Whole30 changed my life. Twice. I was sick and tired of being sick and tired… and changing my diet changed my perspective and my health.
The one and only new year’s resolution I’ve made — and kept was to never make a new year’s resolution. That’s worked for me for over twenty years. On December 31, 2018 my friend, Deanna Reed-Foster (whom some of you may know from Chicago Fire) and I decided to make a change in our lives and our diet because the time was right. Yes, it coincided with a new year, but we were ready. So was her husband, Earl and we decided to do Whole30 together. Several of my other friends wanted to do the Whole30 program with us but said they were getting ready.
Here’s the thing: if you’re getting ready to get ready, you’re not ready.
I find that change comes easily when you want it. Each of us had different reasons: for myself, it was time to lose the “election fat” I’d been carrying around since 2016. The stress-eating needed to stop — I wanted my waistline back. Plus, I hadn’t been exercising due to an ongoing shoulder issue and despite months of PT, I still had signs of inflammation and was in pain. For Deanna, she was getting ready for a show, (she’s one of the stars of Nina Simone: Four Women at Northlight) and wanted to feel better and also lose some weight. Earl was ready, too. He was going to the doctor for a check up and didn’t want to end up on a ton of meds for high blood pressure and wanted his figure back, too! So with that, together the three of us set off on our new adventure. (There is an update below as to what happened to me in May 2019 and what I learned.)
Initially, Deanna and I planned to get together on the afternoon of December 31st and make our “last supper.” This was going to be a HUGE BATCH of her famous mac and cheese (one of my favorite dishes on the planet) and while that was in the oven, we’d do a prep of the foods we were going to eat during our first week.
Here we are pre-Whole30 doing our meal-prep thing:
And here’s an after pic – Day 47 taken before I got on stage at Martyr’s — an event where I told an excerpt from “Eat This, You’ll Die!,” my memoir/cookbook dedicated to my mother, Bernice and how I inadvertently became a food blogger.
And here I am on stage at Martyr’s in Chicago — telling the story about how Instant PotLuck was born, how I lost my “election fat,” and how I inadvertently became a food blogger — plus a few of the passive/aggressive cooking tips from my mother, Bernice. Watch the video:
Meal Prep Day: When we went shopping, we decided that we didn’t want to end up in a mac-and-cheese carb-coma and decided to just do the healthy meal prep thing and get started. Earl and Deanna had done Whole30 once before and liked how they felt, so she already had some good tips for what to make and how to go about it. Actually, Deanna is the one with the cooking tips and she and I laugh when Earl says: “we made ___.” Just to clarify: Deanna makes, Earl eats what she puts in front of him!
For those who don’t know what Whole30 is, you can read about it, but basically, it’s no dairy, grains, legumes, or sugar. You can eat any protein, veggies, and fruit. (Read the dos and don’ts for the full list.) There’s a rule which says you can have coffee, BUT you must drink it black or with an approved milk such as almond or coconut. And no sweetener. This is where I didn’t follow the program exactly and why I call it Whole29.5. Let me explain:
I drink one cup of coffee in the morning with almond milk and I can’t choke it down without a little sweetener so I used a half-packet of Stevia. I decided, rather than beat myself up for not doing something perfectly, I would drink it this way. If the Whole30 police was going to show up on my doorstep and arrest me, so be it. As well, there is only one thing I’ve ever done perfectly, and that’s not drink alcohol one day at a time since 1995. Deanna and Earl did the Whole30 as suggested.
I had never really dieted before but as things changed (aka “shifted”) — and I wasn’t playing tennis like I had, I had to rethink how to keep myself in shape. I tried Weight Watchers, and while I like the concept of the program, I don’t like counting things… calories or points. And to me, “eating whatever I wanted” wasn’t working. A tiny piece of cake or brownie, wasn’t working for me. It made me crave more. Then I felt deprived and this whole weird thought cycle started. So, I was ready for a change. A big one.
So, here’s how we approached this new eating plan: we didn’t think of it as not eating something for 30 days, but simply, what we were eating one meal at a time.
We prepped on 12/31 and started on January 1st, 2019. We made amazing, healthy food, texted and/or chatted almost every day as we shared a variety of easy recipes which I’m excited to share with you. There are more recipes than those listed below and I will add to the list — but these are a great start and some of our favorites.
Here we are after Deanna’s show Day 45:
One of the things I found to be a complete game-changer: condiments. I either substituted or began using a variety of new brands and products… and I have to say, there is no reason to stop. I will continue to use them. Here are the top three that come to mind:
Ghee. This is clarified butter and it’s on the approved list. This is what we used instead of butter and it’s amazing. I also found it in a variety of flavors which are a must-have. This is one with garlic… which I LOVE.
Red Boat Fish Sauce. This kicks up everything to a new level. It sounded weird to me at first, but it’s now a staple in my pantry.
At this writing, it’s Feb. 24th I’m still doing the program because I like the way I feel:
- I have NO inflammation whatsoever in my shoulder. None. This is after almost a year in PT. I am not sure if it is the lack of gluten, dairy, or sugar, all three or a combo. Either way, I am not eating those foods right now as I want to continue to have the mobility I’ve been lacking. And, I plan on getting back on the tennis court this spring. I’ve lost 15 pounds, my “election fat,” and more than a pant size.
- Deanna has lost 15 lbs and she feels great. Earl lost too, and they’re both sticking with this new way of eating — remaining very aware of what they are putting into their bodies.
Here are just a few of the recipes we made:
This is my new favorite breakfast: Salmon, Avocado, and Scrambled Eggs – I love it. I use the leftover salmon from this recipe. Scramble some eggs, toss in some avocado and I’m good to go.
