The Top Five Reasons I Love Whole30--And Unexpected Consequences of the Journey

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

This morning, for the first time in 31 days, I had dairy for breakfast--plain Greek yogurt to be exact.

This is our more healthful version of breakfast yogurt: plain 2% FAGE, fresh strawberries, slivered almonds, and light agave nectar for some sweetness. It was really good. (So good T.J. said he felt like he was "dancing with the devil." Haha!)

Since I ate this less than half an hour ago, it remains to be seen how my stomach responds to dairy after avoiding it for a month (my stomach even turned a little when I first smelled the plain yogurt), but here's to hoping this can become a breakfast staple. There's tons of protein and calcium in the yogurt, and making this yogurt is so much easier than scrambling eggs every morning.

But now for the real reason for this post--the Whole30 recap results! Or, the Top 5 Reasons I Love Whole30.

5) I lost weight.

On January 1, I, like millions of people around the world, stepped on the scales, and I weighed the most I've ever weighed: 140 pounds. I know 140 isn't that high, but it's almost thirty pounds heavier than I was in college, less than a decade ago. (Granted, at that time, I was desperate to gain weight.) I made a resolution that day that by the end of the year, I would be down to 125. But like so many people who make New Year's Resolutions, I did absolutely nothing to accomplish that goal: I didn't diet or exercise.

On April 8, the first day of Whole30, I weighed 138.2 pounds. Last night, at the end of Whole30, weighing in at the exact same time and wearing the same clothes, I weighed 129.8. In thirty days, I lost 8.4 pounds, or 6% of my total weight. Nothing changed in the past month other than my diet. (I still haven't gone to the gym, although I did join one.) And I didn't starve myself, drink my meals, or count calories. I ate real food. Good food.

T.J. did even better than I. He lost 19.4 pounds.

4) It improved my health.

"You are what you eat."

"If you eat crap, you'll feel like crap."

There are a million different ways to express this adage--possibly because it's true--but I don't know if I ever really believed it until now.

In the past year and a half, I have been to the doctor more often than in the previous twenty-eight years combined. I have struggled with fatigue, with blood sugar issues, with back pain/spasms, with digestive issues, with a B12 deficiency, with headaches, with acne. Whole30 didn't help with the back pain or acne (unfortunately--my acne is not food related; it just really hates Alabama), but it helped with all those other things.

While I lived in Pennsylvania, my B12 consistently stayed in the 100s, despite receiving injections and daily supplements for nearly a year. (Normal is somewhere between 200-900, although they prefer it be at least in the 400s.)

According to my doctor, my B12 is now "perfect."

The reason I discovered the B12 deficiency in the first place was because I had such extreme fatigue, I was convinced that I had problems with my thyroid. After my doctor ran a bunch of tests, the only one that came back problematic was my B12. I started injections, and they would give me energy for about three hours afterward, but nothing sustainable. I suffered from terrible "brain fog," claimed to feel "brain dead" every afternoon, all afternoon, and got very little scholarly work accomplished unless I worked early in the morning.

For the past month, I have had energy and mental focus like I haven't had in years, if I ever had them.

Last year my blood sugar was routinely too high and rarely fell below 100, even when fasting: pre-diabetic numbers. I spent months feeling weak and sick, charting my numbers. Since I'm not actually diabetic, all my doctor could recommend is that I get more exercise and change my diet. At the time, I did neither of those things.

I have had no problems with my blood sugar for the past month.

I suffered from several digestive issues during the past year that I'd never really had before, and at one point or another I was convinced that I had one of any number of gastrointestinal diseases, including Celiac and Crohn's. (Seriously, people. WebMD is not your friend.) I even blamed a medication I was taking for the problems, and my doctor put it on my "allergy" list.

I haven't had any digestive issues for the past month. My new doctor started me on the same medication about three weeks ago, and I've had no issues.

I used to have headaches fairly often, usually in the late afternoon. Sometimes I would have them for several days in a row, and no amount of Advil would get rid of them.

In the past month, I've only had one headache. (It was three days ago. So close to a perfect record!)

I don't know if these results are typical. I don't know if they will continue even if we keep eating a Whole30 diet. But I've been so thankful to have four weeks of feeling great, it was worth whatever little food sacrifices I had to make.

3) It made my marriage stronger.

