My January Whole30 Experience
In 2018, I completed a January Whole30. In this blog post, I share the most significant ‘Non-Scale Victories’ (NSVs) that I personally experienced during the 30-day protocol.
If you want to learn more about the Whole30, you can read one of Melissa Hartwig’s many publications.
For FAQ’s and general information on the Whole30 program, visit Whole30.com.
Disclaimer: I am not a nutritionist, health care professional, or registered dietician. You should always consult with a medical professional that you trust and knows your medical history before commencing any changes in your diet. This series of blog posts are personal reflections that are not meant to breed comparisons with your or anyone else’s Whole30 experience. If you have any questions that specifically pertain to my personal experiences, please feel free to leave a comment below. If you have questions regarding Whole30, please visit Whole30.com.
This blog post contains Amazon affiliate links. If you purchase a linked product I receive a very small commission. This is one of the ways I help support my blog.
I’ve mindfully chosen the word ‘change’ here to reflect the fact that I do not believe that a drop in weight is necessarily a victory. In other words, “Weight Loss” is not always a good thing. For some people, a healthy gain in weight may be considered a victory.
Start weight (January 1): 216.6lbs
End weight (January 31): 207.8lbs.
Non Scale Victories (NSVs):
Minor asthma symptoms have virtually disappeared and I am able to take in deep, delicious, fulfilling breaths of air on command.
In the months leading up to January 2018, I was finding it very difficult if not impossible to take full breaths of air. I would consider them 80%-breaths. I felt as though my lungs should be taking in more oxygen but something was restricting them. This left me feeling anxious, which made it even more difficult for me to breathe deeply.
Very early into the January program, I think it was in the second week, I noticed that for the first time in what seemed like forever I could breathe “normally”. At first I thought it was a rare breath – every now and then I would get a big, juicy one that filled my belly it was so deep. I recall standing in my kitchen, stopping what I was doing, and focusing on taking another breath. Boom! There it was again. And again. And again. Even now as I type this sentence I am consciously trying to take in full breaths of sweet, sweet oxygen. Still going strong!
My suspicion is that my difficult in breathing was in some way connected to an increase in dairy consumption towards the end of 2017. Again, I must stress that I am not a doctor and unsure if the relationship is causal. Then again, the last time I visited a general practitioner and asked them why I was experiencing shortness of breath they tried to set me up with a puffer, brushed me off and sent me packing.
Even though I’ve been following a paleo lifestyle since 2013, I do enjoy the occasional cheat meal and sometimes they have cheese in them. I don’t drink milk, haven’t in years. But I can very much be identified as a cheese fiend. I guess it comes with the territory of being a so-called foodie. I was also consuming grass-fed butter in my Bulletproof coffee, albeit in very small amounts.
My deeper dive into the world of queso in 2017 was concentrated around travel and the holidays. In August my wife and I travelled throughout Eastern Europe for 3 weeks. I ate quite a bit of cheese (as well as other dairy products). Partly because we love to visit local markets and sample artisanal products, but more so because it’s one of the ways in which we try to engage with the culture of a city or country we’re visiting (this is a whole entire blog post of its own).
Then the holidays came rolling around in early December when my wife’s side of the family spends the entire month enjoying fresh, home made pretzels, lots of ‘brinza’ (typically feta cheese) and Romanian cabbage rolls with heavy dollops of sour cream. Add to this the fact that I was enjoying a few too many adult beverages, some of which were probably coping mechanisms for getting through the final draft of my doctoral dissertation.
If I’m being honest, this series of events wasn’t so much a domino effect as it was a compounding of poor decisions. I let my circumstances get the better of me and I have no one but myself to hold responsible for the adverse reactions on my body and mind.
I felt an overwhelming sense of calm throughout the month of January.
I don’t think I get stressed very often. Come to think of it, I should probably ask my wife if I do. She’s always had a knack for letting me know what I’m feeling and when I’m feeling it! Nevertheless, like many man-children trying to adult in the real world, I do sometimes feel a crushing weight on my shoulders. This usually comes from looming deadlines or trying to spin too many plates at once. Anyone feel like they can relate?
January 2018 in particular was a busy time for me. In fact, it was the busiest I’ve ever been in my adult life. I was caught between juggling the finalization of my PhD, teaching 5 days a week at two separate (and distant) campuses, a week-long takeover of the @Whole30Recipes Instagram feed (which is a full-time job in itself), developing content for my blog, navigating client relationships for a blog that has evolved into a small business, finding time to exercise, making time for family life and cooking at least 5 days a week. Oh, and walking the dogs, which can be nice and is a good way to get some fresh air, but also takes time and can get very cold in the Canadian winter!
Despite the above, I felt very, very calm during my January Whole30. Either Catalina was lacing my morning coffee with magnesium or whatever cocktail of drugs makes people calm, or the removal of certain foods was having a very positive effect on my body and mind. Until she’s ready to admit it, I’m going to have to go with the latter possibility.
Calmness is a hard feeling for me to describe, but if I were to try to put it into the context of day-to-day life I would say that things/problems/situations that once frustrated me no longer had the same impact. In addition to the personal ramifications of this NSV, I realized that it also had a direct effect on my personal relationships. Petty arguments with my wife, parents, or brother faded away. Although, my brother still did get on my nerves a bit 😉 Most of the time I was able to laugh it off! I assure you, I made no conscious effort at the beginning of January to let the small stuff slide. It just kind of happened along the way.
