Greetings from a rather stormy Essex! It has been a LONG time since I last posted and much has happened, including establishing an addiction to expensive stationary in order to feed my newly found habit of modern calligraphy. Aside from my need to scribe, our garden has been completed with various plants bedding themselves in, I’ve been foster mum to some fur babies, and I’ve completed 21 days of Whole30! I’ve had lots of people ask me about what I’m doing and quite frankly, I’m so empowered by the Whole30 experience that I want to tell everyone about it – what better place than here?
What is Whole30?
And no – that is not a typo. It actually is Whole30 in its own right. The Whole30 approach is essentially 30 days of pressing ‘reset’ on your digestive system and your general relationship with food. (I could write the full blurb here about the why/what/how but instead I will signpost you here – the Whole30 website – where they go into much greater detail about the program). For 30 days you eliminate certain food groups from your diet and a load of additives and other crap that should never ever be in our food let alone our tummies. The eliminated food groups are known to be potential irritants of the gut, but irritants that we have just got used to and put up with. The idea is by cutting the crap for 30 days, our gut begins to heal itself and then you can gradually re-introduce the food groups one at a time, and assess whether they may be problematic for you.
Whole30 is NOT a diet. It is not about weight loss in any sense but focuses on Non Scale Victories throughout the program. To this end, one of the key rules is that you are not allowed to weigh yourself at any point in the program. Only at the beginning before you start and then again at the end – this helps you reset your mind from thinking about your value in pounds and kilos to feeling free to simply enjoy navigating your way back to health using your body and it’s response to food as a guide.
The Hartwigs who founded the program offer a brutal, but honest, tough love approach in their resources and books. I found this so refreshing. If you’re wondering how tough…
This is not hard. Don’t you dare tell us this is hard. Beating cancer is hard. Birthing a baby is hard. Losing a parent is hard. Drinking your coffee black. Is. Not. Hard. You’ve done harder things than this, and you have no excuse not to complete the program as written. It’s only thirty days, and it’s for the most important health cause on earth—the only physical body you will ever have in this lifetime.
That’s how tough!
This is just the first page.
BUT, the resources they offer online, in books, in forums are sooo good! You do not at any point feel like you are doing this by yourself. They are strict but someone like me needs that as I am that person who tries to get other people to tell me to eat the chocolate so that I can feel like it was a decision out of my hands. There’s no room for that kind of manipulation in this program!
The hardest concept I found was that you are NOT ALLOWED TO SLIP UP! Any cheat/treat/cake/crumb that passes your lips that is not a clean bit of protein, veg, fruit or a cashew means you have to go back to DAY ONE!!! The fear of slipping up has haunted my dreams for the past 3 weeks as almost every night without fail, I have dreamed of eating crisps, chocolate and cake. For almost 3 weeks I’ve woken up in a panic that I’m going to have to start at the beginning again.
What do you cut? What can you eat?
For 30 days you cut out all SUGAR, DAIRY, LEGUMES (which sadly includes peanuts) and GRAINS (including pretentiously ‘healthy’ grains such a quinoa). There are a list of additives which need to be avoided, and anything that has a form of SUGAR (natural or otherwise) is out. So no agave nectar or even honey – even if it is from free range bees roaming the flowers of Never Land. It’s out. So that’s no wine, no chocolate, no crisps, and NOTHING PROCESSED. It means checking the labels of bacon to make sure it is ‘Whole30 Compliant’, and it means toasting slices of sweet potato so your poached egg doesn’t just sit on a spinach leaf for breakfast. (FYI sweet potato toast is totally a thing – not sure how on board I am with it yet – but it’s definitely a thing)
At this point people often ask “well what can you eat?” To which I often wonder whether some people quite literally live off cheese, biscuits, wine and chickpeas. Believe it or not, there are some other food groups! All meat, fish, shellfish, vegetables (yes potatoes are allowed!) fruit, and seeds and nuts are all up for grabs on the Whole30. That’s a substantial amount of food choice right there! Again, I won’t go into the teeny details, but the idea is to have a decent amount of protein and lots of veg with each meal – and of course, enjoy some good fats like nuts and avocado.
So how is it going Amy?
I tell you what – I am 21 days in and I feel AMAZING right about now! They tell you to focus on the Non Scale Victories – the victories that can’t be quantified by a number on the scale and when I look through their check list I can tick so many of them off. The most noticeable things for me have been that I have woken up every morning feeling lean and not puffed up, my skin has cleared up and appears lighter (although that may also be down to a nifty new product I’m using – but that’s another post), I am sleeping deeper and settling down quicker, and my work outs feel like I’m super-charged! But one of the biggest things that I’ve only just begun to notice is how much more stable my mood and emotions have been.
