Thirty days ago, I decided to take a chance and dove headfirst into a Whole30. Well, kind of. Let’s rewind to this spring, when I caught a wicked stomach virus and it seemed to take forever to recover from. And how after that, it still seemed to take not much to anger my digestive system, for months. Yes, I checked in with my doctor during the stomach virus, and things mostly cleared up, so I moved on. In mid-September, we were traveling to Seattle for a half-marathon, and I took a hard look at my purse. For ages, I’d been carrying Zantac (which I’ve been on for about 15 years for GERD), maybe a roll of Rolaids, and, in case of emergency, Bonine, an OTC motion sickness drug that is great at dealing with nausea. But now, it had the Bonine, the Zantac, a whole bottle of Rolaids, a bottle of Mylanta, a bottle of Pepto, mints, mint gum … Um yeah, no. That’s no good. On the drive back home after the race, I asked Judah if he was interested in doing Whole30 with me, and he said not for himself, but he’d support me in whatever I decided to do and he’d be happy to cook meals that followed the rules to help out. I spent the next couple of weeks reading through the Whole30 site and gathering a list of recipes I thought sounded good and gearing up to start this puppy in October.
So … October came, and I was bracing myself for carb flu or “detoxing” or whatever else, but mostly what I noticed was that my stomach didn’t hurt. And I wasn't having to keep a food and symptom diary, which the mere thought of twanged my mental-health nerves. Huh. On and on the month went, and occasionally I didn’t feel that great (eating too much roasted cauliflower rice, for example), but overall, my baseline level of how I was feeling was reset to “pretty good.”
Now I will say, I did not follow the Whole30 rules exactly to the letter. I am terrified of throwing up, maybe phobic even, so I didn’t cut off all those medicines, and some of them have artificial sweeteners. But I used everything (except the prescribed Zantac) sparingly. I did, however, have mint gum occasionally as well as the occasional mint. But it was a far cry from the previous months, where I was swilling Mylanta or Pepto and chewing Rolaids constantly. And as far as the Zantac goes, I feel like I don’t need it nearly as much, and I’m considering ramping it down. Also, I used a couple of products that were not 100 percent compliant (a kind of uncured bacon and some almond butter and tuna that had additives I didn’t immediately realize were on the no-no list). Oh, and I brought the scale back out on Day 10. Call it my YOU CAN’T TELL ME WHAT TO DO moment. *shrug* (Oh wow, and I almost forgot, one day I was at Five Guys with the kids and ordered a burger on a lettuce wrap, and they put cheese on it, and, well … it happened. I did get refluxy pretty much immediately, but I survived. And in the continuing adventures of YOU CAN’T TELL ME WHAT TO DO, I did not start over, since it was Day 14 or so.)
So how about those results? Well, I’m down a few pounds, about 10. My clothes are fitting better. Things in my closet that have been taunting me fit now. My wedding ring isn’t digging into my finger. In fact, it’s loose. I feel like I’ve shrunk some around the middle (which is nice because I felt like I looked kinda pregnant, and that’s not happening again). But honestly, I didn’t go into this for weight loss, even though my doctor might raise his eyebrows at my BMI teetering between overweight and obese. (Shut up, BMI.) After a lot of hard mental work, I was relatively comfortable in my skin before starting this thing. Before I did Whole30, my body was capable of busting out a half-marathon, even if I wasn’t totally trained or at some magical ideal weight. My cholesterol was normal for the first time in more than a decade. I had cut my troublingly elevated triglycerides level by more than two-thirds. That was all wonderful and fantastic. But recently, I felt like hell, and reorganizing my purse and seeing all those meds laid out in front of me was a wake-up call. Now I feel good most of the time. My body is functioning like it’s supposed to. I’m not as worried about acid reflux when we do swan dives or downward-facing dog in yoga. I’m looking forward to training for my next half-marathon in May without feeling so bad. (The one in September, I was carrying lots of heartburn meds with me, and I basically took it really easy the first half to make sure I would get through the first half so I’d have no choice but to turn around and complete the second half. I managed a minute faster than last year, but imagine if I hadn’t felt like crap.)
Now I’m looking into next week and the reintroduction phase and learning if there is something specific that’s bothering me or if my body was just generally a wreck from too much junk (especially Diet Coke). I have already come to the conclusion that red peppers are too much for me, and I have to keep tomatoes limited in order to manage the reflux. We’ll see how the rest of the reintroduction goes. I’m going to keep steering clear of Diet Coke. There is no way that wasn’t a trigger for reflux.
