I’ve been sharing a lot about my relationship with clothes, exploring how that relates to body image, insecurities, and how I feel perceived by others. It’s time to tackle an (I’d say) even riskier topic: food.
I think women my age are given two options of socially acceptable ways to handle food. Option A is to do all we can to eat healthily. Buy organic, cut out carbs. Cut out dairy. Cut out grains and gluten. Cut out meat. Don’t eat the whole egg. Order the most pathetic thing on the menu. Be the picture of nature-nurtured wholesomeness. Be Women Laughing Alone With Salad.
Option B is basically as far away from that as you can go. Option B is to be the Cool Girl. Don’t care what anyone thinks. Don’t care about calories, fat, preservatives, or cage-raised meat. Ain’t nobody got time for that. All the nays are a drag, and who can keep track of it all? And YOLO! We want pizza. Our idol is Jennifer Lawrence, ordering McDonalds from the red carpet.
On one hand, we’re supposed to care so much that food runs our lives, and on the other hand we’re supposed to seem to care so little and pay so little attention that we don’t notice how often food becomes a crutch.
Since graduating college, getting married, and putting on a few pounds, I have wavered somewhere in the middle between Options A and B. I want to be healthy – mainly in the way of knowing where my food comes from and that there’s nothing in it that’s going to give me cancer. But it all felt like so much work. There’s so much information out there, and a lot of it is conflicting about what is okay to eat and what isn’t. Paying close attention felt like something I just didn’t have the capacity to do. There was too much on my plate to pay attention to what was literally going on my plate.
However, in the past year I’ve been experiencing new and exciting health phenomena (a bit of sarcasm there) happening in my digestive system, and began to get the sneaking suspicion that I’ve had a problem for a while that started out very subtly but had increased to show more serious symptoms. I had been considering since college that there was a reason I often feel fatigued, experience abdominal pain (and other health phenomena!), bloat for no apparent reason, and have increasingly worse breakouts, occasional anxiety, and charming mood swings. I know these all sound like #PMSproblems, but they are more random than cyclical. I decided to do a Whole30 to see if I could pin point an allergy or sensitivity to a food without getting expensive blood tests done. Plus, even if my problems are hormonal, hormones are influenced by what we eat.
The Whole30 cuts out added sugar, alcohol, legumes, grains, dairy, and a lot of little things added to food, like certain preservatives, MSG, and sulfites. Cutting these out for 30 days is supposed to give your gut time to heal if you experience systemic inflammation due to diet, which I suspect I have. Added bonuses were that most people who do a Whole30 report having higher energy levels that remain consistent throughout the day, clearer heads, clearer skin, higher feelings of happiness and optimism, and weight loss. I “warmed up” to the Whole30 challenge by trying recipes here and there, practicing reading labels, and eventually doing a 5-day trial run, which was a big success. I woke up on day 5 feeling well-rested and, for lack of a better way to put it, loose. My joints and muscles felt well-oiled instead of achy or sore. All week long, I didn’t experience my normal 3 o’clock slump of energy. Part of me wanted to keep going, but the holidays were right around the corner, and I knew it would not be a good time to start such a strict program.
Brett decided to join me the first week of January for our first Whole30. Without him, I would not have been able to do it at all. Not only would I not have had the stamina to resist eating All The Things, but I would have literally had nothing to eat, because I am lousy at cooking consistently. Additionally, the week we started the program, things at work took a turn and I was blasted with a great big ball of stress, which didn’t die down until this week. Also, my anxiety came back like it hadn’t since the good ol’ days when I was a panic-stricken college student. Who knows if my results would have been completely different if it wasn’t for these outside factors, but here is what I experienced:
- The bouts of fatigue still happened as much as they ever have.
- I actually went home from work sick from anxiety one day – literally shaking and unable to get my heart to stop pounding. So the feeling happy and optimistic report you will not hear from me (though I’m not blaming the Whole30).
- Everything in the digestive area did not get all worked out. There were still some kinks – though not a terrible month.
- I’m not a sweets person, but I thought about cake and/or donuts and/or chocolate every day. I had the impression that these cravings were supposed to die down after a couple weeks, but they didn’t.
- It was really hard to be in social settings at all. At home, as long as I was full, I wasn’t tempted to eat something off-plan. But while I was out with family or friends, it was really difficult.
- I felt too… normal. Mentally, there were more positives than physically. I finished the month not really knowing if cutting out any of those things really helped my gut at all.
- Brett and I learned to enjoy sharing the kitchen and cooking together! He still did more of the cooking than I did, but I did more than I have in a long time.
