Whole30 results: 24 of 25 desired “non-scale victories” (pain relief!)

Could you feel better?
If you’re not feeling like your best, healthiest, most energetic self – or, if you are having a lot of joint pain, as I was – you might want to try Whole30. Having recently discovered that I have some new digestive/gut issues and food sensitivities – which my new, naturopathic physician explains is not at all unusual in women of peri-menopausal age (who knew?!) – I embarked on the Whole30 program to see if it could help reset my health. There were 25 things I hoped to see happen out of it…and I realized 24 of them. Plus some other wonderful, unexpected victories.

Food can be sneaky.
Whole30 wisely asserts that the food you eat either makes you MORE healthy…or LESS healthy. There is no food neutral. Food is sneaky, affecting you in subtle ways you would never connect to your diet. TRUE TRUE T-R-U-E. All too often, we forget to even really think about what we’re putting in our bodies and the effects it may be having, silently, without us noticing yet. It’s quite easy, over time, to lose touch with what we are supposed to feel like. To live in a state of denial. Maybe we can get away with this for a while, but eventually it catches up with us and bites us in the ass.

What are you putting in your body? Is it really as good for you as you think? 
For quite a few years, I’ve been a very “healthy” eater by most standards, eating my fruits and veggies, along with plenty of whole grains, some beans, dairy “for calcium,” a little meat, and, like most Americans, way. too. much. SUGAR. 

  • I’m not generally a huge meat fan; in fact, I was a vegan for several years before my son was born a decade ago. Not so much for ethical reasons – though I certainly respect that choice  - but just because I don’t really like it.  Now, however, after this Whole30 experiment, I do find that eating the right, healthy meats and fish (wild-caught fish, grass-fed beef, etc.) does improve my health. 
  • Unfortunately, while we’re taught that grains and legumes and dairy are good for us, they can, for some of us, at some point, become major contributors to systemic inflammation, joint pain (HUGE for me for the past year), and a whole host of health issues. I’m not saying that’s the case for everyone. I’m not going to get into or debate the science behind it. I’m no expert, by any stretch. All I can tell you is that in my personal experience it’s very true. Read It Starts With Food. It is so good that I read it on vacation and loved every minute of it. 

What you eat: A variety of healthy, whole foods, in ample quantities, three times a day, with 4-5 hours between meals.
Whole30 is similar to a strict Paleo – but please don’t let that scare you off. I’ve learned that there are a LOT of misconceptions about Paleo as “the caveman diet” being piles and piles of meat and bacon. You do eat animal protein at every meal, but contrary to popular belief your plate typically has more vegetables on it than anything else!

It’s not so bad, really…grass-fed burger with mocha spice rub, Paleo bacon, spinach and asparagus. Needs avocado…

There are many “rules” of Whole30, and the gist of it is you eat ONLY a lot of healthy whole foods – eggs, meats, vegetables and little fruit, and plenty of healthy fats like avocado, olive and coconut (as oils and in their solid forms). Sounds TERRIBLE, huh? Eating MORE healthy fat was one of the most revolutionary changes to me. They say “do not fear the fat” and it’s true. Many of us are still fat-phobic from the 80s/90s low-fat/fat-free BS, and I really believe eating more of these healthy fats is one big reason my joints are super happy, among other things. You avoid all processed sugar, dairy, grains of any kind (including corn), and soy. You read EVERY label, because there are sneaky ingredients and sugars and chemical crap even in places you would not expect them, like bacon. (I had NO idea that most bacon, even the good nitrate-free kind, has added sugar.)

There are myriad “science-y” reasons why this is better (disclaimer redux: I am not an expert. Read the book). Perhaps the simplest, most memorable one is simple opportunity cost. If we’re filling our plates with grains and beans and other things in which the nutrients really aren’t that plentiful or bioavailable, we’re missing out on having room in our bellies for the foods richest in both macronutrients and micronutrients.  Makes total sense, right? Yet it’s not how we usually eat. We fill ourselves up on fluff that puts us in a state of chronic inflammation. 

My results…24 out of 25 NSVs!!! Plus some more that I hadn’t even thought about.
While this Whole30 started as a bit of a roller coaster…my body is now REJOICING, in so many ways. Whole30 is about the “non-scale victory” or “NSV”. When I started, I identified 25 of them from their long list of possibilities that I was hoping to see as a result of this program. And…no joke…24 OF THEM HAVE HAPPENED.

They are: flatter stomach – less joint swelling – less stiff joints – less painful joints (SO MUCH LESS PAINFUL) – less stomach pain – fewer seasonal allergies – reduction in food allergies – less chronic pain (DID I MENTION…SO MUCH LESS PAIN) – less back pain, too – improved body image – less reliance on the scale (more about this later) – higher productivity – higher energy levels – more energy at work – recover from exercise more effectively (HUGE. I’ve had a TON of trouble recovering for the past year and felt like I could NOT build muscle. No longer a problem.) – healthier relationship with food – practicing mindful eating – listening to my body – don’t use food as stress management – no more food guilt or shame – when I do indulge, I savor it – meal prep is organized and efficient (still room for improvement here). Granted, some of those are quite similar to each other, but STILL. It’s pretty remarkable. I feel RADICALLY better than I did just 30 days ago.

