After a series of bodily alignments, brothers rather than stars and planets, my wife and I began the Whole 30 ‘system refresh’. I call it that rather than diet because diet has a negative connotation and brings to mind things you can’t have rather than the things you can. Words like this matter, as Seth Godin explained, global warming was a bad name for climate change. People think good things when they hear global and warming. Godin suggested atmosphere cancer instead, a degenerative disease that requires immediate action. I thought about calling it The Global Whole30 Warming Hugs and Sunshine but that seemed too long.
Whole30 is nice because it exists as a system, something I’m fond of because systems are the most efficient way to get work done. In The Power of Habit Charles Duhigg tells the story of Tony Dungy trying to remake the woeful Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Dungy’s chief goal, and obstacle, was to get the players to switch from a system of thinking to one of reacting. He taught his defensive players a checklist of cues they should run through on each play that told them what to do. Like those football teams, my diet had fallen into a sad state.
What is the Whole30? A way to eat real food with limited sugars. Real food is food that isn’t a bastard child of nutritionist reductionism. On the program each meal begins with a source of protein cooked in a healthy fat surrounded by vegetables and a bit of fruit.
Day 1: I felt hungry. We didn’t have many meals pre-made so my plate looked like a rainbow pinwheel. At dinner that night I ate a lot more than normal because my breakfast and lunch had been on the lighter side. Lesson from day 1 was to eat more for my first two meals of the day and don’t rely on throwing together a bunch of raw vegetables under a pile of meat.
Day 2: Breakfast was quite filling and having a pre-made bowl facilitated a healthy meal. This morning I also had to confront food waste. In May 2013 I embarked a mission for zero food waste. The – unintended and unsustainable – strategy was to serve myself a small portion and eat the kid’s leftovers. Well, the kids aren’t on the Whole30 so the breakfast parfait we made made its sad soggy way to the trash. That’s not to say that the kids are eating junk food. After this Daily Beast article on the hidden sugar in ‘health foods’ we are slowly transitioning the kids to a more healthy diet as well.
The evening of day two again proved I have not been managing my meals well. Despite eating until I felt full I got hungry (maybe, see day 5) only three hours later. The biggest challenge has been to avoid grabbing a Cliff bar or handful of nuts. I’m guessing my daytime snacking pre-Whole30 looks to have been largely driven by behavior rather than hunger.
Day 3: My first day flying solo. My wife worked a twelve hour shift so I was on my own for meals. Considering I make almost all our meals this wasn’t a big deal but the Whole30 program did give my wife and I some nice time together in the kitchen and we even shared lunch one day without the kids! I can’t remember when that last happened in our home.
This day I had sausage chili for breakfast, a random smattering of cold stuff for a picnic lunch, and pork chops for dinner. Leftovers ruled the day and look to be a key part for making our meal prep easier.
Day 4: The habitual changes are happening. I walk by our pantry at home and don’t grab a granola bar. I avoid snacking on the kid’s leftovers. It’s incredible how often snacking was in my life and I only see that now that it’s gone.
My wife’s been tracking her calories on the my fitness pal app and it’s suggested to me that I’m eating less than 2,000 calories each day. A big surprise for me and one that caused me to examine the “Men’s Health Paradox.” As a long time reader of Men’s Health I adopted a lot of the suggestions. Eat more small meals and fewer big ones. Have a protein shake after a big workout. Have sugar before working out. Have this, that, and a really expensive watch – the magazine always had expensive watches. It turns out that I probably don’t need any of that. The Whole30 has proved empirically that my body has enough calories already stored and regular meals is all I need. The Men’s Health Paradox is this, cover models in a studio and scientific studies from a lab don’t often apply to my life in the real world.
Day 5: A second morning breakfast with my wife. These morning meals have been a nice feature of the Whole30. We’ve had fifteen minutes to talk as adults, without interruption! After breakfast I felt quite full. I had more leftovers for lunch and my in-laws treated us to steak for dinner.
I seemed to be hungry again when we put the kids to bed but I had clearly eaten enough steak and salad to not be that hungry. Like a pool player looking for some kind of shot, by brain racked itself to find an angle where I should be snacking at night. There isn’t one. I had no idea this habit was so ingrained, hidden in my life like a bad suit takes up space in the back of your closet.
Upcoming: We need to pack for a two day, one night camping trip this weekend and that will stress our creative meal muscles. There is a lot of cooking in this initial phase as we figure out patterns for eating, how and what to cook in bulk, and what can be eaten cold.
As a general self-experiment, and one that deals with habits, the Whole30 has really proved how malleable our habits can be with the right system. I’ve been researching system style thinking and for this experiment and to change I needed exactly that. My eating habits are the oldest I have. The Whole30 has withstood those habits like breakers at a wharf repel the waves. The Whole30 has worked because it has solid rules in the system. No bread or other grains. No snacking. Portion sizes related to my palm, hand, and fingers. Each of these things gives me a reference for yes or no.
Have you tried the Whole30? Paleo? Any good recipes, let me know in the comments or on Twitter, @MikeDariano.