So, I’m officially on Day 12 of my Whole 30 challenge, almost – but not quite – halfway there. To quickly recap, Whole 30 is a dietary reset where you eat only meats, veggies, fruits, nuts, and seeds for 30 days. That means no grains, no alcohol, no legumes, no soy, no dairy, and no sugar for 30 whole days.
I’m not a big fan of diets, so one of the things that I really appreciate about Whole 30 is its emphasis on your emotional relationship with food. It’s not just about checking things off a list, but about making you more conscious of what you put in your body and why. And let me tell you, one of the very first things I noticed was how often I was eating food for reasons other than hunger. Did my kids leave food on their plate? (Hint: The answer is always yes.) I better eat it so it doesn’t get wasted, even though I just ate a full meal and am not even remotely hungry. Am I making a snack for the kiddos? It’s right there, so why not have some for myself?
But I think that, hands down, the most obvious non-hunger food habit that has become glaringly obvious to me is the habit of rewarding myself with food. And, given how many other people I’ve heard say the exact same thing, I’m guessing this is a pretty common phenomenon. Did I just survive the naptime from hell and had to pile both boys into the car to get Silas to fall asleep? Jonah and I definitely deserve a trip to the drive-thru for ice cream. Did I not get any time to myself all day and had to run from one thing to another non-stop? That definitely deserves five minutes (ok, one minute) savoring a candy bar that I’ve been hiding away for just such an occasion. Am I watching a show with Ned after getting the boys down for bed? The kind of patience required for bed time definitely deserves a reward – how about a couple bags of Veggie Straws? They’re healthy, right?
This isn’t to criticize using food as a reward. I’ve spent my entire life doing this until 12 days ago, and quite frankly I don’t know what will happen once my 30 days are up. I like to think that my increased mindfulness with food will continue, but whether or not that happens remains to be seen. And for some people, this relationship with food might not even be problematic. More power to you, ladies! (Ok, I’m jealous. But I really am still happy for you. Sort of.) For me, with the family history I have, I think it’s beneficial to my health to break the food-reward habit.
Which left me with a big question: If I’m not going to reward myself with food, what can I reward myself with?
Here are the results of my brainstorming thus far (with hopefully more to come):
- Yoga break. This one is nice because it’s easy to customize to your schedule. If you only have five minutes, do one or two sun salutations. (Confession: I replace the Chaturanga with a plank because yoga stops being fun once I literally fall flat on my face.) If you have longer, pop in your favorite yoga video. If it works out, get out of the house and head to your favorite yoga class. Keeping your yoga mat someplace easily accessible can help make this a quick activity. (5 – 45 minutes)
- Meditation break. Meditation can be equally soothing to me mentally as yoga, but it’s easier to pull off while I’m sitting in a parking lot or hiding in the bathroom from my kids. Again, it doesn’t have to be super long. I recently watched an interview with Depak Chopra in which he said that whether you meditate one minute or half an hour, the important thing is that you’re doing it. Don’t underestimate the benefit of listening to your breath, even for just a minute or two. (1 – 60 minutes)
- Coloring time. Are you a fan of adult coloring, too? Shake off a bad day with your colored pencils and a fresh new mandala just begging to be filled in. (5 – 60 minutes)
- Knitting. (Or other craft of choice.) I’m a big believer in the healing power of working on a creative project. My theory is that using a different part of your brain allows the other more stressed out parts to take a break, but that’s a just a hunch. Either way, shifting gears for a bit leaves me in a much better mood. (5 minutes – a couple hours)
- Show or Movie. Yes, it is possible to watch a movie or an episode of Game of Thrones without a snack. If you really need something special to help you enjoy it, try a cup of unsweetened herbal tea (iced or hot, depending on the weather and your mood). I’m not going to lie and say that it’s the same as a giant bowl of buttery popcorn (What is, right?), but it will keep you occupied while you stare deeply into Jon Snow’s dreamy dark eyes and hope that your husband isn’t noticing. And let’s be real, isn’t watching Jon Snow reward enough? Or, if you want to get real fancy, leave the house and go to the movie theater. Yes, tickets are a bit overpriced, but it’s a lot cheaper without a popcorn and soda. Sister tip: Call up a girlfriend and invite her along! (30 minutes – 3 hours)
- Epsom salt bath. I suggest epsom salt baths a lot. That’s because I love them. There’s nothing more relaxing to me than floating in a hot bath full of epsom salts and lavender essential oil. Bliss. (20 – 60 minutes)
- Spa indulgence. If you can afford the time and money, take a trip to your favorite spa and soak up every moment. If you’re pinching your pennies, you can do a DIY manicure, pedicure, or facial at home. For a quick facial, I like to make a mask of bentonite clay, a splash of apple cider vinegar, and enough water to get the consistency I’d like. Apply it to your face, leave it on until it dries, and then wash off with a warm washcloth. (15 minutes – all afternoon)
- Walk/Run/Bike. Whatever trips your trigger. Whatever you choose, the physical activity should release some endorphins that have you feeling good naturally. (10 – 60 minutes)
- Catch up. Pick up the phone and catch up with a friend or family member who you haven’t talked to in a while. In the mood for gratitude? Think of someone you’re grateful for and reach out with a quick thank-you note. You’ll feel great, and you’ll make their day. (10 – 60 minutes)
- Read! Curl up with whatever book tickles your fancy – and a steaming cup of herbal tea, if that does it for you – and get lost in an engaging book for a while. There’s nothing like a little fiction to put your own life into perspective. (10 minutes – all afternoon/evening)
Again, these suggestions are not a criticism of using food as a reward. They’re just ideas in case you – like me – find yourself reaching for the potato chips or chocolate more than you realized.
For those of you who have tried to find alternatives to the food-as-reward cycle, what are your favorites?
Finally, I had a few people ask for Whole 30 updates, so I’m just going to recap my experience so far below. If you’re not interested in Whole 30, read no further 😉
Whole 30: Days 1 – 12
Days 1 – 2: I felt totally shitty. Day one felt like one giant blood sugar drop, complete with being lightheaded. Day two I felt mildly nauseated most of the day.
Days 3-4: These were transition days for me. I still felt a little gross for part of the day, but by day four I was also starting to notice improvements in my energy levels.
Days 5 – 12: I finally felt pretty normal again, and on top of that, the blood sugar drops that I’ve been having on a daily basis since I started nursing four years ago have completely gone away. That’s a big deal for me. I was so used to getting shaky and lightheaded every single day that I didn’t realize how miserable it was making me. I still drink my coffee because I enjoy it, but I don’t feel like I need it to function. Pretty awesome!
And some of my favorite recipes so far:
- Buffalo Ranch Chicken Salad
- Homemade mayo – I really missed having a creamy texture in my food until I made this about five days in.
- Engagement chicken – This is a recipe that I’ve already made a couple of times before doing Whole 30 and it just happened to be compliant. I threw the bones in my crockpot and made homemade stock afterwards.
- While I’ve been trying to focus on chicken and seafood, etc., after a week straight of chicken breasts, I was super excited to make a surf-and-turf steak and scallops dinner for myself. Yum.
Further observations: I haven’t been obsessing about sugar as much as I thought I would. Although I did have one crazy dream where I accidentally ate half a scotcheroo and then was so angry about ruining my Whole 30 that I chucked my half-eaten dessert at someone across the room- LOL! I wasn’t expecting this, but cheese has actually been the non-compliant food I’ve spent the most time obsessing about. Wisconsin girl, right?