One of those things you often hear people say around January 1st is ‘New year, new you’. I’ve never really subscribed to the notion that the changing of the date on the calendar is some sort of magical time where change is any more or less possible than during the rest of the year – but as it happens, this year, I find myself making a big change. In this case, it’s less about ‘new you’ and more about ‘get back to feeling like the old you’.
For the last few months, I’ve been struggling with quite a few gastro-intestinal problems. Mostly this comes out as bloating and a lot of gas, occasionally in other ways (I’ll spare you the unpleasant details). I’ve been to see my doctor, who thinks it is IBS (irritable bowel syndrome, the catchall term for gut problems that can’t be explained any other way) although I’m awaiting some blood test results as I write.
Personally, I don’t like the idea that my life can now be run by a syndrome which seems to have no definable cause (‘stress’ is the suggestion, which is true to an extent, but doesn’t seem like the whole of the story) and no obvious cure. It struck me that if I’m having problems with my digestive system, the place to start would be with what I actually put in there in the first place.
I’ve never been known to have any allergies, food intolerances or bad reactions to food – in fact, I’ve always rather prided myself on my iron stomach. That has changed, and I am sick of it. Just to illustrate the problem, the photo below was taken after dinner a few nights ago, and no, I am definitely not pregnant. All of that is bloating and air. Not a good look on an otherwise slim girl.
No, that is not a baby.
So I’ve decided to take drastic action. I’d heard about a programme called the Whole 30 from Modern Mrs Darcy – a kind of nutritional restart button, said to get all the bad out of the system, let you get back to normal, and from there work out what might be causing the problem. It’s a type of exclusion diet – which doctors do recommend for trying to diagnose food intolerances, although mine thought it was too early for that.
I disagree. I think it’s exactly the right place to start, because food is so fundamental to everything that goes on in the body. The programme seems well researched and is designed to exclude anything that could be causing inflammation or adverse reactions in the body. That means: no added sugar, no grains, no dairy, no preservatives or additives, no legumes, no soy, no alcohol. The full list of things can be found here.
What can I eat? Meat, fish, eggs, vegetables, fruit, nuts and seeds. Technically I’d be allowed caffeine, but I’m cutting that out too. (I don’t drink that much coffee; tea is my main caffeine source, and I’m British, so I’d rather go without tea completely than drink it without milk.)
I can’t deny this is going to be a huge challenge, which is why, rather than starting on Jan 1st when I was still away and surrounded by Christmas junk food, I’m starting tomorrow, January 6th. I’ve been furiously reading and preparing for the last few days. Bear in mind, my staple diet normally, although not unhealthy by some standards, does include plenty of rice, pasta, bread and dairy. Cutting all those things out, and working out what to eat instead, isn’t easy for someone who’s never had to watch what she puts in her mouth before.
I’m determined though. Whole 30 reports great success in getting people’s digestive systems back in order, and even if food isn’t what’s causing my problem, going through this process should help me learn a lot about how what I eat affects me. If I get to the end of thirty days and find I’m still having stomach problems, I can at least rule out gluten, dairy and all the others as potential intolerances. On the other hand, if I feel a lot better, I can add things back in slowly and see what works and what doesn’t.
Today, Sunday afternoon, I spent three hours prepping ingredients and precooking food, something recommended by Melissa Joulwan, an authority on Whole 30 cooking. It felt odd to be cooking so much in advance (I normally make everything from scratch just before I eat) but I can totally see why it’s necessary for this – no one wants to be chopping veg at 7 o’clock in the morning. I had my first compliant meal this evening, as a headstart, and I think I’m ready to experiment with something for breakfast that isn’t toast or cereal.
Chocolate chilli with butternut squash, sweet potato and green beans. My first Whole 30 meal.
The other benefit of doing this now, and not waiting, is that I’m off work at the moment (more on that story another time) and so spending a bit more time morning and lunchtime shouldn’t be a problem. We’ll be limiting our going out almost entirely, and I plan to put off any dinner invitations from friends until after the thirty days are up.
Wish me luck!