10 Steps for Whole30 Success

I’ve had a lot of people ask me about the Whole30 I find I am giving very consistent advice. Coincidentally, it’s 10 pieces of consistent advice…

  1. Do not decide to do this without reading the books. “It Starts with Food” and “The Whole 30” are both must-reads before committing to this. For me, if I don’t know exactly why the rules are in place, I find them much harder to follow (I’m also a Type A, perfectionist, strict rule abider, so that could be a factor). Some people have commented that it seems arbitrary that you can’t eat lentils or beans, since they’re really quite healthy. It’s true, they aren’t in the same category as mozzarella sticks, but by understanding the specific digestive reactions they have in the body, you get a better sense for why you can’t have them for 30 days. They’re readable in a day; you can skim the science-y parts of the books, but don’t skip them.
  1. You cannot pick and choose parts of this plan. There may be elements of this eating plan that you decide to pick up in your life, however you will not be doing the Whole30. You can’t do a modified Whole30 (save the exceptions listed in the book). Again, when you read the books, you understand why you have to do it the way you have to do it, and why if you don’t do it that way, you won’t be doing it at all. You can’t do it all except give up alcohol, or chickpeas.
  1. I do not recommend doing this as a vegetarian. A former 15-year vegetarian myself, I think it’s important to understand the reasons why you choose not to eat meat. If it’s ethical, then that’s one thing. However, if you’re doing it for health reasons, then I think (again, reading the book), you understand the reasons why meat is not as bad as people make it out to be, particuarly when you can find ethically raised and locally sourced meat (the meat I eat is questionable, but my ethics abandoned me 6+ years ago). There is a section on the book that addresses this, so please read that and make your own decision. It may be that a different eating plan is better for you.
  1. Only do this if you are 100% committed. Don’t try to talk yourself or someone else into it. If you haven’t come to the decision that this is something you are willing to commit to for 30 days, you will not succeed. This is particularly true if you have a busy job, if you travel a lot or if you don’t know much about cooking. The first 2 weeks are overwhelming. I was trying to make all these recipes from the book in a small kitchen without some of the key ingredients (because I couldn’t find them here). I ended up with a lot of food waste the first week, as I ended up with a lot of leftovers and couldn’t get through all the food I had planned to make. I did made a week one meal chart which outlined every meal I’d make for 7 days, but after day 2 I abandoned it. I think it depends on your personal style, but I felt better shopping for 2-3 meals every 2-3 days. It took more time but was more manageable. By weeks 3 and 4, I had a pretty good routine going, but again, I spent one full day food prepping each weekend. During the week was arriving home from the gym at 6 (early by most people’s standards given the 7:30am-3pm working hours here), making dinner, then lunch for the next day, washing dishes and prepping everything for the morning which took until 8/8:30pm. Given that I am in bed by 9/9:30, it really took my entire evening. Fortunately I lead the life of an 80 year old grandmother during the week, so didn’t feel as if I was missing any social engagements [Though, now that I think about it, that metaphore holds no water, as when my grandmothers were 80, they were both still volunteering and had a twice weekly standing bingo date].
  1. Don’t do this to lose weight. This is a huge recommendation of mine. That was one of my major reasons for embarking upon the Whole30. However, after reading 100 times in the books that “if you’re doing this to lose weight, you’re doing it for the wrong reasons,” it finally sunk in. It didn’t stop me from being discouraged when I wasn’t seeing any change in how my clothes fit or any noticeable change in my body in the mirror. I was one of the people that it took until Day 28-30 and beyond to finally start to see the changes. Had I only cared about how I looked and how my clothes fit, I probably would have stopped much sooner.
  1. Don’t not do this because you’re scared of losing weight. I know that everyone’s goal is not to lose weight (lucky bitches). I think that unless you’re already 80% compliant to this eating plan, you will lose at least a bit of weight. However this is because your body is ridding itself of fat. You will become leaner and more toned as your body becomes healthier. As there is no calorie counting or portion restriction, you can eat all you want, and I think the book even encourages bigger portions. Because it’s all whole, unprocessed foods, you really can’t eat too much of them. Your body will become full naturally, and that’s when you stop eating.
  1. The Whole30 book is your bible. I brought this with me everywhere the entire month. Their timeline on how you should be feeling throughout the 30 days is scarily accurate (as I reflected during my daily posts). It will help you understand if you’re “doing it right” and reassure you when you feel off. Keep it with you, especially when you’re grocery shopping and aren’t sue which additives you can and cannot have. If you’re going to spend $30 on something, spend it on this book.
  1. Embrace breakfast. I have had to give myself a full 20 minutes extra in the morning for breakfast (which just means I’m going into work 20 minutes late rather than waking up early!). It’s not an important meal for a lot of people, but for me, breakfast was my biggest meal of the day. It set me up to stay full through 1-2pm, which I really think affected how I ate for the rest of the day. I cannot emphasize enough how the focus should be on breakfast. I still eat eggs, but now I incorporate last night’s dinner – chicken, beef, roasted veggies, potatoes, etc.. I make the “diner breakfast” regularly – the beef patties can be made in advance and reheated on the stove which is an easy breakfast during weekdays.
  1. If you cheat, don’t start over. Instead, add days to the end. When you’re at day 1 or 7 or 10 and still not convinced you like this diet, and you realize you’ve cheated – accidentally or otherwise – the thought of starting back from day 1 is enough to make you want to quit. That’s how I felt after eating my peanuts. However, by the time I got to day 25/30, the thought of adding an extra week was nothing. It seems silly, but it makes a real mental difference.
  2. It doesn’t have to break the bank. Yeah, it will cost money. But for me, the money I spent on groceries was offset by the money I saved not going out to eat and drink on the weekends. There are a few expensive items you need to have – olive oil, almond flour, salmon, etc.. but overall, I didn’t spend more than I used to on groceries. I can buy cheap fruits and veggies in my neighborhood, which means I spend the most of my money on meat and fish. People freak out that this is going to cost them an arm and a leg, but I think that once you get into a routine, you know what to buy and what you don’t need as much of, and it balances out.

