My Whole30 :: favorite resources

I finished my Whole30 earlier this month but still have lots to say about what made it doable and even enjoyable for me. I’ve heard from lots of folks who are interested in possibly giving this a go, and who have asked for more information. If you are only here for the knitting, my apologies! I promise I am not turning this into a food blog (though from the beginning, I’ve always shared my foodie adventures here). There will be knitting content coming soon! Maybe even a finished project!

I blogged about my Whole30 experience here (note about the title of that post – I know that “real food” means lots of things to lots of people. What I mean when I say “real food” is “unprocessed” – food as close to its natural state as possible.) Whole30 is a concept started by the people at Whole9 – it’s a short-term nutritional reset “designed to help you put an end to unhealthy cravings and habits, restore a healthy metabolism, heal your digestive tract, and balance your immune system.” The basics are: no sugar (or any other added sweetener – natural or artificial), no dairy, no grains, no legumes. You basically cut out the stuff that can lead to inflammation, imbalances, and cravings. So what do you eat? Plants and animals! That means egetables, fruits, nuts, eggs, and meat.

so much yum!

so much yum!

The entire program is outlined and explained in the Hartwig’s book It Starts With Food: Discover the Whole30 and Change Your Life in Unexpected Ways. I bought this book last spring, and loved it – it is so sane and balanced and straightforward. But it took me several months to actually take the leap and try the Whole30 – I honestly didn’t think I could really do it (especially letting go of sugar). I’m still surprised at how manageable I found this to be. I still refer to the book regularly and would highly recommend buying it if you are even considering exploring or experimenting with this way of eating. But the Hartwigs are cool – you don’t have to buy their book to get the basic information and support to give this a go. You can check out all the steps, and even get forum support, on their Whole30 site.

Their approach laid the foundation for my nutritional reset, but there were actually a few other resources I found absolutely invaluable. Actually, I would say there are three women who became my mentors, in a way: Melissa, Michelle, and Steph. It’s funny, a lot of the first writings that introduced and popularized paleo were written by men. But these three women (in addition to the Hartwigs) are the ones that made it work for me.

Melissa Joulwan – Her book, Well Fed: Paleo Recipes for People Who Love to Eat offers a really great, efficient approach to meal preparation. I am not going to lie – if you do Whole30, you will spend a lot of time in the kitchen. If you aren’t eating processed, prepackaged food, there is just no way around that! But Melissa shows you how to make it work with what she calls “weekly cookups,” so that you have the building blocks of great meals in your fridge during the week. I haven’t mastered her approach, but even what parts of it I’ve been able to do have helped so much in terms of being prepared for good eating, even during busy weeks. My work schedule always involves night meetings and weekend responsibilities; even so, I found preparing my meals to be totally doable, thanks in large part to Melissa.

It’s her approach to cooking that’s especially helpful in this book, but the recipes are fantastic, too. Some of my favorite recipes from this book include Chocolate Chili (YUM – I like to add shredded, sautéed sweet potato to the top), Waldorf Tuna Salad, Olive Oil Mayo (I had a paleo mayo fail before finding her recipe and its easy, step-by-step instruction for getting the emulsion right), Caramelized Coconut Chips, and Sunshine Sauce (not a Whole30 recipe unless you can find sunflower butter without added sugar).

Also check out Melissa’s blog, The Clothes Make the Girl, for great recipes and tips. Last month, she offered some weekly meal plans for Whole30, based on her Weekly Cookup concept.

Late in my Whole30, I decided to purchase Melissa’s newest book, Well Fed 2: More Paleo Recipes for People Who Love to Eat, and I took advantage of Amazon’s new (to me) feature – I bought the book in paperback and Amazon offered me the option of spending an additional $2.99 to get the Kindle version as well. Score! I love having actual books to hold in my hand, especially when I’m first getting the feel of a book and its recipes, and especially if it has great photos (as this book does). But I prefer using my iPad when I’m actually in the kitchen. I have a tiny little kitchen, and a cookbook that has to be propped open can take up precious space, whereas my iPad fits perfectly on a little shelf up out of the way. One thing I love about this book is the delicious array of sauce recipes. Love me some sauces and dips!

