Late-January 2015 Check-in

Happy day 23 of the Whole 30! So far, this month has gone very well. As of yesterday, I went to the gym 11 out of 22 days. That means that I have intentionally exercised 50% of the days in 2015 so far. Sure, there are plenty of days that I’ve gone well beyond 10,000 steps on my fitbit without stepping into a gym, but I didn’t mark those on my calendar. Those are just bonus days!

2015-01-22 21.22.18

The “gold star” method still works well for me.

Though I rely heavily on a digital calendar for all appointments, I still love a paper calendar for tracking progress and for taking note of upcoming events on the weekend. This month, an orange check mark denotes another day completed in the Whole 30, and purple stars indicate that I went to the gym that day.

Speaking of the gym, my lifting routine has been going pretty well. Right now, I’m doing a dumbbell routine that is broken into three days: push day, pull day, and leg day. I don’t know for how long this type of routine will be sustainable, but it’s working well for me for now. My current goals are to focus on learning how to do all of the exercises properly and without hurting myself, and for that, I’ve been keeping the weights relatively low.

So far, I’m on track to meet all of my January goals. More on that in eight days when I recap the month of January!

How is your month shaping up?

Finding Balance

If you’ve been reading my blog for the past several posts, you might notice that my post on January 19 staying that I will never do the Whole 30 while traveling again and my post on January 12 stating that making healthy decisions is difficult, but they do get easier are somewhat contradictory. Let me explain why both of these statements are still true for me.

If you’re a marathon traveler like I am, it’s helpful to know when a meal will make you feel energized or when it will make you crash. Making healthier decisions while traveling was, in fact, easier this time compared to previous times that I’ve traveled. While dining at a Brazilian restaurant, I wasn’t afraid to ask for vegetables instead of rice with a meal. And, as you can imagine, after consuming that meal, I felt pleasantly full, my energy levels stayed even, and I didn’t sugar crash. Balance is making healthy choices most of the time
Balance is making healthy choices most of the time

Once you are armed with the knowledge of which foods energize you and which make you crash, you can consciously decide when it is worth it to deviate from your chosen lifestyle. I find that the main utility in programs like the Whole 30 and the Primal Challenge is that you finally learn how to really listen to your body. You can pinpoint how specific foods make you feel, and once you associate how bad some of those foods make you feel, it makes it much, much easier to avoid eating them regularly. Balance includes room for indulgences
Balance includes room for indulgences

For me, knowing how foods affect me is the first step in achieving balance. But what is balance? Balance is making healthy decisions most of the time but not always. Balance is choosing to eat an everything bagel with cream cheese and lox while traveling in New York City, but then eating a meal of fish and vegetables for dinner because taking a detour from your healthy lifestyle for one fantastic meal while traveling has not derailed you in perpetuity. Balance is knowing when a splurge is worth it (hint: if it’s junk food that’s constantly around, it’s probably not worth it). Balance is refusing to feel guilty for the rare splurge because it’s just wasted energy. Most importantly, balance is what you’re aiming for all along. It’s that comfortable spot between truly feeling like you live a healthy lifestyle and knowing when to make choices outside of your usual wellness paradigm.

The Whole 30 challenge and all of the social media resources associated with it have been immensely helpful in helping me to focus on my well-being. Finding balance requires mindfulness and conscious decisions every day. To find balance, you have to look at the whole picture over the course of a week, a month, a year, or even a lifetime. I know a lot of people scoff at 30 day or 3-week challenges, but I find that they really do help me to re-center in a way that I can’t usually do on my own. I find that when I tell myself that something is okay “in moderation,” that something becomes a daily occurrence, and my well-being suffers for it. So, my final thought on what defines balance is truly distinguishing between moderation and excess.

How do you define balance?

I Will Never Do the Whole 30 While Traveling Again

Okay, maybe that’s a bit of an exaggeration. But, I will not strictly adhere to the Whole 30 while traveling somewhere new again, at least not somewhere with a whole food culture that I haven’t yet experienced.

When I chose to do the January Whole 30, I knew that I had a trip to NYC planned over days 16, 17, and 18 of the Whole 30. I was really nervous that I would fail the Whole 30 while there, and spent a lot of time preparing myself for it, both mentally and by stocking up on Whole 30 emergency snacks.

Two weeks prior to my NYC departure, I purchased two flavors of RX bars, only to find out that they give me such awful stomachaches that they’re not worth eating. Upon realizing this, I ordered Primal Pacs, but they did not arrive in time for my trip. So, my emergency stockpile of food for the trip included 5 Lara Bars, a sandwich bag full of macadamia nuts, and roasted pumpkin seeds.

