First things first: 2014 was the year I learned a million things about myself, but one of the most important was my inability to live a calm, peaceful and encouraging existence while fueling my body with junk food. (I know – obvious statement of the decade, but I’m a slow learner.) Although I’ve never been a particularly healthful eater, I started making changes in my diet when I became pregnant with Bee. I cooked dinners I thought were nutritious because they were made from ingredients at the grocery store, rather than a drive-thru. And they were nutritious, for the most part: hummus plates, fresh wraps, cobb salads, etc.
But what I didn’t realize was that those “fresh” ingredients from my grocery store contained loads of not-so-fresh chemicals and additives and preservatives and natural flavors I couldn’t pronounce. And when my girlfriend passed along this book to me earlier this year, I couldn’t ignore the facts. It was as if someone was writing a memoir about my life: sluggish mornings, energy slumps in the afternoon, cravings all night long. Frequent breakouts, bloated stomach, boggling headaches. Mine eyes had seen the glory, forever and ever, Amen. It was time to make a change.
So I decided to give #Whole30 a go last spring (the official rules are here, if you’re curious), thinking it would be fairly simple to cut out grains, legumes, dairy and sugar. I already cooked mostly at home, and I’d given up dairy while nursing after realizing Bee was allergic (and then later realizing I was, too – again, slow-learner!). But, simple it was not.
Don’t get me wrong – it wasn’t so magnificently difficult that it’s impossible, and it was one of those purposeful hards, like the kind where it’s pretty easy to press forward because you are learning something about yourself. After just one week, my head felt clear. This one’s hard to explain, because I didn’t realize my head wasn’t clear before. But suddenly, focusing was easy and my productivity was unbelievable and I just felt, kind of superhuman. Like a put-together version of myself that wasn’t continually at war in her own head. (Told you it was hard to explain.)
I distinctly remember a morning that was particularly frenzied – we were out of coffee and I’d just stubbed my toe and Bee was being of the general toddler variety and Bernie chose that precise moment to pee on the dining room rug. Non-#Whole30 Erin would have yelled, for sure. And maybe stomped, out of maturity, of course. But there was this weird holding period, like my brain knew reacting in a rash way wasn’t going to help anything, and I actually took deep breaths. (I’ve always read about the kind of people that take deep breaths, and I always wondered how they trained themselves to do that. Turns out it’s kind of natural if you take away the raging sugar telling you to scream.)
And after that moment, I was a changed woman. I realized that I’ve been fighting against myself for years now – trying to calm those anxious moments or stressful days or tense relationships with everything other than the fuel I was offering my very own body. I was trading my peace for – quite literally – a slice of cake.
It sounds funny when I put it that way – like cheese and bread and wine are more important than daily sanity or peace or clarity. I mean, I always think of that story in the Bible where Esau gave up his birthright for a bowl of stew, and it sounds like the silliest thing until I realize that I do this every.single.day. I trade self-control and will power for the comfort of food and a raging sugar high. And it just needed to stop.
Here’s one of the things no one tells you about #Whole30: it’s not really about the food. It’s about the clarity; the realization that food affects you on a very, very cellular level. It’s about devoting a month to learning that you’re stronger than a craving, that you can make better decisions that you think, and that it doesn’t have to be this hard to tap into the energy you already have.
I now eat Paleo roughly 90% of the time and am slowly learning my balance. There have been days of over-indulgence that leave me achy, bloated and lethargic the next morning – the trigger my body provides to remind me to clean up my act. And I’ve learned that I can tolerate some additives more than others (for me, sugar is a non-negotiable; the stuff makes me act like a child).
And now that I’ve written a novel, here are a few of my favorite resources, recipes and ideas to help you clean up your diet, should you be interested!:
Jenna held my hand through the entire #Whole30 process (her Instagram tag features lots of fantastic clean eaters sharing ideas!), and she recently created a 1-week meal plan ($13) to ease the transition to cooking without grains, sugars and legumes.
For a more exhaustive list, Whole30.com offers some incredible downloads: shopping lists, meal planning templates, dining guides, travel guides and more. Download away; all are free.
For breakfast, I like to clean out my veggie crisper with whatever needs to be finished and add either eggs or sweet potatoes. Super scientific, I know. But here are a few great recipes if you’re a rule-follower: Egg McNothings, Pulled Pork & Jalapeno Frittata, Sweet Potato, Apple & Pancetta Hash, Dijon Pork Breakfast Skillet.
