A month of clean eating.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Yesterday I started the Whole30 plan. I have been mentally building up to this for a couple months, but I didn't get my act together in time to make it a resolution. (I'm not inclined to believe I would have made it through the month anyway, as a certain defiance of New Year's resolutions, combined with post-holiday ennui, likely would have led to its demise by Day 15.) February brought a trip to Spain and there was no way I was putting myself through the hell and inevitable sabotage of traveling on a strict eating plan. (Paella! Pasta! Coquettes!)

I have an aversion to using the word "diet" to describe my eating. I believe diets are wont to fail. That being said, a diet, by definition, involves restriction. And so. I'm on the Whole30 diet. There, I said it. And lest you think I drank the pop culture health fad Kool-Aid, elimination diets are nothing new to me.

I've been plagued by a sensitive gut and allergies since childhood, prone to skin irritation since infancy, and anxious since early adulthood. Add to that a propensity to gain and hang on to belly fat, and you have the basis for a lifelong quest to appease my easily annoyed anatomy.

Over a decade ago I followed the South Beach Diet with moderate success. Many years later my doctor prescribed a Mediterranean-based elimination diet to pinpoint sources of irritation, which helped but eventually ended up in the diet graveyard like those before it. I got into CrossFit about three years back and loosely adopted the Paleo lifestyle, but had a hard time getting behind the rationale (and the healthy dose of pseudoscience being passed off as fact.) A plethora of Paleo-friendly "cheats" didn't seem to support the lifestyle change I was looking for so much as it encouraged me to sidestep the system. I'd rather eat a slice of cheesecake and be satisfied than spend four hours making a dairy-free, gluten-free version that is far from sating. Also, zero grains while working toward a 300lb deadlift was a recipe for starvation, frustration and weight gain in my case. It just wasn't for me. (Side note: I am keenly aware that there is quite a bit of overlap between Paleo and Whole30. That being said, one is a 30-day reset and one is a long-term eating plan. When I am done with this I intend to reincorporate whole grains and legumes in moderation. And there lies the difference.)

So why this and why now? March was the perfect month because we had no trips planned, the optimism of spring is in the air, and my work schedule supports meal planning and brown-bagged lunches. We have our first official family vacation planned for next month, and I'm eager to have adopted better habits and reduced cravings beforehand. I chose Whole30 because it naturally eliminates dairy, my biggest source of irritation, as well as foods that trigger mindless eating and unhealthy habits. (Simple sugars, salty convenience foods, and carb-y treats, in my case.) Whole30 is about eating fruits, vegetables and lean meats for a month, while strongly encouraging meal planning and home cooking, two habits I have long aspired to do consistently.

Here's the thing: I don't eat fast food, ever, and I don't like sweet coffee drinks and pastries in the morning. I've never been fond of soda or alcoholic beverages, but I really like vegetables. I walk an average of 15k steps each workday, at least several thousand on my days off, and have eliminated most between-meal snacking over the past few months. So why is the weight hanging on (as measured by how my clothes fit)? Why am I drinking more and more coffee to beat general sluggishness and afternoon slumps? Why are my cravings for dessert and sweet treats at an all time high? Why can't I establish a sane morning routine? The time has come to stop wondering and start figuring it out.

Self-imposed guidelines:

1. Follow the rules of Whole30 to the letter, but don't make myself crazy in the process. Plan ahead, anticipate temptation, and give myself a break. One mistake doesn't mean I need to scrap the whole endeavor. Oh, and the scale will not be making an appearance. My numerical weight has little to do with this.

2. Reduce stress, manage emotions without food, and find outlets. These are ongoing goals, but I can't think of a better time to focus on them. Face sources of personal and professional anxiety head-on instead of avoiding, procrastinating, and ruminating. Enjoy hobbies, take classes, and diligently enforce that elusive work-life balance thing. I'm going to work on my anxiety naturally and prove to myself that I possess the willpower and self-discipline to avoid temptation for a whole month (and beyond). That may just be the most important part of this whole endeavor.

