I find myself starting sentences with this line a lot... I listened to a podcast that was a game changer. I am a big fan of the Joe Rogan Podcast, yes he's the guy from fear factor and UFC and yes he's a total dude, but his guests and his insights on life are so spot on! He has guests like Neil deGrasse Tyson, Shane Smith from Vice, and this inspiring episode (#968 on his iTunes podcast) was with Kelly Brogan, MD. She calls herself a Holistic Women's Health Psychiatrist who has gotten ALL of her paitients off of all psych medications just with lifestyle changes! She overhauls their diet, has them practice daily meditation, and trains them how to do coffee enemas. Yes the coffee enemas sound a little extreme, but i'm also not on any psych meds, so I figured I could skip that part. Her story and her mission are incredible and i think it's changing my life!
I'd been having a few very stressful weeks and I had a day where I felt like I had reached my limit. I laid in bed with floods of anxiety and irrational thoughts that were just consuming me. I couldn't sleep and felt alone and out of control. So when I woke up that next morning on June 5 and realized my birthday was 30 days away, I said, hey why not start now? Why not take control of my mental and physical health with things I can control and see what happens?!
"Nutrition has more power than any other single intervention on earth. Crazy, right? But I believe you are ready to live a conscious life. A curious life. A mindful life. A life in which you reconnect to your own power to heal, to feel free, unafraid, and well." -Kelly Brogan, MD
Kelly Brogan lays out three simple ways to start healing your moods
Eliminate Processed Foods and Food Toxins From Your Diet
Add Whole Foods, Good Fats, and Therapeutic Foods to Your Diet
Add Fermented Foods to Your Diet to Restore and Balance Your Gut Flora
So what did I do?
I have had several friends who have gone through the Whole30 diet and it had been something I had wanted to try for a while. So when I read Kelly's 3 steps and reviewed the Whole30 rules again it sounded like that would be a good fit to give some guidelines and structure to my meals for the next 30 days.
"Omitting all of these foods and beverages 100% for 30 days will help you eliminate cravings, restore a healthy metabolism, heal the digestive tract, reduce systemic inflammation, and discover how these foods are truly impacting how you look, how you feel, and your quality of life."- Whole30
So these are the guidelines for my meals I followed based on both programs:
- "Eat 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."
- No added sugar
- No dairy
- No grains- yes even the healthy ones like quinoa and amaranth (its just 30 days to reset your body, you can always add these back in after)
- No legumes & soy products
- No alcohol and adding from Dr. Brogan's plan I also cut out coffee (even though I drink it black and on Whole30 its allowed, but i really wanted to get the full benefits)
- Lots of good fats (like avocados, coconut oil, ghee, etc.)
The second component to the program that I wanted to follow was Mediation. There are a ton of great mediation apps out there, but the one I used during this time was called Simple Habit. It was great for people with limited time. I set mine for only 5 minutes, But those 5 minutes we're invaluable to my entire day! Its a practice that helps you become more aware, to acknowledge how your feeling and then to learn how to sit with it or let it go. Practicing mindfulness and mediation is not necessarily trying to fix anything, but to learn how to understand what is going on internally and to be able to put some space between how we feel and how we react to our conditioned responses. I was having another particularly horrible few days and the mediation that next morning was about finding happiness. The practice asked you to direct your focus away from the negative things that are usually our prominent thoughts, but to think about a moment or a person that gave you joy. I ended up thinking of so many good people and things I had in my life, that I was overcome with all the goodness I was blessed with.. I let go of the negativity I was clutching on to, when I realized how much more beautiful people and things I actually had in my life. Keeping those positive thoughts forefront that day changed everything!
Side note: i used all the free mediations on Simple Habit and then switched to Headspace and used as many free ones as I could on there. I just downloaded Mediation Studio which is $3.99 unlimited, but I still like Simple Habit the best so far, i'm just not ready to commit to $11.99 a month.
So what did I actually eat?
Since food is such an important part of my life it was important for me to not feel like I was being deprived, and I can honestly tell you that there wasn't a single day I felt like that! Sure I had things I missed or craved, especially in the first 3 days, but having go-to ingredients, a fridge that only has things you are able to eat, and a few snacks (these raw unsalted nuts were my go-to) that can help you avoid a hangry moment before you are able to make a full meal. We ate every meal practically saying yummm the whole time! Michael would always ask me, are you sure this is healthy for how good it tasted? We finished our meals full of energy and completely satisfied and excited about what we just ate. My favorite side effect that I didn't expect from this process was a huge boost in my cooking skills. It turned me into a much more creative cook, not relying on my old standards of how to add flavor to a dish. Every time I went into the kitchen and put my apron on I felt like I was exploring new territory and coming out on the other side with a dish that was fresh, healthy, and satisfying was my discovery!
