Why I Whole30.
For as long as I can remember, my body has been “too much” of everything. Too fat, too skinny, too chunky, too lean, too heavy, too muscular—you name it, I’ve been it. For as long as I can remember, I’ve been encouraged to eat, or not eat. At 5, my great aunt encouraged us all to be members of the CPC (Clean Plate Club) at every meal; there was love and adoration if you finished all your food and consequences and disapproval if you did not. At 8, my mom already claimed I made the best chocolate chip cookies ever (the secret was extra butter and extra brown sugar, duh) and encouraged me to make them for every potluck, housewarming and Thursday. For as long as I can remember, I’ve been encouraged to lose weight. At 12, a family member intending to show his/her love screamed after me in a public place, “you’re getting love handles, Anna!” as I walked away in a two-piece bathing suit. At 14, there were a few months when my mother considered sending me to treatment for anorexia. At 25, when my fiancé asked my mom for her blessing, one of the things they talked about at their dinner were the food issues they knew I both had; mom worried about letting someone else “watch me” and Michael worried about having to be the one to do the watching. 170 at my heaviest, 120 at my lightest. I’ve always had a troubling, uncomfortable and problematic relationship with food. Food has been my best friend—my reward when I do something great, my comfort when I need a warm embrace, and my fuel for a tough workout. Food has been my worst enemy—I’ve punished myself by eating foods I know will make me sick, I’ve punished myself by withholding foods I know will nourish me, and I’ve bribed myself weighing the macros/calories/emotional high of one food over another.
About three years ago, I developed searing pains in my stomach and intestines that felt like someone was ringing out my intestines like a washcloth after every time I ate. After a lot of tests, tears and losing 20 pounds because I was too afraid to eat anything, I was diagnosed with a gluten allergy. First I denied it, then I slowly began to take more and more ownership over my food choices and my health, partly out of necessity and eventually out of genuine interest.
Last August, a friend of mine began an elimination diet called “The Whole 30.” Founded by husband and wife team, Melissa and Doug Hartwig, it involves cutting out added sugar, grains, dairy, alcohol, soy, legumes and other foods with potentially inflammatory properties for 30 days. The objective is to heal your gut, immune system, and also your psychological addition to certain foods. I watched Rachel do a Whole30 in August, by herself, at our work place, at the start of a new school year. I thought she was nuts starting something so stressful and so regimented at a stressful and hyper regimented time in jobs. What I saw at first made me cheer her on, then made me curious, and finally inspired me. Not only was she shedding weight, but her skin looked clear and her eyes were shining—you could tell she just felt great. She casually suggested after her birthday in September that we do another one together in October and I agreed.
Before I began my first Whole30, I considered myself a pretty healthy person, and at the time, more importantly, other people thought I was healthy. I ate three vegetable and protein rich meals a day, a snack, one protein shake and, tracked my calories/macros/steps/water consumption and worked out 5-6 days a week. I had tried juice cleanses, 24-day programs rife with supplements, shakes and was an avid creator of protein powder based baked goods. I was always willing to try a new fad. What people saw was someone who was in pretty decent shape on the outside—what they didn’t see was what was happening on the inside. Every food decision tortured me in some way. Some days I was paranoid about putting anything but the best inside. Some days, I physically could not stop myself from putting EVERYTHING inside. Either way I felt guilty. When no one was watching I would either starve myself for a few days at a time, or binge uncontrollably for an equal amount of time.
So, I started reading the Hartwig’s book “It Starts with Food.” I was confident that because I was already gluten free, cutting out the rest of those foods would be no problem. I began with full-force. I dove head first into the Whole30 world. I leaned out immediately, dropping 5% body fat in my first two weeks and was feeling really, really good. I finished the 30 days, with no cheats and no slips just like the Hartwig’s advocate.
To celebrate my “accomplishment,” my fiancé (now husband) lovingly trekked all the way to the Godiva Store in Midtown—yep he’s a trooper—and bought me caramel corn, 4 enormous chocolate covered strawberries and dark chocolate almond bark. After 30 days with no cholate, I was salivating and practically shaking with joy as I thought about eating ALL THE TREATS immediately. I tore open the package of strawberries and ate one, and two…and that’s when something amazing happened. I miraculously left the other two strawberries in the bag, and didn’t touch the caramel corn or chocolate bark (that night anyway). I had, for the first time that I could remember, indulged in something…moderately. There it was. Food Freedom.
When Rachel suggested we do another Whole30 beginning in January, I was game immediately. My second one I experienced some even more amazing changes, bodily and otherwise. It’s March 15th, and I’m still going because I love the way I feel, I’m finally comfortable(ish) with the way I look, and I’m really proud of myself.
As I sit here in the airport writing this, I’m crying. I still do, and probably always will, struggle with food choices. Some days all I want is to have abs and look great in my wedding dress and make Michael cry the minute he sees me. Other days, I’m stressed or tired or just couldn’t care less and want to eat an entire bag of chocolate covered-popcorn/pint of ice cream/box of Rx bars. My food demons still rear their ugly heads again and again, but each time I find the strength to say no, eat something healthy instead or take a walk, I give myself a mental HELL YEAH. Each time I don’t win the battle, I now stop and ask myself “why,” rather than punishing myself with hours at the gym, visits to the scale, or x amount of healthy days to “make up for it.” I’m an adult. My choices, even my food choices, are my own. I can choose to eat or not eat something any time I want. I am not yet perfect. But I have felt it, and I want it all the time. Freedom.