Have you ever willingly given up sugar? For more than a day? :) I recently gave up sugar, grains, dairy and a few other things for a 21 Day Challenge through our church. The challenge was to "fast" something that we felt distracted us, to focus more on God. Having spent so many years struggling with food issues, I knew immediately knew I wanted to challenge myself to give my screwed up relationship with food over to God. I chose to follow the Whole 30 Plan for the 21 days. A Whole 21, as it were.
The basic rules of Whole 30 are: No sugar, no dairy, no grains, no legumes, no artificial sweeteners, no snacks, and no weighing yourself. There are other rules, but this is the gist of it without getting into the tedium of it. And believe me, there are nit picky rules that can get overwhelming. You can find all the Whole 30 rules here: http://whole30.com/whole30-program-rules/
The payoff is (supposed to be) that you are cleansing your body of all food groups that tend to give people problems. It allows you time to clear it out of your system, then re-introduce food groups one at a time to see if you have any reactions. People go on and on about how amazing they feel during their Whole 30. Week three is even deemed "Tiger Blood", as in a time that you feel so incredible and so full of energy it's like you've got tiger blood. I read about everyone's non scale victories of loser clothes, more energy, better sleep, you name it! Victories abound!
None of that happened for me or for my husband, Scott. We stuck to the rules. We didn't eat out at all for the three weeks so we could control all of our food and make sure we didn't inadvertently eat anything non-compliant. I cooked, prepped, grocery shopped and cleaned more dishes than a school lunch lady does each day. It was SO much work. Work that never seemed to pay off in the ways we may have expected.
From the beginning, we were dedicated. Having a reason bigger than losing weight to change our diets made our commitment level very high. We cleared the house of any non-compliant foods, hid Scott's peanut butter in the back of the pantry, and braced ourselves for cravings and missing some of our go to's, like greek yogurt, brown rice, and for me, oatmeal. The amazing thing was that those cravings didn't really happen. It surprised us both how little we missed any dairy, sugar, beans, or peanut butter (Scott's fave!).
What we did miss was eating every three hours. And we missed the carbs. We were allowed sweet potatoes or white potatoes and we ate them almost daily. When I lost weight, I started eating 5 times a day, and have stuck to that for the last 3+ years. Our normal is breakfast, mid-morning snack (this is where my oatmeal comes in), lunch, mid afternoon snack and dinner. What made the "no snack" rule hard for us is that we get up at 4:15am. Breakfast is after crossfit at around 6:15am. Not snacking meant we were going 6+ hours before lunch. You are allowed an additional post workout snack on Whole 30, but it still meant not eating for hours. My body has become accustomed to eating every three hours, so this was one of the biggest struggles for me.
Rather than boosting my energy, eating this way, although super "clean" and very healthy, depleted my energy. I dragged through my days. Especially the first week. I had to take a few days off form working out as my body adjusted to eating a much lower carb diet. During the first week I was sleepy, had headaches for a few days and wondered if I had made a huge mistake. Around day eight, I began to feel a bit better and was able to push through my workouts.
The reason I was even doing this Whole 21 was for spiritual growth. And that suffered too. Although I set aside time each day to pray and read the 21 Day Challenge study, food was still a big focus. Sticking to the rules, meal planning, shopping, and cooking became overwhelming. I spent so much time and energy trying to make sure we were successful in our fast, that I became frustrated with it all. Not what I had envisioned happening when we started our challenge. I poured out my frustration to Scott and cried with feeling that I had blown the whole thing with allowing food to, once again, distract me from the important things in life.
So, I tried to simplify it all. Whole 30 boils down to eating lots of veggies, lean proteins, some fruits and healthy fats. Not that different from our usual diet. I had been sucked in to the Pinterest Whole 30 vacuum and had been trying all these recipes, making homemade salad dressing, breakfast egg cups, and double checking every ingredient on anything I bought. After my mini-breakdown, I went back to the basics. Salads, roasted veggies, grilled proteins and big batches of soup that would last for days. Ahhh...so much better. My favorite soup was The Pioneer Woman's hamburger soup, but made with ground turkey. Here's the recipe: http://thepioneerwoman.com/cooking/hamburger-soup/
As you can probably tell, our Whole 21 wasn't some earth shattering, life changing event that it can be for others. I have reflected on why that was. Here are my takeaways:
We don't eat that bad to begin with. It wasn't a drastic change for us. We weren't going from eating junky processed foods to a clean diet, like some people are. So, we probably didn't have the same response to cutting a little bit of dairy, sugar, and grains from our diets compared to those who made a huge diet overhaul.
It just didn't seem to work well with our lives. We get up early. We have long days. We work out a lot. Super low carb, no snacks and minimal fruit did not fuel our bodies for what we need in a day. Eating five times a day is something that suits our lives, fuels our bodies, keeps us satisfied and boosts our metabolism.
Were there positives? Sure. I realized that food doesn't control me. I learned that when I need to, I can totally buckle down and eat a very clean, streamlined diet. I realized that I do love my little sweet treats, and I missed them occasionally, but it allowed me to see that I can live without any sugar at all. I lost six pounds. I did seem to sleep well, even if it also meant I was super tired most of the day.
I can see that the ideology of Whole 30 is solid. It forces you to break your sugar habit. It breaks your snacking habit. It cleanses your system of processed junk. It can be a life changer for many people. It just didn't happen to change our lives. And we didn't need it to. We had our huge life change over three years when we began this healthy living journey. This was just another step in trying new things and seeing what works for us.
This 21 Day Challenge was a snapshot of our lives. Learning to grow closer to God, focusing on His best for us. We are still learning and growing in our healthy life journey. What foods work well for us? Healthy carbs. What foods are not great for us? Dairy, too much sugar. Am I fueling myself in a way that benefits me in my workouts? Usually, yes. Am I an emotional eater? Duh, yes! Am I a sugar addict? You bet. But this challenge showed me that food doesn't control me. It also showed me that I can allow God into this complicated, messy relationship I have with food and He will help me.