What I’ve Learned From 21 Days Of The Whole 30 Diet

I’m day 21 on the Whole 30 diet and several things have occurred to me:

  1. I feel markedly better
  2. I am a massive sugar addict
  3. This diet masks a tremendous amount of privilege

Let’s start with the positive — I do feel a distinct difference in my mood and people have commented on the way I look. Not that I look so much skinnier as I look brighter, happier. I have more energy and am able to make better choices because of the discipline of such strict limits: no sugar, no grain, no dairy, no alcohol, no fake sugar.

That’s forced me to drink more water, which has forced me to have to get up from my desk much more to walk down the hall to the restroom. This has created a pleasant result of painlessly incorporating the advice from the NY Times to work for a bit, move around for a few minutes, work again, then repeat. And I do feel happier. That’s partly the diet and partly being able to stay with my intention to be more present.

Which leads me to the next item: sugar. To my horror, I’ve discovered that the stevia I dumped into literally everything, including coffee, tea, over grapefruits, and packed into the protein bars I was eating, is banned in the Whole 30 diet.

Getting rid of stevia hurt almost as much as getting rid of chocolate, which hurt as bad as giving up red wine. And when I say “hurt,” I mean made me feel physical withdrawals worse than the nicotine I gave up eight years ago. Headaches, trouble sleeping and concentrating, irritability, and a lingering feeling of dissatisfaction centered on feeling like I was missing something or deprived of something. And I was. I was deprived of sugar in all of its forms except fruit. It’s cold comfort to drink peppermint tea and eat blueberries when I want dark chocolate and glass of red wine.

More than anything, this diet has revealed the extent of my dependence on sugar to cope with stress, boredom, sadness, and as a prop for social gatherings. It’s been quite literally, a shock to the system.

However, that sense of deprivation has sensitized me in a way I haven’t been and in a way that makes me feel ashamed and selfish. It’s created an awareness of deprivation in others and heightened my empathy.

I wasn’t aware of how much I’ve been numbing myself, particularly in the wake of the election. The more I numbed, the more I wanted to be numb. That all seems well and good until you realize that those feelings go somewhere. They’re an energy that gets stored inside my brain and pushes to be noticed. Deliberately numbing them is somewhat like deliberately blinding myself to the pain and need of others.

And I do that to not only my detriment, but to the detriment of any sense of community or peace or healing I might desire. And as it turns out, the Whole 30 has forced me to see how much privilege it masks. To do the diet well enough to fit it into my schedule, I’ve had to reconnect with cooking meals. It’s a good thing I not only like to cook, but know how to cook and how to shop for the lesser-bought foods it calls for like Swiss chard, spaghetti squash, beets, nut butters and coconut oil.

Being able to shop for and cook these meals means I have the privilege of time, which I hadn’t really noticed as a luxury before. I have time on the weekends and work a normal day with time left over to make food for the next day. Even having the time to plan such an endeavor as a restrictive diet is a privilege, not to mention the means to purchase all of it.

The restrictions mask another privilege — the ability to choose my calories. I live within walking distance of a grocery store and a health food store, both of which stock organic produce and meat in addition to their regular counterparts. Both of these combine in the privilege of having the financial means to buy more expensive food. To have the choice of eating a sweet potato, the privilege of an education that taught me to read and be able to navigate nutritional information. To think critically about how chemicals affect my body.

Finally, this diet has had the unintended consequence of being a spiritual practice for me, and no one is more surprised about that than me. I don’t mean to sound preachy or self-righteous. I know how easily I fall for and develop new interests, passions, and obsessions. I don’t expect to enter a monastery and become Pema Chodron anytime soon. I don’t even expect to stay a halfway decent version of my petty, anxious self. But most of all, I’m grateful for the spiritual cleanse of this diet.

Image Credit: Brooke Cagle/Unsplash

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  1. Isn’t that interesting how we truly are what we eat? I try to eat clean, but fell off the sugar wagon big time after the election. And so, I begin again.

    I hadn’t thought about the points you made about privilege. Some interesting food for thought. Sorry, I couldn’t resist the pun!

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