Change for the Better: #Whole30

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.

nothing tastes as good as healthy feels

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.

I finished whole30

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!

25 Comments

  1. August 17, 2014 / 6:54 pm

    I swear I could have written this! I read Mark Hyman’s 10-Day Diet Detox in the spring and realized that I too am addicted to food. I use it to self-medicate for every emotion- happy, sad, bored, excited. After eating pretty clean since March, I can definitely tell a difference, but I went to the beach two weeks ago and totally derailed. I’ve beat myself up about it; I’ve tried to get back on track… it’s so so hard. Which just proves what power food holds over me, and how important it is that I nourish myself with healthy foods instead of crap. Thanks for sharing, and giving me that push to get back on the saddle!

  2. August 17, 2014 / 5:49 pm

    Awesome! I’ve done the Whole30 three times, and I eat mostly Paleo. It has been a lifestyle for me for over 2 years, and I cannot go back. I otherwise do love your blog, but taking control of your health will shine through everything else. Good for you!

  3. August 16, 2014 / 11:09 pm

    Really, really happy for you that you found something that works. It’s awesome to hear so much excitement in your post!

  4. August 16, 2014 / 6:41 pm

    Way to go! I’ve heard nothing but good things from people who have done the Whole 30 diet. I’ve never gone on it myself, but earlier this year I cut out gluten because I was having a lot of health problems and desperate to try anything. I felt amazing once I made the change, and have kept up with it since then. I recently realized, though, that it probably wasn’t the gluten that was bothering me – it was all the processed foods, which coincidentally also happen to frequently be ones with gluten in them.

  5. essellgee
    August 16, 2014 / 5:11 am

    Call me crazy, I actually like reading posts like this. Thanks for sharing your experiences on whole30. I did it a few months ago, and it made me feel fantastic. But I basically found it too restrictive for everyday life. One thing I did keep was not eating any grains (other than oats and quinoa occasionally). Grains really seem to make me feel really sluggish and bloated. I have permanently switched to unsweetened almond milk in my coffee, and I do eat a bit of cheese every now and then, I don’t find it bothers me.

  6. Happinessatmidlife
    August 16, 2014 / 1:50 am

    Great job on taking care of yourself. Whenever I eat clean, I do notice that my skin radiates and so many people compliment me on my skin. It’s tough to keep up and I always end up back to my old ways and start again. We live in a society that is so used to instant everything and that means lots of processed food and that just leads to all sort of bad things for our bodies.

    Alice
    http://www.happinessatmidlife.com

  7. Cindy F
    August 15, 2014 / 8:53 pm

    Hi Alison,
    I have been following you for a couple of years now without ever commenting, but I have to say congratulations girl, this post has been one of your best ever. You have always come across as rather conflicted about your weight and your health in the past but I really sense a new direction here for you, hopefully this will be a real turn in the road and the first steps towards a long and healthy life.
    Love Cindy Finch
    xx
    PS I wouldn’t mind if you did a monthly catch up post on how things are going with regard to your new lifestyle.

    • August 22, 2014 / 9:54 am

      I may do that. I don’t want lifestyle overkill, but once a month sounds good. Thank you Cindy! <3

  8. Sheil
    August 15, 2014 / 5:32 pm

    I have been working up the courage to try this for months. Mainly scared about the food prep, although i understand you can find food plans all over the net. Go you! You have reinforced my desire to do this.

  9. Jennifer
    August 15, 2014 / 5:07 pm

    My husband and I are on Day 12 of our first Whole30 together. He started because he was advised by his doctor to begin an elimination diet (suspected food intolerance), and I wanted to do it with him out of support.
    I have experienced a lot of what you did – fewer cravings, more energy, etc. I’ve also noticed big improvements in my digestion and the way I feel after I eat. The only way it’s working for us is through meal planning. We have three kids 5 and under so I had to plan dinners that could work for everyone and that I could add a little something to for the kids. Pinterest has been my best friend for finding good meals, and the food has truly been good. I am four months post-partum and can tell a change in my body already, like you said, mainly in the tummy area. I won’t lie, I pretty much got on board because I wanted to lose the baby weight, but now that I’m doing it, I can totally see why people get into “clean eating” and paleo. I love the way I have been feeling and I hope to be a lot more thoughtful about what foods I introduce back in September. Thanks for sharing your experience!

  10. Beth W
    August 15, 2014 / 4:03 pm

    Like Kati asked, I guess I’d really like to know how it would fit into family life. I can see it being something that I could do if I was on my own or if it was just me and my husband. But I’ve got 4 little howler monkeys who also have to eat and I’m wondering how that would work. Also, how bad were the cravings/withdrawal symptoms in the first week or so? Thanks!

    • August 22, 2014 / 9:53 am

      I didn’t find the cravings too bad unless I had an emotionally tough moment or day. THEN I’d want ice cream or nachos or pasta. But having ready-made things made a big difference. I’d drive home dreaming of food but come home and eat a handful of olives from the fridge and that would calm me down so I could focus on cooking a proper meal instead of breaking Whole30 🙂 And my latest post is more detail of how I made it work with my family.