 

I don’t have “clothes on” before and afters, but I think some of the below pictures show the difference – particularly in my face, which I feel is always the last place I lose weight. The picture with my friend’s baby was taking around Christmas 2015, while the photo on the right was taken in March 2016, about a month after I completed my Whole30. My face reverts back to its original heart shape, and my cheeks and dimples become more prominent!

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Rapelling down a waterfall in April 2016- 3 months post Whole30. Feeling strong and looking fit!! 🙂 

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I personally think the difference is my face is incredibly obvious from the left (November) to the right (March). Incidentally this picture was taken with the amazing health team in Gaza.

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The problem is that now my sports bras are too big!!!

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Week Three and Four: A routine

4 – 9 February: Day 19 – 24

I haven’t been keeping up with this journal nearly as well as I was earlier in the month. That might be because there’s not a whole lot to tell. I’m still compliant, haven’t cheated, etc… I got back into the gym after Gaza, which has been great, though the fact that I can’t lift my arms to take my glasses off of my head without leaning my head forward is indicative of how much you pay for slacking in your weights routine for a week++!! I’ve not felt any of the “tiger blood,” which is frustrating, but I guess I’m also not feeling bad. I guess waking up is easier, and I feel like I’m sleeping well, but by no means do I skip the snooze button yet. I think probably I’ve lost a couple of pounds, but nothing super noticeable. I think what I’ll take away from this, regardless, is being more creative in my meals.. I’ve pretty much kept to the boring salad with grilled chicken on top for lunch, just because it’s easy to make, and I don’t really mind it. But I do enjoy mixing up my breakfasts the way I do, and having plenty of fresh foods (particularly meats, as I always have veggies on hand). I love roasted sweet potatoes.. they might be my new go-to snack.

Being off alcohol has been surprisingly easy, but I think that’s because I haven’t had any big events to make it through. A lot of my friends are out of town or not going out much either, and my grandma lifestyle during the week makes it super easy to turn down invites for dinner, etc…

I will most definitely go back to some pizza immediately after I finish (I think I’ll do another week before reintroduction), and I think I’m already pretty good at portioning out a kit kat to last me 2-3 days (I really don’t have a sweet tooth, so one or two sticks at a time is all I need to satisfy a craving). I don’t feel like I had a sugar dragon like people who often do this talk about, so I actually feel like I’m punishing myself, when I know that I can control my consumption of sweets.

Anyway, we’ll see what the next 10 days brings!!!

