Thoughts on The Whole30

I have this friend who’s been on the gluten-free bandwagon for a long time, and here’s what I’ve always told her: if you take away beer, pizza and cookies, I don’t have much left to live for.

Okay sure, there’s the kids, but whatever. All I’m saying is that giving up wheat is really not consistent with my world view.

But then the Universe would not shut up about The Whole30, and all the wonderful things that would happen if I gave up wheat, AND all the other grains, and sugar and alcohol and dairy and even legumes, for chrissakes. (Everyone knows that black beans are healthy, right?)

Shut up, Universe. There’s no way I’d ever do something THAT crazy.

Still, there were an awful lot of people making an awful lot of claims about The Whole30 that really appealed to me: clearer skin. Better sleep. Reduced joint pain. And of course, weight loss. These are things I want badly, and have wanted badly for a long time. Badly enough to give up all those foods? Even drinking?

Finally, after a high school reunion weekend that involved way too much alcohol, I felt fat and lousy. I decided it was time to try something drastic. And there was that damn Whole30, coming at me from blogs and social media and bookstores…

At the same time, I started working with a life coach. I heard myself telling her all the reasons I couldn’t possibly do The Whole30, and I sounded like a big loser.

So I decided I better do it.

And I did. Perfectly. The whole damn thing—no cheating. I don’t have a great track record of sticking with diets, and I’ve never tried anything this strict. However, I think that’s exactly why I was able to do The Whole30: because you can’t half-ass it. You follow the rules, or you start over. Simple as that. No negotiating in your head, no hemming and hawing; this is all-or-nothing.

Honestly, it wasn’t difficult to give up those foods. After the first couple days, I genuinely didn’t miss anything except wine, which I’ll discuss later. The most difficult aspect for me was the lack of convenience. Because you are using no processed foods, you can’t just hit a drive-through on your way to work because you overslept. You can’t pick up a pizza on the way home if you don’t feel like cooking. You must plan ahead and prepare most of your food from scratch. Cooking everything from scratch is time-consuming. The change to my lifestyle was much tougher than the change to my diet.

The Whole30 promises to change the way you look at food, and I can attest to that. Here are some ways it did that:

  • Once you stop eating junk, you stop craving it. So instead of choosing food based on cravings, I was free to choose food that I knew would make me feel good and keep me full. That really happened; I just didn’t want junk food.
  • I knew there was a lot of sugar in processed food, but I didn’t realize it is EVERYWHERE. Did you know rotisserie chicken has sugar in it? Once you start reading labels, you really get suspicious of food manufacturers. I would walk in to a 7-11 (for Perrier! My new love!) and I would get angry at the rows upon rows of brightly-packaged JUNK. I’d think, “Here is a whole room of things people eat, none of which are food.” It wasn’t a holier-than-thou feeling. It was frustration. Where is the actual food?
  • I realized that most of the reasons I eat certain things were not because of hunger, or even moods—just triggers. I want popcorn because I’m watching a movie. I want wine because it’s Friday. I want diet Coke because I always have one while I’m out running errands.

Once I got my groove on with the cooking and food prep, I really enjoyed my Whole30. I tried new foods (rutabaga, anyone?) and new cooking techniques. I even had a dinner party with all-compliant foods. It was like a fun experiment.

The Results

Sugar cravings: you already heard about the cravings being gone. My Whole30 ended over a week ago and I still haven’t had any sweets. I really don’t want them. On the other hand, fruit tastes delicious! So sweet! Beer and wine taste sweeter to me, too. My palate is has definitely adjusted to appreciate the natural sweetness in food.

Sleep: I slept like a baby on The Whole30–deep, wonderful sleep. I habitually woke up before my alarm, and towards the end of the month, I even stopped hitting the snooze button. I did have some wacky food dreams, but I hear that’s typical of detoxing.

Periods: OMG. I can’t believe how much better my PMS symptoms were. I typically have two brutally emotional days just before my period—weepiness, horrible thoughts—I’m a wreck. I started the Whole30 four days before my period and finished it two days before the next one. I had NO weepy days. Also, I typically take Advil to manage cramps for at least three days of my period. Both periods required Advil on the first day only. I can’t even remember the last time I had it that easy.

Mood: I’m a moody girl, very prone to depression. I noticed that my general outlook was markedly better during The Whole30. Fewer bad days and better good days. Some days I felt so happy, it was kind of ridiculous. The world may not be ready for Super Perky Meg.