With Whole30, it’s almost easier to say what you can have than what you can’t: You can have meat, vegetables, fruits, eggs and nuts that aren’t legumes. (That excludes, all sweeteners, dairy, alcohol, beans, grains, soy, nitrates, peanut butter and most food additives and preservatives, just to get started.)
I’ve been following the Whole30 Recipes Instagram feed for a long time and have gotten lots of good ideas there before and during this experience. In my preparation period, I read through that and as well as a lot of blog posts where people reviewed their experiences, looking for recipes that stood out to me and adding them to a Google document.
The first week, Judah smoked and diced a whole bunch of chicken for me, and froze a portion of it as well for a future week. That was good in a pinch to add to a salad or eat with vegetables. The second week, he made a HUGE portion of Kalua Pork from Nom Nom Paleo. I ate that for a couple of days, added some to the frittata I made for the second week’s breakfasts, and we froze a bag. That bag came out of the freezer to supplement the past couple of days’ meals this week.
Here’s what I ate:
All-Day Frittata (http://www.ourpaleolife.com/2013/03/all-day-frittata/): I took the base of this recipe and replaced the sweet potato (bleh) with shredded carrots and I added a bit of balsamic vinegar to the onions when they were cooking. That was the first week’s breakfast. For the second week, instead of sausage, I used leftover Kalua Pork. That was the second week’s breakfast. Both of these, I brought a couple of squares to work in a Ziploc container and microwaved them and ate them at my desk, and that worked fine.
However, after two straight weeks of frittata in the morning, I was totally burned out on eggs. For the third week, I made Breakfast Bacon Chicken Tenders (https://www.instagram.com/p/72k_2xqVzn/): These were quick, and some of the mornings, I dipped them in Wholly Guacamole. I didn’t even like guac that much going into this, but I am all in now.
The past week, still not ready for more frittata, I made Brussels Sprouts Breakfast Hash (http://lexiscleankitchen.com/2014/11/07/brussels-sprout-breakfast-hash/), which the blogger serves with egg on top. I skipped that, but I liked this so much, I ate it for many meals in a row and used it up before I was through with breakfasts for the week, leading to some improvisation later in the week. I used baby red, yellow and blue potatoes, no sweet potatoes, and it was excellent. I also just made another HUGE batch of it tonight, leading me into my post-W30 life.
Waldorf Tuna Salad (http://meljoulwan.com/2011/02/09/youre-the-top-tuna-salad/) served me well. I never made mayo this round; I just used olive oil and a little vinegar, and this was great. I made it a couple more times without the parsley or green onions, and it was still good (plus less food waste since buying a little bit of parsley or a couple of green onions is tough), and it was still tasty. I especially like it served on apple slices. I tried making it once with guacamole instead of mayo and that … was a mistake.
The aforementioned Kalua Pork (http://nomnompaleo.com/post/111934821818/pressure-cooker-kalua-pig). Yes. Make this. Especially if you have a pressure cooker. It’s like three ingredients, a couple of hours, and the payoff is fantastic.
Paleo Fried Chicken Meatballs (http://meljoulwan.com/2016/09/26/paleo-fried-chicken-meatballs/): Man, you know? I made these the first week and forgot how good they were until just now. They need to reappear on the to-cook list like yesterday. Anyway, it turns out I am terrible at making meatballs, so I made small patties and checked the temperature with the meat thermometer to make sure they were full cooked, and that worked just fine.
One of the bloggers whose Whole30 reviews I followed wrote basically a love letter to this Easy Drumsticks recipe (http://everclevermom.com/2014/05/easy-weeknight-paleo-chicken-best-drumstick-recipe-ever/). They are ridiculously easy, and my whole family LOVED them. We made them twice in four days, I just bought another package of drumsticks so we can make them again.
One weekend, Judah make Nom Nom Paleo’s Cracklin’ Chicken (http://nomnompaleo.com/post/74180911762/cracklin-chicken). It was really tasty, but it was a lot of work to debone the thighs. So while I liked it, since I am not really skilled at deboning and don’t feel like asking for assistance with that frequently, this is on the “probably again” list not “make it now,” but it sure was yummy.
