I’ve learned that oatmeal gives me terrible heartburn. I’ve learned that eating a breakfast loaded with fat is just fine by my stomach and body. I’ve learned that processed foods have cut hours of food prep out of our lives on a daily basis. I’ve learned that when you’re cleaning-up after every meal your kitchen is at once more clean and more dirty depending on how accessible the surface and where it’s placement is in relation to the stove top. I’ve learned that meal planning has nearly eradicated the thought “What do I want to eat.” from my brain. And when there is only one thing to eat, I eat it and feel happy about it regardless of how well I like it.
Jeannine and I moved in together March 1st. We are in the process on doing home rennovation. We are planning a wedding. As though this context were not challenging enough we added having a go at Whole 30 food plan on March 13th. For thirty days we would consume no added sugar, no legumes, no grains, no dairy. This forbidden list effectively removed all processed and packaged foods. All of them. All desserts. All grain based breakfast items. All the cheeses, the yogurts, and the cottage cheeses. All the pastas and the pastries.
Upon embarking Jeannine was hoping this experiment would alleviate her GERD symptoms, her hip pain, and trim down a bit. I was along for the ride thinking that I had no food allergies or sensitivities or ill effects from my dietary choices. I was hoping to shave off a few pounds, but otherwise I had no expectations.
That the American diet is saturated with soy, corn, and wheat reflects more on food subsidies and profit margins than it does anything else. Dollar bills drive the percentage of our calories these substances. If the things we put in our mouths greatly determine our health, we should probably allow something other than a large corporation’s profit margin determine our diet.
By all measures this isn’t working well for most of us. Americans are obese and sick. And these outcomes seem to be a feature of the American diet, not a bug.
I didn’t need convincing that exploring extensive diet changes might teach us new and valuable lessons. So, although I was skeptical of the testimonials of the diet curing an absurd number of symptoms. But hey, if you count up the cells in your body and the organisims in your gut, we are mostly the organisims in our gut. Our human cells are a fraction of what makes our bodies. Maybe those critters do drive or influence multiple bodily systems.
We got the books, and followed the meal plan for the first week. One aspect of this new reality became immediately clear. The trip to the butcher and the grocery store would need to be planned to the smallest detail. Otherwise we would be making daily shopping trips to fetch missing ingredients. We both work fulltime and daily grocery trips would not be sustainable.
The first list took me roughly three hours to compose. Never before had I needed to make every single meal, breakfast, lunch and dinner from scratch without the aid of boxed or ready to eat foods. The days of walking into the store and putting whatever appealed to me into the cart would be banished for the near future.
Prior to this diet I rarely prepared meat at home. When I assessed the many pounds of meat on my list, I thought the best place to get either local and/or sustainably raised meat was Avril Bleh’s on court street. Of all the positive things to come of this experience, getting to know and trust the jovial buys behind the counter at Avril Bleh’s is my favorite. From the first moment on, the guys were knowledgeable and helpful. When I was unsure of what I needed they would ask all the right questions to get us to certainty. Their pricing for local/grass fed beef is competitive with larger grocery chain’s organic offerings, making it obvious that their superior service and product were worth the weekly trip.
After what can only be described as a middle-aged Friday night and Saturday morning spent gathering groceries, we were ready to go. Another aspect of this new reality became clear. After just two meals, I knew I would spend far more time in the kitchen for the next thirty days. And, that I did. Prior to Whole 30 we spent an average of an hour a day doing food prep and cleaning. After Whole 30 we spent an average of three hours a day prepping food and cleaning.
Three things surprised me in the first week. I felt alert and sharp at all times of the day. After lunch fatigue disappeared. My sleep improved. And I could get less of it and still feel alert all day. I also ceased to feel bloated, and my incidents of over-eating dwindled to none. This was particularly surprising because my perception was that I was eating a ton of food. I always ate just until I was full, but I was used to eating no breakfast and a light lunch. Going from that to eating substantial breakfasts and lunches it seems a pretty dramatic uptick in food consumption.
I became aware of what a craving felt like and how it differs from hunger. I would become hungry in the hour leading up to my meals. But I would crave a sugary treat in the evenings after dinner. It took a couple of weeks to figure out how much I needed to eat a lunch to feel full until close to dinner time. And on the days that I ate too little I would feel very fatigued in the late afternoon. And I found that my instinct was to get a sugary snack. I realized that this instinct had less to do with hunger and more to do with my habit of combating drowsiness with bursts of sugar.
The Whole 30 book describes the first 12 days as being challenging due to your body moving from running on carbs to running on protein and fat. I didn’t experience much of this. But Jeannine and I did seem to go through a bout of allergies in the first couple of weeks. I’ve read on message boards that some people think these symptoms might be part of your body detoxing, it just happens to be doing so through your sinuses and respitory system. Because both of us suffer from spring allergies, we can’t really know what was at the root of these experiences.
In week two I considered the effects of the diet on out budget. We took a hit. We went from spending about two hundred dollars a week at restaurants and the grocery to spending and average of two hundred and fifty dollars a week. But we were also eating higher quality food. We went from eating pizza and Indian carryout to eating grass-fed local filet, fresh scallops, and organic wild caught fish and loads of fresh fruits and veggies. Not a bad trade-up for an extra fifty bucks a week.
Consolidating the grocery list got easier by the time we rounded on week four. We missed our desserts and pizza, because who wouldn’t? But I had to admit I was feeling considerably better without it. We also found ourselves to be about six pounds lighter each. I have never felt so full and satiated while losing weight before.
By the time we moved into the reintroduction period, we both agreed we wanted to eat at home like this all the time. The recipes were excellent. We both enjoyed foods we didn’t think we liked. And we liked the way we felt enough that we wanted to continue. We will still enjoy the occasional pizza or Indian carry-out. But we will enjoy them a bit less often. We will still go out to eat with friends. We will still enjoy a glass of wine here and there. But whole 30 is turning out to be more like whole life.