Although my Whole30 challenge only lasted 18 days, I compacted a lot of discovery into that small amount of time and at the end of it I felt a little sad to see it go. One of the biggest questions I asked during the process was “who am I doing this for?” I hoped to always be able to respond honestly that it was for myself, and only for myself, but that wasn’t always the case. As my resolve drifted away last weekend, I was a bit reluctant to release my hold on the clear structure that the Whole30 had afforded my life. So reluctant, in fact, that I decided I needed to check my motives and my sense of self-worth, and perhaps try again when I was ready to do this for myself and only for myself. Not to please others. Not to prove anything. Not to look like a champion or a martyr.
Along the way, however, I learned a great deal.
First, I discovered that discipline — such as the discipline required not to eat all of the Christmas candy in the bowl on the counter on Whole30/Day 1 — is practical across the board. Meaning, the discipline I was exercising in restricting my diet inevitably increased, and I was able to apply it to greater discipline in getting work done, implementing good habits, increasing my productivity and my emotional responsibility. I’m not saying that the Whole30 was the greatest thing that ever happened to my whole life because it was hard. And, as Andrew can probably attest, I was not nice about some things. (For example, opening a bottle of wine for him. When I couldn’t have any. Wine aromas are pungent.) But overall I can say I am leaving my Whole30 experience with greater discipline to apply to other areas of my life.
Second, I had the mini-epiphany that really wanting to see results requires absolute commitment. Again, this applies to nearly everything, not just a diet/exercise plan. In a marriage, if the couple really wants to fix a communication problem, they must totally commit to the relationship. If a family wants to save up for something, they must commit to giving a certain amount of money to a savings account, even if that means going without other luxuries for a time. In the same way, as I was hoping to see a marked difference in my body composition, skin clarity, energy levels and quality of sleep, I was trying to commit fully to the project to reap the most results. In previous efforts — whether they were toward the end result of running endurance or thinking before speaking — I inevitably sabotaged my own resolution by allowing a slip-up here or a cheat there, all the while thinking I could “handle” it while still making a positive change. I would knowingly compromise my own success. But now, in reflecting on those 18 days, I understand the level of commitment required for such an undertaking. I’m hoping to try again with renewed vigor and resolve — in everything I try to achieve, not just a little Whole30 challenge.
During the challenge I could see and feel results happening, and even now that head start is encouraging me, despite my Austin blow-out. My skin and body were on their way to optimal health and wellness, and I just had to (have to!) keep it up. I came to understand that my skin is the largest display of my total health — if we see a problem on our chin or forehead, it’s usually something internal. Our skin is our body’s way of telling us what’s going on before it becomes a greater inflammatory issue inside, which I think is very cool. I realized that sugar or grains aren’t worth any amount of indulgence when it really comes down to it, and even now I’m turning down fro-yo for hot tea after dinner to avoid that phlegmy, bloated feeling that inevitably comes from such a treat.
The Whole30 also helped me to pay more attention to my digestive system — another way the body communicates its health to us. I quickly realized that too much nut butter (raw almond butter, yum) is not kind to my tummy, and even though I was starving and ravenous it’s better for my mental and physical states to slowly savor a meal instead of scarfing it.
Here are some practical things that worked for me on the Whole30 plan:
1) Starting the day with coffee. Non-negotiable.
2) A breakfast combining fats and proteins and some veg-based carbs was always the most satisfying. Something like roasted butternut squash or sweet potato hash over greens with a fried egg, or leftover roast veggies with scrambled eggs and avocado.
3) Grapefruit. Always. Everywhere.
4) A cup of hot tea after lunch is a nice way to mark the end of the meal in the same way that it is a nice signal for the end of the day.
5) Fresh veggies were the best snacks. Roasted veggies were the best for everything else.
6) A salad with protein for lunch was my favorite, most reliable midday meal. I craved hefty, savory, meaty feasts for dinner, but lunch was always a little lighter and I felt lighter because of it.
7) Keeping “emergency protein” around was a great salvation for snacky-munchy afternoons or an ill-prepared-for dinner. I need to start keeping pre-made meatballs, hardboiled eggs, baked-off bacon and sausage, and salmon filets broiled in bulk on hand for such occasions. All you need then is a bowl of soup and lunch is ready.
What I missed the most with Whole30 protocol:
1) Green smoothies/juices — mostly because I was too lazy to make them. (They are “allowed.”)
2) Red wine and dark chocolate. No explanation needed here.
3) Bone broth — laziness again.
4) Apple cider vinegar tonic, like this one from Delighted Momma.
Now I’m equipped with a ton of knowledge that I didn’t have before the Whole30 — knowledge about how I function best and how this sort of thing works in real life. I also came to a fresh appreciation of my wonderful, supportive husband through 18 days of sometimes-grumpy food challenges. He was an incredible cheerleader and I’m grateful for him, as I always am.
Instead of a rigid Whole30, I’m going to still try and implement many of the guidelines in my weekly life, while also adding in a few things specific to my case. For example, I’ll be avoiding sugar a la Sarah Wilson — meaning, staying clear of most fruit and all sweets — except for the occasional spoonful of raw unfiltered honey. With antibacterial properties, a little of this does more good than harm. Specifically, I’ll be combining a teaspoon here and there with Bragg’s apple cider vinegar to boost my digestion and immunity, plus help clear up my skin. (I’ll also be implementing a few of Liz’s suggestions for natural skin remedies, including supplementing with brewer’s yeast and sauerkraut, plus a few vitamins and natural skin treatments.)
And when I’m feeling indulgent, a scoop of honey melted with some coconut oil and cocoa powder makes for a delicious alternative to chocolate. Okay, who am I kidding…there’s no substitute for chocolate. This concerns me not.
A note on fruit-sourced sugar: I do eat fruit, only in moderation and seasonally. This means that right now I’m eating all of the Texas grapefruit I can get my hands on. I also reach for the occasional banana after a workout. Although not the most ethically sound fruit — and although very starchy and sugary — my body feels good when I eat a banana after strenuous exercise. I don’t know if it’s the potassium or the carbs, but it just feels right.
In conjunction with some of the the strict Whole30 guidelines, I’ll be avoiding any additives or preservatives in my food, whether in seasonings, condiments, canned goods or meats. Sulfites and parabens aren’t good for anyone, no matter who you are.
I use red wine and a little beer in my cooking sometimes, and so will continue to use those small amounts whenever a dish needs a flavor boost. I’ll save most drinking for the weekends, along with other indulgences. (Like these or this.)
Otherwise, I’ll keep eating what I love to eat and what I love to cook for my little family: roast chicken, mashed cauliflower and roasted asparagus, sweet potato hash with fried eggs, steaming mugs of bone broth, braised kale, roasted zucchini, melt-in-your-mouth pot roast, avocados and grapefruit upon grapefruit. One thing that the Whole30 took away from me was the freedom I felt in eating paleo before…I didn’t so much as experience a loss of freedom per se, but rather a loss of joy. So I’m hoping to reclaim that with a little less obsession on the diet-intensity front.
This Whole30 experience was great, but what I did was all I needed to do for now. I’m going to take what I need and tailor it to my life, a life that is different from everyone else’s but yet full and richly blessed. And as my friend Helen mentioned, it’s important to offer myself some grace — and, if I say so myself, a little bit of dark chocolate here and there.