Whole 30 Rookie: Reflections from a Lifelong Foodie

For those of you who know me at all, you know that I absolutely love to eat. It's literally my favorite activity, as well as my love language with my husband, friends, and family.

Exhibit A:

Even though that's probably enough evidence to convince any skeptics out there, here's Exhibit B, just for good measure. All photos are from my Google Photos albums and depict food I've actually eaten:

And there is a lot, lot, lot, LOT more where that came from. Looking at it en masse is a little embarrassing, to be honest, but mostly just makes me want to re-eat everything pictured.

Food has been a major part of life for as long as I can remember. I have innumerable fond memories, distant and recent, of specific food and the relationships associated with those meals.

-Celebrating with exuberance every time Mom announced we were having brinner (breakfast for dinner). Or her homemade chili. Or tacos. Or pot roast.

-Dipping BBQ potato chips in ketchup as an after school snack (don't knock it 'til you try it!). And later discovering that ketchup chips were a thing. Canada, you have my heart forever.

-Mamaw cutting my waffle a certain way when I spent the night at their house, and Papaw teaching me to slather peanut butter on it, followed by an avalanche of maple syrup. The way her spaghetti tasted so amazing, even though I later learned it was just boxed spaghetti and Ragu. (Love was the secret ingredient, obviously.)
 
-Trying to quietly sneak chocolate covered raisins out of the glass candy dish in Grandma's living room, which was nearly impossible -- the dish sits in my dining room now and is impossible to close without making a sound.

-Going out for duck-fried pommes frites and champagne cocktails with Mom in Indy, especially the time my Grandma came and stole a sip of my cocktail.

-Getting the world's best chai lattes with Dad, overlooking my hometown's square.

-The iced pumpkin-shaped cookies that were sold at the Fall Festival at the farm next to our old house. I once refused to let go of a cookie walking through the woods on the way home, even when I was attacked by wasps. I still have scars on my hands from where I was stung. But dang it, I held onto that cookie!

-Filling up condiment cups at various fast food restaurants growing up. Literally, the thought of pumping ketchup into a little paper cup makes me smile when I think about it. Sitting in a booth at Arby's with any number of relatives of friends. Late night Steak and Shake trips after show choir or musical rehearsals (nerd alert). 

-The Amish-style country buffet that we frequented with my Grandma and Grandpa. Specifically, the noodles, mashed potatoes, and croutons from the salad bar. 

-Similarly, the dessert table at a state park restaurant that my family frequented for Mother's Day. The look on Mamaw's face when she came back with two massive pieces of pie, and didn't think it was strange at all that she intended to eat them both by herself. 

-Eating sushi on my first date with Andrew. We had a contest on who could fit the largest end piece of sushi in their mouth in one bite. When I asked if we were getting dessert, Andrew looked at me like it was the silliest, most obvious question in the world. I think I knew then that it was the start of something wonderful. 

-Literally any meal we had on our honeymoon. Especially in Rome, Modena, and London. 

Dining is a relationship-building, rich experience for me. When Andrew and I fail to go out to eat together, we actually sense distance in our relationship, and remedy that distance by going out for a nice dinner together. Works every time.

When I consider all of these facts together, I find it even more incredible when I say that I am on Day 21 of the Whole 30 -- sort of. Andrew and I didn't fully agree with the regulations/rules, so we modified it slightly (allowing beans, removing pork and beef, allowing oats and greek yogurt in the morning for the first week of the diet in the hopes of a smoother transition, and no eating after 8:00 PM). 

But still, for the first time in my life, I am on a diet and am successfully restricting what I put in my body. It started out as a desire to cut out sugar for a month, because I recognized an unhealthy relationship with sugary foods. I reached for chocolate or something sweet daily, especially in the afternoon, and almost always let myself have it. I didn't like the implications of that relationship, and wanted to see what my life would look like without it.

Somehow, that evolved into a full-blown Whole 30 experience, probably because Andrew and I are both super Type A and major overachievers. But also, I was curious as to what it would be like. As I've come to realize, I'm not a super disciplined person. I was naturally gifted at a lot of the things I pursued growing up, and as a result, I didn't get a lot of practice in trying hard.

That has been a particularly hard lesson to learn about myself, but the Whole 30 is perfect for shining a humungous spotlight on my aptitude for discipline and self-control. As in...I cannot express how overwhelmingly aware I am of these categories of self now. It's alarming, yes. But also incredibly helpful.

