March 2, 2017

My Attempt at Whole30

Now that it's March 2nd and my Whole30 is technically over, I feel I'm ready to share my experience with you. For the uninitiated (oh, how I envy you), the Whole30 is an elimination-style diet where one doesn't consume *deep breath* grains, dairy, sugar, alcohol, legumes, and some preservatives/food additives for 30 days. In avoiding the foods that can cause inflammation in the body, the diet's creators argue, your gut can heal and your mind will reset its unhealthy eating habits. 

A ban on ice cream, danishes, and margaritas can be expected in any healthy eating plan, but no quinoa, brown rice, or beans?? Yeah... on the Whole30, all that's left to eat is high-quality meat, vegetables, fruit, and blessedly, coffee and kombucha. Fortunately, there's great support online and in branded cookbooks to help with recipes, meal plans, and shopping lists. 

Winter citrus salad with mint and Meyer lemon vinaigrette
While this diet claims to help mediate everything from bad skin and allergies to digestive issues and weight loss, I didn't come into it with too many issues. But who knows? The gospel that is Whole30 success stories would have you believe you've been living your life in a fog and that a radical change in diet will lift the veil. Maybe I've been operating at 75% my whole life and stand to gain enlightenment and self-actualization. 

Plus I like a challenge, and I had some help—my partner A. was in, looking to avoid the weight gain that seems to come along with every winter in Maine. And my friend G. was in, because, I dunno, she's a masochist like me. 

We started by clearing the cabinets of any non-compliant items and restocking them with Whole30 staples and snacks. I gave away the granola, composted all the moldy cheese ends, and froze the breaded fish sticks. I spent $75 at Trader Joe's and Whole Foods on nuts, unsweetened dried fruit, almond butter, fresh fruit, kombucha, and chicken thighs for a slow cooker dinner. I may or may not have eaten a Micucci's slab pizza, "last meal" style. 

A variety of Whole30 breakfasts

On Day 1, I was riding high (as true to the Whole30 Timeline prediction "Day 1: So what's the big deal?"). I had scrambled eggs, home fries, avocado, and salsa for breakfast; leftover compliant beef stew for lunch, and came home later in the evening to what I thought would be delicious Greek-style chicken over green beans and tomatoes. It turns out the recipe was an utter failure—greasy, overcooked and bitter. But as I was coming down with a cold, I didn't have much of an appetite, so I ate some olives and salami and went to bed. Despite the recipe fail, day 1 didn't prove to be a hardship; after all, any diet is pretty easy for just a day.

I also sailed through Day 2, not feeling like I'd made too much of an adjustment in my eating habits. By Day 3, I was feeling really good, as far as pride and a sense of accomplishment. Look at this fabulous lunch I made! I wasn't feeling deprived at all. This was going to be easy.

Butternut squash soup with pistachios and prosciutto; spinach with beets, pine nuts, balsamic vinaigrette 

But after an early evening yoga session and then an ill-advised "quick errand" to the mall with no emergency food on hand, I was feeling grumpy, low-energy, and resentful of the diet (theme alert!).

Fortunately, a chicken ranch salad saved the day—I had the ingredients on hand to make Whole30 mayonnaise and then from that, Whole30 ranch dressing. I seared chicken breasts and crumbled prosciutto over a salad, and enjoyed that I was eating something that didn't feel like deprivation.

*Mind you, I've made it three whole days and was starting to feel pretty over it already. Red flag.

BLT salad—Whole30 ranch + bacon = game changer

Day 4 brought my first Saturday on the plan, with plans to go to a concert at the State Theater that night. I foresaw multiple challenges: my normal routine for a show is to go out to eat beforehand and have a drink at the concert venue. Was I ready to tackle both eating out on Whole30 and a stone cold sober concert?

As per Whole30's advice, I scoped out the menu of a few restaurants near the State and suggested Norm's (excuse me, Congress Street Bar & Grill) to my friends. There were several menu items there that could be modified for Whole30 compliance.

At this point in the Whole30, I was suffering from what they call the "carb flu." As I understand it, your body switches from burning carbs to burning protein and fat during the Whole30 and this adjustment can take a few weeks (!!) with negative side effects. I felt out of it (almost completely biffed a stop sign by the mall), exhausted, and hungry all the time. I was also sick with a cold, compounding the issue I'm sure. I took several multiple-hour afternoon naps during this transition.

So Saturday, after my nap, the 3 Whole30ers ventured out to "pregame" in solidarity at Vena's Fizz House. Since Vena's serves a great variety of mocktails, we figure we'd find something with no added sugar to sip. Jackpot. Spirits were high as we enjoyed Blood Orange Cordials (blood orange puree, apple cider syrup, lemon, blood orange bitters) in fancy glasses with a snack of kale chips.

At Norm's, we enjoyed steak salad (hold the bleu cheese) with balsamic vinaigrette and bunless burgers with salsa instead of ketchup. I broke a rule and ordered fries with my burger. Homemade oven-roasted potatoes are ok but fries aren't? Whatever, Whole30. 

I left Norm's feeling good—satisfied but not unpleasantly full. Who needs buns on burgers anyway? Since I was sick, I didn't even want to drink and had great energy for the entire concert. Usually I fade at the end and rely on the boost from the booze to keep me up until midnight. 

Next up...Super Bowl Sunday. 

