One of the few perks of being a child of divorce is the acquisition of additional grandparents. I was extremely lucky in this regard; my step-grandparents lovingly embraced me as one of their own from the very beginning. Following the death of my step-grandfather, my step-grandmother (whom we all called Nani – her spelling) moved to our sleepy coastal California town from her home in Rhode Island. I was thirteen. My brother and I would spend long afternoons at her house watching Rogers and Hammerstein musicals, playing chopsticks on the piano, learning to needlepoint (that was just me) and snatching up warm cookies right out of the oven, or snooping around the kitchen when we could smell her chili bubbling on the stove. Nani’s meals – served on sick days taken off from school, Saturday evenings when our parents were out being adults (every once in a while) and most every holiday – tasted like home. She clipped recipes of interest every month from her Bon Appetit and Gourmet subscriptions and sorted them into the collection of small, well-worn three-ring binders above. Once she tried them, she would rate her success with gold star stickers (one for ‘good’; two stars for ‘great’), and include notes of what to do or not to do, the next time around. Interspersed with those clipped magazine pages are her own recipes – tried and true family classics like her mother’s Danish Twist pastries that we all looked forward to on Christmas Morning, or the melty, gooey marshmallow rolls from her mother-in-law that Thanksgiving was never without. When Nani passed away in 2002, I had already transplanted myself to Boston for graduate school. One of the few things I asked be set aside for me were her ‘cookbooks’. Despite the 11 years it has taken me to return to California, my step-father continued to hold onto these precious collections for when I was ready and, once I settled into my home here, happily passed them along. His only request? Twists on Christmas.
Category Archives: Cooking
(Taco salad – complete with cheese and greek yogurt in place of sour cream)
At the completion of the Whole30, I believed the hardest days were behind me. I was wrong. Despite an intellectual awareness that these dietary changes (and the newfound feelings of health that came with them) were the first steps in a lifestyle overhaul, the cheese-loving glutton in me was waiting on the sidelines to shrug off the entire experiment. My inner critic had been silenced in those 30 days by a clear set of unbendable rules. Starting on Day 31, when moderation and self-experimentation came into play, I faced an entirely different set of demons – those of guilt and indulgence – which were much more threatening to my dedication to health than the sugar demon I had put behind me on Day 5.
Re-introduction as a concept seems simple enough. The Whole30 continues for 12 more days, with only a few additions and substitutions made in the now regular meal plan to test for reactivity to the previously banned food groups. In reality, it has been a blur. There was The Bat’s birthday dinner on Day 32, and several meals with family and friends who had been patiently waiting patiently in the wings until we could indulge together. Ideally, I did not expect this to pose any more of a challenge that the previous 30 days – I had figured that out without much complication, right? Turns out I am my biggest enemy (not that surprising, I know).
(Ugly, but delicious. Braised shredded beef with tomatoes and red wine)
I have a very ‘all or nothing’ personality. It works out great when I need to put my nose to the grindstone to push through a list of tasks (particularly experiments); or when I need to follow a very strict set of rules. I dive in, I have my reasons and I get it done. The flip side to that is that when that driven focus is turned off, I am really off; when I ‘let things go’, they are all over the place. So, when we went to Korean BBQ for The Bat’s birthday celebration and I planned ahead to eat only the meat (which I expected to have sugar and soy – my two first introduction groups), it took about 15 minutes for me to drop all pretense. Instead I joined a party where nothing was off limits. Come the next morning however, I paid for the booze, the bites of cheesecake and the relishes and garnishes I consumed with vacuum-like intensity the evening before.
After such a glorious belly-flop off of the ‘eat clean’ wagon, I did some intense navel gazing. What I returned to again and again was guilt. I realized that I have a horrible habit – once that first misstep is taken, I assume all is lost and, now that I’ve screwed up, I might as well try one of everything. The idea of taking just one bite, or stopping after indulging just a bit seems completely foreign. The frustration of letting myself down from a previously set goal sets in, and now the eating has the dual function of feeding my ‘all-or-nothing’ compulsion and cushioning the guilt.
(Pork sausage, tomato, scallion scramble with Kartoffelpuffer – German potato pancake – and applesauce)
The Whole30 had all but destroyed this destructive emotional eating cycle – no weigh-ins to beat myself up about, no one-to-many-glasses-of-wine nights out with friends or late night nacho binges. I followed the rules to the letter, I lost 11 lbs. (yay!) and, by the end, it no longer felt like work. I was completely unprepared for the resurgence of those bad habits once I allowed ‘bad foods’ back into my life. I fought back – even returning to safety of the Whole30 rules for several days – to remind myself how satisfying it is to eat clean AND be in charge of my emotions (in hindsight, the reintroduction of soy and sugar maybe was not the best place to start for impulse control).
