At boarding school, my friends gave me the nick name “thulla”, which in the Sindhi language means “fatso”. Every time I met my parents, however – during those very years – they would say “Don’t they feed you? We can count your bones!”. The name calling or comments never bothered me. When food was served, I would relish it and that is what mattered. I could devour just about anything – poorly made porridge, a watery bowl of lentils or just plain hard bread. As an active kid, my body needed fuel and my brain would be in a happy place during school canteen/cafeteria hours.
Until the age of 37, I don’t recall worrying about how many calories I was consuming or what my fat, protein and carb mix was for the day. I would work out and eat a wide spectrum of foods (vegetables, fruits, fish, meat, legumes, chocolates, Indian sweets, varieties of Indian bread etc). In 2016, I was training for my second full marathon – it was also the year I turned 40 – when Chitra (my wife), heard about Whole30 from a friend. As long as I’ve known her, she has been plagued by the perception that she needs to lose weight. And I have jokingly asked (with dire consequences), “which finger of yours needs to lose weight!!??” So even though Whole30 is a ‘reset’ program, she started her research, to soon realize, there was enough merit to explore our first 30 day program – hence the name, Whole30.
Stating upfront that we have benefited a lot from Whole30 and I am an unpaid, vociferous advocate. I talk about it to strangers on flights, my customers and friends/family – who have had to bear me the most. I’m sure this post will get a lot of eye rolls from some of these “victims”. Having said that, anyone I know, who has experienced the program and was disciplined about it for the 30 day period has benefited immensely. As I have stated on multiple occasions “it is a life changing experience.”
Is it a weight loss program?
Absolutely not! During the first year, I consumed nuts (walnuts, almonds, pecans and pistachios) very liberally and there was a phase after my marathon when I was “couching” hard, so no prizes for guessing that I gained a few pounds. There will be cases where people have had a poor diet for years and may be overweight. A simple switch to a better eating lifestyle will result in weight loss.
Do we have to do it for 30 days?
Yes. After we started this eating lifestyle, we loved it soo much that we continued it beyond the 30 days and have largely (~90%) followed it for 3 years now. There are times when we vacation or travel to India and simply cut loose. Almost instantly, we realize the impact of it and soon switch back to a disciplined 30 day routine for a reset. As a matter of fact, I’m currently on day 29, after over indulging my systems this summer.
What is the objective of Whole30?
As we go through the ups and downs of life and get closer to our 40s, we knowingly or unknowingly abuse our body. This abuse is driven largely by lifestyle, choice/addiction to processed food and poor sleep routines. There are hormonal changes and also an imbalance to our body’s chemical composition. In short, our body is wearing out. With this plan, we are helping our body hit the ‘reset’ button.
From my personal experience, after the first 30 days, my body felt lighter and tighter (no bloating). I had more energy and there were no lethargic spells in the afternoon hours (post lunch etc). I completed my second marathon, including the training months, while on Whole30 and there was no adverse impact. One key observation was that my body recovered faster from minor niggles/injuries.
Also importantly, after Whole30, when you introduce foods not consumed during the 30 day period, your body is very vocal about how sensitive you are to them. In my case, when I introduced rice (only a couple of spoons), it felt like I was trying to digest a softball. Another example is black beans – after eating a small quantity, I‘m ready to give a 21 gun salute. Bread is OK, though and I don’t feel miserable. You’re able to identify food types that don’t work well with your body and you can either avoid them totally or consume with caution.
What can you eat and what not?
One line answer – food prior to the farming revolution. So anything that could be hunted or fished and what could be picked/gathered from trees/plants. Quick reference table:
What do we typically consume in the day?
This has been the best discovery for me so far. 99% of the times, I eat 1 banana, 1 apple, 3 tablespoons almond butter and 2 hard boiled eggs. I love to mash my banana into the almond butter, thoroughly mix and use that as a dip for my apple slices. On a few occasions, I have been accused of saying “this combination is better than sex!” Chitra’s yoga guru told her to keep a bottle of almond butter on our bedside table, with the hope that I will renounce my claim. Thankfully, I have not been put to the test (yet!). 😊 On our hard boiled eggs, we like to sprinkle salt and pepper/red chili powder. This meal gives me 685 calories and keeps me going through afternoon.
Lunch and dinner:
Whole30 gives you a number of options to experiment and you can get very creative in your cooking. On a typical day, we eat some sea food (baked salmon) and various types of vegetables.