So A., being a huge Pats fan, built in a "cheat day" (yes, I know those are not a thing on Whole30) for the Super Bowl. He ate compliant food, but enjoyed beer with the game. Since I'm not a Pats fan, I packed up my kombucha to bring with me to the party like a good girl. I snacked on only compliant foods (ribs and beanless beef chili) and didn't ask any questions about what was in the barbecue sauce. 

Cold Thai salad with "sunshine sauce"
During the second week of the diet, I had varying degrees of success coping with my new eating habit. Gradually, my cold went away—although I'm convinced it took longer to than if I wasn't on Whole30—my brain fog cleared, my energy returned, and I was sleeping great (I started sleeping great after one day without any alcohol though). 

We found compliant bacon at Whole Foods, learned that we love butternut squash zoodles in place of pasta, and were generally loving how many fresh fruits and vegetables we were eating. I ate all of my CSA share vegetables before the next delivery—something I'd never accomplished before. Because easy foods like grilled cheese and breakfast sandwiches weren't available to us, it forced me to actually cook the food in my fridge, rather than staring at a crisper drawer of vegetables, declaring there "wasn't any food in the house" and heading to Rosemont for a sandwich. 

Day 12, one I labeled as "the wheels have come off," I awoke to a very happy A. making pancakes from eggs and bananas. I had to burst his bubble and tell him that wasn't allowed on Whole30. While Paleo eaters can make treats out of complaint ingredients, Whole30 wants you to avoid this for 30 days, arguing the treats will still perpetuate the same unhealthy eating habits. They call this "sex with your pants on" food—eating it will only serve to increase your craving for these unhealthy foods. They were right. Egg white pancakes with almond butter were nowhere near as good as fluffy gluten-filled ones covered in butter and maple syrup. Into the compost my half-eaten pancake went. 

Whole30 lunch at Terlingua: beanless chili (hold the cheese), salad with vinaigrette
Around Day 8, after I moved through the "constant hunger" phase (in which I frequently joked I was starving to death), I entered into the "constant stomachache" phase, which ultimately was my downfall. I must confess I didn't finish my Whole30, but rather bailed on Day 16. 

Digestive issues can be part of the transition, which can take up to three weeks (again, !!!) to resolve. As someone who didn't have any stomach troubles going into Whole30, I found this increasingly frustrating. Maybe I was eating too many nuts? Maybe I was eating foods too high in FODMAPs? Or insoluble fiber? I thought maybe it was all the cauliflower rice (cauliflower can be hard to digest, and if you think about eating half a head of cauliflower instead of a cup of rice, you can see why that might give you a stomachache). 

I went down the rabbit hole trying to suss out the cause of my daily stomach pain, but nothing I did seemed to make a difference. It didn't help that the Whole30 Timeline prescribed that I'd be feeling "boundless energy" and "tiger blood" coursing through my veins—kind of the whole goal of the program—by now. Where was my damn tiger blood?? 

Sitting at my computer one grouchy afternoon, I realized I didn't have to do this. I was an adult, I could voluntarily choose my diet. I'd previously never had any issues around what I ate—no guilt, no shame, just unfettered joy. I realized I could quit Whole30 at any time. And I felt free. 

So if I was going to bail, what was it going to be for? What was I going to eat to reclaim my own personal food freedom? I ran/walked down to Standard Baking and scarfed this sucker so hard: 

Butter, sugar, gluten all in one. Heaven. I waited a few hours, expecting to feel some sort of systemic shock. Nothing. I ate a compliant dinner of cauliflower fried rice (ugh) and delicious chicken lettuce wraps. When a friend used bottled hoisin sauce that surely contained sugar, I didn't say boo. I felt so much better about eating. 

My trouble came two days later on a Saturday, when I tried to resume my normal eating habits: an innocent-seeming egg and mushroom breakfast sandwich. I ate it at 10am and was full for five hours. I had a lunch date at 12:30, but was so full I had to get my food to go, and then didn't feel like eating until 3:30pm. After eating two tacos, I tried to clean my apartment and had to lay down multiple times to rest because I was so full. What was happening?!? 

Since the "full on two tacos" incident, I finished the month out eating largely compliant Whole30 meals. I've given myself the freedom to eat treats when I want them (hello, Honey Paw soft serve) and to have a drink occasionally—although after taking the better part of a month off from drinking, I find my tolerance so severely reduced that I don't really want to drink very much or often. I've added half and half back into my coffee, since the coconut milk as creamer really was sucking all the joy out of my morning cup. If I eat out, I stick to protein and vegetables, still fearing that unpleasant, overly-full feeling. 

Crispy mango chicken with cauliflower rice (seriously, I ate a lot of cauliflower)
As for A., he stuck to the Whole30 for the month and felt pretty good about it the whole time. I made him weigh himself yesterday and he's lost a whopping 15 pounds. We've agreed it was easy to swap out empty carbs for vegetables (like squash noodles) and to stop relying on cheese and crackers for our after work snack. We like that we don't drink at home every weeknight—two beers a night wasn't doing anyone any favors. Kombucha from the Urban Farm Fermentory has been a good stand-in. 

While I don't regret attempting Whole30, I'm definitely glad it's over. There were some undeniable perks and habits I'll continue going forward, but it will take me a while to unwind all the negative feelings around food I've internalized. 

Oh, also another casualty of the Whole30? ALL OF MY HOMEBREW. It unceremoniously exploded after four weeks in the bottle. Apparently I bottled it before fermentation was complete. I blame Whole30—if I'd just drank it after 2 weeks, as per the kit's recommendation, it wouldn't have been around to explode.