(How to test gluten without chemicals? The infamous No Knead Bread)
After a few days to regain some semblance of control, I returned to a proper re-introduction cycle. Here’s how it went:
Sugar/Sweetners – Sugar is horrible. This I knew before, but living without it for 30 days underscored the point. Once reintroduced, it caused headaches and bellyaches, general malaise and mood swings. No one needs that. I plan to go forward limiting this as much as possible, using honey if needed.
Soy – No obvious adverse effects upon reintro, and I am delighted to dip my sashimi and have The Bat’s secret stir-fry sauce again. That being said, I have a new appreciation to the extent to which many prepared foods are supplemented with soy products, something I would like to limit from here on out. So, I’m excited to eat tofu, but not in my tuna – and I will shop accordingly.
Alcohol – After a dedicated reintroduction, I was thrilled to learn that a glass of wine is still a viable option. It appears that sake and the occasional liquor are also ok (with the limits of no sweetened mixers, of course). Beer remains an outstanding question – although a few sips taken from The Bat’s pint last weekend suggest that this may be a sore spot. In honor of this week’s holiday our lab is visiting the Green Flash tasting room for happy hour tomorrow – no time like the present to find out, right?
Dairy and Gluten – These two are getting lumped together because my response to them was basically the same – ick. I have not found my missing link – it is a low-level malaise that sets in when I eat cheese or crackers. Both give me a sense of fullness, but in a bubbly, not-so-good-way. So, not horribly bad (which is a relief), but not how I want to feel constantly. Something I will knowingly indulge in occasionally, when I feel willing to take on the consequences.
Legumes (other than soy), non-gluten grains – Next on my list, although not horribly missed so I will take them as they come.
With the exception of beer as a possible ‘silver bullet’, the self-experimentation about which I had been so interested was rather boring. My most interesting observation came post-dairy/post-gluten, when I realized that the sudden low-level ‘ick’ I was feeling was how I had been used to feeling day in, day out before the Whole30. Understanding that I now know how to feel really good on a daily basis provided me with a palpable sense of relief. After several weeks going without and realizing the true impact on my belly, the concept of treating bread and cheese as treats to be savored, rather than their own daily food groups, is much easier to swallow.
Although I haven’t quite identified my IBS trigger, I am pretty much convinced that the compounding of each ‘low-level icks’ could have been enough – especially with the additional excess of chemicals in prepared foods I was not previously aware of that I am now avoiding by learning how to make my own staples (a topic for its own post sometime soon). Looking forward, I feel cautiously excited; rather than feeling deprived of tasty foods, I am (mostly) giving up things that are keeping me from being/feeling the best I can on a daily basis. In the end, it is fighting my inner emotional relationship with food, my compulsive ‘all-or-nothing’-ness that will be the real challenge. The Whole30 allowed me to hide behind my beloved rules for a bit, building up knowledge, motivation and pride that I will use to (eventually) silence the inner critic once and for all. For this, I would be really intersted to hear from you – how you recover from slipping up and motivate to get back on the wagon (whatever it may be – diet, exercise, work), and how you might suggest achieving balance as I move forward into the uncharted territory where I make my own rules?
Despite the challenges and chaos that comes from confronting my own weaknesses, I remain thrilled with the entire Whole30 process. To learn that after several decades dealing with a range of ‘belly issues’ that I could feel great on a daily basis and go weeks without even thinking about my health is a revelation on its own. Not to mention the pride and motivation that comes from achieving this in a way that is sustainable and tastes good. These are all goals that I would gladly give up bread (gasp!) and cheese (shudder!) – even beer (sigh!) – to achieve.
As always, feel free to contact me on Instagram @researchingsandiego!
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!
As someone who has always leaned more towards the vegetarian side of the spectrum when cooking for myself, I’ve spent a bit of my third week of the Whole30 struggling for inspiration to push through the rest of the challenge. I am rarely a fan of giant hunks of meat (The Bat’s fantastic steak and burger skills excepted), preferring stews and braises – many off limits because of the addition of wine, or starchy thickeners. And, while I love the variety and abundance of produce available during summer in San Diego, sometimes I need a bit of a nudge to break out of my salad rut of lettuce, bell peppers, scallions and avocado.