Michelle Tam. Oh, NomNomPaleo, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways. I found Michelle’s site last spring and have been obsessed with her recipes ever since. She’s hilarious and her approach to cooking is just so fun. I love the whole aesthetic of her site, too. I purchased her app last spring and it is AMAZING. I can hardly express how much I love this app for cooking. Better than a cookbook, in a way, because of how easy it is to find exactly what you need, exactly when you need it. The app operates seamlessly – no extra steps involved in finding what you’re looking for or flipping back to what you were just looking at. It includes pictures of every conceivable cooking step. It has a whole section for all the recipes that are Whole30-approved (a lot of them). It’s got a Paleo 101 section that I still refer to often, and it even includes suggestions for 30 days of meals.

Even though I have the app, I asked for and received Michelle’s new book for Christmas. Nom Nom Paleo: Food for Humans is fantastic. It’s so much fun to look at and read – even my kids enjoy looking through it. The cartoon figures of Michelle’s kids (saying funny things) are very appealing to them. One of my sons also just loves saying, “Nom Nom Paleo!” at random times. The book has many recipes that are not in the app or on Michelle’s website. I’ve made a lot from this book but also feel like I’ve barely scratched the surface. (Now that I’m off Whole30, I specifically can’t wait to make Mexican Pot de Creme!) Michelle is also really active on Instagram, and it’s fun to interact with her there (and I have a total fangirl reaction whenever she “likes” one of my food pics!).

Michelle has too many great recipes for me to name, but probably the one that has become my biggest go-to recipe (I make it at least 3-4x a week) is for frittatas made with whatever meat and veggies are in the fridge. Here’s the one I made yestereday morning:

Brussels sprouts, sweet potato noodels, roasted chicken frittata (with hot sauce)

Brussels sprouts, sweet potato noodles, roasted chicken frittata (with hot sauce)

Stephanie Gaudreau – I stumbled onto her site, Stupid Easy Paleo, last fall, when I was looking for a great pot roast recipe. Her recipe for Crock-Pot Mocha-Rubbed Pot Roast certainly fit the bill and immediately became my go-to pot roast. LOVE it so much. From there, I discovered many other wonderful recipes on her site, as well as lots of great information and encouragement. Steph is also really responsive to any comments left on her blog, which is super. She just released a book earlier this year, The Paleo Athlete: A Beginner’s Guide to Real Food for Performance. I haven’t finished reading it yet, but I am loving it so far – very practical and helpful, with great recipes. Her recipe for Sweet Potato-Applesauce Mash has finally converted the one holdout in my house (one of my sons) to loving sweet potatoes. YEAH.

I have lots more to say, as usual, but I’ll stop for now, except to add a couple more notes. I know some people who are vegetarian are interested in exploring this. The Hartwigs do address this in their book – it is doable, contrary to popular belief. Also, if you are someone who would like to explore paleo but want to include cheese (which I believe is considered “primal”), I would recommend checking out Mark’s Daily Apple.

I need to add that none of these people know me. No one asked me to write this post and spread the linky love around. I’m just wanting to give a little shout-out to the folks who helped me the most, and to share these resources with others who might benefit from what these people have to offer.

So, what about you? If you have tried Whole30 or have been eating Paleo, what and who are some of your favorite resources?

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30 Days of Real Food :: My Whole30 Experiment

Last spring, I read It Starts With Food: Discover the Whole30 and Change Your Life in Unexpected Ways
*. I’m always mildly suspicious of anything that promises to change my life, but I was interested in the Whole30 because of what some of my friends had to say about it. I balk at the word “paleo” – the term is so faddish, and so hyped, and so loaded. But what the Hartwigs have to say is so sensible, and not at all hyped. Their approach is just really sane. What’s more, they focus not just on food stuff, but several factors that contribute to a healthy life (check out the 9 factors they emphasize on their Whole 9 website). You can read about the Whole30 for free on their website, without having to buy the book, if you’d like. I wanted the book because it presents all the rationale behind their recommendations. It is an easy and compelling read.

