(Rogan Josh atop roasted cauliflower)
First, I want to apologize for disappearing off the grid for more than a few days – between grant deadlines, manuscript revisions, transcontinental weekend getaways (amidst tornado season) and everyday distractions, time just slipped through my fingers. On top of that I have been ill. Not flu-sick or a common cold, but a more insidious discomfort that has been growing steadily over the course of several months and has finally gotten to a point that I can no longer ignore.
Funny enough, when things get a bit tough here on the ground, I tend to shy away from talking about them on the blog. I very much like a safe distance between my blog life and reality. Plus, opening up about uncomfortable things – especially here – can be downright terrifying. Despite my inhibitions, I find myself searching out other bloggers opening up about details of their life – looking for someone with whom I can relate – and the relief is palpable when I read that my experiences are not unique, that others have tread this path before me and I can follow in their stead. Seems about time to pay it forward in the same way, right?
A few months ago I was diagnosed with irritable bowl syndrome (IBS), which for me manifests as a low-grade persistent nausea, bloating and, at its worse, abdominal spasms. Back in March my doctor suggested that I up my consumption of fruits and veggies (ha! I thought – my CSA would cure all!) and implement a more regular exercise routine. Maybe those changes (and a fiber supplement) would most likely do me all sorts of good.
I started eating giant salads regularly. I severely cut back my alcohol consumption. I enrolled in a ‘Boot Camp’ class on campus (think this, but for 45 minutes straight – it is still kicking my butt 7 weeks in). But things have not changed. In fact, the nausea has gotten worse, as has the cramping. Not to mention the many pounds I have somehow acquired since my return from Paris (some of it easily explained – Taco Tuesday AHEM – some of it definitely due to ‘belly issues’, as we call them in my house). And then, after spending the vast majority of our flight back from DC curled into a ball of nauseous pain (changing ambient pressure during air travel is NOT my belly’s friend), I decided I needed to do something more.
Now do not get me wrong. I know that, in the spectrum of what I could be dealing with, I am toward the low end. I have close friends with various advanced intestinal disorders; they have to occasionally contemplate life without feet of their colon to alleviate the pain. In fact, I am sure they are reading this and smiling condescendingly right now. But I firmly believe that there is no point to not take our health into our own hands and try to better it in any way possible. I refuse to be one of those people who wince and bear it saying, “Oh, it is OK, I just get horrible, debilitating cramps regularly, they’ll pass” (because most of the times, thankfully, they do). I think that is dumb and, frankly, I’m way too much of a wimp to deal with it stoically.
(Czech meatballs on a bed of cider vinegar braised cabbage)
So I started poking around the Interwebs, a dubious place to start for sure. And, through a quick introduction by The Wednesday Chef (one of my all-time favorite blogs), I found the Whole30. The Whole30 is a ‘eat real food’-type regimen that focuses on consuming those foods proposed to restore psychological, hormonal, gut and immune balance to one’s system. I read, “It Starts With Food”, Dallas and Melissa Hartwig’s bestseller that introduces the program, and drank up testimonial after testimonial claiming weight loss and the disappearance of all sorts of symptoms after following their 30 day plan.
Before anyone interrupts with that knowing smirk, I am aware of how biased testimonials are – anyone will say anything for 15 minutes of fame (or their words forever etched in a book), but the more I read of their scientific justification, the more I was convinced it was worth a try. I am always game for a challenge.
(Softly fried egg with this braised cabbage – so good)
And it is quite the challenge. For 30 days, eat real food – high quality proteins, vegetables and fruit. Do not eat: added sugars, alcohol, dairy, soy, legumes or grains. Eat your meals with intent, and eat as much as it takes to fill up, no more. Importantly (for my incredibly compulsive nature) – no counting calories, weighing, measuring or otherwise assessing progress besides how I feel for the entirety of the next 30 days.
So, how I am I feeling? Good. I have not had any of the headaches or lethargy that some participants feel. I am not entirely sick of eggs and meat yet. Shockingly. This is good, because I’m only finishing up Day 7 this evening. 23 days to go. My belly has calmed down, although whether that is due to lessening stress/travel or the diet is unclear. I swear my pants fit a bit looser, but I am known to have an overactive imagination.
We will see. It certainly cannot hurt. What I have interspersed my story with today are my meals from the first week. I am learning to cook all sorts of new dishes (meat!!!) and I do find myself craving those giant, fresh salads. I also find myself dreaming about cheese and bread, but we’ll ignore that for now. With each day, I feel like I am becoming more aware of when I am ‘full’ – and I have found myself stopping halfway through meals, saving the rest for the next day without any hesitation, something that I would have never done previously when shoveling dinner into my mouth unawares. I am also much more aware of what is actually in the food I consider ‘whole’ – why does my canned tuna contain soy? And why does my deli ham include red algae by-products (and wouldn’t you expect it would be the other way around)?
My favorite part about the entire plan (somewhat tellingly) is the ‘self-experimentation’ at the end, when I get to add back the individual food groups, assessing how they make me feel in order to identify the possible culprits exacerbating my IBS. So, while Tuesday tacos are forbidden to me (tortillas! beans! cheese!), I am taking you all on a Whole30 ride, as I am actually quite proud of how I have adapted thus far. And, while I have all sorts of hypotheses about what the culprits will be, right now I am focused on making it through the next 23 days and it will take all the help I can get. One egg at a time.
I am keeping track of my meals on Instagram – find me and help me keep going! @researchingsandiego