I am so close. Almost there. Day 29. And yet, looking ahead, I am not feeling an incredible urge to change much of anything in the ‘new normal’ I have established in the past month. This happens to be a convenient attitude with which to approach the next phase of the Whole 30, a 10-12 ‘reintroduction’ period. During these follow-up week(s), single food types (dairy, legumes, grains) are introduced – in the context of an otherwise Whole30-approved diet – one after the other, in order to identify ‘problem’ foods that may have been hindering me from being the best I can be. In the beginning, the idea of this self-experimentation was one of the biggest selling points of the program; now, towards the end, I’m a bit more cautious.
You know who is counting down impatiently? Batman*. He has been incredibly supportive, endlessly patient and up for all sorts of food experiments (he did not strictly follow the Whole30 with me, but did eat a lot of my food – in the interest of solidarity – I’m sure – and laziness/avoidance of cooking two meals each time ‘round). But, we both miss our ‘Stir-Friday’ tradition (no noodles, soy), and there is no way I would let his birthday pass this week without raising a (real) drink in his honor (no booze). Plus, that delicious steak he likes to make on Sunday afternoons? Even better with a red wine reduction/shallot sauce.
(Weekday picnic – garlic beef stew, zucchinis tossed with pesto)
However, as in any disciplined venture coming to a close, I have engaged in some pretty intense navel-gazing about the process. Mostly to consider where I go from here and what are the lessons I want to take from the past four weeks. With the obvious caveat that I cannot speak to my personal issues with specific foods (I’m sure that post will be coming in a week or two), here are a few general things I’ve learned, which I aim to focus on in the coming weeks/months ahead:
I can trust my mind (and my stomach) again. One of the key points made in It Starts With Food, was that, during the Whole30, participants eat what feels like a huge amount of food. Wholesome, real food is often not as caloric as its junky counterparts, so to ensure that our daily needs are met, we pile the vegetables high and do throw an extra half avocado on the side. Initially I was stuffing myself silly and was shocked to realize I could not tell when I was full (model case of leptin resistance). I slowed down, turned off the computer during meals and focused on making food worth eating at the dining table. Within a week, I was putting my fork down halfway through dinner, satiated and delighted to have finally found the connection between my brain and stomach. After almost a month, I trust that connection implicitly. I have to take care to go slow and pay attention, but when I do, I know how much is just right for me.
(TraderJoe’s Spicy Italian Chicken Sausage, lemony garlic sauteed kale)
Anything can be a comfort food. I had no idea what to expect in regards to cravings when this began. I am a lover of all things cheese, bread and noodle-y – so I assumed my dreams would be filled with wheels of brie and I might have to be physically held back if someone around me was to serve up a plate of fettucini Alfredo. I could not have been more wrong. I had days when my (chubby) emotional eating devil would pop onto my shoulder and whisper sweet nothings of tuna melts and pizza into my ear – how comforting and delicious they would taste – justifying such a breach in protocol by exclaiming how hard the day had been. With my mind clear (point #1), it was almost embarrassing to note how many times I had previously fallen for this argument. Not this time. Instead, I’d make a savory, thick bowl of chili, or persuade The Bat to make me one of his out-of-this-world onion-jalapeno burgers, sweet potato fries on the side. I learned that my comfort food is anything that is delicious – irrespective of its carb/cheese content. And, if I ever want anything to taste more decadent, I just should dip it into some homemade olive oil mayo.
My willpower is strong. It is not undermining myself to say that I have never been known to be a woman with unwavering willpower. It’s dizzying how fast I can talk myself out of a morning jog, or into a day spent on the couch in my pajamas. But when it comes to food, I have found myself stronger in ways I never knew I could be. Mostly in the lunch room. And at Monday morning lab meetings. And Friday afternoon Journal Club/Happy Hours. The first week it was hard, passing the pastries and turning down a cold beer. Now I don’t even glance. Except when the pistachios come around.
(Dinner out at Fish Public – Petrale sole, almonds, green beans – partial cheating because of browned butter? Probably. And I am ok with that.)
I do not miss rice or legumes – or (shock!) bread. To be honest, the upcoming reintroduction phase scares me a bit. I would like to create a framework based on the past 30 days that would allow me to eat clean and maintain the confidence, pride and change in pants-size I have gained (or lost, as the case may be). Beyond that, I want to live in a way that allows me to not be dominated by my ‘belly issues’ – only recently a dream that has been made reality in the past few weeks. I am nervous about cutting out favorite foods (dairy, gluten), but have been pleasantly surprised at those things I have not missed – rice, beans, lentils or peanuts. If I have not thought about those foods during the challenge, I see no need in rushing to introduce them now. Honestly, after discovering the wonder of cauliflower rice/fous-cous, I may gladly never eat rice again.
I must be kind to myself. At this point in my life I know my shortcomings. One of the worst (and most common, I suspect) is that I am simultaneously my harshest critic and an unrelenting perfectionist. That leads to a very ‘all or nothing’ personality in which I can rigidly control/plan/work in bursts, but the moment I allow for one pause, one donut – all is lost and I spiral downward into a mental vortex of guilt, elbows deep in the pastry box. It will take some time to devise a plan for moving forward from here – what I will eat with abandon, what I will save for special occasions and what are the foods that I will enjoy and suffer the consequence(s). Even after implementing that framework, I will stumble into excess every once in a while. In those moments, I need to acknowledge, pick up and get right back in it – not wallow in guilt and pasta. These are/will be difficult changes, but based on how good I feel now, the right ones for me. I need to remember that this was never about dieting per se, but to better my health permanently. It’s a marathon, not a sprint and all that. I just need to be kind to myself along the way.
(Pork and green chile stew, cauliflower rice)
I will do another Whole30. That goes without saying. Either to get me back on the wagon (see above) or just to re-focus on my long-term goals of health, energy, and mind-body connection. I am already intrigued if/how it will be different the second time around. It has been a great experience – one that I would recommend to anyone.
One more day and then onto the next chapter!
(Fruity interlude – when I forgot my picnic lunch during our Farm Tour last weekend, I shared some garden-fresh watermelon and tomatoes instead).
*Calling my boyfriend “Batman” will never cease to crack me up. And we all know how annoying it is when people laugh at their own jokes.
I have been/will continue to post my ‘clean eating’ on my Instagram (@researchingsandiego), which I am also looking forward to using for non-food photography purposes. Having that community has also been a huge perk and motivation in these past few weeks. Thanks to all of you for the kind words of support!