The skinny on the Whole 30 challenge

Two of my girls — the first girl I gave birth to and our nanny — embarked on a Whole 30 challenge at the beginning of March and successfully completed it today. As the family cook and principal grocery shopper, I am equally proud and relieved that it is finally over.

I’m proud of them because it’s one thing to do the Whole 30 in all its restrictive goodness when you are fat, middle-aged, and suffering from a host of chronic conditions; it’s another thing to do it when you are young, healthy and beautiful with not a single pound to lose.

Clara and Hannah, 3 weeks into their Whole 30, looking as stunning as ever.

I have to bear some responsibility for switching my family on to the Whole 30. In December 2014 I hit the proverbial wall and on a friend’s recommendation, with my husband’s support, I went for it.

I have always been able to lose most of my baby weight — slowly — in between pregnancies. I am the proud owner of a metabolism that doesn’t gain weight easily and doesn’t lose it easily. For my first 7 pregnancies, I would gain 30 lbs while pregnant, lose 10 giving birth, gain another 10 while breastfeeding and eventually shed it after weaning. After the twins were born, I went on Weight Watcher to lose that pesky 20lbs because it wasn’t coming off on its own and that’s when my health went pear-shaped. As soon as I restricted calories, I started gaining weight. That spurred me into more restrictions, believing — as I was told all my life — that the only reason one gains weight is because more calories go in than come out. So I cut back, and I gained weight. I ran longer distances, and I gained weight. I became anemic, and I gained weight. I counted how many carrots I ate with my tablespoon of hummus and I gained weight. I realized that an avocado was as many calories as a double chocolate chip muffin. I stopped eating avocados and I gained weight. I replaced sugar by Splenda in all my baking and I gained weight. And every week, the Weight Watcher app would tell me:

“Ooops, you gained. You’ll try harder next week.”

I tried some more and I gained some more. I had my thyroid checked and was told it was normal (it wasn’t but that’s a whole other post). I was discouraged and overwhelmed. I felt guilty every time I ate something I enjoyed.
Then I got pregnant with Damien. And I gained A LOT of weight. A month after he was born, I weighed as much as I did when I was 38 weeks pregnant with the twins. I went back on Weight Watchers when he was 7 months-old. I gained 11 lbs in 6 weeks. My husband, who is really the most supportive husband I have, told me: “There is something weird happening with your body.” Seeing myself in pictures at Christmas made me cry. I lost sleep over my ballooning body. I was always on my feet, I ate well, I was making breast milk for two children, one of them exclusively breastfed. Then I saw my You Tube babywearing video, with my size 8 jeans, and I almost broke down.

9 months before Damien was born, newly pregnant, weighng about 145 lbs. Today I can’t even lift those pants past my generous thighs. But I keep trying….


9 months after Damien was born, weighing almost 200 lbs. Just before I started my Whole30.

I told my husband: “I am almost 200 lbs! I just need to stop gaining! I know I won’t lose much while breastfeeding but the gain must stop!” I was no longer fitting in my pyjamas. I had gone from a size 6-8 to a size 14 while doing Weight Watchers and the best my doctor had to offer was:

“Maybe you’re cheating on your food journaling.”

You went to med school for how long so you could tell me that? It was clear to me that the problem was not “how much” I ate but “what” I ate. I didn’t eat too much; I knew that from years of food journaling. The story couldn’t only be about my caloric intake. I watched this video about the effect of sugar on our metabolism and I reduced my sugar intake. That’s when I stumbled upon a friend’s testimony about the Whole 30: 30 days of strict no added sugar, no grains, no legumes and no dairy. I thought: “No way!” but the idea kept nagging at me. I knew that I couldn’t moderate my refined carbohydrate intake: I needed to punch my carb demon in the throat.The Whole 30 is not a lifetime commitment to never taste a brownie again, it’s a chance to reset your eating habits, to give more emphasis to good food and keep the less healthy stuff in proper proportion within your entire diet. It is not presented as a weight loss diet or a cleanse, but as a tabula rasa, a baseline from which to start eating well again.