Another blogger wrote a love letter to these Chicken & Zucchini Poppers (http://www.onelovelylife.com/chicken-zucchini-poppers-gf-df/). After having failed at making meatballs, I decided to use the theory behind the recipe to make mini meatloaf in a muffin pan. They were … OK. I wanted to love them, and I didn’t find them fantastic. (Also, the ground chicken got a little slimy in the muffin pan; I had to scrape part of it off and I took them out of the pan and broiled them to brown up the edges.) But your mileage may vary.
This Beef and Tomato Soup from Skinnytaste (http://www.skinnytaste.com/beef-tomato-and-acini-di-pepe-soup/) is not Whole30-compliant, necessarily, but I had been making it with riced cauliflower instead of pasta and with that and skipping the cheese, it was fine. Unfortunately, the can of tomatoes I got had red pepper in it too, and I couldn’t eat this straight without getting bad heartburn. However, I did put some leftovers in with some scrambled eggs, and that worked out pretty well. I could still tell if I ate more, I would feel it, but a smaller amount was survivable.
Judah made this Texas-Style Chili con Carne recipe from Serious Eats (http://www.seriouseats.com/recipes/2015/01/pressure-cooker-chile-con-carne-texas-red-chili-recipe.html) in the pressure cooker, making it compliant thanks to Red Boat fish sauce. It. Was. Fabulous. Highly recommend. The hardest part was finding all those chiles at the store.
Judah also made (and is about to make another round) of Nom Nom Paleo Bo Kho (though he used chuck instead of short ribs; http://nomnompaleo.com/post/135164093808/pressure-cooker-b%C3%B2-kho-vietnamese-beef-stew): Another good one.
Other things I ate:
Roasted cauliflower rice. Yes. This. So good. (Roasted riced broccoli, now available at Trader Joe’s, was not so good. I mean, it tasted fine, but it was really stinky, like to the point it woke one of my kids up to complain about how the house smelled.)
Carrots and guac
Apples and almond butter
Apples and cashew butter
Apples by themselves
Apples with cinnamon
Other roasted vegetables
Chia pudding the first day I burned out on eggs (it was horrible -- maybe user error but no).
Aidell’s chicken and apple sausages, sometimes with eggs and sometimes not
Compliant lunchmeat wrapped around dill pickled green beans (without sugar)
About 10 days in I was at the end of my rope and made some paleo “fries,” which I ate with guacamole and which settled down the cravings
Ginger tea to settle the stomach
Kombucha probably too often
Dried “just mango” from Trader Joe’s
Drank lots of plain iced tea and sparkling water (not together), plus plenty of water
Roasted squash and carrots blended with some chicken broth for an easy soup
Day 4: I had tickets to a Tuesday-night lecture at Willamette University and aimed to eat in the cafeteria beforehand, figuring I could get a piece of chicken and some salad. Well, that was not the case. There were a ton of vegan soy products I couldn’t eat, some beef that was cooked with beans, pizza, cake, cereal. I ended up with some purple potatoes from the vegan station and lettuce and carrots with oil and vinegar but no protein, some beets and some salad I thought was kale but was seaweed. So. Then it was time for the lecture, and I did not feel great. I was starving and in desperate need of some protein. I ended up eating a couple of mints from the dregs of my purse. Doh! But it could have been worse, and eventually I got to eat dinner. (Also, the lecture was fantastic. Though I didn’t even get into the part of the story where I couldn’t figure out where to eat and wandered through the cafeteria looking for a seat having junior-high flashbacks while also realizing that I was twice these kids’ age.)
Day 28: I was driving an hour for a work project, and the kids were nuts, so I didn’t have time to prepare anything. (Also, we’d had a power outage the night before, which thwarted my cooking plans.) I grabbed a bunch of grapes and a bag of raw cashews from home and I stopped at the store and grabbed a bag of compliant lunchmeat and a kombucha. Somehow I got through that whole day on all of that. Remarkably, I felt pretty good. It was weird, but I was thankful.
So what’s next?
I’m ready to start the slow reintroduction tomorrow. I want to see if I can narrow down what foods are bothersome to me, especially before Thanksgiving. But honestly, I aim to continue eating better, planning my meals out, avoiding processed foods and the like. I miss beans and grains and rice and soy (and of course sugar), and I look forward to testing them out. But I’m exiting this experience with so much more awareness -- of what’s in so many foods, of my tendency to eat because of scheduling instead of how I feel, of the fact that turning down a treat doesn’t mean I’ll never eat a treat again. (There are always, always more treats.)
I just feel so much better, and I want to keep feeling this way. No regrets, lots of happy. *fistbump*