Today is Day 30 of my Whole 30 experiment. For 30 days, I gave up sugar, gluten, soy, dairy, and legumes. Why did I do this, and what did I learn?
A history of managing stress with food
I remember sitting down with junk food to work on my dissertation… on obesity prevention. Although I’ve been in the public health field for over a decade, severing my emotional ties to food has been difficult. I’ve generally been able to manage my weight through a moderate diet and exercise, but seem to cave in to sugar and processed carbs with little self-control.
Given a family history of diabetes and other chronic health issues, I am aware that the decisions I make now, in my 30s, will impact my long-term health. But this knowledge was not enough to convince me to change. I’m an emotional eater, which means rational thoughts have little to do with the food choices I make!
Rather, it was the realization that I felt sluggish more often than not, and seemed to develop brain fog regularly. I constantly turned to sugar and processed carbs for energy, only to crash later. I wanted desperately to feel better. I wanted to get to the root of the problem.
In the past, I had given up sugar and processed carbs, and experienced better moods and cycles as a result.—not to mention a nearly 40 pound weight loss. However, I had never managed to make sustainable changes… and eventually regained 25 pounds.
It feels pretty terrible to lose a significant amount of weight, then regain it. It feels even worse to start trying to lose it by working out and making cuts in your diet here and there, only to lose and regain the same 3 pounds for months on end.
Insanity. Clearly, my metabolism was maturing and required a more dedicated approach.
Time for a change
In May 2015, I met with a new doctor, and she sweetly encouraged me to work on improving my diet to avoid health risks. I agreed with her, but knew I wasn’t ready for a drastic change. Besides, I didn’t feel like my diet was particularly bad. I just had a stubborn metabolism and a sweet tooth. I was comfortable, and I didn’t like change.
In June 2015, I got engaged. I promised myself I would not pressure myself to lose weight for my wedding. When I went dress shopping, I was between sizes, and opted for the larger size. I was confident I would not be any larger than that size on my wedding day, but was not confident that I could lose weight. I actually had a negative attitude about losing weight for my wedding, escaping the irony that I needed to lose weight for my life.
I knew I was an emotional eater. From what I knew, weddings are stressful to plan. Also, life is unpredictable, and I usually cope by eating.
My breaking point
For two months, I had talked myself out of trying because I didn’t want to fail. I finally decided that it was time to prove myself wrong when new habits (or new lows) started to creep in.
First, the “I think I’ll have a treat at Starbucks this morning” snack that turned out to essentially be a smore. At 8am.
Then, there is the day I found myself eating cake at work.
At 10:30 a.m.
And I told myself that it was okay and probably wouldn’t really have an impact on my diet.
I couldn’t deny it anymore. I was clearly lying to myself, but the numbers weren’t. It would all eventually show up on the inside.
That was a wakeup call. A catalyst for change.
I reframed my fear of change by realizing that it was not inherently bad. I could actually succeed. I could create new mindsets and habits, one at a time.
In July 2015, I decided to revisit the Whole30, a 30-day elimination regiment that a friend had done successfully in the past. I had always thought it to be too hard. But now that I needed to get to the bottom of my affinity for sugar and carbs, a short-term elimination diet sounded like a good idea.
While eating healthy foods, and not restricting calories, I would give my body a chance to heal inside. Who doesn’t want that as a result?
I would have a better idea of how the foods I ate affected me. For 30 days, I would not eat sugar (including alcohol), most dairy (ghee and clarified butter are allowed), legumes, gluten, or soy.
What’s left? Meat, seafood, vegetables, fruit, and healthy fats (avocado, coconut oil, olive oil, nuts and seeds). Real food.
I looked at the calendar. Other a fancy dinner, it was conceivable that I could make most of my own food for 30 days.
And yes, I whined about all of the above until I actually made a decision to do it. And again, about 12-15 days in, when I wanted to quit every day. But by then, I was in to deep to go back.
I decided to have a “Zero Week”, where I could try out the elimination without having to be 100% compliant. I had a few serious headaches from giving up sugar, but was able to learn about the support I would need to stay on track, and enjoy a final meal out and a glass of wine or two. I could already feel positive changes starting to take place, so I didn’t have a serious cheat meal before officially starting.
So, how did I do? I’ve rated myself based on the metrics that mattered most to me, and will report on them in tomorrow’s post.
Have you considered shifting the way you eat? If you have done so, why did you do it and what results did you see?