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On being a high-maintenance eater. AKA My FAILeo Diet.

<em>“Not the Cape May lump blue-claw crab cake with creme fraiche, fried quail egg, oestra caviar, duck confit, and peach con frutti again?!!”</em>
“Not the Cape May lump blue-claw crab cake with creme fraiche, fried quail egg, oestra caviar, duck confit, and peach con frutti again?!!”

My name is Stephanie, and I’m a high maintenance eater. I was vegetarian for ten years, and have been eating gluten free for the past few years, and have always sought out healthy, organic, sustainable food, but eating clean all the time is hard. It takes discipline, readily available and affordable good food, and preparation. Allow me to recount some recent circumstances where Paleo turned FAILeo.

On the road:
I took a 10 day road trip to visit some friends in Utah (Neena!) and Arizona, then Los Angeles and the Bay Area. Yay! Oh wait, what to eat? I realized a week before my trip that it was probably too late to order Primal Pacs. So I picked up some nuts, dried blueberries and jerky at Trader Joe’s. The jerky was organic beef and wild-caught salmon, but they both have sugar. (Side note – my dog also likes to eat Paleo, go figure.)  My sister in law hooked me up with some of beautiful eggs from her pastured chickens, which I brought to Neena’s. (But I also brought tequila, shhhh.) This was not enough food for all the hours of driving.

GAS STATION FOOD IS NOT FOOD!! Walking into a gas station convenience store hungry is almost tear-inducing; it is so frustrating for a high maintenance eater to be surrounded by “food” with nothing to eat. I have elited (made up word) myself out of pretty much every “food” offered commonly everywhere. No grains, (no chips, pretzels, sandwiches, donuts) no sugar, soy, hydrogenated oils (candy bars, drinks) or dairy. I don’t buy the jerky because I don’t know/trust the source, plus it often has MSG, sugar and other evils. And the fruits and nuts (forget peanuts, they are legumes) – well, I just imagine them sprayed down with pesticides and skip it. I did drink a Starbucks vanilla coffee drink and ate an Almond Snickers bar by the end of the trip.

I drank with friends. Shocking. Actually, nearly every day. Sigh.

StephyD has been embarking on the lovely adventure of online dating. On the VERY RARE occasion I find someone even remotely datable and agree to meet, I prefer to not show ALL my crazy at once. I may reveal that I like to eat healthy food and have a food blog, but don’t go TOO much into my orthorexia. So in the interests of seeming “normal” I might have a cocktail or glass of wine. Or a Jack and Coke, popcorn with Peanut M&Ms and basket of steak fries with ranch dressing. Hypothetically speaking, of course.

(“Orthorexia nervosa” is the informal name of an eating disorder – more precisely, an aberrant eating pattern – defined by an extreme obsession with healthy eating food.  According to an article in The Guardian, the term was coined by Steven Bratman, MD in 1997. He combined the Greek “ortho” – straight and correct – with the medical prefix “orexia’ – appetite –  to describe a “pathological fixation on proper eating”. 

People with orthorexia may feel virtuous about their “good” food choices, but vile and self-loathing if they should stray.  They may spend hours and hours planning what to eat, and opt for nothing if the right food is not available.  The Guardian says the pattern is typically seen in “well-educated, middle class, adults over 30”…who have rigid rules about which foods are pure and good. The pattern may start with food allergies and diets where foods are systematically eliminated until only a small number remain.  Excerpted from this article. OMG this is me!)

Eating clean – an unhealthy obsession or the only sane option to optimize health? Anyway, I’m back home and happy to have more control over my food choices, even if the choice of men around here is some slim pickin’s.

[Cartoon from the New Yorker, April 2, 2012 print edition, by Harry Bliss]

The Dish on the Whole 30

Here is my wrap-up of my Whole30 experiment, complete with embarrassing before and after pictures! The Whole 30, brainchild of Dallas and Melissa Hartwig, is a dietary reset plan stemming from the paleo community. Their book It Starts With Food spells out how and why it can be amazingly transformative to spend 30 strict days without sugar, alcohol, grains, dairy and legumes, while focusing on REAL food – lean sustainable animal protein, good fats (avocado, olives, coconut oil, ghee) and lots of organic vegetables (and some fruit and nuts). After 30 days you can gradually reintroduce different foods to see how you feel. It’s the ultimate experiment, with your body and mind as the subject.

Before I started the Whole30 program on January 1, 2013, I had reached the heaviest I had EVER weighed. EVER! I’m not going to share the number, except it ended in a 3. Here is a “before” picture. I realize I don’t look all that fat, but I felt puffy and bloated. I was drinking too much, eating too much sugar, and my energy, sleep and moods were all over the place. This picture was taken on Maui in October. Another Mai Tai or 3? Sure!!

Before Whole30
Before Whole30

When my friend (and co-Evolving Dish blogger) Neena told me about the Whole30 and It Starts With Food, I jumped at the chance. Mostly I just wanted to lose some weight and give my liver a rest. I have a wheat allergy so giving up grains isn’t a big deal for me. And I can take or leave dairy.

The first week was ROUGH, I won’t lie. I had headaches and was tired and cranky. Sugar is a nasty, needy, persistent scorned bitch and it wanted back in my life! It is like Glen Close in Fatal Attraction. “I won’t be IGNORED, Stephanie!” But I kept with the tough love approach (it’s just 30 days, I kept telling myself) and had signed up for the daily Whole30 encouraging emails, which really helped. Pretty soon, I started feeling GOOD. I was sleeping well, had lots of energy, and yes, my clothes were fitting better. But the most significant change I noticed was in my moods. I was . . . happy.  No mood swings. I began to realize that what I thought was a melancholy default for me might be attributed to my sugar and alcohol consumption. Yikes.

After the Whole30:

  • I lost 10 lbs and am back to my “normal” weight (also ends in a 3) – and you know what? I kept thinking I wanted to lose even more weight and get to this much lower mythical weight (also ending in a 3) but I’ve decided to let that go. SERIOUSLY. Life’s too short. I will be 44 in April, I don’t hear ANYONE complaining when they see me naked ; ) and I will be happy if I maintain this weight. So for the first time in my life “weight loss” isn’t a goal.
  • I had the energy to resume running and to start to get back in shape.
  • My insomnia is gone.
  • And the biggest change of all – when I eat this way, I am happy.

Right after my 30 days (well, 29.5, if I am being completely honest) I binged on alcohol and sugar. A few times last week. And the mood swings and fatigue started right back up. I have decided to eliminate sugar again. And the alcohol? Well, that’s a more inconvenient truth – but I will definitely be more mindful about my consumption. In summary, this has been a fantastic experiment and journey that I recommend for anyone wanting a “do over” on their eating habits! Thank you all for your encouragement during this time : )