Stephanie Lechner: Nametags and Hairnets

Failing career assessments since the 8th grade

Tag: Life

The Whole30 Shebang

I’ve always fancied myself more of a cerebral individual. I say this not as an attempt at intellectual boasting as much as it is to say this: I’ve always thought of my body as a clunky, oversized carrying case for my brain.  I’ve spent the better part of my life treating my body and its physical needs secondary to the nourishment and attention I give my mind and my thoughts.  Secondary? That’s probably an understatement. I’d rank health and nutrition somewhere between household chores and doing my taxes—I do what I need to do to get by without any extra effort or consideration (sorry, IRS!). In this respect, I’ve reaped what I’ve sown, and as I approach 30 (!?!), I’ve reached my comeuppance. My 20’s have been a constant rotation of chronic insomnia, blood sugar mania, joint injuries, poor digestion, ER visits, pain-killers, Ambien and lots of extra pounds.  I’m hardly on my way to being 30, flirty and thriving (quick, name that movie!)

So what’s a girl to do? As I mentioned in a previous post, the start of 2013 meant resetting the way I look at nutrition, my relationship with food and the impact my diet has on the rest of my body’s operation. Thanks to the suggestion of a dear friend, I decided to not only give the Paleo lifestyle a try, but I decided to jump-start that transition with the #Whole30 challenge. For 30 days, I would strip my diet of all inflammatory foods: grains, sugar (real or otherwise), legumes, alcohol, and soy. What’s left is a steady diet of meat, seafood, fruits and veggies. I would take this time to allow my body to heal from the damage that occurs from a lifetime of eating toxic chemicals and an unspeakable amount of carbohydrates. I am nearing the end of my 30 days (with nary a cheat in sight), and the results have been nothing short of amazing. I am down twelve pounds, my skin is glowing, my sleep has improved, my blood sugar has stabilized, and more importantly, I better understand how and what kinds of food best fuel this clunky, oversized brain-carrier. Also, my cheekbones are back, so there’s that. Here are some random, interesting things I’ve learned throughout this process.

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  1. Betty Ford should open an institute to treat sugar addicts. The first seven days were straight up sugar rehab.I was climbing the walls craving everything from candy to donuts to my old friend Diet Coke (yep, even fake sugar got the axe). If you were unlucky enough to be around me during this first week, you witnessed manic mood swings and heightened irritability.  Also, I looked like an extra from Walking Dead.walking dead
  2. All my life, I was convinced that sweet potatoes needed brown sugar to be enjoyed. They don’t, and I was insane to think so. Sweet potatoes are my heavenly manna.
  3. If it’s not in my house, I can’t eat it.
  4. It is not really that hard to drink water while your friends sip mimosas and beer. If you get bored, you can always run down the street and order a veggie/fruit smoothie, and no one will judge you. That being said, I kinda miss whiskey.
  5. I ask myself all the time if it’s possible to eat too many apples. It probably is, but there are worse vices I could have.big mac
  6. Speaking of vices, it is safe to say that I will look back on this month as the time I truly fell in love with coffee. Removing cream and sugar has opened up my taste buds to a world full of rich, aromatic flavor. Also, coffee kept me alive and tolerable for those first seven days. Anyone who crossed my path during that week should thank his or her lucky stars for coffee.
  7. Servers at restaurants are more than happy to put up with your obnoxious ingredient questions if you smile (and tip them well).
  8. It took my deli guy close to two weeks to stop looking confused when I ordered my breakfast. “No double egg and cheese on a toasted English muffin?” Sorry, Marcos, sometimes things change.
  9. I do still know my way around the kitchen. After nearly 5 years of flexing my take-out muscles, I was actually worried this would not be true.
  10.  The coconut knows no bounds. Seriously, the Professor from Gilligan’s Island was totally on to something.Roy Hinkley

The trick behind #Whole30 (and it’s not actually a trick), is that after the 30 days, you don’t really want to go back to your old way of eating. The cravings are gone, and the pain and sickness is truly not worth that slice of pizza. I’ve turned a serious corner here, guys, and I am seriously jazzed about this new outlook on food. I have given some serious consideration as to what foods I will attempt to carefully incorporate back into my diet, and the list I’ve decided on is quite short—small amounts of dairy, most legumes, the occasional soy and of course, whiskey. I feel pretty good about my permanent exclusion list: sugar, grains, potatoes, corn, diet soda, beer, etc. I know I run the risk of becoming one of those uber-obnoxious, self-righteous health nuts, but this experience has been too good not to share. I don’t expect everyone to take such extreme measures with their eating habits, but I will be the first to join your cheer squad if you do.

Now, if only I could be this excited about doing my taxes.

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Listen Sugar, We Need to Talk.

Shortly after I moved to New York, I was awoken around 4:00 am with a searing pain in my back. The pain was so strong I could hardly catch my breath. The only thing I knew was that I needed to get to the hospital (and that I did not want to take an ambulance there). I had just moved to Queens and knew nothing about the area, but I was able to hobble down to the main intersection in my pajamas and hail a cab. I asked for the nearest hospital, and he drove me away from the finer establishments in Manhattan to the now defunct St. John’s hospital in Elmhurst.  After a battery of uncomfortable tests and logistical nightmares (at one point they wheeled my bed into the waiting area because they had no space for me), they diagnosed me with kidney stones and sent me home with a delightful quantity of Percocet.  This wasn’t the first or last time I would be diagnosed with “the stones,” so I decided to seek out a doctor that could really help me sort things out.

