September Changes: Whole 30 again
This is what my skin looked like by September 27th. 4 weeks into Whole30 and my face was full of deep nasty cystic acne that I didn’t have before I started. Because of my auto-immune issues, I know that Whole30 is worth this sacrifice for me, but if you’re going to do it, know what you MIGHT be in store for.
Why I am doing Whole30:
I’ve been pretty lethargic lately. I’ve been doing my best to figure out if this is the onset of a depressive episode or something purely physical. It’s been on my mind for the last few weeks, but thinking about it hasn't changed anything.
So I’m committing to making a change in September. First up is my diet. Now, y’all already know that there are a ton of foods I can’t eat. I’ve been cheating a little here and there, but for September, no more cheating, and I’ve decided to do Whole30 again.
For anyone who isn’t familiar, Whole30 is awful. It’s pretty much torturing yourself for a month. The upside is that I feel absolutely amazing once I complete the program. The first 10-14 days are shit, but once you get past the initial hump, you feel like you can fly. I slept better (longer, more consistent sleep) than I had in years, fell asleep the minute my head hit the pillow, woke up with more energy, my skin glowed, my brain was clear, and my mood was really good. Whole 30 is an elimination diet, with the intention of reintroducing the eliminated food slowly after the 30 days are over. For me, there are foods that I already know I can’t reintroduce, but I consider Whole30 a simple way to jumpstart myself into a better physical space.
The Downside of Whole30:
The first time I did Whole30 I did it at the same time as two of my friends. They reported glowing skin, and weight loss within the first week. I wasn’t so lucky. The first few two weeks, I don’t remember feeling any positive superficial side effects. My skin didn’t glow, it purged. Serious cystic acne all over the place. I felt gross, sluggish, and frustrated with the lack of obvious changes, while my friends bragged about their immediate results. But those friends of mine don’t have food sensitivities, and they don’t have autoimmune disorders. Looking back now, I know that I had a longer way to go to get some of the superficial benefits of Whole30. I had to heal my gut, and get all the food that had been causing health problems out of my system.
Actually - that’s a good place to start. Why I started Whole 30.... I Went to Bogota in February 2016, and while there my iritis flared worse than it had in a long time. I couldn't control it with a low dose of prednisone so I had to keep increasing the dosage and I did not have any eye drops. I finally got my eye under control, but when I got back home I developed a fever. My temperature was 104 for two days, then 102 for two days. I went to the ER and they got the fever down, but it was back up later the same day. When I was finally feeling well enough to get out of bed I went to my doctor who tested me for every possible thing he could think of. Because I had been in Colombia, they tested me for Zika and a host of other tropical diseases. He even sent my blood to the CDC. No luck figuring out what was going on - I came back negative for everything. The next step was to send me to a rheumatologist.
The rheumatologist again tested for everything she could think of, asked me about my symptoms and was stumped. Eventually she determined that I had an unspecified autoimmune disorder. She couldn’t identify any particular disorder but decided that Humira was the appropriate treatment protocol. A little more backstory. I’ve had my eye issue for about 15 years. As part of that process I went to the best doctor in my region and he put me on a variety of drugs that were supposed to stop me from having any further flares. The medicine was harsh (it was some of the original chemotherapy drugs) but it never did what it was supposed to do for my eye. So you can imagine that signing up to take another very strong drug, for an indefinite period, for an unidentified illness was not on high on my to-do list. And Humira was an injectable. So we don’t know what's wrong with me, we’re not sure what it will respond to, but you want me to inject myself regularly with a drug with known side effects. Um...what else do we have?
By this time it was 3 months after Bogota, I had a mild fever (1-2 degrees over my baseline) every day for those 3 months. What started as a small dot on my left thigh, spread into a rash over my entire thigh, and I felt like shit. I decided to give myself one last chance before starting on Humira, and try to see if changing my diet would help any of these symptoms. One of my friends told me he was doing Whole30, so I decided to join him. I’m not exaggerating when I say that this was life changing. Those first two weeks, when I wasn’t losing weight, and my skin wasn’t glowing - well my rash started going away, and my fever said bye-bye. After eliminating these foods and not reintroducing some of them my eye didn't have a major flare for years.
