Twenty one days ago I started a nutrition challenge at my gym called Fuel-21. For three weeks you eat a strict paleo diet (in a nutshell: meats and vegetables, nuts and seeds, some fruit, little starch, and no sugar) with a focus on eating real food and developing good habits. Everyone participates as a group and there are weekly meetings to talk about any questions people might have as well as ideas on food.
I decided to participate in the program a few months ago and began ramping up early. Over the past five months I've been decreasing my grain and dairy intake. Dairy was not a hard transition for me because I have had a lactose sensitivity for a while now. I thought bread and pasta would be very difficult to give up, but I never really crave them anymore. The biggest challenge there was my passion for baking. Now that I have more time, I'm looking forward to creating new recipes using all of the new ingredients I've learned about over the past few months. I always spend a lot of my holiday season in the kitchen and this year will be no exception. I also decided to take a break from alcohol, including beer which is a passion of mine, a few months ago. That was an interesting challenge in and of itself. I definitely have a different perspective on social gatherings having attended quite a few now and skipped the alcohol. My thoughts on the relationship between alcohol and community will be explored in a future post.
That brings us to day one of the challenge. Each participant met with Crystal on their own to complete an initial body composition as well as receive their guide to the program. We all met each other for the first time on Tuesday, August 9th. Everyone introduced themselves and we all listened as Crystal gave us a little information on her background then walked us through each page of the guide. I was lucky to have a good friend going through the program with me. We both asked a lot of questions and decided to be each other's support. I also set the goal there to take a picture of all the food I ate over the course of the program and post it to my tumblr blog. I left there and headed to the grocery store to pick up food for the week. I was excited but also a bit anxious as I knew I had a birthday party coming up that week and I was going to spend two days baking and decorating a cake. Let's just say the thought of baking a cake without licking any spoons was a foreign concept to me.
Armed with a fridge stocked full of goodies, multiple friends to text when I was tempted, and an updated baking playlist (music is an absolute necessity in the kitchen), I began the process of cooking meals for the week and baking a cake that I had no intention of ever tasting. The first three days were an interesting mix of delicious meals and the constant smell of sugar taunting me in my own home. I was glad to complete the cake and deliver it to the party. Since then, I have really enjoyed exploring new meals. My grandmother made a big spaghetti dinner for my uncle's birthday and I told her ahead of time that I couldn't have the cheese or bread that goes into the meatballs. She and my mother were kind enough to make me a small pan of my own and I brought spaghetti squash to replace the pasta. It was delicious! As they enjoyed the apple pie she baked, I enjoyed my apple sliced and dipped in almond butter. There were a few outings where it became awkward when I chose not to drink, but each one managed only fueled my confidence that I really was choosing a better path. Over the course of the program I started to pay attention to my body and only eat when I was hungry. In the end, my routine of eating a little here and there and snacking throughout the day has been replaced by a large meal mid-morning and another large meal after working out and maybe a small snack at night if I'm hungry again before bed.
While I cannot say I was entirely diligent in photographing and documenting my food, I did take pictures of almost everything and it was a great way to prevent myself from mindlessly snacking. The extra photography aspect I added gave me an extra layer of accountability that had an amazing result. I became acutely aware of what I put into my body and knowing that a photograph had to be taken caused me to really consider every bite. It started out as a simple project but it led to an increased level of passion for food and it took everything from the selection of ingredients to the preparation and consumption of food to an almost spiritual experience. I have always considered myself a foodie, but this experience has changed my entire approach to appreciating the art of nutrition.
I also lost body fat, pounds, and inches and while I will not say those results are irrelevant, I can say with complete honesty that the biggest gain from this experience is the way my body feels, not any change in appearance. I have more energy now than I have in years and that, combined with the amazing mental clarity, has set me on an unstoppable path to conquer my dreams and live a fearless existence.
As summer comes to an end and we start the holiday season, I am looking forward to the opportunities to feed and nourish my friends and family while continuing this exquisite exploration of all things edible.
Eat, drink, and be merry.