Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Whole30 Part 1

After my last post about the books I read, this should be no surprise. After hearing for years about friends’ success with this diet, learning more about nutrition, and reading It Starts With Food, we decided to give the Whole 30 diet a try. If you’ve read any other post on this blog, you know how much I love food. So I hope you’ll rejoice with me that today marks the 30th day of our Whole 30 diet! I know we’re not quite over, but at least the end is in sight. No more quickly scrolling past pretty desserts on Instagram. No more quick walks past food trucks. No more avoiding the pantry. No more planning what treats I want to eat a month out! If I learned anything during this diet, it’s that I love talking about my “misery” despite the fact I can easily find this trait annoying in other people! But really, I found it really helpful to have friends who could share their experience, so I wanted to share our experience for the first 30 days.

The basic premise if Whole30 is this: you take 30 days to get all the potentially negative things out of your system so you can evaluate how you feel when you are eating “clean” food; it then gives you a baseline to tell how different foods affect you. This mean no sugar, alcohol, dairy, grains, gluten or legumes. Sugar and alcohol get cut out because they can throw off hormone balance plus are never actually “good” for anyone. All of the other foods have properties that cause adverse reactions in some people. The detox part can take up to two weeks, but then the second two weeks you are supposed to experience your body functioning optimally. After the 30 days you reintroduce the foods you want every couple days so you can evaluate their impact in a way that pinpoints exactly what food is causing your symptom. If you are at all interested, you really really should read up on the website and the book written by the inventors of the diet, Dallas and Melissa Harwig. 

I’m glad we did it in January because everyone usually hunkers down a bit after the holidays. It would have been a lot harder during a month with a lot of social functions not to take part in the food, and the one party we planned to go to (before I remembered about the diet) got postponed due to snow. So we literally were in the house for a week straight. This probably says more about our lack of friends than the time of year, but at least we weren’t traveling in January, and since it’s a good time for new resolutions, we had a few friends doing Whole 30 with us, which helped. We definitely wouldn’t have wanted to schedule it over a month we were traveling (mostly because food is such a big part of the experience for us, not because it’s impossible to eat good on the road). 

I do feel a little ridiculous talking about a diet. For most people, dieting is associated with losing weight, and that wasn’t our goal. True, Jason has gained over 15 pounds since we got married, but that’s because he ate bachelor meals like “chips” for dinner and looked like he was auditioning as a castaway. Actually, Jason needed those 15 pounds and had to be really mindful to eat enough so he didn’t lost weight. Really, we did it to understand the relationship our body has with food – how does each food make us feel. 

Why we did it:

1. It’s not about losing weight – it’s about being healthy. While you may lose weight if you haven’t been eating great before, the point is to figure out what makes your body function best.

2. By eliminating snacking and sugars, you are learning about (and hopefully breaking) your emotional connections to food.

3. Cure symptoms – neither of us deal with anything major, but the book makes it sound like Whole30 is a magic bullet that will solve all your ailments. We deal with minor things like muscle pain, allergies, occasional stomach pains, etc. that I was hoping would go away. I have perpetually dry lips, and went to an acupuncturist who said that it was because I make my stomach work too hard (I think it was a nice way to tell me I eat too much). That’s a whole other story but I do think many of the systems in the body are connected, so thought it was worth a try.

4. Increased energy – this was one big result I had heard people like about this diet. They could pinpoint what foods zapped their energy and then know to avoid them.

5. The book convinced me – the first few chapters were about how for a typical person, even one who eats healthy sounding food, too many carbs and sugars create insulin resistance, which, builds leptin resistance, meaning your brain sends you body messages you are hungry when you are not, which leads to overeating, and, at the end of this spiral of doom, diabetes. Or something like that… I had to skip some of it because reading about when thing go wrong in the body makes me physically uncomfortable.

I really a lot of things about Whole30. Here are the main ones:

1. It’s scientific – the book had all sorts of background on why they authors came up with this. I loved that they addressed a lot of the misconceptions about food and nutrition in their book. Plus, the best part is, it’s like a controlled experiment with your body. It’s no longer wondering which of the 50 ingredients you ate that cause your stomach pain, because you are reintroducing each group one at a time so you know exactly what the culprit is.

