Saturday, January 31, 2015

Why I Quit My Whole30


I quit my Whole30 a little early. Technically, it turned out to be a Whole27. Since I eased into it, I decided to ease out of it, too. By that I mean, except cream in my coffee on December 31st, I started every other aspect on the 30th. And then on January 27th, Juno happened. I didn't have any almond milk made, so I put a splash of cow's milk in my tea. And made a baked chicken recipe with butter. So there you go.

Hardcore Whole30ers would tell me I should have started over on the 27th. Any drop of milk would render my Whole30 invalid. (Which, in fairness, is why I'm calling it a Whole27.) But I didn't just slip up. I made a decision to end it early, and this is why:

The collective zeal--it was freaking me out.

There is some serious zeal associated with this program. I followed a Facebook feed about starting over after a transgression, and wow....

"I accidentally licked peanut butter off a knife! I ran over to the sink and rinsed out my mouth!"

"A drop of my son's yogurt fell on my finger and I mindlessly licked it off. Do I have to start over?!?"

Oh good grief.

I've mentioned before that the Whole30 is strict. You must painstakingly avoid the no-nos: grains, dairy, legumes, sugar (in all it's forms) and alcohol. That includes foods with those ingredients in even the most minuscule amounts. There are no "slips," no "cheats." You have to commit to the program 100%.

Honestly, I respect that. The psychological slippery slope is a very real thing. If you allow yourself a little bit here, a little bit there, before you know it, you're not really doing program as it's designed.

The Whole30 is an elimination diet.

They like to say 'it's not a diet!' but come on.... it's a way of eating, and that, by definition, is a diet. It's designed to help you identify potential food sensitivities. Day 31 is not meant to be a free-for-all. If you do it 'right,' you reintroduce the previously verboten foods in a careful, systematic manner. This way you can see how those foods affect you.

If you do eat a forbidden food, you're ideally supposed to start over. I get that for people with serious allergies/food sensitivities, even a tiny bit can affect them, But for me, I just couldn't go that far with it. If I had licked the peanut butter knife, it would not have even occurred to me to run to the sink and wash out my mouth. And really? If you have a serious peanut allergy, no amount of rinsing is going to help you. You need an Epipen.

In fairness to the Hartwigs (Dallas and Melissa, founders of the Whole30), they seem to do their best to get people down off the ledge. They explain why it's important to follow it to the letter, yet they remind you that you're an adult. You can make your own decision as to whether or not to start over. It's always your choice whether or not to proceed, but the strictness really seems to hamstring a lot of people. Many like to be told what to do. In a way, it's easier. Adulthood, man.... it bites.

Even still, I was planning to see it through to the end, then I went out to eat. My policy in the past has been to maintain a really healthy eating plan at home, then relax a bit in restaurants. For us, eating out is a treat. I cook the vast majority of our meals at home, and I pack lunches for the Darlings, so those meals out are fun! I ate out three times over the 27 days. The first time I found something satisfactory, but the second was miserable. It's just hard to limit yourself that much at a restaurant. The third experience, which was an unplanned dinner out, I found myself feeling anxious. Would I be able to find something Whole30-compliant?! I did, but it was boring and disappointing.

I don't want to live that way. I don't want eating to provoke anxiety. Even for 30 days. I don't need to. Mercifully, I don't have any serious health conditions that require me to be uber-strict about my eating. A friend of mine does, and it's rough and I feel for her.

I, however, am mercifully FREE.

Everything is permissible, but not everything is beneficial. So I'll continue on a similar diet for the sake of my slightly-better-but-still-inflamed shoulder. But I can't bring myself to follow the law to the letter. I can't get that worked up about it. It's just food. It was that level of obsessiness that drove me a little batty.

Interestingly, I found plans like the Whole30 referred to as 'challenges,' and that honestly struck me as bizarre. I don't believe the eating of food, or the not eating of it, should ever be thought of as a 'challenge.' I find pie-eating contests and the like revolting. And the thought of sticking it out just so I could say I finished did not resonate with me in the least. And so, on day 27, I made a choice to end it.

I'm a quitter! And I'm totally fine with it.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

As Good As It Gets? Thoughts on Aging. And Pole Dancing.

