Our family’s history of figuring our food sensitivities, gut health (or lack thereof), and food philosophy has had a long and bumpy road.
There are several reasons for this, not least of which is that the last six years were fraught with high levels of stress thanks to living on a low income, frequent moves (for a variety of reasons, but mostly due to hubby’s education/training and job changes), and being in the pregnancy/baby/toddler stage for six straight years.
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Trying to deal with various health concerns (which Western medicine doesn’t recognize, for the most part) during these years was challenging, as you can probably imagine. Also, figuring out these complex health issues from a holistic approach can be a long road of trial and error and investigation for anyone.
A bit of backstory + gluten-free ups and downs
When we first figured out that things weren’t quite right (somewhere around 2010), we dove headfirst into the GAPS Diet. We did that 100% for 4 months (and felt amazing), but ultimately struggled to maintain our commitment for such a highly restrictive and difficult protocol. Looking back, I can see that we hadn’t quite hit that “pain point” of having a strong enough motivation.
We had already gone gluten-free when our oldest was just under two years old, and we continued with that for four years. At that point we decided to try him on gluten again (as I explained in this post), and it seemed to be going fine.
Many of the commenters on that post wisely cautioned me that if he truly is sensitive to gluten – it can take a while for symptoms to return, as it builds up in his system again. I tucked that advice away and kept an eye on him.
All seemed fine until a year later, which brings us to summer of 2015, when we noticed the tics. As we observed him over a few months, they intensified. They were mostly facial tics, with some in his throat as well. They continued to increase in frequency to the point where they were happening as much as every few seconds, and sometimes with a minute or two pause in between.
At one point, wanting to capture the tics on video, I filmed him talking at the dinner table – chattering away – but with the tics happening with every sentence he spoke. It was heartbreaking to watch the tics, feeling helpless as a mother.
Of course, given his history, I suspected gluten as a possible contributing factor, but felt totally over my head, having no experience or knowledge with neurological-based symptoms at all. I made an appointment with a naturopathic doctor in our new city immediately, and the first thing she recommended after hearing his history was that we cut out gluten for him immediately and strictly. We knew the drill on that one, having done it for four years.
Within three or four days, we saw a difference. The tics were decreasing. After a few weeks, they had decreased dramatically – to the point where I could stop and watch him for several minutes and not see any. When we tried him with a small amount of gluten a month later (to experiment and confirm that it was actually causing the tics), the tics came back in full force within 24 hours, and stayed until a few days after cutting gluten out again.
He has been gluten-free ever since (that was in October 2015), and will remain as such, strictly, for the foreseeable future. (Note: he has not ever been tested for celiac, so that’s a possibility, but testing would require a gluten-filled diet for several months, and we’re not willing to do that at this time.)
As for the rest of us – well, many of the issues that first led us to the GAPS Diet continue to frustrate us on a daily basis. Given that they’ve mostly been “minor” annoyances (mood swings, weight gain, aches and pains, lower immune systems), it was easy to ignore them during our survival mode years.
Another factor is that I was diagnosed with food sensitivities years ago – the major ones that showed up on the test at the time were wheat, dairy, corn, and tomatoes.
Unfortunately, I didn’t have the mental bandwidth then to make such major changes in our diet, and now, having learned more about food sensitivities, inflammation, and gut health – I am realizing that I was probably causing more damage by continuing to consume those things.
Now, years later, I find myself battling adrenal fatigue with a whole host of serious symptoms. My body is telling me that enough is enough, and that I need to start prioritizing my health again.
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Last fall, after we moved to our new city, we decided that it was time to make a bold move in getting our health back in proper priority.
Despite a couple of failed attempts at doing a Whole30 in the past, I wanted to try it again – this time with updated official rules (white potatoes weren’t allowed when we did our first attempt, but they are now, and low-carb does NOT work for my body), and with 100% commitment (our 2nd attempt only lasted a few days because we weren’t willing at that time to sacrifice making friends in our new community when invited for dinner).
We started our Whole30 in the second week of November 2015, and finished it successfully in early December. (And yes – we ate a lot of potatoes!)
(Okay, this is the part where I have to confess that technically, we ended one day early due to the fact that our oven broke on Day 29 when I had a roast beef dinner planned, plus we had family come from out of town for a quick last-minute visit. I’m still calling it a successful Whole30 – whether or not the official rule-keepers would agree.)
With all of that being said, I want to break down five specific reasons why we chose to do a Whole30. Later, I’ll share another post or two on things we learned and what we ate during the 30 days.
5 Reasons Why We Chose to Do a Whole30
1. Answer the abstainer vs moderator question for myself
I totally loved Gretchen Rubin’s Are You an Abstainer or a Moderator question back in 2012, but like I said already – I didn’t have the bandwidth to be making a lot of major changes during our survival-mode years. I wanted to take this opportunity to do a strict diet with 100% adherence for 30 days to find out once and for all: am I am abstainer or a moderator? (When it comes to food choices, I’m pretty sure I’m an abstainer, much to my chagrin.)
2. Kickstart some healthy changes after a stressful season
We intentionally are not following the Paleo Diet (for reasons outlined here), but we resonate with a lot of their nutritional principles. We needed a good framework to use for making an intentional fresh start, and we chose the Whole30 for its real food rules, community, and support.
3. Sleuthing out food sensitivities
One of the issues that our youngest (age 3) was experiencing was eczema around his mouth. I was hopeful that it might go away during the 30 days, but it actually got worse. That’s when we found out that eggs were the culprit. We were eating at least three or more eggs each, every day. After the Whole30 was done, we tried cutting out eggs for him, and the eczema disappeared. Aha! (He seems to be okay with a small amount, but daily consumption will bring the eczema back again.)
4. Conquering the sugar dragon
Like so many of you, we’ve battled sugar cravings for many years, trying to stay away from the stuff as much as possible (we were doing great by mainstream standards – our diet wasn’t that bad – but it was still more than we were happy with). Sugar truly is an addictive substance and we wanted to reset all of our brains’ relationships with sweet things. (The Whole30 cuts out all added sweeteners – natural or not – except for limited fruit.)
5. Reminding ourselves that we’re fully capable of making better choices
It had been a very long season of making allowances for ourselves during those stress-filled years. We had gotten the point where we were afraid that pushing ourselves to make better choices, even when it was inconvenient or hard, would be the straw that broke the camel’s back.
The Whole30 reminded us that we are capable and strong enough to make hard changes for our health for 30 days and beyond.
I have another post in the pipeline detailing what we ate while on our Whole30, as well as a few of the lessons we learned. I have so many thoughts on this subject, and can’t wait to share more!
Our family tries to do the Whole 30 at least once per year for many of the same reasons that you referenced in your post. My daughter has adrenal fatigue so the rest of us do the Whole30 to stand in solidarity with her. Plus, the rest of the family benefit immensely from the program. I often write about the program on my blog. Right now we are in week 3 and right on the edge of egg and potato burn-out.
It’s amazing how we rallied together when the sugar dragon tried to attack!
This is so interesting!! I can’t wait to hear more! We’ve never whole-30ed for real, though I have been more strict with myself at various times. If you don’t mind, would you publish at least a ballpark of what it costs? That is part of what puts me off…