When I first read the book, though, I wasn’t in a position to try to give Whole30 a go. We had just moved out of our house due to flooding, and life was chaos. It stayed that way for the spring, the summer, and the early part of the fall – and then suddenly it was the holidays. In the meantime, I began to read some Paleo blogs and experiment with some recipes (in a future post, I will talk about some of my favorites). I found other voices of reason in the Paleo community there – people who are not so much looking back at how our mythical ancestors ate as they are looking at what seems most healthful now.

Over the holidays, I decided I would try to give the Whole30 a go after the new year. Actually, I shouldn’t say I thought I would “try” – the Whole30 folks are very clear that you just have to decide you’re going to do it, and then do it. (Yoda would be proud – do or do not, y’all, there is no “try”!)

The Whole30 focuses on a diet based on real, whole (i.e., unprocessed) food: meats, eggs, vegetables, and fruit. There is: no sugar (including artificial) (the only sugar you eat is what occurs naturally in fruit); no grains; no legumes (including peanuts); no dairy; and no alcohol. Also, no paleo-fying of baked goods or junk food.

I really, really thought this would be hard. And it really, really was not.

I thought it would be hard because I love sugar. No, I’m serious. I LOVE sugar.

just a spoonful of sugar

just a spoonful of sugar

I can’t count how many times over the last seven years I have given up sugar, or tried to. And in most cases, it has been a battle – I’ve never been able to do it without dealing with crankiness, cravings, and cavings. So I was entirely unprepared to find this so easy!

I should back up and say a bit about my efforts in the past at clean eating. Over the years, I’ve been everything from vegetarian, to vegan, to veganish, to something close to fruitarian (very briefly! following Doug Graham’s 80/10/10 – it’s basically lowfat raw vegan and I hated it), to total carnivore, etc. When my kids were toddlers (they are 9 now), I read Dr. Joel Fuhrman’s Eat to Live: The Amazing Nutrient-Rich Program for Fast and Sustained Weight Loss, Revised Edition
and I really liked it, it made sense to me. His focus is on eating a high amount of veggies (1 lb. raw greens, 1 lb. cooked veggies), plus fruit, beans, and nuts (he does allow one serving of either oats, brown rice, or sweet potato a day). He calls this a nutritarian approach (focused on the nutrient density of food). I have tried this, with varying degrees of consistency, for years. In some ways it was very good, especially in focusing on whole, real foods. But I found it very difficult to sustain – in addition to no sugar (other than fruit), he advocates for limited oil (1 tablespoon a day) and no salt. My family just couldn’t make this leap (I barely could myself), and I found myself constantly having to cook multiple dinner options. I was also hungry a lot and dealt with serious cravings for sugar, grains, and salt. Even on my best ETL days, I would find myself diving into a bag of veggie chips by 4:00pm. (Please no haters. If you do ETL and it works for you, great! I know lots of people who have done it and never looked back, and they enjoy good health and good weight maintenance. I have finally come to terms with the fact that it’s not for me.)

In retrospect, I believe that in my previous efforts to eliminate sugar, I wasn’t getting enough protein and fat to feel satisfied. I was probably also eating too much fruit in proportion to the amount of veggies and protein I was taking in. With the Whole30, I am frankly stunned at how easy I found it to go without sugar and grains (the other stuff – dairy, legumes, alcohol – are not things I usually find particularly hard to give up, in comparison), and I think it has to do with feeling so completely satisfied with the food I’m eating. My meals leave me feeling full and sated, and I feel sustained from one meal to the next. Plus, they are super yummy.

look at all the pretty colors

look at all the pretty colors

A lot of people have asked me about what positive impacts I’ve noticed from eating this way. Here are a few:

