My whole Whole30 experience

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.

The food

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 ( 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 ( 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 (, 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 ( 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 ( 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 ( 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 ( 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 ( 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 ( 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 ( 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 ( 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; 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

  • Cashews

  • Macadamia nuts

  • Almonds

  • Apples and almond butter

  • Apples and cashew butter

  • Apples by themselves

  • Apples with cinnamon

  • Kiwi berries

  • Grapes

  • 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

  • Larabars occasionally

  • 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

Challenging days

  • 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*

Before and after. I had an existential crisis over whether to share since I really, truly was not in this for weight loss. But at the same time, it's nice to see results, especially when a large portion of the results is that my belly isn't so bloated all the time. 

Before and after. I had an existential crisis over whether to share since I really, truly was not in this for weight loss. But at the same time, it's nice to see results, especially when a large portion of the results is that my belly isn't so bloated all the time. 

Sugar-free March is over. Do I get a cookie?

Earlier this year, inspired by some friends doing the same thing, I decided I was going to try to go sugar-free for March. Well ... kind of. I was going to try to avoid added sugars as much as was feasible, just to prove to myself that I could do it -- and also as an experiment. (Fruit and naturally occurring sugars in other foods were 100 percent OK, and Judah still added a touch of honey and molasses to the fruit/veggie/omegas/Vitamin D smoothies he makes most mornings.)

It's been an interesting 31 days. 

The first thing I noticed was that sugar is in damn near everything. I mean, I knew that, but it was a different experience when I started actually looking at the labels. Nearly every bread product, every bar (Luna, Lara, Kind -- stuff I'd keep in my purse for snacks), every sauce, every dressing. Everything. So that was an eye-opening experience. 

The thing I was trying to test myself on the most was my on-again, off-again relationship with soda and my propensity to talk myself into desserts and other treats, instead of out of them. The second major lesson of this month is that, even though we bring very few sugary treats into the house, I am faced with them on a regular basis nonetheless: birthday cupcakes, cake, three kinds of cookies at work! Sharing a dessert at a family event! Free cookie for the kids at the grocery store -- so why don't I get one too? My latest temptation: the Jelly Belly dispenser at the office. It's not as pervasive as the "a few grams here, a few grams there" situation in every other food, but I am much more tempted by cake and cookies than salad dressing (you know, like most people).

So how did I do? Some confessions: I had one Hamantaschen (the cookies typically made to celebrate the Jewish holiday of Purim) after 1) reading about them and 2) smelling the hundreds of them baked for a synagogue fundraiser. But that was a planned indulgence, and a limited one. Last week, I was at OMSI and I discovered that they carried locally made macarons. I had not even *seen* a macaron since we moved, and they are small, so I purchased one. And I savored it greatly. I had one very strange night at work where I got hives and then took two antihistamines, which made me super woozy. Nothing else was helping, and I had to get through the shift, so I went to my old standby and bought a can of Coke. I sipped it for a while until I did start to feel a little better -- maybe a quarter or a third, and I trashed the rest. Also, while I replaced most of my non-water-drinking with unsweetened iced tea (it turns out it's SO GOOD!), I did have kombucha (fermented tea) a couple of times a week. But that was also planned. Here and there, I am sure I had sauces that had some sugar when I was at a restaurant and couldn't check, but overall, I think I did pretty well.

What are my takeaways? First off, I *can* say no to sugar when I put my mind to it. There were some tough situations -- brunch at the Original Pancake House, I didn't have a single bite of pancakes, even though I was surrounded. The day I had the single hamantaschen, there were actually two more kinds of cookies going around the office. Under other circumstances, I'm sure I would have had some of that, too. I didn't really crave Coke or other soda very much. I also discovered that plain soda water, which I was drinking to help with my carbonation craving, makes me feel terrible. So back to tea and water it is! 

What happens next? I am not giving up sugar for good. I guaran-damn-tee you that tomorrow, I am having a salted caramel chocolate chip cookie from Great Harvest. That is happening.

But I am taking my new awareness of my ability to say "no" most of the time and making that my default when faced with dessert. I will keep on with my unsweetened iced tea. I will eat some more of the yummy things I discovered when I was searching for sugar-free options. (E.g., broccoli slaw, pomegranate seeds, balsamic vinegar and olive oil is an amazing salad. Jicama strips are good with dip or without. Roasted beets are like candy! Almonds have a nice natural sweetness that's easier to notice when you're not popping jelly beans in the same hour.) I'll keep experimenting with eating clean, meal and snack planning, and trying new things. 

