I’ve suffered from headaches most of my life. It’s something I assumed would always be part of me. Earlier last year, the frequency of headaches picked up and I began my quest to figure out why. I went to the eye doctor, really cut back on alcohol, and did my best to get 7-8 hours of sleep a night. When the headaches persisted, I looked into whether my sinuses or allergies might be a factor and finally, my stress. I began meditating, taking walks in the morning, and weaned myself off of 5-6 servings of caffeine a day (2-3 cups of coffee and diet cokes).
Although my headaches were less frequent, I still wasn’t feeling great. Something was off in my body; my energy levels and sleeping patterns were all over the place. I hired a nutritionist who worked with my friend Laurie and came highly recommended. He put me on a “healing plan” of sorts, an elimination diet that involves no alcohol, dairy, grains, soy, and sugar for 90 days. It’s very similar to Paleo or what seems to be all the rage on Instagram these days – #whole30.
I’m often asked, “If you can’t eat all of those things, what *can* you eat?” The answer is a lot. Unlike other diets I’ve tried, I’m not calorie counting, I’m not hungry, and I’m not even really cooking a lot. For the most part, I’m just eating proteins, fruits, and vegetables and avoiding a lot of condiments, dressings, and sauces that have tons of sugar and processed ingredients. I recommend books like Practical Paleo, which offer a lot of easy to follow recipes and a clear explanation of why certain foods are good and bad.
For breakfast I make omelettes with different vegetables, bacon, and sweet potato hash (so yummy). Lunch is usually a salad, sometimes with repurposed ingredients from breakfast (e.g. leftover avocado, sweet potatoes, roasted vegetables). And dinner is a protein with a vegetable.
Here I am 45 days into the program and I can honestly say I feel incredible. I sleep through the night and wake up feeling well-rested. I have more energy throughout the day, clearer skin, and a smaller waist. I was already working out before I started the program, but it wasn’t really until I changed my diet that I started to have more productive sessions with my trainer. In fact, I graduated this week to real push ups (no knees!) and I managed to dead lift 125 lbs. Things that I never thought I was capable of doing all of a sudden feel within the realm of possible.
What’s been the most profound impact is actually my PMS or lack thereof. No more mood swings, headaches, cramps, fatigue, and insomnia. This alone makes this lifestyle change worth it. I’m literally getting 4 to 5 days of my life back a month, which adds up to as many as 60 days each year! Why didn’t I do this sooner?
If you’re considering switching to Paleo or giving a Whole 30 a try, here are some things that have helped me cope along the way:
- If you’re hungry, eat. The worst thing you can do is make your body think you’re starving it. Never let yourself feel deprived.
- Instead of thinking that you’re taking something away by not having it, think of all of the nutritious and healthful things you’re *giving” your body instead.
- If you’re at a party and are feeling pressure to drink, order a seltzer and lime and tell everyone you’re drinking a gin and tonic if they ask.
- Pick up snacks before getting to the airport.
- Know what you’re going to order before you go out to eat.
- When ordering at a restaurant, tell the waiter or waitress what your restrictions are so they know how to modify your order if necessary.
- Cook in bulk so you have leftovers to eat throughout the week.
- Get used to eating the same foods over and over again. Meal time is less of an experience and more of a utility.
- Tell everyone in your life what you’re doing and why. Ask them for their support if they encourage you to cheat. (Thanks to all my friends and family for not being assholes about this!)
This whole process so far has taught me how to rethink my entire relationship with food – from what I eat, how its made, where it comes from – and how that really can affect almost every aspect of my life (sleep, energy, stress). The next challenge will be my month in Mexico City where I’ll be resisting the urge to consume queso, corn tortillas, and other delicious things on a regular basis. It’ll be a challenge for sure, but I’m committed to the path that I’m on. Although I love experiencing all different types of food, I’m loving the way I’m feeling even more.