‘Tis the season to have potlucks! But seriously, this was a pretty tough moment for me; I wanted to show my coworkers that eating for pleasure and eating for health were not mutually exclusive. I work in metabolism research and by default, most of my coworkers are genuinely interested in nutrition and the latest science. My Whole30 has been a fun experiment for them too… with me playing the role as lab rat! At lunch we go over how I’m feeling, what I could change, and what else I could eat. This type of sounding board has kept me motivated, helped me solve my insatiable hunger issue, and came up with some of the tastier food I’ve been eating (reduced balsamic with rosemary drizzled over roasted, salted sweet potatoes!).
Another reason I like the Whole30 program is the emphasis on self experimentation and finding the best way to eat for you body and priorities. Even if you don’t have a team of PhD candidates designing your meals, it is easy to keep track of how you feel and what you’re eating with a food journal or a very good memory. Identifying areas where you can quantify physical symptoms are helpful for making clear comparisons. I used my performance at swim practice, migraine frequency, alertness/fatigue during the day, physical or painful hunger (NOT cravings), sciatica (I have some back problems) and digestion problems (do you really want me to be technical on this one?) as areas to asses how I was doing. Looking at mental or emotional changes is also important and I tried to include my mood and feelings of stress during this time. Doing experiment are fun for me and taking advantage of this time to learn more about my body has been eye opening.
A few observations:
I found out pretty quickly that I need to eat more carbohydrates, especially on days that I swim. The past few weeks I have fallen from leading my lane, to trailing the pack. I also nearly passed out while washing my hair when I was hungry… twice. After longer periods of time on low or very low carbohydrates our muscles will better adapt to the changing fuel source (your cells will almost always chose to use glucose -carbohydrates- first over fats) but since I don’t intend to live in a very low carb zone, at this time I don’t feel the need to push my body (and feel so incredibly low energy) until this point. I’ve found that sweet potatoes, squash, apples, and other startchy vegetables and fruit help me recover and have more energy during work and practice. Just to clarify- I eat at least 1 lb of protein each day and easily enough fat. I tried, and the solution for me was not to increase either fats or protein.
Don’t crucify me for this one, but I can’t help losing weight. I know the potential for weight loss brings many people to the Whole30 program but this was not my intention. When I was younger I was teased for being scrawny, overly athletic and having ‘man shoulders’. In college I certainly wasn’t immune to the fat- packing properties of cheap beer. My measurements have fluctuated quite a bit over the past decade, but I actually really like my body as it is now. I like my proportions, I like my strength (my physical therapist was blown away by my core), and I like the way I look. I don’t want less body fat, more or fewer muscles, bigger or smaller boobs, or even different colored hair. I know I’ll always be a little pear-shaped, my hair will never be truly tamed, and I’ll always look a little goofy when I walk or dance because of my extreme pigeon toes. And I’m ok with it. Really. In fact, the only reason I felt the need to write this is to convince YOU. Eating this way has caused me to lose weight without trying or control and I’m not entirely thrilled. Because of my background, I understand the mechanism behind this and have worked to counter it a bit. However, I do feel healthier, I know my body is becoming healthier during this time, and I’m trying to respect what is best for me as a whole. If my body feels best at a lower weight, I can get used to that. If it feels better at a higher weight, I can also get used to that because my goal is not to look a certain way, it is to feel a certain way.
Hunger. I am hungry a lot. For the first couple weeks I regressed to eating like an infant- every few hours like clockwork. I love snacks, but feeling hungry to the point of distraction or waking up in the middle of the night from hunger is not an ideal way for me to live. Satiation is an incredibly complicated process on many levels and there are many ways our body regulates feeling ‘full’, none of which I could attempt to discuss in one post. Luckily, my problem was in the hunger area which is currently a little less complicated. Ghrelin is a protein produced by your gut and is known to create feelings of hunger. Ah ha! A starting point! While ghrelin regulation isn’t quite as simple as what you put into your body, carbohydrates are very good at suppressing ghrelin acutely and protein can have a less acute, but longer lasting effect. After tinkering a little with how I eat, I can now make it through the day eating when I’m hungry, with fewer meals and snacks.
Back to the potluck. Everyone in the know was a little curious as to what I would contribute to the party and if it would taste like I “was on a diet.”I went simple- Curry Chicken Salad. It went over with great reviews and no one accused me of subjecting them to boring ‘diet food’! Warning- this recipe is a little intense with the prep work to make it Whole30 compliant. I made my own mayonnaise (one egg yolk, 3/4 cup macadamia nut oil, 1 tsp lime, 1 tsp water, salt to taste) and my own mango chutney (1/2 apple, 1/2 mango, 3 tbs cider vinegar, ginger, serrano chili). There are tons of recipes online for both of these ingredients and the homemade version is always better than the store bought. You can always leave out the chutney but it brings a lot of interesting flavors and smells (sweet, acid, ginger) and you’ll taste the difference.
Curry Chicken Salad
2 lbs chicken (or a whole chicken, in parts)
1 cup mayonnaise
2 tbs mango chutney
3 tbs curry powder
splash of cider vinegar
1 stalk celery, chopped
1/2 red onion, chopped
handful of grapes, cut into quarters
salt, pepper, and drizzle of lime juice to taste
*optional- 1/4 cup cashews, chopped
Season chicken parts with salt, pepper and rub with oil. Roast 30-40 minutes at 350*F then remove to rest. When cool, remove meat from bone and cube or shred depending on how you like your chicken salad. Combine mayonnaise, chutney, curry powder, and vinegar, using a food processor or blender if mango is chunky. Add mayonnaise mixture to chicken until desired consistency- I usually have a little leftover mayo mix depending on how much meat I pulled off the chicken. Gently mix in celery, onion, grapes and cashews. Season with salt, pepper and lime juice to taste. Bring to potluck. Amaze coworkers.