Monday, September 15, 2014

My First Whole 30: Looking at Food Differently

While having lunch with a friend I told her about my decision to try a Whole 30 diet for 30 days. If you're not familiar with the diet the goal is to eliminate all inflammatory foods: sugar, grains, dairy, white potatoes, legumes, seed oils, and alcohol, in order to "reset" the body's immune response. By eliminating constant sources of inflammation the immune system is allowed to return to normal. She told me that she doesn't think she has the willpower to be that strict for a month and asked how I was going to do it. 

Making the suggestion that people try the Whole 30 I feel like Laurence Fishburne in the Matrix. There is a red pill and a blue pill and you must decide. One will keep everything the same and the other will change your life and your health in so many ways that the odds of you turning back are slim to none. I must warn you though, as I've cleaned up my diet I've become sensitive to the things I've given up. That is, once I give something up I can't go back. I'm not saying this will be true for you but it has definitely been the case for me.

My motivation for sticking to the Whole 30 is the muscles of my body. They have been tight for as long as I can remember. Muscles in my back and feet crunch when you run your fingers over them and I'd give anything for them to let go. I'd rather have feet that don't hurt and a back that doesn't ache more than I'd have any of the things that I'm giving up. I'm not sure if a Whole 30 will work but I'm a firm believer that you are what you eat and chronic inflammation does not do good things to the body. So, I'll let you know.

Day 1: This morning we went to a funeral and in the mix of getting ready and picking up the babysitter I didn't have much time for breakfast. So I packed a pear and a bag of almonds to eat in the car. They got me through the service. After we left my husband suggested a lunch date since the little one was already occupied with babysitters. We don't have any family in town so dates are few and far between so I jumped at the chance. My husband chose the Yard House and over lunch I told him all about the Whole 30. The biggest challenge I had was deciding what to order. Everywhere I looked there were potatoes, soy sauce, wheat, sugar, corn, or cheese. I just assumed I'd get a salad with chicken but they all had one of these offenders. Sure I could have ordered it without _______ but I wasn't excited to eat a bowl of lettuce without dressing and very few toppings. Part of me simply wanted to leave. I'd ordered a burger there before without the bun but all of their burgers came with either fries or one of their salads. I had settled on a bunless burger with a boring salad when my husband orders steak and shrimp. Well heck, if you're having steak I might as well too. So I had the filet that came with a side of vegetables. If you can't tell I hate to be one of "those people" at restaurants who make many special requests but I'm learning that I might have to just get over that.

Like I've read on many blogs the first day isn't that big of a deal physically. Figuring out what to eat is the real trick. It seems that most things that are quick to eat fall into one of the do not eat categories. Since most people think they are short on time and often opt for convenience is probably why this diet seems like such a huge challenge. A piece of fruit, handful of berries or nuts, or a vegetable salad are all quick and easy. After reading that last sentence most of you are probably thinking that you will die of starvation on this diet. That is the gluten talking. The first week I gave up wheat I felt like I was going to starve and then it went away. Now when I get hungry it's more of a gentle reminder rather than an all consuming pain.

Although I'm writing about my day 1 experience, I'm actually on day 4 physically. Reading over about other people's experiences with the Whole 30 many feel horrible day 2-4~ish. (
Read other takes on the first week to 30 days from:, and Day 2 and 3 were slightly rough for me but not to the extent that I think some people have experienced. My advice would be to give up gluten for a week before you start so that you're not hit by so many withdrawal symptoms all at once. What's most disturbing to me is that people have withdrawal symptoms when they stop eating many of the staples of the American diet. I don't think it should be that way. I only eat fresh strawberries in the summer and I don't have withdrawals over the winter.

Day 2: I have a headache and I feel like I could sleep all day. Just let me lay here and do nothing. Not going to happen, I have a 3 year old who starts his day jumping on the bed and maintains that level of energy all day. 
Tonight I wanted to rip into a bag of marshmallows. Instead I had pickled asparagus I bought at the farmers market wrapped in ham. I also have raw cacao nibs in the refrigerator that I'll eat a handful of when I get a sugar craving. So far it has worked. The biggest challenge has been eating out. It is very difficult to find something on a typical restaurant menu that doesn't contain: potatoes, cheese, soy, corn, gluten, grains, or sugar.

