The Whole30 program changed my life.
Those are the words I left you with last week when I detailed my journey into a healthy, but very strict, eating regimen for 30 days beginning Jan. 20. When I began the program, despite many testimonials claiming the life-changing aspect of it, I was skeptical it would change my life. I thought it was one of those advertising gimmicks companies use to draw people in.
Yes, I did have better energy - no "Tiger Blood" though - but at least the change was noticeable. I also had clearer skin than what I had prior to starting the Whole30. I also noticed my gut felt better - no more bloating or stomach "grumblies" before and after eating, which made me feel generally better overall. In addition, I felt satisfied after every meal and never felt hungry in between meals.
One of the Whole30 rules was to stay off the scale during the 30 days. Honestly, that wasn't a problem for me anyway, because I know what the scale says doesn't always correlate to how you feel in your own skin. Instead, it suggested you weigh and measure yourself prior to and then once again after the challenge, just to see how clean eating can help you. I lost two inches and eight pounds over those 30 days with limited exercise. Wow! That was a pleasant surprise.
And these benefits were all great - better than great - but none of those are the reason I say the program changed my life.
Whole30 changed my life because it changed my relationship with food.
Many people turn to food when they're stressed, bored, tired or depressed. Some people use food as a reward (i.e., "I was 'good' all week, so I'm going to treat myself to that piece of cake."). Some people just can't "live without" that one trigger food, like chocolate.
Guess what? Yes, you CAN live without chocolate. And food is NOT a reward - it's what sustains us nutritionally. Remember, we eat to LIVE not LIVE to eat. But somewhere along the lines, our wires get crossed, and we begin to associate the instant gratification of eating a "treat" with pleasure. And our brain doesn't help us, because once it tastes sugar, it wants more - and it will tell you in no uncertain terms to feed it some, even if it throws a tantrum by giving you a headache, making you feel tired, or just giving you an overall feeling of unwell. These foods stimulate a negative response in our body.
The Whole30 Program removes these foods and recommends we choose foods that meet their four food standards. Foods we eat should: 1. Promote a healthy psychological response; 2. Promote a healthy hormonal response; 3. Support a healthy gut; and 4. Support immune function and minimize inflammation.
These types of foods don't cause the negative response in our body. Conventional diets don't necessarily address this dynamic. Negative foods are often "allowed" if you can fit it within your calorie range, point value, or if it comes shipped to you frozen in a neat little box.
I never thought I had an unhealthy relationship with food. I figured I just ate when I was hungry, although that seemed to be often, and that was all. I did like to "treat" myself from time to time with sweets though.
Justin's family came over on Super Bowl Sunday, at which point I was more than a third of the way into the Whole30. His brother cooked dinner for everyone (he made mine Whole30 approved and it was delicious!), and then we all just relaxed in the living room when the game came on.
As we were sitting there, I noticed everyone was enjoying something, either a piece of cake or an adult beverage, while I was drinking water. Earlier that day, I'd made some guacamole and had some carrots, celery and peppers for dipping that I could snack on during the Super Bowl. A few times, I wanted to go into the kitchen for my snack, but admittedly, I was a little too lazy to get off the couch.
In addition, I had a debate going on inside my head. "Go get that guacamole you made. It's Whole30 approved and totally allowed."
"But you just ate dinner. You're not hungry."
"Are you SURE you're not hungry?"
And then I had an "A-ha!" moment - a lightbulb came on over my head. I realized I was NOT hungry. And I also realized that the only reason I even considered eating again was because I wanted something to do with my hands while I watched TV.
I wasn't hungry. I was just bored.
A lifetime of similar food choices came back to me. How many times did I end up eating something out of boredom? Was I even hungry when I ate those things? It didn't even matter that what I wanted to consume was Whole30 approved and technically "good" for me to eat. I did not NEED to eat anything physically, because I was perfectly satisfied from my meal at dinner. I asked my body if it was hungry and it told me it wasn't. I could actually hear its response because it wasn't veiled by sugar cravings or a rumbling stomach.
From that point forward, I began to pay closer attention to how the food I consumed made me feel. It was especially telling after the Whole30 when it came time to reintroduce the foods I'd eliminated for 30 days.
I reintroduced legumes first. I tried peanut butter and then black beans. I noticed an overall fuller feeling on those days, and my stomach was a bit bloated, but overall, I didn't feel bad and feel I can eat them on occasion and in moderation.
I brought dairy back by putting about a tablespoon of half and half in my coffee. Honestly, it didn't bother me, but it really didn't make me think, "Wow! I've really missed this!" Plus, knowing that it was probably the lack of dairy keeping my acne at bay, I decided dairy wasn't worth consuming on a daily basis. I started drinking my coffee black during the Whole30 and I actually like it better that way.
The real test came when I reintroduced gluten. My first attempt came in the form of a small taco pizza. Justin and I split one for dinner one evening, and although I feared it would make me sick, it didn't. However, I immediately noticed two things - my stomach was bloated and, even though I'd eaten two pieces of pizza, I was still hungry. Ravenous hungry. I realized how easy it would be to overeat in that situation.
A few days later, I ate gluten-heavy meals for lunch and dinner. I ended up with an awful headache that lasted all night. I had trouble sleeping, and the next day, I felt sluggish.
My body reacted to sugar in a similar way, but in much smaller quantities. I learned that even eating a small piece of candy will give me a headache and make me feel sick to my stomach.
It's a little scary when I think about how I used to freely consume things like this, knowing now how awful they make me feel. Yet, I walked around all the time with constant headaches and feeling sluggish and bloated, but I didn't know that I should feel any different. I thought something else was giving me headaches. I felt sluggish because I needed to sleep more. I was bloated because I didn't go to Jazzercise. I always knew the reason, but all those years, the reason was wrong.
By changing the way I ate for 30 days, I eliminated the headaches, the sluggishness and the bloating. Food did all of that. Food controlled the way I felt. So by controlling my food, I was in control of how I felt. And I feel better now than I have for a long time. The key is I have more accountability for my choices because now I know how eating something will truly make me feel.
Does this mean I'll never eat pizza or cookies again? No, it doesn't. But what it does mean is that I understand now how food relates to how I feel. I can eat whatever I want - I just have to be prepared for the consequences if it's something that makes me feel bad. Really though, why would I want to make myself feel bad on purpose?
Whole30 changed my relationship with food. It changed the way I feel about my choices and made me learn how those choices affected my body, both positively and negatively. This is something I can carry with me for the rest of my life. And really, after fighting four times to survive cancer, why would I want to "trash" my body with awful foods that make me feel bad?
Maybe the Whole30 didn't give me what I expected, but that's ok. It gave me more. It changed my life.