Diet Coke: I kicked a lifetime diet Coke habit. Seriously, I was like a crack whore for diet Coke. I drank it first thing in the morning and often exceeded 64 ounces a day. I know that’s gross and dangerous, and I was actually pretty ashamed of that habit. Now, I don’t want diet Coke at all. I drink iced tea for caffeine in the morning (I don’t like coffee) and I drink sparkling water (unsweetened) when I want something fizzy. Diet Coke actually tastes gross to me now. I have absolute confidence that I am done with diet Coke.

And finally, weight loss: I lost 10 pounds. That’s pretty good for me. Usually, two pounds per week is the best I can expect. I wish I had taken before and after pictures, or measurements, because I’m pretty sure my gut shrank, and my face seems thinner.

The Less-Than-Stellar Bits

My skin didn’t clear up much. This was disappointing for me because so many people rave about what The Whole30 does for their skin. I understand that skin takes a long time to respond to changes—dermatologists have always told me it takes months to see the effects of medication on skin, and I’ve read the same about dietary changes, so I suspect it just didn’t have enough time.

I really missed alcohol. I didn’t struggle with cravings; I just missed it. It was hard to go to parties without drinking, and I abandoned all hope of internet dating without the help of wine– forget that. I realized how much the world revolves around alcohol. Giving it up wasn’t fun.

Many people experience significant reduction in joint pain on TheWhole30. My old lady hip felt a little improved, but not significantly. Again, I may not have given this enough time. Overall, my body felt much less stiff on the Whole30, but that one hip continued to hurt.

I completely bombed the re-entry. You’re supposed to re-introduce foods gradually, one group at a time, and note the effects they have on your squeaky-clean system. Because I didn’t plan well and I had social events immediately following my 30 days, I got sloppy and mixed up the groups. Also I drank too much. Not out of hand, just more than I should have introduced into my system. Sure enough, I felt lousy, but I can’t tell you which food-culprits are responsible.

Did it change my life?

Somebody asked me whether The Whole30 changed my life. I think it did, and after a week off the Whole30, I can tell you why. This week, I’ve been eating less carefully, but I’m really not enjoying it. I had pizza the other night—good pizza that I’ve always loved—and it was fine, but it wasn’t delicious. Certainly wasn’t worth feeling lousy for. And beer doesn’t seem so great anymore, either. I took one bite of a cupcake the other night and threw the rest away. Who am I?!?

After being off it for a week, I realize more and more how different I feel when I make poor food choices. My mood tanked. I’m sad because my sleep is no longer amazing and I feel like I screwed it up. All I want is to get back to Whole30 health as soon as I can, for as long as I can. I know what healthy feels like, and I want that feeling more than I want pizza, beer or cookies. That’s a pretty significant change.

Probably the biggest life-changer: I did something that I thought was really hard, something a lot of people can’t seem to finish. I felt very strong and in-control, which was a great feeling. It’s been a while since I felt this sense of accomplishment, and it makes me want to take on more goals. If I can finish The Whole30, what else can I do?

New Year’s Resolutions: I’m for ’em.

In a recent discussion about New Year’s resolutions, my sweetheart told me that he doesn’t believe in that sort of thing. He says that you can always improve yourself, regardless of what time of year it is.

He’s right, of course.  Any day is a good day for positive change. If you wait ‘til January every year, you’re stalling. That’s like starting your diet on Monday…if you really want to lose weight, you’ll start making better choices right now. Not tomorrow, not Monday, not January.  If you want to save more money, stop spending it frivolously right now, not tomorrow or on your next paycheck or on January 1. You get the idea. (I’m not saying I actually apply this to my own goals, or else I’d be skinny and rich and well-published by now. Knowing and doing are two different things, alas.)

So that is important: don’t wait to start improving yourself.  Start right now, whatever time of year it is.

But there is something helpful about New Year’s resolutions, too. If you’re a procrastinator, like me, New Year’s is a great excuse to make a start. It’s almost a social imperative—everyone else is beginning their new improved life, so why not me?

It reminds me of getting into the pool when I was a kid. Our pool wasn’t heated. (I know…tough childhood.) On hot summer days, I wanted to swim—but I dreaded the initial shock of entering the cold water. So I’d stand on the edge of the diving board, bouncing in place, gearing up for the jump, and stalling. I would stand there forever…then sometimes I’d get down, run across the hot concrete to the steps and try the slow, creep-in-gradually approach.  That was torture. So I’d get back on the diving board and stall a bit longer.