But first, hand me my cookie.

My kingdom for the chance to say thank you

It’s March 12, 2012, Judah’s first week home after getting back from Afghanistan. We’re at H-Mart, because how better to re-acclimate yourself to the U.S. than wandering around the market where whole aisles of things are marked in languages other than English? 

My cell phone rings. It’s Tim, wanting to check in about my return to work in a few weeks. And then he mentions: “Mary had an idea. She really enjoyed your photos of Judah meeting Aaron and reuniting with Isaac and was wondering if you’d consider writing a story about it.”

I said, “Oh, really? Um, sure. I’d been thinking about pitching something for the magazine maybe. Is that what you guys were thinking?”

“I’m pretty sure she’s thinking for the front page.”

Whoa. Really? I felt like I had something to say about my experiences having a baby while Judah was far away but still connected via technology, but I wasn’t sure how to make it play in the news section.

But Mary was sure. Before my official return to work, I stopped by the newsroom to introduce Aaron around and say hi and I stopped in Mary’s office. I talked to her for a while about how I should approach it. “Just tell your story,” she told me. “The rest will work itself out.”

So I left. And I wrote. And wrote. And wrote some more. And a little more after that. And ended up dropping a hefty 60+-inch draft onto my editors’ metaphorical desks upon my return to the office.

With some tweaks, some restructuring, a rewrite, a melding of the two versions, and a subtraction of about 25 inches of copy, thanks to the work of several editors … lo and behold, my story really did land on the front page of The Sun the Sunday before the Fourth of July.

I’ve been thinking about how this all came to pass today, since I found out the essay garnered an award from the MDDC Press Association -- my first and, since I’m now outside the Maryland, Delaware, D.C. purview with our move to Oregon, my last.

Mary believed in me, and she made me believe that I could tell my family’s story and that people would care and relate and, hopefully, not find it too self-indulgent. (I do joke and call myself a professional oversharer sometimes, though.)

Thanks to her, I have this record of a period of my life that would otherwise start to fall victim to murky memory (the newborn stage has that tendency), and I got to share that with our readers. And my children will also have the longer, detailed story of that unique time in their lives, in the form of that bulky first draft.

That’s only the beginning. Working with Mary -- first as a slot to her section editor, then as a section editor to her department head, then as a content editor to her editor-in-chief -- informed every bit of my career at The Sun. Everything she worked on was better because she set high expectations for herself -- and we, in turn, for ourselves. She was creative, brilliant, hilarious, kind, generous.

I’m so grateful for my time with her, so angry that her time was cut so short. I just wish I could tell her thank you. For everything.

Emily, Mary, me, Cheryl, Lori and Molly at Cheryl's goodbye party in, can it be, 2003?

Emily, Mary, me, Cheryl, Lori and Molly at Cheryl's goodbye party in, can it be, 2003?

Fun project with the kids ... or, you know, whoever

Note: Maybe I was influenced by this "Stop Fakebooking" blog post, even though I actually found it extremely irritating. I mean, I could have tossed this up on Pinterest as a fun project and left it at that. But that's not what happened. So here you go:

I'm not going to lie: Since our cross-country move a few weeks ago, I've felt like something of a stay-at-home mom fail.

Four days after we got here, we started researching preschools and daycares, which didn't exactly match up with my expectations of how things would be once I wasn't working at my extremely busy newspaper job of almost 14 years.

But the 4-year-old, who had been in full-time daycare since he was 7 months old, was begging to go back to school, and frankly, I was already worrying that he was going to lose his school routine, and possibly some of his reading and writing skills, before starting kindergarten this fall.

And if I'm going to launch my photography business here and do freelance work as planned, clearly, I'll need time for that. But still. I thought we'd last at least a week.

Nonetheless, the kiddos started their part-time program last week, and they love it. (And hey, I started on my research and wrote a couple of freelance articles, so the plan is working, right?)

But it is part-time, so yesterday, one of their home days, I thought we'd have a ton of fun -- the park since it was sunny, some drawing, some reading, maybe a picnic ... the possibilities were endless.

Until the 4-year-old woke up with a serious case of boundary busting. I want to watch another showwwwww! I want another snaaaaaack! I don’t want to go outsiiiiiiiiiide! I just want to be by myselllllllllf!

I mean, in a way, I can hardly blame him: His routine that's lasted most of his life has been completely undone. He just left all his friends. We're in a new and unfamiliar house. I'd be freaking out, too. But still, no.

