A Year of Small Experiments: Whole30
For February my focus was exclusively on food and the way it nourishes our bodies (or doesn't). I started 2018 with some difficult to explain and painful blistering on my toes - several trips to the dermatologist and two rounds of blood work pointed to systemic inflammation as the cause. While the symptoms could be treated with topical ointment and I could drive myself mad with Google searches, I'm thankful my chiropractor encouraged me to consider another way.
As my aching toes felt out of control, I knew that I had to do anything possible to address the source of the problem - something felt extremely off to me when I was encouraged to "manage the symptoms." My thoughtful and compassionate chiropractor shared some impressive success stories of people who used food as medicine to resolve their own issues with systemic inflammation. She helped me see that I had power and control in this weird situation.
I'd heard of Whole30 previously, as in I knew it existed as a thing that people did and lamented online. I didn't personally know anyone who had done it, and I'd never made the effort to read about it. I assumed, wrongly, that it was another fad weight loss diet. But as I waited for more medical results, I pulled up the website, ordered the books, and dove in to understand what this program was really about.
It is not a weight loss program.
The success stories are incredible.
I read both the Whole30 Cookbook and It Starts with Food. I was completely inspired and knew within the first pages of the first book that I would do the program.
I've never thought of myself as someone who has an unhealthy relationship with food. I don't habitually binge on junk food. I don't eat much packaged or otherwise highly processed food. I don't eat late night snacks, in fact, I don't do much snacking in general. Sure, I have occasional cravings; I love sweet treats; and sometimes I use a bite or two of chocolate to calm high emotions. But I've never felt like food and I were in a fight.
I grew up in a pasta-loving household. My dad worked in Italian restaurants and then opened his own. Delicious, perfectly chewy, fresh pasta was an absolute staple of my childhood. So were bread and chocolate chip cookies. Those loves followed me into adulthood; I never considered limiting them nor did I consider that they could be linked to my variable energy levels and irritability.
If it weren't for my toes, I'm not sure what would have prompted me to investigate Whole30. And without Whole30, I'm not sure I could have landed on a sustainable way to stabilize my energy levels and disposition. Beyond food, beyond systemic inflammation, I believe Whole30 has set me on a course to be a better wife, mom, friend, relative, and person.
The Whole30 Cookbook was a perfect way for me to read and understand the basics of the program. The combined narration and recipes made me feel motivated and empowered. That motivation helped me crack open It Starts with Food, and what I found was the single most interesting science book I've ever read. It made me understand why the eliminated categories of food are counterproductive to my body's functioning; why systemic inflammation happens; how food and energy levels and behavior are related; and how my days could be better, stable, efficient, fulfilling because of what I feed my body. There's more, but that's a decent summary of what I took from this book.
My husband knew I was in a bit a panic over my toes and the blood work results. When I gave him a brief explanation of Whole30 (you can't eat sugar, alcohol, any grains, dairy, or legumes for 30 days) and asked him to read the cookbook narrative, he didn't hesitate, he just agreed to do the program and read the section I had marked in the book. Of course he had questions, but he is also endlessly supportive of me, and so he jumped in.
I won't bore you with the ins and outs of 30 days plus the reintroduction period, but I don't think it's too strong to say that Whole30 was life-changing for both of us. Stabalized energy levels and accompanying disposition, extremely reduced cravings, disinterest in most of the eliminated foods, excellent nighttime sleep, and weight loss, are the most dramatic results we saw, though I'm sure there are more.
Reintroduction didn't produce extreme reactions (except for me alcohol resulted in a raging headache and terrible night of sleep). Each of the things we tried made us both feel less awesome than when we avoid those ingredients. In those first 5-6 weeks, my husband lost 20 pounds, and now at 6 months out with a combination of conscious food choices and marathon training, he is down his targeted 60 pounds.
In the months that have followed our Whole30 and reintroduction, we have continued to follow the basic tenets with flexibility. We eat out now and then; we share meals with other people; we have an occasional drink followed by gallons of water, chocolate is back in our lives now and then; we take time to reset when our bodies feel overextended. Most importantly, we are thoughtful about what we eat, and we make a point to enjoy our choices.
On the medical front, my latest blood work is still slightly elevated, though not cause for major concern. I followed Whole30 quite closely until that was re-evaluated, and in 6 months those food changes didn't eliminate my systemic inflammation. We have both seen significant changes in our cholesterol levels (mine is down 45 points and his 90), putting us both well within the normal range.
I've been so happy with the results, that I want everyone to do Whole30. I answer questions when it comes up, but I try not to bring it up myself. If you want to do it, do it, and follow the program to the letter, but do it for you, not me. That's the beauty in an adventure, the experience and results are for you.
Check out the other posts in this series: A Year of Small Experiments