First of all, I am not going to evangelize for Whole30. It is a very well conceived program…and there are bazillions of great programs out there that can help people clean up their eating. I ended up doing Whole30 because a few people at my new place of employment were about to embark on it and I was ripe for a change—just waiting for guidance about which program to do. I had become slightly paralyzed by my stack of nutrition books because they conflicted with each other as often as they agreed. I knew the most important thing I could do was to learn about MY body—what works and what doesn’t. I’ve spent the last 20 years nailing what doesn’t work—I should win awards for figuring that out so thoroughly!—so I knew an elimination diet was in my near future. Whole30 fit the bill and I knew I would benefit immeasurably from the support of people at work.
Whole30 is an elimination diet. It is designed to remove the most inflammatory foods from one’s diet (e.g., grains, dairy, sugar, legumes, etc.) so that a) the body gets a respite and can do some housecleaning, and b) the systematic reintroduction of food groups makes it obvious which foods work and which don’t. The creators of the Whole30 have a strong grasp on psychology and they have built into their guidelines many suggestions that are really helpful. I have great respect for this program. I also like Dr. Mark Hyman’s 10-Day Detox Diet, Dave Asprey’s The Bulletproof Diet, and Timothy Ferriss’s The 4-Hour Body. All are great programs and I incorporated elements of each of them during my Whole30.
When I invest in change, I invest with all my heart and wallet. In one of the emails I received from Whole30 (you can pay to have them send you a supportive email each day for the 30 days), they outlined the Stages of Change Model:
The idea behind the Stages of Change Model (SCM) is that behavior change does not happen in one step. People tend to progress through different stages on their way to successful change, and each of us progresses through the stages at our own rate.
The five stages of change include:
Precontemplation. Not yet acknowledging that there is a problematic behavior that needs to be changed. People in this stage tend to defend their current bad habit(s) and do not feel it is a problem. They may be defensive in the face of other people’s efforts to pressure them to quit. They do not focus their attention on quitting and tend not to discuss their bad habit with others. In some addiction circles, this stage is also called “denial.”
Contemplation. Acknowledging that there is a problem, but not yet ready or sure of wanting to make a change. In the contemplation stage people are more aware of the personal consequences of their bad habit, and spend time thinking about their problem. People are on a teeter-totter, weighing the pros and cons of quitting or modifying their behavior. Although they think about the negative aspects of their bad habit and the positives associated with giving it up (or reducing), they may doubt that the long-term benefits associated with quitting will outweigh the short-term costs.
Preparation/Determination. Getting ready to change. In the preparation/determination stage, people have made a commitment to make a change. Their motivation for changing is reflected by statements such as: “I’ve got to do something about this—this is serious. Something has to change. What can I do?” This is sort of a research phase: people are now taking small steps toward change. They are trying to gather information about what they will need to do to change their behavior.
Action/Willpower. Changing behavior. This is the stage where people believe they have the ability to change their behavior and are actively involved in taking steps to change. This is a stage when people most depend on their own willpower. They are making overt efforts to quit or change the behavior, and are at greatest risk for relapse, so it’s key that they leverage any techniques available to stay motivated.
Maintenance. Maintaining the behavior change. Maintenance involves being able to successfully avoid any temptations to return to the bad habits. The goal of the maintenance stage is to maintain the new status quo. People in this stage tend to remind themselves of how much progress they have made. They remain aware that what they are striving for is personally worthwhile and meaningful. They are patient with themselves and recognize that it often takes a while to let go of old behavior patterns and practice new ones until they are second nature to them. Even though they may have thoughts of returning to their old bad habits, they resist the temptation and stay on track.
I have observed myself working through the first few stages over MANY YEARS. While in Stage 1 (precontemplation/denial) I dated a woman I refer to as “Cruela” who was intolerant of my refusal to take care of myself. Instead of simply expressing her concern, she went on the attack and made it clear that everything about my body and physical appearance revolted her. (Sidebar: I would not recommend this approach for trying to get someone to change.) It hurt my feelings deeply and it has taken a long time for my self-esteem to crawl out of that gutter. (In hindsight I realized she was just mirroring back to me how I already felt about myself.)
Did I know there was a problem? Absolutely. Was I ready to do anything about it? Absolutely not. I was very consciously choosing to stuff my emotions down with fast food and sugar. My brain had been hijacked by neurotoxic foods and I was truly and deeply addicted to sugar. I felt like crap but as long as I could keep my sugar levels up with over-sugared coffee, candy, pastries, fast food, and soda…I could get through each day (let’s not discuss what it was like to have to wake up in the morning).
