My Experience on Whole30

Don’t mind me just sitting over here indulging in a big bowl of ice cream.

The cycle of restricting foods (and dieting) and then binging on “unhealthy” or “forbidden” foods has never been as clear to me as it is right now. That’s because I just completed day 30 (the last day) of the Whole30 diet.

After my experiment as a vegetarian for a month, I thought I would try out another diet. The lucky winner- Whole30. Whole30 is a diet designed to “end unhealthy cravings and habits, restore a healthy metabolism, heal your digestive tract, and balance your immune system”. Sounds great until you hear what is involved. On Whole30 you aren’t allowed ANY grains, legumes, sugar, sweetener (including things like honey), dairy, soy, or alcohol. What does that leave you ask? I have pretty much spent the last month eating only meat, fish, eggs, fruits, and vegetables. It got real boring, real fast to say the least.

If you catch my drift, it was not an enjoyable experience. If you have read many of my previous posts or know me well, you know that I am not one to cut any foods out of my diet – you name it, I’ll probably eat it (yes, even as a nutrition student and future dietitian I eat (and love) chocolate, ice cream, buttered popcorn, and even a loose with chili cheese fries from Detroit’s Lafayette Coney Island), so having to cut so many things out of my diet was a challenge.

In theory, sticking to a diet made up of whole foods is great, but not allowing any wiggle room leads to overeating all of the “forbidden foods” later on (aka the big bowl of ice cream I am having). Cutting out foods can create an unhealthy relationship with food, it is restrictive, not sustainable, and most of all, it isn’t fun.

So, how was Whole30?

Like I said before, it is really boring because there wasn’t a lot of variety. It was also very difficult to go to restaurants or gatherings with food since there were so many things that were off limits.

Do I feel better?

Honestly, I don’t feel any different – aside from the fact that all I want to do is eat dessert, bread, and a big chipotle burrito bowl. But also remember, my diet was pretty rich in fruits, vegetables, and lean proteins before. It wasn’t like I was starting out eating McDonald’s on the daily.

Would I recommend Whole30?

That would be a big fat NO! I see no reason why you have to cut out things like whole grain bread that is packed with fiber, beans that are a good source of plant based protein, and dairy products that are full of calcium and protein. I actually think you end up in an even worse situation after Whole30. Think about the restricting and binging cycle I mentioned — after 30 days of restricting, all you want to do is overeat/binge on the foods you avoided for a month. (It has even been difficult for me, someone who is very aware of these restrict and binge patterns, to resist eating an entire pint of ice cream and a loaf of bread right now.)

On the other hand, I do think the emphasis of fruits, vegetables, and lean protein is great! Everyone could benefit from eating a few more of these and a few less sugary and starchy foods (since they make up the majority of a standard American diet). Note that I said “a few less”, not “eliminate” the sugary and starchy foods. There is no reason why pizza and chocolate can’t make there way into a healthy, balanced diet.

I think this pretty much sums up my thoughts on Whole30. Have you done Whole30? If so, what are your thoughts?

Just because I am a nutrition student doesn’t mean I…

Wow, I am officially a senior in college! I just took my last final exam yesterday and now it is crazy to believe I only have one more year of undergrad. After spending the past three years learning all about the body and food, I have discovered that there are many misconceptions about (aspiring) dietitians. I thought I would share some with you that you might find surprising.

Just because I am a nutrition student doesn’t mean I…

  1. …Judge the foods you eat. Countless times I have been to restaurants with family and friends and they always feel obligated to give an excuse for why they ordered a burger and fries. I can’t tell you the number of time I have heard, “I have eaten very healthy all week” or “I’m starting to eat healthy on Monday”. This may be a shock, but you don’t need to qualify your dinner order, and I promise I am not judging you. I like burgers and fries just as much as you do; it is human nature to crave high calorie foods. We all have to make choices when it comes to what we eat, but without knowing your health or lifestyle goals, it is not possible or fair for me to judge your personal choices.
  1. …Don’t eat unhealthy food. Again, I crave chocolate chip cookies just as much as anyone else, and I eat more than just grilled chicken and vegetables. Just because I am interested in nutrition doesn’t mean I am not allowed to have pizza or dessert. You probably know just as well as I do that cookies are not so healthy. Fortunately, I have also learned about the importance of moderation and that cookie should be saved for special occasions.
  1. …Just help people lose weight. Yes, as a nutrition student, I am taught the importance of a healthy, balanced diet to promote healthy weight, but as a dietitian, that is only a small slice of the job. Majority of dietitians work in hospitals doing anything from creating diet plans to prevent cancer proliferation to determining energy needs of a premature baby with a feeding tube. People often forget that dietetics do so much more than just help people lose weight.

