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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Beyond Day 30

14 – 17 February – Day 29 – Day 32

I technically finished the Whole30 on Monday. I decided not to go for a full extra week because of the peanuts, but I sort of am, by default. I had been working for weeks to plan and lead a crazy stressful meeting on Monday and Tuesday (day 30 and 31), and had settled myself to a celebratory drink on Tuesday evening. However, I have remained Whole30 compliant other than my three gin and sodas (which were as compliant as they could be, minus the gin) on Tuesday.

I do feel as if I have had a ton of NSV, but I also feel as if my clothes are finally fitting better, and I can see a difference in the mirror. I wore a dress that I had gotten around Christmas time to my meeting on Monday, and while it’s a stretch fabric, I felt much less comfortable in it when I tried it on in December. I looked super hot in it on Monday! At the conference, I brought my own chicken salad, because it’s hard to know what the buffet food is made with, so to be on the safe side, I brought my own food.

However, I think a true testament to the success of this program was my ability to bypass the hotel’s buffet and coffee break snacks. Usually that’s the highlight of an offsite conference, so the fact that I was able to not just resist, but not even crave, these treats was a real success. I also didn’t get the 2pm slump that I saw all of my coworkers getting after lunch. There were many closed/closing eyes, and I felt nice and chipper.

I did have three gin and sodas on Tuesday night, and felt absolutely awful on Wednesday morning. It has really reminded me that it’s just not worth it, especially on a week night. I totally understood, in theory, that you don’t just (for example) miss the gym on Tuesday night, and perhaps not eat well on Tuesday night, but you miss out on being productive on Wednesday, you eat like crap during the day, and then just want to have a nap after work, rather than go to the gym. In theory, I knew this was what happened, but after a hangover-free month, it really hit home to me, that I would have had just as much fun with my friends drinking soda water, or having one drink. I’m going to try to do that this weekend, too. A good friend is going away, so I will have to go out, but want to try to be good so that I don’t miss out on being super productive this weekend.

18 February – Day 33

I took my after pictures and measurements this morning. To be honest, I’m so glad that I’m feeling better and have so many NSV, because my measurements are shockingly the same, as is my weight (though that’s less surprising given the weight training/muscle building I’ve been doing). In the before and after pictures, I can see a difference, but it also just shows how much farther I want to go. However, I think I can achieve more, by maintaining the motivation I’ve had to work out, and to eat healthy.  One fear I do have relates to adding back in some of the things I’ve been missing, while also continuing to eat relatively compliant. During Whole30, we’re encouraged and allowed to have fats (clarified butter, nuts, olives, etc…), and you can eat until you’re full, because you’re eating totally good food. However, if I eat until I’m full, continue to eat healthy fats, and ALSO eat pizza, drink beer and wine, etc… then I can see that adding up quickly. So I really need to be careful. I am so happy and it’s so easy eating this way, that I can see myself remaining relatively compliant 90% of the time. However, when I travel I may be more lenient, and also when going out every now and again.

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Have a long way to go before I’d be comfortable sharing either before and afters from another angle

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I told a friend at the gym last fall, as I stared in the mirror at a body I was really unhappy with, that my goal was to look in the mirror wearing this outfit and not be able to see my fat rolls and love handles. I’ve definitely come a long way! I think this was around Day 28

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A little snug in the thighs still, but I haven’t comfortably worn these jeans in 3 years! Why I brought them to Jordan with me where I’ve only been living for 2 years must have been wishful thinking.

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But now the problem is that a lot of my pants look like this…

10 March – Day 54

It’s been nearly 60 days as I finally get around to wrapping this journal up so I can share it with everyone who has been waiting on it!! After nearly a moth of reflection, I have to say, the Whole30 has actually changed my life. It has changed my relationship with food, it has made me more careful about what I decide to eat and when. It has made me stop and think before eating something that is off plan, just because it is there, and it has made it EFFORTLESS to look at some foods and not even desire them. I’ve had several conferences at hotels this past month; the buffets have always been a point of weakness for me with the specially made pasta bars, the creamy chicken and meat dishes and the soups and bread. However, I have gotten into an effortless habit of bringing my own protein salad – chicken or tuna, usually, and just making myself a salad from the salad bar. I have sampled the meat dishes, but because I don’t know – or do know – that they are cooked or marinated in non-compliant ingredients, I often stay away. It’s not because I’m trying to stay 100% compliant forever, but more because I still don’t know how some of these foods affect me, and I don’t particularly want to find out in the middle of an important conference or workshop.

