Why Whole 30? Anna’s Story

After reaching my goal weight in 2002 using the Schwarzbein Principle approach described in my “Belated Introduction” post (moderate carb intake, based on level of physical activity; limiting dairy to cheeses & whipping cream; cutting out sugar & starchtastic foods like pasta and croissants), for the next few years I continued to eat with these principles in mind.  I occasionally indulged with pastry or ice cream, but even then I made sure to nibble on some veggies to help offset the insulin spike.

About 7 years ago I embarked upon some major challenges and life changes, each of which led to decreased exercise and increased stress-eating of carbs.   After about a year of this metabolic stress, I experienced debilitating pain (mostly from a couple of car accidents when I was younger), which then led to significantly decreased range of motion and avoidance of any activity which might cause the pain and disability to flare up.  These issues made exercise difficult, and usually impossible, leading to yet more weight gain.  The past 7 years have been mostly a downward spiral, with increasing stress, pain, and consumption of sugary carb yumminess to mask and offset the discomfort and pain.  Although I did begin working with chiropractors, massage therapists, and pilates instructors about 5 years ago, I continued to exist in a place where the slightest misstep could leave me bedridden for weeks at a time.

While I was pregnant with EB, pelvic pain drove me to yet another practitioner.  This physical therapist was able to diagnose and address the foundations of so many of my aches and pains and restrictions.  Whereas every practitioner I’d seen since my mid-20s found me to be a conundrum, or interesting, or “complex,” everything I was experiencing could be fit into my PT’s understanding of the body and how its various parts work together.   I feel like I am on the brink of having the old issues cleared from my body (exercise! soon I will be able to exercise!), but as long as I am carrying an extra 50 pounds, my joints will be under excessive strain, my body mechanics will be less than ideal, and I will continue to experience low levels of inflammation.

Sounds like great incentive to lose weight, doesn’t it?  Well, yes, it is.  But it wasn’t enough.   Perhaps I’d been in pain too long (and dependent on sugars to give me the dopamine rush), perhaps I’d forgotten what it feels like to be able to move, perhaps I couldn’t really believe in a happy resolution of my physical issues.

After the birth of EB in 2010, I felt quite acutely the physical burdens of being overweight and underexercised.  My videos of her include the lovely soundtrack of me huffing and puffing as I … stand beside her? (!)   I am an older mom, and I want to be around for my daughter into her 30s or even 40s, but obesity and sedentary lifestyle both put me on track to disease and death at an earlier age (as does eating crappy fast food, which I seem to do much more these days).  I knew I needed healthier avenues for releasing stress.  And yet, the changes necessary seemed to big, too impossible.

My kick in the butt came in the form of a  sleep apnea diagnosis in June of this year.  I’m not sure why this hit me so hard, since I had suspected apnea for months before finally getting tested and diagnosed.  Maybe it was the idea of waking an average of more than once every minute during the only time the body sets aside for repair.  Or maybe it was the Google hits when I researched “severe sleep apnea.” (Definitely this second one.)  Learning that the lack of oxygenation and solid sleep increases your risk of diabetes, stroke, heart attack and cancer (to name a few), and that the rate of death from cancer was 5x higher with sleep apnea….well, let’s say that after I panicked, I reached a stillpoint of great clarity.  It was time to lose weight.

But how to go about it?  I had great success with the Schwarzbein Principle eating plan 10 years ago.  I lost about 25 pounds and reached my goal weight.  Ditching sugar and increasing veggies had made me feel pretty awesome, and focusing on the amounts and quality of only one food group was quite manageable.  But.  My chronic musculoskeletal issues included constant low-level inflammation, and so many of my body’s reactions to insult or injury seem rather extreme.  Should I try an anti-inflammatory diet (The Fat Resistance Diet, recommended by my primary physician), which aims to alter leptin resistance through a focus on eating anti-inflammatory foods (with the happy side effect of weight loss)?  How would I adjust this diet to meet the needs and preferences of the other members of my family?  Would I give them the unhealthy food while eating well myself?  And don’t Schwarzbein & FRD lead to opposing conclusions regarding what to eat?  And what about gluten sensitivity?  Could that be a source of chronic inflammation?  Could I adjust the inflammation diet to remove wheat?  Should I find a way to combine principles derived from the Schwarzbein, leptin resistance, and gluten-free  approaches? My head, it did spin (unproductively).

Enter the Whole 30 plan.

Earlier this year, a few different bloggers I follow posted reports of their own experiences with Whole 30 and their subsequent assumption of a paleo diet, and I was intrigued enough to begin investigating it for myself.  The Whole 30 calls for the removal of grains (wheat: check!), sugar (check!), dairy (hey! I have long wondered whether my extreme phlegm reaction might be a sensitivity), and legumes (uh, well, okay, I’m not a huge fan of beans, I can probably do that).  The website lays out the plan’s edicts, but — being me — I needed to know the reasoning behind the plan.  I ordered the It Starts With Food: Discover the Whole30 and Change Your Life in Unexpected Ways as an e-book, and within a few chapters I knew I had to order the hard copy too.  I wanted my husband to read this, and I wanted to be able to underline passages and return to them later.

It Starts With Food — like just about every other diet or eating plan book out there — has a bit of an evengelical feel to it.  However, it also has the most thorough discussion I have seen of the body’s hormone responses in relation to food.  So many books have focused on a single hormone, but they explained the interaction of the main hormones we’ve been hearing about : insulin, leptin, glucagon, cortisol.   Thanks to this book, I could see how they act on each other, and how imbalances effect our bodies.  Simply from a standpoint of knowledge, this book blew my leptin- and insulin-focused books out of the water.*   Their explanation of leaky gut and the havoc grains, dairy and legumes can wreak on our guts is quite compelling, although appears to be an area of contention within the “paleosphere.” (I will write posts about Whole 30 and paleo and primal and all the various permutations later.)  Their pragmatic approach to reintroduction of questionable items won me over, however.  30 days of removing all the items which might be problematic based on the irritants contained within each of these food categories, followed by  their reintroduction to find out which proteins my own body had difficulty with?  I could do that.

Thankfully, so could Ede, who’d read some of those same blogger posts and who was ready for her own radical change.  We spent days combing through recipe sites and book samples (we actually purchased Melissa Joulwan’s Well Fed: Paleo Recipes for People Who Love to Eat, and we have been very happy with the majority of her recipes).   This eating plan would require lots of cooking, an area which both of us found intimidating.  In the end, the wealth of recipes and cooking instructions within the paleosphere convinced us that this goal was both desirable and attainable.

And so we embarked on our first Whole30 adventure in early August.  The 30 days have come to a close (where did the days go?), and we are working to process the information we gleaned from our first forays into Paleo and clean eating while also devising plans for the next phase of our eating plan/adventure.  Unfortunately, our plans to post updates to this site during the Whole 30 turned out to be too optimistic, but we’re working on writing some wrapup posts (and I hope to write some pieces of synthesis and/or analysis of the Paleosphere’s approach to eating well).

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*I have recently begun examining leptin resistance and the associated literature much more closely, and Dr. Byron Richards’s The Leptin Diet describes all the relevant hormones, placing leptin at the top of the metabolic org chart.  (And, in fact, it seems to me that the journey from leptin-resistant to leptin-sensitive is a fundamental part of the Whole30 reset.)  (Dr. Richards also cowrote Mastering Leptin, which appears (based on my reading of reviews) to be a more in-depth (and meandering) examination of leptin published soon after the leptin was identified.)  This is useful in conjunction with the Whole30 It Starts With Food, which I find to be better-written from a pedagogical standpoint.

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