Last April I did something that changed my life.
In the course of 28 days I went from a Hamburger Helper loving, fruits and vegetables hater, to trying my very first orange…and grape…and banana…and red cabbage…and…
Let me back it up a bit.
I started giving serious thought to the food I was putting into my body when I was pregnant with Kate. Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution also premiered on TV a few months after Kate was born and began lifting the wool from my eyes. It was then that I decided that Kate’s baby food would be homemade. Shortly after that I started watching the documentary Food, Inc., and although I couldn’t bring myself to finish it, I could no longer ignore this glaring fact:
Nearly everything I eat is disgusting.
I knew I needed to change my eating habits, but it seemed like an incredibly overwhelming task and I wasn’t sure where or how to begin, so instead, I focused my energy on Kate and making sure she ate only healthy, unprocessed, homemade foods.
I turned into a total Nutrition Nazi when it came to her meals…while I sat next to her eating pepperoni pizza and chips. There was a huge discrepancy between my expectations for myself and my expectations for her, and I knew I wouldn’t be able to get away with this forever. As I’ve said before, the idea that Kate will learn more from how I act versus what I say is not lost on me.
But again, where to start? I’m a ridiculously picky eater who survived the last 30 years on bread, pasta, oatmeal, wine and lettuce. I didn’t eat any fruit, only a few vegetables, and nearly everything on my weekly grocery list came in a box.
At the end of 2010 I started receiving Whole Living magazine, which was a total surprise because I hadn’t subscribed to it; it just started showing up at our house. Occasionally I’d flip through its pages–skimming–not wanting to give it my full attention for fear that it’d drag me kicking and screaming from my place of ignorance to this place where I had to dig my head out the sand, really pay attention to my body, and make some hard choices.
In March of 2011, my ignorance gave up the fight and I read my first issue (from January) cover to cover. The main feature of their January issue is what they called their “28 Day Challenge.” The 28 Day Challenge was all about detoxifying your life, and while I was primarily attracted to it for the food-related part, it also focused heavily on additional aspects like getting to sleep sooner, switching to non-toxic cleaners, swapping frustration for gratitude, ending grudges, eliminating toxic relationships, etc.
I knew as I read it that this was it for me. This was my answer to my ‘where to start?’ question. Now my new question was, “Are you going to do it?”
I really didn’t want to.
I spent the next few weeks trying to talk myself out of it. I threw up all the barriers I could think of in my mind. This was going to be way too hard. There’s no way someone like me could make such a dramatic change in her eating like this. I’ll be miserable, and hungry, and bitchy. It’ll turn me into a bad wife and mother. We’ll all be miserable! Nope, there’s no way I’m doing this. Forget it.
But I couldn’t forget it.
As much as I wanted to fight it and remain in my processed food and chemical-flavored coma…I knew this was right for me. I had to at least give it a try.
I decided to start my 28 Day Challenge on April 1, 2011. The reconciliation I had made in my mind was that this was a great way to detoxify my body, see if I have any food allergies that have been previously masked, introduce myself to new foods and recipes that can be added into my current diet, and maybe cut back on processed foods. More than anything I wanted to set a good example for Kate. I had to try.
Here’s how the food-related part of the plan worked:
Week 1: No processed foods, no sugar, no caffeine, no alcohol, no dairy, no wheat/gluten.
Week 2: Gradually begin to add gluten and dairy back in, taking note of how your body reacts to these foods.
Add caffeine back in (optional) at the end of Week 2, and continue the rest of the month with no processed foods, no sugar, and no alcohol.
The first two days of what I called “my detox” were by far the hardest. I kept getting awful, awful headaches, which I don’t think were caffeine-related because I wasn’t a daily caffeine drinker and had actually skipped having caffeine the day before I started the detox. I searched out my symptoms on Whole Living’s website and discovered that my problem was I wasn’t eating often enough to keep my blood sugar stable. Once I made that slight adjustment the headaches disappeared, and I found the rest of the month to be surprisingly easy!