1. Mood. In general, I’m usually a pretty happy person, but I also find that, typically, my mood fluctuates a lot in a day – I become impatient or irritable or anxious easily, and sometimes I react out of that. But during this Whole30, I noticed that my mood has become remarkably stable. I don’t have many peaks and valleys during the day – just a nice steady feeling of calm, happiness, and openness. I feel grounded, centered – and great! At first I thought maybe I was imagining all of this, but my husband confirms my sense of things – he has definitely noticed a positive difference on this count. I won’t attribute all of that to diet – I’d like to think my spiritual and relational practices also support a sense of calm and goodwill – but I do feel that what I’m eating has made a significant difference. I’m guessing it’s because I’ve gotten unhooked from the highs and lows that go along with eating sugar.

2. Energy. The same with my energy. A remarkable consistency. I’m not feeling any mid-afternoon drop in energy, the way I often do. In fact, I’ve completed quit having an afternoon cup of coffee – that was not a daily habit, but one that was frequent enough (maybe 3-4 times a week), that I noticed when I quit. And I didn’t set out to quit, I just realized I didn’t want it and I didn’t need it. My energy and mood are so even, I don’t want to mess that up with afternoon coffee. I feel as good and energetic at 2:00pm and 9:00pm as I do at 9:00am.

3. Organization. I have done a lot of cooking over the last thirty days – a lot more than I typically do – and it’s been easier than it ever has. Somehow this approach to food just makes sense to me in a way that is making all the planning, preparing, and cooking, just click. Ordinarily, my enthusiasm for time in the kitchen waxes and wanes. But with this approach to cooking and eating, I am finding just the right balance between structure and flexibility. I have found it really easy to have the building blocks for great meals in my fridge, and, while I do make a meal plan each week (and shop accordingly), I also improvise regularly, based on what I’m in the mood for and what I have in the fridge. I hope to write more about this soon.

4. Detachment. The best word I have for this is “unhooked.” As I’ve already noted, I feel unhooked from sugar and (equally surprisingly) grains. It’s not that I don’t find myself occasionally wanting something sweet, but when that happens, it happens without any serious emotional attachment. I can think, “Hmm, I would really enjoy a spoonful of Cookie Butter right now,” and that can be that. I can just acknowledge that without being hooked by it, and doing some sort of internal battle over whether to get into the jar of Cookie Butter. On this count, I should note that I did not do the recommended thing of getting rid of  all temptation. I still have Christmas candy (my own, in addition to my kids) in my pantry. I still have jars of Cookie Butter my husband put in my Christmas stocking. I never felt tempted to get into any of it. I even baked things for church events – brownies, a trifle – and didn’t find myself mindlessly dipping into the raw batter. I think this is related both to the fact that I am just supremely satisfied (physically and emotionally) by the good, real food I am eating, and to the fact that my mood is calm enough to take an internal step back and be mindful about things. Pretty cool, huh?

I should note that, while some people talk about experiencing the “Carb Flu” during the first days of starting Whole30, I actually never experienced that. And it wasn’t because I hadn’t been eating tons of carbs right before starting. I mean, it had been the holidays, and frankly, if a food had sugar or grain in it, it was in my mouth faster than you could say, “Merry Christmas.” I probably ate a little more fruit those first few days, which may have helped ease the transition for me, who knows.

5. Body. Yes, I also lost weight and fat. As of this morning, I have lost 8 pounds 4 ounces in the last 30 days. That’s how much I weighed when I was born, so I told my husband that I had lost a “baby me.” HAR. I’m hilarious, I know. I also lost one percentage point of fat, which is small potatoes, but I’ll take it (it might be hard to tell, because I carry a lot of my excess weight and fat around my midsection, which is fairly easy to camouflage, but I have plenty of fat to shed) (though perhaps I need it like a layer of protection during this arctic winter!). The Whole30 folks emphasize that weight is not the only (or even main) determiner of health, and I agree. But I’ll be honest that I would like to be a little closer to what I consider my ideal weight. Thanks to the Whole30, I’ve made a good start.

