10 Steps for Whole30 Success

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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Week Three and Four: A routine

4 – 9 February: Day 19 – 24

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

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

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

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

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

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

10 February: Day 25

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

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

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These are my weekends now….

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It’s true, it’s my worst fear.

12 – 13 February – Day 27 & 28

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The seared tuna was a frozen patty. Delicious.

Week Three: Gaza!

30 January – Day 14

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

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

31 January – Day 15

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

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

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

1 February – Day 16

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

2 & 3 February – Day 17 and 18

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

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

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Very satisfying breakfasts

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

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

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

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

Week 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).