Whole 30 — Hitting the Reset Button

In 15 years of this athletic journey, I’ve always understood that nutrition is an important piece of fitness. As I built myself up to becoming an Ironman, I spent a lot of time in training, coming back from those long sessions starving. My belief, like many other amateur athletes, was run all the miles so I can eat all the cupcakes/drink all the wine. Food was food. And for a while I counted all of it as fuel. 

Not long after Ironman, I hired a nutritionist, and through the 2 years I worked with her, I learned so much: what I needed to do & how to eat throughout the day — more fats in the morning, more carbs at dinner, more protein throughout. I learned how hormones and macros come together throughout the day, and I had some structure…a foundation to build on as I saw fit. However, I was left to fly on my own…and crashed. I wasn’t ready to independently create and follow my own nutrition plan, so I went back to some old food habits.

Since working with my nutritionist, I’ve been on again off again with my nutrition. I know what I “should” be doing, but I also love Phish Food Ice Cream. I would cope emotionally with a glass of wine more frequently than I believe was healthy. I hit 45 years old, and found I was the heaviest I had been since giving birth to my son.

I just felt uncomfortable. I felt like my body was working too hard to just exist, and it hurt. I was certainly overweight, but I could still run well. I felt inflamed, but not sick. My mood swings were the worst of all, though. They were simply unacceptable, because I would find my temper flaring up at my family. Not okay. I still can’t describe what I was feeling in August, but I knew the only way to change it was to take another hard look at my nutrition.

Diet is a dirty word to me. I’ve never gone on a “diet” that restricts calories, requires “special products,” or drink nothing but vegetable juice. I didn’t want that, because that wasn’t what I needed. 

I needed something fully structured, that would fuel me as an athlete, that would clean me up, and that I could sustain indefinitely until I felt like I was back on track. So I did a lot of research — I didn’t go to my social media friends to help me figure this out, because everyone would have a different perspective. I respect people who have found what works for them, but I needed to know HOW a plan would work. I needed to see how it would fit into MY life — a single/remarried/marathon/work-at-home-mom of a middle school boy. No allergies, no sensitivities, just tell me what to eat and when to eat it. Give me rules and guidelines and structure and consequences.

So after some digging, I found that Whole30 was the route I would take, pluning into the flagship book — The Whole 30: The 30-Day Guide to Total Health and Food Freedom (Affiliate Link*) — and devouring it like a pint of Phish Food. I took my time visualizing how to make this work, and how to gear myself up emotionally for this endeavor. In addition to that book, I purchased 3 other cookbooks and the Day by Day Journal*. I was invested. This was the plan for me. 

After making the announcement on Instagram, I knew I was on the right track, but I didn’t need suggestions from the masses. I can get very overwhelmed by social media, so I relied almost exclusively on the books and the Whole30 forums for information and input.

Social Media announcement…setting clear boundaries helped me navigate this phase of my journey.

August 19th — Day One. I chose this day because I had just completed a race the day before, and was in recovery for a week before beginning my Goofy training. It was the right time, and I needed the overhaul. 

I won’t give you a blow by blow of all 30 days, but I do have some observations about Whole30 and my personal habits: 

  • I’m convenience driven — Whole 30 was an eye-opener to my “ain’t nobody got time for that” habits around meals. The shopping, prepping, cooking, eating, and cleaning became a massive time suck, that I still don’t like, but have embraced. I’m more deliberate about what I’m eating rather than just grabbing the first thing my hand touches in the pantry.
  • I knew I could — The support of the books, my husband and son, and my close friends who knew what I was doing helped me through all 30 days. Some things surprised me: the Tasty videos on Facebook? Yeah, I could binge-watch cake decorating videos all day. I found it ironic that in the toughest times of cravings, I’d see one of these pop up. I’d laugh, watch the video, then move on. While the Oreo cake balls looked amazing, I never caved.
  • This wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be in the WAYS I thought it would be. Drinking coffee black, planning meals, trying new recipes…not hard. The never-ending cycle of dirty dishes, stopping long enough to eat lunch (something I was always bad at), and watching my son eat a pizza with my favorite Italian bread RIGHT IN FRONT OF ME?…Hard.
  • I saw what I had been doing to my body, then figured out what my body needed — about 15 days in, I felt like there were millions of tiny “scrubbing bubbles” on every cell in my body, cleaning me from the inside out…singing the clean-up song. Yeah, it got weird sometimes. 
  • Whole 30 wasn’t that far off from what my nutritionist had already taught me and in fact, that was what drew me to Whole 30 in the first place — there were just more details to hang onto…less guess work. I had more direction and more ideas. I didn’t have to “get creative,” because that is NOT my strong suit. It takes what I already know, and fleshed it out into a real, detailed plan with so many supportive resources. 

And then I hit day 30. I did it. No pomp and circumstance, no big #Day30 announcement on Social Media…I don’t need the accolades, because I already feel fantastic. I’m sure there are people out there that are proud of what I’ve accomplished, and thank you to those people, but really, I did this for me, for my running, and for my family.

Now a quick look at the results. In 30 days:

  • My resting heart rate dropped 7 beats per minute
  • My easy running pace increased 2 minutes per mile.
  • My mood swings leveled out.
  • I lost 7 pounds.

I didn’t set out to lose weight, but I did. I didn’t set out to get faster, but I did. This was truly the first time I’ve experienced first hand how nutrition affects my running. This was really the best thing I’ve done for myself all year…actually the best thing I’ve done for myself since becoming an athlete.

So what now? 30 Days are up, and I have the Whole30 in my rearview mirror. I’m actually going to continue with the plan…live in it for a while. As the author Melissa Hartwig says, it takes a long time to develop new habits around food, especially if you are coming from a lifetime of bad food choices. I’m reluctant to reintroduce foods too quickly, because I’m feeling so good right now. Bagels? Meh. Rice? Nah. Goldfish? Whatever. Wine? Yes please. Post-Whole 30, I’m still counting days. I need to make sure these habits solidify into something that I can sustain for a while. I feel cleaner, stronger, and healthier than I ever have before.

One of my favorite recipes: Chicken Chile Verde from the Whole30 Slow Cooker Cookbook!

Maybe you’ve tried the Whole30 and loved it. Maybe you have a story to tell. Maybe you think it’s a bunch of hooey, and don’t you dare take away my cheese. I hope you have found, like I did, something that works for you. If you are a runner, nutrition is the lynchpin to your athletic performance. I learned there is no way to outrun a bad diet.

*Please note, there are Amazon Affiliate links above, meaning that clicking through and purchasing an item results in small monetary compensation at no additional cost to the buyer.

Heather Jergensen

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