I get asked this question a lot.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with the Whole 30® Program, I tend to describe it as "30 days of paleo... but a liiiiittle stricter." I'll outline the basic guidelines of the program, but for full details make sure to check out their site. Heck, check it out anyway. They're really good writers.
- High-quality meats and seafood
- Roots and tubers (YES any potatoes are OK)
- Nuts & seeds
- Healthy oils such as ghee, olive oil, coconut oil, avocado oil, etc.
- Grains of any sort (even gluten-free); corn is a GRAIN not a veggie
- Legumes (beans, peanuts, soy)
- Preservatives/side effects of food processing (parabens, MSG)
- Dairy (with the exception of ghee above)
- Alcohol (even cooking wines)
- Coffee after noon (it messes with sleep)
If you would like to join me and do the program together, please click here for recipes and encouragement so we can all kick butt together!
Please do not continue reading past this point if you are easily triggered or still battling an active eating disorder.
So, again... why??
This answer has changed for me with time. The first time I came across the Whole 30®, I had just finished my freshman year of college 20 pounds heavier than I'd been in high school. I was a healthy weight in high school. But when I got to college, I became obsessed with working out even when I was exhausted and counting the calories of every bite of food I consumed. I quickly lost 20+ pounds but I thought I was healthy because you could see my abs.
By the time Christmas break came around, my parents were worried. I wasn't at the low point you see in a lot of orthorexics who are skeletal; I hadn't been that "successful" yet. But my cheeks were sullen and colorless and my chest bones easily visible. My already-small bras no longer fit. Finally, upon one of my many refusals of my favorite Christmas cookies, my mom sat me down and tried to convince me that it's okay to have a treat once in a while. She even tried to convince me to set aside a treat once a week so I wouldn't go insane with my strict eating. Looking back at pictures, I know she saw how bad I looked and wanted me to gain some weight back, too. But then, I just thought she was trying to undermine my fitness goals and I didn't listen much.
One day, though, those peanut butter kiss cookies just looked so damn good.
So I ate one.
And another. And another. And some sugar cookies, too. And a bowl of ice cream. And I decided that yes, a treat day is nice once in a while.
It started innocent in my second semester. I'd have one day in the week in which I could have one treat meal or dessert I'd been craving. And I really stuck to it. But soon the mentality that a cheat meal was ruining my whole day sunk in, so it turned into a cheat day. Seriously. I had ice cream for breakfast sometimes. I'd stuff my face with everything I'd craved throughout the week, without regard for hunger. Soon, I found myself at my starting weight. And then heavier. Until I was the heaviest I'd ever been, 20 additional pounds later.
That summer, I didn't want to see anyone but my family.
I hated the way I looked, I felt I'd let my newly-acquired followers down on my fitness Instagram because I wasn't open about my struggles and weight gain, and I definitely didn't want anyone from high school to see me that way.
So I didn't take summer classes. I stayed with my parents, worked out a healthy amount, and counted calories using the IIFYM method that is healthy but still effective for weight loss. I dropped about 10 pounds of my weight gain over the summer. But I wanted to feel good. I was sick of counting everything. And I wanted my confidence back.
The one good thing that came out of my summer of solitude was all the books I read. I completed 25 novels, nonfictions, and histories in 12 weeks. One of those books was It Starts With Food, the flagship Whole 30® book. I randomly saw it on display on one of my many Barnes & Noble trips, and my first thought was "these guys are DEFINITELY promoting veganism." You don't tell this huntress to cut out meat. But when I saw that animal products were considered okay to them, I was in to hear what they had to say.
Being so used to following the rules of counting macronutrients ("macros") it actually seemed comforting to me that this program had rules to follow. And the no-counting rule was a huge pull for me. I was sick of counting. So, with the first week of my sophomore year of college and pledgeship to a sorority, I began my first Whole 30®.
Not only did I successfully complete it, I had a whole different outlook on life. I was happier, I was working out productively, I had lost another 10 pounds (bringing me back to my healthy high school weight) and I was extremely interested in learning more about how food affects so much that we don't acknowledge. This spurred a strict adherence to the Paleo Diet™ for a year an a half on my end.
I re-incorporated natural sugars like honey in small amounts, but truly had no desire to add anything non-paleo back onto my plate. I felt great, I was getting creative and having fun in the kitchen, and I created my recipe blog soon after to share my creations.
About 6 months later, in February 2015, I did my second Whole 30® with a group of people who I either knew in "real life" or was connected to through social media and my blog. The second round was surprisingly harder, but I completed it as well with no hiccups. The support for the second time was very crucial to hold me accountable and I'm glad we took that route.
