What I learned on my Whole30 journey

denise-cortes-pearmama-whole30-journey

Thirty days without sugar, grains, legumes and dairy sounds crazy but Whole30 has transformed my life and the way I view food.

Let’s jump this off by saying the Whole30 program is a complete mental trip.

They say that changing what you eat is the first step to enlightenment. And I don’t mean the open-your-third-eye-praise-the-universe type of enlightenment because I don’t believe in that. What I mean is, Whole30 has given me such a degree of mental clarity that I was finally able to see things for what they really are. It proved to me that I could do what I set my mind to. It was proof I could conquer food, instead of it conquering me.

Crazy, man.

But, let’s start from the beginning. I started Whole30 very apprehensively, wondering how I was going to prepare myself three Whole30-compliant meals a day, aside from the meals I prepared for my family. I worried I was going kill my food budget. I was afraid if I had to eat out, I’d fail miserably.

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Fear, worry, apprehension. Three feelings I was used to comfortably sinking myself down into over the years. Somehow, I found this reserve of courage that said, look woman…you’re doing this…it’s something you need to do for yourself…everything will be okay.

So I did it.

whole-30-before-after-denise-cortes

Before and after.

Thirty days of clean eating without any dairy, sugar, grains or legumes. I did it and you can, too.

What I learned during Whole30

Food was my best friend.
I was comforting myself with food. Like, big time. I had a flight or fight response when it came to food. Whenever I felt angry, sad, worried, anxious, my first instinct was to rush to food. At least, that’s where my mind went. As the month progressed, I could clearly see the correlation between my stress levels and my food cravings. Marital issues were a big trigger. The moment after Michael and I would exchange heated words, I could literally feel the pull to put something in my mouth. It was scary but once I could recognize what it was and where it was coming from, I could process it and keep it under control.

I was starving for nourishment.
Sounds like an oxymoron, doesn’t it? How can an obese person possibly be undernourished? I discovered that the habit of withholding food from myself because I was too fat, because I had overeaten the night before, because I was trying to “be healthy” was a problem. I drank smoothies, ate fruit and toast and that’s it. I ate very little to no protein. I would totally limit my food until the late afternoon, when I was so exhausted I couldn’t think straight. In the evening, all bets were off.  I stuffed myself with food to catch up — popcorn, pancakes and fast food munchies — and it lasted until I went to bed at 3 am or so. This is not easy — admitting this feels much like the dream where you go to school and you realize you are butt ass nekkid because you forgot your clothes.

Detox ain’t no joke.
The first week of Whole30, it felt like I had been in a boxing ring. My whole body ached, my thighs felt like I had hiked fifty miles and all I could do was collapse into an exhausted heap on the sofa. And the gas, oh my gawd. I had to ask my family for forgiveness because ya’ll — the farts were serious. In the process of my gut healing itself, I was running to the toilet all day, too. This dissipated somewhere around day 8, thankfully.

Diary is the devil.
Well, at least for me it is. I love cheese but it never loves me back. Throughout the thirty days, cheese is one of those things that I kept obsessing about. Goat cheese, sharp cheddar, burrata, marinated mozzarella, cotija, queso fresco — oh my dear, sweet baby Jesus. But let me tell you how dairy has affected me over the years. I have chronic sinus issues and suffer from the most uncomfortable sinus infections. Things had gotten so bad that I could no longer breathe through my nose — I had become a serious mouth-breather. Sometimes when I was chewing food, I felt like I was going to die because I couldn’t chew and breathe at the same time. I also stopped seeing the dentist about two years ago because it felt like I was drowning as I sat back in the dentist’s chair. It’s practically impossible to breathe through your mouth and have them clean your teeth and use that water pic at the same time! It would give me so much anxiety that I just stopped going.

TMI moment: I was continually pulling these nasty, dried bloody boogers from the walls of my nose. They were coming off in layers and it was both gross and fascinating to me. Around day 10, I pulled out the last of them and I began to breathe clearly through my nose for the first time in years!

Eating clean is satisfying.
It’s shocking, actually. During my thirty days, I never once felt like I was starving. I didn’t feel deprived, even when I had to attend an event at Disneyland for their upcoming Diamond Celebration and they had a dessert reception. No cheesecake pops or white chocolate-dipped rice krispie treats in the shape of Mickey ears for me. That stung a little, I can admit it. But I was amazed that as long as I ate my balanced three meals which contained adequate protein, good fats, plentiful veggies and some fruit, I wasn’t driven to “cheat”. There was no need — I was satisfied. I had steak, roasted veggies, hamburgers, delicious soups, ceviches, stir fry, guacamole, big salads with homemade dressing, etc.  Amazing.