On January 1st 2015, I started my Whole 30 and completed it successfully 30 days later. Other than accidentally licking a spoon of oatmeal I was making for my children, I didn’t slip. After my Whole 30, I didn’t return to my old eating habits. I still eat 80% paleo and 100% gluten-free. I allow myself milk chocolate treats, milk in my lattes when I’m not at home and occasional gluten-free baked items. I have since been diagnosed with Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis, an autoimmune condition that explains a lot of my weight gain, fatigue, and depression issues.

Since doing the Whole 30 and switching to a sort-of Paleo diet, I have noticed some positive changes in my overall health. On the whole, It has made my autoimmune condition easier to manage. Here is a bullet-list of my observations, in no particular order:

– I am much more alert during the day, especially when driving. I used to have a major slump mid-afternoon which caused me to fall asleep at the wheel. I no longer suffer from these attacks of daytime sleep. As someone who spends a fair amount of time driving young children on lonely country roads in winter, this is a welcome improvement.

– I am awake in the morning (but this might be due to a switch in my migraine meds). Still. My 5 youngest children hit the ground running at 6am sharp. It used to take me an hour or two to catch-up with them. Now I wake-up awake. I don’t want to get out of bed at 6:00am but I can.

– My night sleep is still crappy. I only ever sleep with one eye open. I am never deeply asleep. I had great hopes that the Whole 30 would address this but it hasn’t.

– My sugar and refined carbs craving are gone. At least they don’t control my life anymore.

– I have discovered the natural sweetness of food. I find almond butter sweet. I find the taste of blueberries to be an explosion in my mouth. I really appreciate the food that I eat.

– I rediscovered the sense of smell. When my friend came over with her award-winning brownies, I found that having a deep smell of them was satisfying. The smell fills your nose and mouth and your brain gets a little kick, just enough to be able to walk past them without having to eat them at all cost. My husband thinks I have a problem sniffing croissants but I think it’s awesome that I don’t feel compelled to EAT ALL THE PASTRIES (ALL THE TIME).

– I don’t feel like the pastries in front of me are the last ones I will ever have. That’s a big one. I always indulged in whatever pretty sweet things were in front of me because I had a scarcity mindset about food, even though I have never gone lacking. I think it was due to the addictive nature of sugar and refined carbs. I felt driven to indulge. And if I didn’t indulge, my mind would stay stuck on the food items. Now I feel in much better control of my eating.

– I don’t want to eat all the time. I can easily go between breakfast and lunch without a snack. I don’t even think about eating unless I am really hungry.

– When I am tired in the evening, I want to go to bed, not eat a gallon of ice cream. My body is better able to read its own signals without reverting to “EAT” automatically when it needs rest, exercise, fresh air, water or relaxation.

– Because I’m not always lusting after food or ravenously hungry, it’s easy to skip meals or snacks. I don’t get irrationally grouchy when I have to go without food.

– And from the TMI files: it really helped with my menstrual cycle, making my periods less debilitating. Although PMS perfection has come from properly diagnosing and treating my thyroid condition.

– I drink my coffee black and it no longer tastes like death warmed over.

– I have been struggling with generalized pain all my life. Tests performed in childhood and as an adult were always inconclusive and the pain remained. The Whole 30 helped a lot with pain but didn’t make it go away completely. A food intolerance panel ordered by the doctor who was investigating my thyroid dysfunction revealed that I had an intolerance to eggs and corn (among other things). Cutting the right foods from my diet has made a huge difference in my generalized pain. I saw a physician specialized in body mechanics (a physiatrist) who told me that while there was little scientific evidence linking generalized pain with diet, she saw it all the time in her practice. Especially as it concerns dairy and gluten.

– And the big question: did I lose weight? Not a whole lot. I lost 12 lbs doing the Whole 30 but I was still firmly a size 14 until I started weightlifting in summer 2016. I lost another 10 lbs when I started training. Now I’m somewhere between a size 12 and a size 10 and I haven’t lost a single pound in a year despite eating well and exercising with a personal trainer. At 180 lbs I’m still ways away from my personal “normal” of 135-140lbs but honestly, I have (almost) accepted the fact that I have done everything humanly possible to lose this wretched weight. Thanks for nothing, thyroid jerky.

Whole 30, before and after. I went from 190 lbs to 178 lbs. I was not exercising at the time.


One thought on “The skinny on the Whole 30 challenge

  1. You’re awesome. Can’t believe you’ve had to go through all that you have. Praying for you to be at peace with your beautiful self!

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