Whole 30(ish), and Sustainable Lifestyle Changes
It is Day 31 after 30 days of a (modified) Whole 30 elimination diet, and so far today, I've had bacon, eggs, salsa, and a vegan smoothie with peanut butter.
And a spoonful of Nutella for breakfast, because you have to live.
Thirty-two days ago, I had to check my weight at a routine doctor's appointment, which led to the realization that it was time to make some lifestyle changes. My weight wasn't necessarily unhealthy, nor was this all about weight, but it was an outward sign of some inward turmoil.
I'd been traveling a lot for book research, eating meals like Shake Shack and Starbucks flavored lattes in hotel rooms while transcribing interviews, and while at home I'd been eating a lot of pizza and drinking a lot of wine and coffee, while cramming in food late at night after a long day during which I hadn't taken time to eat adequate, healthful meals.
Exercise and my beloved sports had sort of fallen by the wayside. They was always one more sermon to write, one more essay to edit, one more interview to conduct, one more chapter to organize ... one more potty-training regression to clean up, one more snack to fix, one more toilet to clean ... you get the idea. I'm sure lots of other parents - and non-parents - out there can relate.
I was dealing with more migraines than usual, and the crushing blow of afternoon fatigue had me hitting up refrigerator iced coffee or the coffee shop just in order to keep working without nodding off in the afternoon hours.
So after a migraine-filled trip to the East Coast, I did some research and decided to do sort of a blend of an elimination diet and lifestyle changes. I actually ordered some containers for the 21-day fix as well, which lots of my friends love, but I decided for me I wanted to do something that focused on what I was eating, rather than how much I was eating. I didn't feel like my amounts were out of whack, per se, I just knew that when I did eat, I wasn't making the best choices for the way I wanted to feel.
I read a lot of people who just loved Whole30, and I knew that most of my dietary indulgences leaned heavily on dairy and gluten, to a lesser degree, so I ordered some Whole30 cookbooks, hit up Trader Joes and all the glorious dairy-free and gluten-free options there, as well as embracing Spindrift sparkling water -- and my Whole30-ish month began.
(I say Whole30-ish because I didn't follow the plan exactly. I wanted to make myself feel better, not feel tortured. I am also the kind of person who hates rules and believes they are meant to be broken. So, perfect Whole30 disciple - I am not. I regularly added peanut butter to my smoothies and ate corn and corn chips on occasion. I also sometimes had rice and non-compliant Trader Joes bacon, as well as frozen chocolate-covered bananas and strawberries and Cocoa-Almond-Cashew milk. That's it. Confession over. I feel better already).
With those exceptions though, I ate pretty much exclusively dairy-free and gluten-free for an entire month. I had eggs for breakfast every single day except once, when I made (forbidden) black beans with sweet potato hash. I replaced my beloved half and half in coffee with not-so-bad coconut creamer. My husband, Ben, was an awesome dinner chef in putting together his twist on meals from the (really good) Whole30 Fast and Easy cookbook.
When I traveled to Dallas for work, I successfully avoided BBQ and beef (not an easy task) and I visited Trader Joe's and picked up almonds, sparkling water, and berries to have on hand in the hotel room for cravings while transcribing my interview notes. Even though Whole30 discourages vegan smoothies, I said too bad (I hate (egregious and unnecessary) rules) and visited Smoothie King a few times on my trip. It was the closest thing to my favorite dairy treats: blended iced coffee and/or ice cream shakes and malts.
In Kansas City and rural Missouri too I bought some supplies for the week and cooked eggs for breakfast at my in-law's house. I successfully avoided my father-in-law's award-winning homemade cinnamon rolls (so hard!), and I scarfed down homemade pico de gallo at the Family Reunion. I may have ingested one small bite of cheese with my scrambled eggs and bacon at the small town diner where I went with my friends - and local pastors - for breakfast, but one of my initial rules for this experiment was that relationships come before food. The diner waitress said she tried to tell them no dairy, but my eggs arrived layered in cheese anyway. I also had a glass of wine with an author friend when we met up after our kiddos' bedtime, and I also had wine and (probably) non-compliant sausage with a gathering of young families and farmers in small-town Missouri.
For me, probably the hardest habit to break was my evening calm down/relax ritual of something to drink and something indulgent to eat. Ever since I was little, I loved getting a huge bowl of ice cream with my dad and watching TV on the couch in the living room. Food is certainly emotional and sentimental, at least for me. And I realized I'd connected this final permission to relax - after getting the kids to bed - with my final permission to eat whatever the heck I wanted. I still enjoyed the occasional small glass of white wine during my Whole 30-ish month, or a small glass of Cocoa-Almond-Cashew-Milk (that stuff is incredible) -- but I found that when I'd eaten healthfully and fully during the day, making time to make food for myself as well as for the kids, I didn't need such an indulgent time of relaxation. I had mattered throughout the day, with my time to work out or play sports as well, so I was more relaxed in general, and didn't feel such a need for a reward.