Day 3: Spices:
I've heard people say that eating healthy is boring. Instead I'm learning that I enjoy food so much more because everything isn't served on a starchy canvas. Today I cooked up a few dishes for the next few days and these are the spices I used:

  • allspice
  • cinnamon
  • cumin
  • arbol chili
  • pepper
  • curry powder
  • smoked paprika
  • coriander
  • cayenne
  • coconut aminos
  • bay leaf
  • mint
  • garlic
  • onion

Breakfast-Ratatouille with Poached Eggs

The Best Chicken You Will Ever Eat 
From: Well-Fed

Oven Roasted Caluiflower
Emeril Lagasse
(omit cheese)

Day 4: Holy wow, I feel amazing! After going to bed at midnight I was up at 7:15 and ready to go without an alarm clock. In our house I'm known for coining the term: "sleepin'", as in, "leave me alone". So, for me to be excited to be awake that early is an anomaly. We'll see if it continues. The biggest change I've felt is an unbelievable sense of peace. I spend most days sun up to sun down alone with a 3 year old because my husband works 12 and 24 hour shifts. I've often wished I could trek to the Himalayas to go meditate with the Buddhist monks to find that inner calm you hear in their voice. I now feel like I have some of that and my body doesn't feel like someone has turned the electricity up too high. I don't really know how to explain it with words other than an amazing sense of peace.

Day 5: I think my husband thinks I'm crazy when I tell him about the sense of peace I have. I've tried to explain to him that you can't know what it's like or what you're missing unless you do it. I no longer feel like my body is fighting itself and my shoulder muscles that have always been incredibly tight are beginning to soften on their own. On the Whole 30 website they have an A-Z list of medical conditions and people have given their testimonials on how the diet has influenced them. So don't just take my word for it. Check into it. There is a lot of information and advice from people who have done this more than once.

I just used the word DIET and it reminded me that weight is not a factor during the Whole 30. In fact, you're not supposed to weigh yourself for 30 days. So please don't get caught up in the numbers. I've never owned a scale myself so this one was easy for me.

Day6-7: What I'm learning about paleo is that you have to have a plan. Your quickest snacks are going to be raw fruits, vegetables, and nuts but eventually you will want something substantial to eat. Whether you go paleo or not I think the paleo approach is genius. Why spend an hour in the kitchen every night when you can spend 2 hours and have food for the week that is ready in minutes? No plastic trays or ridiculously small portion sizes here, just real food.

Week 2: Removing sugar, dairy, grains, legumes, alcohol, and vegetable oils I continue to feel amazing and I have this incredible sense of peace. It's the #1 reason I'd recommend a Whole 30 to everyone. With this crazy world who couldn't use more peace in their life? 
Melissa Joulwan has a post on her blog listing 30 Reasons to do a Whole 30. Initially I was skeptical but now, 2 weeks in, I completely agree with all 30. I'm excited to see what happens in the next 2 weeks but these first two have really made me think about the American Diet and it makes me sad. A month or so ago I joined a local city councilman in taking the FedUp Challenge. For 10 days I didn't eat any foods with sugar added to them. The biggest lesson I learned is that sugar is everywhere. Start looking around your pantry for the 309 names of sugar and remember that the ingredients listed first have the highest content in the product.  

When I go to a restaurant, walk through the grocery store, or I'm simply looking for a quick bite to eat is when I feel sad. There are very few choices that comply with the paleo lifestyle which is strange because I think without modern technology paleo is what everyone would eat. I know so many people who are sick and stressed out and when you walk through a supermarket the aisles are full of sugar, grains, dairy, and inflammatory oils. It makes me sad to see shopping carts go rolling by that are full of chemicals and inflammatory ingredients. I check out shopping carts because I'm a foodie and I'm looking to see if I missed something terrific. Then there is the part of me who used to work in a lab 20 years ago and I've been reading food ingredient labels ever since. The more you learn about the food on the shelves the less you will likely buy. Start paying attention. Start checking out shopping carts and see if you see a trend.

