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Hopefully a little inspiration for staying on track...

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This is a true story that happened to me yesterday. I originally wrote this for my journal, but it occurred to me today that someone out there might be wrestling with the same conflicts I did, and maybe my experience could help.
It's kind of long, but it might be worth something if you're struggling. Or maybe you'd just like to read someone else's journal for a change.

Either way...here it is!
Whole30 Day 10: The Whole40

Day 10 of my Whole30, and I've never felt better.
For the first time in weeks, I wake up at 6:00am. And for the first time ever, it's easy to do. The light emanating from my favorite alarm clock is a warm, mid-morning glow. The radio gently dials in, and two radio hosts start off my day by talking about the impending 'Snowmaggedon' this weekend.
"I'm gonna tell ya the Five Step Process to surviving the snowpocalypse this weekend," says Gavin. He's 95.7's morning funny-man. "Step One: panic."
I laugh and decide to lounge in bed long enough to listen to this. I know it's going to be good.
"Panic?" says the straight-man. I never caught his name, but he's a good match for Gavin's personality. "This doesn't sound like a plan, Gavin-"
"I haven't gotten to Step Two yet," Gavin says. "So just listen to me. Ahem. Step Two- which only comes after Step One, which is panicking- Step Two!" He pauses for dramatic effect. "Go to the grocery store immediately. I mean, if you aren't at the grocery store by the end of this sentence, you're not doing Step Two correctly. Go to the grocery store immediately, and purchase ALL of the milk."
I cringe at the idea. For 10 days now, I've followed the Whole30 rules with meticulous accuracy. I haven't had dairy since my project began, and it turns out that I don't miss it.
"ALL of the milk?" the straight-man asks. My cringe is in his voice.
"All of the milk," Gavin says. "Because what you need to do is test your dairy intolerance. You'll need to know this for after the apocalypse, when the only thing you have left is dairy cows to live off of-"
"This doesn't make any sense-"
"Step Three!" Gavin cuts in. "While you're at the grocery store, buy ALL of the Wonder Bread."
Something kicks in my brain, and a little voice in my head says, Oh, Wonder Bread...like it's some kind of dream.
Now, I haven't ever purchased the product 'Wonder Bread'. All I know is that Wonder Bread is highly refined and strangely addictive. So addictive, in fact, that an internet phenomenon called 'breadfacing' (an activity in which an individual literally rubs their face in bread-products to create some kind of bizarre, euphoric reaction) is known to work best with Wonder Bread.

At the mention of Wonder Bread, I don't consider breadfacing, but the very thought of it flings my brain back to the Before Time. The Before Time, before the Whole30. It's a magical time full of fresh-out-the-oven butter rolls with flaky outsides and fluffy insides. It's the time when New York bagels greet me on Mondays and sugar-crusted muffin tops beckon on Fridays. I remember the yeasty smell of rising dough in my kitchen. I remember the feel of my hands bending a fresh chocolate chip cookie in half, slowly pulling the pieces apart so that glistening stands of melted chocolate drape across my fingertips.
God, I want a chocolate chip cookie...

Giving up all other food groups is easy for me, with the single exception of gluten. I mourn dinner rolls. I lament pasta. And for ten solid days now, I have been craving a specific chocolate chip cookie, only found at Beascakes Bakery in Armonk, conveniently 10 minutes from work.
The Beascakes Bakery chocolate chip cookie is larger than your hand. It is perfectly round. It is doughy toward the center and golden crisp at the edges, so that when I break it in half, it issues a delicate 'snap'. The dough has a rich blend of butter and sugar that I've never been able to replicate. But the real killer (the real secret) of the Beascakes cookie is that at the very center, somehow baked into its shape so it's hidden from view (like a delightful, unexpected present), is a heavenly disc of melted semi-sweet chocolate, spread thin and evenly throughout the cookie so that every single bite is guaranteed to be a treat.

This cookie is literally a chocolate-filled chocolate chip cookie. It is a Beascakes Bakery specialty.
And I want it badly.
The straight-man asks, "Is the Wonder Bread for eating with the milk?"
"Of course not." Gavin sounds offended. "When you get home from the grocery store, you secure all of the Wonder Bread to your body with duct tape. That stuff is the softest substance on earth, and it will protect you from flying chunks of ice and shrapnel."
I try to shake off the thought of the Beascakes cookie, and I turn off the radio. I've had enough of Gavin's Five Step Plan.
When I'm driving to work, I get off at Exit 3, Armonk. A little voice in my head tosses out a reminder: if I turn left instead of right, I can head into town and Beascakes Bakery is right there. Since I woke up on time today, I'm ahead of schedule right now. Just sayin'.
Cravings only last three to five minutes, I remind myself. I turn my blinker toward the right, and head into work.

