30 days ago I began a journey that has taken me farther into myself then I knew I could go. Today it ends, and I would like to take you inside my journey and share with you how it has changed my diet, my health, and my spirit.
The Process: Around 9 months ago I decided to change my diet to one based on a Paleo framework. I spent years looking at different diets and my paleo adventure has finally landed me on solid ground. I “gave up” so many foods that I felt I was doing about as much as I could for my health. Despite that, I still had a few strongholds; the biggest of which was Diet Dr. Pepper.
For months I have been recommending a dietary challenge to patients that were interested based on Dallas and Melissa Hartwig’s Whole 30. I would normally feel somewhat strict to recommend the entire plan, and would often tell patients to follow it completely except for the artificial sweetener rule. I did this to give my patients a break, but also because I could not give that up myself. I try hard to live by the rules I preach, so this seemed easiest to me! The more I traveled into my Paleo journey, the more I felt the real calling to participate in the Whole 30 myself. I knew it would be hard, but I just felt it was the right thing for me. My diet has been pretty strict from the beginning, and essentially converting to the Whole 30 meant eliminating artificial sweetener, the small amount of heavy cream I drink with my coffee daily, and nitrates in preserved food. Otherwise, no real change! How hard could that be right?
30 Days ago I started the challenge with confidence and concern. I knew dropping the caffeine in soda would be hard, but I had no idea how bad it would be initially. The first day of the challenge was the worst I have felt in YEARS. I had a terrible headache the entire day, and felt almost in a fog. As the day progressed seeing patients in my clinic became harder and harder, and I almost gave in and drank a soda. What stopped me was the realization of just how bad things were! I felt terrible, all because I drink too many sodas. I pushed through, and made the determination not to drink any caffeine at all until I felt better. That night when I got home I was absolutely cranky (my wife will concur I am certain!) I did the best I could and went to bed as quickly as I could. As I lay in bed, head pounding, I wondered how long I could take it. It was literally incapacitating, and I feared how well I could work another day like that.
I slept off the headache, and awoke to a new day…headache free! I stuck to my guns and chose water over coffee every day for the next 10 days. I have not had another headache since that first day, and I am amazed at just how bad I felt. I felt sick, there is no other way to describe it. After 10 days I started drinking some coffee again, simply because I love coffee, not because I NEEDED it. It was a very freeing experience.
Despite the headache disappearing, I still craved diet soda. After much thought I realized that I drank it mainly to kill my need for something sweet. I had eliminated so many strongholds in my diet, but this one had become my primary one. I can say honestly that this craving for diet soda lasted a good two weeks before I FINALLY got over it. It sucked!
As far as food goes, the Whole 30 was not terrible for me. I eat a pretty clean diet to start with, and my main adjustment was bringing lunch with me from home as not to chance any illegal items when we order out often from the clinic. I can imagine that the shock to the system from a non-Paleo diet to a Whole 30 would be tremendous, and I am glad I did not have to face that!
Due to poor planning on my part, the end of my Whole 30 coincided with a week long family vacation to the Great Smoky Mountains. This was hard, by far the hardest part of the plan. By the time we left though I was over 20 days in, and there was NO WAY I was going to kill it. I sucked it up, and did all I could to stay on track. I ordered as detailed as I could when out to eat, and stuck to safe foods when none were available. Of note, when I do another Whole 30, I will make sure I’m not on vacation during any of it!
So how did the Whole 30 help my health? Here are a few observations:
Acne: I don’t have terrible acne at all, but I do still suffer with an occasional pimple. For three weeks I have not had a single pimple. Pretty amazing stuff.
Energy: I thought Paleo had given me all the energy I needed, but I was wrong that it was all I could have! Although subtle, the increase in energy on a day to day basis I experienced by taking the next step to the Whole 30 was encouraging. I never really got tired, even on the long drives during our vacation which in the past would have sent me shopping for caffeine in one form or another.
Cravings: Again, although I felt my food cravings were gone once I went Paleo, the Whole 30 taught me that my major remaining craving, diet soda, was as strong as ever. It took a good while to get rid of this one, but it was well worth it. Diet soda turned out to be the one little thing I kept for myself, and I had no idea the pull it had on me. I don’t think that drinking diet soda made me feel tremendously bad per se, but I was drinking it for the WRONG reasons. That was enough to concern me and push through the 30 days. Will I ever drink diet soda again? I would be a bold faced liar if I said I would not, but my intake will be cut by 80-90% long term. That is something I can live with, and be very proud of.
