Friday, October 3, 2014

I Survived the Paleo 30-day Challenge and I am Here to Tell the Tale!

I am now completely, officially finished with the longest, healthiest month of my life. This September, I indulged in the Whole 30 challenge, to undo some of the sins of a month-long holiday of excess (donuts, beer, Italian beef sandwiches, the works). My goal was to eat only whole foods, no grains, dairy, legumes, booze or added sugar, and you know what? It was the hardest but healthiest month ever. I didn't take any before/after photos because to be honest, I wasn't sure I was going to make it all the way through, but on the top left is a lardy cake, roughly the shape I was in before starting the Whole 30, and on the right is a carrot, which is more or less the shape I am in now. Victory. 

Before I go into my Whole30 story, please remember this is my personal experience during my 30 day experiment and I’m not a doctor, nutritionist or trainer. As with any diet or exercise routine, it’s wise to check in with a doctor before you begin.

So, here's how it happened: I came back from a super-fun vacation in which I ate whatever the heck I wanted, did basically no exercise, and ate every sweet or bit of junk food that came my way. After dropping all my baby weight a couple of years ago, the scale had inched firmly upwards again (not all the way, but, you know, upwards), my jeans did not button, my skin was terrible, and I was not happy. So I decided to try giving myself 30 days to clean up my eating habits: out with the cheese! No desserts! No pasta, rice or baked beans! Goodbye Saturday cocktails and craft beers! Hello coconut milk in my coffee, zucchini noodles and lean grass-fed beef. It's only for 30 days, right? 

Yes, but it seemed like a long month. HOWEVER, having a clearly defined, long-enough but not too-long window was just right (for me), and knowing that I was cutting out all my favorite things not permanently helped me to stay on track, but interestingly I went without just long enough to defeat cravings. Around day 12 I was confronted with a tray of stinky French cheeses, and I was able to say, "no thanks, just an apple for me." That, my friends, is willpower. 

Notable results: 

1. Clear skin. I am not a teenager anymore, but I still suffer from acne. What's that all about? At the end of this month I can report for the first time in my life I have NO SPOTS, NO UNDEREYE CIRCLES, and an actual glow. Look! My eyes are bright and my skin looks as good as Isabelle's! Happily, my makeup routine now consists of three products, not 17.

2. Weight loss. The whole point of a Whole 30 is to eat better, not lose weight, and in fact the instructions tell you not to weigh yourself during the month, but to concentrate on eating nutrient-rich foods. However, at the end of 30 days of clean eating, I lost 15 pounds and dropped a dress size. Booyah. 

3. More energy. Yes, it's true, I juggle two small children, but now I feel like I could easily juggle a couple more. Not only that, but I'm waking up without an alarm and not falling asleep in front of The West Wing. 

4. Better moods. Because I wasn't eating sugar or refined carbs, I wasn't experiencing energy spikes and crashes throughout the day which led to severe mood swings. Now, no more crabby mommy. I know, I know! Better moods, happier kids, smilier Jules, all thanks to less rice, more kale. 

5. Inventive menu planning. I only forced the whole family to eat a paleo meal at suppertime, when we were all together, but searching for whole-food recipes opened up a whole new universe of creative cooking. We didn't have a paella, risotto or oatmeal all month, but learned to love burgers without the bun, shredded sautéed cabbage instead of spaghetti and a weird little egg and spinach pancake served with a ton of Tabasco. 

And best of all, now I'm done, so I can go back to the occasional cake and glass of wine with a totally clear conscience. But what's interesting is that I don't really want to. I can have a donut, but frankly it doesn't appeal.... Am I going to stick to the pale diet forever? No; for one thing it's too expensive, for another, I don't think it's the healthiest way for kids to eat and it's too much of a hassle to be cooking separate meals at each sitting--we are not a restaurant. BUT, I am going think long and hard about indulging so mindlessly in food that's nutrient-poor (I'm looking at you, pasta), and try to enjoy treats (booze & sugar) when they are treats, not as a regular part of my diet.

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