I have been drinking lightly on the weekends – so far only gin and sodas and some wine. I had a couple of beers and pizza one gloriously sunny Saturday afternoon, but woke up on Tuesday with marks on my wrist from my hair elastic and tight rings. I could feel the bloating and my pants were tighter… I am inclined to say it was from the pizza, as it was my first time having bread or cheese, and I read in the book that some people get bloating 3 days after bread.

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Not nearly as satisfying as it used to be

I find that I’m just so happy with how I’m feeling, and how I’m looking that I don’t want to go too far off the compliant track, because I’m worried I’ll fall off (I’ve also continued with my weight training routine, which I know is contributing to all of this). However, I am off to Berlin for the weekend, which means 5 days of not exercising, as well as plenty of beer and meals out… I’m just going to have to be ok with falling off the wagon as long as I can get right back on it next week! I have a work trip to Gaza the week after I return, and while I think I will try to prepare the way I did last time, I will be a bit more lenient about what I eat from room service and the cafeteria at the office. Now that the weather is getting nicer and I have some personal and work trips coming up, I know I will have less time to spend inside food prepping and I will be more tempted to sit outside eating and drinking, but I think I can be smarter about the decisions I made. I went out for dinner with some girlfriends the other night and had a couple glasses of wine, as well as a salad with bacon and parmesan shavings on top. I considered removing them, but figured I could manage a few bites without hurting anything.

Cooking has become second nature and I find I can whip something compliant up without planning it. There are a few “musts” that I make sure I have at all times, and from there I can make something work on the fly:

  • Clarified butter
  • Eggs
  • Frozen meat: chicken, fish, ground beef. I also have IKEA meat and chicken balls that work well in a pinch
  • Cans of tuna
  • Smoked salmon (the kind you buy at IKEA)
  • All veggies including garlic
  • Lemons
  • White or sweet potatoes
  • All spices
  • Nuts, particularly almonds

I found I did NOT use a few things as much as the book said I would, including almond milk and cream. I made mayo a few times, and really love the ranch dressing. However the book made it sound like you were going to have “coconut cream emergencies” which I did not have. I have taken to using coconut milk in my coffee, which I enjoy. I also enjoy it black!

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Clarified Butter For. The. Win.

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).

Rolling With the Changes

There have been a lot of changes in my life over the past month. Yeah…that can be my excuse for not updating in nearly 2 months…

Work Life:
First of all, I have officially switched jobs here in Jordan. I’m aware that I never actually gave the full story on what I was doing here earlier this summer, and how it all worked out, but it is a really great organization and I think more people should know about it!! So, allow me to make up for lost time:

When I first signed up to come here to Jordan, it was to work on a project for which my advisor is the PI (principal investigator). It worked out perfectly with my time availability, and was in my field of focus: child protection in emergency settings. I immediately began plans to come here. However, we learned a few weeks before my intended departure that the opening of the new camp for Syrian refugees in Jordan had been postponed indefinitely, though we knew it would open at some point before the end of the year. This opportunity was everything I had been looking for in a practicum, and I decided to take a risk and come to Amman anyway, as planned, and do some work in the meantime, while the camp construction was completed.

Which brought me to UNRWA – the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East. It was not a UN body I knew very much about, and I was largely uninformed about Middle East politics prior to arriving in Jordan (something I have tried to rectify while here, but continue to find myself confused by all the factions, and religions, and sects, and governments, and alliances), so I considered this an interesting opportunity for many reasons. For those who are unaware of UNRWA’s mandate (as I was): a summary.