One of the reasons I wanted to do the Whole30 is because I was stuck in a 6 month emotional eating rut. I just could not get out of it and whilst our meals were mostly ‘clean’ and ‘healthy’, I was going to town on chocolate, crisps and wine and everything else in between. Every single day. It’s a wonder that I didn’t actually put on any weight in this time because I was mindlessly shoving in handfuls of whatever was sweet to just ‘hit the spot’. This became my new habit. I was feeling very low at times, and whilst I have been living with a divine sense of peace recently, there were times when my head would take over and I threw the biggest pity parties which spiralled into some really low moments. Since I have been eating the Whole30 way, I have not had any of those horrible low moments – I have felt consistently content, unfazed, and optimistic.
The Process – Week One
I picked a bit of a shocker of a week to start this program. I had to bake a three tiered wedding cake which consisted of a chocolate cake with Oreo buttercream, a coffee and walnut cake with coffee buttercream and a lemon drizzle cake with lemon curd buttercream. Yuh – I know. Sooooo good. And I wasn’t allowed to touch a crumb.
This exercise highlighted how often I simply just put food in my mouth – like an innate response to edible produce. My eyes see cake mix and my shoulder involuntarily extends my arm, my fingers grab the spatula, glide it around the mixing bowl and then it just happens to end up in my mouth. So aware of the DON’T SLIP UP rule, that I approached this cake with some anxiety as I began to realise how often my hands just pick up food and deposit it in my mouth. It was seriously like an out of body experience at times – like a phantom limb that was not actually attached to me and that I had no control over. It was quite a revelation to realise quite how often I have done this and I wonder how much food has passed my lips without me consciously registering it? It’s a bit like the time I asked my friend if I could eat one of her doughnuts. Except I asked her in my head. In my head she said yes. Much to her surprise, I simply helped myself. Kinda like that – where your head and body aren’t quite working as one. Except in that instance, I actually got to eat the doughnut.
I also began to realise just how much SUGAR is in EVERYTHING! Sun dried tomatoes in oil, herbs, salt and SUGAR! Prepared chicken and meats in herbs, spices and oh yeah – more flippin’ sugar. Stock cubes for goodness sake. Even the expensive organic, gluten free and fancy packaging stock has sugar added into it! And not just sugar – so many preservatives! At one point I stocked up the fridge on Diet Coke for Simon and read ‘Zero Sugar, Zero Calories’ on the box. I wanted to pick up one of my new fancy pens and write the caveat “but full of shit” until I remembered Coca Cola don’t give a shit about me writing hard-core comebacks on the Cola that I bought and put in my fridge. Hmmm…
So week one was an eye-opener. I began to realise how much crap there is in stuff we assume is ‘clean’ because it’s organic or it’s packaged in a wholesome way. I also began to realise how much mindless eating I have partaken in over the years, and how even mindless eating becomes an ingrained habit. Big shock to the system.
But almost immediately I began to feel leaner and lighter and was able to sleep well. A lot of people comment that they really struggle in the first week as their body goes cold turkey on processed food. I guess, because I ate generally well with my main meals, I didn’t really feel like I was going cold turkey. The actual meals haven’t been significantly different – I just had to add more veg and substitute grains for a potato. So I didn’t get any crazy withdrawal symptoms or headaches.
Finding my Feet – Week Two
Week Two was met with triumph that I’d actually stuck it out that long. My bestie said she was expecting me to have had a chocolate bar by Day 4 so to get to Day 8 was a feat in itself! This was not an unrealistic expectation of hers as she recalled the time we went on a 5 day juice fast and I ate chocolate to tide me over until the next juice.
This week brought further revelation of my unhealthy dependency on food. On Wednesdays, I usually justify the Double Decker and Kettle Chips as my mid-morning snack with a throw-away “I deserve this – it’s Wednesday and I’ll be good tomorrow” mindset. So much so, this pattern of thinking often leads me to rifling around for change at the bottom of the abyss that is my handbag, so I can go and make said purchases from the canteen. This week, I stopped mid handbag search, and remembered that this was no longer an option for me because there was no way I was slipping up and going back to Day 1 again.
I also began to realise that snacking after work was a habit and not always a necessity. Although I have struggled to break that habit still if I’m honest. But I also began to realise that I needed lots of protein and fat in each meal to keep me going until the next – and started to make sure each meal was packed full of what I needed.
This week, I began to miss wine and I began to miss chocolate. I still miss them.
I also got a bit bored of what I was eating and planned a week with some more interesting recipes the following week.
