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 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).

Week One

After about three weeks of thinking about it and one week of preparing my house, I have officially started the Whole30. My dreams of spending my Saturday food-prepping went out the window when I woke up nursing a massive hangover that sapped my energy for anything other than lying horizontal yesterday. On the bright side, I’m doubly excited about the prospect of going booze-free for a month. I’m looking forward to reclaiming my lost Saturdays for productive and fruitful errand running, laundry doing, gym attending and preparing for the upcoming week in a way that does not include a Netflix binge.

I did manage to make my clarified butter last night, which will allow me to roast my chicken tonight, and basically cook anything else for the week. I also made my mayo – not 100% perfectly, as I added the lemon juice at the beginning and wasn’t able to find mustard powder, but overall I think it went over well. I hardboiled a dozen eggs, and washed all my veggies in preparation for the week. I made my usual salad for lunch, though sans chickpeas, corn, black beans and feta cheese. I mixed up a batch of protein salad using tuna fish and mayo. I’ll skip the gym this evening so I can get on top of the rest of the food prep I was supposed to do yesterday, and hopefully be back on track tomorrow (dying to make the spinach frittata!).

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One-person refrigerator packed with one week’s worth of food. A lot of this ended up going bad. Lesson learned.

I knew the day was a success when I was able to successfully abstain from a department “breakfast” full of hummus, mutabal, labaneh and pita bread. I munched on the picked veggies and some stray arugula garnish. I think the hardest part for me won’t be what I can’t eat, but the effort required to make all of the foods on my menu. I am very low maintenance in the kitchen and as I live alone and cooking for one is quite a lot of effort, I usually go with simple dinners. I’m taking on a double challenge, as I’ll be learning to cook in addition to eating a bit differently.

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Typical Arabic fare. Fried, bread, beans, oil.

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Bread. Bread. Bread. (This was brought in by a colleague from Jerusalem, where it is famously amazing)

18 January, 2016: Day 2

I took my “before” photos and measurements this morning, as I ran out of time before work yesterday. I nearly cried. I can’t wait to see changes in my body as a result of this and my new weight routine. I have always carried spare pounds in my stomach; my legs are consistently well defined, skinny and muscular, and my arms, while not my favorite feature, are relatively strong as well. I also have a larger than usual rib cage, which has been a source of distress for me since I was 15 and 117 lbs. At my skinniest, I always felt fat because of the rib cage (it gives me an awkward profile and back fat), so this is a constant battle I have with my self-image. I’ve learned, looking back over the rare photo that does exist of me in a bathing suit back then, that it wasn’t as bad as I thought. What I would give to go back to that body! However, it’s become harder and harder to lose the “spare tire” over the years, and I am looking forward to how this elimination diet will affect my body composition.  I wouldn’t be upset if my boobs got a bit smaller as a result of this, either.

[Note: For the purposes of sharing this more broadly, I took out the “before” pics. I’m just not ready to share these pictures. Maybe once I’ve made some more progress.. I do have one side by side comparison at the end, though!]

Around midday, I developed a pretty dull headache that stuck with me for the rest of the day. The book warned this might happen, as a sign of withdrawal from sugar and carbs. To be honest, I really feel like my diet is very healthy overall, but I guess there is more “sneaky” sugar in my diet than I thought, and maybe carbs (of which I eat daily, but again, not to excess) are a bigger culprit than I knew. I did drink at least 5 liters over the course of the day, and managed to get in a workout.

I am a bit worried that I overbought/over-prepped, as I am eating for 1, and many of these meals are portioned for 2, with leftovers. I worry that some of my produce will go bad before I get around to eating it this week, but that will be a good lesson learned. I had hoped to get away from grocery shopping several times a week, but that might be the prudent thing to do, at least when it comes to fresh veggies and fruits.

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One day’s worth of breakfast, lunch and pre/post workout snacks

19 January, 2016: Day 3

Getting up this morning was a serious challenge. I snoozed for 45 minutes. I find my breakfasts are much more filing than usual, and I’m not starving before late lunch-time, which is a nice change. My headache is mostly gone.

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20 January, 2016: Day 4

Today was a hard day, but I think it had to do with the attempted break in at my apartment last night. I heard someone picking the lock of my front door around 10pm, and the ensuing interactions with my landlord lasted until about 11. After that, my adrenalin was surging, and I was not able to sleep until after midnight. As a result, I was extra exhausted in the morning, and had to deal with the added stress of getting my locks changed, filing a police report, etc… I found that I was wiped out by the evening, and fell into bed (at a friend’s house) and slept like a rock. Again, this might have been as a result of the adrenalin, and not the Whole30. I was proud of myself though; despite the mix-up in my schedule, I ate dinner before I left, and packed ingredients for breakfast (a tablespoon of clarified butter included!) and had my lunch and post-workout snack packed for the following day.

I’ve found that my favorite meal of the day is breakfast; I really enjoy how this has gotten me thinking outside the traditional breakfast template of scrambled or hardboiled eggs, which might be nutritionally sound, but are less satisfying. I like the permission to eat a bit more during breakfast, and have found it keeps me satisfied, not even thinking about eating again until 12:30 or 1, and I don’t actually eat my lunch until closer to 2. Since I get to the gym around 4/4:30, this often means I do not need to eat pre-workout.