When I was in sixth grade, I had a subscription to Seventeen magazine. The thing that has always amused me about Seventeen is that it's readership is entirely comprised of girls quite a bit younger than seventeen. In fact, once you reach the ripe old age of seventeen, you're *so* over it.

Anyway, I remember for a while they had a column about teenage girls who did amazing things! They featured a world-class cellist, an elite gymnast and a professional tennis player, among others. Apparently, this was supposed to inspire us? As in, see what girls your age are accomplishing?! And you're not! Yup. In sixth grade I pretty much just went to middle school. I played field hockey for a season, and sang in the Glee Club. That was it. It was interesting to read about those girls' lives, but it didn't inspire me. It kinda made me feel like a loser.

Fast forward thirty years and someone posted an article on Facebook about older people who do amazing things! A 63-year-old pole dancer! A 94-year-old professional dancer! WOW!
63-year-old pole dancer Greta Pontarelli

The FB poster said:

"Age is Just a Number."

Technically, this is true. The article, which you can read here, says:
"But with negative stereotypes of aging in the media, it's hard not to associate growing older with nothing but aches, pains, feebleness, and lack of freedom and mobility."

I don't know... don't we tend to associate growing older with aches and pains because, well, growing older involves some aches and pains? I mean, really?

Of course, these people featured in the article are awesome. I love that they didn't let their age get in the way of trying something new and getting really good at it. Certainly taking up pole dancing is a better way to deal with bone density issues than popping Boniva. I'm twenty years younger and I'm writing this with a hot water bottle around my neck and she's perpendicular to a pole. I admit, I'm feeling like a bit of a loser. Though I personally can't imagine stripping down to my underwear and flying around a pole, at my age or any other... but that's just because... well, I blame being from Connecticut.

Why Are You Doing This?

The reason this article got me into a little bit of a twist is because of my *bleeping* shoulder injury. I'm doing my PT and icing and heating and stretching, and well, it's really not getting better. Yet. I'm wondering how much is reasonable to expect? 100%? 80%? Or is some iteration of this discomfort the new normal??

I saw a friend a couple of weeks ago and he was asking me about the Whole30 that I started on January 1st. He looked me right in the face and said, 'why are you doing this? Why are you restricting your eating so much? I'm worried you're not enjoying the freedom you have to... well... eat normally.'

I told him, my shoulder. That's why I'm doing it.

About Inflammation

Whole30 involves eliminating foods from your diet that can trigger inflammation, among other things, for a period of thirty days. Inflammation is the body's natural response to injury. It's why your ankle swells up when you sprain it. The swelling is part of the healing process. In an acute injury, like a sprained ankle, it's a good thing.

The problem occurs when inflammation is chronic. And systemic. Certain foods promote inflammation, like those high in omega-6 fatty acids. Omega-6s aren't bad, you need them, but most of us in the western world get way too much.

As I was reading up on the Whole30, I read many, many testimonials from people whose niggling tendonitis issues were dramatically improved with this, yes, quite restrictive way of eating. I suspect it might take longer than 30 days, and that's ok, I actually am not really minding eating this way, though I do plan to loosen things up on Friday when my term is officially up. Still, I would rather not eat pizza and have a happy shoulder. Truly.

But the whole thing has me thinking... what is reasonable to expect as we get older? My friend said something along the lines of, 'oh, we may have our creaky knees and aches and pains, but we can enjoy life in other ways.' He said this as he took a nice, long swig of wine.

He might be right... maybe this wonky shoulder is as good as it gets. Then I wonder... despite all my healthy living, will I be using one of those motorized scooters at the grocery store?

In that case, I might need to take up pole dancing.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Update on Kicking Joe to the Curb

Saturday was day 10 of my Whole30. Apparently, this is the 'hardest' of the 30 day paleo elimination diet which I (and scads of other people) started on new year's day.

Was it hard for me? Not really. In the evening I met up with some church friends for dinner, and there were indeed some yummy off-plan things: a scrumptious beef stew simmering on the stove (which contained wheat flour and beer), bread, cookies and much wine and song. And by 'song' I mean shrieking children. Chief among them, my own.

