Yeah, bonkers, right? Maybe not. One needn’t disappear deep into a forest to learn to meditate. In fact, it’s in the throes of hectic and modern life in urban areas that demand that skill the most, and so why not flex my Whole30 muscles under difficult circumstances? So when a friend shouted out on social media that she was going to do it again and was looking for accountability buddies to join her, I impulsively raised my hands, knowing full well that I’d spend most of those 40 days (30 days of elimination, 10 days of re-entry) at my parent’s house, which lacks a fully functional kitchen. I’ve pondered in passing, mostly as a thought exercise, what it would be like to stick to Whole30 under these circumstances. Operational refrigerator, standing freezer, and microwave make it conducive to a lot of processed or frozen foods, or pre-made deli items. A non-operational oven and stovetop and limited surface and storage areas make prepping and cooking of fresh, Whole30 compliant meal a challenge to say the least. Not to mention I’d be looking at stretching this across two holidays I actually really like, Halloween and Thanksgiving.
I’ve done it three times, more or less on a schedule of once a year, until the pandemic turned everything upside down. I’ve been feeling like another round would be good for me for a while now, and there’s been a lot of reasons why it’s not a good time to do it again since the pandemic descended, and much like meditation, the time that it’s most difficult to work in, is probably the time when you need it the most.
So here I am starting with day 1, on a train bound for my parent’s house. I went out with a very explosive bang, spending the last several days in a hotel with great friends for a wedding, along with a fair amount of all the gluttony you’d expect to come with that. Given the unusual circumstances, I’m giving myself a little flexibility, or will at least be working on self compassion and forgiveness for any circumstances where an infraction might be better than the alternative. I just realized that I started my morning as I usually do, with a handful of psyllium husk, technically not Whole30 compliant, and I prefer to see what my body does on it’s own when being fed more simple, whole foods, and a restaurant or two during your Whole30 is super difficult to avoid, and even with mindful ordering that the venue gets right, there’s usually no way to avoid trace amounts of things like butter, soy, seed oils, and sugar, so that’s a thing, too. After taking those psyllium husk capsules, the last I’ll take for the next 40 days, I went down and enjoyed a hearty, mostly compliant breakfast of home fried potatoes with some onion and bell pepper, plain scrambled eggs, bacon, a sausage link I probably should have declined, and a big bowl of mixed fruit and a black coffee. Nothing tasted especially buttery and the potatoes weren’t especially oily or crispy, though I’d bet seed oils played a part, and the meat was certainly factory farmed. Not 100% perfectly compliant, though life rarely is, so this is where I definitely won’t let perfection be the enemy of good.
My goal, in fact, is to keep working on a habit I prioritized this summer, and is one of the aspects of Whole30 that I’ve always found the most difficult to implement—eating three times a day. I’ve had a lifelong habit of skipping breakfast, and sometimes lunch. For a short time I diligently countered this habit, rising early to feed myself coffee, toast with peanut butter, yogurt, and/or a piece of fruit before heading out the door for my morning commute. I also played around with grazing around this time; feeding my body continuous bursts of energy throughout the day made sense. I was also in the midst of a long transition from vegetarian to carnivore, still trying to lean vegetarian, so I usually carried around a lot of non-meat protein sources to graze on—boiled eggs, hummus and pretzels, cheese, fruit and nibbly veggies, nuts, and so on. I also lived in a house with a growing family and sometimes additional roomie, and we usually had a meat-centric family meal together at the end of the day. Overdoing it at the evening meal was difficult to resist and pretty well destroyed the grazing habit as a healthy way to eat. I also started food journaling, really paying attention to and tracking what I ate, how much, and nutritional value, and to my vegetarian horror, I quickly started to realize that a chicken breast is, in many ways, a perfect food. Filling myself with non-meat proteins often meant either not hitting my protein goals for the day, or overdoing it in calories, fat, and/or cholesterol for the day in order to do so. I started having a lot of digestive issues and eventually landed at the Whole30 approach, which enlightened me to some things about how my body relates to food. I had already started moving away from grazing and leaning into meat proteins to hit protein goals, and have further learned from Whole30 that dairy, especially daily milk in my morning coffee, gives me terrible heartburn, grains make me bloaty, especially pasta, and just overall, I had more energy and none of those random aches and pains that are mostly attributable to aging or inadequate exercise habits. While with rare exception, being compliant with what goes into my mouth, one of the most challenging aspects of Whole30 has simply been to eat full meals, three times a day, probably leaving me a little short nutritionally. With a hectic working life, it’s easy to prioritize just jumping into my busy day and not make time for food until at least lunchtime, sometimes later, than slowing down at dinnertime, usually on the later side, and enjoy a little too much dinner, and feel heavy and bloaty, right before bed. Deep down, I know it’s healthier to front load calories, put fuel in the tank, eating substantially earlier in the day, and one of the most important lessons I took from grad school is that a change in knowledge does not equal a change in behavior. Going through a particularly rough patch this summer, I started prioritizing putting something, anything, in my mouth, at least three times a day, preferably with the morning/mid-day/evening distribution, preferably something healthy, preferably something Whole30, but just concentrating on the routine of eating. So while I’ll endeavor to uphold the parameters of my experiment for one, in a way I’m working on leveling up to not just what I eat, but how I’m eating it.
I’m starting a day earlier than my friend, because I can, and because this will put my last day of re-entry on Thanksgiving instead of the day after. My exit will be slightly skewed as I add back all the things on that last day instead of the last category, and I can live with that. It also means that I’ll not be having wine and candy for dinner on Halloween, a tradition of sorts for me, and I can totally live with that, too.
Settling in at my parent’s house, I sit down to a small space I’ve carved out at a desk in the office for this kind of work purpose, now to finish out this post. My breakfast was late-ish, around 10 a.m., and as I sit down to work, I’m into the 3 o’clock hour and know I need to feed my face. Foraging the contents of my purse, I pull out the banana I grabbed from this morning’s breakfast bar, a little worse for wear having been knocked around in there from a hotel in Woodland Hills to a house in Santa Ana, and the bags of mixed nuts and dates I brought from home. Wandering into the kitchen, I locate the tinned sardines and tuna I knew would be there, grabbing some sardines packed in olive oil. I poke around for anything else in the zone of approved consumption and locate a small can of sliced black olives. There are a few other things that might qualify, though I’d be wise to check the ingredients list first. The apple and orange I also grabbed from this morning’s breakfast bar go into the fridge to consume in the next day or two and there are blueberries and strawberries in the freezer, and some frozen steak fries that might qualify as potatoes in a pinch, even if potatoes in the form of fries isn’t technically allowed, these are areas I need some flexibility. There’s also some bacon in the freezer I’m going to be awfully tempted to eat, though I know it’s likely to have been brined in something on the No List. I nibble sardines, olives, nuts, and fruit while I work, knowing I’m eating in a mostly compliant way, even if it’s not a full, balanced meal, I’m getting my second meal of the day, and I know this will do for now, and my very next move needs to be a grocery order that includes a whole lot of snackable vegetables and probably some eggs to get good at cooking in the microwave or boiling in my hot water kettle.
If you’d like to follow my daily adventures in detail, I’ll be microblogging over on my Facebook and @blind_broad Instagram feeds, posting three times daily on my eating habits to hold myself accountable.