Study Abroad Update

I know I haven’t done the best job of keeping you up to date on my adventures, but that’s because I’ve been busy with all my adventures :). As my grandma says (hi Grandma!), this semester should have been called “Travel Abroad” instead of “Study Abroad”. While my actually classes may not have been difficult at all, there is no doubt that spending time in 21 cities in 10 different countries has taught me so much about cultures around the world. I have learned more European history than I ever learned in a classroom, and I have been able to learn about health and food from a completely new perspective. This experience has inspired me to write my senior thesis about the difference in food processing and manufacturing between the United States and European Union and how the different practices effect our health.

As I spend my last three days in Copenhagen saying goodbye to some amazing friends, having final family dinners with my host family, and spending my last few Danish Kroner in souvenir shops, I know that I will always look back on these four months as one of the best times of my life.

BUT! While the semester may be over, I still have another two weeks of traveling before heading back home. One final trip through Morocco and Spain before I’m back for a busy summer of volunteering, studying for the GRE, and trying to remember how to be an American again.

Bread for Lunch?

This post is a little different. I wanted to share this little anecdote about how studying abroad has changed the way I describe healthy dietary patters- so here I go…

“The buns are in the oven”. This is what my host mom told me around 11:00am on my first day after arriving in Copenhagen. She explained that homemade buns (rundstykker) are a traditional Danish food- which are basically just big bread rolls. Each family has a unique recipe and the fluffier the buns, the better. Around 11:30am she asked me to help set the table. I put out plates, forks, knives along with the butter, jams, cheese, honey, and Nutella she pulled out of the fridge and cupboard. As the fresh buns came out of the oven just a few minutes later, my host parents, their three year old son, and I sat down at the dining room table for what I thought was a little, traditional mid-morning snack. My host mom cut the buns in half and passed them around the table until we each had a hot bun on our plate. We all helped ourselves to the toppings in the middle of the table easily spreading them as they melted over the warm crumbly surface. For the next hour or so, we sat around the table talking and getting to know each other. I had a total of one and a half buns, as I didn’t want to fill up on bread before lunch—even though they were delicious and I could have had many more. Over the course of the hour that we sat there, my host mom and dad had three or four buns each and continuously offered me more. When they finally finished cutting, spreading, and eating each bun and our conversation had come to a breaking point we cleared the table and washed the dishes. I went to my room to finish unpacking my luggage and take a nap to catch up on my jet lag. I was expecting a nice hot lunch to be ready when I woke up an hour later. Much to my surprise, I woke up from my nap with no food in sight. I didn’t want to ask my host parents when our next meal was because I was starting to get the feeling that lunch was the buns that we had had earlier. As the clock neared 3:00pm and my stomach started to grumble, I went in the kitchen and grabbed an apple to hold me over until dinner. Fast forward to the evening when I went to pack my lunch for Monday, my host mom suggested that I take some leftover buns with butter and cheese for lunch. It finally clicked! Apparently that meal of bread, butter, and cheese was actually a typical Danish lunch. I began to have a slight internal panic attack when I realized that I would be having a light, bread-filled, and protein-lacking lunch for an entire semester.

Among other things, getting used these light Danish lunches (which are almost always filled with bread) was has been a major food obstacles that I have had to overcome since coming to Denmark. Coming from living in a university apartment where I can buy and eat whatever I want (I try not to eat lots of processed food and simple sugars/grains), to not being able to choose what food is in the house and becoming accustomed to eating bread at every single meal has not been easy.

Now, almost two months into my new Danish eating habits, I actually have a newfound appreciation for the diet patterns. At first, it was difficult to overcome the uncomfortable feeling of eating mostly bread for lunch, but I have actually discovered that eating nut and seed filled rye bread actually fills me up quickly and keeps me full throughout the day. These rye breads with lots of nuts and seeds, which are very common in Denmark, have a lot more nutrients—including some protein—than most bread in the long American grocery store aisles. I have had to add an American touch by having peanut butter on my rye bread to make up for some of the protein and healthy fats I am lacking during lunch, but other than that, I have realized that the Danes actually are not crazy just having bread and some toppings for lunch. It has taken some getting use to but I now feel good about eating all of the wholesome grains in bread for lunch every day.

Eight weeks ago, when I realized I would be having bread for lunch everyday, I nearly had a panic attack. I would have never predicted that, today, I actually look forward to my rye bread sandwich everyday for lunch. As a nutrition major at school and an aspiring dietitian, it is fascinating to learn about the various eating patterns of people around the world. Throughout my education, I have always been taught that bread is full of empty calories and should not be the main part of any meal. Not only has living in Denmark given me new cultural experiences, but it has also changed how I look at diet choices of those in different counties and given me a fresh perspective on what healthy eating is defined as.

