As I entered remission and finished my chemotherapy treatments, I started to wonder what my new normal life would be like. What do I need to change in my life now that I’ve had cancer?
I thought about how I should eat better. I think about this a lot actually. Like every time I eat fried chicken or ice cream. I usually just ignore it because 1) I love food, 2) I figure I’ll just work it off by exercising more, and 3) for the last 9 months I was pregnant so I gave myself a free pass.
But as I approached my last chemo treatment and was in remission, the thought kept coming back to me. I need to improve my quality of life. I need to take better care of myself. I thought about it more and started thinking of more reasons why now was the time to start implementing changes to my life.
I got a second chance at life. This was the biggest factor. With chemo done and being in remission, I feel compelled to improve my quality of life. Like the old saying goes, “you are what you eat”. I should try to fuel myself with better quality food and less unnecessary stuff. And most importantly, perhaps this will help decrease the chances of cancer reoccurring too.
I needed to revamp my relationship with food. I eat when I’m happy. I eat when I’m sad. I eat when I’m bored. I eat when I had a bad day. I eat when I had a good day. See a theme here? I love food, especially snacks (Cheetos!) and sweets, and can’t say no to them. And once I start, I can’t stop! If there’s an office potluck, holiday meal, or birthday party, I’m always filling my plate. I’m a hungry girl who loves to try all foods. I need to improve my eating habits. You may be thinking, “you’re not overweight and you work out a lot, so what’s the big deal?”. The constant snacking, sugar cravings, and lust for food is a vicious cycle I can’t seem to escape. Fueling my body with junk just continues to perpetuate it.
I needed to start cooking again. For four months, I never had to cook because of generous friends and family who provided meals to me and my family. This was so helpful to us and we were sad to see it end, but it was time for us to get back on our own feet. I enjoy cooking, but I knew that I’d go back to making the same old things if I didn’t invest some time in furthering my cooking skills. I needed to improve my meal prep skills if I was going to be returning to work soon too.
I’m on maternity leave and won’t be tempted by food at the office. My work has food everywhere. If it isn’t someone bringing in donuts or tamales for breakfast, then there’s leftovers from a catered meeting. Or there’s a social event with cookies and ice cream. Or there’s the vending machine that’s stacked with chips. We even have something called “Whatever Wednesday” where we rotate bringing in food. There’s easily accessible food everywhere at my work… and I have no self control.
Since we have a newborn, we’re eating out less and eating at home more. We’re not going out to restaurants or many social events while Joel is a newborn, so I’ll be less likely to be tempted by food.
And last, it wouldn’t hurt to lose some baby weight. I’m not talking about the baby weight from my pregnancy with Joel because I hardly gained anything with him. This is the baby weight I gained from my pregnancy with Camila that I never lost (oops). I’ve never pressured myself to lose it since I worked out regularly and was pretty healthy (before cancer), so I felt okay in my new mom body. But eventually I knew I wanted to lose it.
Making a Change with Whole30
All the factors above led me to Whole30. I had heard about Whole30 before, but I figured it was another diet. As a fitness instructor, I’m embarrassed to say I’ve never been able to diet before, mostly because I don’t have the willpower. I try to eat sensibly to offset my indulgances. I wasn’t sure how I was going to change my eating habits when I love food so much.
I bought the Whole30 book on Kindle and began to learn more about it. It’s actually not a diet, but a “short-term nutrition 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” (source: Whole30 website) done over a 30 day period. The changes I needed to make were more than about weight loss so this seemed like the right kick in the butt I needed. Additionally, Whole30 doesn’t limit portion size or macronutrient intake, require food logging, or counting macronutrients, which was important to me. And for all the reasons I listed above, now seemed like the right time to do it. And let’s face it, there’s never a good time to diet. There was also a quote in the book that resonated with me.
This is not hard. Don’t you dare tell us this is hard. Fighting cancer is hard. Birthing a baby is hard. Losing a parent is hard. Drinking your coffee black. Is. Not. Hard. You’ve done harder things than this.