Edit: interestingly, I just opened the book – which has not been an ever present presence in my life the way it was the first couple of weeks – to the section where they talk about how you’re feeling daily, and day 21 is spot on with where I’m at. “I am so over this.” Day 22-25, “the scale is calling…” states that “you’ve been focusing on all of your non-scale victories for the last three weeks, but now you’re just dying to know..has anything really changed?” Yep. That’s where I’m at.. ok, looks like I’m still on track (tiger blood aside..or maybe I got it and didn’t even realize it..)

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When I’m pressed for time it’s easy to grab the ready made “street chicken” (a nickname due to the roaster’s present on the sidewalk of the storefront, not actually because the chickens come from the street…I hope..)

10 February: Day 25

I successfully made dinner for 5 tonight! It was also another good test, because everyone brought wine and cocktails. It was really very easy for me to just have my sparkling water and not feel left out. However, I am looking forward to having those casual drinks again, though I think I will not be as frequent as I used to be with the casual, “just because” drinking. Meaning, I’d rather drink on a night when I’m going out to have a fun night, rather than just sip a glass of wine because it’s there.

I made chicken picatta, which isn’t in the Whole30 book, but was a recipe I found online. The pounded, butterflied chicken breasts are breaded in almond flour, which everyone agreed added a nice texture, and was also quite filling. I’m very proud of myself because this is quite possibly the first time I’ve cooked for people, and I was able to multiply a recipe without screwing it up. My friends have all been supportive, so I haven’t felt like I had to justify myself or argue why I’m doing this, which has been really nice.

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These are my weekends now….

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It’s true, it’s my worst fear.

12 – 13 February – Day 27 & 28

I wouldn’t quite call it tiger blood, but this was a fantastic weekend. I think I’m one of those people for whom it takes until the final week to start feeling good and seeing results. Not to say that I have felt bad per say, but it hasn’t felt any different. However on Friday, I woke up naturally at 7:30 (granted, I went to bed at 10pm..) feeling refreshed. As I was changing for the gym I think I finally noticed a change in my body. It’s not drastic, but I can tell I’ve lost some of the weight in my stomach. I’m excited to take my measurements. It was leg day at the gym, and while I’ve always had really strong legs, I was just staring at myself in the mirror as I did my squats…they’re just solid muscle. I felt like I had more energy and a great workout. I was super busy with errands and food prep on Friday, and usually get a mid-afternoon slump, but didn’t feel the need to lay down at all. A friend came over and commented that he thought I had noticeably lost some weight, my skin was clearer, and I didn’t have the puffy skin/discoloring under my eyes (which, to be honest, I didn’t know I had to begin with!!).

On Saturday, I had the same morning routine, and met one of my best friends for coffee. She hasn’t been around nearly the entire month I’ve been doing this, as she’s been traveling for work, and after a few minutes of talking she commented that I seemed much happier and like I’m in a much better place. I think that feedback was perhaps the most important to me, as I really did feel unhappy the past few months, probably mildly depressed. I’ve been in a funk, for a combination of reasons (work, relationships, friendships, etc…), and while work hasn’t gotten much easier over the past month, I think I’m coping better. I’m happy in my apartment, I’m happy with my routines and habits, and I’m feeling more confident about myself. I’m not socializing as much as I used to, but I’m ok with that, because as I said when I started, I needed some “me” time, and I’m glad that I’ve been taking it.

I think this is exactly what the book refers to when they say that if you’re focusing on scale victories, you’re going to miss all of the other, perhaps more important benefits that this month can bring. I can’t emphasize enough how amazing it has been to have productive, busy and fulfilling weekends. I feel like I can fit so much more into my day, sure, because I’m not drinking and therefore not hungover, but also because I am more motivated, I have a purpose/things to do (food prep), and my energy doesn’t flag mid-afternoon. And yes, I’m so excited to see what the scale and measurements say, and that will really motivate me to continue eating like this and living this lifestyle, which I think is great.

The only thing I’m debating now is whether Monday will in fact be day 30, given the “peanut incident” on day 6, 7 and 8. I am 100% ok with sticking to this for another couple of weeks, but I would really like a night out next weekend, so I may reintroduce some gin, but not allow myself to reintroduce the wrong foods as a result of drinking. Then I can hop back on the whole30 for a few more days while I do the food reintroductions. Anyway, we’ll see what next week brings!!

