Those of you that have been keeping up with me on Facebook know that I kicked off the Whole30 Challenge plan today. No fools, folks, for real. I’ve been an off-and-on-again paleo and decided it was time to embark on a stricter challenge to amend some bad behaviors. For those not in the know, the Whole 30 Challenge is basically a strict paleo eating plan whose main goals are resetting your body (esp. as far as hormones, blood sugar and inflammation are concerned), discovering and changing psychological patterns (this one is important, more below) and eating no man-made, processed “non-foods” of any kind. There’s more to it, and I fully suggest clicking on the link above and reading all the finer points if you’re interested in learning more, but in the essence of brevity I’ll leave it at that.
This is not a weight-loss regimen. It’s about revamping eating patterns and changing the quality of what I put in my body. One of the top rules of Whole 30 is no weigh-ins, we’re only allowed one at the start and one at the end. I’ve done my weigh in today and I’ll be back in 30 days, reporting any change. In the end, I’m not doing it for weight at all, although my weight is a physical manifestation of my food issues. The real reasons are a bit more involved.
Why Am I Doing It?
I decided to take the challenge in O’Hare Airport last Wednesday while on a one-day work trip. I’d gotten up super early, eaten whatever I could find while rushing between flights all day, had a pretty good lunch at the station I was visiting (I’m a social media manager for a bunch of news stations… read BUSY LIFE), then had a very lavish dinner with same station friends before hopping on my 7:50pm plane. This is pretty par-for-the-course since I took this job about a year ago, and while it sounds like Fancy Jetsetter Life, it’s been taking its toll on me. Namely, I’ve put on a few pounds, I’m feeling more stressed, I have tons of self-judgment about what I’m eating when I’m on the run and I just feel blah about myself in general. I was chatting with two of my friends on Facebook about being more serious about whole eating and proposed the wacky idea that the three of us try out the Whole 30 together, starting April 1. Since one of said compatriots was already on the Whole 30 with her hubby, she was an easy win. The other friend joined up as well, with a similar mix of anticipation, excitement and fear/loathing as I had. That’s how this whole thing got started in the concrete sense.
I want to take a moment here to say that I in no way am saying my ways of eating are better than anyone else’s choices. I’m not trying to go on a paleo tirade, or try to shame you or anyone else into going along with me. Your body is your temple and you feed it accordingly. That outta the way? Good.
Back to our regularly-scheduled program. OK, the main reason I’m doing it has very little to do with what kind of food I’m eating. It’s more about my psychological issues with food and needing to finally confront and change some bad habits.
Food: My Bad Romance
If I’m being honest here, it’s not as simple as my crazy work life that made me want to try this challenge. My issues with food go way back, all the way to when I was eight years old. That’s about the time that, thanks to a messy divorce and a lot of upheaval at home, I began eating as a means of psychological comfort. More specifically, I’d hunker down on the couch with a bunch of snacks and would proceed to watch TV while chowing down. It was a way of turning off my brain, turning off my emotions and letting food be my solace for emotions, ideas and realities I was too young to deal with. I began gaining weight and became a “chubby kid” at school, which led to ridicule, teasing and yes, more emotional issues. While I never let it get so full blown that I was horribly obese, I was definitely a chunker. And to make things worse, my family then began a non-stop torrent about how I needed to “eat better” and “exercise” so I didn’t “keep getting fat.” Rather than my parents looking at the situation and realizing that what I was doing was related to what I was enduring psychologically due to family upheaval, their approach was to tell me to not get fat. This started a spiral of shame, which led to more issues, which… you can guess where I’m going.
While I was lucky enough to grow really tall and therefore “even out” once I hit my teen years, the bad romance with food was still there, just under the surface. I became a vegetarian during high school, which I believe helped to give me a sort of control that kept some of my issues at bay, but I would still fall back on binge eating habits when times got rough. What was worse was that I started getting a lot of extra attention and praise at my newly “acceptable” body weight and model-esque height, which put pressure on me to keep it. Just like I felt my stacking on of weight was something I couldn’t control in my younger years, I also had no clue how I had all-of-a-sudden become “ideal” in my family’s eyes. I just woke up overnight and went from a body that was to be admonished to one that deserved praise, to no credit of my own.
So, the bad romance continued. When I went to college, I found myself stressed out, battling anxiety and full of the same fear about the future, desire to achieve and lack of clear direction that most of my friends experienced at that age. The difference was that now I was on my own, completely left to my own devices and without any of the negative body focus I was used to. I found that I easily fell back into my nightly “relaxation” routine, buying junk food and liters of Coke, cookies, sweets, etc. which I’d go nuts on when the going got rough. I gained my Freshman 30 and continued putting on weight as I spiraled further out of control. With each new gain of weight would come more self-loathing, more judgment, more upset at why I couldn’t just control myself and, of course… more need for food as a comforting mechanism. The cycle lived on.