After my first week of being off caffeine, I noticed that I had more energy than I think I’d ever had in my life when I was on caffeine. And it was even energy too—not bursts of energy followed by fatigue, like I used to have. I felt great and apparently looked great too, because I was suddenly getting a lot of unexpected compliments:
“You look so well-rested!”
“Something’s different about you…did you get your hair colored?”
“Your skin looks amazing!”
The biggest surprise for me was that (other than wine) I wasn’t battling any cravings! It was like my body knew that it was getting everything it needed. This really blew my mind.
I also recognized early on how quickly I jump to food as my reward. This revelation came after a challenging morning with Kate. I remember thinking, “Ugh, what a tough morning. I should stop and get a Starbucks. I totally deserve it.” Any other time I would’ve done just that, but doing this challenge made me actually stop and think about what I was going to put into my body and why. What a light bulb moment! I also noticed how often I turn to a glass of wine at the end of my day as a stress-reliever or to unwind. With wine being off-limits during this 28 Day Challenge, I was surprised to find that chopping vegetables and preparing foods for the next day or upcoming week—a must in order to be successful with this challenge—became my replacement stress reliever.
One of my biggest goals with the 28 Day Challenge was to introduce new foods into my diet, and I was really proud of myself for how many new foods I attempted. The following is a list of what I tried as a result of this detox that I had never tried before:
Oranges (love them!)
Blueberries (not a fan)
Almond Butter (not bad)
Kale (great in a smoothie)
Banana (also preferred in a smoothie)
Strawberries, blackberries, raspberries (no thank you)
Grapefruit (hit or miss)
Red cabbage (I like!)
Fresh Ginger (I had to YouTube how to peel and cut it)
Tea (I like)
Sweet Potato (yum)
Beets (no thank you)
Brussels Sprouts (I like!)
Lentils (no thank you)
The food aspect of the 28 Day Challenge was such a drastic change for me that I focused almost exclusively on it, and incorporated only a handful of the mindfulness tasks here and there. I have to admit I did cheat on Easter Sunday (the end of week 3) by having some wine and Easter candy, but other than that I stuck with it!
At the end of the 28 days I felt incredible.
It had changed my life.
It’s been nearly a year, and my diet still consists primarily of whole, unprocessed foods (for me “processed food” means any food with an unnatural ingredient). My brain seems to be programmed so that if it’s told it can’t have something, it wants it even more, so I have to tell it that nothing is “off-limits”—even if it’s processed. If I really want it, I’ll go ahead and eat it—just not much of it, and not very often. I call it my 80/20 plan. Eighty percent of the time I eat whole foods and 20% of the time it’s okay if I don’t. If I want a plate of French fries, I’ll eat a plate of French fries. If I want a Dorito, I’ll eat a Dorito. I think it’s this balance that has helped me remain successful.
And now I think it’s time for a booster! After the holidays, Kate’s birthday party, and a particular rowdy weekend in New Orleans’s with some girlfriends (more on that to come!) I think it’s time to give my body a break and help get my year started off on the right foot. Whole Living has recently rolled out its 2012 Mind & Body Challenge, and I’m eager to give it another try. This year’s plan is slightly different, but I’m up for the challenge and am again looking forward to trying new foods and recipes.
That said, I am still feeling all of those same fears and anxieties I felt before starting the 28 Day Challenge last year. I’m sure this is totally normal, but to give myself that added accountability I think I’ll need, I’ve decided to live out this year’s 28 Day Challenge on my All Things G&D Facebook page, posting my meals and other mind/body challenge activities I’ll be doing throughout the month. Feel free to “like” my Facebook page if you haven’t already done so, and follow along!
Better yet…do the 28 Day Challenge with me! I plan to start on Monday, February 6th (the plan recommends a Monday start). Who’s in?!