UNRWA
UNRWA was established in the wake of the 1948 Arab-Israeli conflict by the UN General Assembly resolution 302 in December 1949, “to carry out direct relief and works programs for Palestine refugees” (www.unrwa.org). UNRWA’s scope of services encompasses: camp infrastructure and maintenance, schools, health care, relief and social services, microfinance and emergency assistance for the approximately five million registered Palestine refugees in their five fields of operation: Lebanon, Jordan, Syria, Gaza and the West Bank. I worked in the health department, helping to evaluate the success of the new Family Health Team approach, which has been rolled out in over 50 of UNRWA’s 139 health centers.

The health reform, and ultimately, the FHT approach was initially embarked upon as a result of the demographic and epidemiological transitions that have occurred among the Palestine refugees. In non-public health speak, this means essentially that populations are living longer, and their health problems have become increasingly chronic and “lifestyle” related, rather than infectious and acute. Non-communicable diseases like hypertension, heart disease and diabetes now account for the overwhelming percentage of illness among the population, while communicable diseases like TB, measles, mumps, rubella and polio have been all but eliminated from the population.

All of this means that the way the health centers had been run for the past 60 years was no longer an effective strategy for the new demographic profile of UNRWA patients. In order for doctors to focus more on primary and preventative health care, and on trying to change the lifestyles of patients that lead to NCDs (smoking, poor diet, no exercise, etc..), the healthcare model needed to change. Using elements of successful similar programs in Brazil, Canada and Egypt, UNRWA adopted the Family Health Team model, which they began to roll out in select health centers over the past two years. The FHT reform was meant to not only focus on a primary health care model for patients and their families, but also to reduce the logistical burdens present at UNRWA clinics – over crowding, long wait times, and short consultations with the doctor.

So, the project I focused on during my time at UNRWA dealt with documenting and quantifying the improvements brought by the FHT model, as experienced by the patients themselves. Using a participatory methodology I learned last year, the Deputy Director of Health was able to conduct a series of mini-focus groups with groups of patients and staff at health centers in Lebanon and in the West Bank that had been implementing FHT for 12-18 months. I was able to discover some very interesting results, both those expected by UNRWA staff, and others that came as a pleasant surprise. While it will be hard to measure the impact of reducing the NCD burden among the Palestine refugee population as a whole, these discussions were encouraging for the health department to further understand the benefits of the new health care model, and to develop an evidence base for continuing the health reform in the remaining health centers.

One of the health centers in Amman

One of the health centers in Amman

Overall, I had a great time at UNRWA, and was able to use some of the skills I learned in the classroom last year.  I think the data I collected and reports I produced were helpful for the UNRWA staff, and I learned about an incredibly important organization that is operating on behalf of one of the most vulnerable populations here in the Middle East. In addition, I was lucky enough to travel to both Lebanon and the West Bank to collect the data, trips I did not anticipate getting to take work trips while here, which was a lovely surprise.

So anyway, now that I’m no longer working with UNRWA, you have an idea of what I WAS doing June – August.

Child Friendly Spaces Impact Assessment
This is the project that initially brought me to Jordan. I was given the opportunity to assist in an impact evaluation of child friendly spaces among a Syrian refugee population, and I think it’s safe to say that I jumped at the opportunity. Protecting the rights of children is what inspired me to pursue my Masters in Public Health in the first place, and it became more apparent over the course of the spring semester that while there are so many important areas to focus on within the sphere of public health (especially as they relate to communicable diseases, water and sanitation, maternal and child health), that child protection, especially in situations where they are particularly vulnerable – like disasters and war – was my passion.

My work with UNRWA ended last month, and since September 1, I have been preparing full-time for the start of the data collection period (which is determined by either the new refugee camp opening in Jordan, or by a child friendly space in a host community opening). Because the research is underway and I am technically a representative of Columbia University, I can’t be too explicit about what it is we’ll be doing on a daily basis, but suffice it to say, that I will be in the field quite a lot, and will get to facilitate, or at least help facilitate, community based participatory activities that will help us understand what it means to be a child in the context of the ongoing crisis in Syria.

Similar projects by my research team (of which I was not a part) have been completed in Ethiopia and Uganda, and there are several more underway in the Middle East region. The Jordan leg of the research is part of a larger project to help develop a stronger/wider evidence base for the positive impacts of child friendly spaces on children’s psychosocial wellbeing and mental health. As the data has yet to be collected and analyzed, I can’t make any sweeping statements about what we will find in Jordan among Syrian children…but obviously, we hope to see some positive effects.

