We were sick of feeling like sh*t. My husband, M., and I ate relatively well, but since we live with an adolescent boy our diets probably contained more pizza and pasta than we would have liked. Then, there were one too many nights of ice cream for dinner. Add in a cross country move and any good eating habits remaining were few.
We figured it was as good of a time as any to fine-tune our eating, by starting from scratch.
Finding An Elimination Diet
Before our move, our diet “went off the rails,” as M. says. But even on our best laid eating periods, our menu consisted of whole grains, dairy products including cheese and ice cream, sugar, pasta, pizza, eggs, chicken breast, turkey burgers, and all types of fruits and vegetables. Some items were easy to eliminate — everything except the plants and meat — and others were not. We really wanted to pinpoint what was making us feel like crud.
A typical elimination diet is when you eliminate a food that you (or your doctor) suspect causes you some trouble. This is how I figured that dairy, specifically non-fat milk, was a problem for me. When we looked at our diet there was a lot to eliminate and, because of my own experience with food processing being the culprit of my intolerance, we wanted more. Set rules would be nice.
After some research, M. suggested the Whole 30 plan and, despite its super strict guidelines, we decided to do it. It was just what we needed because it takes elimination one step further by factoring in food additives and preservatives. The makers of the Whole 30 did all the research into food production that we were about to embark on and created a hardcore elimination diet plan. It made it easier, but it also made following the Whole 30 much harder.
Our 30 Days of (Almost) Clean Eating
Before we began our Whole 30, we made preparations: meal plans, shopping lists, and did a lot of reading. Grocery shopping took hours, because we read the label on everything. And, wow, is there a lot of stuff in our food. Carrageenan, a preservative made with red seaweed, is in almost everything because of its ability to jell, thicken, and stabilize. It’s been linked to inflammation of the digestive track so it’s not a bad thing to nix.
The easiest way to get through the Whole 30 is stick to the produce department and read the labels on the meat you buy. However, M. is a big condiment user. Every meal needs a salsa, salad dressing, or sauce; and, yes, I can make all these things from scratch, but I don’t always have the time or inclination so convenience wins out. So we were reading lots of labels. Eventually, we became familiar with products that fit the Whole 30 guidelines.
I won’t bore you with a play-by-play account of our month, here’s the highlight reel:
Trigger food #1 identified. I cheated a couple of times during the 30 days. When you fall off the wagon you’re supposed to start again, I didn’t. My transgression was in the form of a grilled cheese sandwich leftover that my son didn’t finish. I was starving so I ate a square. Boy was I loopy afterwards. I am not sure whether it was the cheese or the sprouted whole wheat bread, but I couldn’t put together thoughts if I tried. This happened twice. At the end of the 30 days, I figured it was the sprouted grains that I had reacted to, so no more.
Trigger food #2 identified. We ate a lot of eggs. They are quick, easy, and cheap. As a result, we figured out that M. and eggs don’t really get along. Or at least they don’t when he eats them nearly everyday.
Traveling wasn’t difficult. During our 30 days we went to see family, and keeping up the eating plan wasn’t hard: fruits, vegetables, protein, repeat. I think the harder part was explaining why we weren’t eating the pasta and the cheese and the bread that are hallmarks at our family’s table. I detested saying, “I doing the Whole 30.” I have never been one to explain my food choices and I don’t like to make my eating the center of conversation. It was difficult for that not to happen.
I didn’t miss foods, like I thought I would. Whether it was the cream in my coffee, cheese on tacos, or ice cream, I didn’t totally crave these foods. I will admit that ice cream was a little harder, but a smoothie or a couple of spoonfuls of almond butter satisfied any cravings that arrived.
Too much potassium, bad. Just like too much spinach can be bad for your health, so can eating too many bananas and avocados. During the Whole 30, my blood potassium readings were very high, which affect heart rhythm. Not good for a girl who is at a high risk of arrhythmia. Having bananas in a smoothie, then eating avocado on my salads, and then having a baked potato adds up. Ultimately, I limit myself to one potassium-rich food a day.
There’s a lot of meat involved. For someone who used to be a vegetarian (stopped for health reasons), there are too many animal products for me to consume. So, by the end of the month, I limited myself to meat once a day.
I lost weight. In total I lost 12 pounds but there were a couple of other things going on. First, I was training for a half marathon, so I was racewalking at least four miles daily, and second, I tapered of my beta blocker because it was hampering my cardiovascular fitness. I lost five pounds when that was complete. Though overall, I wasn’t consuming a lot of food in general because I wasn’t hungry all the time. One of the tenets of the program is that you get in touch with your satiety clues and I didn’t eat out of boredom.
Preparation counts. However, when hunger strikes it is swift. Food prep for the week was essential. You can read more about that here.
Mission accomplished: We felt better.
I didn’t experience one migraine and my energy was good despite a crazy training schedule and travel. M. also felt better. We both walked away with a better understanding about how certain foods make us feel.
It’s been over a year since we did the Whole 30. We’ve moved cross country again, I gained back 7 of the 12 pounds I lost, ice cream sometimes returns as a major food group. And now when our diet goes, “off the rails,” we know what to cut out and what to return to because the Whole 30 experience made me and M. know what the perfect diet for us is.
I have been feeling awful again, my migraines are back more frequently, and so I am toying with doing the Whole 30 again. This time it will be on the East Coast, where the temptress of everything bagels looms. I’ll let you know what I decide.