I stuffed two, three, four freshly baked peanut butter cookies into my mouth. Each one topped with mini-Reese’s morsels.
Frantic, I couldn’t inhale them fast enough. What missed my mouth crumbled into my lap. I didn’t care.
Until I realized what I was doing. I can’t have these, I thought with a shot of panic. I spit the cookies out as quickly as possible, hoping the sugar hadn’t yet coated my insides.
That’s when I woke up. It was just a dream.
Apparently these crazy food dreams aren’t abnormal during Whole30.
I was only a few days into the clean-eating program, but it had already consumed my life.
No dairy. No grains. No legumes. No soy. No alcohol. No processed foods. No sugar.
Why was I doing this? Well, my coworker had wanted to give the program a try. To keep her accountable, she pitched a number of stories on the matter. When she solicited support, I initially shook my head to the tune of a firm no.
I’m not sure what changed my mind. It could have been some of the mutterings around the office. That’s impossible. No way. At first I agreed. Then some weird competitive streak that lives deep, deep down inside my soul must have surfaced. Also, to be honest, I'd just felt really bad about my stomach — the way it hung when I fell asleep on my side.
I decided to start after my Labor Day weekend spent in Chicago. My body was full of deep-dish pizza, sour beer and cheesy tater tots. Back to reality — straight fruits, vegetables, meats.
(Side note: You’re supposed to ease yourself into this thing. It’s like giving up anything else; the cold turkey way is going to dish out some gnarly side effects… see more about that below.)
I spent most of my time that first week either wandering the grocery store (my first haul took two hours because who knew everything has sugar in it) or making a mess in the kitchen.
I experimented with things like chia seeds and coconut milk, spaghetti squash and zucchini spaghetti. At least once an hour I Googled, “Is this Whole30 compliant?” These searches usually led me to the Whole30 discussion board, which included threads upon threads of bickering and moderators telling people that they’d failed and needed to start over — even if they were 28 days in.
I became consumed with every particle of food entering my body. I studied the dozens of names for sugar. I usually played it safe. That first week consisted of dry spinach salads and vegetable soup. (But do you know how difficult it is to find chicken broth that doesn’t contain sugar or additives?!) I sipped peppermint tea when I was bored and popped frozen grapes to alleviate dessert withdrawals.
Overall, I felt pretty good those first few days. I felt optimistic and determined. The main complication? My stomach. For some reason, despite all the fiber I was eating, my bowels chose to freeze up for a few days. Maybe they were panicked, scared straight. Anyways, that proved slightly uncomfortable. After that, well, everything was loose.
OK. Moving on.
I’d say I started hitting a wall on day three. You’re thinking: Already? Well, this was due, in part, to sweet Hurricane Irma. My family evacuated on my day three. Leading up to that, I prepped food and stocked up on compliant baby food and protein bars — just in case. “Just in case” happened, and for several days I relied on these squirreled stores.
Boiled eggs. Apples. Lara bars. Cashews. Grapes. Cold mashed sweet potatoes. Butternut squash baby food.
I was close to giving up.
As soon as I returned home, I spent some quality time with Publix. The mostly good news? No one wants healthy food when they have to evacuate for a hurricane, so I was able to round up a few options.
I felt better about thats, but my emotional and mental state wasn’t too pretty. I cried. A lot. Sad cries. Angry cries. Frustrated cries. “I’m so over it” cries.
Sure, many of these tears stemmed from stress, but I also have no doubt Whole30 had a little, teensy something to do with it. I mean, I nearly had a meltdown one night when I realized I’d grabbed the wrong vinaigrette for my salad — the one that had sugar. No wonder it’d tasted so good. That was day 16. I refused to start over.
Things didn’t get easier until day 21 or so. I must have just blacked out around that time. I thought less about food. I’d passed up so many delicious treats and meals that I knew I had to continue on — in the name of that key lime pie I’d resisted. I also weighed myself, which you aren’t supposed to do during Whole30. But watching that three-digit number drop motivated me. Some might call it vanity; I say whatever it takes.
I also had my go-to meals at this point: chia seed pudding, bun-less burgers with avocado and tomatoes, and chicken salad. It was fine. I was fine.
On day 27, I attempted to eat out, like, at a real restaurant. My poor boyfriend trailed me from restaurant to restaurant as I studied each menu in the window. I settled on a new tapas spot. The host boasted free happy hour drinks. I scowled. Then I ordered an arugula salad with pears — the real pears, not the canned syrupy stuff; I asked. I mixed and matched it with an appetizer. Shrimp with garlic and salt.
No sugar, right? No dairy? No hidden stuff? What cooking oil is used? The waitress was over it.
A few days later, I hit the end of day 30. I’d lost about 10 pounds (four of which I immediately gained back when I ate a piece of bread — at least that's how it seemed). I felt good. More than anything, though? I was really, really proud of myself. Normally, my willpower, on a scale of one to 10, hovers at about a two. This time, I’d made it. I’d resisted chocolate. Cookies. Milk. Cheese. Pizza. Cheese pizza. Everything I love.
And even looking back, two months later, I still feel prideful. I’d count Whole30 as a 2017 win.
But would I do it again? On day 30, I felt extremely motivated. I told myself I’d continue Whole30 during the week — only splurging for a meal here or there on the weekends. That quickly festered out when I made a pizza for dinner on day 31. (You’re supposed to ease out of the program, but I just accidentally went kind of hog wild.)
Since then, I’ve had probably five more pizzas. And I’m not really remorseful about it. I’ve also started eating grains again — not all of which are bad for you. And beans. And — gasp — I even made corn salsa. Sometimes I get crazy and drink a glass of milk.
But honestly… Whole30 was a great challenge, and, because of that, you’d have to do some serious convincing to get me to partake again.
Also, peanut butter cookies.