I sit my butt down at my desk and get the day's assignments rolling. Today's menu of work is standard and requires little thought, so I quickly move into autopilot. My mind wanders into town, into the little plaza with the early 1900s New England architecture that houses Beascakes Bakery. Just before my imaginary fingers touch the door, I decide to have a heart-to-heart with that little voice.
I remind myself why I'm doing the Whole30 in the first place. There is something that has been making me feel ill. My energy levels have been unpredictable and at an all-time low. I've been getting upset stomachs and heartburn. I get migraines at work that last so long they ruin my evenings. And worst of all, I haven't been able to figure out what is triggering all of this. It might be stress, it might be the weather, or it might be dietary. So I'm doing the Whole30 now, I'm 10 days in, and the rules are clear:
No dairy, no legumes, no grains, no added sugar or sweeteners, and absolutely no cookies.
Yeah, says the voice, but will one cookie really make a difference?

I roll my eyes.

Just listen to me, the voice says. Sure, sugar in excessive amounts is bad for you, but it's been 10 days since I've had any. And I'm PRETTY sure I'm not gluten-intolerant. So if a cookie isn't inflammatory for me, it shouldn't cause a problem for the Whole30.
I'm pretty sure that's not how science works, but a more effective argument hits me next. An image of Phi pops into my mind. Phi, my poor little kitty with an extremely delicate stomach. I remember cleaning up her vomit every night. I remember the vet visits, the anxiety and fear I experienced when she was in surgery. Phi didn't swallow a string, she swallowed chicken protein. It took her stomach two months to fully recover from the allergic reaction, and the vet was extremely specific with me. Even one bite of her old food, even one slip up with a chicken treat, would cause the inflammation to flare up and it would restart her recovery process from the beginning.
No. I refused to have a cookie, even if chances are that I won't experience a reaction. When this all began, I made a promise to myself to try the Whole30 by the book for 30 days, no exceptions. I promised myself if I had one slip up, even one bite of one treat, I would restart the 30 days and do it right.

A cookie just isn't worth it, I told the little voice. It can wait.
I look up at the clock, and it's already lunchtime. I console the little voice in my head by pointing out that the lunch I packed is actually really delicious. It's a salad I made up last night, with baby spinach, sliced black olive, cherry tomatoes, red onion, boiled egg, diced peppers, and (the best part) leftover carnitas and homemade ranch dressing. With a side of homemade applesauce, now isn't that great?

The voice in my head settles down for a bit, but it at least wants some caffeine. Can't it have that? Caffeine isn't against the Whole30 rules.
Sure, caffeine isn't against the Whole30 rules, but it's after 12pm, and I have a rule that says 'no coffee after noon.'
Can I have a cookie then?
No. But I can negotiate for some caffeine-free herbal tea with a sweet-ish twist.
I know herbal tea isn't the same as a cookie, but that's the point. I'm the one in charge here, and I'm ready to punch the little voice in the face.
I head to the big kitchen where a couple dozen co-workers are all chatting animatedly over their lunches. I see every single sandwich made with bread and cheese. I see the soy milk from our refrigerators, which, besides being an estrogen-imbalance'ing inflammatory legume, also contains the inflammatory additive carageenan. I see pasta dishes, rice and beans, tofu, even bowls of Lucky Charms. I don't miss these lunches, particularly after enjoying my own so much, but I can't help noticing them and wondering if all these co-workers also find it difficult to wake up in the morning.  I wonder if they have upset stomachs and migraines they can't explain. I wonder if they'd be interested in the Whole30 too, if they knew it was something to try.
I place those thoughts on hold and glance over our rack of Tazo teas, first checking the sets of dots on each box that indicate the caffeine level. Five dots, three dots, two dots, four. One after the other, I continue scanning, until I my face screws up and I realize there's no herbal tea available.
My heart squeezes tight. No, I need this tea so I can punch that little voice in its face. I wrench open the cabinets with our full tea backstock and frantically scan the labels.
"Can't find what you're looking for?"
I jump. Marley appears out of nowhere, her mug already under the coffee spout and Green Mountain K-cup sliding into place.
I shut the cabinets. "I'm looking for Calming Camomile." I always thought the name of that tea was stupid, until now. It occurs to me that I don't even know its ingredients yet, but I need it. "I guess I'll check the back."
"It's not there," Marley says. "I already checked. The shipment must not've come in yet."
Cookie? The little voice asks.

