“If I get through this year, no matter how badly, it will be the biggest victory I’ve ever done.”
— The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath, November 5, 1957
Looking back on the events of 2020 is surreal — January feels like a century ago, some months have blurred together into non-existence, and others contained a constant amalgamation of mundane stress and anxiety that bubbled through the walls of my apartment space.
I find myself asking, what did I even do this year, anyway? Does it even mean anything?
Let’s be real, 2020 came along and kicked us all in the sensitive bits — and then kept on kicking. Like many people, I’m grateful to have just survived. This year has been brutal and normal measurements of one’s accomplishments seem inadequate. It’s enough to just be standing (or sitting) here, having made it to 2021.
At the same time, I want to dig through the mushy mess of this year and pull out the good things — because there were indeed a few good things that happened.
It was my birthday this week — and I am now 40 years old. I’ve crossed a threshold.
Though to be honest, the day itself never seems to mark any kind of dramatic change. Rather, I’ve been experiencing an ongoing feeling of transition over the past several months, and I’m sure it’s a feeling that will continue over the forthcoming months.
I can’t say for sure what is transitioning or what that transition will look like in the end. Sometimes change happens overnight with a bang. Sometimes, as in this case, change comes on slowly and almost imperceptibly.
Apart of this change has been my increased abundance of creative endeavors that I’ve been working on lately. Another part of if may come from the fact that I’m working on my mind and body lately, with more exercise and meditation than previously.
There’s also the fact (and this is a big one) that the world as a whole is going through massive transition right now — and we’re not entirely sure how things are going to look on the other side. The future is ambivalent, it seems to me. I simultaneously see signs that things are getting worse and signs that good people are fighting and working to make things better. I certainly hope we lean towards the later.
Anyway, shifting away from such heavy thoughts. For my birthday, I decided to gift myself a stack of books that I’m eager to read — and my wonderful brother contributed to the pile as well. So, I made a fun little video highlighting my haul.
Thank you for hanging with me, and I hope you enjoy it.
Over the previous two weeks, my day job has been eating my brain. During this time, our leader was out for medical reasons — and so, faced with an an oppressive and immovable deadline, I was working 10-11 hours days in order to complete a total of nine articles (each 3,000 words or more) over the course of eight days, as well as keeping the website updated with new articles. This was in addition to two hours of daily commute.
The exhaustion during this time was intense. I could measure how tired my brain was by the level of pressure inside my skull. I started developing headaches and back pain. I had trouble concentrating. My emotions were chaotic.
One night, I came home so tired that I felt drunk. I was dizzy, couldn’t keep my balance, and when I flopped down onto the bed to sleep, the room began spinning.
I don’t recommend this.
If it had been possible, I would have pushed the deadline back a few days or even a week — a more reasonable timeframe that would have enabled me to work at a pace more conducive to my physical and mental health. Since, that wasn’t an option, I had to find ways to provide self care that would help to keep me going and finish the work.
For those who haven’t been reading the weekly posts, here’s the simple scoop on Whole30. Essentially, it’s a 30 day challenge to eat clean — as in no sugar, alcohol, grains, legumes, dairy, or certain additives (carrageenan, MSG, sulfites), or re-created junk food — as well as to detox, change, habits, and so forth. There’s more to it than that, lots of philosophies and perspectives and addendum and such that fill and entire website with essays and blog posts about the challenge, but that’s the essential gist.
I didn’t really have any expectations when I started this challenge, so it’s easy for me to call it a success — and on the whole, I’d say it was. I followed the rules for 30 days, even when certain family members begged me to quit so that I could drink with them, even when I sat helping a friend put together grab bags of candy while she ate cupcakes, even when I was getting really, really bored and feeling really, really over it.
I’m not going to passionately rave about how great Whole30 is, like I’ve seen other bloggers do. But I will say the experience was worth it for me. Three days after the challenge has ended, and I’m still feeling pretty good.
For anyone interested, my here are my week one, two, three, and four breakdowns of what I spent on groceries and so forth. My overall thoughts and feelings are below. It’s a little random, but that’s how I roll.
It’s Not as Hard as It Seems
Okay, I know I said I had no expectations going in, but I guess I had one — that it would be hard as hell.
That was one expectation I was glad to have proven wrong. The Whole30 did take more work, requiring time and energy to meal prep for the week and cook after getting off work. But when I looked for it, the willpower to say, No, to candy, chips, and other junk food was there. One reason was that I was in the right headspace for this. When a sister roped me into trying to do this two years ago, the entire concept annoyed me and I didn’t really try, which had me quitting at the end of the week (better than my sister, who quit after two days). This time around, I was ready to commit, which made things go smoothly. Another reason was that I had already stopped buying some of the things on the banned list (such as milk and bread).
The hardest part was reprogramming weird habits that are almost like muscle memory. Like grabbing taquito off of my nephew’s plate to take a bite and show him how good it is and that he should eat it, too (which never works). Or, snagging a piece of candy out of the dish at the doctor’s office. In all of these occasions, I didn’t even particularly want the thing I was grabbing, but latched onto as a reflex. I caught myself immediately, but was surprised how I could act without making a conscious decision to do so.