It's been just about 2 years now since I've completed that second Whole 30®. My goals between the first and second shifted from weight loss to muscle gain, so I consider the above transformation a great one. I've helped others through their own, and constantly preach the mental and non-weight victories of the program. But I think it's time for me to do another round.
In the last year, I've opened up my paleo bubble to test the effects of different foods on myself to see what really bothers me and what I can "get away with." This was done with the help and guidance of the Ditch Your Nutritionist Program and its creator, my dear friend Anne Marie Garland. What I have found is:
- I digest dairy very well and my skin actually clears up with some of it in my diet.
- Gluten-free grains don't bother me and actually improve gym performance when structured well around my workouts.
- Egg whites are the culprit of my persisting acne through young adulthood. I cut them out, and bye-bye pimples.
- Soy puts me in the bathroom the whole next day.
- Gluten gives me a hangover worse than any alcohol I've ever had.
- Peanuts bloat me at least 2 pants sizes bigger than normal.
- Alcohol in any form gives me hay fever-like symptoms the following day.
- Dried Turkish apricots give me gas from hell (TMI? Not sorry.)
- I'm very sensitive to sugar overloads of any sort, but especially those high in fructose. I'll literally break out in sweats and ball up to do nothing the rest of the day.
So if you know all that, why are you going for round 3?
Eating disorders don't ever go away completely. I've realized that I have triggers related to school or life stress that often cue smaller, but still unnecessary, binges. I say "unnecessary" because I will eat when I'm not hungry. I thought I'd finally kicked them until the beginning of my senior year, Fall 2016. It was a binge like I hadn't experienced since freshman year and I honestly still cannot say what exactly triggered it. But I found myself eating anything I could grab, which was mostly high-fructose foods that I was suddenly craving but left me bloated and feeling sickly once I'd finished. So sickly, in fact, that I forced myself to get sick to relieve some of the pain. I threw up for so long that the small blood vessels in my eyes popped and I looked like I'd been beaten up for the next 2 months. This is the first time I'm openly writing this, but it needs to be said.
Recovery isn't a straight line and we can't treat eating disorders as things that just "go away."
The interesting thing is that I could have told you exactly at that time, while it was happening, that I'd crossed into the I-can't-stop-why-am-I-still-eating realm. But I felt a loss of control that can only be described as an out-of-body experience.
These episodes are clearly few and far between now. I'd gone 3 years without having one. But it scared the shit out of me to see that my old habits crept up so suddenly, at a point in which I thought I had gotten hold of the crippling fears many college seniors in my generation have about what to do post-graduation. And, on top of regressing, those old habits somehow morphed to make me a "puker" who, for the next 2 months, had to come up with excuses about why the whites of her eyes were now red. I have pictures for myself, but I don't want to share just yet because they're scary and I don't want to upset anyone. Seriously. It was that bad.
So, to answer the "why":
I'm a control freak. No matter what stress I hit when I'm on a Whole 30, I find comfort in the program rules and don't have these issues during the 30 days. And that mentality extends past the end of the program for me because I have learned how to distract myself from the food beast (or "sugar dragon") and somehow find a way to avoid binging. Just look at the last two runs: the first took me 6 months to my next one, and the second carried me for a year and a half.
I'm competitive. But I don't break the rules. I want to prove to myself I can still do it. I've found myself becoming more and more "lax" about the amount of grains I eat and I want to remind myself of all the benefits of filling my plate with veggies instead of just some rice.
I'm excited to see if there are sensitivities I haven't yet discovered.
I'm excited to remind myself how many potatoes and squash and parsnips and plantains I need to replace the starch in grains to keep my sports performance up.
I'm excited to crave chocolate and kindly remind myself that "yes it's good for the soul, but your soul can wait a few days."
I'm excited to have vivid dreams of myself breaking the Whole 30® by "accidentally" ordering and eating an entire pizza, only to wake up and remember I'm making much better choices than that. And yes, that was a frequent occurrence in my second round.
And, above all else, I'm excited to enter my 22nd year of life with the most nutritious 30 days of the year to kick it off. Yes, I'm beginning my 3rd Whole 30® on my birthday. I do love cake; I will celebrate with some red velvet this weekend before the start of my program. But the more I become entangled with this program, the more I realize there's never a "good" time to do it. There will always be an excuse for why, somewhere in the next 30 days, you can't commit to good food. And that makes me sad. So I do it to prove that mentality wrong.
I want to love my body by telling it that it gets to be clean for a little while. Physically, mentally, and emotionally. And I can't think of a better way to do that than by going back to the roots that continue to save me from disordered eating, depression, body hate, and the hopelessness that encapsulates it all.
I'm still a work in progress. But if I weren't, wouldn't that mean I was no longer human?
If you'd like to join me, please click here so we can all be in it together.