After a solid three weeks of non-stop Schnitzel, Belgian beer, Dutch pancakes, French pastries, and SO MUCH WINE, we knew when we got home from Europe (more about that later) that it was time for a serious detox. We took advantage of our empty fridge and pantry and filled them with only things that are Whole30 friendly. This means we excluded all grains, sugar, dairy (mostly - I've kept full-fat greek yogurt for protein), legumes, alcohol, and anything that we would otherwise consider to be processed junk. I made a MASSIVE grocery list (I think 90% of it was eggs and avocados).
If you're not familiar with the Whole30, it's essentially a more restricted version of Paleo eating for a set amount of time (30 days), designed to give your body a chance to reset and eliminate things that may not be so great for you.
Those who know me already know that I'm not much of a diet person. I eat what I'd like, though we tend to lean towards pretty healthy foods anyway. Most of our diet is vegetarian, with the occasional piece of meat or fish at a restaurant, and of course, every almost-vegetarian's weakness: an occasional slice or three of bacon.
List in hand, we headed off to Farmboy to collect a ton of fruits, vegetables, eggs, and nuts. In addition, we added cans of coconut milk, piles of herbs, garlic, ginger, lemongrass and some frozen berries for good measure / emergency smoothie supplies.
In all of the reading that I did about this diet, one of the things that people stressed the most was prep-work and how important it was to have things ready for snacking/eating vs. "hey, I'm hungry -- in an hour or so I can have some roasted squash". Since you're making all of your meals from scratch, prep-work is essential in order to avoid living in your kitchen and makes deciding what to eat so much easier. The night before we started this adventure, I caramelized some onions, roasted beets, segmented oranges and grapefruits, and put a few cans of coconut milk into the fridge to chill. The next day, I made salad dressings, sliced up carrot and cucumbers into coins, and toasted nuts for easy snacks and salad toppings. I also hard boiled a dozen eggs. Our knives have definitely gotten a workout this week, and some extra sharpening.
There are a few staple meals that were already part of our diet before embarking on this adventure that fit the Whole30 bill -- no sugar, grains, legumes, additives, or dairy. Our freezer has been well-stocked with Curried Butternut Squash and Coconut-Pea soup all winter long, and they were the first things to disappear.
Some other things that have been regulars at our dining room table for the last two weeks:
Over the course of the last two weeks, we've gone through four dozen eggs (I KNOW), five butternut squash, two pineapples, five bags of spinach and other salad greens, three bags of carrots, 1L of almond milk, a bag of frozen raspberries, twelve oranges, eight heads of broccoli and so much more.
The experience so far
For the first few days, I really struggled with what to eat, despite having done a lot of prep work. I defaulted to scrambled eggs with caramelized onions, hot sauce and an avocado for breakfast, salad for lunch -- usually roasted golden beets with spinach, toasted walnuts, orange segments and radish slices -- and soup with a salad for dinner. I was hungry ALL. THE. TIME. Without sugar or grains, my body was not really sure what I was up to, and it rebelled by putting me in a constant bad mood with a serious snack craving. I had at least a few dreams about warm-from-the-oven bread with homemade butter. But then: DAY 5.
On day 5, I stopped feeling hungry. And cranky. And wanting to snack all the time. I felt full, and fantastic all of a sudden. I slept wonderfully, straight through the night and waking without an alarm. My clothes were loose and my mind was crisp. I was extremely productive.
On day 8, I met a friend for breakfast at a local diner. Thank goodness breakfast is always full of egg options.
On day 9, I played hooky and went to Le Nordik for the day (self-employment has its perks!). While my friend sipped wine, I sipped fizzy water with lemon, and snacked on a green salad. It was an exceptionally boring meal, I have to admit. My seat-neighbours cheese plate was killing me. Le Nordik? Not Whole30-friendly, unless you really like green olives and green salad as your only options.
On day 10, I started having crazy headaches, but they quickly went away when I figured out that my blood sugar was out of whack. A little more fruit every day did the trick.
On day 14 (today!), I got on the scale and discovered I had lost ten pounds in two weeks. TEN! Take that, week of eating macarons and drinking mulled wine in Paris. My jeans no longer fit (in a good way).
With two-ish more weeks to go, we're starting to get more adventurous with our meals, and I'm finding it way easier to improvise and end up with something delicious without having to try very hard. We've got lots of prepared, pre-cut, roasted items in the fridge that let me assemble a great salad or a stir-fry in 15 minutes or less. And I've been obsessing over my indian cookbooks -- determined to make a curry or two that follows the rules before our time is up.
When we first started talking about this diet, I hadn't really thought much about what it's impact would be on my eating habits. I thought I would follow the diet for the 30 days, and then go back to eating things like toast, and having glasses of wine with dinner like nothing ever happened.
Except it doesn't work like that. Now I think a lot about what I put into my body. I think quite a lot about how great I feel without grains, sugar, and cheese (I still really like you, cheese) and I don't think I can just "go back" to how things were last month. Now I'm less hungry, and I'm full of good food. I feel stronger, and more alert, and don't have 3pm sugar crashes, since there's no sugar to let me down. It doesn't help that I watched Lunch Hour yesterday. Just thinking about the impact that a constant dose of pizza has on small kids makes me want to minimize carbs and eat leafy greens for ever.
Will it be easier when our 30 days are over? Sure. I won't have to obsessively review restaurant menus to figure out what I can eat when I'm heading out to meet a friend or a client, or walk into a Loblaws store and feel lost among the twenty aisles of processed food that mostly contain added sugar (truth be told I avoid Loblaws whenever possible anyway). I can open one of those bottles of wine we brought back from France, and I can stop meeting all of my girlfriends for tea instead of proper drinks and mid-week catch-ups. But I don't know if I'll ever go back to eating the way I once did. And that's a good thing.