So, feeling rather bored with the combinations I could come up by mixing meats + vegetables + fruits, I spent this past week combing the #whole30 Instagram feed, bloggers who have conquered this particular 30-day challenge, cookbooks inspired by the Whole30 eating plan and scores of recipe sites to come up with dishes that inspire me to keep going. So far, so good! Today is Day 23 – only 7 days to go until the reintroduction phase begins. I continue to feel great and am slowly fitting into Paris clothes I had abandoned months ago. Win-win.
(Chicken coconut curry with green beans and red bell peppers)
Even as a seasoned (ha!) food blogger/fan-girl, it took some digging to find meal ideas that were truly inspiring. This “inspiration” mainly took two forms: (i) the “Yum – I want that in my belly right away”, and, the more exciting, (ii) “That looks almost perfect – what could I do/play with/alter to make it even better?” I thought it would be good to use this week 3 post to highlight a few of my key motivators. If any of you out there are considering taking on the Whole30 challenge (and, as of right now, I highly recommend it), maybe these blogs, books and recipes will help get you through the tough spots as well.
(Sashimi platter at RK Sushi, it was amazing to really taste the fish without the rice, soy or even wasabi – except for my favorite, the seared white tuna on the bottom left, which were out of bounds because of the ponzu glaze – The Bat happily snatched them up.)
The first and most obvious inspiration is the book, It Starts with Food. In this, Dallas and Melissa Hartwig lay out the Whole30 plan as their solution for the emotional, dependent, dysregulated eater of today. Not necessarily a source of recipes, the solid, scientifically backed justification for each of the “rules” of the 30-day challenge was so well thought out and presented that it was easy to turn away from the copious and ever-present sugar/booze/cheese/bread temptations I have run into on almost a daily basis. They made me believe in the health benefits of their plan and challenged me to see if I could follow long enough (30 days) to reap the benefits. After reading the entire book, I felt compelled to do so – I am not one who walks away from challenges easily (or at all).
(Chocolate Chili, topped with guacamole and green onions)
The second book I picked up that is proving to be essential to my success is Well Fed, a cookbook written by Melissa Joulwan, the voice behind “The Clothes Make the Girl” blog. Both the book and the blog have provided many recipes that I have already posted here: Rogan Josh, Moroccan Meatballs, Czech Meatballs, Chicken Coconut Curry (above), Olive Oil Mayo, Chocolate Chili (above), just to name a few. Not only do I continue to be inspired by her recipes, but her personal story is fascinating as well – so much so that I have gone back and started to read the blog from the very beginning just for the fun of it.
There were so many blogs whose ‘I finished the Whole30, this is what I learned’ recaps I read with great curiosity when I was struggling through those first few days – to convince myself that the benefits from the book were within reach for anyone and that the journey would be worth it. It is fascinating at the beginning to read about perspectives from the end – how cravings would disappear, and how eggs still sounded better when yogurt was again an option. As my finish line creeps closer, this all makes more and more sense to me – my cravings have all but dissipated, and I do not feel like I am missing much. I want to give a particular mention (again) to Luisa at The Wednesday Chef, who first piqued my curiosity and then stimulated my taste buds with her decadent Whole30 meals (few of which I have imitated).
For my last week, I have continued to dig deep into the Whole30-esque archives. I am very lucky that I love eggs – they usually form the foundation for at least one, if not two of my daily meals. I am as surprised as the next person that I am not sick of them yet – per se – but I could use a bit more inspiration of how to bust out of the scramble/omelet/frittata mode (I am looking forward to bell pepper eggs-in-a-nest tomorrow morning). Any ideas would be most welcome.
I am also looking forward to this pork and green chile stew over the weekend. Next week? Maybe this Chipotle Baked chicken (minus the cheese) and
most definitely hopefully these stuffed peppers (my inspiration is overflowing). My biggest victory lately has been to finally find a sausage without sugar – the Garlic & Herb (or Spicy Italian) chicken sausages at Trader Joe’s. This has become a quest, as almost every option has sugar as a key component of the spice mixture – not to mention lots of cheese filler. For dinner tonight, I was delighted to have a hunk of meat for dinner. Not to mention those squash tossed with this pesto – I could eat it right off the spoon!
