What I Learned from my Whole 30

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?!

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!)

Anne has written a lot of great posts on Whole 30 — start with preparing for your Whole 30mastering meal prep and avoiding food boredom, and lots of other tips and reflections on Whole 30.

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?

Little Snippets: Whole 30 + Back to School

Hi there! It’s February and GUESS WHAT? I’m doing my first Whole 30 this month. If you haven’t heard of Whole 30, you can read more about it here. Basically, it’s a month-long dietary cleanse where you eliminate sugar, grains, dairy, soy, and lots of other stuff from your diet. After the 30 days are up, you carefully reintroduce these foods to understand how each one affects your body.

I was planning to eliminate gluten and dairy for a month anyway to see if it would help my painful hand eczema, and when I read Anne’s account of her Whole 30, I decided to try it too.

February seemed like a good month to do a Whole 30 cleanse since there are only 28 days. (Kidding – I started on January 31 and plan to end on March 1.)

I’ll let you know how it went at the end of the month (I’m on day 9, so far so good.) I started a new Instagram account to micro-blog the experience – I post about my #Whole30Struggles, what I’m eating and what I WISH I were eating, haha. You can follow along @wherearemycarbs.

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Monthly Slice: January

A little slice of January…

Highlights: Friends and nature! Two of my favorite people were in from out of town at the beginning of the month! They are more athletic than I am, so we went hiking at Pinnacles National Park, where I’ve never been before. It was spectacular. But later on I found out that tarantulas live here and had a retroactive panic attack, trying to remember if I had stuck my hands into any holes that could have been spider cottages. (Okay, I’m not totally sure where tarantulas live, but I can’t google it because then photos come up and I have nightmares).

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2016 Changed Everything (But That’s All)

I don’t have to tell you what kind of a year the world had in 2016. Honestly, I feel a little silly writing about my year – so much more important stuff happened that it’s like, who cares what I did in 2016?

Basically, my entire life changed in 2016, but other than that, nothing major to report.

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First Semester at MIIS

Wow, this is the first time in two years that I’ve gone more than a month without a post! I am pretty low-key about blogging, but I aim to write at least once a month. I’ve only missed one month since I started blogging two and a half years ago – make that two months now.

That should give you a good idea of just how busy school has been keeping me. Now that it’s officially school vacation, I’ll try to catch up a little. Some people expressed interest in hearing more about my program at MIIS, so I thought I’d explain what I’m studying and what the program is like so far.

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A different kind of rentrée

Hi there! I write about la rentrée (when all of France goes back to school and back to work after summer vacation) every year (2014, 2015), but it’s my first time in years being a student for back to school season!

I have to say, I like it. I love being a student. I’m currently studying translation, localization, and interpretation at MIIS and it keeps me busy seven days a week. It is fun to be back on the other side of the classroom and remember how I felt when I was the teacher. (I don’t miss it.)

I think that being in an international environment and a familiar city (I grew up here) have muted the effects of reverse culture shock. It was surprisingly easy to quit my beloved Franglais (for the most part) and I’m almost never surprised by sales tax anymore (but I’m leaving my weather app in Celsius!)

A few observations:

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Goodbye France, Hello California

Hi! Guess where I am? (I suppose if I really wanted you to guess I shouldn’t have put it in the title.)

I left Lyon (in tears) and flew back to my hometown last week. Most of August was spent emptying our home in Lyon and trying to cram all of my belongings into two suitcases. (Bless the Lufthansa agent who let my overweight bag slide through!)

Everyone knows moving is the worst, but sometimes you forget how really Not Fun it is until you’re weeding through everything you own and getting stood up by Leboncoiners who are supposed to come buy your crappy chairs (RUDE!) August was hot and stressful and I was pretty cranky for most of the month. I pretty much stopped checking my email, which is terrible because some really nice people emailed me during that time. (I’m sorry, nice people!!!) It seems like a pretty wimpy thing to complain about, but I get so overwhelmed by an overflowing inbox.

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2016, so far

2016 is a big year of change. I’m feeling excited and anxious about the big move to California, and sad to leave Lyon and see most of my expat friends scatter all over the world as we all move on to the next chapters of our lives.