Incidentally, when it comes to cheats that cause you to restart from Day 1, my biggest advice to people is to not restart your count, but add the days on at the end. When I considered the prospect of starting over from day 1 at day 9, it was not something I wanted to do. I wasn’t yet sold on the Whole30, and felt it would be silly to restart for such a non-important reason. However now that I’m on Day 28, the prospect of another 10 days is actually exciting, and feels like a piece of cake. Therefore, while I may technically only be on day 19, mentally, it doesn’t feel as overwhelming.

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I personally didn’t like the sweet flavor the red onions gave to the stock. Also find that thyme tastes like dirt to me.

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The seared tuna was a frozen patty. Delicious.

Week Three: Gaza!

30 January – Day 14

I had to get up at 6:15am today (Saturday) in order to get to HQ for the shuttle to Jerusalem by 8:30. I made some balsamic vinaigrette and ranch dressing in the morning, and packed up all the food. Upon arriving to my hotel around 11:30, I promptly passed out for 3 hours.. again, I’ve always been a napper, but I was hoping to not feel as tired as I have been lately. I haven’t worked out in 5 days or so, which might be contributing, but I don’t know what’s going on. After my nap, I did the same thing I did in Lebanon, and got a ½ kg of chicken shawarma from a Turkish kebab place. Again, I think most of the spices are likely compliant, but I just don’t know for sure. However, there’s only so much I have control over, and I didn’t want to dip into my canned food supply, as it will be more difficult to get my hands on fresh meats in Gaza.

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The veggie shop in Jerusalem where I grabbed some essentials for the coming days.. All for about $2

31 January – Day 15

Officially into week 3 of my Whole30!! I didn’t wake up with the much anticipated “tiger blood,” but it may be that I am behind schedule due to some accidental cheats. Hopefully I feel it in the next week!

I arrived in Gaza this morning with a massive shopping bag of food. I will ask the driver to take me to a fruit/veggie stand where I can stock up on the way to the hotel. I’d also like to pick up a rotisserie chicken (they have them all over the place here at the chicken shops) so that I can make a protein salad/have it for my lunches. I will hopefully get a hotel room with a mini fridge which will allow me to keep the eggs, meats and sauces cold.

I ordered lunch from the canteen upon arrival to the field office, as I was starving, and was told I’d get “plain, grilled chicken” over a salad. The chicken definitely had spcies, on it, which I think was zataar (which has sesame seeds), but it also had a hint of curry. I have no idea if it was compliant or not. I’m inclined to think so, but this is another one of those situations where I can’t just throw the food out because perhaps the chicken has something non-compliant on it. The book says something along the lines of “you’re a grownup, no one is forcing you to eat non-compliant food, you are always making a decision to cheat.” While I understand the sentiment, I do feel that in a situation like Gaza, turning down, throwing away, or sending back food is simply inappropriate, rude, and ungrateful. I would rather slip up accidentally than turn away food in a setting where food is scarce. It’s like the way I felt when I first traveled to Kenya after 12 years of vegetarianism. I made a conscious decision to begin eating meat again before taking my trip, because I did not want to impose my “first world food preferences” on those for whom slaughtering a goat to celebrate my presence was an act of great honor – and sacrifice. It’s true, no one is forcing me to eat the food, but from a humanitarian perspective, it’s akin to the religious reverence some people give to taking Communion. I am not forced, but I am compelled, and I am ok with that.

1 February – Day 16

Help, I’m still exhausted. No tiger blood yet. Sad face.

2 & 3 February – Day 17 and 18

Still tired, but working a lot in Gaza, and am out and about visiting installations and attending stressful meetings. I also haven’t been deathly tired..just, like, don’t want to get out of bed, normal tired. Have had to be pretty boring the past couple of nights and order just plain chicken from room service, to put with the fruits and veggies I have been buying (which are so fresh and delicious). It’s been great having the ranch and balsamic vinaigrettes to spice up the meals, as they’re certainly boring. My breakfasts haven’t been too bad (the hotel does the standard fried eggs, pita bread, cheese and hummus spread, so I’ve been eating in my room). I brought hardboiled eggs with me, the avocados here are delicious, and the cherry tomatoes taste like candy, so I’ve just been chopping them all together with some hot sauce, salt and pepper in the mornings. Then I usually have a grapefruit or orange and a cucumber to munch on as I walk out. I ate my last two hardboiled eggs today, so might have to open the canned salmon or repurpose the grilled chicken in the morning!