These foods looked good, but I was able to abstain without too much difficulty. I had brought a salad and some butternut squash soup to share and just had that. The hardest part was telling my hostess I wasn't going to have her yummy stew. I actually didn't even know I had successfully navigated the 'hardest day' until I checked Facebook this morning:

For me, the first three days were the hardest, and that's because of coffee. Or the lack thereof. I stopped drinking coffee. I instagrammed my swan song:
A photo posted by Stephanie Hsiang (@momsatthebarre) on

 When I announced my intention a couple of weeks ago, I said,
"Honestly, I don't even think it's the caffeine. I couldn't leave DS2's room the morning after Christmas, at least not without a veil of tears, so I didn't have my coffee until a good three hours after I woke up. I had a mild headache, but it wasn't really that bad. It's more the comfortable ritual of my warm, creamy cup."
Wow, apparently I don't know myself AT ALL. Here I was thinking I was just psychologically addicted, but whoa... withdrawl was *intense.* I was grumpy. I was tired. My head throbbed. My muscles ached. And pain killers didn't even touch it. I just had to gut it out.

Actually, the experience gave me great compassion for people addicted to more nefarious substances. I remember thinking, numerous times, 'I could just got brew a pot and this would all go away...' But I didn't. I stuck it out, and it is quite nice to be on the other side.

So if anyone's considering giving up coffee (and I don't blame you one little bit if you're not), here's my little pearl of wisdom:

Don't Go Cold Turkey

That's what I tried and it was a bad idea. I decided to switch to black tea with almond milk, which has 1/4 the caffeine of coffee. I'm drinking one cup in the mornings (which I often don't finish), so while I'm still technically consuming caffeine, it's WAY less than before. I'll work on getting off it completely at some point, but for now, this is working so I'm not going to rock the boat.

That one cup of tea takes the edge off. And it's warm, which is pretty key when it's 1 degree out. By day 4, I was back to my smiling, pleasant self. (Don't laugh.) But whoa... those first three? Not pretty. I actually feel a little badly about how negative I was about the Whole30 in my first post. My brother tweeted the following after reading it:

I used to joke that coffee made me a better mother... maybe a better sister, too?

Sunday, January 4, 2015

The Real Cause of Heart Disease

Recently I watched a few minutes of a documentary in which a very well-educated, eminent physician, who is also a vegetarian, told a story about how he knows meat is bad for us.

It's because of Norwegians.

Apparently, prior to World War 2, Norwegians had high rates of heart disease. In 1940, the Germans occupied Norway and conscripted much of their livestock, so naturally we can presume that meat consumption went down during the occupation. After the war, Norwegians resumed eating meat and rates of heart disease went back up.

Et voila! Eating meat causes heart disease! Or so says Dr. Eminent Whatshisname.

I'll admit this theory sounds somewhat compelling. Especially when it comes from a doctor who went to a designer university. But let's think about it some more.

Is it the meat?

I'm guessing Norwegians didn't have a lot of things under German occupation. Sugar, coffee, chocolate, refined flour, cigarettes, bananas and... nylon stockings!

That's it! It's the nylons! Obviously, something was being absorbed transdermally from the nylons. Nylon causes heart disease.

Wait a minute--that can't be it. I'm guessing most men weren't wearing nylons, before or after the war, and men get heart disease. Add to that the fact that no one wears nylons anymore and people are still dying of heart disease. So scratch that.

So it must be... the BANANAS!

We know from Foyle's War that northern Europeans had access to bananas before the war.* And of course, bananas don't grown on trees in Norway. So that's it. It's the bananas!

***Stop eating bananas right now!!!!***

Of course, this is ridiculous. I think we're all pretty confident that bananas are not the cause of heart disease. But do we all see that isolating one type of food that has been consumed for a very.long.time--long before the 20th century heart disease epidemic--and calling it evil is kind of silly? Do we not recognize that the host of other foods that have been introduced into our diets might be more likely culprits than meat? How about margarine? Refined flour and sugar? Vegetable oils? Are we really going to vilify animal foods?

Certainly, someone might say, what does she know? She's just the barre mom. She has no formal education in this stuff. (And they would be entirely correct on that point.) Dr. Eminent Whatshisname is a doctor. A lot of people will hang on your every word if you have the letters 'MD' after your name.

I'm sure Dr. Whatshisname is a smart guy, and I'll give him the benefit of the doubt that he's not basing his position on meat entirely on wartime Norway. But when you tell a story like that in a documentary, and people see that MD, they are inclined to believe you. Even if, from a logical perspective, meat is about as likely to be the cause of heart disease as bananas.

