up. I didn’t want to be a pain in the ass, I didn’t want to ruin a good time, I didn’t want to be a burden on Karl (who has now gone 75% paleo because he saw the drastic change in me). But I went to a party, went to a concert, a kid’s birthday party, dinner at a friend’s house, different restaurants and not only survived, but had fun and didn’t ruin anyone else’s good time. Whole30 made life about life, and not about food and alcohol. I realized that all this drama about being drama was just… drama! I don't blink an eye when a vegetarian/vegan/gluten free/pescatarian/lactose intolerant/non-drinking friend abstains or asks for a custom order at a restaurant. It's not about the lifestyle change, it's how you choose to express and live it. And live is what I want, and what I feel I can do on a better level being primarily paleo and occasionally doing a Whole30 restart.
This will NOT become a Whole30 or Paleo blog. Before I finished the plan, I mentioned Whole30 a couple times on Facebook and Instagram and received a few questions. I have another post scheduled for next Friday about what I actually ate and I plan on a follow-up post answering those questions and any others I receive in the comments below, but this will not be a regular topic on Wardrobe Oxygen. However, if you do have any questions, tips on eating paleo, or comments I look forward to reading them in the comments!