Like any (every?) woman over 30 who lives in Los Angeles, I’ve danced around the idea of the Whole30 for years. A one-month eating plan that cleans the gut, sheds some pounds, promises to rid you of all your weirdest eating habits, and you don’t have to juice?! What is this unicorn that people refuse to call a diet (even though it’s very clearly a diet)? Most importantly, did I actually have the will power to pull it off?
Like any (every?) woman over 30 who lives in Los Angeles, I recently read a not-a-self-help book that was clearly a self-help book on the topic of keeping promises, specifically to yourself. And so I decided that the Whole30 would be the first promise I would attempt to keep. (Sorry. Would keep. The book talks about language being the first step, even though it’s not about steps).
You can find the full guidelines on their very helpful website (www.Whole30.com) but the gist is 30 full days of no sugar (real or artificial), no grains (of any kind and there are a million kinds, like corn), no legumes (which is a word I did not really know until this experience. Turns out it means beans & soy. Bummer), no dairy (yes, yogurt is dairy. I had to check, too), no carrageenan/MSG/sulfites (I still don’t know what these are but found them on a thousand food labels), and no alcohol of any kind.
In other words: all whole foods.
Also, no baked goods or snacks that are just fake versions of the real things and no snacking unless there is actual hunger. And finally, no stepping on the scale until it’s over. This is not about weight loss (even though the #1 question every person asked me when I said I was on a Whole30 was, “how much weight have you lost?” More on that later). After 30 days you slowly reintroduce food groups in a way that makes it easy to determine what was bothering your stomach in the first place and, voila, cured!
Chronic stomach issues run in my family, some caused by a build up of foods that are wrong for one’s specific body. Tricky food relationships also run in my family. We stress eat. We over eat. We fad diet. And finally, I have a very irregular stomach. Every few days I’m in extreme pain. Many days I’m irregular (you know what I mean; don’t make me type it). I have a real issue with what the Whole30 world calls foods-with-no-breaks but I call once-you-pops (you can’t stop, but you knew that). I have been looking for some relief in these areas for a long time. This plan promised big growth and big lessons (and also “Tiger Blood” after day 16, which I had to feel for myself).
I am proud to say that I’m writing to you from day 29 of 30. I kept my promise. I got my relief. I learned some lessons (the primary one being that I have a serious addiction to dried fruit). I lost weight (screw it; it’s true). I got Tiger Blood! It came in the form of actually wanting to work out 5 days in a row!
But those are not the biggest revelations of the past 30 days. These are:
This is a concept that I heard on Oprah’s Super Soul Sunday podcast episode featuring Geneen Roth on the topic of Conscious Eating (because like any (every?) woman over 30 who lives in Los Angeles, I pair podcasts with my eating plans). I used to do a lot of eating because my brain told me it needed food, not because my body was hungry. Like getting up from a tricky section of a script I’m working on to eat five almonds, 25 times. I used to keep eating once I was full because my brain told me that the food was too expensive to leave on the plate or the people with me would think I was weird for not finishing or the conversation was awkward and eating was a distraction.
Yes, you can eat to enjoy food or indulge a little, and should. But I did a lot of eating to better manage whatever thing I wasn’t enjoying in my mind. Pushing through the promise of not snacking unless I was hungry and only eating until I was full really taught me a lot about my personal connection between mind and mouth.
I’m a people pleaser. I know that from lots of Cosmo quizzes and a few years of therapy, but I didn’t know that it crossed over to my eating. You know when you’re looking over a menu and someone says, “Should we get the fries?” and someone else says, “I don’t know… should we? We should right?” I will agree with the group 100 percent of the time. I will never say, “Not for me; I’m don’t want any,” or, “I’m not eating fries right now.” Because what if they say, “What are you on a diet or something? Why are you on a diet?” or, “Shit, should we not eat the fries? Ugh you’re right. No fries for anyone…” Or worse, what if they say nothing and just think, “Jessie’s a no-fun french fry prude.”
Logical: no. A fact about myself that I now know: yep. But I had to push through it when forced to say to everyone in my presence, “I’m doing a clean eating program to help with some stomach issues,” and then drop my mic and walk away (emotionally. I stayed at the table, even when there were fries).
One of the rules of the Whole30—unrelated to actual food items—is to try your hardest to eat and only eat during a meal. No texting, no ‘gramming, no watching TV or writing e-mails. Sit. Focus. Eat. This was impossible for me. It made me realize that outside of restaurant experiences I never just sit and eat. In fact, I was barely focused on my eating while I was eating. As a result, I ate fast and furiously. Food had to be really rich a flavorful to interest me because I was so distracted otherwise. I now suspect that some of my stomach pain came from eating too quickly, as did feeling like I wasn’t yet full until I was suddenly stuffed. My body was consuming but my brain wasn’t registering because of the speed.
This is the hard one but, but I made a promise to myself to confess it and I’m on a keeping promises roll. If I was having stomach issues and eating struggles, then why did I do a fad clean eating program instead of seeing a doctor or nutritionist?
Because I wanted to lose weight, quickly.
This was about how my body was feeling, yes, but it was equal parts about how my body looked at the time. If I knew that you do not lose weight on this program or worse, gain it, I would not have started. Guess that’s why they’re so insistent about not weighing yourself until it’s done…
Women and weight is a tale as old as time, true as it can be (thank you Mrs. Potts). I like to pretend I’m immune to it, that I have a healthy relationship with my body and how it relates to my eating; I don’t. I know that because I spent 30 days doing an incredibly challenging and limiting eating program as a way to lose weight quickly. Did it work: yes. Were there other incredible benefits: absolutely. Would I recommend it to people: I would and I am. But it has given me greater clarity around how I relate to food, in relation to my body. That is something I want to spend more time figuring out. I will do so slowly, with the help of a professional.
See above, but my answer is yes. Other wins include my new ability to rice my own cauliflower, make “toast” out of sweet potato slices and put an egg on anything. That said, I don’t imagine I’ll do it again. My hope is to not have the need for something so drastic. My plan is to make this a first step in a longer process around figuring out what’s best for my body and my mind.
Also, on Day 26 I locked myself out of the house with my dog for 30 minutes in the pouring rain, and I can’t ever have that happen again without the ability to take a shot of bourbon the minute I get back in the house.