Before Whole30, T.J. and I never cooked together. To be honest, I felt so incompetent in the kitchen I hated anyone else in there with me. I could barely peel a potato or chop an onion, so I felt like I was being judged every time he suggested I hold the knife a certain way or use this peeler instead of that one. I know he was only trying to help (and trust me--I've reluctantly learned a lot from him), but I just had so little confidence in my cooking skills that I preferred to wing it on my own.

So we took turns cooking. We ate dinner together (in front of the television), but I was usually still in bed when he left for work in the morning, so dinner was our only meal together.

Now, we cook together almost every night. We share duties, although I will often start before he gets home from work, knowing that dinner will take awhile to make. We still eat dinner in front of the TV (it's usually after seven and our shows are on by the time we sit down to eat), but we have breakfast together every morning. I get up early and make breakfast while he's getting ready for work, and we eat breakfast at the breakfast table. Before Whole30, we had not eaten at the table in the whole 15+ months of our marriage.

Cooking together and eating together has definitely made our marriage stronger, I think. And now breakfast is one of my favorite times of day.

2) It made me more aware of what I put in my body.

Before Whole30, I rarely read ingredients lists and only occasionally glanced at the number of calories in a dish. And I never investigated what went into the food I prepared at home, much less what I ate at restaurants. My favorite restaurant food? (And the only one I've craved in the past month?) The Honey Chipotle Chicken Crispers at Chili's. (I know, I know; I have a five-year-old's taste in food.) Tomorrow night we are going out to eat for the first time in a month, and I was all ready to head to Chili's to indulge in that amazing, gooey honey-chipotle sauce. I decided I would try to  make the meal slightly more healthful by changing out the fries and ear of corn for something greener, so I went on the Chili's website to look at their other sides. I wasn't intending to look at the "nutrition" facts for the Crispers themselves, but that's what I found. And I discovered that my beloved Crispers alone have 1700 CALORIES. And that's not including the corn (220 calories) and fries (410 calories)! No wonder I gained seven pounds last year! I must have eaten those Crispers two dozen times!

So needless to say, we are not going to Chili's for dinner tomorrow night. But this is just an example of how terrible my eating habits were before Whole30. I used to eat take-out pizza and Chinese honey chicken and fried rice more often than I cooked in my own kitchen. Eating my vegetables meant ordering sweet potato fries instead of regular ones at Burger King, and keeping the lettuce and onions on my burger, instead of picking them off like I used to. (And I still asked for it without tomatoes.) It meant ordering the Garden Fresh pizza at Papa John's instead of pepperoni. It meant heating up a prepackaged container of broccoli and cheese in the microwave to go with whatever steak-and-potato combination I made at home. It meant adding canned tomatoes to my homemade chili instead of just tomato sauce.

In just one month, I've gone from someone who would eat anything put in front of her as long as it required no effort and was relatively cheap, to someone who will pay top dollar for organic, grass-fed meats, who is willing to pay a little extra for organic fruits and veggies in the "Dirty Dozen," who reads every label carefully, who rejects anything that contains ingredients I can't pronounce or immediately identify, or that contains what I believe are unnecessary ingredients (such as sugar in lemon juice, chicken broth, and just about any other staple item you can think of). I'm also more aware of the human and environmental cost of my food choices. I'm more likely to buy local and to seek out items that are fair-trade.

1) It taught me to cook and made my palate/diet more adventurous.

Ask anyone who knows me even slightly: prior to Whole30, my official stance on cooking was that I hated it. I was a lazy eater and an even lazier cook. I basically just ate because that's a requirement of being alive, and I wasn't very happy about it (eating, not the being alive apart--very happy about that), unless of course what I was eating was doughy or coated in sugar, preferably both. And as long as someone else made it. No matter how much I love sweet treats, I wasn't about to make them myself when Publix is just across the street from my subdivision.

I've since discovered that the main reasons I hated cooking were A) because I had no energy and resented time and energy spent in the kitchen, and B) because I had so little confidence in my cooking skills, and I hate doing things at which I feel incompetent. I never cooked with vegetables (unless they were canned) because I didn't know what to do with them. Cleaning and peeling and cutting them was so much work, and so time consuming! It still is, but now I enjoy the process. And I know what I'm doing, to some degree. I'm not ready for Top Chef yet, but I feel much more competent in the kitchen.

