I've written several times on this blog before about the Whole30 program - it's 30 days in which you only eat vegetables, fruit, meat, seafood, eggs and nuts. No dairy, grains, legumes, alcohol, and most importantly, no added sugar of any kind. Yep, that includes honey. And agave. And stevia.
Why would someone who has a deep and abiding love for all of the foods on the "no" list voluntarily do this, you (understandably) ask?
Having done it four times already, and being literally in the middle, on Day 15 of this Whole30, I can tell you - because it feels so. damn. good. after thirty days. Well, it starts to feel good before you get to the thirty day mark, but the first week can be quite rough as you detox from the sugar addiction.
I can tell you that my skin (I suffer from eczema) clears up, my bloat goes away, my energy levels increase and stay level throughout the day, I sleep better, I feel good in my own skin, and most importantly for me, my mental/emotional/psychological crap I carry around me when it comes to food caaaalms down. I find other ways of treating and rewarding and comforting myself besides food, and I take all that mental energy that's usually occupied all day long by negotiating and debating what foods I "can" and "should" have (i.e., all forms of chocolate at every meal, cheese, tortilla chips) and put it towards other things of actual value to me.
It doesn't mean that the food I eat on Whole30 can't be comforting, rewarding, insanely delicious, or considered a treat, but it's so far removed from the emotional medicine that it usually is.
We're nearing the end of a summer where health and mortality have been frequent topics in our household and among our friends and family, so it feels like no better time to focus on the number one thing I can control that can support my good health - the food I eat.
This round of Whole30 has been somewhat spontaneous for me. I usually plan these things out well in advance, and am always mindful not to do a Whole30 during events where I know I will definitely want to drink wine, or definitely want to eat my sister's fried chicken or my mother-in-law's beef stroganoff.
I was getting to a place this summer where my craving for foods that I know make me less healthy (for example - I'm allergic to corn, which I can eat, but which I know aggravates my eczema and gives me a headache...but popcorn and tortilla chips!!!) were getting a little out of hand, my energy was lagging (hello 3:30 energy crash), and I just wasn't feeling good in my skin. Having done it previously, I know going back to the Whole30 would be a great way to cut the mental chatter, cut the crap, and go back to consciously and deliberately choosing only foods that I know will make me more healthy. Basically, it's the best way to force me to eat a lot more vegetables. And as a bonus, my mom just finished another round - what better support person to have than your mom?
So after mulling a Whole30 for a day and looking at events on my calendar (cause y'all know I'm going to be drinking celebratory wine at opening night of Marc's show), I realized that the best time for me to start was basically in two days. I not only rearranged my plans so I could spend a day in the kitchen prepping the week's food and some kitchen staples, but I took the first book written by the Whole30 team, It Starts with Food, off the shelf and read it a second time.
This book is fascinating. Even if you're a vegan or someone who just doesn't give that much thought to the food you eat (is there such a person in this country??), even if you have zero interest in ever doing a Whole30, I think it's so worth reading. It gives so much insight as to how much and in how many ways the food we eat affects us. In this country, we tend to focus on one or two nutrition facts in a food (milk has calcium! carrots have Vitamin A! whole grains have fiber!) without looking at the bigger picture. What else does the food contain, and how does it interact with your digestive system, with your hormones, with the level of inflammation in your body?
We can be forgiven for viewing food in this piecemeal way - the food/advertising industries together has created many powerful, almost unconscious at this point, associations and perceptions of certain foods.
It Starts with Food can get pretty heavy and overwhelming on the science and the detail, especially for a reader like me who was never so great in science class (and for whom it's been a long time since my last science class!)
The book starts be detailing what they consider the "Good Food Standards." In Dallas and Melissa Hartwigs' view, the food you eat should promote the following:
1. A healthy psychological response
2. A healthy hormonal response
3. A healthy gut
4. Healthy immune function, while minimizing inflammation
After delving in to what exactly they mean by all of that, they then detail the foods they categorize as "less healthy" and the foods that they categorize as "more healthy," and then into the details of putting their recommendations into practice for 30 squeaky-clean days of eating (including some great recipes).
Despite the detailed science-y portions, this book is so accessible and down-to-earth. They're not about finding the perfect or morally good/right way to eat - simply about promoting better health. The Whole30 is a tool, an experiment of one, a reset - not a way of life (unless that works for you - personally, I would never give up wine, cheese, and chocolate for the rest of my life). Although there are foods they put into the "less healthy" category that you probably eat every single day, and with great pleasure, there's no moral "badness" associated to them, nor are they saying that each person is affected by them in the exact same way.
When your Whole30 is over, you reintroduce the foods that you missed in a methodical, deliberate fashion, paying close attention to how it affects you. With that information, you then know - either it doesn't affect you at all, or if it does, you can decide when it's "worth it." For example, my boss avoids gluten for personal health reasons, but sometimes certain things - such as focaccia from Eataly - are worth the belly ache and bloat for her, just like sometimes the red wine is worth a less great night's sleep for me.
Eating and life shouldn't be about deprivation, but about knowing ourselves as best as we can, and keeping our decisions deliberate and informed. It's a process, not a quick fix. There's no such thing as a quick fix, and there's no such thing as perfection - to this perfectionists' dismay.
That's one of the things I love so much about the Whole30 - you learn about yourself, you feel amazing, life moves on, and if one day you find yourself somewhat off the rails again or just not feeling good, it's always there for you to go back to. I find each time that I do, its easier, I feel better, and I'm enjoying my food without obsessing over it. Even though I definitely spend way more time in the kitchen, I feel so good about it knowing that I'm doing something good for myself. And despite that time, I almost always find that I have more energy to give to things that aren't food. And for this sugar addict, that freedom feels amazing.
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