With the first of January comes the inevitable promises and vows we all make to ourselves in the form of New Year’s resolutions. As far back as four thousand years ago, ancient Babylonians began the new year by making promises to return borrowed objects and repay debts in hopes that their gods would look upon them favorably in the year ahead. In 46 B.C., Julius Caesar changed the beginning of the year to January 1 and encouraged Romans to make promises of good conduct on the first day of each new year. A tradition that has been around for millennia remains a popular practice today and although New Year’s resolutions are mostly secular nowadays it remains a popular time of year for people to improve their health and happiness.
Without a doubt the most popular resolution, year after year, is to lose weight. Following the indulgent holiday season throughout the months of November and December, a time when we all treat ourselves to cookies, candy and fancy drinks, men and women alike vow to make this year the one in which they will lose weight and get in shape. Fad diets and exercise programs abound in our society and often times boast quick and easy weight loss. Everything from ultra-low-carb eating plans to trendy fitness classes are suddenly in high demand during the first week of January.
I recently embarked on one such journey to eat healthier and lose weight by participating in the Whole30. The wildly popular program, which was created in 2009 by sports nutritionists Dallas and Melissa Hartwig, consists of thirty days without grains, legumes, dairy, added sugar, artificial sweeteners, alcohol, MSG, baked goods or junk food. At each meal, dieters are instructed to eat a moderate portion of meat, seafood or eggs and to fill the rest of their plates with vegetables. Also allowed with meals is a small portion of fruit and a moderate serving of healthy fats. Dieters are discouraged from both snacking between meals and weighing themselves during the thirty days. I decided, as an extra component to the plan, that I would keep a daily photo diary of what I was eating and how I was feeling, sharing it on social media to feel a sense of accountability from my peers.
The Whole30 involves a great deal of meal prep. For busy people like myself and many others, that can be a struggle. I spent countless hours shopping, cutting, chopping and cooking so that I would have my compliant foods ready at all times. Recipes are available from several online sources and all in all, the food choices are delicious, hearty and very satisfying. While I was apprehensive about getting rid of my morning and afternoon snacks, the meals on the plan were so filling, I never missed them. A typical breakfast included sweet potato hash with peppers, two eggs, half an avocado, chicken sausage, strawberries and black coffee. Lunch offered up options like grilled chicken breast, roasted carrots and cauliflower, olive oil vinaigrette, almonds and blueberries. At dinner, meals consisted of zucchini noodles with meatballs, salad, cashews and an orange which are popular in the Whole30 community for being familiar takes on family favorites.
I followed the plan the entire thirty days, with just a few slip ups. I snacked on some cinnamon apple chips with my kids one afternoon and devoured a dark chocolate bar one evening. Those indulgences didn’t derail my overall progress though and I ending up losing nine pounds. More importantly, I felt more energized, my skin looked radiant, and I had more mental clarity throughout the day. As advertised, the Whole30 also helped me think about the “why” and “what” involved in my snacking and mindless eating.
While the Whole30 is a great way to improve digestive issues, increase energy, and recognize poor eating habits it does have its downsides. The complete lack of allowed “cheat” meals and a life without any grains, dairy or beans is not feasible for most. Missing a pizza party with your kids or foregoing a fruity cocktail on the beach takes some of the fun out of life. While the Whole30 is a fantastic tool to reset and refocus, it is not probable that most people can follow it strictly for the rest of their lives. I, for one, simply could not get used to drinking my coffee without half & half.
During the thirty days on this program, I learned that the healthiest approach, when resolving to lose weight, is avoiding an all-or-nothing mindset. You can’t completely eliminate an entire food group, vow to work out seven days a week, or starve yourself, and expect to be successful in the long term. So although this New Year’s Day I will likely join the throes of people wanting to lose weight, I’ll have to do so without giving up the cream in my coffee.