Giving up sugar is hard.
I was addicted to sugary beverages — just call me a sweet tea hoe. That was probably the hardest thing to give up. To this day, I’ll sip a La Croix water and mumble, this would taste better only if it was a little sweeter. It’s like an involuntary mantra. The heavens opened up for me the day I discovered Sweet & Spicy herbal tea by Good Earth. I stopped drinking coffee months ago but still enjoyed my daily tea habit, infused with cream and honey. This herbal tea was naturally sweet and gave me just what I needed to survive. When Trader Joe’s stopped carrying it I thought I was going to burn the place down in revolt.

I wanted to quit.
It was on day 5. The thought just randomly popped into my mind. It was late and I was grocery shopping. Meal planning for seven other people besides myself became just too much for me to bear in light of the stress of detox, my kids, my strained marriage and trying to build my business. I abandoned my shopping cart, went home and took a bath. The next morning I was rested and ready to tackle life all over again.

RELATED: When You Decide to Do Whole30 But You Have 6 Kids

I’m worth it.
Years of self-medicating with marijuana and food had given me a low opinion of myself and my self-worth suffered. Now, if you had asked me a couple years ago, I wouldn’t have believed this. Instead, I would have given you side-eye and a neck roll. Um, no boo-boo, I am curvy and fabulous and my man loves me this way! But years of marital strife, financial strain and the stress of raising a family in the midst of all that changed everything for me. I stopped caring for myself because I felt like my partner stopped caring for me, too.  I began to notice my kids adopting the same kind of attitude — like mom was just here to serve them, wash their laundry, drive them around, buy them stuff etc. I grew tired of being everything to everybody and no one caring enough to respect me.

But it was my own fault. I didn’t have enough self-respect to require it from anyone else.

Over the years,  I tried to do things for myself health-wise but it always seemed selfish or unattainable. This is what happens to a mother — she loses herself in her family. You pour so much of yourself into your children and your husband that they become your identity. But one day you just come up empty and there is nothing left to pour into anybody else. When I could no longer rely on their love to provide me with a sense of self, I was faced with the reality of what my life had become. And only I could change it.

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Doing this round of Whole30 showed me how important my health is, how vital it is for my quality of life. I wasn’t a proper wife and mother when I was stuffing my body full of junk to numb myself. It also encouraged me to stand up for myself. I adore my children but I had let them know I wasn’t their slave. I love my husband and told him I’d go to the depths of the Earth for him but I deserved to be treated with respect and if things didn’t change, we’d be living separate lives.

I had to take this radical step of self-love.

It felt like a weight had been lifted from my shoulders, both literally and figuratively.

Yes, I lost weight and I lost inches, but for me, doing the Whole30 was not about losing a bunch of weight and therefore, achieving happiness. It’s about loving myself enough to take care of me.

Of course, perfect health can’t be attained in thirty days, so I’m continuing this lifestyle and I’ll continue to share my journey with you. For starters, I’m also over at Mom.me, talking about How I Survived the Whole30. Go and check it for more tips on how to make this program work for you.

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What I learned on my Whole30 journey

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There are 5 comments

  1. Lisa

    Amazing and awesome post! I can relate to losing one’s identity in my hubby and kiddos. The last few years, I’ve been slowly trying to figure out who the heck I am and putting my needs front and center now and again. At the beginning of this year I splurged on my health. I went to see a nutritionist (that uses NRT), started eating (mostly) Paleo and taking supplements. I’ve lost approximately a pound a week. I get full faster and snack less. Food used to dominate my thoughts and now I have to remind myself to think of it. It is now a fuel for energy and healing for my body. It has quit being my comfort, my stress relief and my god. I never thought I’d be perfectly content having my spaghetti sauce over spaghetti squash and skipping the garlic bread, but I am. It’s pretty much a freaking miracle LOL

  2. Faith

    I was researching Whole30 and found your blog post. My husband and I are starting this on Sunday. I’m excited, but I keep having doubts that I’ll be able to get through the whole month. But your post really encouraged me. So thank you! Good job and good luck as you continue on this new lifestyle.

  3. Betsy

    Wow. This is so inspiring. Of course, the revelation you had about not respecting yourself and not getting respect in turn, and losing your identity in your family really resonates. Well done, Mama.

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