Monday, February 2, 2015

The Whole30 and the White Sea

When I began getting involved in CrossFit a few years ago, I made a dedicated attempt to align my eating with the paleo diet. Over the course of the following years, however, I slowly began to add things back into my diet, including regular “cheat” items. By last fall, I was eating a paleo diet that was being constantly undermined by a barrage of "sugar bombs." Despite keeping a relatively regular workout schedule of 2-4 days a week, my performance was declining. I knew that I was dealing with a sugar addiction, but I was doing nothing to aggressively address the problem. In fact, between Thanksgiving and Christmas, I felt like had pretty much lost control.

To get back on track, I decided to do Whole30 challenge in conjunction with my close friends at CrossFit Denton during the month of January. The specific guidelines of the challenge are noted on the program’s website, but in essence, the Whole30 is a very strict paleo diet – no cheats, no shortcuts – for a 30 day period. On the morning of January 1, I drank black coffee by choice for the very first time ever and did not look back.

The core of my diet was not too far off from the Whole30 guidelines, but the challenge became to find and eliminate refined sugar. In some cases this was obvious (no more protein bars), but I started to see it hiding in some weird places. It turns out, for example, that sugar-free bacon is scarce. Fortunately an alternative arose, because bacon is a big common denominator in our house.  To remove it entirely from the family diet could have derailed the entire program.

Otherwise, I had already built up a pretty decent repertoire of paleo recipes that are Whole30 compliant. Finding time to prepare enough food to feed the family on a daily basis, however, was another challenge. I spent a lot of time in the kitchen, but I came to enjoy taking responsibility for my family’s nutritional well-being. I often doubled up recipes to ensure that I had leftovers, and I tried out new ones with unfamiliar ingredients. I concluded that I really like parsnips and butternut squash, and although beets are pretty good, I am not convinced that they are worth the mess.

The changes in my energy level made all this time invested in the kitchen entirely worth the effort. Whole30 participants often report nearly uncontrollable cravings and mood swings in the first week. Perhaps because I have had previous experience with those kinds of withdrawals when I first began CrossFit, I did not experience them as acutely as some. The cravings subsided within a week, to be replaced by a noticeable boost in my workout performance, particularly in terms of stamina and endurance.

The biggest problem was January. My wife, my mother, and I all celebrate birthdays this month. Declining constant offers of birthday cake and navigating birthday celebrations became a real obstacle.

On the 30th day of the program, arguably the exit date, I was listening to In Cold Blood by White Sea, the solo project from M83’s Morgan Kibby as I again contemplated “to cake or not to cake” at my family birthday celebration. This particular album has been in rotation all month. Unsurprisingly, The White Sea is electro-pop with an unapologetic deference for the late 80s. What is surprising, however, is Kibby’s broad vocal range. The breathy tone that she uses with M83 is merely a facet of a much broader capacity that she displays on the album.  Overall, In Cold Blood is good, but it lacks the musical experimentalism that makes M83 so distinctive.  There is, however, no lack of visual impact in their videos.

I chose not to cake, by the way, which at the time made me a little sad. I was thankful the next day, however, when I worked out the next morning at 5 am with a clear head, free of any sugar hangover that such an indulgence might have caused. As per the guidelines of the program, I did not take any measurements, weigh myself, or take before/after pictures. I instead let my general sense of fitness serve as my primary gauge of progress. By this measurement, the program was a huge success.

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