First let me sit in silent awe that I have not posted in two months. Too much going on I guess… namely Thanksgiving, Christmas, our 17th wedding anniversary (!!), New Year’s, test-solving a ton of crossword puzzles for Rex Parker, (who is putting together a book to raise money for Hurricane Sandy victims), and now… the Whole30, which has taken up 90% of my brain since January 1.
If you’re not familiar with this, it’s a sort of a 30-day diet challenge. You can read up on it here. It follows a Paleo format, and is very strict for the 30 days. That nets out to no sugar of any kind (including honey, agave, stevia, etc.), no dairy of any kind (except ghee, which is clarified butter and has no lactose or casein), no grains of any kind (whether gluten or non-gluten), no alcohol, no legumes, and no food additives (specifically MSG, nitrates and carrageenan). If you mess up, even on day 29, you need to reset to day 1. Thirty consecutive days are needed to make the magic happen.
Last spring, I started reading Minding My Mitochondria , and started trying to cure myself with food. I added a lot of green leafy things to my diet, although not coming near to the 9 cups a day recommended, and tried to cut down on the grains, sweets, and dairy. But as the year wore on I got onto the carb-go-round really badly. The fatigue! The crushing fatigue was my main problem. Sure, I still get dizzy from time to time (even as recently as yesterday), but the situation of being so exhausted I couldn’t stand up, yet needing to get up and get the kids from school, was a good formula for eating chocolate as an emergency fix. And then crashing, reaching for toast (even whole grain!) or brownies, or [add whatever sweet, starchy thing here]. And then crashing again. Repeat, repeat.
A year ago, Terry Wahls, the Mitochondria lady, said (well, her book said) I should quit this and that white sugar, white flour, lots of dairy, etc., was only making things worse. She said in fact that I should go Paleo… that eating like our ancestors would lead to improved health in countless ways. But did I listen and actually do what she said? No. I just added a lot of kale smoothies. Took grains out of dinner. But threw a turtle sundae on the side. Coupled with my on-going exercise prohibition, this added up to a lot of blubber. I mean– tons and tons of added weight. Which lead to more tiredness, as I tried to heave my beached-whale self up a flight of stairs. Without enough oxygen getting to my brain. While dizzy. Etc.
All in all it became painfully obvious. … MORE than painfully obvious… that I had to do something rather drastic. Something I never dreamed I could do: give up dairy and sweets and still live!
So sometime in the fall I was trying to deepen my relationship with Paleo eating, and I bought a couple new cookbooks. One of them, Well-Fed, described the Whole30 and had an introduction by the whole30 people, Melissa and Dallas Hartwig. I started cooking all these lovely things out of that cookbook and thinking… hm… could I really do this? Then I suppose around Thanksgiving I set my mind to it for sure. At the end of December I put a shout out on Facebook that was going to start the whole30 Jan 1., and would anyone like to do it too? I was just looking for one buddy. But I got a lot of interest, and it netted out to 3 friends actually doing it with me.
Yay! We set out Jan. 1 and have been cooking and eating like crazy since then. If you look on Facebook, you can find my page about it, and see the many wonderful things we’ve been cooking.
So, how’s it been?
One thing I could say about it is that up until now I was not in any condition to blog about it. The first period of brain fog was really hard. I felt like hell for at least a week. They call this a “carb hang-over.” Your poor body has to suddenly adapt to this unfamiliar thing: not getting energy from sugar. (And when I say sugar, I mean not only cookies, but also cereal, toast, crackers, mashed potatoes, whatever, and don’t tell me whole grain makes it okay.) It has to suddenly learn this new concept: get energy from fat. Which you have plenty of. And when, or if, you can finally tap it rather than adding to it, it’s like discovering that solar energy really has unlimited potential with not much downside. The Whole30 also makes you eat a lot of fat. If your turkey breast and roasted veggies doesn’t have enough, you must add half an avocado or put ghee on things to hit that minimum. Weird, right?