First bike ride in two months or so…crazy hilly and windy 24 miles…ZERO hip/SI joint pain and INCREDIBLE recovery. WOO-HOO!!!

Additional NSVs I had not even THOUGHT about beforehand: Softer, healthier skin and hair – check. Sleeping better – check. Drinking less coffee – spending way less on coffee drinks – check. Feeling more energetically stable – check. Fitting back into my favorite shorts before the end of summer – check! More knowledge to teach my son about healthy eating and more conviction to do it – check and check. And that *might* just be the best one of all.

The ONE on my starting list that I didn’t see happen? Elimination of under-eye circles. They are lighter, but still there. I’m not sure Whole30 can be held entirely responsible for that at my age of almost-47… ;)

At last, it’s not about the scale.
Whole30 is not ABOUT weight loss, but it is usually a fringe benefit. In my case, I lost a few pounds and my clothes fit much better. More importantly, I feel like I can quickly and effectively build MUSCLE again in a way that I haven’t been able to in over a year. This Winter I felt like I was trying and trying to strengthen, to no avail. Turns out, my body probably wasn’t effectively absorbing the nutrients it was getting, nor was it getting enough of them.

What’s next?
After Whole30 or whenever you’re ready you reintroduce the foods that you miss, one group at a time, and see clearly how they make you feel. But as much as I miss ice cream, I feel that I’ve got more to learn. I just learned some things from my new naturopath this week and on the Whole30 forums that I think will further affect my progress. So, I’m going to stay the course a bit longer.

For example, I’ve started eating fruit at the start of a meal instead of at the end, when I eat it (2-3 servings a day TOPS), because it’s better for digestion, according to the naturopath. And I just started making sure that I eat a meal within an hour of waking up in the morning. Apparently that’s pretty key for fixing screwed up digestive hormones. It’s also quite tricky some days, and different when you train in the morning. There’s a whole extra set of recommendations for training and the Whole30. In short, you eat a little fat and protein before your workout, a mini “bonus” meal immediately afterwards and/or your regular meal shortly thereafter depending on timing.

I have to say, I’ve learned a lot these past couple of weeks on the Whole30 forum. The moderators are incredibly responsive and helpful and it’s an all-around great experience.  I’m looking forward to digging more into the forum on Whole30 for athletes.

Bottom line, I am SO GRATEFUL to Melissa and Dallas Hartwig who started this program, and highly recommend it. Do you feel like Whole30 might be helpful for you? Can I try to answer any questions? 


Food sensitivities and the start of the Whole30 ride

Suddenly, I’m allergic to…food.
A week ago, I asked my friends for advice on dealing with food sensitivities. Lately I’ve been having weird and extreme reactions to food, that I’ve never had or realized before. I’m getting tested for allergies in a few weeks but want to do all I can in the mean time to help my body calm down.

Enter Whole30.
My wonderful friend Wendy (who is allergic to Facebook but amazing at private support hehehe) has been dealing with the exact same issues and strongly recommended the Whole30 program, which I’ve considered before, but never done. It’s popular among triathletes and others.

Whole30 is a 30-day health reset in which you eat meat, fish, veggies, healthy fats, nuts (if you aren’t allergic/sensitive) and a little fruit. And black coffee, thank God. NO added sugar, honey, etc., no booze, no dairy, no grains of any kind, no corn, no soy, nothing processed whatsoever, no additives like carageenan etc. It’s similar to a strict Paleo, which I’ve been experimenting with for the past two months with great results but not great consistency.

Why do this? It’s supposed to be great for inflammation and I am strongly suspecting that extreme joint inflammation caused by undetected food sensitivities may be the ultimate root cause of all or most of my pain issues over the past year.

One of the ways they describe Whole30 in the book is: “…the Whole30 is not a diet. It’s not a quick fix. It’s not even a weight loss program. The Whole30 is designed to change your life. It’s a monumental transformation in how you think about food, your body, your life, and what you want out of the time you have left on this earth. It’s so much bigger than just food. It’s a paradigm shift the likes of which you may only experience a few times in your whole life.”

Those are some mighty large claims. I am definitely up for a life-changing experience and we’ll see if this lives up to it. I just finished the first week…it’s been quite the roller coaster ride, with a happy end-of-week status and some pro tips and helpful reading at the end.

Day 1 Excited and Anxious.
Amazing breakfast: sweet potatoes, kale, broccoli, eggs and a little bit of fresh pineapple. SERIOUSLY I FEEL BETTER ALREADY. Black coffee? You mean, like, without almond milk and honey? Oh HELL no. I’m highly skeptical. But, actually, it’s not so bad. Later, the anxiety kicked in. Someone said to eliminate nuts, one of my favorite snacks. That feels like it is threatening my very existence. (I know, right? WITH THE DRAMA. It all feels very dramatic at the time. Food is emotional.) Someone else says fruit is the devil. I’m sticking to the letter of the Whole30 law and keeping my fruit, but cutting back to a couple servings a day. I think I might be sensitive to nuts and might need to let those go.