3. Explore more natural approaches to health outside of food. I have slowly but surely been replacing my beauty products with more natural formulas, eliminating clutter, organizing my living spaces, and simplifying my wardrobe. I'm almost there.

4. Drink water. A lot of it. I bought some charcoal sticks to remove the chlorine aftertaste from our tap water and have a 1/2 gallon mason jar on the kitchen counter at the ready. I always bring a 32oz Nalgene bottle to work every day, but most days it gets ignored. It is not uncommon, at the end of a 12-hour shift, to realize the only fluid I've consumed all day is coffee. Baseline dehydration is likely to blame for my frequent headaches and lethargy. The goal is to down that whole 1/2 gallon jar every day.

5. Stop thinking of it as a diet, and start thinking of it as the norm. Quite frankly, this is how I should eat on the average day. Tater tots are a treat, not a condiment and French Silk pie should not be a nightly expectation. My hope is that my habits begin to match my mindset, reducing the power struggle I often feel when faced with cravings. It's harder to give in to the siren's call of a cookie when broccoli makes up most of my dinner plate.

Tools for success:

Aside from a bottle of coconut aminos and a used copy of the Whole30 cookbook (which is still on order), I already had access to almost everything I need. I found the approved food list on the Whole30 website and did some googling to find breakfast suggestions and such. I adapted regular recipes I already loved or wanted to try to make them compliant. I prepped by meal planning, writing lists, grocery shopping, and making condiments from the Paleo cookbooks I already had on my bookshelf from my CrossFit days. As with most things, having readily available tools and resources is key to overcoming moments of laziness (which inevitably lead to self-sabotage).

Against All Grain // Her vinaigrette is an awesome everyday salad dressing, and she has a ton of great recipes for even non-Paleo eaters.

Well Fed cookbooks // There are two of them and I have both. I have a strong aversion to mayo, but can't eat tuna or chicken salad without it. Her mayo recipe is easy peasy and perfect for binding canned meats and making creamy dressings.  Paleo or not, she is the queen of dressings, condiments, and sauces to spice up meals. Oh, and she meal plans like a boss.

Nom Nom Paleo // I bought this cookbook on impulse at Costco, but her bacon hamburgers quickly became a staple in our house. Her recipe for deviled eggs with bacon lardons saved me from crashing and burning yesterday before this whole thing barely started.

Sunday Suppers & The Family Flavor // I'm a big fan of both of these cookbooks, and use them often. I've been combing them for Whole30 compliant recipes while adapting others that are not. All around good cookbooks.

Charcoal sticks // They make my water taste great and imbue an overall sense of earthiness. (I bought mine locally.)

Cuisinart 8 Cup Food Processor // I use this thing all the time, but it's especially helpful when it comes to making dressings and sauces, cauliflower rice, and when I'm too lazy to finely dice my herbs + veggies for a recipe.

Dried fruit (sans added sugar), nuts, and pre-chopped greens + proteins are also key.

I'm going to be honest: yesterday was a near disaster. It wasn't that I hadn't planned, I had, but only in the big picture sense. I had two week's worth of meals planned, but didn't think past boiled eggs for breakfast and had few snacks at the ready. I became overwhelmed but determined not to lose my momentum, which led to my first meal of the day being consumed at 1p. By then I was starving and jittery from 3 cups of coffee and I developed a case of Maybe I shouldn't do this-itis. Dinner, a big pot of chicken tortilla soup (sans tortillas), was a huge hit with both Kiddo and Husband. Faith was restored and I learned my lesson. Today I woke up grouchy and tired, but I recovered. (Poor Husband got the brunt of my sour demeanor when I discovered a basket of clean laundry containing my rumpled t-shirts and kinda sorta snipped at him.) This is bound to be the case until my body adjusts to life without gummy bears. But! One of my favorite coffee shops serves a Paleo bowl and it is delicious! And I can handle my coffee black! Success!

I've got this.

(Updates to come. Wish me luck.)

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