This is great for me, since I would like to resume my career in child protection (now that I know there is a fancy name for what I was doing with Flying Kites) after graduation, this time with three initials after my name – initials which will hopefully help me get a job right away…hopefully one that will help make a dent in my mountain of debt!! Hey, a girl can dream, can’t she…?

So, even though things are going a little slower than planned, I still couldn’t be happier to be here on a daily basis, just absorbing the expertise of everyone around me. Osmosis. That’s my game plan. Don’t worry, I’ve thought this through.

Weather
Perhaps the most welcome change so far, has been in the weather. The turning of the seasons seems to mirror those in New England, though the weather patterns themselves may be slightly different. As I described in an earlier post, the summers are hot and dry. They aren’t unbearable in Amman, but they aren’t particularly pleasant, either. Like, you don’t want to go for a casual jog at noon in the middle of July…though, I have found that the late afternoon sun (3-5pm) is the wooorst. What people back home seem to be surprised about, however, is the fact that there was not one drop of precipitation all summer. I have not seen or heard or felt rain in nearly four months. Additionally, there is never a cloud in the sky. At most, there may have been a wisp of a cloud – a little piece of cotton candy that blew away in the wind. An afterthought of a cloud, really.

But, after a week of “Indian summer” in the middle of September, where I would wake up in the middle of the night drenched in sweat, it has thankfully cooled down. The air in the mornings and evenings has a bit of a bite, while midday is still pleasantly warm. Last week, there was about 10 minutes of rain in the evening, and it dawned on me that it was one of those things I didn’t know I had missed until all of a sudden I realized how much I missed it. But, alas, there has been no rain since – though sometimes I think I hear it in the middle of the night, when I wake up. Apparently, at some point this fall, rain will become a much more regular thing, and I will probably be lamenting it, but for now, I’m grateful for a change of climate. I still miss the leaves turning brown, apple picking and the “smell of fall,” but I also don’t live in a romantic comedy, so who am I kidding – I don’t see this in NYC anyway.

Neighborhoods
I also made a move within Amman. The apartment I lived in this summer was more than I could have asked for. There were three bedrooms, two bathrooms, a terrace, grape vines (with fresh grapes!) and tons of couches and chairs to lounge in. I lived with three great girls and had a lovely summer. We lived a few minutes walk from two huge malls, a massive grocery store, our favorite frozen yogurt shop, schawarma and falafel stands, etc… However, once the girls moved back to the states, I could no longer afford the rent on my own, and realized that while I was living in a nice, suburban, upper middle class neighborhood, I wasn’t doing myself any favors in the whole “meeting people” department.

The entrance to my old apartment

The entrance to my old apartment

Our beautiful terrace at the old place

Our beautiful terrace at the old place

So, I made the big move to a neighborhood closer to the “downtown” section of the city, and more populated by a younger, expat crowd. The neighborhood is much more walkable, and I often end up at one café or another, typing away on my laptop or having a coffee, surrounded by a ton of people my age doing the same. I have still not made even a smidgen of effort to meet people, which I am 100% okay with. Being anti-social and alone has been glorious, and while every once in a while I get pretty serious FOMO regarding the happenings back in NYC, I’m really enjoying the isolation this practicum has afforded me. It’s like I’m storing up reserves of rest and relaxation from which I will be able to draw next semester when I’m back to working and school and socializing, desperate for a weekend off.

I feel as if I’ve started in the suburban, family-friendly, spacious upper west side, and then made the haul down to the lower east side…where apartments are a little seedier, the rooms a little smaller, and the trash a little more prevalent. I’ve had to make the switch to earplugs and an eye mask, as the neighborhood children have a tendency to be loud, we live in between two schools who have announcements over the loudspeaker in the morning, and, oh yeah, our landlord runs his shipping/moving business out of the bottom floor apartment, so I’m woken up as early as 6:30am on the weekends by men loading a flatbed truck. This morning, a group of boys kicked a number of tin cans up the hill in front of my bedroom window on their walk to school. That was a pretty rude wake up call. Additionally, my bedroom is east-facing and curtain-less, so it’s insanely bright as of about 6am everyday (and until recently, was too hot to sleep past 8am on the weekends, though thankfully the cooler weather makes it more tolerable).