Weight Loss: After changing to a Paleo diet I lost 25 pounds without really trying at all. During my Whole 30 I lost 5 more pounds, so that is 30 pounds overall…not too shabby!. My BMI has dropped from 30.6 to 26.3. I still have some way to go, but I’m very pleased with the overall drop so far.
Mood: I have noticed a definite improvement in my mood during the Whole 30. I’m generally a pretty positive guy, and I really like what I do. Still, everyone has times when stress or anxiety get to them. This would happen to me typically when the work day would zoom out of control, or the kids would act up. I think two things led to the improvement in my mood:
—Knowledge of Health – Just knowing that I was doing something very important for my health was so invigorating. Diet, weight, and emotion are intertwined to the point they are indistinguishable. Negative emotions can be crippling, but positive emotions can fuel you to the max. I knew I was getting healthier every day, and that made me feel awesome.
—Feeling of Health – Besides knowing I was healthier, I FELT healthier! For all the reasons above, as well as sleeping well, I just had a general glow of health to me. Other’s noticed and made comments, and that will help anyone feel better! I don’t think I can really explain this, you just gotta try it to find out!
Must Have Foods: Many people are looking for the foods that are key to a successful Whole 30, and I will give my humble opinion. Here is what I couldn’t live without.
-Avocados – There is no better snack alone, or added to a protein than one.
-Coconut Milk – Such a great milk substitute for any occasion.
-Dried Fruit – Watch this as it can be a sugar substitute for you, but in moderation; often saves me
-Eggs – What else can you say about the totally versatile egg?
–Homemade Beef Jerky – Sometimes you just need beef!
Big picture: So what is the big picture benefit to me from my Whole 30? There are several things I would like to point out. First, it truly allowed me to put the focus back on using food as nourishment for my body, and not as a pleasure per se. Now look, I love food, and that will never change. But it’s so hard to separate sometimes the difference between what you eat to fill a “void” or “craving” in your life, versus what you eat to adequately fuel your body. You can easily fuel your body with wonderful, real, and delicious food which means you don’t have to turn to food for anything other than that. As I say, Real Food for Real Health.
Limiting my diet to this real food also brought back something else that I feel we often lose; the real taste of food. We are inundated with flavors that we quite frankly were not ever supposed to experience! As you will all (if you are smart!) soon read in the Hartwig’s book It Starts With Food the food industry has created foods that are fattier, saltier, and sweeter than anything nature can provide. This kind of numbs our taste buds to real food. Take for example marinating a steak such as in a sugary Teriyaki sauce. If you have a wonderful cut of beef, why take away from the flavor at all with anything more than a little salt and pepper? Why not taste the meat for what it is, and the glorious fat for all it can be? Are “smoked” almonds really better than raw almonds? Is a maraschino cherry better than a super ripe fresh cherry? Is a tub of store bought greenish faux-guacamole better than home made, or just a freshly sliced ripe avocado? If you really taste things, the answer is no for all these.
The reason that the food industry has designed foods to be fattier, saltier, and sweeter than nature intended is that they are taking tasteless and inedible food and creating a “food” for you to eat, and for them to make money off of. By design the Whole 30 takes all that away. What you are left with it food as God intended it to be. The Whole 30 gave me my taste buds back!
Lastly, the Whole 30 taught me that once again, even when I think I’m doing my best, I am not! It’s not good enough to do Paleo and hang on to dietary strongholds. The effort to bring about even more change in your life can produce serious dividends. I learned that and am so glad that I did.
So, you only have two things left to do. First, commit to doing your own Whole 30 right NOW! And second, pre-order the Hartwig’s book and soak it up as soon as you can. I will be doing a full review of the book once I am finished, but I am taking my time to really gain everything I can from it. I am not a paid spokesman, and I gain nothing from you getting their book. To the contrary, it is you that has everything to gain from reading it.
Please consider doing the Whole 30 challenge yourself. Ask yourself these questions…is what you are doing right now working? Are you happy with how you feel? Could you use more energy? Are you sleeping soundly? Are you worried about chronic disease? Are you sick and tired of being CONTROLLED by food? It’s just 30 days…