It has been such an eye-opener to realize how many tasty plates can be made with high quality meats, herbs, vegetables and fruit. I hope that some of what is here can be inspiring for you as well!
As always, I have taken to posting all of my (unique) meals on Instagram – find me at researchingsandiego. Please find and lend me your best egg recipes for the next 7 days (or more!).
So, as it turns out, completely removing pre-packaged and processed foods out of my life took up a bit more time than I had originally anticipated. I had thought that the Whole30 challenge was not that different from how I had been eating (minus the lack of dairy… and wine), but it turns out I spent a lot of time blogging while rice was on the stove – only to be topped by some veg and an egg. Not quite the same. Between the time spent finding new recipes, shopping, cooking, getting super excited about projects in the lab and adjusting to a new schedule (The Bat has rotating 24h shifts – the 8pm-5am shift just began), another week has flown by. Let’s just say finding balance within this system is a work in progress.
(Mediterranean salad with grilled steak at Karl Strauss Brewery Restaurant)
Let’s get to the good news. I’m officially halfway through my Whole30 (if you are lost, read here to find out what I am babbling about)! I have not knowingly cheated. I say knowingly because these past 7 days included more than their share of eating out obligations – work lunches, friend visits (so good to see Camille!) – and I did my best, but restaurant kitchens are sneaky spaces.
(Joe’s special frittata, green salad, peach)
All in all, I am feeling great. Not just good. Great. It is rather amazing. My ‘belly issues’ are so much better; I have had little to no pain from day 5 onward. I cannot remember a time in the last six months when this was not lurking concern in the back of my mind and now that concern is fading. I also assume that the lack of anxiety about my belly is probably also helping, which makes this a win-win situation – even better.
(Tom Yum soup, green salad with lemony red-wine vinaigrette)
After writing last week’s post and opening up about what I’ve been struggling with, I felt much more confident explaining my plan to friends, colleagues and family, all of whom have been incredibly supportive. This has been a great help at family birthday parties (last weekend) and group dinners. Knowing that everyone is aware of my commitment to the Whole30 means that I think twice about ordering the house salad – hold the cheese, garlic bread and dressing. There have been moments when habit and social protocol have made me miss the security of a glass of wine in my hand, but it turns out club soda with lime is refreshing, I like being the designated driver and I can enjoy everyone company as much (if not more) when not indulging alongside.
(Greens omelet – garlicky sauteed kale, avocado; olive oil mayo, sambal olek)
Not everything is glowingly positive; although the negatives are definitely superficial compared to the benefits I am starting to reap. There is an element of boredom that is setting – not with eggs (a frequent complaint), but with beverages. Water, herbal tea, black coffee (and this, for me, only before noon). I have tried to curb my craving for bubbles with mineral water – and it is working for now. But I am missing variety here – juices (while not forbidden they are not encouraged, mainly for their lack of satiating nutrition), sodas (definitely a guilty pleasure) and, of course, a glass of white wine to kick off the weekend.
(The Bat’s burgers, spicy sweet potato fries, salad, homemade olive oil mayo)
Other than that, I have few complaints. The rest of the negatives are merely psychological associations in my own head. Why is macaroni and cheese the only food I associate with ‘comfort’ after a long day – why not lemon garlicky sautéed kale? Or a creamy avocado topped with salsa? I have also had several nights in which I awoke, riddled with guilt because, in a dream, I forgot about the Whole30 – ate a sandwich – and really let myself down. I guess that goes to show how serious I am taking this challenge? And, perhaps why it is good there is a time limit, lest I punish myself too intensely if when I fall off the wagon.
So, the current perspective is overwhelmingly positive. And, I have saved my most exciting highlights of the last week for last:
First, I happened to be visiting the doctor last week (around day 8) – for something totally unrelated. Despite strict Whole30 rules to not weigh or measure oneself throughout the process, my OCD brain was curious to know whether the looseness I thought I felt when pulling on my jeans was real or imaginary. Turns out that, as of that point, I had already lost 4 pounds. Great news, right? Honestly, I am pretty sure all of that was derived from losing the persistent belly bloat with which I had been walking around for months. My clothes continue to feel loose and I have not dared weigh myself since, but I am optimistic.