I must look really upset, because Marley says next, "Monique has tons of herbal tea at her desk. You could ask her."
I almost run. More like a quick pace that sometimes gains too much bounce, like a jog that doesn't want to be a jog but is a jog anyway. A jog in denial. I become a jog in denial.

Monique is the new Temp Production Assistant. She's friendly and we chat sometimes, but the fact that she enjoys herbal tea is new information to me. I keep thinking of what she could possibly have at her desk. Blueberry? Ginger? Chocolate?
"Hey Monique!" I drape my arm over the microwave by her desk, trying to look casual. I'm breathing a bit too hard. "I hear you like herbal tea. Do you have one that maybe I could have?"
She turns away from her computer and smiles real big at me. "Sure!" she says.
Damn, says the voice.
Shut up, you're getting tea, I say.
She leans over to her filing cabinet and pulls open the bottom drawer. Instead of papers, Monique has a veritable cornucopia of teabags. There are so many packets of so many colors that it looks like her drawer is filled with large confetti.
Monique looks proud. "What would you like?"
I ask Monique the same question I ask waiters at restaurants with too many options. "What's your favorite?"
Monique fishes through her party-in-a-drawer and withdraws a teabag sealed in a clear plastic pouch. "White Pear," she says and offers it to me.
I inspect the teabag. The little slip of paper attached to the string says 'White Tea & Pear' in cursive font. I imagine what it must taste like. Subtle, like pears, maybe clean, slightly sweet, a delightful taste to try warm. Unfortunately, there's no ingredients listed on the package, and that's a Whole30 no-no. "Oh man, it sound's really good. Do you have a second favorite?"
"Oh, definitely Pomegranate Pizzazz."
ding, ding, ding! For the first time today, both the little voice and I agree that pomegranate is exactly what we want. Pomegranate is potent as a tea, sweet to the point of seeming bitter if it's over-steeped, and the intense pinkish-purple color delights my inner-child. I pluck the tea from Monique's fingers and scan the label quickly. Apple, hibiscus, blackberry leaves, natural pomegranate and other natural flavors- sign me up.
I dunk that sucker in hot water and feel accomplished. For a glorious fifteen minutes, I am a winner. The cookie craving settles down, I have a great tea to enjoy, and once again I'm back to work, cranking away on my assignemnt, finally more concerned about my job than my Whole30.
And not long after that, I even forget the tea.
I bounce along in my work, switching from project to email to the project again. It's the same pattern of activity I've grown used to in the afternoons. It all seems to be going well, until I start to get the creeping sensation that something isn't quite right.
Am I worried? Have I checked my priority assignments recently? Did I forget a meeting? No, none of that. I stop what I'm doing and check in with myself.

