What I Learned From My (Spectacular Failure of a) Whole30

Let me crack open a Mountain Abbey Ale and help myself to a bowl of tortilla chips while I tell you about my January 2015 Whole30.

Last year I read It Starts With Food, the book that outlines in detail the Whole30 program. I'd heard a bit about this particular paleo challenge from people I trust (I'm looking at you, Anne and Tsh). The idea is to eat clean - really, really clean - for thirty days, as a sort of nutritional "reset." "Clean" for the paleo crowd means tons of veggies, healthy fats, and meat. Dairy, beans, grains, and alcohol are strictly forbidden.

I really liked the book. It taught me some stuff I didn't know, like the relationship between sugar consumption and cholesterol. I tinkered with some of the core principles, like eating vegetables and protein at breakfast, but filed away doing the actual challenge for another day.

That day came, on January 1st. I drank my Modest Coffee without the benefit of my absolute favorite consumable item in the entire world, half-and-half. I sautéed kale for breakfast to eat alongside my eggs, ate a big delicious salad topped with roast beef and avocado for lunch, and made a rather complicated and exceedingly delicious paleo-friendly coconut curry for dinner.

I also joined a newbie-Whole30 group on Facebook, thinking that I would need all the support I could get. That need for support became ever clearer when I went grocery shopping for Whole30-friendly fare. They say one of the things you learn when you do a Whole30 is just how much crap additives are in typically-processed foods. When you do the Whole30 you do not consume any refined sugar, at all. That means that even if your Applegate Farms sausage has zero grams of sugar, if it lists sugar in the ingredients it is noncompliant.

You quickly learn that compliant and noncompliant are big words in the Whole30 world. In the Facebook group there were literally hundreds of food label snapshots captioned with the same inquiry - "Is this compliant?" You can't dip your toes into the program and still claim to be doing a Whole30. Consuming any noncompliant food means you're back to day one. I kind of get a kick out of the drill sergeant tone the Whole30 website takes: "Don’t even consider the possibility of a “slip.” Unless you physically tripped and your face landed in a box of doughnuts, there is no “slip.” You make a choice to eat something unhealthy. It is always a choice, so do not phrase it as if you had an accident. Commit to the program 100% for the full 30 days. Don’t give yourself an excuse to fail before you’ve even started."

I committed. 100%. For the full 30 days. Until I was offered a piece of homemade strawberry pie yesterday evening. Did I eat the strawberry pie? Oh yes. I ate the strawberry pie. I may as well have physically tripped and landed face first. Dude, I licked the plate and I wasn't even at my own house.

I knew that when we went to visit friends on Day 2 of the Whole30 that I might decide to start over. I am really committed to the principle that hospitality is to be accepted; if someone makes me food and I'm in the midst of an elective dietary experiment that is based neither in a sincerely held philosophy or an actual known allergy, I should eat the food. Gratefully.

So, I wasn't necessarily 100% committed, but I thought for sure I'd start over again if, on day two, I needed to politely consume some rice.

The strawberry pie changed everything. I tell you, it was like the scales fell from my eyes.

The pie itself was excellent - sweet and tart and cold and delectable. But even more importantly, I was practically smacked over the head with an epiphany: I want to be a person who gathers around the table with dear friends and family and guiltlessly and joyfully eats the pie.

One of the goals of the Whole30 is to dismantle emotional eating. But I have this little problem: I don't actually want to treat food as nothing more and nothing less than fuel. I want to have all the feelings about my food. I want to associate certain foods with certain people. I want celebration to taste different than heartbreak. If I've learned nothing else from the communion table I've learned that food is more than food, that eating is sacred, that mealtime is holy.

(I totally need to reread Eat With Joy by Rachel Marie Stone, because she talks about all of this far more eloquently than I do.)

I realized, as I tucked into that gorgeous strawberry pie, that I don't want my primary question about food to be "is this compliant?" Not even for thirty days. I want to wonder if if something is delicious and healthy and if you'd like a dollop of freshly-whipped cream, too.

So, yeah. I learned a lot from my spectacular failure of a Whole30. I don't actually think it's a bad program. I even joked that if I learned this much from less than forty-eight hours on it, just think what I would learn if I made it to five days!

Even though I'm ambivalent about the environmental and ethical implications of eating so much meat, I completely believe that eating paleo can have serious health benefits and that actually completing a Whole30 could be a very good thing for people. Maybe I'll even continue to eat paleo-ish for a while. If I ever experienced more pronounced health or weight issues, perhaps I'll summon the desire to try the Whole30 again.

Until then, I'm saying yes to the pie.

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