(This week’s CSA: Oranges, kale, lettuce, fennel, grapefruit, round zucchini-like squash, broccoli, plumbs, red onion, rosemary, parsley, a huge bunch of basil, carrots, peaches, blueberries, cucumber and red cabbage)
Second, I finally had a chance to incorporate our CSA into the mix. I had started the plan after skipping a delivery while visiting Washington, D.C. This allowed me to really cater those first few meals to what sounded best – probably a smart move at a time when I was mixing everything up. But in this second week, it was fun to add the extra challenge of creative cooking within the Whole30 framework. I spent all day Sunday prepping sautéed greens, spicy ground beef, roasted veggies and dicing herbs to be used in my meals throughout the week. So far, things are coming together more quickly and I’m hoping to spend that extra time updating this space instead of in the kitchen, over a hot stove.
Lastly, despite The Bat’s puzzlement over my insistence on following through with this plan initially – he sees how happy and proud I am as I chug along. Rather than fix meals in parallel over the weekend, he jumped on my bandwagon and used his kitchen time to make Whole30-approved meals for us both. A giant onion-jalapeno stuffed burger, sweet potato fries and salad made for a great end-of-the-week Friday feast. And a succulent, medium-rare ribeye steak was certainly a great Sunday night kick-off for the week. Now that he’s coming home from work in the early mornings, he’s even getting into making me my favorite greens omelet (sautéed kale, avocado and sambal olek). Although he’s not playing along with the Whole30 for each meal, his patience and excitement in my progress make me feel like I can do anything.
So, here’s to 15 more days. As always, check-out my daily meal round-ups on Instagram (@researchingsandiego) where I am having so much fun exploring the #whole30 and #wellfed communities!
(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
One of the best things about my relationship with The Bat is our shared love of cooking and food. However, living in a household in which both members thoroughly enjoying being in the kitchen can create a bit of tension when it comes to figuring out who will do the cooking, and when. Clearly it is an embarrassment of riches. Despite the challenge (and sometimes competition), we have found a way to strike a reasonable balance: I prepare a few big meals during the week, supplementing with large salads and leftovers to fill in the gaps, whereas The Bat is responsible for all weekend food preparation, when he has the time to do the necessary shopping and the freedom to play in the kitchen.After a recent mouthwatering shrimp stir-fry success (Stir-Fridays have also become a thing), The Bat decided that shrimp tacos would be the next weekend cooking adventure, complete with dinner guests as taste-testers and fancy, fruity cocktails.Despite some initial wariness from the chef (and mostly not to be outdone), I insisted on making hard taco shells from scratch – and a few chips to snack on throughout the night. Making your own hard taco shells is extremely easy. Heat about 1 ½ inches of vegetable oil in a large, wide skillet until it bubbles and pops when flicked with a bit of water. Using a pair (or, if you have tiny hands, two) of kitchen tongs, lower your tortilla into the oil, folding into a taco shape as you go. Hold in this shape while the oil bursts and bubbled around you, until the shell is slightly hardened and can be flipped over for the other side to cook – continue to cook, a few minutes on each side, until golden. Drain the excess grease, upside down, on paper towels until ready for tasty, taco construction.Once the shells were done and I was finally out of the kitchen, The Bat went to work. Shrimp were de-tailed and a marinade was prepared from copious amounts of crushed garlic, minced jalapeno, olive oil, a pinch of chili powder, salt and cracked black pepper. Mixed together well in a Ziploc bag, the shellfish were allowed to marinate for (at least) 30 minutes at room temperature. Following this rest, they were cooked, quite quickly over medium-high heat, about (no more than) 2 minutes per side, until the garlic started to turn crispy brown and the shrimp were seared.We stuffed our tacos with several piping hot (and spicy) shrimp, cabbage, cheese, sour cream, sliced avocado and salsa and dug in. Served along side was a quick rice pilaf made with sautéed red onions, garlic and using diced tomatoes and their juice in place of water (next time I’ll use a few of those jalapenos and/or some salsa instead for some much needed spice). To drink, The Bat concocted a dangerously delicious tropical beverage to compliment the dinner by blending strawberries, pineapple, guava nectar, white rum and a bit of seltzer, all served over ice (somehow these were not recorded for posterity – boo).The tacos were a resounding success, with four of us demolishing all 2 lb. of shellfish in no time flat. I unabashedly declare that these were the best shrimp tacos I have ever had. In fact, in reviewing details for this post, we’ve both agreed that these need to happen again, sooner rather than later. This dinner was one of several informal housewarming get-togethers we have hosted over the past few weeks, and it has been such a joy to welcome friends and family into our home and to our table – even if I have to admit that The Bat is clearly in the lead to win the ‘best party food’ house award.