The other challenge was that eating Whole30 is more pricey — with my grocery costs at least doubling what they were before the challenge — although not too bad when you can buy things to last you a couple of weeks, such as bulk items and meats that you can freeze.
The best way I can describe how I feel after all this is clean. The best way to describe it is the opposite of when you eat fried food and junk, when you feel heavy and dragging and like your skin is producing grease. It’s a good, light feeling, one I’d like to hold on to — which is one of the reasons I don’t have any immediate urges to runout and consume copious amounts of junk food.
The only thing I desperately wanted to have in the final two weeks of this challenge was corn (specifically corn as part of a Chipotle said) and a beer. Not the worst things to be craving as things go. I am not, however, dying to have chips or cupcakes or chocolate or any of the other things I used to want to have ALL THE TIME. In fact, if a cupcake were set in front of me, I wouldn’t even really want it right now (although I would probably be tempted to take a bite, which would likely lead to more bites). It’s kind of cool and makes me feel more in control of
There’s Sugar in Everything
I kid you not. Read the labels. It’s added to salad dressings and lunch meat and all kinds of things you wouldn’t think sugar would be in. It was one of the hardest things to avoid.
Also, wheat, which is also in a ton of things — although since most of those things are processed food items that I wasn’t allowed to eat anyway, it was easier to avoid.
Apparently, I Can Cook Things
I have been known to be a lazy cook, the kind of cook that just throws pre-made frozen food into the oven and sets a tim, the kind of cook unwilling to do anything that requires even a hint of additional effort. My mom and sisters have consistently made fun of me (in a loving way) for my complete lack of interest in this regard, as they are all rather good cooks in their own way.
But on the Whole30, I had not choice but to prepare my lunches at the beginning of every week and cook my dinner every night. So, I planned out that required small amounts of effort and time and was able to come up with a number of good eats that often took me less than 20 minutes to make. This included super easy stuff like chicken salad wraps or lettuce-shell chicken tacos to slightly more complicated meals like sausage and zucchini-bell-pepper-cauliflower stir fry, baked salmon with brussel sprouts, and a beef patty and portobella mushroom burger. After three weeks, I was even starting to get a little creative, mixing together ingredients without double checking a recipe first.
My favorite meal was a sausage sweet potato hash with a friend egg on top (I do not have a photo of this, I’m afraid as I got lazy about taking food pics toward the end) — something I would never have thought to make prior to this challenge. This breakfast is sweet and savory, and I love the egg yolk mixed up in it all. It’s just so good and supper simple. (If anyone wants the recipe, then I’ll provide it, but honestly it’s just sweet potato, yellow peppers, and sausage in a pan with a fried egg).
I Freaking LOVE Almond Butter
No, seriously. I didn’t know how good this was, so blinded was I by the standardized peanut butter.
A Balance Between Healthy and Happy
Finding a good balance between healthy and happy is the next step. What this balance looks like is different for everyone. Theodora Goss has a great post on this concept and presents an example on what works for her. For some this balance may involve sticking strictly to something like the Whole30 plan, for others it may mean eating whatever the hell they want when they want, and for still others it might mean something in between.
It will probably take some time to figure out exactly what sort of balance works best for me, but this is what I do know:
I want to stick to having most of my meals consist of primarily meat and vegetables, with an addition of some grains like corn, quinoa, and so forth. I feel like this would work well for me, since I probably need some additional carbs beyond meat and veggies in order to power my running. I’m also happy having various kinds of fruit for a sweet kick with dinner or whenever.
I want to keep the habit up of cooking my dinners most nights. It feels good to be in control of my own cooking and it’s great when I get a tasty meal just right.
I’m going to have beer, wine, whiskey, or other booze when I feel like it (even if Whole30 says its a no-no, as in never). Enjoying a drink from time to time is a part of what makes me a happy person, as long as I’m keeping it (mostly) in moderation.
I am not going to play an is-it-worth-it game every time I want to have something less than the usual healthy. That kind of game would probably just make me miserable in the long run, feeding the kind of guilt spirals I just don’t need.
That said, I don’t want to fall into the eating-junk-food-because-it’s-there trap, which was something I did quite often before I started this challenge.
I’m sure I’ll have to change things around and re-adjust in the coming months as I continue to explore what sorts of food works for me, and as I face peer pressure again. (It’s amazing how much easier it is for me to say “I can’t because I’m doing Whole30” than it is to say “I’d rather not.”) Already this week, I’ve had a glass of beer and some sushi and other non-Whole30 items — and I’m still feeling clean, still feeling good. Let’s keep it that way.
Tell me about your own food journeys in the comments. Whether you’ve done the Whole30 things or have tried other kinds of plans.
The what and why of the Whole30 food challenge is here, but essentially the rules are no sugar, alcohol, grains, legumes, dairy, or certain additives (carrageenan, MSG, sulfites) for a 30 days.
How I Feel
There are four days left in the challenge and I’m feeling good — that same clean feeling throughout my body. I also have no cravings, or at least not any for junk food (I just really, really want some corn, okay?). My only physical complaint right now it that my right shoulder and neck are a mess — although that is more than likely from some other cause.
In general, this has been a good experience (which I’ll write about next week when this is all officially over), but I’m definitely looking forward to being done and having more flexibility in terms of my food choices.