My bestie’s behavior during and since that time has been in direct contrast to Cruela’s. Michelle eats in a Whole30ish way every day and has for years. She’s not preachy or angsty about it. She knows what works for her and she does what keeps her feeling her best. Has she seen me struggling all these years? Yes. Is she happy to answer questions when I have them? Yes. Has she prepared me a meal full of love and nutrients once a week for the last many years? Yes. Has she ever shamed me or pushed her agenda on me? No. She has lived her life doing her thing…and in so doing she’s been an incredibly influential change agent in my food life (as have Carla and Sue).
I allowed the experience with Cruela to put me back years. I’ve been scared to be with someone new lest they have all the same complaints she had. Fortunately I’m unsettled if I’m not changing and growing, so finally I started seeing the light. I witnessed my friend Maureen turn her life into a radical self-love experiment and I started paying close attention to the people in my life who love themselves and act accordingly (I’m fortunate to have many such friends). I started my own self-love experiment, slowly at first, then gaining so much momentum I feel there’s hardly time to do anything BUT take care of myself and my animals. And it’s a journey. I know that soon I’ll figure out how to take care of me and include others in the process.
I did the contemplation and preparation stages simultaneously. I’ve spent the last year creating a highly functional kitchen with all the equipment I might need to be successful (should I ever get in there and start making food). Michelle was instrumental in this because she could tell me honestly which stuff was essential and which was just marketed well. She also gifted me a huge box of kitchen stuff for Christmas, rounding out what I’d already been able to purchase. Every day I am thankful for my ScanPan skillet; I use it constantly. It’s nonstick but doesn’t use Teflon or any other chemical agent that could give me cancer. We’re tight. I’ve also become close friends with my amazingly sharp kitchen knives, my lemon squeezer, my Vitamix, my salt and pepper grinders, my glass kettle, and my glass storage containers. I have a tiny kitchen outfitted with just the right mix of things to get the job done easily and healthfully.
Another fun thing I did during the contemplation and preparation stages was to take cooking classes. Michelle and I did one together, I attended a knife skills class with my nephew, and I took a pie baking class last November (all at Sur la Table—I love that place). These classes are fun and give great information about cooking fundamentals.
And then there are the books:
Obsessed much?! Exactly. I am a curious one.
I give all this background to shed light on the years that have gone into the change that might appear to others to be practically overnight. Yes, I’ve lost weight. Today is day 42 and as of now I’ve probably lost close to 20 pounds (hard to say because I didn’t weigh myself at the start). Pants I couldn’t fit into at the start of the 30 days are now too big for me. The weight has come off my face, neck, back, chest, belly, ass, thighs…I’m starting to recognize myself in the mirror again. My skin is so soft I have a hard time believing it’s mine. I have more energy and it doesn’t come with big highs and lows—it’s slow-burning and sustainable. I have no sugar cravings (never really did during any of the process). I’m good at keeping my focus on what I’m choosing to eat rather than what I’m not eating. I’ve learned that I really enjoy cooking and know way more about it than I ever acknowledged knowing.
I feel empowered. I’m allowing this time of change to be about way more than just food. I’m incorporating bodywork whenever I can (reflexology mostly) as a way to give myself love. I’m getting darn close to 8 hours of sleep every night. I feel great satisfaction whenever I get 10,000 steps for the day (big thanks to my Jawbone Move and my UP partner, Suzanne). I’ve done extensive purging in my apartment to get rid of things I don’t need or use. I’m slowly upgrading my wardrobe (huge thanks to Coley for letting me raid her closet). I finally retired the Elvis purse I’d been carrying for about 5 years (MUCH gratitude to that bag) and have replaced it with something else I love. I’m exploring the world of makeup (not going crazy—just subtle touches) and I’m about to restore my hair to its natural color (read: eliminate the gray) with a nontoxic product I found called HairPrint (I’m super excited about this!). I’m moisturizing my face at night, doing mud masks for fun and to feel decadent, and dry brushing my skin when I happen to remember.
I guess this is what it looks like for me to love myself (at this moment). I didn’t do it alone and it didn’t happen overnight. It’s been a fun journey—and I’m still barely off the starting line.