Friday, August 15, 2014

The Unofficial Whole30 Survival Guide

I get a lot of comments from people who want to start Whole30 but feel nervous about planning and preparing meals. Some are worried about what to eat; others are concerned about the time commitment. Honestly, it does take determination, time, and effort to prepare Whole30 meals, but there are ways to make things easier on yourself. Here are my top tips for getting started and staying on track. Even if you aren't doing Whole30, these tips can work for any healthy eating plan.


TIP 1: Stock your fridge and pantry with approved foods. This seems obvious, but it's crucial to your success. Check labels on condiments, spices, and canned goods. Throw out, box up, or hide banned foods. Shop for quality proteins, fresh produce, and healthy fats. I usually buy eggs and 2-3 types of meat per week. I buy a good balance of grab-and-go veggies (carrots, snap peas, mini peppers, cherry tomatoes, etc.) and veggies that I prefer to steam, sauté, roast, or bake (sweet potatoes, cauliflower, yellow squash, broccoli, etc.). I buy veggies in every color. I also like to buy one new veggie per week that I've never eaten. For fats, I stock avocados, avocado oil, olive oil, coconut oil, and coconut milk. I keep cashews and almonds on hand for emergency outings. During the first week, focus on familiar foods. As you gain confidence with the program and start feeling creative, branch out and try new things. Stock up! If your only options are approved, you won't give up on a whim. Even if you have a moment of mental weakness, you won't be surrounded by temptations. Giving up will be so much work that you'll just stick with the program, and your mind will regain control.

TIP 2: Make a basic meal plan. This is especially important the first two weeks, when it's easy to fall back into old habits of eating prepackaged foods or grabbing take-out. You don't want to hit the 5 o'clock hour and find yourself standing in front of the fridge—or worse, out and about—with no plan for dinner. Set yourself up for success by brainstorming a few ideas at the beginning of the week. Your meal plan can be as simple or as detailed as you like. Personally, I just jot down a few traditional meals I want to re-create in Whole30 form. Sometimes, I work from my list; often, I don't. But having a list means I'm never frantic or uninspired. Your plan could be much more detailed. It could list every meal and include a shopping list. Do what works for you! Where can you find ideas? Start with simple, familiar dishes than you can adapt to fit Whole30. This will make it easier to get your family on board. You will see tons of inspiration on IG and Pinterest, but don't get overwhelmed. For the first week, focus on adapting dishes and foods you already like. Not every meal will be creative or glamorous. It's okay to eat the same thing over and over again if it's working for you. I didn't really start experimenting until week two, and each week, I felt more confident and creative. You will, too! When inspiration strikes, don't be afraid to deviate from your plan. Your plan is just a protective net to keep you from giving up.

TIP 3: Prepare food in bulk. When you start Whole30, you may feel like you never leave the kitchen. The minute you finish the dishes from one meal, you start chopping veggies for the next. Who has time for that? The best way to avoid this cycle of meal prep is mass production. There are several ways to approach this, but all options ultimately save you time in setup and clean up. Option 1: Schedule 1-2 prep days each week (for example, Sunday and Wednesday). Some people use prep days to prepare full meals (either fully cooked or freezer meals). Then they divide out potions for the week. This is a fabulous solution if you work full time or spend your evenings away from home. I take a more relaxed approach to meal prep. I like to keep two precooked meats (e.g., grilled chicken, pulled pork, or ground turkey/beef) on hand to use for lunches and quick dinners. I also like to chop veggies for salads, breakfast scrambles, casseroles, and soups (e.g., onions, red peppers, broccoli, cauliflower, and yellow squash). Once in a while, I make paleo mayo to use in sauces, dressings, and dips. This is usually enough prep for me, because my meal plans are flexible and I have time to cook in the evenings. Option 2: Double your recipes. When you cook, make twice as much as you think you and your family need for one meal. (I always quadruple my recipe for veggie rice, because it goes with everything.) Leftovers will be your salvation for snacks, lunches, dinners on the run, even breakfasts. If you spend a lot of time away from your house, divide leftovers into individual portions instead if throwing a whole casserole dish in the fridge. This makes it easy to grab food on the run. If you get tired of eating the same foods over and over, refresh your meals by combining ingredients. Or team up with a Whole30 buddy, and swap meals.