I had just done two of the three hard things they described above. Now I felt like I really don’t have an excuse not to try it or that I couldn’t do it. So for 30 days, I ate nothing but whole, real foods. I eliminated “the most common craving-inducing, blood sugar disrupting, gut-damaging, inflammatory food groups” (source: Whole30 website). What are these foods?
- Dairy (good bye ice cream)
- Legumes (this includes soy and peanuts, which was really hard)
- Alcohol (not a big deal for me since I’ve been without alcohol for the last 9 months when I was pregnant)
- Grains (no rice was very painful for me)
- Added sugar, real or artificial (not even honey is allowed!)
- Carrageenan, MSG, or sulfites (additives commonly found in processed food)
You’re probably wondering what’s left for me to eat. Basically, it’s meat, seafood, eggs, fruits, vegetables, spices, and fats like certain oils and ghee. It is very similar to the Paleo diet for those familiar with it. If you want full details on then Whole30 program rules, you can find them here.
I’m trying really hard not to make this TL;DR, so let’s cut to the chase. It’s challenging to eat this way unless you’re going to be okay with cooking a lot of your meals. Most packaged stuff has some sort of sneaky additive (like sugar or soy). Most restaurants cook their food in some sort of oil that’s now allowed by the Whole30 program or have sugar. It takes a lot of effort to eat this clean for a single meal… much less for 30 days. But it makes a big difference and can be done. Here are my gains.
- Lost 6 lbs (without even trying to diet)
- Lost 2 inches in my waist
- Less bloated (flatter stomach and rings fit better)
- More vibrant appearance (according to Sherrie!)
Mood, emotion, and psychology
- More happy, patient, and optimistic
- Less anxious
- Improved self-esteem
- Fewer sugar and carb cravings
- Feeling in control of my food
- Fall asleep more easily
- Sleep more soundly
- Higher energy level
- No more mid-day energy slump
- More energy to exercise
- Not cranky when I don’t eat
- Need less sugar and caffeine to boost energy
Food and behavior
- Healthier relationship with food
- More mindful about what I eat
- More aware of reading food labels
- Fewer cravings
- Not using food for comfort or stress management
- More color, variety, vitamins and minerals in diet
- Not a slave to carbs and sugar
Lifestyle and social
- New recipes and foods eaten
- Healthier eating habits to pass down to my family
- Improved cooking and meal prep skills
- More knowledgeable about nutrition
My Whole30 experience has opened my eyes to how food makes me feel. No, I will not be eating this way forever (that’s not the program’s intention), but I will be more conscientious about what I eat. Previously, I would have been so guilty of eating basic grocery store birthday cake because it’s being served, even when it’s not even that great! Instead of inhaling a cheesecake and then feeling guilty about it, I’ll savor it on special occasions. I proved to myself that I can have self control with food. I don’t need to eat something just because it’s in front of me.
During my 30 days, navigating social events was hard, but I made sure I ate before I went somewhere. I’d ask the hosts what they would be serving to see if there was something I could have. If there wasn’t, I’d pack my own snack. Unfortunately, eating at restaurants was nearly impossible because I found it too hard to know if there were noncompliant ingredients in the food. There are people who can do it but I didn’t find it worth it for the 30 days.
It was hard work to plan my grocery shopping and meals, but it was doable. All the recipes I made I found on Pinterest or Instagram and didn’t take more than 30ish minutes to make. Roberto did not do Whole30 with me but he ate what I cooked and could choose to add whatever else he wanted to his meal. It was hard seeing him eat ice cream when I couldn’t!
Now that my 30 days are over, the next steps are to slowly reintroduce foods and see how it makes my body feel (physically and emotionally). Then I’ll be more aware of how eat food makes me feel and it’s up to me if it’s worth it.
Special thanks to Roberto for tolerating my many food experiments and to Baby Joel for being a champ 2 hour napper so mama could cook!
If you’re reading this and have questions on Whole30, feel free to reach out to me! I’m happy to talk about it or share the recipes I used.