Recently, Hugo and I got a little taste of California life – one of my oldest, dearest friends got married this May and we flew to California for the occasion. She had a beautiful outdoor country wedding that belongs on Pinterest – vintage family dress, DIY centerpieces and bouquets, maid-of-honor hairdresser (that was me! So much pressure!) Her husband is an awesome dude. He cooked all the food. For 150 people. I repeat, he cooked all the food for his own wedding. And made the cake. (He is a good cook!)

So we spent a lot of time out in the countryside – way out in the countryside. I kept an eye out for rattlesnakes, like the paranoid city girl I am. (Did you know they coil up like that to spring at you?! And that they can spring really far?!) We also hung out with my parents, did some shopping, and toured some nearby town like Pacific Grove and San Juan Bautista. We made a trip up to San Francisco, where we wandered around gaping at the gorgeous Victorian houses. It was a speedy trip but I tried to throw in some fun new places that Hugo hadn’t been before (you know, like Target).

Other fun vacation stuff: my mother taught him the words “curmudgeon” and “kerfuffle.” (You can see where I get my love for funny words.)

And now we’re back in France and I’m planning my travel for this summer! (Trip to Rome, Florence, and Bologna in the works, and Lisbon a bit later. And I’d like to squeeze in some shorter trips if I can swing it. Major European travel FOMO here. Suggestions welcome!)

Classes are out, exams are graded, and there’s still a bit more work to be done but it’s quasi-vacation in that I don’t have to go to work every day or plan lessons or grade exams. Which is weird, because this semester (the whole school year, really) was so busy and intense. I kept trying to enjoy my last days of teaching, but I was constantly stressed from being in the hamster wheel. But I had some lovely students this year, and I certainly learned a lot. (I hope that having been a teacher will make me a better student. When I was in undergrad I was very passive and afraid to participate or ask questions, and I would have learned so much more if I had been more active in class. And from my perspective as a teacher, class is so much more interesting when students ask questions.)

Before the wedding, I squeezed in a trip to Paris to see another close friend, aka my partner in crime. We strolled the Marais and Place des Vosges, walked the Coulée Verte, and climbed the fence of the Petite Ceinture, an abandoned railroad that circles the city (but that’s another story). I also got to see a dress rehearsal of Der Rosenkavalier at the Opera Bastille, which was so cool! I loved getting to see behind the scenes, and I remembered how much I love Strauss.

(Speaking of music, I must take the time to tell you about Arts Alliance soon – they’re an awesome organization that makes London opera, dance, music, theater, and art available all around the world. They are killing it on their YouTube channel.)

I don’t write about Paris much since everyone else already has, but I may round up some of my Paris favorites at some point since I do love exploring the city. Anything you want to know? I’ll be back in Paris before the summer’s out, so if there’s anything cool you think I should check out (or eat) while I’m there, let me know!

Going to Paris really kicked off a new season for me – I was mostly chained to work for the first four months of the year and I didn’t travel at all. There is always more work to be done, whether it’s prepping lessons or writing exams or grading them, so taking a weekend trip would be more stressful than anything. Thank goodness for the supportive group of lectrices at work!

I didn’t even leave Lyon during the week-long vacation in February – Hugo’s sister was expecting her second baby and I wanted to be here when he (as it turned out) arrived. It was so worth it to be here for that important day. Hugo and I got to tell her two-year-old that he was a big brother, since the baby came during the night. I’m really going to miss getting to see those little guys and their cousins grow up while we’re in California. It’s one of the hardest things about leaving, because unlike everything else, they will change so fast, and we’ll never get that time back. Will they even remember us? (I’m an only child, so no nieces and nephews on my side.)

I don’t believe that fear of change is a reason to avoid it. I’m not afraid of something new and unknown, but I’m a little heartbroken that I have to let go of so much in order to move forward in my life. I wish I could have it both ways, but as they say in French, you can’t have the butter and the money for the butter (which makes more sense than “you can’t have your cake and eat it too” because you don’t exactly part with the cake when you eat it, whereas you must part with your money to buy butter. Unless you are a butter thief, I suppose. Butter thief, teach me your ways!)

I’m terribly sad to be uprooted from the life I’ve built in Lyon, but I am looking forward to building new roots in a new chapter of life. I’ll let you know how it goes.