So not only is the majority of food on grocery store shelves working against most people, they are then told to borderline starve themselves and that they must also have a gym membership to see results. I know people and so you do. They have tried losing weight with this method for years and each time they resume eating normally, it's not natural to starve yourself indefinitely, they always end up with more weight than they started with. One of the ways I think diets sabotage people is that they allow for cheat days. With the Whole 30 I had cravings in the first week but once I broke down those chemical cravings by not eating, let's say sugar, then I no longer had those cravings. I think by allowing cheats in any diet people never get over their addiction to things like sugar. Sugar is addictive like a drug so if people don't give it up completely how can they ever break the addiction? Will I never eat sugar again? No. I'm too much of a foodie and I recognize that sugar is a key component to balancing flavor. For me the difference is that I'll be aware of choosing to add maple syrup or honey to a recipe and I won't load up on sugar like someone looking for a fix. If you've ever hit the leftover Halloween candy dish hard like I have in the past you know the feeling you get from binging on sugar.

Basically in 2 weeks it's all come down to one simple concept. If it doesn't make you feel good, why are you doing it?

The Testing Phase
I finished my Whole 30 a week ago and I've been in the testing phase; after the inflammatory foods have been removed you try them out individually and see how your body responds. So far I've had some pretty extreme reactions to dairy and potatoes. In my opinion, the testing phase has been the hardest for me. To eat something and in a few hours have a pounding headache, dizziness, and a funky taste in your mouth that makes you wish you could vomit, in hopes of ending your misery, is not my idea of a good time. That has been this former cheese lover's reaction to dairy. I didn't plan it but I'm thankful I chose to do my testing at dinner because if I don't feel well I can simply go to bed early and sleep it off. My symptoms aren't as intense the next two days but things are also not normal. 

Dairy is definitely off the table and I'm finding that other foods don't work either. I made a recipe that called for raw honey as a sweetener and I felt like I had a continuous hot flash for the next 4-5 hours. My sensitivity to sugar has definitely increased because I taste sugar in foods that I don't think are meant to be sweet and those that are sweetened for the American palate I now turn away. One morning I pulled the bacon package from the trash because I wanted to see if there was more sugar than bacon in what I was eating. The corn chips at Chipotle taste like sopapillas and I expect there to be a drizzle of strawberry sauce and whipped cream on top. A barista told me that the matcha was naturally sweetened which in a momentary lapse of judgement I thought she was talking about the matcha itself. I took one sip and ended up throwing my iced matcha away because it was sickening sweet. So a few paragraphs back where I said I'd go back to sugar, I haven't and I'm now 2 weeks past the end of my whole 30.

Potatoes now give me tummy troubles and I'm pretty sure my body is not a fan of the entire nightshade family (tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants). Nightshade elimination isn't part of Whole 30 but one morning I made a ratatouille (above) and I didn't feel great afterwards so I've been paying attention ever since. I'm finding it difficult to fall off the Whole 30 wagon and I'll most likely eat paleo-ish for the rest of my life because I feel so much better. I'm sure you've done something that gave you an ah-ha moment where you could no longer see life through the eyes you wore before the event happened. That is what Whole 30 has done for me and, yes, there are people who suspect I may be crazy (it's evidently common among paleo people), but it's opened my eyes to our food system in a way I never could have imagined.

Looking at Food Differently
I've been eating these foods for nearly 40 years and I only gave them up for a month. Now I'm finding that a number of them now make me sick. It's made me stop and think. If I had continued with my previous diet would my life expectancy have changed? Would I have developed some sort of disease? These questions can never be answered but it makes me think about the American diet. Grains, Dairy, Sugar, and Vegetable Oils are served at nearly every meal and snack. Did you know that 70% of Americans take a prescription medication? Antidepressants, and painkillers are 2 of the top 3 classes of drugs prescribed. There are people who genuinely need anti-depressants but seriously, read up on Whole 30; one of the reasons people recommend it is the overwhelming sense of peace it brings. 

