In the last few years, my ideas about healthy eating have shifted dramatically. I no longer believe whole grains are healthy. I no longer believe low-fat diets are good for people. (This pretty much sums up my nutrition views.)
It all started with reading “Refuse to Regain” by Dr. Barbara Berkeley a few years ago. After years of wondering what was wrong with my body, I finally started understanding that carbs, sugar and our bodies’ subsequent insulin responses explain why people store fat. Reading Dr. Berkeley’s book chanaged everything for me. She attests that overweight people’s bodies function in fundamentally different ways than the bodies of people who have never been overweight.
A brief synopsis of her theory: Carbs, even “whole grain” carbs, turn immediately to sugar upon digestion. The body can only handle about one teaspoon of sugar in the bloodstream at a time and must send insulin to clear it away immediately. (For perspective, a can of coke contains approximately ten teaspoons of sugar.) Excess sugar is either stored as fat or sent to the muscles to burn off. In people who have never been overweight and are not prone to weight gain, the body does a good job of regulating how much sugar is stored as fat and how much is sent to burn. Their body weight remains stable without a ton of thought about calories in vs. calories out. But people whose bodies are prone to weight gain seem to have a problem Dr. Berkeley calls “stuck on fill.” Basically, their bodies don’t send much sugar to the muscles and just default to filling fat cells. So by avoiding the foods that produce the most insulin, your body can start to unlock those fat cells and correct the imbalance. This is a drastically oversimplified explanation, but see her blog posts “The Faulty Metabolism Myth” and “Stuck on Fill” for more info.
Her theories comforted me immensely; for years I had felt that my body composition did not accurately reflect my lifestyle. It frustrated me to compare myself to thinner friends and wonder why I was so much heavier despite cooking healthy meals and working out.
And then the Paleo movement came along, dovetailing with what I learned from Dr. Berkeley in its assertion that humans were never meant to consume processed carbs like we do today, and that meats, healthy fats, vegetables and fruit work perfectly to meet our energy needs and keep us healthy.
I wholeheartedly believe in these theories. This idea–that our modern diet fights our genetics and that overweight people’s bodies are systemically different–makes more sense to me than anything else I’ve ever read about weight management, and I have read a lot. But, of course, actually putting these theories into practice is not as easy as enthusiastically nodding my head in agreement. Our food culture is not exactly conducive to this lifestyle. For the last couple years, I have cooked and eaten lower carb in general, but have struggled to stay consistent with it, especially on the weekends. It’s so easy to fall into the “everyone else gets to eat that so I will too” mentality. And carbs are delicious and extremely addictive. I’ve been in a rut.
Recently I’ve been looking for a program to re-energize my weight loss efforts, knowing several things about myself:
- I despise counting things–calories, Points, grams of carbs. I will not stick with a program that requires counting. I just won’t. I am type B–no point in fighting it.
- I get decision fatigue pretty easily. I am already naturally inclined to overanalyze everything and play out every possible situation in my mind. On an “everything in moderation” plan, I have to make dozens of decisions all day long about what to eat and what not to eat. My internal dialogue goes something like this: “Do I get that bagel at Starbucks? Do I grab a cookie from the kitchen counter at work? Do I stop for a McDonald’s ice cream cone on the way home from work? It’s only 160 calories, right? Maybe I get that and then I run an extra mile to burn it off.” Imagine this ALL DAY LONG. It’s exhausting. And unfortunately I don’t have the willpower to keep myself from burning out. Eventually, I get so sick of focusing all my energy on food decisions that I just give up. (Gretchen Rubin has written some great pieces on moderators vs. abstainers. I’m an abstainer all the way.)
- The extra calories of alcohol–my beloved craft beer, especially–have likely been stalling progress toward my weight loss goals.
So when I heard about the Whole 30 challenge, I quickly realized it was the perfect next step for me: A month of avoiding grains, added sugar, artificial sweeteners, dairy and alcohol. All of these things have been shown to increase inflammation in the body and possibly trigger various undesired reactions. Creators Dallas and Melissa Hartwig challenge people to thirty days of eating pure, minimally processed food in order to pinpoint problem foods and restore metabolism. This is not a starvation diet; the plan instructs basing each meal around plenty of protein, vegetables, healthy fat and some fruit. Eat until you are full at each meal. Avoid snacking.
My goals for the program are:
- Reset my tastebuds after a few months of sugar and processed carbs sneaking into my diet
- Sleep more soundly
- Reduce inflammation in my body
- Clear up my skin (I’m wondering if eliminating dairy will help with this)
- Lower my blood pressure (currently 121/86, which is not terrible but could be a little lower)
- Hopefully kickstart some weight loss
I will be finished with my first Whole 30 the day before Thanksgiving. If I like it, I plan to start another one after Thanksgiving weekend. I plan to document my results here on the blog.
I’m on day three today, and I feel great! I had a headache last night and went to bed early, which I’ve heard is normal for the first few days. Evidently days 1-6 are rough, and then the incredible energy kicks in.
I will be back soon with some Whole 30 meals I’ve been enjoying thus far!