Few tricks from our kitchen:
- Currys are based in coconut milk, which gives them a thick and creamy texture
- Makhane (lotus flower seeds) are a substitute for something crunchy and when toasted in olive oil or ghee with Indian spices, a great healthy snack (think of them as popcorn)
- Cauliflower rice and veggies make a great filling meal
- Sweet potatoes roasted in the oven are awesome. Chitra’s kitchen produces the best in the world, no kidding! This is after having tried them in many other homes and restaurants. We bake in bulk – two full trays and they don’t even last 2 days. Just remember to keep it simple – organic sweet potatoes, olive oil and salt
- Also instant pot cooking has revolutionized and eased our cooking process.
Any other benefits observed?
Alright, this is gross but needs to be explained. Have you ever seen a healthy dog poop? The dog smells for sometime, finds it’s spot and finishes his/her job in a few seconds. Pooping for us humans too should be the same. Since we don’t have to smell and locate spots, we should be done in a few short minutes too. If you are not grossed out yet, how could I disappoint. Chitra attended a workshop by Tias Little in which he briefly spoke about human poop. Human poop is a daily indicator to the wellbeing of your systems. According to Mr. Little, your poop should ideally be one long piece and float in water (in western toilets)! Sticky, broken or other forms is a sign that your body is not functioning fine. By the time I hit day 14 on whole30, I experience what a healthy dog experiences multiple times in a day! I hope to erase some of that visual with pictures of the best behaved male member of our family – Bambi Menon.
I travel a bit, so is Whole30 feasible?
The first time we explored Whole30, I was a worried traveler. Now I am a Whole30 travel pro! For breakfast, I have located Italian restaurants, in airports, that can serve me veg omelettes made in olive oil with no dairy. It does become easy, when I tell the waiter that I am allergic to dairy products, they are also extra cautious. I do stop by Whole Foods and pick up almond butter, apples, bananas for multi day trips. All hotels have small refrigerators and offer paper plates and spoons etc.
For lunch, I eat at client cafeterias from their salad bar or for luncheon/dinner meets select restaurants where I can have a good steak or fish with roasted or steamed vegetables. The salad/hot bar at Whole Foods has a few options as well. If eating dinner alone, I have begun to like organic cut peeled carrots/celery/baby cucumber, guacamole and canned sardines. This has now become second nature and I would do this even in the most fancy hotels.
RxBars are a great emergency option and I always carry a couple with me. Two bars give you enough boost when you don’t have time or running late for meetings. Remember RxBars have a peanut option (brown color pack), that is not compliant. Most airport stores carry raw nut snack bags. It must be raw, because most of the nut snack bags have multiple types of oils or even sweeteners in the ingredients. Caution: RxBars are quite chewy and sticky, so give yourself enough time to enjoy them and make sure your teeth don’t have any left overs. You don’t want your clients getting distracted with colored remnants on your teeth!
There are some airports or certain terminals where you really can’t find any options. Stick to bananas and apples sold at Starbucks and other stores too. I hate these events but they don’t happen too often. For Chicago (ORD & MDW), Minneapolis (MSP) and Phoenix (PHX) I can designate myself as the Whole30 guru. I know which restaurants to visit and what to order. Some staff now recognize me and know my ‘usual order’.
Many of my work colleagues joke when I walk into morning meetings with my Almond Butter, banana and apple. They find it amusing and like in my boarding school days, I don’t care much. They don’t realize I am experiencing something ‘better than sex!!’ 😉
Solutions for your sugar fix
When not on Whole30, sweets are my Achilles’ heel. I am unable to control my portions and overshoot my calorie and sugar intake dramatically. Being on this plan has not exactly fixed this problem, but I am consuming “healthy natural sugars”. This is how I convince myself and Chitra.
Dates, dried figs, apricots and raisins with nuts and seeds (cashew, walnuts, pecans, sunflower seeds etc) are my saviour. Sometimes I also switch to grapes + nuts or grapes + almond butter.
If I have “behaved” well at home, I get treated to a fig and walnuts instant pot sweet dish. It is super awesome. Ingredients are dried figs, walnuts and clarified butter (ghee). There are other similar versions with apricots etc.
What do I miss the most when truly on whole30?
Salty snacks! You can have salted pistachios or Makhane but they are not a great substitute for the crunch, ease and fulfillment of a banana/potato chip. There are many options people suggest but they don’t fulfill my salty snack cravings. If any of you have other ideas, please feel free to share.
If you ever want to experience the feeling of a light and tight body, you have to experience Whole30. Do it diligently for a life-changing experience!
In my Client Partner role, I never want to be in a meeting with any of my internal or external stakeholders when I am not exhibiting high energy. Whether these sessions are early mornings, post lunch or at night.
What’s the connection to peace? When you can start your day feeling energetic and cleansed, you feel at peace and exude this energy to everyone around you.
Are you ready to dedicate just 30 days for a reset to your life?
#whole30 #whole30advocate #whole30ontravel #whole30travelguru
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