- Speaking of Brett, I think he would say he experienced more of the positive effects of having more energy, sleeping well, etc. than I did. Although I don’t know if he would consider the trade off of no-pizza or Chick-Fil-A worth it.
- I don’t know how much weight I’ve technically lost (my weight always fluctuates in a wide range – I could be as much as 8 pounds lighter or heavier from one day to the next), but I feel like I’m back to my “normal” weight. The body I see when I look in the mirror feels more “me” than the body with some extra pounds that I’ve had the past two-ish years.
- There is the possibility that my face cleared up a bit. However, I also started using some new skin-care products, so I don’t know which was most beneficial. And it’s not all gone.
- I was aware of and happy with the fact that I was eating healthily. I felt like I was making good choices. Even though I had plenty of days where I felt so overwhelmed that all I could do was crash on the couch when I got home, feeling like I was in the process of accomplishing a huge feat that would have a positive impact on my health made me feel like I had a good excuse to drop a few other responsibilities here and there. Brett and I were prioritizing ourselves and our health, and there is a good feeling that comes with that.
- Brett and I are both more aware of what a healthy choice looks like. I don’t think we even noticed how often we ate out or ordered pizza until we completely cut it out as an option. Or I would eat toast with peanut butter for breakfast, toast with avocado for lunch, and a carb-based dinner. I thought I was eating vegetables because I was eating like, one vegetable a day. I didn’t realize how much it took to actually get all the servings of what’s healthy, and that when you choose to have all the servings of the healthiest stuff, there’s less room in your body for the less-healthy stuff.
- I actually loved the simplicity of having fewer choices. It made cooking and grocery shopping less stressful. There were so many sections of the store that I didn’t even need to go to! Favorite dinners were repeated, and we didn’t choose meals that looked too complicated or required crazy ingredients. We never felt like our variety of food was too limited, and we never got sick of eating the same thing several times.
- It gave me lots of practice with meal planning, which I had gotten out of the habit of and was never great at. I would plan only three meals a week or something, banking on having leftovers, which happens much more rarely than I hope it will. For the Whole30, I was planning at least seven meals a week, including ones that were breakfasts for the entire week, and sometimes purposefully doubling some recipes in order to have leftovers. I understand much better now how much food it actually takes to feed us without ever going out to eat.
- If I hadn’t had 30 days of quitting diary, grains, and sugar cold-turkey, I don’t think I ever could get to where I am now in my relationship with food, which is…
- Feeling like I have more say in what I choose to eat. I am a compulsive eater. If something good is there in front of me, I will eat it, and it’s hard to stop. Parties where there’s a table of food and no one’s paying attention are kind of my downfall. Brett thinks I have a complex from growing up in a house full of brothers, where we didn’t have treats like Pop Tarts or donuts around all the time. If you didn’t eat a HUGE bowl of the good cereal (and maybe go back for seconds) it would be gone before breakfast the next day, and who knows when Mom would let us buy it again. During the Whole30, that kind of compulsive eating and snacking was not an option, so hopefully I’ve kicked the habit.
- Not even wanting the things I was craving that much. I’ve had both wine and cake – the two things I wanted to eat the most – since our Whole30 ended. And not just any wine or cake: “Bentgate,” my absolute favorite Cabernet Sauvignon from Traveling Vineyards (holla, Coralie!) and the most delicious white chocolate raspberry cake from Nothing Bundt Cakes. They were both amazing, but I found that a smaller quantity was much more satisfying than the large portions I thought I would want. I feel like I have a better understanding of what it means to listen to my body and know want it wants, so it’s easier to say no sometimes, even to my favorite things.
- A positive new perspective on social gatherings. I waited through 30 days that included a handful of group get-togethers, my own birthday, and family dinners, and guess what – there are more coming up just around the corner. There will always be something to celebrate, and there will always be good food to go with it. Cheers to that!
Reintroduction of foods after a Whole30 is supposed to be a process, but I haven’t necessarily been taking it slow. Brett and I realized with our first post-Whole30 meal that we had consumed dairy, grains, gluten, added sugar, sulfites, and alcohol just from one roll of sushi and a glass of wine. The next day, I had cake for breakfast because it was my boss’s birthday. But today I was hungry and wanted to eat half a bell pepper instead of tortilla chips. So we’ll see if the pounds lost stay off and if the lessons learned will stick. In a few months, when other things in life have settled down, I’ll probably do another Whole30 and see if I’ll get to experience all the positive effects that anxiety might have kept me from this time around. In the meantime, I think I’ll be living in a happy medium between Options A and B, instead of a stressed-out, guilt-laden medium.
Have you ever done a Whole30? What was your experience like? And if you’ve done more than one, did you notice a difference in how you felt from one to the other?