*In the Bleak Midwinter episode. Edith is telling Milner they're going to get married after the war and eat bananas just like they did before it all started. Milner is massively hesitating.... Girls, please, if you mention marriage to a guy you've only been dating for three months and he hesitates, you're either freaking him out or he has a secret. It's not that he doesn't like bananas.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Whole *Bleeping* 30, Day 1

I've spent the past couple of days, with all my spare time, researching the Whole30 plan that I mentioned in my last post. You know, the butthead post.

I guess I'll begin by saying I didn't expect Whole30 to be all that complicated. Challenging, yes, but complicated? No, not so much. From what I understood, it was basically a squeaky-clean paleo elimination diet--whole, unprocessed foods. Organic, locally-sourced, meats and fish from properly raised animals. That sort of thing. No sugar of any kind, no grains, no dairy, no alcohol.

Honestly, that's pretty much how we've been eating. We do have soaked/sprouted grains and legumes from time to time and some dairy, but even my dairy consumption is pretty limited. I use it more as a condiment--cream in my coffee, maybe a little cheese or yogurt once in a while, but that's it. As I said in the butthead post, coffee without cream is basically not worth having, so if I'm giving up dairy, I'm giving up coffee, too. That would be, I anticipated, the most challenging aspect of the Whole30.

Now, I'm not too sure. After thoroughly reading the Whole30 website and forum, it might be dealing with...

The Rules

Oh my word, the rules!! There are so many stupid (*bad word) rules! The Hartwigs have taken great pains to parse out, in excruciating detail, all the 'thou shalls' and 'thou shalt nots' associated with this program.

For example, you can't have alcohol. Not even for cooking. Ok, that's fine. But the prohibition also extends to DIJON MUSTARD. There is wine in dijon mustard. I read this just as I was about to whisk a spoonful into a vinaigrette.

No vanilla extract, either. You know, because of the alcohol.

Ok, so they're trying to be consistent. I can dig it. But really?? Dijon mustard vinaigrette would deliver a minuscule amount of alcohol per serving. Still, I'll be a good little soldier and play the game. I have brown mustard in the fridge. I'll just use that.

Then there is the pancake rule.

No pancakes--even those made with approved ingredients.

Yeah. That's what I said.

This is what they call 'sex with your pants on.' As in, it might still be enjoyable, but it's not like the real thing. You won't be satisfied with it and you have to get over all your whacked-out issues with food, turning to food for comfort, etc.

So as kind of dumb (*bad word) as I think this is, it did hit home a little. I have come a long way on my issues with food, but once I got home from Christmas in the hospital and got the kids to bed, I went straight for the chocolates that my mother's colleague had given her. I only had three (maybe four?), which is a vast improvement on what I would have done LAST Christmas... and last Christmas didn't even involve a hospital. But still...

I did find all the rules terribly overwhelming, and some seem downright idiotic (*bad word.) But I can't deny all the amazing testimonials I've read about the Whole30. Better sleep, healing of niggling injuries, reversal of disease.... Really, in 30 days lots of people have seen dramatic improvements in their health and body composition.

Oh yeah, that brings me to another painful realization.

The Scale

The Hartwigs don't want you weighing everyday, or really at any point during the 30 days. I love them for this. But they do suggest weighing at the beginning and end. So I stepped on the scale this morning and found that I'm five pounds heavier than I was this time last year. And no, I'm pretty sure it's not fluid retention, or muscle. But thanks for the thought.

I am curious to see what this is going to do for me. I really didn't lose any weight giving up sugar (either with I Quit Sugar or The 21 Day Sugar Detox), or from my paleo experiment. Not that I really need to lose any weight, but I could lose a few pounds. I expect to lose those five new ones, but I'll be curious to see if I lose any more. And despite rest, ice, heat and physical therapy, my shoulder still bothers me. And my hip. And while my sleep has gotten a little better, there's definitely room for improvement.

The Whole30 demands 100% compliance.
You can read this woman's testimonial here
They're very firm on this point. So I'll be a trouper and follow the rules.

But I really want to say a bad word... one that rhymes with 'nutbread.' But that's not Whole30 compliant.

The nutbread, I mean.