Anyway, I’m happy with the move, overall, though as luck would have it, the new office I commute to everyday is practically walking distance from my old neighborhood, but I think it’s worth it in the long run. I’m closer to the places I go to dinner and can walk to restaurants on my own, and there are several Arabic language courses available in the area…after 4 months, I’m finally taking the plunge (better late than never, no?).

It also turns out that the timing of this move is incredibly good, as the old apartment got little direct sunlight and stayed dark, and cave-like all day and night, a real selling point during the hot summer months when direct sunlight can be brutal. However, it would have been hard to keep warm in the winter, as heating and insulation is notoriously bad here in Jordan, and people have been warning me for months that I will need my long johns and winter coat just to go to sleep at night. The direct sun my bedroom receives will hopefully compensate for the cold air, and give me a little respite from the winter chill.

My new apartment building

My new apartment building

New view from my bedroom!

New view from my bedroom!

 

Evolving Amman Impressions

Given my new neighborhood and ever-expanding knowledge of the city, some of my first impressions have begun to change. While I initially enjoyed the decadence of two full weekend days with no work, very little social life and no errands to run, I’m starting to get restless. As someone who is lucky to have five free hours a week back in NYC, between school, homework, waitressing and socializing, I appreciated the break, but am ready to get back into the swing of a busy schedule. Luckily, the new project I am working on helps with that, as the working day is longer at our partner office, and I often stay later, or do work in the evenings.

So, to the end of reducing the amount of time I spend lounging on the couch, I have begun volunteering on Saturdays with a group organized by a girl I met in a shared cab on my way to the Palestine border. We make our way to Baqaa, a camp for Palestine refugees just outside Amman, and both my commute to the departure point and to the camp itself (on a public bus, which it’s nice to finally feel comfortable riding) have shown me a whole other side of Amman. The first neighborhood I lived in, as I have said, is incredibly nice, very well-appointed, and full of fancy cars and well-dressed Jordanians. The hotels we attended UNRWA conferences in were four star, and the malls we shopped at were full of familiar stores. I now realize that my first impressions of Amman and Jordan as a whole, while not inaccurate, were limited.

The city, while certainly well-appointed in parts, is also a little seedier in many, many others. I wouldn’t necessarily go so far as to say that poverty is in my face the way it has been in other countries, but there is a sense that not everyone owns a luxurious apartment with a Mercedes parked in the driveway. Though, there is an Ashley Furniture, if you’re in the market.

Living room set, anyone?

4 piece sectional, anyone?

I’ve had the opportunity to travel throughout the country on two occasions, once when a roommate’s friend visited from Lebanon, and the other more recently, last month when a friend from the restaurant I work at in NYC came to visit for a week. The hours and miles we spent driving through the middle of the country to the southernmost city, and back up the west coast have given me a much better appreciation for the diversity of lifestyles here in Jordan. There are plenty of small, thriving city centers, juxtaposed with miles and miles of desert as far as the eye can see. Bedouin tribes, the indigenous inhabitants of much of the Middle East, still live their traditional lives in tents along the roadside, in between housing developments along the highways in Amman, and in the vast deserts of Wadi Rum and Mujib.

I don’t know that I could ever live in Jordan long-term. The ubiquitous nature of cigarettes alone is enough to sour me on the idea. It’s a true testament to the anti-smoking campaigns in the US that every time I inhale someone’s secondhand smoke, I picture my lungs blackening a little bit more. Clearly, I am a hypochondriac, but you know what I’m saying. I also need to live in a city where public transportation is easy, comfortable and convenient. I want to be able to walk around my neighborhood and don’t want to be reliant on a car to get from point A to B. however, that being said, I have been loving my time here so far, and feel so grateful and privileged to have such an amazing opportunity.

 

That’s all for now, folks. I’ll promise, as I always do, to update more regularly, but at this point, we all know that’s a croc of shit.

Love, from Amman