For lunch, I generally grab a handful of nuts, a beef jerky and some fresh veggies (carrots or peppers). Maybe an apple? I’m pretty simple. But on weekends or slower days, here are some good lunch recipes: Buffalo Ranch Stuffed Peppers, Calamari, Kale & Kalamata Olive Salad, Turkey Roll-Ups with Avocado Dressing.
For dinner, I follow a really simple formula of any meat+green veggies+homemade vinaigrette (I love dijon mustard and white wine vinegar together, or balsamic and garlic). But, again, for the rule-followers, here are some goodies: Easy Pan-Fried Lemon Chicken, 15-Minute Kale and Sausage, Balsamic Mustard Steak.
For dessert, these are the most amazing brownies you’ll ever have (thank you, Amy!). And they take – literally – 6 minutes. (20 if you let your toddler help.) Refrigerate and enjoy. I sometimes get lazy and make mine with organic almond butter, dehydrated date pieces, extra cocoa powder with a bit of sea salt. Dark and delicious!
These are my favorite #Whole30-approved staples that I rely on to jazz up the everyday mix of eggs, grass-fed meat and veggies:
–Chomps Grass-Fed Beef Jerky
–Pecan Pie Larabars
–Louisiana Hot Sauce
–Applegate Turkey Bacon
–Aidells Chicken Apple Sausage
–La Croix (Lime)
And lastly, a tough love quote that made me smile from the website: “Don’t you dare tell us this is hard. Giving up heroin is hard. Beating cancer is hard. Drinking your coffee black. Is. Not. Hard… It’s only thirty days, and it’s for the most important cause on earth – the only physical body you will ever have in this lifetime.”
Tell me, would you ever give #Whole30 a go? Have you ever tried a food “cleanse”? I’d love to hear your experiences!
Your experience sounds really powerful, but I am very very sceptical of some of these restrictive diets. What purpose is served by cutting out legumes? Or who decided that *nightshades* could be bad for you? (Gwyneth Paltrow’s cookbook points the finger at nightshades – this just seems like a holdover from medieval times when nightshades were genuinely believed to be poisonous.) I’m just not convinced that I should stop eating chick peas or tomatoes, even for a month. But then, I know myself – I do pretty well with moderation and pretty poorly with extremes.
Hi Lauren: Oh, I LOVE that you know yourself well to know you do well with moderation. It takes a lot of will power to excel in this area – bravo! And you know, I think there are people who food simply doesn’t affect. I had a few girlfriends who tried Whole 30 and it didn’t make a difference at all! Isn’t it fascinating? (BTW – tomatoes are definitely #Whole30 approved – I don’t think I could do without them!) :)
You can read a BRIEF explanation of why no legumes here – http://whole9life.com/2012/09/the-legume-manifesto/ For more links to scientific support sources, you’d have to check out the book (It Starts With Food).
I did the Paleo diet for 6 weeks and found it quite difficult. It wasn’t hard from the perspective of giving up sugar or caffeine. I sort of fell into the camp with Lauren — the biggest thing Paleo did was make me think, “What the heck is wrong with some brown rice to go with my vegetables and meat?” I loved discovering new sauces. And I agree that processed foods, white bread and sugar are best left out of most meals. I learned a lot from Paleo and still apply some of it every day. But for me, cutting out things like brown rice and legumes just didn’t make sense. Trying to eat “from the ground” as much as possible makes lots of sense.
I TOTALLY hear you! When I re-incorporated black beans and a few other legumes, my stomach ached for hours. BUT, that wasn’t the case for everyone. I think that’s the beauty of it – you can experiment and add a few items back in to figure out what steals your energy and what provides you with more! It’s all so interesting! Glad to know you’re enjoying the brown rice and legumes, and I couldn’t agree – from the ground is a good policy. :)
You go, Erin! I’m not there yet. Not quite ready to figure out how to take a leap into a special diet while working around a toddler and husband with different needs/wants. But I try to lean more toward veggies, fruits, lean meats and good grains, and away from lots of processed junk and sugar that my sweet tooth and crunchy-snack taste buds love. Some days are better than others.
Ha, isn’t that the mantra for life? Some days are indeed better than others. ;)
And yes, I’m lucky in that Bee eats the same thing for nearly every meal (eggs, avocadoes, berries, etc), and Ken’s relatively non-picky as long as it’s not soup for every meal. ;) But, I can’t imagine trying to incorporate a Paleo menu with various tastes and preferences – eek!
