It’s here! December, in all its glory: eggnog, sugar plums, peppermints and parties. Will you make the naughty list or the nice? Will you yield to temptation but deliver yourself in January? I’m reminded of a hand towel I saw in a store downtown which read, “Don’t blame the holidays, you were fat in August.” How’s that for encouragement?
Every Christmas I make batches and batches of cookies, usually my favorites, with the idea that I’m giving them as gifts, which I actually do. As I bake, though, I nibble on the dough and then the warm cookies, which sets my palate into a no filter overdrive, which means now anything goes — cheese straws, gingerbread or maybe even Bailey’s over ice, which is oh so nice. Dinner goes by the wayside and it looks like snacking is the menu until bedtime.
Each year I put exercise clothes on my list, because while I don’t particularly like walking my dog in the cold, I’m convinced I’m going to get out there if I have on new gear — the new me, a veritable page out of Athleta. We promise ourselves loads of things and envision our return to our 20-something bodies, yet we keep right on eating whatever is within reach. And let me assure you, there’s a lot.
Don’t blame the holidays. You were fat in August.
This past October I changed things up. I’d been hearing about the Whole 30 program from several friends who all attested to being noticeably transformed by their month-long journeys, so I wanted in. Not sure what I was looking for, but I needed a reset from summer travels and eating and drinking too much and moving my son into college. This plan isn’t for everyone and definitely not for those who can’t say au revoir to alcohol, sugar, grains, dairy, gluten and legumes for four (yes, we’re talking consecutive) weeks. Basically, it’s goodbye to your old life. Everything you typically touch is pretty much on that list, that is, unless you follow this plan.
What I assumed was going to be the biggest concession was actually the easiest. I switched from 2% milk in my coffee to unsweetened almond milk, and it was surprisingly better than tolerable. It just worked. No sacrifice there. Alcohol was a different matter. I hadn’t realized how often I’d included that glass of wine or two while I was cooking, catching up with friends on weekends or always accepting the glass my husband poured me at night after dinner. I needed a stand-in and craving mojitos, I muddled mint into club soda squeezing in lots of lime. This worked at home and out in bars, which still had mint on hand from summer drink menus. Out, I fit right in, “cocktail” in hand.
I discovered the secret was feeling full, and the less deprived I felt, the better. Potatoes were allowed on the plan, and I used my potato peeler daily. I added onions and red bell pepper and folded them into omelets or alongside sautéed steak and garlic at dinner. Sweet potatoes were good too, and I mostly ate them roasted because to enjoy a baked sweet, you need a generous pat of real butter, off the list this month. Another memorable meal was Brussels sprouts sautéed with crumbled Whole Foods sugar free sausage. I drank loads of water, too, and that filled me up. Handfuls of cashews covered the sugar and fat cravings I had, and over the month I went through an entire Costco jar.
Salads made the menu most days and I got creative adding sunflower seeds, chopped avocado, red onion, and roasted meat or fish. Over and over there were gorgeous meals which I found myself photographing before inhaling. I treated myself to the really good tomatoes from Whole Foods – true stand-ins for homegrown – and haricot vert and organic potatoes from there too. Ghee was my clarified “butter” and along with olive oil, my foods were for the most part lubed. Avocado was great for adding the fat and creaminess I craved, and I had good luck over the month finding them ripe and ready.
I discovered the secret was feeling full.
I rolled along still challenged until the half way point which was the month’s sweet spot. I felt the accomplishment behind me and it seemed all downhill from here. However, coasting into week three found me tired of the rotation of foods with little hope for change. I felt hungry and the fistfuls of cashews weren’t getting it done. I knew what I wanted, something so perfect, so easy, so off my list. I wanted pizza, just a slice, but a really good one. I ignored my cravings and rounded week three, planning what I might eat when I could let myself out of this maze.
You aren’t supposed to weigh yourself during the month and I didn’t. At the end I had lost four pounds, less than I thought, but four pounds is four pounds. The weight came off the hard to lose areas, which for me were my outer thighs. I got narrower over the month and clothes fit differently, which was great. Lying in bed at night I could feel my ribs and trace the outline of my entire rib cage. My stomach was still soft (Pilates is always ready when I am), but it had definitely flattened and as for my digestion, my system was textbook. Every. Single. Day.
When the month ended, I was proud of the work I put into each meal. There had been no packaged foods, no quick grabbing of kettle chips (Non-GMO and all), no standing with the refrigerator door open eating slices of Swiss cheese, no looking for something to fill the void. No buns with my burgers, no yogurt in my smoothies, no corn, no bean burritos. Everyone around me was eating normally and I found I didn’t envy them but preferred my approach — the big salads and gorgeous avocados and omelets and seeds and such. Afterward, I wasn’t particularly overjoyed returning to “regular” eating and never did find that perfect slice. I eased back in slowly but didn’t notice any major food intolerances, though I was more bloated after pasta and legumes than before.
Now December and the holidays are here. I think I’m ready to take on the baking, the eggnog, all of it and come out the other side just fine. The secret will be moderation and adding exercise, proven advice I’m returning to. I couldn’t juggle the Whole 30 and exercise because it’s just too much. I don’t need white bread and sugar but when I do have some, I’m going to be selective and it is going to be good. Eating is one of life’s greatest pleasures and this program reinforced that. If you frequently fill your plate with colorful foods that you sliced and roasted and prepared yourself with gorgeous garlic and herbs and seeds, and then sit down and let it nourish your precious body, you might find you feel cared for. Loved even.