I also started to make changes to how I viewed a ‘treat’ at the end of the week. Instead of wine and crisps and a pudding on the Friday, I ran myself a warm bath, got out the smellies and lit a load of candles. I found this hard but realised that I really need to re-think what is defined as a ‘treat’ because is it really a treat if it causes a sugar high followed by a low, followed by mood swings and then another indulgence to make me feel better about feeling shit? I think not.
In terms of No Scale Victories, I was running high with the fact that I had actually managed to complete 2 weeks of this thing! My workouts felt like I’d drank a magic potion that doubled my capacity (I don’t know if I was actually working out harder, but it certainly felt like I had new resources of energy!) and I was waking up each morning feeling lean. You know how when you first wake up and you’re lying in bed enjoying the fact that gravity has pulled down all tummy and hip fat to your lower back? Well there was a lot of that going on this week. I was feeling lean to the point that I was certain I would look in the mirror and see some abs. Sadly not the case – but I was feeling lean and that’s what counted.
Still Going – Week 3
Week 3 has been hard – mostly because everyone in the education system is now crawling on their hands and knees to work and praying for a sickness bug to just wipe out the whole school so that term can end already. Myself included. I have felt really tired and I’ve noticed my skin flaring up a bit more which was annoying until I went on the Whole30 forum and was reassured that everyone has a different time line of progress and detoxing – so this wasn’t unusual and will pass.
I had a very positive Tuesday with at least 4 people commenting on how ‘slim’ or ‘well’ I was looking. I believe the term ‘glowing’ may even have been mentioned… I felt strong and lean and I chose an outfit that clearly helped facilitate this appearance to others. I also started to notice that certain items of clothing were either loose or actually fitted better this week. All Non Scale Victories.
I started the weekend with a different ‘treat’ to wine and managed to steal an appointment at the spa and got an Elemis Frangipani Hot Oil Body Scrub. This really was a treat – a lovely opportunity to have a nap whilst someone basically exfoliates and moisturises you – which, in hindsight is actually quite lazy of me.
Friday night was a bit of a test as I went to my parents for dinner. This was my first time eating something that was not prepared by my own fair hands. I had explained all the rules to them in advance, but forgotten to mention the ‘no alcohol – not even to cook with’ rule. My dad was going to great efforts to rustle up some clams in a chilli and garlic sauce and then I realised he’d poured in this lovely white wine!!! AHHH! I felt so bad because of the effort he was making and was so tempted just to eat the sauce as it was… BUT, at Day 19 without any slip ups, I was determined not to go back to Day 1 and start over again! Thankfully I have very gracious parents who managed to whisk up another sauce sans alcohol just for my clams!
That situation shed light on a few things about myself and about the program. I was immediately willing to just eat the sauce with the wine – to not hurt my dads feelings or to be an inconvenience. I guess that says something about how I can respond to certain situations and I wonder how many times I have compromised my own beliefs or decisions simply to people please… food for thought. But also, it just proves how hard this program is and that situation would have been really tough around people who may be dismissive of the hard work that I’ve put in so far or that just don’t see the point of it themselves.
Starting Week 4
I am feeling really pleased with myself for managing 21 days without wine or chocolate. I feel a standing ovation wouldn’t be amiss at this point. Or a slow clap. But, alas, it’s just me here so I’ll make do with the immense sense of satisfaction and achievement that I am feeling right now. The Whole30 program seems to empower you as you progress through each day because the immediate results of a greater sense of well-being, and nourishing a strong and happy body, far out weigh the fear of having to go right back to the start again! I’m kidding! They outweigh the challenges of the program such as food creativity, substituting pasta for courgetti (this was never really adequate) and drinking coffee black. Turns out, I quite like black coffee now.
I’m excited about counting down into single digits as the program ends, but also a little bit worried about what on earth I’ll cook once I can have free reign again. That’s actually not at all how the program works as there is a clear reintroduction process that takes place which I will be following. It would be cruel to get this far and then be left to figure it out from there!
I’m already thinking about which elements of the Whole30 I would like to realistically maintain in my diet after the program has finished. I’ve realised that not eating cheese really isn’t the end of the world so I will definitely be significantly limiting that and I haven’t missed rice or pasta at all. I have missed my porridge. And I have missed the comfort of indulging in a family size bar of dairy milk. So I’m thinking there’s still a bit of work for me to do there!
I will write another post once I’m on the other side and have weighed and measured myself for comparison. But in the mean time, I wholeheartedly recommend explore Whole30 for anyone who is struggling with their diet, stuck in an emotional eating rut and can’t stop guzzling sugar, or just feels like their body isn’t working as well as it could. This could be exactly what you need to reset and start loving yourself well again.