Since that time I have been kept gluten, dairy, and now corn out of my diet. Every once in a while I’ll cheat, but over time I’ve come to see first hand what these foods do to me. Dairy causes cystic acne. Gluten created pain in my left wrist. I had suffered through intense joint pain in both my wrist (typically worse in my left) for years, but it wasn’t until cutting out gluten and occasionally (no more than once a month) cheating the pain in my wrist returns. Brownies are delicious but not good enough to be in intense pain and unable to use my hand for a week or so. Gluten and corn make my eye flare. I know the obvious culprits, but I’m going into Whole30 this time for more of the superficial benefits, and to see if there are other foods that I am sensitive to. Mostly though, I’m in it for most of the mental benefits, because most days, at best, I feel foggy.
There are a ton of things you can’t eat during the month, and I sorted the Whole30 rules, based on my prior experience with the program, and my current dietary restrictions.
Things I already don’t eat:
Do not eat grains. This includes (but is not limited to) wheat, rye, barley, oats, corn, rice, millet, bulgur, sorghum, sprouted grains, and all gluten-free pseudo-cereals like quinoa, amaranth, and buckwheat. This also includes all the ways we add wheat, corn, and rice into our foods in the form of bran, germ, starch, and so on. Again, read your labels.
Do not consume baked goods, junk foods, or treats with “approved” ingredients. Recreating or buying sweets, treats, and foods-with-no-brakes (even if the ingredients are technically compliant) is totally missing the point of the Whole30, and will compromise your life-changing results. These are the same foods that got you into health-trouble in the first place—and a pancake is still a pancake, even if it’s made with coconut flour.
Things that will be easy for me to give up:
Do not eat legumes. This includes beans of all kinds (black, red, pinto, navy, white, kidney, lima, fava, etc.), peas, chickpeas, lentils, and peanuts. No peanut butter, either. This also includes all forms of soy – soy sauce, miso, tofu, tempeh, edamame, and all the ways we sneak soy into foods (like lecithin).
Do not consume alcohol, in any form, not even for cooking.(And ideally, no tobacco products of any sort, either.)
Do not consume carrageenan, MSG, or sulfites. If these ingredients appear in any form on the label of your processed food or beverage, it’s out for the Whole30.
This shit is gonna make me cry:
Do not consume added sugar, real or artificial. No maple syrup, honey, agave nectar, coconut sugar, date syrup, stevia, Splenda, Equal, Nutrasweet, xylitol, etc. Read your labels, because companies sneak sugar into products in ways you might not recognize.
Do not eat dairy. This includes cow, goat, or sheep’s milk products like milk, cream, cheese, kefir, yogurt, sour cream, ice cream, or frozen yogurt.
The recommended foods on WHole30 are:
moderate portions of meat, seafood, and eggs; lots of vegetables; some fruit; plenty of natural fats; and herbs, spices, and seasonings. Eat foods with very few ingredients, all pronounceable ingredients, or better yet, no ingredients listed at all because they’re whole and unprocessed.
This is basically what I eat every day.
The main way that I diverge is sweets - specifically desserts. Gelato, occasional ice cream, crust free cheesecake, and my newly discovered love for key lime pie. I’m a sucker for all kinds of creamy desserts, and this is where I fall off the wagon time and time again. Whole 30 won’t be easy for me, but I’m reminding myself of the long-term benefits.
Traveling overseas, it’s especially easy to avoid packaged food. First there is less packaged food than there is in the us. Second, I don’t take the risk if I don;’t know every single ingredient. Since I’m not about to stand around and use google translate on 20 different ingredients, I just skip it. If I’m starving and in a bind, I’ll usually look for a bag of plain potato chips. If potatoes and salt are the only ingredients, then I think it’s better to do that than to starve.
So now that you know what I will and won’t be eating, let's talk about the rest of the month.
I’m going to take my vitamins. I know this doesn’t sound like much of a challenge, but I have been really inconsistent, especially lately. I’ve been traveling with multi-vitamins, B12, and probiotics. Now I just have to take them daily.
The new plan is to work out every day. I have two friends that have worked out every day this year, so I can do it for 30 days. Yoga, long walk, quick run - I’ve gotta move every day.
For my brain - I’m going to commit to meditating every day. I’ve been pretty good about using the Calm app for some guided meditation a couple times a week, but i'm interested to see if I can do 30 days in a row. Since I started using the app about 6 months ago, my longest daily meditation streak has been 15 days. If you’ve never used the Calm app, you’re missing out. It’s got great guided meditations, space for self-guided meditation and some cute bedtime stories to help you sleep. I’m a big fan.
I’m hoping that getting my diet straight, keeping my body moving, and giving my mind some space will improve my mood by the end of the month.
What are you doing for yourself in September?