All I know is that 2016 has been hurtling along at an alarming pace, and I don’t anticipate that it will slow down any time soon. All aboard the TGV of life!

 

 

 

 

Spring, Life, and Tacos

March is the worst month. It’s the tail end of winter and everyone is dying for spring to arrive, and for me, it’s the middle of the semester when all my students take their midterms at the same time, which means I have to write all the tests and then correct about 400 exams in the span of a few weeks, on top of my normal workload. It’s a little like running on a treadmill in high heels.

I’m so relieved that it’s April – spring has definitely arrived, the semester is almost over, and I’m starting to ponder where to travel this summer. (I’m thinking Italy and Portugal, but I’m also tempted by Croatia, Spain, Budapest, Berlin… so many adventures, so little time. Where are your favorite places in Europe?) Even though traveling in France doesn’t always feel as exciting as going to a new country, I’d still love to spend some time down south, and maybe over on the west coast of the country where I’ve barely been at all, and there will definitely be a trip to Paris where I have big plans to Eat Stuff.

Speaking of Big Plans, I’m heading west in the fall – really far west. Back across the Atlantic west, and then some. I haven’t lived in California in about ten years, so it will be a big change! Everything I had to deal with when I moved to France, like learning how to rent an apartment and set up health insurance and a phone plan, I’ll have to re-learn how to do in my home country. Obamacare was barely a thing when I left. (So if you love your American health insurance or phone plan, drop me a note!)

Since I know I have less than six months left in France, at least for now, I’m indulging more often at the boulangerie and buying the good wine while I can. I’ll miss that, and my wonderful friends and belle-famille, but I won’t miss all the cigarette smoke and the general frustrations that come with being a foreigner. I’ve grown disillusioned with France, so maybe if we spend some time apart, we’ll appreciate each other more when we meet again.

Spring is lovely though, even if enjoying the sunshine in the city almost inevitably means a little secondhand smoke. (For a smoke-free environment, you can either stay inside, or go to the countryside and sit on a grassy hill with some cows.) The quais are no longer flooded, and all of Lyon has been out to enjoy the (fickle, but increasingly balmy) weather. I don’t know if it’s the change of season or the end of the semester or all the chia seeds I’ve been eating, but I have more energy lately, and it’s great! The end of winter feels like a heavy blanket being peeled back to let in the sunlight and the fresh spring air.

A few snapshots of spring in Lyon…

 

  

IN OTHER MAJOR NEWS I’ve discovered amazing Tex-Mex in Lyon – Two Amigos! I mourn the months that I lived in ignorance of the delicious tacos and margaritas just a short metro ride away. (Incidentally, I also tried some pretty good Mexican Mexican food this month at Don Taco, in case you’re interested.) Two Amigos is just far enough away from my apartment that I can’t go there all the time, which is probably good since their margaritas are the best and most dangerous I’ve ever had. (A far cry from the thimble-sized 10 euro margarita at El Guacamole in Paris!) They describe their style as “California-inspired” so maybe that’s why I like it so much! (Should we call it Cal-Mex food then?) If you’re wondering why this is blog-worthy news, you’ve clearly underestimated my love for tacos.

Are you craving tacos and margaritas now? I know I am.

2015 Round-up: Where I Went

One of my 2015 resolutions was to travel more. I went to nine countries and sixteen new cities, which is not much if you’re a travel fanatic but is still pretty good if you’re me.

For me, it’s always a battle between traveling, saving money, and just taking the time to enjoy life at home. Sometimes I feel like I should go somewhere, but I wonder if I’d actually be happier strolling the cobblestone streets of Lyon with Hugo and gelato (my other main squeeze), than I would be pinching pennies in Rome, even though the latter makes a more interesting story. So I try to be honest with myself and not travel just for the sake of it, just to say I did, or because I think I ought to. I know I’d be kicking myself if I didn’t travel at all, but I also know that I can’t go everywhere I want to and still save and have stress-free time at home, so the hardest part is deciding where to go, because there are so many interesting places to visit just a short plane ride away. OMG MY LIFE IS SO DIFFICULT!!!!!!!

Kidding, kidding.

Continue reading “2015 Round-up: Where I Went”