Bravo! I absolutely love this post. For me it took being struck with severe illness to realise the importance of our body (the whole 1 that wwe get…) and the effect food has on our health both mental and physical. It brings me so much joy when I hear of people discovering how we can use food both to improve our health and as preventative medicine without needing to learn the hard way as I did.
Well done Erin and I will definitely be following your story! Xx
Ah, I’m so sorry you were struck with a severe illness, but so happy you’ve learned something so valuable at yourself in the process! Hope everything is well now. :)
we are in the middle of Whole 30 right now. it’s so hard. food is the way I reward myself for enduring stressful events. I’ve definitely sensed more energy, clearer skin, better sleep, and all that, though! we’re starting to make plans for what “rules” we’ll keep post-Whole 30.
Oh that’s so exciting, Natalie! Carry on, dear! You can do it. :)
Thank you for sharing this so eloquently! I’ve been avoiding the whole 30 just because i know it will be AMAZING but I’m lazy. I did 9 months of an even more extreme version for my naturopath and it was life changing. But i was paying $300 a visit and that was some pretty great motivation to stay on the diet! I think this has helped me almost reach the point of no return in giving this another go though. Thank you. I also hadn’t connected how sugar / junk affects behaviour, and that is really powerful! Its such a vicious cycle!
It totally is, Laura! Thanks for sharing your story!
My husband and I are on day 23 of our first Whole30, to be honest I decided to do it because my husband is a bit overweight and I thought this might help push him into being healthier for our kids (ages 9,7,5, and 3) but funny enough it has been me who has seen the clarity and weight-loss (and yes I know you aren’t supposed to weigh yourself while doing it but it motivates me to eat correctly so I’m breaking that rule). I have learned that I have a major problem with snacking and sugar when I’m bored or stressed or angry. We plan to go mostly Paleo when we are done to learn some new recipes and continue on a path of feeling better. I’ve never “dieted” once in my whole life but turning 35 this year was a turning point in deciding to be healthier, I loved your post thank you so much for sharing!!
Oh, what a fascinating story, Heather! Love that you’ve had a great experience as well! :)
Brava! (as I write this I’m eating my breakfast a la almond milk-yay). Eating healthier to feel and perform better is becoming a theme in my life because of the amount of running I do and how I react to dairy products. Have you ever heard of the Virgin Diet by J.J. Virgin? Some families have tried it, and did feel much better when they were eating cleanly.
Oh I haven’t, but I think I should look it up! And omg, I feel like our family is allergic to dairy and never realized!
LOVE LOVE LOVE THIS! I “went paleo” over three years ago and it has been absolutely life changing for many of the reasons you so eloquently stated. On top of those, I lost weight and a few dress sizes, which was super timely for my wedding. ;) My husband and I usually do a Whole30 every January after all the overeating of the holidays.
I’ve kept the same dress size since, but have actually gained some of the weight back because I began lifting weights. And let me tell you– the freedom that comes from knowing that those little threatening numbers don’t dictate my health has been liberating. I use my clothes as a gauge and only touch a scale when I compete in Olympic weightlifting meets.
The confidence from that and from taking a proactive, preventative stance on my health well-being was a total game changer. I love the feeling of being strong and competent and knowledgable about what makes my body happy.
So glad you’ve come to similar conclusions! Cheers, m’dear!
Ah, I love hearing this! Kudos, Madam!!!! :)
Ok I started it after reading your post and I’m shocked I haven’t cheated yet. I normally lack will power (if I open a bag of chips I will finish it) but this has been surprisingly easy. I get my sugar fix from your brownie recipe snd am now craving fresh veggies. I don’t feel this overwhelming change but my skin has definitely improved as well as my energy. (Oh and I lost the rest of my baby weight). And the most important thing is I honestly don’t feel deprived. Thank you!!!
OMG that is such a great success story, Jen – I couldn’t agree more. It’s an amazing change, truly! Congrats on your dedication! :)
This is amazing. I’ve been s l o w l y eating better over the past two years, but I know I would still learn a TON doing this.
I also rely on beef sticks for lunch – we like the ones from Nick’s Sticks! http://bit.ly/1Fd2tvt
OMG genius sticks! These look delicious! :)
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