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21 January, 2016: Day 5

After a full, solid 9 hours of sleep, I didn’t feel any more rested than usual.. hoping that improves! Again, I had a repeat of the amazing salmon/kale/fried egg combination from yesterday. I’ve found I haven’t stuck to the meal template that I initially purchased food for, for a few reasons:

  • I bought ingredients for 2 people, despite cooking for 1. This means I have more than 1 meal leftover
  • When I roasted my chicken in order to make bone broth, I neglected to think about all of the chicken that needs to be eaten. I had already made a protein salad with tuna fish, so I had double protein that needed to be eaten
  • I have, despite my best efforts, not been able to find butternut squash. I have seen and eaten it while in Jordan, but they are intermittently available at the grocery store, and sometimes it takes trips to multiple stores to track down all the ingredients. Anyway, I haven’t prioritized it yet
  • I have found that the lunch I formerly brought everyday has not changed (though it is minus cheese and chick peas/black beans!). I have in the past, altered the protein on top of the salad, and have no problem doing the same here. I don’t feel bored. However, now that I have a better idea of how many groceries I need, I will be able to buy better next week to avoid waste

I feel like I am eating TOO MUCH actually, sometimes. Not in that I feel like I’m bursting full, but that three filling, complete meals is a bit foreign to be. But I know the book says to power through this part these first couple of weeks, and that it’s all important to this restart. Additionally, I haven’t been as tempted to snack as I used to be.

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We have received warnings of a snowstorm with the potential to cripple the city for several days (think Atlanta when it snows… 1 plow, no one has snow tires, etc…) so we’ve been advised to stock up on food and water for 7 days. I will make sure to have enough frozen meat and veggies to get me through if required!

One issue, that I am embarrassed to write about, but that I think is probably worth noting, is that I have been less “regular” than usual [I have a friend who calls it “taking a meeting.” Let’s go with that]. I tend to “take a meeting” numerous times a day – to different results – but very consistently in the morning and after each meal. I have been finding that when I do “take a meeting”, it’s very solid, and it’s not as consistently happening after meals. This may have something to do with the beans I usually have on my salad, but even after eating a full serving of cabbage, I don’t feel the compulsion I usually do.. I’m not sure if this is good or bad.. remains to be seen, I guess!!

22 January, 2016: Day 6

I was incredibly tired today, even after 8 hours sleep. I couldn’t make it to the gym in advance of my facial (at the gym spa) as planned, so rolled out of bed in time to make breakfast and head to lay down again on the facial table for another hour. Spent the rest of the afternoon unpacking in my apartment, and laid down on the couch at 6:30pm, waiting for a respectable bedtime. This is right on track with the book’s prediction that today is the “I just want a nap” day. Made my both broth though!

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23 January, 2016: Day 7

Somehow I regressed today to the “Eat All the Things” day, which I didn’t have earlier in the week as predicted. I did my gym run after making this glorious spinach frittata and headed out in the afternoon for a quick IKEA and grocery shopping trip.As I walked out the door, it started to pour down rain, and I mused that all I wanted to do in this weather was curl up on the couch with a big bowl of popcorn and a movie. Thank goodness I removed the popcorn from my apartment before starting this! IKEA was even more difficult, as we’ve made it a habit to get their hot dogs whenever we go, and their food court is always super tempting [I realized afterwards that the IKEA chicken and meatballs are Whole30 compliant, so bought a couple of frozen bags to enjoy at home]. Heading to the grocery store afterwards was an exercise in self-control. The bakery was cooking fresh bread, there was pizza in the ovens in the prepared foods section, and a local sushi restaurant was giving out free samples in the cheese section. I wanted to die. I know the book differentiates between cravings and hunger, and said that most cravings last between 2-3 minutes.. but honestly, I’m STILL thinking about that pizza.

A huge snow storm has been predicted (synching up with Jonas, which just rocked the east coast), and the supermarket was pre-apocalyptic. I’m meant to be flying to Lebanon for a work trip on Tuesday, but in the event that my flight is canceled and I’m snowed in, I wanted to make sure I had plenty of options to get me through more than just 3 days. Therefore, I bought a lot of meat that was already, or could be frozen, such as ground beef, individual portions of vacuum-sealed salmon and tuna steaks, and of course, the IKEA chicken and meatballs. I also stocked up on butter if I run out of cooking fat, and have a whole chicken in the freezer to roast and prepare new stock, should conditions become so dire.  It should get me through in a pinch, and I have enough veggies to get me through to Tuesday.

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Slim pickins at the butcher counter!!

16 January, 2016: Day 0

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.

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Spices are plentiful (and cheap) in the Middle East

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Pretty much every brand you can get in the US/Europe – and more!

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Many, many more…

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OLIVESSS

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The beauty of fresh, local olive oils

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I’d go so far as to say there are *too many* brands of tuna to choose from.

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I’m pretty sure they can’t say red WINE vinegar in the Middle East…

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).

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Care to venture a guess as to which setting is “broil”?

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).