Whole Body, Whole Mind, Whole30

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

It's no secret that T.J. and I have had a lot of health problems over the last year or so, many of which our (multiple) doctors have been unable to help. We both have digestive issues--his worse than mine--and I have problems with elevated blood sugar but am not diabetic. I have suffered from fatigue for a while now, but all of my tests have been negative (except I do have a severe B12 deficiency for which I receive shots). We also both have gained a bit of weight in the past year, despite no real changes to our diet. For a (very) brief time, we tried the gluten-free thing, but after T.J. had an endoscopy that ruled he was not allergic to gluten, we saw no reason to deprive ourselves of bread, pastries, and the millions of other things in which gluten is used as a preservative (such as salad dressing, salsa, beer, and even some cheeses). It's reached the point, though, where we can't keep living the way we have and we know that no matter what the tests say, something has to be wrong with us if things are getting worse instead of better.

In an effort to change the way we eat and hopefully the way we feel, on Monday we started the Whole30 challenge. Normally I avoid fad diets, and I've read enough about the paleo trend to know that there are a lot of skeptics and people who think the idea that we should eat as cave people did is ridiculous (and when put that way, I would have to agree). But I'm willing to give this program a try simply because it allows us to rid our diet of most everything that could be causing us problems and to gradually add those things back in in order to understand which foods our bodies can't tolerate.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with Whole30, it's a relatively simple food program that asks you to cut dairy, grains, sugar, legumes, and alcohol from your diet for thirty days, and instead eat "Good Food" three meals a day, with no snacking in between (unless you are working out). Basically, each of the three meals should consist of a palm-sized piece of protein (organic, grass-fed meat, seafood, or eggs), a plate full of vegetables, and some healthy fats, such as a closed handful of certain nuts or seeds, a heaping handful of olives, or a couple of tablespoons of olive oil, coconut oil, coconut butter, almond butter, ghee, etc. You can also have 1-2 servings of fruit each day. This sounds pretty simple, but I spent most of Sunday just reading the second half of the Whole30 book, It Starts with Food (T.J. read the first half, which is the science behind the program), and planning our menu for the week. For someone who considers making jar spaghetti "cooking," it was a little intimidating at first planning enough different kinds of meats and vegetables for twenty-one meals, especially knowing that everything would be made from scratch. It was also difficult to plan meals without any sugar, dairy, grains, or legumes. Those things made up probably 60-70% of my diet before.

For example, on a typical weekday, I generally have a Nutri-Grain bar and a glass of milk or orange juice for breakfast, a sandwich or Nathan's hot dog for lunch with chips or potato salad, and maybe steak tips (marinated in brown sugar and Dale's sauce), broccoli with cheese, and a baked sweet potato (loaded with butter, brown sugar, and cinnamon) for dinner. Guess what? I can't eat any of those meals on Whole30, although I could have a steak without sugar-based marinades and a sweet potato without butter and brown sugar. So you can see why a food program like this one is challenging for someone like me, for whom the only cravings I ever get are for sugar and occasionally dairy. And I'm used to indulging those cravings, not silencing them with glasses of ice water. (As I have to do now.)

So Whole30 is going to be a real challenge for me. And it's expensive. Eating three balanced meals a day instead of one really strains the budget. And eating whole, fresh foods is far more expensive than eating processed ones. We spent $212 at Earth Fare and Kroger buying all of our food for the week with nothing extra. We had an entire cart full of vegetables and organic meats and never even went near the middle of the store other than to look for ghee (clarified butter) and a couple of other small items I'd never even heard of before Sunday.

On Sunday night, after putting away all of our groceries and throwing away anything that might tempt us to cheat, we began prepping for the week ahead. I made a "breakfast mix" (ground turkey, apple, cinnamon and nutmeg) for breakfast the next morning, and T.J. boiled eggs so we could have fresh spinach salads for lunch. Monday night we made dinner together: tarragon chicken with mushrooms and green onions in a coconut milk sauce; grilled zucchini, yellow squash, and onions cooked in a ghee, salt, pepper, and garlic marinade; and fresh strawberries and blackberries. On Tuesday T.J. made us breakfast before work (omelets with mushrooms, yellow and red sweet peppers, and onions), we had leftover chicken and veggies for lunch (with a banana and handful of cashews on the side), and for dinner we made deconstructed hamburgers with caramelized onions, baked sweet potato fries, and roasted broccoli.

My new best friend
Tarragon chicken yumminess.
Forgive this terrible iPhone photo. The grilled veggies were my favorite part, though, (and were even better the next day), so I had to share.
Although learning to eat "real" food for breakfast is a huge challenge for me, so far Whole30 hasn't been too hard. About ten times a day I have to remind myself that no, I cannot have that box of Nerds I tucked away in my office drawer, and yesterday I noticed my hair conditioner looked and smelled a little too much like whipped cream, but I'm learning to ignore my cravings and avoid reminders of what I'm missing. I'm focusing on the things that after two days I already love cooking with, especially ghee and coconut oil, and the fact that I get to use fresh garlic (which I love) in almost every meal. I'm playing with spices and really cooking for the first time...maybe ever. So even if I don't feel better after finishing Whole30, even if I go right back to eating tons of sugar, grains, and dairy, maybe I will at least have learned to be a better, braver cook and will see cooking as more of a pleasure than a chore.


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