Deanna’s Egg Frittata with tomato, spinach, and onions
Smothered Pork Chops and Bacon with Smashed Cauliflower. Because as my mother Bernice would say: “Bacon grease is an essential oil.”
For me, I found I was rarely hungry and I had no cravings for sugar. If I did find I wanted something sweet, I ate a couple of Medjool dates. My new thing.
I also came up with my new favorite go-to snack: Whole30 Taffy Apple: Almond butter drizzled over apples, cinnamon, unsweetened coconut chips and slivered almonds. It reminds me of eating a “Taffy Apple” when I was a kid. There’s no refined sugar and it’s crunchy and sweet and gooey. And I also toss in some dates, too.
Speaking of apples… probably my most favorite thing to eat since I was a kid, is applesauce. Yep, it’s one of those things I never “outgrew” (thankfully) and it’s still one of the foods I love most. But the reason I never made it all these years? Because I wasn’t going to stand there and peel 3 lbs of apples. That changed when I got my Instant Pot… and making it was a game changer. And here’s why: you don’t have to peel anything. This homemade applesauce recipe is so ridiculously easy to make — there’s no peeling and it’s ready in 4 minutes. I make it like twice a week.
So there you have it. Healthy, easy, and most of all you can change your life and someone else’s one meal at a time.
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Check out my new food storage containers which is how this whole “blog-thing” got started. My new Make It & Take It Containers are proudly Made in the USA, dishwasher safe, and as my mother, Bernice would say, “you made it, who else’s name belongs on the label?” These are great to share leftovers or gift friends and family with your latest creations.
And for those who need a laugh along the way… check out my mother, Bernice’s motivational mugs that include some of her passive/aggressive cooking tips.
April 2019 – UPDATE
From the time I did the program Jan. 1, 2019 through the end of April, I really stuck to Whole30 pretty seriously: I didn’t eat dairy or sugar, etc… and of course, felt great. The one major thing I noticed, other than the weight loss was the inflammation in my shoulder that surrounded a tear in my rotator cuff was gone — which I noted above as of February. I was going to get back on the tennis court… if the weather in Chicago would ever comply. For me, playing again was HUGE. I had been in PT for over a year, in pain, couldn’t pick up my racket… and nothing was helping. After about 3 weeks on Whole30, I noticed my shoulder stopped hurting. So, I stayed on the program.
At the end of April, I attended a conference in Salt Lake City as a blogger (an inadvertent one at that) and this was also the event where I launched Best Ever Backdrops, my new line of backdrops for food photographers. Check them out: they are 100% waterproof, lightweight, and a total game changer.
In any case, I went off the program — slowly. I grabbed some sweets and carbs and dairy “here and there” — and when I returned home, it continued. Slowly. I hadn’t had a sandwich in ages or a bagel, and slowly but surely, when I did have just one — which was not “just one” — the cravings came back. So did some pain. Not huge, but I noticed a “twinge” here and there.
Next came “some” dessert… after one of my shows, we all went out for ice cream. And two days later, I found myself driving to a business meeting and made a “quick stop” to get some more while on my way…. four miles in the opposite direction of my client’s office. I should also mention, that when I was a kid growing up, I was allergic to milk and I gave it up at age 8 to avoid the horrific ear infections I experienced up until that point. (My mother, Bernice was determined to find out what was wrong with me and why I was always sick… even after a tonsillectomy at six. No matter what was going on, I was still always sick, so she took me to an allergist — which wasn’t common back then. When we learned what was wrong with me, I gave up all dairy. (This was hard for me because back then, there weren’t all of these amazing dairy alternatives like we have now… but at age 8, I didn’t care, I didn’t want to be sick.) As an adult, I “outgrew” my intolerance for dairy and it was back in my diet when I went to college. I was eating dairy until January 1st 2019. Around the end of April, I also noticed my shoulder was starting to hurt. I, of course, attributed my discomfort to shlepping luggage at the airport.
Cut to May 2019:
After Salt Lake City, I attended the National Restaurant Show in Chicago May 18th. And this is when shit hit the fan:
I attend this show every year… and it’s like 13 miles of “bites.” While strolling up and down the aisles, meeting clients, seeing new products, you don’t think you’re consuming a lot. I had cheesecake tastes, mini grilled cheese sandwiches, cakes, cookies, pasta… little, tiny, less-than-an-ounce bites of everything you can imagine. As I walked through the show with a friend, a fellow blogger who is also a personal chef and nutritionist who said to me: “you may want to go easy so you don’t crash.” I replied: “I’m fine, that’s never happened.”
TWO HOURS LATER:
I was exhausted and had to sit down. Like I was an “old person.” (Okay, to some people in their 20’s or 30’s, I guess I may be considered an “old person” but in my world and my mind, I’m young and healthy — and my mentality is anything but “old.”) My body and my shoulder however were telling me otherwise.
I had to leave the show and went home and took a nap. For 3 hours. I then realized what was going on when I “came to.” I was bloated, and it dawned on me why I wasn’t able to wear any of my rings for the past few weeks, my shoulder was inflamed, too, and it wasn’t due to lifting my carry-on. Oh, and I had a headache. I was also agitated and crabby and felt like hell. I looked at the calendar and noted this “feeling” started the weekend of the conference in Salt Lake.
So, guess what? I am 5 days in without dairy, carbs, and sugar and already feeling better. I don’t want this kind of pain and inflammation anymore and know that the way I eat, the foods I choose are the key to what makes me — me: Happy, healthy, and yes, I am going to get back on the tennis court this summer!