I’ll be really happy when I get home late tomorrow night and know I’ll be home for the rest of the 30, and hopefully in the 45 and reintroduction phase (will have to come back to Gaza in the coming weeks, but not sure when). At least now I know what to do and how much I need to get through!

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Very satisfying breakfasts

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Notice the french fries that it took all of my willpower to leave alone!!

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I’m pretty sure the kebabs were compliant…and delicious

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Turns out there’s an incredibly high amount of pesticides in Gaza’s fruits and veggies.. which makes them incredibly tasty and huge…

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Cleaning the lettuce, and making food in general in my hotel room was hilarious. But the part where my towel had a scented detergent that seeped into the lettuce was not.

Week Two: The Struggle is Real

24 January, 2016: Day 8

Getting out of bed was a serious struggle today. I hit the snooze button for 45 minutes (went to bed at 11 – much later than usual, because food prep and snoozed from 6:30-7:15). I never bound out of bed, but this is almost feeling worse than usual. Now that I’m up and halfway through the day, I feel fine, but my eyes had a lot of trouble staying open that first hour. I don’t have almost any sweet tooth, but of course we had two sweet treats available during this morning’s staff meeting. I have never been much of a fan of either of them (local Arabic pastry named Knafe, which is basically sugar and cheese, and a big chocolate cake), but for some reason today, my mouth was watering. It must be that I was getting my sugar from unknown places, and now my body is craving it in any form… I was able to resist temptation, but have felt hungrier than usual today!

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Not something that would have ever appealed to me before Whole30, but my sugar dragon woke up from a 30 year slumber this week!

25 January, 2016: Day 9

I think I’ve accidentally cheated several times!! I didn’t realize that I couldn’t eat peanuts.. I saw that nuts were allowed, and encouraged, so I bought different mixed nuts to have as snacks. However, I was rereading the first few pages of the book today (I got grilled yet again in a department breakfast that I abstained from) and realized that peanuts are out?? Crap!!! I’m not restarting from Day 1 for accidental cheating!!! Hopefully this doesn’t throw me off too much. I’ll stop eating them from today.

Otherwise, I used my SleepCycle app on my phone for the first time in over a year last night, and forgot how great the app is. I’ve been really anxious in my apartment since the attempted break in, and while I know that the new security measures (including two heavy duty deadbolts inside my door) will prevent someone from succeeding in breaking in, I am still antsy about it, and I think it prevents me from falling asleep well, as I jump at every noise. I used the ambient noise “light rain” to fall asleep, and the natural alarm in the morning gently woke me up, which is a nice change from the jolt of my iPhone alarm. I felt more rested this morning, and it might be because of that, or because things are starting to work.

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Have discovered a newfound love of Green Apples

26 January, 2016: Day 10

It’s scary how accurate the daily “how you’re probably feeling” calendar is. I’m definitely in that phase where I’m not bored of food prep, per say –  but it’s a lot of work, and I don’t feel like I’ve seen any results. My clothes don’t feel like they fit any better, my sleep is sound, as always, but not satisfying, and I hit snooze for an HOUR this morning! I am flying to Lebanon tonight for 2 nights, and packed some extra food to get me through dinner tonight and lunch tomorrow, if I don’t have the chance to pick up some groceries before heading to work tomorrow morning. I’m not feeling any tiger blood, and I understand why some people give up at this point. I don’t want to, I’m committed (as much as I can be, with my week in Gaza looming), but a bit frustrated.

Overall, I still find that my “meetings” are not as frequent as they used to be. I’m not sure if this is a good thing or bad thing? When I do have them, they are more solid. I used to think that I was metabolizing things fast if I was “taking a meeting” within a few minutes after eating a big green salad (loaded with beans), but now  I eat that same salad (sans beans) and I’m not necessarily going straight away. I think I used to have as many as 4-5 meetings a day and now it’s 1-2 times, tops..

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More food than clothing!!!

