This week, I have been doing an overview of basic nutrition for my FLAG group. Introducing the topics of the foundations of a balanced plate (protein, complex carbs, and healthy fats), and portion control. Last night, I was writing about how to eat for workouts, and that got me thinking about how I started to learn about nutrition. I had a long history of diets, and fads, and quick fixes, but when I found Whole30, I discovered there was so much about food I didn’t know, and that sparked a passion in me that has led to this page as well as my FLAG program where I work to share what I have learned, and spread the knowledge of the power of food to fuel your body, and drive your health.
My path to getting healthier and losing weight goes back to childhood. Early on, it was a battle with my favorite pair of jeans, and in university, I shifted my thinking more towards getting healthier. I didn’t understand the power of real food, but I did have the common sense to know that a constant diet of take-out, instant noodles, white rice with teriyaki sauce and frappacinos wasn’t exactly brain food. So, I started to modify the typical Standard American Diet (SAD) that most of us eat. I swapped out the processed white foods for whole grains and I switch everything to low calorie-low fat, and stepped up the artificial sweeteners. I was told this was better for me but I sure didn’t feel much better. I still had alarmingly high cholesterol, everyday I experienced that afternoon energy crash (I was known for sleeping through lectures, or at my desk), my joints were tight and achy, and my food allergies were skyrocketing. You know that 3 pm slump where not even coffee and chocolate can save you!? I felt like that was my life..
I didn’t equate any of that poor health, or feeling miserable to food though; I just thought it was normal to feel this way. I didn’t have a clue what my body needed, or what mixed signals I was giving it by cutting out all the healthy fats, loading up on the artificial sweeteners, and don’t even get me started on the added sugar I was getting in my foods!!! (and let’s not talk about that stash of “emergency chocolate” in my desk either!!!)
It was so frustrating, and I constantly blamed my failures to stick to a plan on my lack of self control, and beating myself up for that made it even more demoralizing. I had no idea that a huge part of the problem was that I wasn’t giving my body the fuel it needed. I was in a constant fight with my body and I was losing..
I was coming from years of doing the cookie-cutter programs.. you know the ones with those celebrity endorsements and shiny packaging that make it all seems easy and possible if you just stick with it for a little while. Of course, in the back of my head I knew that those celebrities have teams that keep them on track, but marketing is tricky and I still fell for it. If it wasn’t a cookie-cutter program, then it was the fad diet of the year.. I wasn’t getting any closer to getting healthier, and every time l lost 20lbs or more, I gained it back, plus interest. It was a downhill slide.
I didn’t understand what was wrong though because I grew up with food, and cooking, and I was sure I was smarter than the average bear when it came to knowing how to eat. I had a lifetime of experience doing commercial cooking, which is basically professional meal planning, and my food was always popular and exactly what the customers wanted. Who doesn’t love home-cooked food, and tons of baked goodies? A successful contract for me was measured by knowing that everyone went home a few pounds heavier than when they arrived. If you have ever had cooking lessons from your grandma, you probably learned something similar! I also have a strong background in science.. I was on my way to a PhD!! With all those courses in biology, anatomy and physiology, I thought I knew the mechanics of it all pretty well, right down to the cellular level. So, with all this experience.. you couldn’t tell me I didn’t know food!! I didn’t realize then how little I knew, and it wasn’t until I found Whole30 that I began to realize the power of food, and the real meaning of nutrition.
I’m not going to sugar-coat it… being lazy, and looking for the easy way out was more often than not my problem, but it wasn’t as simple as just will-power either. First of all.. I had to really WANT TO CHANGE, and that didn’t happen until my life turned upside down and I had to make the choice. Then I had to learn HOW to make the changes, and it turned out I didn’t even know what I didn’t know. I didn’t realize I was trapped in a cycle of poor nutrition that wasn’t feeding my body, just my excuses and my poor self-image.
Skip ahead many years to 2014.. ….My coach challenged me by saying I had problem with sugar. I was determined to prove that he was being totally ridiculous, so I decided to do a Whole30 to show just how good I really was at this eating thing! By this point, I was regularly running 10K, working out 3-4 days/week, and eating MUCH healthier. I had no idea the learning curve that I was about to experience!!! The first thing that shocked me was just where all that sugar was hiding, and that I didn’t really know what “whole food’ was. There is sugar in EVERYTHING!!!!! Ok, that was manageable, and I got on board with making my own sauces, and coffee with almond milk. Then, about 2 weeks into the Whole30, everything changed for me during a 8K race. At this point, I’m confident that I’m eating well, and training hard, so I knew 8K would be no problem for me.. and it was in my favorite park. I was planning for a fun run, probably going to PR my time.
I will never forget that race….at 2.4K, I hit the wall.. HARD. My legs felt like I couldn’t lift them, I had no energy, I had to walk the hills, my body wanted to quit, and every part of that run was agony. I pushed hard and did it.. slowly.. by the finish line, I was dizzy and felt sick. The Whole30 had cleared the brain fog enough already for me to recognize that was my body telling me something was wrong, and I wasn’t feeding it right. So, I started a food journal to look critically at what I was eating, when I was eating it, and hit the books to find out what I could be missing. I started to notice the cravings, and now that it wasn’t always just sugar, I noticed cravings actually meant something!! It turned out, I was only getting about 1/3 of the protein I needed in a day (no wonder my hair was falling out.. I thought that was just stress!!), and I needed some vitamins and supplements for my medical conditions. You can’t live on sweet potatoes, almond butter, and coconut cream after all!! It was a huge shift in my thinking. The SAD eating had taught me to bulk up my plate with carbs, and that fats were bad, and the signals in my body were all mixed up. That race lit in me a passion for understanding proper nutrition, eating to fuel your body, and how to cook real food!! It was a life turning moment, and while the Whole30 changed improved so many aspects of my health, one of the biggest Non-Scale-Victories was that Whole30 changed the course of my life and helped me find my passion.