Why now: I spent two weeks at my parents’ house over the Christmas and New Year’s holidays, eating, drinking, and sitting on the couch. To be fair, my parents eat very healthy food, but they eat a lot of it and more frequently than I am used to eating, given my 31 year old single lifestyle which doesn’t revolve around family dinners or hungry children. They are also almost, but not quite Paleo, which means lots of meat and bacon, but they buy bread when I’m home, so I just end up loading up on everything. Plus, ever the free-food chasing student, it’s hard to turn down the (seemingly) bottomless wine, beer and liquor their house provides. Not to mention the 1000+ cable channels, DVR and on demand viewing that limit my movement from the couch. Needless to say, I was ready for a change. My parents had done the Whole30 in November and were very happy with the results (I have forced them to buy Hellmann’s Light Mayo in preparation for my trips home.. I can’t bring myself to eat the “healthy” mayo they have adopted permanently); they encouraged me to think hard about whether this is something I was willing to undertake, but to really commit once I did.
Background: I was raised in a very healthy household, and was an athlete from a young age, so I have relatively good food/exercise habits. I’m by no means a gym rat, but when I’m there, I’m weight-training and jump-roping, rather than sitting on the elliptical texting and watching a movie. I’ve been a relatively consistent gym-goer throughout my 20s, with a few “extended” breaks. I tend to eat well: eggs for breakfast, a huge salad with some form of protein on top for lunch, and whatever I can throw together for dinner. I have almost zero sweet tooth, and rarely eat candy, chocolate or dessert. However, I have a few vices: white pasta, cheese, bread and alcohol. All things that I know would be behoove me to cut out of my life, but that I just can’t quite bring myself to do.
The Challenge: The hardest part of embarking upon this challenge is that I live in Jordan, in the Middle East. There are positives and negatives to this situation. Food here can be very fresh and healthy, however a lot of it is fried, bread accompanies every meal, and beans (foul, hummus, etc..) are everywhere. It’s also more difficult to make requests about how things are prepared in restaurants, due to the language barrier, and differing terminology. I don’t believe “organic,” and “grass-fed” are designations given to cuts of meat, and any US brands are often 2-3X more expensive, to account for importing them. Though it’s likely that locally sourced fruits, veggies and meats are more “organic” by their very nature. Pork is “haram” (forbidden) in Muslim culture, so it’s quite difficult to obtain in a 99% Muslim country, making a whole section of the cookbook irrelevant to me. That being said, I can find pretty much any brand that’s available in the US or Europe in one of the many larger supermarkets in Amman – at a premium cost, of course.
On the bright side (for once) alcohol is heavily taxed (again, due to its “haram” nature), and nights out bore a hole in my wallet, so a drink-free month will be refreshing. Though, in typical expat fashion, all we do is drink on the weekends, which limits my chances for social interaction this month (I’m not one for being the sober one on a night out; I’d prefer to stay in).
Perhaps my biggest challenge will be travel. I work for the UN, and travel frequently – and often unexpectedly – throughout the region. I will be in Lebanon for three days in my second week of Whole30, and in Gaza and Jerusalem (Palestine) for my entire third week. It will be particularly difficult to maintain this eating plan while traveling for several reasons. It is considered incredibly impolite to refuse food and drink when offered. The tea traditionally served in this region is basically sugar water, and while it’s possible to ask for it “Bidoon sukre,” there’s no guarantee my first sip won’t be full of sugar. There are often limited dining options at the field office canteen, and packing a lunch can be viewed as impolite. Additionally, Gaza is essentially an open-air prison, having been under Israeli blockade for more than 8 years, and incoming goods are heavily scrutinized. There’s no guarantee a knife would make it through the thorough Israeli security checkpoints, and the only accommodation options for visitors are hotels without kitchenettes or mini-fridges. Homelessness, hunger, and unemployment are rampant in the area. 1.8 million Palestinians struggle to live a life that nobody should ever have to live. Despite the hardships endured, generosity and hospitality are hallmarks of the culture, and I am often invited to coworkers homes for dinner. Traditional Arabic foods, coupled with being in the uncomfortable position of refusing to take what is being shared in a region where people don’t have the luxury to diet may make it difficult to keep to the plan during that week.
Other (smaller) challenges include: limited cooking space, a small refrigerator, an oven with no temperature readings, a shortage of the “essential” cooking supplies (due less to unavailability in the country than to my aversion for paying stocking a kitchen I will abandon in 6 months).
Goals/Problem Areas: I am relatively healthy overall, but there are a few areas that I’d be interested to see some changes. My skin is fine, on the whole, but for a 31 year old, I have more breakouts than I would like to see. I’d be happy to see a brighter complexion. As a borderline narcoleptic, I never have trouble falling or staying asleep, but even after 9 hours sleep I still struggle to get up in the morning. I’d love to see a change in a) the amount of sleep I need, b) the quality of the sleep I have, or c) energy levels upon waking. I am also (in my estimation) 10-20 pounds heavier than I would like to be. The weight has gradually packed on, a few pounds per year, since my sophomore year of college, and while I probably look “normal” to the naked eye, I carry the majority of weight in my stomach, which is a risk factor for diabetes. I am starting this program in parallel with a 12-week weight training/transformation program, so I expect it will be difficult to attribute which changes are due to which program. However, as I mentioned, I have pretty consistently been working out (save the month over the holidays), so I won’t be shocking my system with weights at the same time I am shocking it with food (or lack thereof). I will default to the Whole30 when it comes to taking body measurements and will not be following the attached food plan that comes with the weights (as it emphasizes several small meals, and carbs).