Since that time, a lot has changed. I’ve had a child, which was awesome. I’m married, love my career and eat really well, most of the time. But what hasn’t changed is my using food as a comfort mechanism and a reward. I’ve held on to those habits and continue to live out the cycle of: eat well during the day, eat well at dinner, then sit on the couch and eat a bunch until I’m ready to go to bed, then wallow in shame, sleep, wake up the next day. I can no longer blame my parents, my upbringing or any of those instances for what I’ve carried over into adulthood. I’ve run half-marathons, I’ve grown my career, I’ve completed yoga teacher training and have accomplished so much that I’m proud of that there’s no excuse to hold on to this bad romance with food. It doesn’t serve me, it hinders me.
So for that reason, I’m committing to Whole30. I’m doing it to amend my thinking, to finally confront my psychological eating issues and do something about them. By committing to break my habits and deal with them, I am going to utilize this month-long process to make healthier mental changes, especially when it comes to eating.
OK, that’s easy to say… but doing it is a whole other thing. So here’s how I plan to combat my psychological am
- I will not eat on the couch. I can drink water and tea, but no eating. No more associating eating with relaxation, TV time, etc.
- Instead of watching TV when I feel like I’m facing struggles sticking to the plan, I will: do yoga, clean something, practice dance, meditate, knit, read, go for a walk/run, or take a bath. These are my coping strategies for when the going gets rough.
- I will journal and document my experience here to express my feelings and discoveries.
- I will reach out and talk openly with my family, friends and community about my struggles.
- I will not slip, not once. I can do this. Breaking patterns is hard, but I’ve got this.
And that handles the mind, for now…
I’m a Hyper-Hypo
The other reason is all physiological. Several years back, I dealt with a period of reactive hypoglycemia that was no fun at all. You can click on the link to read up on it in depth, but the long-story-short is that when I’d eat a meal with sugars or simple carbs in them, I’d fall into a mini-coma state and would black out while my body adjusted. This was caused by my already having low blood sugar, then having a hiccup in my body’s insulin processing wherein my pancreas would over-produce insulin and would spike so high that my brain would freak out and shut down my body. This was a pretty hard condition to live with and required some serious changes in my life. I had to give up all processed crap food, sugars and anything that would set me off. The good part? I lost tons of weight and felt better than I ever had. The bad part? I felt ostracized from society, with no opportunities to eat out or participate in “normal” food culture. There was also the “fun” reality that if I accidentally ate anything with sugars in it, I’d be down for the count. While it was happening, I prayed constantly for it to be over, for my body to reverse itself.
And when I got pregnant, that’s exactly what happened.
At first I thought it was great. I could eat sugar, YAY! I could eat out, DOUBLE YAY! I could finally eat whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted, without recourse. It was awesome because I was liberated, but terrible because it made all of those old habits come back… with a vengeance.
Which leads me to my physiological reason. I believe that my body was seriously trying to tell me something during my hypoglycemia days. I believe it was my system’s way of forcing me to cut out all the negative ways I was consuming food and bad, non-foods I was addicted to. Sure, it was a crazy, no-fun, absolutely bad way of getting the message across. And no, I don’t want to be back there, either. But I do think I was healthier and more in control, more aware of what I was eating then and that even though my body was sick and in a no-good place, the medicine (aka eating whole foods) I administered holds value for my system. While I don’t have as big of a reaction to sugars and processed food as I used to, I definitely feel worse when I eat them. Beyond the mental concerns (food shame, etc.), I physiologically feel worse when I eat these things. Likewise, I feel better when I eat mostly protein and veg, fresh, whole foods, no alcohol, no grains or pasta. I wholeheartedly believe that across-the-board dieting recommendations are crap. I believe our bodies are unique and respond to different foods and fuel differently. Well mine doesn’t like processed foods or sugars, it’s just that simple.
So that’s reason 2: to eat the way my body wants me to eat, not the way I feel I’m forced to eat.
How will I achieve this and still stay somewhat sane?
- I will plan out my meals, snacks and emergency snacks a week in advance.
- I will keep my fridge stocked with veggies, whole foods and healthy items that fit the rules.
- I will keep my car, office and travel bags stocked with healthy snacks to stay on-point.
- I will exercise regularly and will take time out to honor my physical self.
- I will commit to daily yoga and meditation practice to help me along my path.
- I will drink tea and water, both of which I’ll have on me at all times.
- I will not cave to peer pressure or eat bad foods because those around me are doing it.
My first thoughts are that the physical is going to be easier than the mental, but we’ll see. I’m glad I have a few friends going through this with me so I can complain to someone, beg for help and have a friendly ear when I need it. I’m already afraid that I’ll cave in to peer pressure at social gatherings, so I’m planning to avoid them and beat the urge, no matter what. If you see me this month, ask to look in my purse. I bet it’ll be a funny sight. Like Marry Poppins’ great paleo snack factory or something.
Day 1… here we go.