Wednesday, March 4, 2015

T-5: It's a Whole 30 Pre-Party!

(This post has no recipe.)

Well, friends. Today marks -5 days until my Whole 30 Challenge. It has already revealed itself as a total emotional roller coaster and I haven't even gotten beyond meal planning and reading the fine print.

On the meal planning front, what's been a challenge is juggling my competing efforts to (a) ease myself into the deal by eating more Whole 30-compliant meals this week... (this one's close, minus  the quinoa and a few marinade ingredients on the roast)...


...and (b) purge my kitchen of all cheese, beans, and grains so that they aren't staring at me come next Monday, daring me to just add a little quinoa and feta to my dinner plate. I'm not a waster though, so purging means eating. I can't eat all this risotto (or better yet - leftover risotto cakes) AND a paleo dinner!


And then the fine print keeps getting me. Right when I think it will be manageable -frankly, my meal plan, which so far covers 16 days, is deliciously killer - I learn that snacks and smoothies are frowned upon and my canned tomatoes should not be preserved with citric acid. But then Lara Bars and Sea Snax are okay? The rules are somewhat arbitrary - the creators of the program concede that - but they are really big on freedom in form. If they allow us wiggle room, we'll be more likely to compromise the whole thing with all the wiggles we'll accordingly allow ourselves. Better to be strict so I know what to do and then am more (not less) empowered to do it. This all speaks to me big time. I was once a wanna-be performance artist / would-be theater academic who idolized the likes of Anne Bogart and Jerry Grotowski and their powerful anti-comfort messages: we can't create, learn, or stretch ourselves without going without. No pain no gain. But, you know, with more academic words. So, same beliefs, different sphere: now I'm not considering the problematization of the text but I'm avoiding the banality of dairy and the beautiful lies of wine and sugar. For thirty days anyway. And maybe a masterpiece will ensue. (At the v. least, I'd better shed a few pounds. I anticipate that I'll be hungry, especially now that I know I can't have snacks (just Snax) or smoothies.)

Oh were just one person to get all the dorky jokes in that paragraph, my life would be so much more complete!

All jokes aside, I want to state a few of my goals and reasons for doing the Whole 30 Challenge. Talking about food baggage is so important to me, is such a significant part of how and why I teach, it's only fair that I share where I'm at here, right? So, if you are interested, and have an hour, please enjoy the following:

I am not being paleo to be paleo. (That was another Jerry Grotowski joke. I can't stop myself!) Frankly, I think a long-term paleo diet is, unequivocally, a bad thing. (Yep, that's a value judgment. I went there.)

From a health perspective, I am not persuaded by the research supporting a grain- and legume- and dairy-free diet. People have evolved in different ways around the world to tolerate a diverse diet, and I for one pretty well tolerate legumes, grains, and dairy, although I could use less of the latter than what I'm currently consuming. (Check out this National Geographic article, relevant to this post in several ways.) My more-vegan-than-paleo biases preclude my ever agreeing that this and this and this are less-than-ideal meal options. Because, really, all that meat? No thank you. First of all, I don't even like meat. Second, nobody in the history of the world, except (I'm quoting aforementioned N.G. article now) "in the Arctic, where Inuit and other groups traditionally got as much as 99 percent of their calories from seals, narwhals, and fish", has eaten the amount of meat that the Whole 30 plan promotes. Finally, in-support-of-paleo studies notwithstanding, the general consensus is still that too much red meat will probably kill you. (Another quote from article: "Recent studies confirm older findings that although humans have eaten red meat for two million years, heavy consumption increases atherosclerosis and cancer in most populations—and the culprit isn’t just saturated fat or cholesterol. Our gut bacteria digest a nutrient in meat called L-carnitine. In one mouse study, digestion of L-carnitine boosted artery-clogging plaque. Research also has shown that the human immune system attacks a sugar in red meat that’s called Neu5Gc, causing inflammation that’s low level in the young but that eventually could cause cancer. 'Red meat is great, if you want to live to 45,' says Ajit Varki of the University of California, San Diego, lead author of the Neu5Gc study.") 