I have not hit the glory quite yet. The stage I’m in now is supposed to be “Tiger Blood!” that is, you feel incredible! You have so much energy! It’s a wonderful world! I’m not there yet. But as a friend pointed out to me, it’s going to take me longer to dig out because I started in a very deep hole with a lot of underlying health problems. But that being said, I can feel, I can sense, I know in some fundamental way that I am on the right track. I feel really, really different. I told Isaac that this is the “tiger blood” stage and he said, “Is that in contrast to your usual sloth blood?”
This is day 21 for me and the trend line is really good.
Meanwhile, Isaac has decided to join me on this quest. This evolved because his need and want for an Xbox 360S with Halo Reach has been the center of his being for at least a year. Ben issued a standing offer last summer, that if Isaac could master the times tables 1-10 that he would get at least the Xbox. (The Halo Reach is too violent and we’re not doing it.) But Isaac hasn’t been willing or able to do that. To him, that seems like an impossible mountain to climb, which is another topic entirely. (Yes, he’s officially a genius, and yes, he doesn’t know what 7 times 8 is. It’s a paradox, like Sherlock Holmes not knowing that Earth goes around the sun.) Anyway, while watching me do all this, somehow it evolved that we started conversing about whether he could ever do it. I mean, Isaac lives on carbs. He loves candy to a fault. And his day would begin with Purely O’s (like Cherrios, only more PC), go on to pizza at school, and end with mac and cheese. I’m always force-feeding him milk to get some semblance of protein into him, and if he eats a few green beans or a cucumber then that’s a good day. He’s also semi-vegetarian in that there are rare meats or poultry that he will eat, and no fish whatsoever, and a stray egg here or there.
So the concept of Isaac giving up grains and sugar and dairy seemed pretty incredible. I was definitely the ring-leader on it, but Ben agreed that it would be okay to try. I figured that if Isaac couldn’t make it, he might go back to trying to learn multiplication. Or, if he did make it, it would be a great learning experience re: how the things you eat make you feel. And if Isaac could learn, at age 10, really experience something that many Americans of all ages don’t know, that eating junk food makes you feel bad, and eating healthy food makes you feel good, then this would be a life lesson worth at least one Xbox!
Isaac and I wrote up a contract, and after much strife over the Halo problem, we both signed it. Because Isaac is a semi-vegetarian and I was worried about his protein intake, I took a couple items from the vegetarian whole30 list (edamame, plain full-fat grass-fed yogurt, and finally the coup de gras, no-sugar peanut butter). Because Isaac has such a sharp legal mind, I tried to make it air tight:
This has posed some challenges for me logistically. Now I have to figure out foods for me that are Whole30 compliant, as well as working this Venn diagram of foods that are Whole30 compliant that Isaac will actually eat. Because Elias is not doing it, this means making multiple menus per meal. Last week, getting through all those meals was a trial. I’m glad he started 11 days after me, though, because if I had been in the thick of the worst of the transition, my brain would never have been able to figure it out.
But here we are. Isaac is incredible. Another angle of the goodness of this is that he’s suddenly developed amazing self-control. I mean, saying no to cake! Passing up popcorn and root beer at the movies! Serving pizza to other kids at school without having any! Standing by while Elias stuffs his pie-hole with cupcakes at church! He’s been just really, really amazing. I hadn’t thought of the whole concept of having self-discipline and learning to delay gratification and things like that when we started, but those have turned out to be amazing side benefits. He’s on his day 10. The worst is behind him. We’re getting into a rhythm. He’s boldly trying things to see if they are possibly good. He’s eating… good…. food… He said, for instance, “Mom, when you’re not eating candy all the time, blueberries taste really sweet!!”
At which point I nearly fainted from joy. He gets it!!
I get it too!! It’s win-win. Tiger Blood has to be just around the corner for me. If Isaac hangs in there, I’ll go with him to his finish date, which will be my day 41, and we can finish strong together.