Last month I told you that I was doing a Whole 30 — some of you have been following along on Instagram where I mini-blogged the experience on a daily basis. The short story is that it didn’t accomplish what I was hoping for, but I’m still glad I did it, and food will never be the same.
If you’re not familiar with Whole 30, it’s essentially a 30 day dietary reset during which you eliminate grains, sugar, dairy, legumes, soy, alcohol, and pretty much everything else and so you end up surviving on sweet potatoes and eggs for a month. (You can read the actual food rules here.) It’s similar to the Paleo diet, but stricter since it’s only for a month and not intended to be a permanent lifestyle.
I used to think people doing Paleo were absolutely crazy. No pasta? No dessert? Why are you trying to take all the joy out of life?! But I decided to jump on the “clean eating” diet for one specific reason: my hands.
I have severe eczema on my hands that has been getting worse and worse for the last year. It’s only on four and a half fingers, but that’s enough — if you’ve ever had eczema, you know how painful and itchy it is. If my fingers aren’t raw and bleeding, it’s a good day. I had heard about Whole 30 before but never felt inclined to do it (give up dessert?! Never!) until I read Anne’s account of it — she also had a skin problem with her hands and Whole 30 was hugely helpful. I had been planning to cut out gluten and dairy anyway, since those are common causes, so I went ahead and hopped on the Whole 30 train.
If you’re thinking, “Wow, I could never give up all those foods — you must have amazing self control!” let me stop you right there. I don’t really want to tell you this, but in the interest of full disclosure, I cheated on my Whole 30 more than once. Little tiny cheating — a sip of wine, an accidental chickpea, vanilla extract in the unsweetened almond milk. (No gluten or sugar, I promise!) I had a hard time when I wasn’t the one cooking — I felt so awkward and demanding being honest about my diet. Most people were understanding, but some gave me a hard time about my food choices, especially not drinking alcohol. (Side note: Can people just not do this? It is the uncoolest thing in the world to judge people by how much they do or do not drink.)
But on the whole, I did pretty well. I was already eating a healthy diet, but I do love my carbs and cookies. At first, I was frustrated because a lot of my go-to quick meals were off-limits, and I couldn’t have my after-dinner dark chocolate, so I guzzled raisins like a monster (yes, I guzzled them. Totally in the Whole 30 spirit.) But I discovered some great new recipes and ultimately I’m keeping a lot of the habits I picked up.
But here’s the thing. My eczema didn’t get better. It got worse. I couldn’t leave the house without bandages wrapped around all my fingers. Even the skin on my face became dry and itchy. I couldn’t understand it — even though I had a few slips, I was still eating much better than before! No more bread, no more chips — I was all about the almond butter and apple slices, almond butter banana smoothies, raw almonds with just a little salt, chia pudding with raspberries and almond milk…. healthy snacks, right?!
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Whole 30 day 23: This month I swapped out my overnight oats for chia pudding, but I have a problem – the seeds always sink, so it's really thick at the bottom and too liquid and thin at the top. I stir it up but can't seem to get it right! Usually I just throw in berries with almond milk and chia seeds overnight, but this time I added lemon zest and juice – it was pretty good!!
Three weeks in, Hugo said something to me that made me realize — it’s the almonds!!!! I switched from soy to almond milk around the time this whole thing started and I’ve been drinking it every single day. Then Whole 30 got me addicted to almond butter and I used it as a meal replacement when I didn’t feel like cooking. It just never occurred to me that almonds could be the problem because they are “healthy”. It was a major lightbulb moment, and when I stopped eating almonds, I saw a big improvement right away.
So that’s the good news. The bad news is that the eczema isn’t gone, so there is another factor here that I haven’t figured out yet — I’m working on it (le sigh). The other bad news is that once I realized I had been poisoning myself throughout my entire Whole 30, I pretty much fell off the wagon. There were nachos involved.
I didn’t realize how much my body had changed until it was over. Not so much physically (although I did lose some weight) but how I react to different foods. I can barely eat sugar anymore because it gives me a monster headache after a few bites! I’m a little bit sad about this because DESSERT IS MY FAVORITE but I’m much better at indulging only when I really want to and not just eating cookies because they’re in front of me. I also just crave healthier foods than I did before. But I’m glad I can drink wine again. I missed wine.
In other news, I am working my way through alternative milks since I can’t have almond milk anymore, and I want to stay away from soy (and I’m not so much with the dairy). Everyone is raving about cashew milk but I’m staying off nuts for now. So far I’ve tried Ripple (made from pea protein — I call it my pea milk which is funny because it sounds like pee milk) and oat milk (which is cheap and delicious but a little fattening). Suggestions welcome 🙂
Here’s the bottom line for me: I think everyone has to eat the way that is best for their body, and it’s not the same for everyone. Not even scientific studies can agree. There is some research that shows that spinach and tomatoes can cause inflammation, for crying out loud — does that mean we should all stop eating them? No. Does that mean that cutting out those foods may help some people? Sure. So there’s no reason for anyone to lecture those non-spinach-eating people on the health benefits of spinach. There’s also no reason to chastise cake and ice cream lovers for their consumption of gluten and dairy (oh, it happens). Their body, their choice. There’s not a one-size-fits-all healthy eating solution.
Whole 30 Resources
Whole 30 is very popular, and there are tons of great resources and recipe ideas out there! I found some fellow Whole 30ers on Instagram who shared their stories and suggestions (and said they missed wine too!)
I went a little crazy on Pinterest — I made a board for Whole 30/Paleo recipes, then another one just for Paleo desserts (because they are not kosher for Whole 30!) and a board just for smoothies, and then ANOTHER one for healthy snack ideas, like oatmeal bars. (…I may have a Pinterest problem. But I say it’s not a problem — it helps me to keep recipes and useful blog posts organized!)
I also discovered the gluten-free cooking blog So Let’s Hang Out by Gina — she has a lot of Whole 30 compliant recipes and a week-by-week account of her own Whole 30 (she tells the story of a stressful night on Day 5 that started with bourbon and finished with In n’ Out, which made me feel a lot better about my own imperfect Whole 30. We’re all just doing the best we can and that’s fine.)
When in doubt, start at whole30.com. There is more information than you could ever read, and there are also some tips on doing Whole 30 outside the U.S./Canada, since some recommended foods and ingredients might be harder to find in other parts of the world.
So, what do you think? Would you ever do a diet like this? Are there any foods you just couldn’t give up?