In the past 30 days, I cooked or prepared the following vegetables, most for the first time: zucchini, squash, regular carrots (not the baby kind I always used to use in dishes), whole head cauliflower and broccoli (used to only buy the pre-cut, bagged kind), celery, Roma tomatoes, sweet peppers, bell peppers, poblano peppers, eggplant, kale, spinach (used to only eat it raw in salads), green onions (used to claim I hated them), brussel sprouts (always claimed they were my least favorite thing in the world), shallots, garlic, fresh green beans (only used canned before), cucumber, yellow onions, sweet onions, red onions, and sweet potatoes (soooo many sweet potatoes, but they are my favorite).

Now I skin and chop onions and sweet potatoes almost daily (used to only microwave or bake them whole). I have grated ginger and chopped cilantro and parsley. I wash and slice mushrooms routinely. I eat black olives (used to hate them). I use so much spice that I've started running out of some that previously sat on the shelves for years untouched, and I've purchased several new ones, including arrowroot and chipotle pepper.  I actually eat the fruit we buy (raspberries, strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, bananas, pears, fuji apples, honeycrisp apples, green apples, plums, mango, papaya, pineapple, grapes, melon, lemons, limes, oranges, grapefruit, and cherimoya, just in the last month), instead of letting it rot in the crisper, neglected. When I see something like this... the supermarket, I don't automatically turn away. Now I wonder, what is it, and what can I do with it?
This. I can do this with it. Just thought I'd remind you all of how awesome the cherimoya is.
Thanks to It Starts with Food, I know all the basic ways to cook vegetables, how long to roast them (my preferred style), basic ways to cook chicken and beef, including how to spice them, what kinds of oils to use, and how long to cook chicken on each side to ensure it's done but not overcooked, without slicing it open or using a meat thermometer. I know that a good spice rub on a roast, steak, or Boston butt can be every bit as tasty as a sugary marinade, and I know how different spices work together and can experiment with them to some degree. My cabinets are now stocked with things I'd never heard of or at least never considered using before, such as coconut oil, coconut butter, coconut aminos, coconut vinegar, ghee, tahini, and almond butter. I've made homemade mayonnaise, ranch dressing, strawberry vinaigrette, and barbecue sauce.

I used the broiler for the first time (no lie), and I scrambled eggs dozens of times even though I'd never made them before. I'm not kidding; before Whole30, I'd never even scrambled eggs before. (Remember? If it were up to me, breakfast would just be a NutriGrain bar or bowl of Special K Vanilla Almond cereal. Scrambled eggs were reserved for special occasions, like Sunday brunch at Cracker Barrel.)

There were some unexpected consequences of Whole30, though. Whether these consequences are positive or negative is open to interpretation. (I lean toward positive.)

Unexpected Consequence I: Unnatural things affect you a lot more. 
I used to be able to pop a muscle relaxer for my neck or back and never get sleepy. Now I'm dead weight within an hour. Even Advil makes me sleepy. Everything just seems a lot more potent now than it used to (which means I can pop one pill and achieve roughly the same effect I used to receive with two). T.J. took Benadryl after he had an allergy test, and it knocked him out for almost twelve hours. He was still really groggy the next day.

Unexpected Consequence II: My night owl tendencies are long gone.
I've always been a night owl, wide awake at night and sleeping in whenever I get the chance. I loved sleep, I just didn't love it before midnight. Now, I'm on more of a "normal person" schedule. I'm ready to head up to bed at 10:00 (although it's usually closer to 11:00 before I finally go to bed), and I wake around 7:00. I also need more sleep and sleep deeper. My schedule is more regulated throughout the week, though; at the most I sleep until 8:00 on weekends.

Unexpected Consequence III: We produce far less garbage.
Okay, this is obviously a positive. Last week on garbage day T.J. noted that we only accumulated one and a half bags of trash in the past week. Obviously, it isn't that way every week, but it's amazing how much less you contribute to landfills when you aren't eating prepackaged food. Most of our garbage is kitchen scraps (sweet potato peels, apple cores, and the like), and when we start our garden next spring and start composting, we won't even have that to throw away!


So there you have it. I was skeptical at first, and I was resistant to the idea of giving up all the foods I thought I loved best when T.J. suggested this challenge to me, but I now sincerely believe it's one of the best things I've ever done.

I know I had it easier than most. I never had headaches from sugar or caffeine withdrawal, I never turned into a raging monster that first week like the book warned. I was fortunate to be sharing the experience with my partner, who is even more committed to this diet than I am, and I'm fortunate that I live in an area where I can find organic foods and meat pretty easily and that we can afford to pay for it. But I would recommend this diet to anyone concerned about their health, their weight, or just looking to be more conscious of what they are eating. It definitely changed our lives for the better, and we're never going back to the way it was before.


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