I’m really not the latest food craze kind of person. Back when I really, truly became gluten intolerant (PTL Jesus heals), I hated feeling like another dumb white girl refusing to eat gluten to lose 5 pounds. I realize not everyone who doesn’t eat gluten is like that, but it was back during the height of the fad when people thought cutting out gluten was the new cutting carbs and kale hadn’t yet become queen of all things healthy.

I kept hearing about this Whole30 nonsense and I admit I was intrigued. (For those of you who don’t know, its a 30 day cleanse of dairy, grains, sugar, legumes, alcohol, and a handful of other things.) I found out it was a “diet” where you can eat as many avocados as you want. And steak. And sweet potatoes. Um, what? You had me at “bacon”, Whole30.

It didn’t appeal to me for weight loss reasons or for the sake of a cleanse for my body (although I did reason if I did Whole30 the month of March I could eat evvvvvverythiiiiiing on my trip to Europe in April). I saw Whole30 offering what I had been needing: a forced slowing down, intentional care of my body, and nurture at its most basic level. Cooking with the most real foods possible – whole foods. Breaking down “feeding yourself” to its most basic definition. I saw insane amounts of meal prep time not as another chore or to-do list item, but as a way to love your body. I saw the intentionality I had been craving in life.

And so, I went for it.

March was a lot for me. I’ve mentioned how Februaries usually hold so much for me, and this year March held the after effects of all those things. I ended one season of life and started a new one – in multiple areas. I’m learning how to hold joy and grief in the same hand, but I’m still pretty bad at it. I needed something to ground me, something to center me. Something to slow me down, remind me to make time for myself, and force me into taking said time for myself. It’s far too easy for me to numb out with ice cream, corn chips, frozen meals, McDonalds. I needed a hard and fast “not those things, not right now”; I needed new ways of coping and new patterns to be built.

I didn’t realize it at the time, but I also needed one thing to stay constant in my ever changing life. One thing I was controlling, as it felt like my life had completely flip flopped overnight. One thing that was just me, because I’m learning how to do life on my own.

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I’m quick to tell people I did Whole30ish, because I did not in any way succeed at 30 days straight of these food restrictions. On my last day at my job, my (now old) boss brought in an ice cream pizza to celebrate – I couldn’t be rude and not have a slice. At a picnic my church hosted for refugee families, I was living on iced coffee and oranges for 3 long hours and then the little girl I was hanging out with wanted to go get some pizza. You do not say no to little refugee girls. There were also a few times I bought or ordered things that I thought were Whole30 compliant… and then found out they weren’t. And I still ate them. This was more of a “this sounds like a good idea, let’s see what happens!” than a “I am committing to this challenge, so help me God” situation for me.

My other goal for the month was to not eat a single meal standing up. I have this bad habit of standing in my kitchen and stuffing food in my face. Typically random snack food that is easily accessible, and I eat enough calories of it that I feel should equate to a meal. Or, if I do cook, I eat said meal at the counter, in under 30 seconds. I wanted to slow down. I wanted to take time to make meals, but also take time to enjoy them. I wanted to stop eating a bag of corn chips for dinner because my chicken was taking too long to cook or “snacking” on some ice cream only to find myself no longer hungry for an actual meal. To be clear, I broke this rule the morning of March 1st. But I did do a pretty good job of it the rest of the month.

When I was explaining to my dad about what I could eat and – mostly – what I couldn’t eat on Whole30, he was a bit impressed. “I think this is the healthiest you’ve ever eaten!” I laughed. He was right. I’m not the most unhealthy person (I talk about McDonalds far more than I actually go), but I’m also not the most healthy. I have basically no self control when it comes to sugar. I often turn to food in times of stress. I eat of out boredom far more than I care to admit.

And so Whole30 was a lesson in love and grace and freedom. For the first time, I wasn’t on a self imposed diet because I was punishing my body for something – for too much ice cream last week or not working out this morning or feeling a little too flabby too many days in a row. This wasn’t out of hate for how I looked, this was out of love for my body. For the first time, I was acting out of care for my skin and bones instead of out of disgust. It made it a whole lot easier to not eat that cookie that came with my company lunch one day, that I stared at during a very long two hour meeting. If I were on a “diet”, I would have consumed it in one, ashamed bite and then spent 36 hours hating myself for it. Instead, I thought about eating it 27 times, and eventually walked away – not because cookies are the devil, but because I made a commitment to my body.

And yet, I did Whole30ish. There are some adamant Whole30-ers out there who wouldn’t consider my month up to par. That’s fine; it wasn’t. I didn’t go a solid 30 days without all the things you are supposed to give up, I didn’t restart after every mistake I made (intentional or not). If your goal is a 30 day cleanse, then I’m happy for you if you follow that strictly. It wasn’t my goal. And so I allowed myself grace – a forever how-to lesson I keep attempting to learn. I didn’t hate myself when I messed up, I didn’t hate myself when I broke a rule, and I didn’t hate myself when life got too hard and I resorted to my old ways and had a piece of chocolate to “fix” things. I let grace abound and took note of what was going on: Chocolate doesn’t fix my life, but it sure is nice. Hating myself doesn’t change anything, yet it’s an easy pattern to fall back into.

And somehow I discovered so much freedom within the strict rules of Whole30. I discovered bacon wrapped asparagus and garlic infused olive oil and learned all salads don’t need dressing. I realized not all limits are limiting – sometimes they are beneficial. Sometimes they are needed. Freedom to take time to sit and eat a meal and not feel like you’re wasting time. Not feel like I’m too busy or too stressed or too whatever to sit down and eat for 10 minutes. There’s freedom to not rush through life. There’s freedom to eat strange things when you’re attempting something new (sweet potato “pasta” with coconut milk curry shrimp? …sure?). There’s freedom to not know what in the world you’re doing (coconut aminos, what even are you?!). There’s freedom to take steps that are frustrating and hard and, at times, make you hate everything – yet make you healthier overall.

My church has been going through this great series on healthy spirituality and emotional maturity and all that good stuff that we want but is so hard to make time for. It’s so interesting to me – and yet shouldn’t be surprising – how similar caring for your body and caring for your soul can be. Focus on the good stuff. Avoid the junk. There’s always grace, there’s always freedom. And remember to love yourself in the process.

They say after Whole30 to ease back into things. I would suggest following their advice and not eating an entire pint of ice cream in one night…

Whaaaaat? Who would do that??

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