  11. Kathryn W.
    August 15, 2014 / 2:59 pm

    Stupid feedly! I had no idea you’d started blogging again since your second surgery! I subscribe to your blog via feedly and no new posts have appeared on the feed since May. I unsubscribed and then re-subscribed, and now it appears to be working again, thankfully. I hope your arm is better, and I’m looking forward to catching up on all the posts I’ve apparently missed!

    • Amber
      August 15, 2014 / 3:18 pm

      The same thing happened to me – I think I just happened to go the site itself and was like “hey, wait a minute…”

      • August 22, 2014 / 9:52 am

        When I switched to WordPress somehow I lost thousands of RSS subscribers, including all my Feedly followers. Glad you two found me again! <3

  12. Rae
    August 15, 2014 / 2:02 pm

    Happy to hear you found what works for you. It works for me too.

    I went gluten-free at least 5 yrs ago and found it improved my autoimmune arthritis and fatigue immensely. When I heard occasionally about Paleo I though it sounded weird and extreme.

    But as the movement grew and so did my litany of serious chronic illnesses, I went primal, then paleo, and finally autoimmune paleo (which makes plain paleo seem like a lark but which has let me come off of every medication except one and put a very painful situation in remission).

    I now have a lever for moving my health in a good direction or bad, and more than just the food it’s the sane exercise, commitment to rest and relaxation and good sleep, and belief that we are all an experiment in our own bodies to find out what lets us thrive, never mind what works for someone else.

    Like you I never want to be “that” person and I’m very careful not to be. I get myself fed well despite the social situation, and not about the food or drink I can or can’t have. That was a switch for me but a very healthy one.

    My husband and family and friends aren’t paleo. We work around each other. I found I don’t have to have the “support” of others (aka everyone around me eating and living as I do) to be successful. It’s my health, my body, and I’m a big girl.

    I cook more than I used to, but I’ve become very smart and efficient and now I probably spend less time in the kitchen than I did on a “normal” diet, and eat better.

    Traveling requires planning and creativity and flexibility (autoimmune protocol, as I said, is far more difficult), but even there I take charge of my situation and can go anywhere and participate in just about anything, my way.

    Congratulations on your successful whole30! It’s a very big deal, and I’m happy you shared your story with us.

    • Rae
      August 15, 2014 / 2:04 pm

      I meant to say:
      I get myself fed well despite the social situation, and I make it about the social event, the company, not about the food or drink I can or can’t have.

  13. Ginger
    August 15, 2014 / 12:33 pm

    I’m not really a fan of the Whole30/Paleo thing, but if it works for you I say more power to you!

    I think shaking up diet habits is a good idea. It’s too easy to have your routines build on themselves until you are eating something all the time. If this helped you get the snack monster under control it’s a good thing.

  14. Sara Baker
    August 15, 2014 / 11:43 am

    I was hoping you’d share some information about your Whole30! I’m starting one on September 1. I did 21 days of a Whole30 about 2 years ago, and I felt amazing. I remember driving home from work one day and thinking, “Hmm…I’d like to go for a run!” NEVER in my life had I thought that to myself before! Thank you for sharing your experience!

  15. Kati LeTourneau
    August 15, 2014 / 9:56 am

    I’d love to hear more about how you balanced this in with family stuff. Both from the perspective of fitting it in with what the whole family eats and in terms of adding the meal planning, food prep, and shopping to the litany of other responsibilities you have going on. I guess more on fitting this kind of thing into the puzzle of kids, working, injury, exercise, and life.

    • Bubu
      August 18, 2014 / 9:02 am

      I second this question — I’ve looked into Whole30 as well, but my family kind of groans and rolls their eyes when I try to start a new food plan, and finding time as working mom is hard! You are probably busier than most, Allie — any tips/thoughts on that?

  16. Jenny
    August 15, 2014 / 9:28 am

    I was so excited to see this post! Thanks so much for taking the time to honestly tell us all about your experience. I started Whole30 on Tuesday, and yesterday was a real struggle. I’m also doing it for health reasons, so I just keep reminding myself that all the crappy feelings of this week will be well worth it when my health has improved a month from now. Did you experience the headache/dizzy/shaky thing during week one, and if so, how long before it went away and you felt back to normal? Trying to concentrate at work is a real struggle right now.

    • August 22, 2014 / 9:51 am

      I hope you’ve stuck with it since your comment. I didn’t get that too bad, and it didn’t feel much different from PMS to me, so I treated it as such and went to bed super early and made sure to sweat the next morning with a more intense walk. It wasn’t long, and was worth it!

  17. Tara in Austin
    August 15, 2014 / 9:19 am

    Thank you for your post! I’ve read you since…um, Jan 2008?…when my oldest son was about 4 mos old and have come to trust your judgment on so much. There are days I actually want to tweet you and be all, “Allie, would you wear this necklace or this one?” (obviously, won’t be doing that.) MY POINT IS, I know I can get some unvarnished truth outta you. I love that you tell about your resistance, when you stumbled, and what the first days were like. Mille mercis!

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