Some tips on how I structured my meals:
- It starts with a protein. Since we have a large freezer full of the best lean red meat there is (thanks to Michael's new hunting hobby) we were fortunate to always have meat on hand. But we don't only eat venison, so about every other week I would buy a whole organic chicken and cook it to eat throughout the week. I'd also make sure to sprinkle in some fish, especially Salmon (and Aldi's amazing smoked salmon) as options to change things up. Eggs were probably the thing we ate the most often to provide protein for our meals though. Whether it was adding a fried egg to a salad with proscuitto, olives, melon or having a smoked salmon scramble with avocado on for our weekend breakfasts, eggs were a versatile way to get protein into our meals.
- Fresh produce. Obviously not everyone has access to a garden, but having my garden and all the fresh greens I could go out to pick made a huge difference to our enjoyment of our meals. A salad with boxed greens or old iceberg lettuce from a store or restaurant doesn't have the same excitement that a freshly picked salad has. The difference in flavor all of a sudden doesn't feel like you're being deprived by just eating a salad, it feels alive and exciting.
- Fresh herbs! Having access to herb plants where I could go outside and gather a handful of different types of herbs together and add them to the meal just boosted the flavor that much more! Seriously this tip was huge!
- Using vegetables in new ways. People can think that vegetables are boring, and they can be, but thinking of new creative ways to treat a vegetable was one of my favorite part of this. Since our meals consisted of mainly protein and vegetables, it was important for the vegetables to be inspiring too. If i'm looking for ideas on something to make that is packed with flavor Bon Appetit is my go-to resource! Their recipe for Roasted and Charred Broccoli with Peanuts was a great example of this! Using a non-traditional method of roasting the broccoli stems, adding vinegar and nuts (i used cashews instead of peanuts btw) really made me think of broccoli in a whole new way!
- Don't forget about the fermented vegetables. We love Kimchi in our house, but also adding in sauerkraut to our meals was also delicious!
- Check your labels, things you wouldn't expect have sugar in them! Cholula Hot Sauce became my new favorite condiment!
- Watch out for things that are technically allowed, but may start a slippery slope! Mine was dates! Dates and almond butter was my come home from work snack and was technically allowed, but I found myself having afternoon sugar cravings again once I started snacking on them. So I worked on cutting my dates down from 5 a day to 1 or 2, and that was hard!
- Fruit. Use it to satisfy your sweet tooth, and you'll be surprised how sweet an orange can actually taste once you have cut out all other sugar from your diet! Just again watch out how much fruit you eat. 1-2 servings a day is plenty!
- Adding fiber to your diet. With all the fiber I was used to eating with steel cut oats, lentils, black beans, etc, I found myself feeling a little bloated somedays, even though I was still considered "regular" with my digestion. I didn't put this connection together until late in the process so I would've made sure to eat a lot more spinach and other fiber filled vegetables. Even a fiber supplement if its grain free might be something to look into?
- Yes eating out is hard, I avoided restaurants as much as possible, but rather than just always ordering the salad see if there are other things you could eat that they could customize for you? Grilled chicken breast with a side order of vegetables, eggs and have them add avocado, etc.. But be prepared to be the annoying person at the table, I had to ask "is there sugar in that?" A LOT!
Was it worth it?
An important thing to know about this is you have to be ready to do this. Like most hard things in life if you don't really want it, you probably won't make it. So yes I missed donuts (I think we had donuts brought in at work almost a dozen times this last 30 days that I had to walk by!), yes I missed coffee every time I smelled it, and yes with the warmer summer temps i also missed a nice crisp glass of rose. But I never missed them enough to be tempted to cheat! I knew that I was on a mission to take control of my health and that was the most important thing to me. So gaining that control to walk calmly by another dozen donuts or brownies at work gave me a peace and allowed me to really examine my motivations for everything, including what I eat.
When I saw the power that sugar held over me it was alarming, so to conquer that beast was empowering and made a difference in my mood and maintaining my energy levels. I also felt fuller longer after meals, I began to notice a difference in how my skin looked, but more than anything I gained a mental clarity and peace that to me was the ultimate goal with this practice! So if this sounds hard or miserable, trust me its worth it!
Side note: In the Whole30 diet, you start with a single food group and incorporate that back in after the 30 days and see how your body handles it. Since my birthday is this week, I plan to celebrate by adding in a glass of champagne as my first food group! So cheers to health and growth, even if it does mean I have to turn 31! :)