TIP 4: Don't be afraid to make substitutions. Before Whole30, I didn't cook anything without a recipe. If I was missing an ingredient, I gave up or sent my husband to the store. Not anymore! My Whole30 kitchen adventures have taught me that almost any protein can be substituted for any other protein and any veggie for any other veggie. This advice applies to regular recipes and Whole30 recipes. Don't toss out favorite family dishes just because they include a couple of off-plan ingredients—adapt! Use yellow squash in place of corn. Try pineapple juice, medjool dates, or homemade apple sauce in place of brown sugar in a sauce. Make cauliflower rice or mashed sweet potatoes instead of regular rice. I've found that this is actually the easiest way to introduce healthier foods to my family: just start with a small change to a favorite meal. If you're working with a Whole30 recipe, adaptations are even easier. Missing a spice? Leave it out, or open a few others and smell them to find an appealing stand in. In addition to saving time, this tip also saves money. By making substitutions, I use my food more efficiently, and I spend less time at the store, which means I buy fewer unplanned extras during the month.

TIP 5: Pack your own food. If you're following a strict nutritional plan (like Whole30), don't leave your meals to chance. You may end up starving or caving to the hunger pains. Whether you're running errands or attending a social gathering, get in the habit of packing your own food. Option 1: Keep a go-pack in your fridge stocked with protein, healthy fats, and veggies. Take this with you whenever you leave the house, even if you think you'll be gone only 1-2 hours. You never know when your schedule will be hijacked, and you don't want to be stranded without food. If you haven't already, invest in an insulated lunch bag and ice pack. Some of my favorite on-the-go foods include grilled chicken strips, hard boiled eggs, avocado, almonds, carrots, snap peas, mini peppers, and apples. You could also toss in a Ziplock bag of leftovers and a fork. Option 2: Plan ahead for social situations when you aren't in charge of the meal. Don't assume there will be something you can make work. Offer to bring a dish to share. Bring your own main course. Plan your meal to mimic what's being served (less obvious = fewer questions).

TIP 6: Invest in rubber gloves. The down side of making nutritious meals from scratch for breakfast, lunch, and dinner is that you'll produce a lot of extra dishes. Even if you're careful, you'll probably fill your sink twice as fast. Do yourself a favor: invest in some durable rubber gloves. I like the fashion-forward designs from gloveables.com. The adorable printed cuffs are also practical, keeping your arms safe from suds during those awful moments when you have to check the garbage disposal. Tips for avoiding dishes: (1) Use your crockpot. (2) Eat raw veggies straight off the cutting board. (3) Bake individual meals in a pie dish, and eat from the dish. (4) Meal prep twice a week (see TIP 3). (5) Store leftovers in a Ziplock bag, and eat from the bag. (Yep, sometimes I do that.) (6) Teach your children to wash pots and pans so you don't have to.

TIP 7: Let go! Be adventurous. Whole30 has strict rules, and that scares off a lot of people. But these limits are actually a portal to creativity. Don't get hung up on what you CAN'T eat. Focus on the first rule: eat real food. Imagine the possibilities! Be brave. Try new foods and flavor combinations. Experiment with foods you've always hated—you may discover your aversions are all in your head. If a food combination makes you curious, try it! Relax and enjoy this experience. Don't overthink it. Accept that you will have to devote more time to food. Don't fight it or resent it. Have fun! Soon it will become second nature.

Whole30 Recap from @rachel_rebuilt on Instagram

March 27, 2014

Day 10: Last night, I had a dream that I mindlessly ate a bite of chocolate cake and then immediately broke down in tears because I had blown my Whole30 diet. I was so relieved to wake up and discover it was just a nightmare. Apparently, by day 10, even your subconscious is afraid of sugar. Honestly, I am loving Whole30. Today, I put on a shirt that I can only wear on "skinny days." I feel leaner overall and have noticed a big difference in my arms and chest. I'm never hungry. I feel calmer, happier, and more patient with my kids. I've always been a little afraid of food. Afraid that no matter what I ate it would somehow make me fat, destroy my heart, or give me cancer. I counted calories like crazy for five years, trying desperately to manage my weight and control my cravings. Sometimes it worked, and sometimes I just felt like a failure. Whole30 is healing my relationship with food. For so long, I have been a slave to programs that I thought would keep me slim or cravings that I knew would not. With Whole30, I am learning to trust my body's signals. I eat what my body says it needs, when it asks. I have tracked calories a few days, just to learn what my body likes. It's amazing to me how consistently my body balances calorie count and percentages of proteins/carbs/fats. Day after day, my body asks for what it needs, even when I'm not focusing on numbers. I have never been a great cook. Experimenting with food seemed so scary. But the limits of Whole30 have made cooking less intimidating. I feel so free, so creative. I love all the color. I love the delicate, subtle flavors. I love exploring foods I have never tried/liked before. I love that Whole30 is helping me lose weight, but I am happier that it has dissolved my fears.

