True story: tomorrow I will start my second journey into a #Whole30 month of eating clean. Why? I need a reset. Not just with food — although that’s always a good thing the older I get. I need a mind-shift. When I started Whole30 last year, I thought I was just doing it to see if it made a difference for my skin, if I would lose those few pounds that had started to creep up on to my bones. What I didn’t expect was the discovery of new flavors, the rush of creativity, or the clearing of my mind. I didn’t expect the lifestyle changes.
Last year, before starting on the journey of clean eating, I scoffed at how restrictive it seemed. No sugar, no grains, no dairy, no legumes. At the time, I didn’t realize how food manufacturers sneak sugar into EVERYTHING, so I didn’t realize just HOW restrictive it would be. (Chicken broth? Better read that label.) No dairy? How would I survive without cheese, the manna for my afternoon slump? And no grains . . . let’s see . . . that didn’t just mean pasta. That meant, no rice . . . no quinoa . . . no carbs? No milk or sugar in my coffee??? What? Were they crazy?
Instead of rushing in (I’m no fool), I joined a Whole30 group on Facebook and stalked them for a while. I asked questions. I read all the words: 30 days isn’t a lifetime, this isn’t a “diet”, you always have the choice to stop or continue . . . what have you got to lose?
Finally, tiptoeing a healthy distance behind my friends, I started. I knew my morning coffee would be my greatest challenge, so that’s where I started. A few days before trying anything with the food, I started leaving out the sugar in my coffee. In truth, I’d been using Stevia, but that was also off the list of approvals. I replaced my drops of milk with drops of Nutpods (creamy, no flavor that I can detect), and I went cold-turkey. After a few days, I realized I had mastered the coffee. I was ready to try: 30 days of clean eating.
Here are some things I learned last year — and some unintended benefits. Then, I’ll give you a glimpse as to what I’m doing, starting tomorrow.
- Read labels — ALL of them. Thank God for my glasses, because they put the ingredients in the absolute smallest typeface they can manage without running the risk of smudging them illegibly. I think that is because they like to sneak all the bad stuff in there without us knowing. Sugar is in almost everything. I learned to take a quick glance and if the ingredients looked to be the length of a child’s Christmas wish list to Santa, I put the item back on the shelf. Unintended benefit: I still read all the labels and am put off by long lists of multi-syllabic, unpronounceable words and sneaky sugar.
- Organic doesn’t mean it doesn’t sneak in crazy stuff. It just means you might be able to pronounce more of the ingredients. What I learned? Organic is still better. Unintended benefit: SEE NUMBER ONE. I still read all the labels and I feel better about what I am feeding my family.
- EGGS! I love eggs and realized that they are NOT bad for me. Unintended benefit: while I will always love sunny-side up eggs, with a side of bacon for dipping, I found that scrambled eggs are far more versatile and now I use them all the time. See #4.
- Scrambled eggs with ALL the leftovers make a hearty, delicious breakfast that gets me through to lunch without having to snack. As a middle school teacher, my kids often come into my room shoving chips or cookies into their mouths, so I always found myself dealing with my own hunger pains mid-way through the morning. With a breakfast of eggs + whatever was left in the fridge from the night before, I could make it right through the beginning of lunch (when I often help kids) without losing my patience. Unintended benefit: Since ANY leftovers will do (meat sauce? YES! Lamb stew? ABSOLUTELY! Roasted veggies? YUM!), breakfast used up all the foods that had often become science experiments. No more ugly fridge clean-up!
- Eating out was a challenge, but not impossible. I stuck to meat and potatoes and vegetable sides. Sometimes, I was able to find out if a piece of meat was rubbed with seasonings that included sugar, other times I knew to stick to the chicken or fish. Baked. We didn’t eat out as often, saving us a little bit of money. Unintended benefit: I am far more aware of what I order when we are eating out. I’ve learned to stay away from all those cheesy, complicated dishes and opt for simple. And I don’t miss it at all. I’ve come to realize that when we’re eating out, it’s the company I treasure more than the food.
- Ground almond meal or almond flour makes a great substitute for bread crumbs. Unintended benefit: Sauteed in a little bit of coconut oil, almond meal is my new favorite thing to toss on everything. Try it.
- Baked apples, sprinkled with a little cinnamon and sauteed almond meal (see #5), were a lifesaver when friends and family were indulging in sugary desserts. Unintended benefits: desserts don’t hold the same appeal to me anymore. Don’t get me wrong; this holiday season I indulged along with the rest of the world (buttercream and cream cheese frostings are my nemesis). But now I have options. Options and a little willpower go a long way.
- I learned to constantly question and reaffirm why I was doing this. I learned to constantly question and reaffirm why I was doing anything. Unintended benefit: I am more aware of wasting my time on things I don’t want to do. And at my age, I am unapologetic about saying no. “No thank you” is good to have in your repertoire.
- I was reminded that, as with most challenges, it’s best to have a tribe to accompany you along the way. My little Facebook group was a Godsend. I could complain and gripe to them and they understood. I could reach out for new recipes and questions about how to stay compliant. Every now and then, I could share an amazing success. Unintended benefit: Long after my Whole30 Challenge, this group has continued to share and be a presence in my life. It’s always a good thing to have another group where you belong.
So I start TOMORROW! I chose tomorrow because I go back to work, my one daughter goes back to college, and the other one starts back at school. Schedules and routines are good, especially when starting Whole30.
I bought myself an Instant Pot (whoa — the liberation!) and have been scouring and collecting Pinterest for Instant Pot recipes that are Whole30 compliant. I think my biggest Whole30 challenge was the time it takes for planning and executing a compliant meal; I’m counting on my Instant Pot to help shave the time down.
I’m looking forward to more fresh veggies, simpler meals, feeling lighter and fresher. I’m also looking forward to getting rid of this sugar brain (I swear the fog is real), finding the energy to tackle a much-needed cleaning out of closets and junk drawers, and more of a drive to get outdoors, maybe take more pictures — because Whole30 taught me that the changes aren’t just dietary, they are lifestyle.
Having said all that, here’s today’s challenge. We have chocolate and breads, sweets and candies littered throughout this house. Remnants of the holiday madness must be cleared out (either by indulging or tossing) before tomorrow comes. Another thing I learned? I am no match for an abundance of temptation so out it all goes!
Are you starting a Whole30? Is this your first time or have you done this before? Do you have any favorite recipes? I’d love to hear from you!
And over the next 30 days, I will share some of my favorite recipes here. I won’t share the daily grind of it — only my very favorites that are worth the planning and prepping. It’s going to be a wonderful journey!