I think painkillers are definitely called for in acute injuries but it's those who take them for chronic pain that have me concerned. Life shouldn't physically hurt everyday and food shouldn't make you sick. I wonder how the health statistics in America would change if everyone gave up inflammatory foods.

Of the ten leading causes of mortality in the United States, chronic, low-level inflammation contributes to the pathogenesis of at least seven. These include heart disease, cancer, chronic lower respiratory disease, stroke, Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, and nephritis (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention 2011; Bastard et al. 2006; Cao 2011, Jha et al. 2009; Ferrucci et al. 2010; Glorieux et al. 2009; Kundu et al. 2008; Murphy 2012; Singh et al. 2011).

It All Starts With Food

I'm sure some will say that I'm doing this in reverse by reading the book after making the changes but I'm 100 pages or so into the book written by the creators of Whole 30. I bought it because I wanted to learn their rationale and science for coming up with this eating lifestyle. It's really very simple:

The food you eat either makes you MORE HEALTHY or LESS HEALTHY. Those are your options. - It Starts with Food
We know that the majority of the American diet is inflammatory and we can also see the toll it takes on our health. So remove the inflammation and health conditions are either greatly reduced or eliminated. It's so simple. There aren't many books I come across that I think EVERYONE needs to read but It Starts With Food is definitely one of them. 


Ill health is not your fault. An inability to lose weight is not your fault. Our food system was designed this way by playing on the flavors our genetics make us crave in order to drive profits. Let's go with sugar as an example. If we were hunter gatherers sugar would be difficult to come across. So our taste buds are sensitive to it because it is a quick source of energy. 

There is a much greater explanation in the book but this is my summary of a chapter that was a huge eye opener for me:

In the modern world sugar is everywhere and chronically elevated levels of blood sugar lead to an accumulation of body fat and triglycerides. That in turn leads to leptin resistance. Leptin tells your brain when you are full and when your body is no longer sensitive to it your brain will drive you to eat more sugar/simple carbohydrates because it thinks that you are too thin and it is trying to put on weight. Trying to accumulate weight it also slows down your thyroid which plays a key role in the body's metabolism. (An active thyroid equals an active metabolism and vice versa.) Then you try a "diet" where you greatly reduce your calories and kill yourself in a gym and the body releases more cortisol, which also slows down the thyroid. Cortisol, the fight or flight hormone, directs the body to look for a quick source of fuel. That lands you back on to the simple carbohydrate diet and the cycle keeps repeating. 

My Results 2 Weeks After Whole 30

I can definitely say that I will be paleo for the rest of my life. I've done a few tests on the things I've given up and I can honestly say that none of them taste good enough for me want to feel that bad after eating them. The crunchy muscles have been gone in my feet for weeks and my feet no longer ache. My muscles have never been this loose. I still have some tight spots but I find myself craving a good stretch on the floor and in time I know that they will also let go. I sleep well, I still have a wonderful sense of peace and I have great energy.

The most surprising thing I've gained is great will power in other areas of my life. I don't crave any of the foods that I gave up so will power isn't an issue with food but I'm learning to apply the same outlook to other areas of my life. If it doesn't make you happy, why are you doing it? 


It has been 7 months since I started this Whole 30 and so far I haven't had much success adding foods back. Some things I react to right away and others hit me the next day. I began another Whole 30 in January but it wasn't working for the joint pain I had in my hands. Last year I had the same joint pain during the winter months but I attributed it to practicing massage therapy and turning 40. Now that I knew that my body was reacting to all of these foods I began to suspect it was an autoimmune problem, rheumatoid arthritis. So in the middle of my Whole 30 I switched to AIP (autoimmune paleo). It was tough to follow at first but then with a number of stumbles I think I've finally made peace with it. With AIP all of my rheumatoid symptoms disappear but I've learned that this process is a marathon and not a sprint. Now I'm just looking to see what version of paleo ends up working for me. Here is an article about the beginning of my AIP journey.