Whole30 #1 AAR
I'm writing my AAR with a cup of Earl Gray tea, no half-and-half, and some avocado/tuna/chipotle lime Primal Kitchen mayo beside me. Four weeks ago I couldn't stomach tea without cream. Now...it tastes fine. I couldn't imagine eating tuna mixed with avocado, and I HATED mayo. Now I love a little dollop of Primal Kitchen's mayo, for the mouth feel and the kick of heat that goes with it.
My life before: Never in my life had I gone without sugar for more than a couple of days. My weight cycled within a couple of pounds of 130 all my adult life. At 132 for a starting weight, I wasn't that heavy for my 5'4" frame, but in the last year I'd regained weight I lost working out with a personal trainer and being very conscious of my calorie intake. I was working out regularly, but I was going at the elliptical or the weights like they were opponents, not tools. Worse, I weighed myself daily, and that number set the tone for the day. If I could get back the moments I spent thinking about my weight, strategizing to lower that number or congratulating myself if it was "good", I'd probably have months of my life back. Maybe years.
Worst of all, I felt out of control. I was tense all the time. Easily irritated. I had a hard time focusing and was nervy and highly strung, rushing from one thing to another without much awareness. Nearly every activity - writing, reading, going somewhere - was an excuse for a "treat" - tea with chocolate, a Diet Coke from the soda fountain at a gas station, a petite vanilla bean scone at Starbucks. This was to do the things I liked to do!
My gut was a mess. I was either bloated or constipated, and sometimes both. I used Bikram yoga to kick start things once a week, but the rest of the time, pooing was another battle. I hated the way my stomach bulged, the way my pants were tight.
Sleep was hell. I had a hard time falling asleep, had a hard time going back to sleep when I woke up in the middle of the night, and woke up with what I now know was a sugar fog every single morning.
Beyond the physical symptoms, the slightest hint of drama - anything from a family problem to a train delay when I needed to get to the airport - sent me into an emotional mire of anger, resentment, bitterness, complaining, victim-whining, and judging. I was working to separate my feelings from everyone else's, to stop worrying and planning and caretaking for others, but I just couldn't seem to gain any traction with overcoming my codependent thinking. Even my horse, a high-strung Arab who mirrors my internal state back to me, knew when I was strung out on sugar. For years - DECADES - I'd tried to maintain a prayer and meditation practice, to go to yoga for the spiritual and mental benefits, but I always ended up quitting, or competing in the classes. Judging the other women in the room, comparing myself to them. Who was fitter? Bendier? Who was more authentically in the pose? (Hint: it wasn't me). I knew I was living in a toxic sludge of insecurity, inferiority, and shame, but I just couldn't break out of it.
In short, I was living on a sleep-deprived, emotional and mental merry-go-round in which everyone and everything in my life - family, friends, work, hobbies, my own mind and heart and spirit - was an opponent, an obstacle, a thing.
I suspected sugar was the root of the problem(and by "suspected" I mean I knew damn well it was a problem but I wasn't giving it up). Around New Year's 2017 I saw the Whole30 mentioned in a NYT article by a food writer who said he'd done the program and really recommended it, especially to reduce sugar intake. I got the book from the library, scoured the website, and wanted to do it. But my travel schedule early in the year - England, Santa Fe, San Francisco - meant I'd have a hard time stringing together 30 days at home. So I put it off and put it off...
Then one day I woke up and knew deep inside I was "sick and tired of being sick and tired"...in other words, Ready with a capital R. I told my husband and son I was going to do it, went to the grocery store for some basics, and started the next day. In hindsight my impulse decision and minimal planning helped because I didn't freak myself out with systematic preparation or a huge buildup. I just got some Primal Kitchen mayo and some tuna. I didn't think this would actually work, or help. But I wanted to know, so if it didn't work, I could eat chocolate and bread and drink half-and-half in my tea with impunity. (I have maybe 3 alcoholic drinks all year, so that part was easy for me). This won't work, I told myself. Just do it so you know. I didn't really expect to make it past day 3 or 4. That's about as long as I'd given up sugar in the past.
I signed up for the daily emails (which are so awesome - I owe my continued success to the materials included in those emails). I was so intent on starting, so ready, I didn't pay any attention to the date. I didn't start on the first of a month, or on a Monday. I decided Tuesday, and started Wednesday...
...5 days before Easter.
Days 1 and 2 I felt pretty good. I became more aware of how often I thought about treats, how I structured my day around those treats, starting right after breakfast with Ghiradelli chocolate chips and my tea. But it wasn't as hard as I thought it would be, because I was Ready.
Then day 4 hit. Day 4, the Saturday before Easter, I had the mother of all headaches, no energy, a thick, fuzzy layer of pollution in my head, and a serious attitude. I thought, "F this, and F the potential for Tiger Blood. If I feel this F-ing awful the whole time, I'm going to quit. It's not F-ing worth it." And...my husband brought home a grocery sack of chocolate for our son's Easter basket. He made a triple layer chocolate Guinness cake with fudge frosting for his family's Easter meal. He made rolls from scratch. He made brownies for our son because it was Saturday night. All while I was 4 days into the Whole30, and feeling like a train hit me.
