I recently decided to change my relationship with food, a serious decision considering that I’ve been a loyal member of the clean your plate club and a dedicated emotional eater.
I wrote about my reasons for doing so here. To sum it up, I realized that I regularly used sugar and processed carbs to motivate me through work, to avoid dealing with my emotions head on, or just because they made me happy. I often experienced energy crashes as a result. I wanted to improve my mood, as well as my relationship with food.
I decided to do what is known as a “Whole 30”, a thirty-day period of eliminating foods from your diet in order to learn how the foods you eat affect your personal health.
After 30 days without sugar, soy, gluten, legumes, and dairy (ghee and clarified butter are allowed, but I did not use them), I graded myself on the outcomes that were most important to me.
How did I do? Did I work my plan? Did I lose weight?*
*More on that, later
Preparing Meals: A+
I have a household of two. I promised my fiancee the food wouldn’t be terrible, and that he was free to eat whatever he wanted. So, it was important to find food that was appetizing. I eventually found a menu that would allow me to make enough breakfast, lunch, and dinner meals to last most of the month. I was able to do most of the shopping for these meals on a Saturday afternoon. We spent that evening cutting and chopping various foods. We cooked 80% of the meals on Sunday, and finished the remaining two or three meals by Tuesday. All but the food for that week was stored in the freezer.
We occasionally cook eggs for breakfast or steak for dinner. Other than an occasional trip or meal out, we have eaten the freezer meals, which are typically as simple as throwing pre-mixed ingredients into a crock pot, or heating up a dish in the microwave. The food was diverse and delicious: salad, several types of curry, barbecue chicken, frittatas, salmon, etc.
I was asked if I ever felt tempted to be non-compliant. The basic tenets of the Whole 30 call for you to not weigh yourself or eat anything that is not complaint. If you do, you are supposed to start over. There were a few times where I purchased something only to find out later that it had sulfites (a supplement!) or added natural fruit sugar (coconut water, and it was less than 1%). The supplements gave me migraines and the coconut water made me mad enough to quit. Once I got over the frustration, I was okay. It is still debatable whether the coconut water was compliant, so I didn’t have it often (and will check the label closely the next time I buy “100% coconut water”).
I wasn’t tempted to go out of my way to eat anything with soy, gluten, dairy, or legumes, as that would start the elimination over. Having gone through the headaches that occurred after giving up sugar, I didn’t want to risk pain by eating chocolate, ice cream, or anything that contained added sugar. I was also in better control of my cravings than I had been in a long time, and didn’t want to mess that up.
Eating Out: A-
I ended up having two trips out of town while on the Whole30. I had to communicate my needs and plan ahead whenever possible. Prior to departure for both trips, I packed enough food to last until my destination (hard boiled eggs, olives, nuts, fruit, homemade larabars, etc.). It helped to never be caught hungry.
One thing I thought would suffer was my social life. After all, food is social. I thought I would never go out. However, I found out that if I was comfortable, so were my friends. I would choose healthy options, and not worry about what was on everyone else’s plate.
In restaurants, I learned to pick a dish on the simple side (no sauce), and ask for the meat to be prepared without butter. My favorite meals were typically salads or meat dishes. I called the restaurant the morning of our fancy dinner, and they had no problem working with me, preparing a delicious steak that had not been marinated.
My hardest lesson was having food available when I was hungry. I realize now that having emergency food available in the car after a long day or workout is a must.
Emotions, mood, etc: B+
I don’t get hangry anymore! I feel fewer of those dangerous blood sugar dips.
The greatest victory of the Whole 30 is that I learned to deal with my emotions rather than eating for comfort. I have always been an emotional eater. I like to eat when I’m happy, sad, bored, angry, lonely, tired, oh, and when I’m hungry. I love to eat sweets, soul food, and any other type of comfort food. Having to change this made me very sad. It is hard to break a routine that has brought you joy!
During the Whole30, I suffered a loss. Learning how to grieve by feeling my emotions and soothing myself was a new experience. It is terrifying to face your emotions head on and not be able to stuff them down. I found myself reaching out to friends for support. This might not seem like a big deal, but I’m used to being the one who doles out the support. Changing my relationship with food in stressful times was by far, the greatest gain of the experience.
I did find that my cycle was improved, and I didn’t crash as much. If I felt low in energy, I didn’t need to look further than my sleeping habits or what I had eaten during my last meal to understand what I needed to feel better. The answer was never a chai tea latte.
I realize that I have a longer road to go in terms of stress management. I will need to address my sleeping habits, any vitamin deficiencies (magnesium, etc.) and get regular exercise in the future. So yes, food was a part of the answer, but there are other factors.