As soon as my concentration breaks, the problem becomes apparent. A migraine is rolling in. I know this particular feeling well. It starts as a pressurized sensation behind my eyes. It's a dull, yet increasingly painful ache that disperses through my face and seeps into my brain. When I feel it, my shoulders tense up and consequently my neck cramps. I know the feeling I have now is just the beginning of this hateful experience. I know that it will reach its peak by 5pm. And I know that it will linger with me well into the evening, finally fading around 9 o'clock, just in time for me to crawl, miserable, into bed for an early night.
I press my forehead into my hands and groan. Why now? I haven't felt like this in nearly two weeks.
Then, the little voice in my head says the first useful thing all day. Hey, didn't you start the Whole30 a week-and-a-half ago?
Somewhere in my mind, I hear Gavin saying, "Step One."
My heart clenches up. Nonono, I think. Was there something off-plan in the tea?!
Added sweetener, perhaps? Stevia? What about aspartame? My friend from college, Casey, can't drink Diet Coke because aspartame gives her migraines. Could that be the case for me? Is there aspartame in tea? I don't know- I need to double check- I already threw the package away- Google should know!
Bigelow Pomegranate Pizzazz. Ingredients: apple, hibiscus, blackberry leaves, natural pomegranate and other natural flavors (soy lecithin)...
It pops out like a thorn. I stare at the ingredients list. I read it again. Soy lecithin. Lecithin is an emulsifier found most commonly in eggs and soybeans. Soy lecithin is basically the leftover gunk after soy products like tofu has been made, and it's really cheap, which makes it a pervasive additive in a wide range of products, particularly drinks, including many herbal teas.
It's considered perfectly harmless by the FDA. "Perfectly harmless" by most accounts, unless you have an extreme sensitivity to soy. Some people with sensitivity to soy can experience an allergic reaction after consuming soy lecithin, which I attest. The allergy has a slew of manifestations, among them indigestion, heart burn, and sinus inflammation which can lead to migraines.
It might also cause changes in mood, because I spiral into depression within ten minutes flat, pounding forehead in hands and deeply upset with myself. I failed. One third of the way through the Whole30 after suffering a terrible week of sugar withdraw, 10 days combating my desire for cookies, reading and learning every single label, only to screw it up in a fit of desire for an innocent drink of herbal tea this afternoon! It's right on the package; how could I be so stupid!
The thought of starting over makes my heart ache. It was so simple, it was one mistake, I drank the additive by accident. Do I really have to start over? Really? I mean, the amount of soy in that tea is probably so little that it doesn't even matter-
Or does it? I think of Phi. I remember the warnings from the vet about her allergy. Even one little bite, one little treat, could cause the reaction to come back full force. I think of everything I read in preparation for the Whole30 that said the exact same thing is true for me. I remember that I made a promise to myself that I am going to do this for 30 straight days, no matter what.
This isn't working. I'm spouting logic at myself, but I am too depressed to listen. I am too perfectionist. Maybe I shouldn't have tried this in the first place. Maybe I should give up.
Maybe I should get a cookie.
The sun is already setting, but I haven't turned on the lamps yet. I sit at my desk, in my dark little corner, washed in the blueish glow of my computer screen, and I wonder if Beascakes Bakery is open past 6pm. Google should know, the little voice says. Just sayin'.
Google, always helpful, says Beascakes Bakery closes at 6pm.
I could leave a little early.
Yeah, but do I really want a stale just-before-closing Beascake chocolate chip cookie-?
But drinking the tea was an accident. It's different to eat something off plan on purpose-
It doesn't really matter, does it? You have to restart the Whole30 tomorrow anyway.
Maybe I don't have to restart. Maybe I can just keep going-
You know you have to. It might be one thing to accidentally consume something off plan and discover it later by chance. It's another thing to discover it specifically because you REACTED to it. Don't lie to yourself--you're starting over tomorrow.
Besides... I start to agree with the voice, it's the principle of the matter anyway...
I sit in silence.

There's something I've been practicing recently- something that was pointed out to me by Dave Ramsey, who is another radio host I enjoy. I listen to his show every day driving back and forth to work, and I learn more from Dave Ramsey than just financial advice. He talks about relationships, he talks about moral values, he talks about raising kids, but one thing he talks about more frequently than all the rest is listening to "that niggling feeling in your gut" that something just isn't right.
Dave says most people ignore that feeling. They let some half-logical process or someone else make decisions for them. Most people override that niggling feeling because it's easier to ignore it than to understand it. But that feeling is intuition. It's instinct. It's something that makes you smart. And it's the first sign that you should stop what you're doing, stop what you're thinking, and really, really pull apart what's going on in that moment.
Sitting alone in my little corner, staring at the Beascakes Bakery information ("closing soon"), I experienced that niggling feeling.

So, I listened to that feeling. And it asked me the most important question of the day: Why am I so upset?
No, really, it said. Why are you so upset right now?

Because I was working so hard and learning so many new skills and paying attention to so many new things and I was putting everything I had into this project and I failed.
Failed? You call working so hard and learning so many new skills and paying attention to so many new things a failure?
But I was doing the best I could and I still screwed up.
So what? No, really. So what. So you had 10 perfect days, to the best of your knowledge, and now you've got to add 10 more days to your project to maintain its integrity. Is 10 days really such a big deal in the face of what you could learn?
Not really...but it feels like it.
Well, does drinking tea with a soy additive today negate everything that you've done and learned over the past 10 days?
No, of course not.
Are you going to give up your project because you made a mistake?
No, I'm not that kind of person.
And does eating a damn cookie from Beascakes Bakery actually improve your life?
I want to say yes. I really want to say yes. But I realize I can't, and the niggling feeling answers for me:
No, you idiot. It doesn't.
And I laugh.

It's a sad laugh, a relieved laugh. A laugh that doesn't want to be a laugh but is a laugh anyway. It's a laugh in denial. I become a laugh in denial.
No, cookies will not actually make me feel better. Eating a cookie will not change the fact that I made a mistake today. Eating a cookie might even cause more cravings for cookies. Not to mention it really would be an intentional violation of the project.

And this cookie, for as much as I love it, isn't important.
What is important is to learn from my mistake. What is important is that I might have a soy intolerance. What is important is that I finally, finally, punched that little voice in the face.

I drive past Armonk on the way home, and I don't even think of Beascakes Bakery. Instead, I am looking forward to Day 11.

Day 11...of my Whole40 project.

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