Day 2 Eff This Shit.
I do not feel better…I feel pissed off and super crabby. Had no time for a real breakfast, and it’s pretty difficult to just grab and go on this deal unless you are far better prepared than I was this week since I just decided to jump into this head first. Cold beets and special “paleo-approved” bacon is not an inspiring start to the day. Egg salad with avocado instead of mayo wrapped in leaf lettuce for lunch is vile. The beef we slow-cookered for dinner looks like a bike tire. Three total meal fails in a row made me frustrated and overwhelmed. (I don’t have time for this! There’s NO WAY I have time for this!) I ended the day hungry and sobbing, cradling Whole30 cookbooks in my arms.

My energy was on the low side during the morning gym workout, but my body felt less achy and my digestion was more functional. I observed a definite connection between my digestion and my pain level. Whole30 breakfasts – when you have time to do them right – are the BEST. Sweet potatoes, kale and eggs again. (Egg fatigue will set in soon, I’m told.) I also realized I need to focus on chewing more slowly; I don’t think I’ve chewed my food in the decade since G was born which has likely been, you know, a bit of a problem. Mid-afternoon hibiscus tea appeased my sweet tooth (or “sugar dragon” as Whole30 people seem to call it). I think almond butter on celery gave me a stomach ache. Please, God, do not take my almond butter. This is the “bargaining” stage of Whole30, apparently.

Day 4 Meh.  

Day 5 I need to let go of the scale. 
I’m supposed to stay off the scale. I haven’t been staying off the scale. It’s not ABOUT the scale. It’s about the NSV (non-scale victory), which for me is less pain and inflammation and more energy. I have less pain. My energy hasn’t rallied yet, but it will. In the end, I didn’t stay off the scale. But I will. I SWEAR. I will from now on, until day 31.

Day 6 WTELF. (What the ever-loving f-bomb.)
I have been all-in on this Whole30 for SIX WHOLE DAYS and I felt like total ass this day, with swollen joints. Oh yeah, I ate some regular, nitrate-free, non-paleo-approved bacon the day before. Yes, there really is special paleo-approved bacon without added sugar (Jesus. They put sugar in every damn thing). Technically, I am supposed to start the program over because I sugar-poisoned myself; however, I don’t plan to quit after 30 days so I’m going to just keep rolling. I baked eggs inside avocados (which is nowhere near as easy at it looks) and ordered special 100% coconut milk sans guar gum. I can’t WAIT for it to arrive; this is what my food life has come to. Almond butter on celery immediately gave me a stomach ache, again. So almond butter is dead to me for now and life isn’t fair. *sobs* Still, I am fascinated by how in touch this has made me with my body and its sensitivities. That’s pretty damn cool.

Day 7 Mind…Blown. 
I woke up feeling super crazy tired, which evidently, according to the Whole30 book, is extremely normal at this stage when your body is used to burning sugar and isn’t getting it. I was also tired of plain black coffee, so I put in some full fat coconut milk and cinnamon and it was a very satisfying change. I found myself getting in the groove and ate amazing today – eggs, avocado, kale, dates wrapped in paleo-approved bacon (SO freaking good), cod, broccoli, zucchini, blueberries, salmon, sweet potatoes and asparagus. I am also trying to make sure to leave at least 3-4 hours in between eating instead of grazing like I normally do, so my digestion works better.

I worked out at home after a long-ish dog walk, and it was rather unbelievably great. My joints were moving in ways that they haven’t in a year…after ONE WEEK. I went right back into plow pose with zero effort. I haven’t even been able to do cat/cow without pain and stiffness in SO long and it felt normal. I tested light sumo squats – NO problem. I even decided to jump on the treadmill and throw down a test of some 6.0 intervals – and felt PERFECT. I can’t even explain the difference in my body. I have no words. I’m still stiff and sore first thing in the morning and have a long way to go, but I believe this is going to help, big time.

Pro Tips and Helpful Reading
Here is the guar-gum-free coconut milk you can order. Technically guar gum is allowed, I’d just rather get it out. Wendy also suggested subbing cashew butter for my dearly departed almond butter, which seems better on my tummy. Be careful, though, I accidentally bought cashew butter at the co-op that has safflower oil in it, which is also technically permitted but not ideal. It drives me crazy when even the organic food co-op adds crap to otherwise healthy whole food. Read. EVERY. Label.

Read about carageenan from the point of view of a cardiologist. It’s one of those ingredients in commercial almond milk that I’ve always wondered about, but didn’t really want to know. Well now I know and I won’t be consuming it any more. If you’re ordering almond latte and thinking you’re being healthy, as I was, sorry, but you’re not. Cut that shit out. It’s crazy inflammatory and possibly carcinogenic.

Another super-smart food friend, Rachel, wrote about Leaky Gut and the Allergic to Everything Phenomenon. It’s a really great read and her blog is a great resource.

Week Two…I’m All In.
I will most *definitely* be continuing this Whole30. I can’t WAIT to see what week two brings. I’ll be much better prepared this week, and I need to massively thank my husband, Karl, who does a ton of food prep for me.

Have you ever done Whole30? Did it help? Would you ever try it?

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