So. For now, that’s my Whole30 report. I actually have a lot more to say (about resources I’ve found helpful, about some favorite meals, about what I did when I had to eat out), and I’ll be posting about this more soon, but I think this is quite sufficient for now. As I’m sure is clear, I am very, VERY happy with how these 30 days have gone.

Which begs the question, now what? People have asked how I am going to eat now, will I keep going, etc. The Whole30 people walk you through a ten-day plan for trying some of the foods you’ve eliminated (not sugar, but legumes, gluten-free grains, grains with gluten), and I may give that a go. Long term, I’m thinking I want to eat Paleo-ish, with some exceptions for special meals or occasional treats. My wedding anniversary is next week, and I will definitely be having a nice meal out that will include some grains and sugar. We have extended family visiting later this month, and I’m already planning some of the goodies I will be baking. But I’m imagining that, long-term, I will be Paleo maybe 85% of the time? Maybe more? We’ll see. I just feel too good and am enjoying my food too much to get hooked back in to lots of sugar and grains. And after years of starting the day with a green smoothie (unsweetened almond milk, pomegranate juice, flaxseed, raw almonds, banana, raw baby spinach, frozen blueberries), I have to say that I am really loving eating a hot egg- or meat-based breakfast that holds me till lunch and doesn’t spike my blood sugar. This morning, I’ve started the day with turkey sausage, carrot soup, and a clementine.

A couple of weeks ago, someone said something very condescending and dismissive about Paleo, concluding by telling me that she subscribed to Michael Pollan’s advice: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” I can tell you unreservedly that this is exactly what the Whole30 has had me doing. Even with all the meat and eggs, more than half of my diet come from plants (I’d guess 8-9 servings a day of fruit+veggies, with – ideally but not always – twice as much veggies as fruit). I’m eating far more fruit and veggies than I ever did in my years as a vegetarian, and I’m eating at least as much as I did for the years I tried to follow ETL. I feel healthy, happy, and good.

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baked :: Paleo Kale-Blueberry Egg Cups

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Just as I’m not actually a vegan but I make a lot of vegan things, I’m not actually Paleo, but I’m interested in Paleo food. I like to cook, I like to eat, I like to experiment with different ways of eating. As part of my self-education in Paleo eating, I’ve been spending some time ready Stupid Easy Paleo. It’s a great blog, with loads of good-looking recipes. One in particular that caught my eye over the weekend was the recipe for Blueberry Kale Omelette. I tried it, and it was DELISH. I love blueberries, I love eggs, I love kale, so what’s not to love?

It’s seriously not as strange as it might sound. It is an extremely yummy combination.

But I don’t usually feel I have the time to whip up omelets on a work day, so I experimented with a different approach. I am very pleased with what I came up with.
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Paleo Kale-Blueberry Egg Cups
Adapted from the Stupid Easy Paleo recipe, this recipe makes 12 muffin-sized baked egg cups. Eat a few and put the rest in the fridge for the next few breakfasts. Or share them all with your fam, and have none left over. It’s easy to whip up a new batch again tomorrow!

9 eggs
3 T coconut aminos
1 small bunch kale, washed and shredded
1 1/4 C fresh blueberries (or frozen, thawed)
coconut oil for your skillet

1. Preheat oven to 350. Line muffin tray with silicone cups or foil muffin liners.
2. Melt the coconut oil in skillet over medium heat. Add kale and sauté for 3 minutes, until wilted.
3. Add blueberries and sauté another 2-3 minutes.
4. In a bowl, whisk eggs and coconut aminos together.
5. Using tongs, distribute kale-blueberry mixture evenly among muffin cups. Pour egg mixture on top, just to edge of each cup.
6. Put in oven, bake 25-30 minutes, until toothpick or knife inserted into muffin comes out clean.
7. Remove from oven, let stand 3 minutes. Then dig in! YUM.

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I’m really happy with this easy and delicious way of starting my day. After years of mostly starting my day with smoothies, I appreciate a good hot breakfast. And I always love starting the day with greens and berries.

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If you try them, I hope you like them!