Study Abroad Update
It has been 3 days since returning from Riga, Helsinki, and Stockholm and had some really interesting (but some boring) lectures on health care. It is definitely interesting to see how cultural differences (such as Latvia’s conservative views on HIV/AIDS and family planning) can have such a large impact on the health care that is (or is not) provided to the citizens. Some unique food experiences on my trip included traditional Swedish meatballs (which were delicious) and reindeer (which was not so delicious)!

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Tomorrow will take me to Dublin, Ireland for the weekend as my next stop in this amazing adventure!

What is Healthy?

It has officially been a week since arriving in Copenhagen and I only went the wrong way on the train once! Last week was filled with orientation seminars and tours of the city, and I successfully survived my first day of classes on Thursday. So far, I am enjoying all of my classes with Danish definitely being the most difficult. Thanks to my host family, I’ve got built in tutors for that!

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My core class in the Public Health program is Health Delivery and Prioritization in Northern Europe. Our class discussion on Thursday and our homework for the weekend revolved around the definition of health. Think about it… health can be a hard word to define. After reading this excerpt from Stephen Holland’s book Public Health Ethics, I was reminded of a new meaning of health that is often overlooked.

“…raised blood pressure is a risk factor for all kinds of disease. Reducing alcohol intake can be expected to lower the patient’s blood pressure and therefore reduce the risk of disease. So, the doctor ought to persuade the patient to drink less. But, on a conception of health as well-being, things look different. Given the patient’s circumstances, it might well be that going to the pub or bar to drink beer is vital to maintaining the levels of well-being. Stopping drinking – even compromising the pleasure of drinking by harping on about its detrimental effects – might well be disastrous for the patient’s well-being. So, on this account of health it would be dubious of the doctor to persuade the patient to drink less.”

The World Health Organization defines health as “a complete state of physical, mental, and social well-being, and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity”. Coming from a nutrition perspective, I am always focused on physical health and preventing disease and often forget about the mental and social well-being part of health.

So what is the point?
What I am trying to say is that it is important that we enjoy what we are eating and have a positive relationship with food. Eating lots of fiber, vegetables, and lean meats is great for our physical health but sometimes it can be overwhelming and interfere with out mental and social well-being.

For example, if you are at a dinner party or a restaurant trying to eat only “healthy” foods, the “unhealthy” foods around you can be very tempting. This can cause anxiety and an unpleasant, stressful night for you. You might be proud of yourself at the end of the night for not having a single French fry, but was it worth all of the anxiety? Would it have been better for your mental and social well-being to have a few fries or a bit of ice cream?

Not only is your diet about balance, but so is your overall health. Every person is different so I am not going to tell you when and where you should be eating what, but keep in mind that your overall health is determined by a lot more factors that just the food that goes into your mouth. Making “healthy” choices doesn’t just mean eating salad for every meal. “Healthy” choices can also include having a piece of cake in honor of a celebration or having chips and salsa at the dinner party so you don’t feel isolated and hungry.

Airport Snacking

Last Friday I packed my backpack and hopped on a plane to New Jersey to spend the weekend at a family gathering. My parents and brother were flying home 4 hours before my flight back to school so as I had a good chuck of time to wander the Newark airport. As I explored the terminal, I realized that an airport is pretty much one long hallway trying to give you a heart attack. No matter what airport you are at, or which terminal you are in, you probably won’t get to your gate before passing a McDonalds,Cinnabon, Burger King, or Auntie Anne’s Pretzels, (or all of the above!). It can be hard to avoid these cheap, unhealthy restaurants when so many hours are spent at airports just sitting around and waiting.

With all the hype of healthy eating recently, it is getting easier and easier to find healthy foods in the airport, but I personally like to pack my own snacks. Here are some of my flying favorites:

  1. Apples: I am kind of an apple-aholic so I usually have an apple with me wherever I go. Apples are easy to throw in your bag last minute and don’t require any utensils to eat.
  1. Red Peppers: Having sliced red peppers on hand is a great way to pack in some vitamin C while you are traveling. Planes are covered in germs so getting the extra immune boost will help prevent you from getting sick. Why red peppers? They actually have almost 3x the amount of vitamin C you would find in an orange!
  1. Yogurt: Yogurt is a good source of protein, which can keep you energized during those long hours in the air. Watch out though; I once got my yogurt confiscated at security because TSA said it was a liquid! Now I try to bring a small enough cup that it fits in my quart size liquids bag.
  1. Water: High altitudes can lead to dehydration so it is critical to drink lots of water while traveling. I hate using tiny airplane bathrooms so I try to drink lots of water before and after I land. And, of course, my water usually has a wedge of lemon in it for an extra vitamin C boost!

Did your flight get delayed and you need some more substantial food? Burger King has a grilled chicken sandwich, and most fast food places also have grilled chicken salads for a healthier option.

Also, don’t forget to stay active on travel days. Instead of sitting at your gate waiting to board, go for a walk through their airport. You are going to be sitting for the next several hours on the plane so you might as well keep yourself moving while you can!