The other big thing for me is the earth and its 7 billion mouths to feed and counting. While my least noble food choices are based on convenience (cheese sticks, applesauce), my most noble are based on a desire to be part of a sustainable food system. And, while the science about meat and our bodies might involve some controversy, there is no controversy about the environmental impact of eating meat. (And clarified butter, for that matter - do the math! Feed a big hungry heffer, milk the heffer, butter the milk, clarify the butter. SO. MUCH. WASTE.) Carbon footprints aside, there's simply not enough meat to go around. I'm also not super comfortable with all the paleo love lavished on coconut and plantains. The coconut I buy from the Wedge Co-op is from Thailand. I don't think I evolved to need something from Thailand. My plantains are from Colombia. So is my mom, so maybe we are actually a good pair (they sure make good grain-free tortillas), but I still feel the right thing to do is eat veggies from the midwest whenever I can (preserved with a little citric acid if need be). At the end of the day, I decided to procreate. I consider it my corresponding responsibility to eat and feed my family a diet that has as little impact on the world's resources as possible. Am I perfect at this? Heck no. We sure do enjoy the occasional coconut and plantains, and quinoa and bananas are grocery staples for us. But we mostly eat a vegetarian diet at home, mostly for the sake of earth. In case you are wondering: I think a locavore approach to the South Beach / "Mediterranean" diet is probably best all around, for humans and earth. Uh-oh: if you live in Minneapolis, does a locavore version of the Mediterranean diet mean walleye and lutefisk? (It does not. I believe healthy cooking and lye are incompatible.)

Now you say: So the Whole 30 Challenge basically makes no sense for you?

And I continue, in my typical wordy fashion: Not exactly. You see...

What I like about the paleo/Whole 30 approach is the higher level aspiration to basically cut the crap. We eat pretty crap-free here, all in all. My children eat vegetables and I can rely on them to uncomplainingly devour at least ten different healthy-ish dinners that we rotate in the same organized manner your mother and my mother embraced when they were feeding us. But still, we regularly eat sugar in some form or other (typically maple syrup), I drink half-and-half in my coffee every morning, we default to a cheesy evening meal at least a couple times a week, and MC and I enjoy wine with and/or after dinner more nights than not. A diet re-set will force me to see beyond the habits, to stretch me both in the kitchen and in my head to reconsider my go-to's. (It already has and I am still only in the meal-planning stage.) Additionally, I'm curious. I'm going into this with an open mind (well, not so open that I'm going to eat a ton of meat after my 30 days expire, but maybe more (Seafood Watch-approved) fish and salad?) and I am excited to see what goes on in my kitchen, in my body, in my brain. Food is powerful - a truth I have seen firsthand (and even worse, secondhand!) in humbling and frightening ways (including accidental nut consumption at a fundraiser Saturday night! it appears I will not be outgrowing my tree nut allergy...) - and I'm hopeful that the Whole 30 Challenge will teach me even more than I already know about what's best for my own body.

Towards those ends... there's no time like the present. Literally. Our health is pretty good and I have no acute agenda to obsess over in this process (other than of course the perpetual dream of 10 pounds disappearing magically from my thighs). I'm in better shape (though I'm certainly not my lightest) than I've been since I was a 13-year-old gymnast, so I am v. body- and energy level- aware right now, which will hopefully allow me to notice even the not-hugely-obvious changes that I'll go through, like how food as fuel affects me pre- and post-workout. Also, as a family, we've given up dining out for Lent, which will eliminate the whole restaurant conundrum. And finally - it will be good blog material, I'm sure, and good class material, as I get asked a lot about this kind of stuff and, being a home chef rather than a nutritionist, I only have so much to share. Now I'll have more.

Want to do it with me!? Day 1 is March 9th. 

P.S. This took forever to write. I haven't proofread it at all. Sorry.

P.P.S. Tomorrow: meal plan for first week, with some recipes/links.


  1. Edith. I have Matron of Honor Duties in 15 months, and I am looking for a good jump start towards my weight loss goal. I will say that you have wet my whistle. Tempted my tummy. I am seriously intrigued and am considering this. But I need someone (you) to make it super easy for me. Like....what are you making for every meal, and what is your shopping list, and is this going to break my bank? Please advise. And maybe I'll jump off the bridge with you...

    1. Nic! I will try to address all these questions in a post. I have similar concerns and also ideas on how to mitigate. If you want to try it out in a month, I could keep my receipts and everything and give you a more detailed accounting at the end of my Whole 30, so you'd have real facts rather than my theories. Also, I have another post in the works, addressed directly to you.