That was another part, too. Consciously making space in my life for time to either play tennis with my husband, go to a workout class, or even just go for a run or walk outside. Most of my life has been spent making my own athletics a priority. I played traveling softball and basketball as a kid, and I lettered in volleyball, basketball and track and field as a high schooler. In college I joined the club volleyball team where we traveled the Midwest for tournaments, and after college, I ended up becoming active in Florida beach volleyball tournaments and leagues.
Even while in seminary I was in volleyball and softball leagues.
Becoming a parent - and a pastor - changed all that. I wanted to prioritize time with my kids, and while I briefly found a group to play pick-up volleyball with while finishing up seminary and living in Northern California, once I started a full-time call as a pastor in Chicago, my commitment to athletics shifted.
It got even tougher with Baby No. 2. Since Josh was born, I have yet to rejoin a volleyball league or find an open gym. I've filled in on a few softball teams, but the people we know who play have leagues far from our house, and it's just not realistic to commit to a season anyway, with book travel and evening events at church, and kids swim lessons at night, etc.
I actually was in a volleyball league in Orange County, which was a lot of fun, but our team had an inordinate amount of drama! Don't ask.
SO ... in these last 31 days, I've made figuring out ways to move my body in fun ways a priority. I went for runs twice, and on my run today I noticed I was much less winded and in better shape than I was at the beginning of the month. I'm winning a few more games of tennis against my hard-serving husband, and I definitely have more energy in general. I also feel (sort of) confident in a two-piece swimsuit, depending on the time of the month (ha!)
Why am I sharing all this and what does it have to do with Jesus? Isn't this a Christian blog?
I'll get to that.
First, I'm sharing this because part of making a commitment to lifestyle changes and behavioral changes is making that commitment for a set amount of time, and then reflecting at the end of that time period to see what has changed and how you would like to move forward.
I did have plenty of visions of beginning my Day 31 with a plate of waffles covered in syrup, a huge piece of pizza for lunch, and a burger for dinner with ice cream and beer for dessert -- but now that Day 31 is here, I realized that I made my diet changes enjoyable enough that I really don't hate them.
I like starting my day with eggs and meat, when feasible. I feel more energized in the morning and more full to start my day. My tank is much less empty in the afternoons when I eat a protein and nutrient-filled breakfast and lunch. I might mix in some oatmeal for breakfast, but I don't think I'll go back to my carb and dairy-heavy options, or my other option - of eating nothing until ending up starving at about 2:30 p.m.
I realized that, while I hate rules and hate being told what to do -- and while I like to indulge in food occasionally and do not like the "idea" of being someone who always has to eat healthy -- I also really like the way I feel when I eat this way. I've had many fewer headaches, more energy, and (burying the lede) I lost like 10-15 pounds in the last 30 days, and that's been consistent in a 5-pound range for a week or so now, at least. Certain areas of my thighs and hips look leaner, and my stomach, while not back to its prepregnancy self, feels a lot less bloated most of the time.
What does this have to do with Jesus and with being a "Good Christian Woman?"
When I first started this blog, more than a year ago on July 18, 2017, I called it "A Good Christian Woman" because I wanted to expand the definition of what it mean to be a "good Christian woman."
So often, women of faith and women in the church are called to devalue ourselves in service to others. We are called to give until it hurts. To be more concerned with outward appearances than inward peace. To make choices to please others, especially the men in our lives, more than worrying about what we most need, at our core. We're motivated to be quiet about the hard times and judgmental about other peoples' struggles.
None of this, of course, is biblical.
Rather, God begins the story of Creation in Genesis 1 by saying that human beings, men and women, were created in the image of God (Gen. 1:27).
In February, I led a women's retreat in the Minneapolis suburbs entitled Cheering for Ourselves, about lifting up the idea that Jesus was an advocate for women's self-differentiation -- that Jesus wanted to raise up women's voices and that Jesus was an advocate not only for love of others but also for genuine love of self.
During my keynote speech, I centered on this Scripture passage from the Gospel of Luke: "When the LORD saw her, he had compassion on her and said to her: Do not weep.'"
It's a simple passage, a story of a time when Jesus was drawn away from his plans for the day, to see the face of a grieving mother before him, a woman whose son had died.
In the passage, what came first was Jesus' compassion: his concern for this woman and mother as a person and valued child of God.
What came next, after the compassion, was Jesus' miracle of resurrection.
I believe God is enacting all sorts of resurrections - big and small - in my life and in your lives today. I believe even these past 31 days for me have been a resurrection of sorts: a resurrection of the idea that my body matters, that I matter: beyond how well I mother, how well I write, and how well I pastor.
Resurrection is indeed possible, even in circumstances where it seems unlikely that anything will ever change.
But first came the compassion.
When I started this journey, I did it with compassion for myself. In the past, I often began journeys like these with a solid dose of self-hatred. When I gained a lot of weight in both of my pregnancies, I forced myself to lose weight quickly with an intense diet and exercise plan, one that deprived me a great deal, and one that (diet-wise) rarely lasted longer than a couple of weeks.
This time, I started in a different way. I started with self-love rather than self-hatred. And this time, I think the changes are going to last - and even continue to grow in new ways that bring me new energy to do the work the Holy Spirit has in store for me.
What lifestyle changes or patterns is God calling you into today?
How are you starting those changes with love for yourself - and the person you are right now, at this moment?