Dinner prior to boarding my bus to NYC was promising. We ate at Johnny Rockets and they were happy to accommodate my order for a burger with no bun, cheese, mayo, or ketchup. I snacked on a few pumpkin seeds on the bus, and by the time we got to NYC, it was time to check into the hotel and get some sleep for the next day. I know, I lead a glamorous life.

In the scheme of things, Saturday was okay, too. I had an herb omelette and bacon at brunch, though the omelette was terribly bland. Dinner was a seafood platter with roasted asparagus and vegetables (they ended up giving me broccoli and carrots) subbed for the rice. I had to all but beg the waiter to not give me rice, but the cook must have relented because my meal include plenty of green veggies and it was delicious.

Saturday evening, we had tickets to Drunk Shakespeare (to maintain my glamorous life, I also only attend dignified events), where I declined a free shot upon admission to the show. I didn’t mind declining a drink in this instance, or during the whole trip, because I really didn’t feel like I was missing out on some great NYC experience by not drinking. I was also fine not drinking during the show, as cocktails were $15! If you’re wondering, a seltzer water was $4 (highway robbery!).

Cue Sunday. I tagged along with a friend to a well-renowned bagel shop. I almost broke and failed the Whole 30, and in retrospect, I actually wish I had just cheated because those bagels looked perfect. But, I stayed strong and asked for two hard-boiled eggs and a black coffee, to which the guy working the counter incredulously asked me, “That’s it?!”. Yes, sadly, that’s it. A bagel that wants me to eat it.
A bagel that wants me to eat it.

For some context, this was my first proper trip to NYC. I’ve never had a true New York bagel, slice of pizza, cannoli, or slice of cheesecake before. Though I love to sight-see, traveling with my taste buds and stomach is equally important to me. I truly feel like I lost out on some of the experience of the trip. Going forward, when traveling an 80/20 rule would be far more sustainable for me.

I intend to make it up to myself, though. I’m already planning my next trip back, when I will fully take advantage of all of NYC’s excellent food offerings. And should I travel in the future, I’ll adhere to the tenets of the Whole 30 for most meals, but I will not forego trying a new local cuisine in the name of the Whole 30. Next time, I will eat the bagel and then pay for it with a day of bloatedness and a rumbly tummy, but it will be worth every. single. bite.

For which food will you always cheat?

Healthy Decisions Are Difficult, but They Get Easier

Exercising regularly is hard. So is eating healthy. And maintaining a restful sleep schedule. Even though I would rather be doing these things, it’s hard to find the motivation to make healthy decisions after a long day at work.

But, I’ve noticed something else. Making the healthy decisions gets easier (really!). A healthy lifestyle requires building a whole new set of habits. However, one of the reasons that the Whole 30 can be so difficult is that it takes a lot of time to build new habits. When I started my first Whole 30 last year, I had very few go-to meals that were Whole 30 compliant. So, I started with the basics. I always liked scrambled eggs with ketchup on them. Obviously, Heinz ketchup was not allowed because of the added high fructose corn syrup or sugar. Thus, one of the first Whole 30/paleo compliant things I made was ketchup — Homemade Ketchup with a Kick, specifically. As it turns out, really liked that particular ketchup (most likely because of the curry) and I still make it every couple of weeks.


Now, after several months of following Paleo/Whole 30 bloggers and slowly trying their recipes, I have an arsenal of go-to meals. I slowly went through all of my non-Paleo ingredients in the pantry and slowly replaced them with gluten-free, nitrite-free, and sulfate-free alternatives. I bought a Ninja Master Food Processor* which has become the most important thing in my kitchen beside an actual range, oven, basic kitchen cookware, and utensils.

This past weekend is a great example of how far I’ve come. Sam and I were actually brave enough to host a Whole 30 dinner party. I wish I had taken photos, but we were too busy prepping and then eating! We served white and sweet potato fries cooked in lard (white potatoes are allowed on the whole 30), Game Day Wings, Nom Nom Paleo’s Chile Lime Chicken Wings, and The Clothes Make the Girl’s Bacon-Jalapeno Burger Balls, including the awesome sauce and homemade relish. For our own meals this week, we made Mojo Grilling Marinade, Kickass Ketchup, date pasteSmoky Hot BBQ Sauce, and The Best Steak Marinade in Existence (subbing coconut aminos for soy sauce and skipping Worcestershire sauce). All of this does require some extra time in the kitchen, but our meals have become a lot more delicious and equally more healthy.