You know what made it easier? Other kids. My friends would show up, and suddenly it was easy. Hold hands, count down:  ONE, TWO, THREE—JUMP! I stopped worrying about the shock; I just jumped—laughing, squealing—the cold was part of the experience. I didn’t HAVE to jump, but I didn’t want to be the only scaredy-pants, so I’d do it.

That’s January—everyone is taking a running start into the pool, and I’m going in, too! It’s way more fun this way.

Of course, there’s the argument that we aren’t likely keep our resolutions, so why make them?

I didn’t keep any of the ones I made last year. Didn’t hit a single goal. But because I’d set the goals, at least I kept some focus. No, I didn’t lose all the weight I wanted to, but I lost a little. And if I hadn’t kept reminding myself of those damn resolutions, I probably would have gained.  Same with saving money and writing…didn’t end up nearly where I wanted to, but at least I moved in the right direction.

So, I’ll get on the New Year’s bandwagon and line up at Weight Watchers like everyone else. I’ll write new goals and make new lists and plans. I’ll visualize my life at this time next year, with all the hope and resolve I always feel in January.

Who’s with me? What are your resolutions? We can take the plunge together: ONE, TWO, THREE—JUMP!

It’s June 15; do you know where your New Year’s Resolution is?

2012 is almost halfway over already. I’m shocked by that, and I’m also shocked by the notion that I can continue to be shocked by the same thing that shocks me every year. Time flies. I should be used to it by now.

What did you vow to change in 2012? Have you done it? Are you still working towards it? Or would you like me to shut up now?

I could be doing much better, but it’s not too late to work on it. I’m putting mine out into the blogosphere—it will create accountability for me and maybe it’ll inspire you to keep trying, too.

My resolutions

I was mentally kicking my own ass the other day, thinking about how I have once again fizzled out on all those things that were so important to me just few a months ago. I looked back in my journal to where I wrote them down. (You have to write them down or they don’t count.) After a little evaluating, I was pleasantly surprised to realize that while I haven’t excelled, I haven’t completely bombed, either.

I have three resolutions:

  1. Lose 50 pounds.
  2. Publish something.
  3. Finish the year with the bills current and a certain (secret) amount of savings in the bank.

The First Six Months

Weight loss is the worst of the bunch. I’m up four pounds. I should be down 25 or so by now, or maybe 15 if my body were being uncooperative.  There’s no excuse for gaining—my eating is out of control. However, I have exercised fairly consistently for the first time in my life, so I will give myself credit for that healthy habit.

Publishing is a little bit better.  This blog was the first step towards that goal. Blogging is self-publishing, and I would really like to get some articles published traditionally, but there is more value in blogging than I realized. First, it’s super fun—I highly recommend it—and inspiring, too! I’ve found a number of kindred spirits in the huge, diverse blogging community. I didn’t see that coming. I also didn’t anticipate so much support from you lovely readers.  I am so surprised at who’s been reading this. People mention it and I think, “REALLY?? YOU READ IT?”  Your encouragement has bolstered my ego and my resolve to pursue a freelance career, and it feels pretty wonderful, too. Thank you for all the feedback.  Finally, the process of blogging keeps my writer-brain active and fuels my creativity. I put off blogging for a long time because I didn’t think I had anything to say. Turns out I have all kinds of stuff to say.

I think I’ve had the most growth financially. Much of it is circumstantial; my circumstances sucked last year and they’re getting better. The bills are current and I feel a level of control that I haven’t felt in a long, long time.  My savings goal is lagging; I should have twice as much saved by now. The money that’s in my savings account is not a result of disciplined saving, which is what I really want to develop. It’s there because I resolved a tax issue and it worked in my favor. But I am giving myself credit for resolving the tax issue, because that is part of financial health, too. In recent years I have been so overwhelmed and hopeless that I avoided the tax issue and other things like it. I’ve made great strides in dealing with those financial uglies, and I feel much, much better.

The Next Six Months

Here’s the good news: there is still plenty of time. Six months is enough time to hit every single one of my goals, although it’ll be harder now.

50 pounds in six months may not be realistic, but I would be delighted with 20 or 25. I know how to lose weight; I could write a book on eating for weight loss. However, my motivation is dead in the water. I have to find a way to get it back. I need something different.

Inspired by my friend, Linda, I tried a new gym yesterday called Train Insane.  Linda has lost a lot of weight through their program, and she has developed a love for working out. I want that! I do not love working out. Train Insane offers a weight loss plan and accountability, so I thought I would give it a shot. It was horrible. And painful. I cursed Linda throughout the entire workout. I almost cried in front of the trainer at least four times. Today my muscles are so sore, I am jerking around like a corpse who’s been reanimated by an alien. It sucks.  I will probably sign up for Train Insane. I can’t even tell you why. Maybe so I can get strong enough to beat up Linda. We’ll see how I do.