The last straw was when my mom came over, and he was stomping around saying he wanted her to leave. Nuh-uh. Not OK.

The plan changed: Baby would stay with my mom, and I'd take the boy out for some one-on-one time. Stat. But first, I'd have to install the gargantuan car seat in my mom's car, during which I bashed myself in the side of the head with it  -- hard -- and burst into tears of pain, a little, but frustration mostly. Argh.

I don't know if it was seeing me frustrated too that turned him around, but the kiddo kind of got it back together at that point. Before we left, he told my mom that actually, he wanted her to come over every day, and he was excited about our outing.

We had fun walking around the grocery store and getting our bearings before picking out our lunch. He was a total sweetheart while we were eating, bursting with questions and telling me all about his new school, his energy now bubbling out positively instead of negatively. Ahhhh, better.

Walking through the produce section, I caught sight of some positively gorgeous rainbow carrots. "Look at these!" I told him. "Did you even know carrots came in this many colors?" He was fascinated, and I had a brainstorm. We'd get them and cut them up and have a taste test -- a scientific experiment, if you will. Brilliant!

Later, at home, I asked if he wanted to help me clean them up, and he said no thanks. So I washed them and scraped them. When I cut open the purple carrot, I saw it was pale orange in the middle. "Hey, check this out! Did you know it was going to be different colors in the center? Cool, huh?" Neat, Mom. (Whatever, Mom.) Then I cut them into sticks and offered them up for the taste test -- and got another no thank you.

Wind out of my sails, I started mindlessly slicing the carrots into rounds and before I realized what I was doing, I'd arranged them into a pattern on the cutting board.

"Hey, that's cool," I thought. "Almost like an art project you'd do with your kid. If your kid wanted to participate."

He later tried a few of the carrots, and the rest went into the night's beef stew. And I don't know, the mere creative act of making something pretty out of something unexpected made me happy, even if it didn't meet my initial "do something creative with the kids" expectation.

We're figuring this being-at-home stuff out together, even if it's only part-time. Together was kind of the point, right?


Art project idea that might work out for you (even though it didn’t for me):

Get a bunch of rainbow carrots, or a couple each of purple, yellow, red-orange and orange. Clean and slice into rounds. See what kind of patterns you can make with all the colors. Then eat! (For the record, they tasted mostly the same, so my taste-test idea was kind of a bust. You’re welcome.)

Memories or memory card? Why not both?

A year ago today, my husband returned from Afghanistan and was reunited with our son Isaac, then 3, and met our newborn, Aaron.

In that moment, I faced a familiar struggle: Be in the moment or document the moment?

Logistics won out, at least at first. After Judah stepped off the bus, I hung back with Aaron and let Isaac be the first to welcome his dad home. Holding the baby, I couldn’t really handle the camera, so I just stood there and soaked it in as the two of them apprised each other and then hugged.

Then Judah and I locked eyes and I said something silly like, “I have someone I’d like you to meet.” I handed Aaron to Judah and just watched them look at each other. Aaron, nearly 10 weeks old, gazed at his dad, then started crying. Despite my best efforts, the bus had arrived at mealtime. I passed over a bottle and let Judah take over feeding duties for a few minutes until Aaron calmed down. He didn’t want to let go, and besides, it was his turn.

Then, hands unexpectedly free, I just couldn’t resist documenting the scene that was unfolding before me and committed a few images to my memory card, not just my memory.

Isaac ran around my legs as I captured the picture of Judah in uniform, nuzzling Aaron’s forehead, with Aaron giving a tiny, contented smile.

It’s probably the most meaningful photograph I’ve taken to date, which made me realize that for me, documenting the moment is part of being in the moment. It adds to the experience; it doesn’t distract, doesn’t detract. The lesson instead is that when I can’t manage the camera, I will be there completely and take it all in, rather than worrying about missing the shot.

I might not have a canvas print of Judah and Isaac’s reunion, but it’s seared on my memory all the same.

Note: Adapted from a draft of this essay.

New adventures await

When my now-husband and I moved out to the East Coast in 1999, we were convinced it would be temporary. A couple of years, maybe a couple more, but after that, we'd be headed somewhere else. For sure. No doubt.

I guess nearly 14 years counts as temporary somewhere. But finally we are headed somewhere else -- back home to Oregon, to be near our families and back in the part of the world we're so passionate about.

So in a month or so, we'll be all packed up (or at least, we'd better be!) and off to new horizons.

We can't wait.