First things first: The following are my own thoughts and opinions based on personal experience, they are not meant to promote or encourage anything other than a healthy lifestyle. It’s cool if you’ve participated in something I’ll mention below and feel differently than me, yay for freedom of thought! Also, I’m a registered nurse, so I feel compelled to say that before you make any drastic changes to your diet or workout routine, ask your doctor, especially if you take prescription drugs or have multiple health diagnoses.
This is a long post, and it’s one of two long posts. Today I’m going to talk about “eating whole” and my experience with Whole30, and what eating healthy means to me. In part two, I’ll talk about the illusions that come with paleo, Michale Pollan et al, and not giving yourself such a hard time about what you eat. I promise at the end of both posts there will be a recipe, something delicious and nutritious.
Food: we all need it. It’s one of the needs that all humans have in common. It can bring people together in fellowship, be the centerpiece of a holiday gathering, and sustain the soul and body. Depending on what you eat, it can nourish and heal your body, or slowly poison it. I love food! (hello captain obvious) I love the smells, textures, and tastes. I love the preparation and the fascinating way that what you eat can change you, for the better or worse. Our appetites can be complicated and full of emotion, so it’s an area to tread carefully in. I believe in a balanced diet, but I know that means different things for different people. For me, it means we eat lots of fresh produce, meats, dairy and protein, as well as grains and legumes. I also think that balance does not mean restriction or deprivation, but moderation. I understand that some people feel differently about this, and that’s great! This is me. Because I believe in balance and moderation, I’m super hesitant to jump on paleo/whole30/newest diet bandwagons. Everybody’s body and life and schedules are different, and people need different things. But ultimately, I think everyone needs an eating lifestyle that includes as many fruits and vegetables and happy meats, dairy and proteins as possible, and (this is super important to me) it needs to be enjoyed and savored. Since when does this kind of eating need to labeled and branded? Food for thought. (puns. ugh sorry)
There’s a lot of vanity included in diets like Whole30. Let’s be real: most of us probably eat healthy so we can look or feel a certain way. Sure, the health benefits of whole eating are great: lower blood pressure, lower cholesterol, less risk of heart disease and diabetes and dying prematurely, blah blah blah. But if we really do some soul searching, if it doesn’t make us look prettier, what’s the point? (maybe that’s just my own vanity?) At least that feels like the underlying message these sacrificial diets seem to be saying and selling: if you’ll just eat virgin lamb’s meat soaked in kale tears, you’ll watch the fat melt away!
So this past January my husband and I did Whole30, what is ultimately a deprivation diet that not only sucks the fun out of your life, it sucks all the delicious things out, too. It was right after the holidays, which were full of creams and sugars and pies and all the delicious things, like any normal American Christmas. I thought, what better way to start off the new year than by cleaning out the pipes? You can read about Whole 30 here, but this is the basic premise: no grains, no legumes, no dairy, no sugar, no alcohol. And if it feels like a treat, then SHAME ON YOU FOR ENJOYING YOUR FOOD and cut it out of your life. For 30 days. So all you’re left with is “whole” foods to eat. At least that’s the basic premise as I understood it.
No big deal, right? I can be a man and drink my coffee black. I don’t need bread for 30 days. I (whimper) don’t need wine or dark chocolate for a month. It’s not like it’s forever.
But here was my biggest disappointment: it’s not like I was looking to drop 30 pounds. Just clean things up after the holidays, maybe I’d lose 5 pounds, no biggie, just the holiday excess. But I didn’t lose any weight. Zero. Which made me feel let down. Sure, I felt better and looked leaner, but the scale didn’t budge and my clothes all fit the same way. Here is why I think that happened: Whole30 wasn’t that different from the way I usually eat, except it cut out everything fun. I love food. But I love whole, delicious and nutritious food. I don’t drink soda or sweet tea or gatorade, ever. I don’t eat fast food or frozen dinners or candy. I don’t eat poptarts or toaster strudels or frozen pizzas or the snack of my youth, cool ranch Doritos. I almost never eat dessert, unless I made it myself. (hold up! I still eat things like pizza and burgers and I love them. It’s just rare, and those are treats) My breakfast is usually a piece of whole wheat toast with almond butter and a drizzle of local honey with an apple, my lunch a couple of boiled eggs and fruit. And our dinners are whatever I cook, which is usually grilled chicken or quinoa or vegetables or a combination, or whatever you see me post here. But I do put cream in my morning coffee, drink the occasional glass of red wine, and like to finish the week with a piece of dark chocolate. Or 3. So I don’t have many vices, but the ones I do have, Whole 30 cut out, and then I felt like I had nothing to show for it at the end of thirty days. People that I know/read about that saw drastic changes from this kind of diet were eating fast food almost daily, not to mention loads of other processed foods. So in case you were wondering, changing your diet that drastically will almost always guarantee weight loss. But for me, it wasn’t much of a change. Maybe my expectations were off, but it just felt like a lot of work for no visible results. I think I was expecting it to make me look Victoria’s Secret model worthy (we’ll talk more about those expectations later) and that didn’t exactly happen. I mean, I went without chocolate for THIRTY DAYS people!
So, here is my pro/con list about Whole 30:
Pros of Whole 30:
-It’s only 30 days. It’s not like it’s the end of the world to not have chocolate or milk. I can deal with the 30 days.