Here's what I've learned about thus far -- when it comes to food, it's all about purpose, posture, and payoff.

1. I have been living with an unhealthy definition of the purpose of food. 

Why do we eat? It's not something that I asked myself very often. My purpose with food was 100% desire-based: "See food, think food, want food, eat food. Om nom nom."

But why should I be eating? What is the purpose of food? For me, this pointed to three major purposes for food: fuel, community, and pleasure.

As a Christian, I have to look at God's design when I consider the purpose of food. In the Bible, I see a call to break bread together. I see people eating for sustenance, and also celebrating the goodness of God's provision in good food and drink. 

This is encouraging for me. It's okay that I want to eat food with people and it's okay that I want it to taste good. God gave us taste buds, and there is plenty of Biblical evidence to suggest that he wants us to enjoy what He has given us.

But none of that negates the fact that food is designed to nourish the body, and that is the purpose that I absolutely did not pay as much attention to prior to starting this diet. I can't possibly argue that I am caring for myself and fueling my body well if I am fueling it (consistently) with junk. 

2. I have been living with an unhealthy posture toward food.

In this case, I'm talking about my approach or attitude toward food -- how I'm postured toward what I eat. Now that the Whole 30 has forced me to pay attention, I see that my attitude toward food was much like that of an addict: I treated food like a drug. This relates to both the quantity and quality of the food I was eating.

Let's start with quantity. I was definitely eating more than I needed to in order to fuel my body and curb hunger. The difference, Andrew pointed out, is between the feeling of satisfaction and the feeling of fullness. Since starting Whole 30, I have rarely felt full, but I have frequently felt satisfied after a meal or snack. Prior to this experiment, I was eating for fullness, or simply because it tasted good and I wanted more. And because it tasted good, I could justify eating more. But that prevented me from being aware of the point of satisfaction, when I have what I need, enjoyed eating it, and can stop before I consume more than is necessary or healthy. 

In terms of quality, I was allowing myself to eat considerable amounts of food that had little to no nutritional value for my body. And it was an emotional response -- I used junk food and sweets the way that another person might use alcohol. I was stressed, so I had a piece of chocolate. I was sad, so I had ice cream. In times of stress or sorrow, I turned to something that could not possibly improve my situation or actually address the heart of the issue. It simply offered a temporary sense of comfort and relief. And on top of not addressing the root of the problem at hand, I was also not caring for my physical self as well as I needed to.

3. I have not been paying attention to the payoff of my dietary choices.

Prior to trying the Whole 30, I ate for the short-term: "What will taste really good and make me happy? What am I craving? Great, I'll have that. Or five of that."

Now, I see that I was neglecting the effects of those foods on my body. For several years, I've had mild digestive issues that were not directly related to a specific food intolerance or digestive condition. But my overall diet, it would seem, was absolutely contributing to those symptoms and hurting my body. 

Since starting this diet, I have noticed a significant reduction in my symptoms, and a handful of positive benefits on top of that: I have more energy, I sleep better, I feel (generally) that I am in a better mood, and I am more productive and focused. 

It's not rocket science, but it's worth restating: the fuel that we put into our bodies matters and has a noticeable impact on our bodily systems. Science and school teachers have been shouting that at me for years, of course, but it didn't really resonate until I made a change and saw the results for myself.

So now what? Will I stay on the Whole 30 forever?

Hahahahahahahahaha. NO.

I believe that God made me the way I am and made chocolate taste as good as it does for a reason -- it would be rude of me to neglect his generosity, right?

But that doesn't mean that I simply go back to the way things were before, either. There is too much to be gained from finding a happy medium. Someone recently lent us a cookbook called Eating Purely, published by a company called Purely Elizabeth. The guidelines outlined in that text are much closer to the desired long-term dietary goals that Andrew and I feel compelled to pursue. For example, Elizabeth promotes the 80-20 rule, which I am a big fan of: eat according to the rules 80% of the time, but give yourself some slack 20% of the time so you don't hate your life and feel like you're in diet prison for all eternity.

Everyone is different, and individual lifestyles, preferences, and health concerns will dictate what path is right. But I invite you to consider your own purpose, posture, and payoff as they relate to your diet and the food you choose to eat. It is a worthy and eye-opening experience, one that has been significantly more fruitful--pun intended--than I ever anticipated.