Only after some research did I realize I had been drinking 5-6 cups of Earl Gray a day. I'd totally given up tea (because without cream, why bother?) which meant I was short 1-2 cups' worth of coffee in caffeine, plus the occasional Diet Coke, which meant I had a stinker of a caffeine withdrawal headache. So I drank more water, went for to the barn for a ride because sunshine and horses help anything, and stuck it out. In the end, I didn't eat a single bite of chocolate bunny ears, not a lick of a beater or a spoon. I even helped him make the rolls!
The next day I woke up with a clear head, and an eagerness to get out of bed. I started to notice how much better I felt. (Skipping the Easter dinner with a table full of stuff I was choosing not to eat helped). That trend continued as the days passed. The headache disappeared. My brain felt less polluted. The bloating disappeared. My gut figured itself out and got regular. I made a cup of tea and while I didn't like it without cream or sugar, I didn't wince at it, either. I noticed new desires - I wanted to try I Heart Umami's recipe for caramelized pork and sweet potato hash, so hauled myself to the grocery store and bought a bunch of things I'd literally never cooked or cooked with before, and made it. It was delicious! So was a recipe for roasted Brussels sprouts and bacon. Who knew?!?!? I felt empowered. Strong. Like a mofo boss.
I got married at 22, and while my husband is an absolutely amazing man, I'd chosen to let him decide how and where we eat. (I put myself in that victim role, btw). For the first time in my life, I was the sole decision-maker behind what I cooked for myself, what I put in my mouth. I wanted something, I cooked it, I ate it. I loved having cooked vegetables in the fridge to throw on a baked potato, or toss with some cooked chicken. It was a revelation. Mostly, I enjoyed the new recipes. Sometimes I made something and thought, "Yup, that one's a dud for me." But I didn't beat myself up for wasting the time and money on a dish I threw in the trash. I moved on. I could notice and celebrate both my initiative and my response to a "failure", because sugar didn't have total control over my brain.
What was that all about? I noticed the cravings were still there, but less powerful. It was like giving up sugar opened the thinnest of wedges of space between WANT and GET. I could wait just long enough to stop myself from going into autopilot "grab those chocolate chips and maybe some raw cookie dough while you're at it" mode and instead think, "Give it 5 minutes. It will pass." And it did pass. Every time it passed, I remembered, which gave me a little more strength the next time a craving hit.
That same space opened in my interactions with family and friends, my engagement with my life and the world. Annoyance occurs, little wedge of patience is there, annoyance doesn't need to be responded to. Every time, another layer of...what is this?...peace?...sanity?...grace?...spread over my soul. It was possibly the most healing part of the program.
I could sit in meditation, label my thoughts as thoughts, and return to my breath.
Day after day, I clicked the link in the emails saying I'd made it another day. After I got through the Easter Sugar-palooza, the thought of clicking the "start over" link was unbearable. No way was I clicking that link.
For the first 10 days, I I kept weighing myself. Then, 10 days in, the number that had been going down or staying steady went up half a pound. I went into a shaming tailspin, but, thanks to no sugar for 10 days, managed to pull myself out of it long enough to ask for help. My BFF said, "Why don't you try finding out how you feel 'in' your beautiful body not 'about' your body?"
Why not, indeed? I drove my scale to her house and texted her: "My scale is under the bench on your porch. Don't give it back to me until May 11."
The next 20 days were the most liberating of the entire program. Without the steady sugar infusion, I was able to pay more attention to when I was hungry, what I wanted to eat, and how my clothes fit rather than a number. I went to two weekend-long, out of town horsemanship clinics, took a cooler full of healthy, on-plan food and meals, and didn't break stride. Celery, carrots, and guac for lunch? Yes, please! Another potential hurdle became a confidence builder. My horse noticed the difference - we'd never partnered so closely before. Both weekends were rousing successes.
Over the last 3 weeks of the program, I practiced living into the reality that I could be physically and emotionally healthy rather than "skinny" and out of touch with my feelings, judging my body every single day, and letting a number tell me whether or not I'm ok.
Turns out I am ok. Period. In fact, right now, I'm better than ok. I'm not anxious, sleepless, bloated, fretful, irritable, living my life on a treat-dictated autopilot, or letting a digital readout tell me whether or not I can love myself and my body today. I'm living more creatively, more in the moment, more present to my family and friends. My skin feels smoother. I sleep better. My clothes are looser, as are my rings. No bloat. Happy gut.
As it turns out, I like Earl Gray without cream. I also like almond milk lattes, Brussels sprouts, and sweet potato hash for breakfast.
But...I did want to know what the physical results were. Today is Day 31, so I weighed myself, and took measurements. I lost 7 lbs, and an inch off my waist and hips. My husband took the scale and hid it. I don't need it anymore.
My plan is to continue to follow the Whole30 program, allowing for days off for things like Mother's Day. It turns out I don't miss dairy, legumes, or alcohol, so I'm not going to add those things back right away. If I do, I'll follow the reintroduction protocol and not mix items so I have a clear idea of how something affects me.
In addition, I've set new goals for the next 30 days: add more vegetables to each meal, and eat without doing anything else - reading, working, etc. I want to pay attention to how I nourish my body, not just fuel it. My goal is no longer to lose weight or inches. My goal is to maintain the health that is the birthright of being born into my body, and to strength the habit of treating myself gently and with compassion.
Thank you, Whole30. You've given me a life I never knew was possible. I'm so grateful!