If you’re just starting out on the Whole 30, you probably aren’t going to try to make all of those recipes in one day like I did. But, you can start by trying to incorporate one or two new recipes per week. Start with a basic homemade mayo, like The Clothes Make the Girl’s homemade mayo. Once you have making mayo down, you can turn it into awesome sauce, ranch dressing, or various aioli or hollandaise sauces. Or maybe you want to start with finally learning how to make a good pork chop that isn’t tough and try. Don’t worry, someone else has already figured it all out for you: see The Kitchn’s tutorial on the perfect pork chops here.

What new recipes or cooking techniques have you mastered lately?

*I’ve noticed that some models of the Ninja food processors have nearly doubled in price since I bought mine a few months ago. I do see them occasionally on sale on Woot, Amazon daily deals, and I even saw one marked down to $35 at Macy’s recently. Shop wisely!

January Goals

I know that it’s a few days late to be posting this, but better late than never, right? Say what you will about new year’s resolutions, but here in the Learn, Eat, Live household, we’re really working to make some changes in our lifestyle.

Goal #1: Complete the Whole 30. As I mentioned in another post, I failed miserably at my last Whole 30, but had great results the first time around. This time around, I’m at Day 9 and still going strong. Only 21 days left!


Goal #2: Start a weight-lifting routine. Other than Pilates class, I’ve avoided the gym for a very long time. I hate running and I hate treadmills. I was nervous about jumping into the weight room part of the gym because it’s so heavily dominated by men. I also didn’t (and still don’t) have a lifting partner. Until earlier this week, the last time I had done any type of weight training was early probably about ten years ago! I’m changing that this month with a new (and thankfully very cheap) gym membership. I’m starting with this routine, and will adjust as I get stronger.

Goal #3: Don’t skip Pilates. This is a class that I had to prepay for, so every time I skip, that’s money I’ve already spent for which I get nothing in return. I’ve been attending Pilates for over a year now. In that time, I’ve advanced from beginner to intermediate, but I won’t see additional changes if I don’t continue attending class regularly.

Dreamstime Stock Photos

Dreamstime Stock Photos

Goal #4: Use You Need A Budget (YNAB) software to build a better monthly budget and to reduce unnecessary and non-budgeted spending. Several months ago, I started a full-time position, thereby increasing my take-home pay (yay!). Unfortunately, I allowed lifestyle inflation to occur, and we spent, rather than saved, most of the increased income. This month is the month to get back on track, and I’m doing that with a free trial of YNAB.

What are your January goals?

Why I Failed my Last Whole 30, and What I’m Doing to Succeed This Time

There’s no record of the last Whole 30 on this blog because I didn’t write about it. Perhaps that shows how little I was invested in it. I attempted a second Whole 30 some time last summer, but I just didn’t stick with it for more than a couple of days. Perhaps you’ve failed a Whole 30 or two as well.

I’ve pinpointed my failure to one factor: I was not motivated. Last summer, I was in the final throes of writing and defending my dissertation. Every bit of extra energy I had went to completing my doctoral work. Even after I met my deadlines, I had so little ambition left that pursuing a 30 day lifestyle challenge felt insurmountable.

In retrospect, eating whole, “clean” foods would have been especially helpful during that high stress time. Instead, I turned to unhealthy comfort foods. I told myself that I wouldn’t let one poor decision throw me off track, but I followed each poor decision with another poor decision. I was definitely off track.

This time around, I’m planning to succeed. Here’s how:

Plan ahead. It almost feels pointless to repeat this, because every Whole 30 tip sheet out there recommends that you plan ahead. But it is absolutely essential. The thing about eating a Whole 30 diet is that it’s difficult to grab and go. Make sure that you the meat you plan to eat for dinner is thawed and ready to go when you get home from work. Buy frozen vegetables, or spend a little extra time a few nights per week prepping vegetables for other nights that week.

Cook extra. A lot extra. We realized that we eat a lot more meat than we thought we would. This means that we are now cooking twice as much as we think we’ll need for dinner and the next day’s lunch. This ensures that we will definitely have leftovers for lunch the next day. If you actually end up with leftovers beyond that, that’s great! The next day’s lunch is also prepared.

Use an RSS Feed reader to follow recipe bloggers. If you’re not familiar with RSS feed readers, they are a simple web-based interface that aggregates all of the blogs that you read into one interface. I use Feedly because it seemed like the next best thing after Google Reader was discontinued. Feedly is as simple or complex as you want to make it. You can, but don’t have to, combine the blogs you follow into groups or folders. This way you can easily skim through your recipe blogs separately from your mommy blogger or world news blogs.

Keep a go-to list of easy recipes. Ideally, this is a list of easy and quick meals that you can make in a pinch. You could create a list by bookmarking recipes in Feedly, creating a board in Trello (my new favorite collaboration and task management tool!), or pinning recipes to a Pinterest board.

