Over the years, I've done a handful of Whole30 re-sets, and everyone of them has (a) been different from the others and (b) incredibly eye-opening...Read More
My Whole30 Story
It occurred to me that new readers might not be familiar with my long, loving track record with the Whole 30. It’s not a success story in the traditional sense—there’s no “after” photo of me with six-pack abs or a tale of massive, overnight weight loss—but it is a success story. Eating Whole30 style has kept me relatively fit, mostly happy, and committed to continuing to fight the good fight over the last 5 years while I wrestled with I-have-no-thyroid complications. So here it is: my official Whole30 story.
I have excellent habits 95 percent of the time. I sleep eight to nine hours per night to recover from and prepare for lifting heavy barbells, occasional sprints, and plenty of yoga and walking. I keep the house stocked with paleo ingredients and cook nutrient-dense meals so my husband Dave and I can eat real food every day.
Then on rare occasions, I indulge. I become a temporary slug and give in to the temptation of corn-based chip products, buttered popcorn, an icy-cold glass of Prosecco, or a shot of Ouzo. I should mention that I have a known whipped cream problem.
These minor transgressions are possible because I make deposits in the good health bank the rest of the time. Every workout, every good night’s sleep, every paleo meal is a deposit, so that every once in a while, I can make withdrawals for a food treat.
This way of living started about five years ago when I made the switch to the paleo diet. Before then, I didn’t have such excellent habits.
From grade school to the day I graduated from college, I was a chubby nerd. My parents are both exceptionally good cooks–my dad brought his restaurant training home and my mom won almost every cooking contest that she entered. By the time I was about eight, I was wearing Sears “Pretty Plus” jeans, mostly because I really liked food, but also because I really didn’t like to sweat. After a broken ankle and vicious playground taunts, I stuck with reading, practicing the piano, and roller-skating to the library. I don’t know how many gym classes I missed because I was “sick” or “forgot” my gym clothes. I do know that my P.E. attendance put my otherwise stellar grade point average in jeopardy.
Even though I avoided sports, I secretly admired the athletic kids; they walked taller than the rest of us. When I was in tenth grade, my dad took me to Annapolis to see the Navy band play a concert, and for about three weeks, I was determined to get in shape so that I could apply to the Naval Academy. I abandoned that dream because I was incapable of doing pushups and situps–and I was too embarrassed and overwhelmed to ask for help.
For most of my life, I was haunted by a deep desire to be different than I was. To be thin. To feel confident. To break the cycle of thinking of food–and my behavior–as “good” and “bad.”
I joined Weight Watchers and eventually became a Lifetime Member with a weight loss of more than 50 pounds. I joined a CrossFit gym and learned to love being intimidated by my workouts. I developed a deep affection for lifting barbells. But despite my successes, it was still my habit to celebrate and to grieve and to stress out and to relax with food. Although I worked out regularly, I didn’t feel as strong–inside or out–as I wanted to. I had insomnia, allergies, and stomach aches. My body didn’t feel like it belonged to me.
In 2008, I learned I had a nodule on my thyroid. The risk of cancer was high, so I had the nodule surgically removed, and the doctor hoped that the remaining half of my thyroid would continue to function. It held on for a few months, but then stopped working. That was a very difficult time. It was like constantly having a case of the blues. I was sluggish, foggy- headed, and desperately worried about re-gaining all the weight that I’d worked so hard to lose.
Then I found Whole9 and the Whole30.
It was surprisingly easy for me to give up grains, despite my deep affection for toast, but saying goodbye to my standard breakfast of blueberries with milk almost pushed me to the edge. I did not approach the paleo rules with an open heart. But I committed.
I followed the eating guidelines. I made it a project to get eight hours of sleep every night. I worked with my doctor to try to find the right doses for my thyroid hormones. I was on track with my nutrition, but my training was all wrong for a girl with no thyroid. The constant physical stress of my sometimes twice-a- day workouts and beat-the-clock CrossFit–without restorative activities like yoga, meditation, and walking to balance it out–took its toll. I was diagnosed with adrenal fatigue.
So I started over… again.
My current routine includes daily meditation, gentle yoga classes, walking, strength training, and occasional sprints and high-intensity workouts of short (but killer) duration. What’s never wavered is my commitment to and affection for my paleo diet. I’ve been through a lot of self-experimentation in the last half decade to get back to optimal health. The solid foundation provided by following the Whole30 guidelines makes it possible to measure other health and quality-of-life markers and to tinker with them. After five years, I’m more convinced than ever that this is the healthiest way for me to feed my body and mind–and it is sustainable in a way that no other “diet” has ever been.
I spent the first 30 years of my life at war with my body – with my short legs and stocky frame, with junk food cravings and emotional eating. Banishing grains and dairy, in comparison to three decades of negative self-talk and shame, has been easy. And in return for giving up grains, dairy, and sugar, I’ve gained a partnership with my body that uses good food as fuel.
Now I know when and how often I can indulge in non-paleo foods, and I enjoy those “once in a while” treats like never before. The food tastes a lot better when it’s savored and is not followed by a chaser of self-recrimination. I finally know how to truly celebrate on special occasions, while I live healthfully and happily.