-I felt really, really good not eating any sugar (once you get past the withdrawals). In case you didn’t know, sugar is more addictive than cocaine. I discovered that part of my afternoon caffeine slump was more related to the sugar I had been putting in my coffee than the actual caffeine. After a month of no sugar I had more energy all day and almost no headaches. Also, I became aware of just how sweet everything is, and how SUGAR IS IN EVERYTHING EVEN BACON.
-I slept much better at night. Lots of people say that once they make the transition to eating whole foods, they notice more restful sleep. For me, I think cutting out the sugar (again) played a part here. FYI: Sleep is KEY if you’re trying to lose weight/not gain any/be healthy or sane at all.
-It forced me to get creative with vegetables and fruits and meats and the way I prepare them. I learned how to make lots of yummy gluten free and dairy free things, which is nice to know because I have friends who avoid both.
Cons of Whole 30:
–IT IS SO EXPENSIVE. If you’re on a budget, this might not be for you. Thankfully it was only 30 days. We spent at least twice our normal food budget for the month and we were still hungry the whole time. What makes our normal diet cheaper is we use inexpensive fillers like grains and beans along with vegetables and meat, which are taboo on Whole 30. You can (basically) only eat meat and lots and lots of veggies and fruit, which adds up, especially since you can’t add in the cheap grains, which can make a meal go a long way.
-It’s not sustainable- but it’s not meant to be. This may not be a ‘con’ exactly, but to me it speaks to the extremity of the diet that it’s almost impossible to sustain. You need balance in your diet, and that includes things like whole grains or beans. (see above) I guess you could do Whole 30 forever, but it means no happy hours, no birthday cake, no Christmas pie, no takeout, no social life, no chocolate, no happiness.
-If you don’t cook at home, it’s almost impossible to follow. I cook a lot, but it’s mostly because I really enjoy it and it’s cheaper to make meals at home. We don’t eat out a lot, but we usually get takeout once a week because it’s fun and even I need a break from cooking, and Aaron needs a break from cleaning the kitchen. That being said, I think we ate out once during our whole 30 stint. That means approximately 87 other meals involved some type of cooking or prep. Help. SO if you don’t know how to cook or don’t like it, this could be horribly not fun for you.
Summation: I’m glad I did Whole30. After the first 10 days, I really did feel great. I will never do it again. Something that I feel is a predominate emotion with diets like this is shame. Shame on you for eating a cookie/piece of bread/milk in your coffee. There is enough shaming us out there- and if you are healthy and respect your body, you shouldn’t be shamed for eating a cookie. You should be thankful that you get to eat a cookie! I also think the biggest thing I took away from this is how important it is to be thankful for the food that you have. I’m blessed enough to have money and live in a country where I have access to food at every turn- and for that I’m so thankful! I was able to experiment with something new for a month and learn things. Would I recommend Whole30? Probably not, because I think there are better ways out there to have a healthy food life. But if you love rigid structure and are an all-or-nothing kind of person (cough like me cough) then you might like this, and even benefit from trying it. It is a great way to educate yourself about how to cook and prepare foods in a healthy way.
Next time I write about whole eating, I’ll talk about the Victoria’s Secret Model Illusion (I just came up with that myself- but believe me it is real) and how Michael Pollan may have let us down a little.
What, you’re just here for the food? You don’t like to bossed around about how you’re supposed to eat? Then bless you if you just read all that. Here is a recipe for Mango Chicken Curry, something I made frequently during our Whole 30 saga. I make it this way still- it’s full of healthy fats, protein and healing spices. It’s also gluten and dairy free. If mango isn’t your thing, just leave it out.
During Whole 30 I made it with “cauliflower rice” which is essentially cauliflower that has been chopped into tiny pieces, salted and roasted. People seem to think it’s the most awesome thing ever. It’s not. It’s just cauliflower. Chopped into tiny pieces. Help us. We serve the curry over normal rice or quinoa on the regular. It’s a good recipe that comes together quickly and it’s super filling.
Mango Chicken Curry: This serves 4 adults.
1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil or ghee or a combo
1 small yellow onion, chopped small
1.5-ish pounds chicken chopped (I cut mine with scissors) into bite sized pieces
1-2 tablespoons curry powder, or more if you like
1 teaspoon paprika
3 tablespoons turmeric
1 tsp cumin
1/8 tsp red pepper (cayenne)
3 cloves of garlic, minced
1 can coconut milk, full fat
1.5 cup frozen mango, in chunks
kosher salt to taste
fresh cracked pepper
(1) 14.5-ounce can diced tomatoes, drained
1/4 cup fresh cilantro leaves, roughly chopped, (optional)
Heat the oils on the stove in large sauce pan over medium high heat. Cook the onions and chicken together, until the chicken is white and cooked through.
While that’s cooking, blend ½ can of coconut milk with the mango in a food processor or blender till smooth.
Add the garlic to the chicken and cook for another minute or two. Salt and pepper your chicken. Add all the spices, stir to combine and cook for one minute more. Add the mango-milk mixture and approx ½ of the rest of your can of coconut milk and stir. Add your tomatoes. Let simmer for about 20-30 minutes and serve over the grain of your choice. Feel the healing powers!