27 January – 28 January: Day 11 & 12

I was in Lebanon for work from Tuesday night through Thursday night [writing this retroactively on Sunday 31 January). I packed a LOT of food in advance to get me through the 2 working days and flight home on Thursday. I had a piece of salmon and a salad for lunch on Wednesday, and got by with fruit, veggies and hardboiled eggs for breakfast. Wednesday night, I went on the hunt for some compliant meat, and think I found it, but can’t be fully certain. I walked by a shwarma shop with chicken and lamb spinning around on a stick and figured that some chicken without the bread or toppings might serve me well for the coming meals. My guess is that there are a variety of seasonings on the chicken, but the only non-compliant thing could be the oil it’s marinated in. However, my Arabic failed me when it came to the words “butter” and “seasonings,” and I ended up with a ½ kg of chicken, which was DELICIOUS, and makes me worry that there was something bad in it. But, it could also be the bits of skin that were still on the chicken, and the way in which it’s cooked which keeps it juicy. I had also ordered a chicken burger, intended for dinner, but saw immediately that it was one of those frozen patties that was thrown on the grill, so I gave it to a Syrian woman who was begging with her children outside my hotel. Makes me think twice about the luxury of being able to do a diet like this.

I had that with some nuts and fruits for dinner, and made myself a little makeshift salad with chicken and raisins the following day during my workshop (this was made easier to manage by the unappetizing looking mini sandwiches that awaited us for lunch. I will find this more of an exercise in self-control when we are at a hotel buffet/coffee break).

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People were jealous of my healthy lunch at the Lebanon office

As mentioned before, alcohol is wildly taxed in Jordan, so I always take advantage of traveling for duty free purchases. While I’m enjoying the alcohol-less month, I know I won’t be giving it up permanently, and stocked up on whiskey and white wine (whoops).  I treated myself to some ridiculously overpriced sashimi at the airport on the way home, soy-sauce-less, but with the wasabi and ginger. It was only the next day at the supermarket when I went to buy some sushi ginger to snack on that I realized it has sugar. Sooooo, accidental cheat #2 (and possibly 3, if that chicken wasn’t compliant) for the books.

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Oh the irony of reading “It Starts with Food” while eating somethign non-compliant!!

To note, my exhaustion levels are much higher than their baseline (which is already quite high), and I worry that somehow this diet is making it worse, though I know that if I’m doing it right, it should be making it better. I have a Pavlovian-like reaction to any method of transportation, in that I pass out for the duration almost immediately before pulling out of the station/taking off, so I did sleep heavily through the flight (1.5 hours), and then got in bed within 15 minutes of checking into my hotel (around 8:30pm). On Wednesday afternoon, I got back to my hotel at 3pm and fell face-first, jacket still on, into my bed for a 2.5 hour nap. I don’t often nap back in Amman because I tend to work out in the evenings, which I don’t do as frequently when I travel, but this exhaustion was above and beyond.

29 January – Day 13

So, maybe I’ve cheated, maybe I haven’t. It’s hard to know, and it makes it even harder to know if I should still be feeling the way the book says I should, or if I should have restarted 3 times already. I spent much of today taking care of things around town and cleaning up my apartment, however I went grocery shopping in the evening in preparation for my trip to Gaza tomorrow. I’m at that awkward stage where I need to finish the perishables in my fridge to the best of my ability, knowing that by the time I get back in a week, anything left will have gone bad. I made some kitchen sink scrambled eggs to get rid of some swiss chard and spinach, and roasted some sweet potatoes for dinner (oh my gosh, I had finished them before the rest of my food was done… they taste like candy to me and make me think they may be my “no brakes” food. I should be careful of those in the future!!).

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Prepped to get me through the first few days at least

I bought a few cans of tuna, some olives, canned beets, canned salmon and some baby food. I also boiled a dozen eggs, and packed almonds and cashews, raisins, a cutting board, veggie peeler and paring knife. I cut and washed two heads of romaine lettuce, and plan to stock up on veggies in Jerusalem and Gaza. Hopefully I can make some salads to get me through lunches/dinners. The week’s menu will likely be boring, but if I can get through this week, I’m pretty confident I will be able to finish this month out strong!! (and probably try to add on another 10-15 days to make up for the infamous peanut incident, and the possible ginger slip.. though maybe I won’t count that as a full cheat).