April 4, 2014

Day 18: Today was my baby's first birthday. I spent the better part of yesterday and today carving and frosting a pirate ship cake for his celebration. For me, this is an important family tradition. The first birthday is all about that messy slice of cake, and I want the cake to be special. I wasn't going to skip the tradition just because I couldn't eat the final product. In the past, I would have eaten all the cake scraps and licked the frosting bowl clean, eating until I felt sick. But this time, I wasn't even tempted. In fact, I discovered something incredible: the creative process is what I crave, not the sugar high. Creating relieves stress and brings me joy. This is one reason I've found so much pleasure in playing with Whole30 ingredients. I don't need the sweets to fix my emotions; I need the creative outlet, the chance to play. I also love sharing my creations with my family. Watching my little boy shovel fistfuls of cake into his mouth and lick his tray clean made me feel giddy. Of course, I don't want him to live on these sugary sweets. But I'm happy the indulgence was prepared and gifted in love. I think a little indulgence, chosen carefully and mindfully, is good for the soul. Whole30 prepares us to be discerning and selective about our indulgences and to savor them without letting them drag us into an unhealthy cycle of sugar dependence. We learn to eat clean so we can CHOOSE when we want to indulge. This is power, not failure.

April 7, 2014

Day 21: My commitment to health and fitness began five years ago. I completely overhauled my diet and exercise routine. I went from eating a poorly designed "vegetarian" diet full of pasta and white bread to a mostly paleo diet high in protein. I discovered weight lifting and realized I loved it more than running (which I'd been doing since high school). I worked hard and lost 18 lbs. and 10% body fat. I maintained that weight loss for four years. Then we adopted two babies in two months, and suddenly, I didn't have the physical energy or mental discipline to stick to my healthy habits. I tried over and over but failed again and again. I gained back 13 lbs., and I was furious with myself. I knew how to eat properly; I just kept putting it off, saying, "Tomorrow is the day!" Then I'd indulge in a "last" dessert and start in the morning. Within 3-7 days, I'd break under emotional or social pressure, eating an embarrassing serving of dessert and going back for seconds. As I watched @jennaskitchen complete her first Whole30, I knew this was the answer for me. I knew that once I committed to 30 days, I could do it. I just needed fixed, inflexible rules to get me back on track. Sticking to the rules takes time and planning, but on day 21, it feels like I've always lived this way. If you've been putting off getting started, don't! There will always be an event on the horizon. There will always be a reason to wait. Don't indulge in a "last" dessert. Don't wait! Start now! In 30 days, you will thank yourself.

April 16, 2014

Day 30: When I started Whole30, I wanted two things: to lose inches around my waist and to kick my sugar cravings. I was so excited about what I might lose that I didn't give much thought to what I might gain. No before and after shots could capture my transformation. I feel like I've been reborn. Whole30 has given me self-control, patience, courage, steady energy, confidence, and above all, joy. In fact, for the first time since burying my daughter, I feel as if I can truly INDULGE in the beautiful, happy moments of my life. I have experienced many happy moments since losing my daughter, but it has been difficult for me to sink deep into any emotion--joy or sorrow. I have been holding back a piece of myself. Whole30 has helped me to feel mentally lighter and more at ease in my own skin. I feel more relaxed and more capable of handling stressful situations. I laugh more. I smile more easily. I feel present in my life. Do I still have emotional days? Absolutely! In fact, three days ago, I sat on the floor and cried over spilt milk--literally. But anxiety and frustration seem to pass more quickly, and soon I feel happy and in control again. I can't adequately explain how different I feel inside, but last night, a dear friend told me that she has seen a dramatic change in my aura over the last month. She told me that I radiate happiness as never before. Whole30 has transformed me in so many wonderful ways, which is why I do not intend to stop today. Tomorrow will be day 31 of Whole60.