I did, however, try to breathe my way through things once they arose! That’s right! An old habit I picked up in Yoga before a herniated disc in my lower spine ceased my practice. Whenever I felt a rush of frustration rising up to my brow I would take a 5 or 6 deep breaths to calm my nerves. I couldn’t do that for most of 2017 because, as mentioned, I couldn’t breathe deeply and trying to do so only frustrated me even more!
With my new found breath, I was able to reintroduce a more efficient coping mechanism. If that’s not a NSV, I don’t know what is!
Sense of Accomplishment and Confidence
For the first time in what seemed like ages, I felt as though I was back in control of my life.
Note: I have chosen the language of the above subtitle very carefully because I achieved a major transformation, both physically and mentally, back in 2013. If you want to read more about My Paleo Journey, which did not involve a Whole30, you can read this article which has been up on my blog since day one.
I imagine that many people, myself included, have felt as though no matter how hard they try they simply cannot succeed at breaking bad habits, developing a healthy relationship with food, getting to a healthy personal weight, or achieving specific physical and/or mental goals. For me, it was through no lack of hard work, dedication and struggle that I was able to restructure my life in 2013. In January 2018, I did it again. This time it only took me 30 days to get back on track.
The feeling of accomplishment didn’t take long to set in during my January Whole30. I’m sure everyone has a different timeline for this and there will be those who don’t feel this at all, but in the first few days I was already overcome with a tremendous sense of achievement. I was implementing changes in the way I ate, organized my day, and engaged with people, all for the better. This undoubtedly left me with a feeling of confidence. Aside from the fact that my clothes fit better, I liked the fact that I was following a program. I felt in control.
The reason I brought up my original paleo journey is because one of the profound effects I experienced was a very similar, glorious feeling of accomplishment. However, the novelty has a way of wearing off. I felt as though I was riding a wave between 2013-2014. I was in the best shape of my life and felt like I was the master of my destiny. I experienced a high from achieving goals I once only dreamed of.
To be entirely honest with you, the confidence turned into a mild form of cockiness. It kind of, sort of, went to my head a bit. OK, it definitely got the better of me. I became conceited and had this urge to flaunt my ‘results’. I remember going clothes shopping with my wife and trying on shirts in the middle of the store because, well, I never had the confidence to do that before. On a deep, psychoanalytic level, I think I was seeking attention and acknowledgement.
All of this self-obsessed behavior came to a crashing halt in April 2015 when at 6:30am I woke up to the most excruciating pain of my life radiating down the right side of my leg. I drove myself to the emergency room. Many hours and an MRI later, I was diagnosed with a severely extruded disc between my L5 and S1 vertebrae. This was, no doubt, a result of some poor weightlifting form I practiced in a hotel gym in Bali in the summer of 2014 – long story. That day, in a Balinese hotel, I ‘threw my back out’, recovered after a few days, came back to Toronto a week later, paid my chiropractor a visit, got some treatments and didn’t think much of it. I took some time off from the gym and in February went back to lifting weights – poor decision.
After herniating my disc, I was left bedridden for approximately 6 months. It was a dark time in my life. I was filled with regret, anger, mental frustration, physical pain, and, perhaps worst of all, I could not think clearly or work on my dissertation. Instead of prescribed pain medication, I decided to implement a stricter paleo diet. Anti-inflammatory foods helped relieve some of the inflammation and made life marginally better but I constantly felt my physical pain translate into unstable mental health. For example, when the pain would be so unbearable that I could not get out of bed, I became frustrated that I was no longer in control of my body.
I would feel depressed and on many days my mental health got the better of me. During those low points (and there were many) I would eat comfort foods and rely on alcohol to numb the pain. Not exactly ‘on-brand’ for someone who authors a Paleo and Whole30 food blog, I know. But I’ve never shied away from the fact that I am an “at-risk eater”, or that I occasionally indulge. My personal relationship with food is not pretty and sometimes I relapse. Food is undoubtedly my drug of choice and I can be entirely self-destructive if I’m not careful. Add physical injury to the mix and the outcome is less than ideal.
After years of physiotherapy, guided rehabilitation and an increased attention to what I was eating and drinking, my herniated disc did eventually recover. I managed to get ‘back on my feet’, so to speak. Then, in July of 2017, only a few weeks before my honeymoon, I triggered my disc. Bedridden yet again, albeit only for 2 weeks this time. Enough for me to curse everyone and everything under the sun and spiral downwards.
Why am I sharing so much information? Because I think it’s important for people to know that over the past few years I never felt like I was the one in control of my body and mind. It was as though I was in the passenger seat and someone else was driving the car. I knew that I needed a change. I deserved a change. I owed it to myself and no one else could do it for me.
I had a feeling doing a Whole30 would help me get my mind right but I never thought it would have such a huge impact. Granted, my physical health was in a good place in January and, as repeatedly mentioned, that has a great deal to do with everything else. However, I cannot underemphasize the power of this program. I was not expecting everything to compound the way it did. I can honestly say that in January 2018 I felt the best I have in my life. The caveat is that I was also more aware of my body and mind than ever before. Would I have been so receptive to the program in 2015? Maybe. Maybe not. Point is, you have to want it and if you go into this program with a negative, pessimistic outlook, you might not see the forest for the trees.