A coworker recommended a doctor in the area who combined holistic and western medicine. Wanting to take a different approach to healthcare, I immediately made an appointment, and what I learned from this doctor was nothing short of mind-blowing. After a thorough assessment of my health, he explained to me that most of my seemingly unrelated symptoms could probably be addressed through my diet. Say what, doc!?! He went on to explain that a lot of people experience food sensitivities and/or allergies that compromise the digestive system and can result in a variety of ailments similar to an autoimmune disorder. Basically, he was saying that my kidney stones, history of knee complications, chronic insomnia, and frequent stomach pain could probably all be reversed if I took the time to clean up my eating habits. Before I could start, I needed to determine what foods could be causing my problems. This is where he prescribed me six weeks of hell: the allergy elimination diet.

This six-week eating plan required me to strip everything from my diet to which anyone could possibly be allergic. This included the following: wheat, sugar, dairy, night-shade vegetables (buh-bye potatoes!), corn, nuts, caffeine, certain types of seafood, and anything else of the processed chemical variety that I can’t pronounce. After six weeks of painful detoxification, I would then reintroduce these items every other day and journal any and all reactions that resulted. Oh, did I mention that Doc prescribed this to me at the beginning of December ensuring that my birthday, Christmas and New Year’s would be full of so much joy? Yeah, that was the icing on the cake…..that I wasn’t allowed to eat. I’ve always had an iron-will when it came to short-term challenges, so I jumped right into the misery. I was about halfway through the diet and I was dominating, but one of the most challenging feats was surviving my birthday.  Some friends took me out to a restaurant on the Lower East Side. I managed to order some carefully seasoned steak and a side of steamed vegetables, but the whole house of cards almost came crumbling down when our waiter brought us the dessert menu. To paint a clearer picture, let me tell you that this was an Australian restaurant, a place where the owner must exclusively hire good-looking servers with sexy accents. There are not words to describe just how handsome our server was, and he totally knew it. He was aware it was my birthday, but I explained to him that I was on a special diet and wouldn’t be indulging in any birthday sweets. He crouched down beside me, leaned in close and whispered to me every unspeakable ingredient in his favorite dessert, seductively, as though reading pages out of a harlequin romance book.

“Rich, decadent dark-chocolate brownie…..smothered in melted caramel sauce and hot fudge….ice-cold vanilla ice cream melting down the sides…”

My mouth watered, and my friends were silent. After a long pause, I looked at this evil man, gritted my teeth and told him “No, thank you.” It never got more difficult than that night, and after a few more days, I did eventually pass the point of sugar rehab and moved on to that phase in healthy eating where you simply feel like you can conquer the world. Once I began testing the restricted foods, it became obvious that wheat and potatoes are not my friends. Overall, though, when it was over, I felt nothing short of amazing! My energy levels were up, I was sleeping better, and I wasn’t running back to the ER with back pain. I returned to the doctor confident that I could make a couple of these dietary changes permanent. It’s been four years since that diagnosis, and I can tell you that I made none of those changes permanent. I should not, then, be surprised that I haven’t lost any weight, I still have insomnia, and my knees still barely function above the level of the Tin Man. Why is it so difficult to eat the way I should eat? To deny the immediate pleasure of toxic food when I know that I will pay for it later? I just spent ten days back in the Midwest devouring the best of my mom’s cooking and the worst of the Midwest’s dining options. By the time New Year’s Eve rolled around, I felt lethargic and ill.

I am not someone who usually makes resolutions, and I’m not usually the sort of person who makes public my issues with weight and poor health, but I think I reached a breaking point three weeks ago. I was riding my subway to work when within 30 seconds, I felt queasy, broke out into a massive sweat, and my whole body went numb. I clutched to the pole as hard as I could, and I was determined not to be “that person” who collapses on a train and holds up everyone at rush hour. I felt my knees buckling just as the train pulled up to my stop. I stumbled out the door and hunched over on the platform bench, laying there like a homeless person until my legs decided to work again. I went to the doctor, and she thought it was just a virus. It was impossible to determine my blood sugar at that moment because I had eaten by the time I went to the clinic, but my hunch is that this was a wild attack of low blood sugar. I toss back so many processed, sugar and carb-based foods on a daily basis that I’m convinced I am experiencing the peak of my comeuppance. Things must change, and they must change now.  This isn’t about looking better in my clothes. It’s about being the best version of myself and being a good steward of what has been given to me. It was with that revelation, that I stumbled across my dear friend Kristine’s post on Instagram rallying folks to participate in the Whole30 food challenge.  Click here for the specifics and I will expound in more detail later, but this is precisely the type of detox that I desperately need. Hopefully it will transition me to a permanent, healthy relationship with food. Almost a week ago, I accepted this challenge. It’s on!

To be continued.

*PS. I do plan on finishing my blog series on my Joe Jobs. Still tweaking those drafts though 🙂