Find an accountability buddy. This time around, Sam and two of my friends are also participating in the Whole 30. Knowing that we’re all in this together really helps. I started my Whole 30 along with the official January 2015 Whole 30. The Whole 30 blog posts and posts on Instagram by others doing the Whole 30 at the same time are especially motivating. If you have no one to partner with, try signing up for the daily Whole 30 e-mails.

Be easy on yourself. The Whole 30 has very strict rules, and you’re bound to slip-up somewhere. It’s up to you to evaluate how much you messed up. Did you accidentally eat non-compliant bacon? Personally, I’m not sure this warrants starting all over with the Whole 30. Just keep going and follow the rules. Did you consciously decide to go out for pizza or eat a bagel? Well, that’s another story, and you should probably consider starting over again.

Have an emergency stash of snacks. The Whole 30 bans snacking, but sometimes you’re in a pinch and you need a snack. Don’t go to the vending machine! Keep a stash of Whole 30 compliant snacks around. I keep a Lara bar in my purse (and I’m planning to give the Whole 30 endorsed RX bars a try soon). Other options are nuts, pumpkin seeds, jerky, olives, pickles, sliced bell peppers, carrots, celery, and nut butters (to eat with the celery, of course).

Practice makes perfect. Finally, just know that the second (or third, in my case) time around, the Whole 30 is a lot easier. I still struggled with the sluggishness and headaches the first couple days, but completing the Whole 30 still feels do-able (hopefully that’s still the case on days 15 or 20). A lot of it has to do with knowing what to cook, how much to cook, how much to pack for lunch, and what snacks to have handy for when you’re in a pinch.

Are you in the middle of the January Whole 30 now? How are you faring?

Year 2014 in Review: Whole 30 Edition

I only posted for one short stint in 2014, which is abysmal by blogging standards. Granted, those postings were during a particularly influential part of 2014 for me, so at a personal level, they were pretty darn important. In March 2014, I completed my first Whole 30 challenge.

It started in early 2014 when, for reasons I can’t quite recall, I finally decided I would give the gluten-free thing a try to see if it made me feel better (and, I admit, maybe lose some weight, too). Like most projects, I embraced the gluten-free experiment with zeal. I went to Wegman’s and stocked up on all of the ingredients I would need to make gluten-free soft pretzels for a dinner party I was attending that weekend. Armed with ingredients like brown rice flour and xantham gum, I thought I was going to make a big change. Those of you who have done the Whole 30 or have switched to paleo or primal diets probably know the outcome already: these small changes to simply gluten-free made no real difference in my life, other than giving me the pleasure of trying new recipes in the kitchen.

So, February rolled around and Sam and I left our four-month old puppy in the care of two very generous (and immensely patient) friends while we flew off to the Dominican Republic for 8 days to join a few dear friends in a mission to build housing in some of the poorest mountain villages in the Dominican. While on this trip, we met a man (we’ll call him A) who had been following the primal lifestyle for quite some time. Prior to meeting him, I had never heard of eating primal, nor had I heard of the blog Mark’s Daily Apple or his book, The Primal Blueprint. But A’s overall well-being resulting from adhering to a primal lifestyle were proof enough to me that he was doing something right. All week, between house-building tasks, he graciously answered all of my questions about saturated fats, cholesterol, calories, exercise, and why peanuts were not a suggested snack. His biggest advice was to go home, read a few books, and try it for myself. He told me that the proof is in the results you see for yourself.

So, I returned home and started reading books like Why We Get Fat: And What to Do About It by Gary Taubes and It Starts with Food by Melissa & Dallas Hartwig. I was convinced, at least convinced enough to give the Whole 30 a try in March, which I mostly completed. I thought like, most beginners, that after a few weeks of the Whole 30 that I had the lifestyle change down. I had more energy, I had lot several pounds, and I was feeling great. I thought that had learned enough and I could reincorporate a few things now, thereby pursuing the 80/20 healthy eating that is often suggested for paleo/primal folks.

Unfortunately, as far as my health is concerned, the rest of the year was a bit of a wash and I gained 20 pounds (some of it was weight that I had lost earlier in the year, but still). Though I would cook mostly healthy meals, I didn’t make other good choices. I walked less. I accepted that second (or third) glass of wine too often. I ate junk food (including stuff with gluten, which I had sworn off in the beginning of the year) without worrying about it too much. I told myself the same old lies: these things are okay in moderation, a little won’t kill me, what’s the big deal anyway? The rational me knew what the big deal was. These “small” decisions were happening way too often and the cumulative effect was making me more tired, feel weaker, and gain weight.

So, I’m pledging to make 2015 a better year. I’m starting the year with a Whole 30 (today is day 5!) and I hope that sets the tone for a year of better decisions… at least 80% of the time.