2. You cannot cheat – because you are trying to cleanse your body of any potential irritants, it’s not like a diet where you can easily justify breaking the rules (ie: “I’ll just go over on calories today and make up for it tomorrow”). Nope, on Whole30, if you cheat, you ruin all the work you’ve done and if you are on day 2 or 20 you have to start over or the experiment doesn’t work.

3. You aren’t ever hungry – true, you basically an only eat meats and veggies and some fruit, but you can have as much of it as you want, and most of what we made was really good.

4. The authors don’t intend for you to eat that way forever. Diets that have you cut out certain foods forever don’t seem realistic at all.

Things I didn’t like:

1. Cost – while you technically can eat out with this diet, we found that it wasn’t relay worth it to us since a) we didn’t want to have to ask about every ingredient on the menu, and 2) we felt like we’d rather spend the money to eat out when we could experience all of what the restaurant had to offer. So by cutting out restaurants and alcohol, I was excited to save money in our budget.

What I did not factor in was the cost of eating so much meat. We’re not vegetarians, but meat is usually not the main course for us. We often have no-meat meals or meals with meat more as a side. I usually only plan half of our meals with meat. Without beans, rice, pasta, bread, it takes a lot more meat and veggies to get full. Plus, I usually buy cheap meats: chicken, ground beef and maybe some pork loin. But I get tired of the same foods pretty quickly, and because I thought we were going to be saving so much money by not eating out, bought more pricey meats: some seafood, brisket once, steak once, and even lamb (which actually was on sale for the same price as beef).

2. Time – I spent probably 2-3 hours the first week coming up with menus. You could really easily just pick one book or website that already has a 30 day meal plan and stick with it. I didn’t do that because I overcomplicated things. By the second week, I was back to the normal amount of time I spend meal-planning. I rotated back in our favorite Whole 30 meals, got the hang of making some of our normal meals whole 30 compliant, and the most helpful thing is that once I started pinning a few whole 30 recipes on Pinterest, other great recipes started showing up in my feed.

In terms of time for meal prep, it depends what you are used to. For some people the meals will take a lot more time to prep and cook because let’s be honest, cooking vegetables in a tasty way often takes time. (Sidenote: I once read that vegetables are one of the most frequent dishes ordered at restaurants for that very reason.) We don’t eat many pre-processed foods anyways, so I don’t think it took that much more time. It maybe took a little more time than normal since I tried to do two vegetables with every meal, but it wasn’t a significant amount. 

What actually took the most extra time besides meal planning was adding in meals for breakfast. I basically never cook breakfasts on weekdays (poor Jason - he used to eat breakfast until he married me), so the first few weeks of this diet I tried to make hash, frittatas, etc. ahead of time, but by the second two weeks we simplified our breakfasts to some nuts, hardboiled eggs, and a carrot.

3. Breakfast - That kind of brings me to the third thing I never really liked or got used to on this diet: eating breakfast before 10am. I am not a morning person, so forcing food in when I’m not hungry, much less awake, never is enjoyable. I did break their rule and usually had coffee first, as I always do, so that could be why my body was never that hungry on waking.

So… how did our 30 days go?

I still got tired and craved snacks around 2 or 3 in the afternoon. The third week a blizzard hit, and we teleworked all week, so it was hard to tell if I felt better because of the diet or just because I was at home. During week 4, I got headaches every afternoon, so I think it means I am allergic to work outside of the house.

Cravings never really went away, but I feel like I did learn how much I eat out of habit or emotion. I got a flat tire. Spent two hours waiting at Costco. All I wanted when I got home was some kind of chocolatey treat. I wasn’t hungry for it but I realized how much I eat because I think I “deserve a treat” or just out of boredom. I’m hoping I can cut some of that out in the future.

The first two weeks I was so tired much earlier in the evening than I used to be, but then when I went to bed, I had a hard time falling asleep. I think I was more tired because without sugary food to snack on, or trying to stay awake to finish a glass of wine, my body was able to get its message across. However, my insomnia, I think, was because I started drinking kombucha in the evenings as a beer replacement, forgetting that black tea has caffeine. Once I limited the kombucha to day-time, I was fine.

I guess the good news and bad news is that I don’t feel any different. No aches went away, I haven’t notice an increase in energy, and everything seemed pretty much the same. I’m hoping this is because how we were eating before wasn’t all that bad, and I can just go back to cream in my coffee, and cookies before bed. I guess we’ll see since the next two weeks is the reintroduction period, when we’ll add one food group back in at a time – the final step in our experiment!

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