On the publishing front, I want to continue this blog, of course. But I need to start sending out query letters. (That’s how you get articles in magazines: you come up with a story idea and send it to the editor of a publication.) If I don’t do that, nothing will ever get published by anyone but me. It’s pure procrastination that’s holding me back.  Maybe I need an accountability partner for that. Any takers?

And the money…that’s harder.  I can tell you I’m 50 pounds overweight and not flinch, but the shame I feel about my poor money management is actually painful. The reason my savings goal amount is a secret is because it is so small, I fear that most people would laugh at it. Shame makes it hard to ask for help, but I am learning to be open.  No one can help me save money, but being transparent with people helps me stay on track. There is no way to increase your savings without ACTUALLY LEAVING THE MONEY IN THE BANK, which seems to be where I have trouble. Hopefully, the momentum I’ve gained this year will make it easier for me in the second half.

There you have it—the good, the bad and the hopeful. If you have resolutions you want to revive, comment—maybe we can help each other.

That’s why they call it The Present

Lately I’ve been yo-yoing between two unpleasant feelings: the feeling of being stuck and the feeling that I’m careening through time without brakes.

If that doesn’t make sense to you, think about payday vs. rent day:  it takes forever for payday to roll around, but the rent is due every time you blink, right?  How is that possible, when it’s all on the same calendar?  (Maybe that illustration only works for broke people. Financially stable people, you will have to come up with some other example. I know you have one.)

Of course, it’s a matter of perception and how we feel about those two events.  A twenty minute wait in the dentist’s office feels like three hours; three hours having coffee with an old friend feels like twenty minutes.

Right now, that paradox is my whole life.

In the slow lane: weight loss. I have a tiny mental tantrum every time I stand on the scale. Even if I’ve been good all week, I’ve only lost a pound—at this rate it’ll take a year for me to get to my goal weight.  A WHOLE YEAR. 52 weeks of protein shakes and veggie sticks? Forget it. Just order a pizza and pass the ice cream already.

On the other hand, I have very real panic when I think about how fast the year is passing, because at this time next year, my baby will be graduating from high school.  She wants to go away to college—away from me!  Can you imagine? My eyes tear up every time I think about that, even right now while I’m typing. ONLY ONE YEAR. Oh my god, skip the ice cream and bring wine.  Lots of wine.

There’s a lesson here somewhere, a big-picture angle that I’m struggling with.  Something about balance, focus, priorities…maybe it’s time management, the lesson I’ve struggled with my whole life. It just feels more important now that I’m older. The stakes are higher. My priorities have shifted.

The stuff that I want to rush is accomplishment stuff: I want to lose weight faster, save money faster, get the heck out of this dumpy apartment faster. The stuff I want to prolong is the beautiful stuff: I want my daughter’s childhood to last. I want a few more years with my dogs. I want time with my girlfriends to linger. I want to stretch the sunny afternoons so I can plant more plants, paint more pictures, and still have time for a nap.

It’s exhausting, this push and pull of time. I can only make things happen so fast, and I sure can’t seem to slow anything down.  I make my to-do lists, cram as much as I can into each day, work towards goals that seem light years away, and try to hang onto the fleeting moments in between.

Hmmm… something about balance…something about focus.  I need to focus on what’s beautiful, the things that speed past, so I don’t miss them.  Accomplishments are important—I do need to save money, I do need to lose weight—and if I do those things, everything gets better.  But weight loss and saving money are auto-pilot functions; I can put systems in place to address them and not make them the center of my attention.  That frees up time to pay attention to the areas of my life that deserve it:  the people and passions that bring me joy.  And a fringe benefit of focusing on what brings me joy is that I will be satisfied, and less likely to mindlessly eat or spend money and derail my material goals. Ha! Now I am getting somewhere.

The older I get the more I realize that time really is precious.  (Also, the older I get the more happily I toss clichés around. They’re cliché for a reason, you know.)  The bottom line is that another year is going to pass, just like the last thirty-nine have, and at the end of  the year, I will be thinner or not, I will be broke or not—but the year will pass either way.  If I spend the year racing towards accomplishments, I will run right by the important things—things that are moving fast enough already.   If I recognize that time is a gift, I will never rush—instead, I will spend it on what’s truly valuable. Yes, it may take a year to lose the weight. In the meantime, I will just enjoy the beautiful things, like my daughter. I’ve only got one more year.