May 20, 2014

Whole60 Recap: Last Friday, I completed my second consecutive round of Whole30. The two rounds couldn't have been more different, but each helped me become better acquainted with my physical body and my soul. Round 1 built me up, revealing beauty, passion, creativity, courage, and confidence I'd never experienced. After years of struggling with body dysmorphia, I no longer stepped on the scale to evaluate my self-worth or looked in the mirror with disgust. Instead, I felt beautiful, confident, and satisfied with my physical appearance. For the first time in my life, I felt capable and creative in the kitchen. I stopped fearing food and took responsibility for what I put in my body--no one else had power over me. I felt so amazing inside and out that a second round sounded easy. For the next two weeks, I was in a groove. Whole60 felt effortless. But the program isn't meant to be effortless. It is meant to change you--over and over again. Change requires pressure, and that's exactly what the last two weeks brought into my life. While round 1 made me feel invincible, round 2 tried to break my spirit. As I struggled to raise four kids, pack my house, train for a half marathon, and juggle life, I felt the temptation of old habits lurking nearby, trying to break me down by telling me food could relieve my stress. I felt guilty for snacking on carrots and strawberries, even though I thought round 1 had freed me of food-related shame. Under stress, I felt my confidence waiver and my creativity suffer. Yet, despite these mental setbacks, I held strong. Thanks to round 1, I knew I was more powerful than I felt, so even though I felt mentally and physically drained, I kept fighting. Round 1 showed me my strengths, and round 2 vetted my weaknesses. Struggling forced me to think deeply about what I wanted from "life after Whole30." Each round blessed me with knowledge and tools to help me develop a battle plan for the future. For me, Whole30 has been a journey to self-discovery more than a weight-loss plan. This is why I am such a huge advocate of the program: I believe knowing yourself is a crucial step toward developing a healthy, balanced lifestyle you can sustain over time. Whole30 is just one pathway. There are other equally good plans, and I encourage you to find what works for you.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Fitness Manifesto for 2014

I remember the moment I started feeling fat. I was in fourth grade.

I was standing in the girls’ bathroom with two friends, when one asked me how much I weighed. I paused, considering my answer and wondering why she cared. Before that moment, I never worried about my weight, but suddenly, I felt self-conscious and wondered if I should lie. What was an acceptable weight for a girl my age? What would these girls think of my weight? Did they think I looked fat?

We didn’t have a scale at home—or if we did, I never saw my parents use it. But I must have visited the doctor recently, because I knew my weight. Cornered by my peers, I debated shaving a few pounds off my answer, but I worried they would see my deception in the soft tissue of my adolescent figure. I decided to answer honestly. After all, we were all about the same height and build—at least that’s how I saw us—so my answer wouldn’t shock them.

I was wrong. My friends looked at each other, smiled, and giggled a little. Then one said, “Wow! That’s a lot!” And that was the end of the conversation. I fell silent as I watched them dry their hands and leave the girls’ bathroom. Having no other option, I followed them back to class.

From that moment on, I believed I was overweight. True or not, it’s how I saw myself. Throughout my teenage years, I went through periods of food rationing. You could not have known this by looking at me. I did not look frighteningly thin. But in my mind, I was at war with myself: struggling with the desire to be thin but believing it was morally wrong to starve myself. Craving control over my body and hating it for betraying me.

This mental battle followed me into adulthood. Over the last ten years, my weight has fluctuated up and down. But surprisingly, being thinner has never improved my self-worth or self-confidence. At one point a couple of years ago, when I was training about two hours a day, I got down to 12.5% body fat. That’s low. Very low for a woman. (I’m nowhere near that now.) I bring it up, because even at 12.5% body fat, I looked in the mirror and found things to criticize. Being thin didn’t change how I felt inside.

Fitness and nutrition are important to me. I’ve made major changes to my diet and exercise in the last five years, and I’m proud of the improvements I’ve made. But this year, as I sat down to write my New Year’s resolutions, I decided it was time to reframe how I think about diet and exercise. Time to stop focusing on being thin and start focusing on fixing my thoughts.

Below is my personal Fitness Manifesto for 2014. It begins with the origins of self-worth: my Heavenly Father, the Creator of my body and spirit. It ends with my personal motivation for staying fit: to be a better servant of God. I pray that this new focus will help me overcome the self-doubt and self-criticism that have plagued me since fourth grade.

As you work toward your own fitness goals for 2014, I hope you will also remember that your body is a gift from God. You are His. He does not make mistakes. Love your body. Honor His gift. Teach your daughters to do the same.


If you would like a copy of my Fitness Manifesto, email me at rachel_l_gainer@yahoo.com.