(I know what you are thinking! On to the weight loss! I’ll reveal it at the end of the article, because it’s not the main point. I won’t weigh in until I finish writing this entire post)
How I feel on the inside: A
I can’t remember the last time I’ve had a stomach ache from eating too much. I have a better idea of my satiety. I can stop eating when I’m full because I’m not eating things that drive me to want more (e.g. sugar). I had a few headaches and stomach aches, that made me think twice about what I’ve been putting in my body all along. I will be very comfortable when reintroducing certain foods.
How I feel on the outside: B
My face started looking slimmer around two weeks in. I regularly tried on clothes that I had been neglecting for poor fit, to see if I was making progress. Whenever possible, I wore them. The clothes that fit made me confident a change was taking place, and those that did not made me realize that I wanted to keep going until they felt comfortable again.
Other than my face, other parts of my body are probably changing, but are not yet visible. Significant change will require a longer investment of time, and the incorporation of strength training. It would not be realistic to expect to lose weight I’ve taken nearly 1.5 years to regain in 4 weeks. But, I can own that unrealistic expectation.
As I wrap up these 30 days, I know that what I do next is what will matter most. If I open the floodgates and eat all the foods that I have missed, I will have instant gratification, but the tradeoff could be my long-term goals.
Instead, I will do a careful reintroduction of different food groups over the next two weeks. I will decide which foods make me feel best, and make that the basis of my diet moving forward.
I will also stop evaluating my body through the lens of my inner critic. I realized that feeling like I would never measure up to an impossible, arbitrary beauty standard made it that much easier to convince myself to eat whatever I wanted and not work out. Why should I try? (Pausing, because this is a truth I will return to in the future)
I don't have to look perfect to be beautiful Click To Tweet
Embracing my body as it is today allows me to be present. The best thing I did during the 30 days was dress up for the fancy dinner. I felt amazing, and it showed. Loving yourself now doesn’t mean you can’t take steps to be healthier.
I had hard conversations with myself during this month about my self-worth. I have been working hard to encourage others to take care of themselves, but it was time to work on myself. I reminded myself that my worth is established by God, and can’t be diminished by anything I do. I learned to gently put my inner critic in her place.
These are the greatest changes, that no one else could have given me. And, the scale can’t take them away.
Weight Loss and My (Emotional) Reaction
Final weight loss: -3.6 pounds
I cried this morning. I wanted to lose more…doesn’t everyone? I was frustrated because this has been difficult. If only the results matched the magnitude of my effort!
(This would have been a perfect time for emotional eating… to help me cope with my disappointment)
But, I had gone in for labs a few days ago, and had an appointment this morning to read the results. I went to the doctor, and found out that everything I needed to work on is improving: good cholesterol, bad cholesterol, etc. They are slight improvements compared to 4 months ago, but I am encouraged to see anything happen after only 30 days.
On the way home, I listened to “I Gotta Believe” by Yolanda Adams and heard:
I have to see myself at the finish line
I have to visualize that everything will fall in line
I had to visualize what is possible for my 6 month follow-up in Late January (as discussed with my doctors):
Cholesterol under 100
BMI<27 (Current BMI is 30. Roughly a 20 pound loss from this point forward).
So, those are my new goals. I will also start taking measurements, so that I have another barometer for progress. Weight loss doesn’t tell the whole story, especially when it comes to replacing fat with muscle.
Now, I need to celebrate that I did achieve one part of my goal. Remember the family history of diabetes? My fasting blood glucose and A1C are completely normal.
Where do I go from here?
I will be following the Whole30 reintroduction schedule for the next 30 days:
Day 1: Legumes (started today with peanut butter at breakfast, black beans at lunch, will have peas at dinner)
Days 2-3: Whole30
Day 4: Non-gluten grains (e.g. corn tortillas, oats, rice)
Days 5-6: Whole30
Day 7: Dairy (yogurt, cheese, regular butter)
Days 8-9: Whole30
Day 10: Gluten containing grains (bread, etc.)
Days 11-12: Whole30
Future: evaluate soy
As I reintroduce these items with a small amount at each meal, I will get a better idea of which, if any, have a negative effect on me. I do see myself adding some, but not all, items back in (just because there are a few I don’t miss. I will be adding regular exercise back in, and be very careful about not reverting to my old diet.
Stay tuned. This is only the beginning. It’s hard work, but I’m worth it. It takes continued courage and dedication to keep moving ahead.
What are your thoughts when it comes to addressing emotional eating? Does the idea of figuring out new ways to deal with your emotions seem daunting or overwhelming?