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Whole 30 September Challenge

Posted on October 23, 2017 at 12:30 AM

I was pushed into this program by an arthritic knee. That achy knee qualified me to participate in a study that included bloodwork measuring my A1C and fasting glucose. I was surprised when both came back slightly higher than normal. Type II diabetes runs in my family, but I exercise several hours each week and am not overweight. At the same time as that was grabbing my attention, several members at Blue Bicycle were expressing interest in taking the Whole 30 Challenge.

The creators of the Whole 30 don't promote it as a weight loss diet, but rather an elimination diet to assess the impact of food choices on an individual's health and well-being. It also encourages looking at one's relationship with food. With these things in mind, I joined in the challenge with our members because:

  • I could offer professional guidance and empathetic support, sharing the experiences of those participating.
  • I have confirmed osteoarthritis in my feet, ankles, hands, wrists, knees and spine. Could this challenge offer relief for my joint pain?
  • My energy levels are inconsistent throughout the day. Is it due to burning the candle at both ends working multiple jobs and running a business or is my diet a factor?
  • My sugar consumption has steadily increased over the past few years. Is this affecting my glucose metabolism?
  • Always an athlete at heart, I like to challenge myself. This eating plan is very restrictive, prohibiting dairy, added sweeteners, grains, legume and alcohol. That leaves essentially lean meats, eggs, fruits, veggies, nuts and potatoes. Most processed foods are off limits meaning that extensive meal prep is a must.

Our challenge group shared our frustrations, recipes, tips and triumphs via a private Facebook group. I learned a lot from the group as well as from my own experiences. Trying new recipes and seasonings was fun. Label reading was eye-opening to say the least. So much sugar is added to processed foods; even things like salad dressings and soups. The program, whether grocery shopping, preparing meals or eating out, requires attention and intention.

In my personal experience, the change that had the most immediate impact was skipping the sugar-laden flavored creamers that I had been adding to my coffee in increasingly greater amounts for years. That sugary coffee was waking up my sweet taste buds and once awakened they wanted more. Without that wake-up call, I found that I didn't crave sugar throughout the day. A related effect was that I didn't need to graze throughout the day to keep my energy levels up. The only exception was on longer bike rides (30+ miles) where the restrictiveness of this eating plan led to my literally running out of fuel (bonking) 20-25 miles in.

Other outcomes at the end of 30 days included a five pound weight loss and realization that my joint pain was unchanged. In terms of my relationship with food, I did find myself thinking about it much more frequently. I also had to get past my guilt about wasting food. Luncheon meetings meant throwing away the bread from a sandwich and occasionally a yummy looking cookie. By the end, I was longing for oatmeal, peanut butter and a glass of wine.

At the end of 30 days, rather than chowing down on all those restricted foods right away, it is recommended that they be re-introduced strategically over several days monitor their effects. I re-introduced legumes (peanut butter!) on Day 31, non-gluten grains (steel cut oats!) on Day 34, alcohol on Day 35, dairy on Day 37 and gluten containing grains on Day 40. That last one surprised me. I ate two slices of whole wheat toast with avocado and within 30 minutes felt bloated. I had whole wheat French toast this morning with the same result. I didn't think I had any sensitivity to gluten, but this seems to indicate otherwise.

Through this challenge, I learned several things, some expected; others a bit of a surprise:

  • When the first thing consumed during the day has added sugar, it sets off an ongoing craving for the rest of the day.
  • Limiting sugar stabilizes my energy level and I don't need to eat as often.
  • My digestion was great during the challenge. I knew that I was somewhat lactose intolerant going in. What I learned was that I am also mildly sensitive to gluten.
  • I saw no effect on my joint pain.
  • I don't know the effect on my A1C and fasting glucose right now, but will be re-tested in December.
  • Almond butter is my new best friend ;)

I hope that everyone who was part of our group came away from the challenge with a greater wisdom about how their food choices affect their own bodies and the added skills to better manage those choices. Going forward, my own plan is shift toward Paleo type choices at least 85% of the time. While not as strict as the Whole 30, it limits sugar, grains, and dairy. I still believe that all foods can be enjoyed in moderation, but with mindfulness to catch the subtle shift toward excessiveness.

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