The Whole30 in Africa: A Runner’s Journey

One reason the timing of my Whole30 worked well for me is that, as a runner, I was already planning an easy month. I had a weird knee niggle that started after an 11-mile run in the desert and was cutting back on mileage anyway. But I wanted to keep running enough that I would feel the effects of eating this way and be able to assess how my body was responding and what I needed, both during and after the Whole30.

I average 30-40 miles per week and cut back to 20. I replaced some of those miles with more weight lifting, yoga, and the occasional bike ride, so I was still pretty active.

How’d it go?

The Whole30 and Running

It was hard. I don’t mean emotionally hard, nothing really about the Whole30 was emotionally hard for me. I never found myself staring into the refrigerator, cussing, as some have confessed to. I never had to physically restrain myself from gobbling up a piece of toast or chugging soda. I didn’t lose my temper more than I normally do.

I mean it was physically hard.

I had all this energy. I wasn’t getting tired in the afternoons. I woke up for my morning runs before my alarm ever went off (we’re talking 5:30 a.m.). I don’t think I yawned once the entire month.


I was weak.

My muscles were so, incredibly, weak.

The entire first two weeks of running I couldn’t go more than two miles without being utterly exhausted in my legs. I would then walk a bit, run some more, walk, run, walk, run. It was discouraging.

I read forums and followed the advice to up my carbs. I ate bananas, potatoes, squash. I was already hungry all the time and so I just kept eating. And eating. And eating.

And I felt so weak.

By the fourth week, I felt a little better and managed a 5-mile run without walking. But having recently run for over two hours, this weakness was hard to face.

I also felt the weakness while lifting weights. I’m not a heavy-lifter but did notice how much harder it was to lift my normal amounts.

But, while it was discouraging, it was exactly what I wanted. Not the weakness, but this lesson. I entered this, like I wrote in the first post, to better understand how food affects my running. Not running in general, but mine. So this weakness fascinated me.

I could hardly wait to begin the introduction phase and to see what would happen to a run after I consumed a piece of whole grain bread.

I did wait and finally, the day for my gluten grain reintroduction rolled around.

I ate a piece of toast at breakfast and had a tortilla at lunch. Then in the late afternoon I ran for ninety minutes (the entire time my daughter was at soccer practice) and felt like a superhero. Not tired! Not walking! Not dragging to a stop at the end! Hurray for bread!

I don’t have issues with gluten, my gut is healthy as far as I know, so it was with great happiness that I realized I could not only eat bread but it would fuel me with all the energy I needed for longer runs. Bonus lesson: I don’t need to eat as much of it as I did and I can plan wisely in order to get this extra boost on the runs when I really need it. It isn’t magic, but seeing how bread impacted my run encouraged me to eat it with joy and intention.

Those last two words are key for me now when it comes to food. Not guilt, not calories, not gluten-free or dairy-free or vegetarian or any trending thing, not even Whole30 compliant.



More about that later…

Any runners out there who have tried the Whole30? What did you learn?

My other Whole30 posts:

Learning (again) to Cook

A Reluctant Food Post

What is the Whole30?

*image via Flickr

The Whole30 in Africa, a Reluctant Food Post

I finished the Whole30 last week.

Here’s the book about it:

I didn’t tell you I was doing it. To be honest, I was kind of embarrassed. I hate trendy things and I especially hate trendy foodie things. Even saying foodie makes me cringe. I have never jumped on a dietary bandwagon. My own cookbook, Djiboutilicious, is not Whole30 compliant. But maybe I should think about making a cookbook for living abroad that is…

Low carb

Low fat





Low sugar

Nothing white

Gluten free

The Whole30 in Africa

Yuck. Yuck. Yuck. Foodie trends reek of privilege, wealth, excess, obsession, and self-focus. Food has become religion for many, with morality directly associated with how, what, and where people eat. Words like clean, whole, pure, good, bad, dirty have come to be applied to food and the people who consume certain foods. This means food is used to condemn, elevate, divide, and judge and that is dangerous.

Americans especially, talk about food a lot. Like a lot a lot. Obsessively. And they seem to be in the control of whatever trendy food diet is all the current rage. People are unable to make their own decisions and are plagued by guilt, shame, and judgment. Or even fear. Fear of bananas. Or of potatoes. They feel righteous about kale salads and avocado smoothies. They obsess over fit bits and calorie counts and forget about pleasure, enjoyment, freedom.

Clearly, I have issues with food trends.

This is a great post on Salon that captures a lot of what I think about food trends: My Body Doesn’t Need a Cure.

I believe in all things in moderation and that God gave us all things, including sugar, for our pleasure, if we consume them wisely. So other than when I fast for personal, spiritual reasons, I don’t restrict my eating.

But, I love to read about nutrition and food and sports. I’m captivated by the idea that nutritionists don’t really know what they’re talking about. People still aren’t quite sure what a calorie is or how to measure it. They can’t agree on what is healthy or what is killing us. Everyone goes gluten free because that will make us thinner. Except we’re still getting fatter. No matter how much kale or avocados or organic foods we eat, we still eat too much of it. And this is interesting to me. What is it about food that drives us, Americans, on the whole, so wild with opinion and fads that radically swing from one extreme to the next and yet we continue to be less healthy?

I’m also personally interested in how diet affects my running. I’m getting older and I’ve never gotten much faster than I was my first year as a runner, aged 30. I attribute most of that to the impossible heat. I run in temperatures year-round in which most running advice columnists recommend runners just quit. When I run in Minnesota I feel improvement in weeks. In Djibouti, I just keep slogging it out.

Can’t control the temperature, can’t afford the only air conditioned workout club in the country ($300-400/month). Won’t pay to run indoors with a fan on a wobbly machine – hotter than outside – at cheaper clubs.

Can’t control my age.

Can control my diet. Never really tried. But, after finding myself continually clicking on links to stories about nutrition and running, I finally decided to try something for myself. I wasn’t sure what to do, didn’t want to adopt a life-long change, and wanted something clearly defined.

I picked the Whole30. Maybe because it is known as an ‘extreme paleo.’ Extreme appeals to me. If I’m going to run, I’ll run marathons. If I’m going to Africa, I’ll go to Somalia. If I’m having kids, I’ll have twins. If I’m trying a food trend, I’ll pick a hard one.

I started while in Kenya, an experiment. I thought, if I can do this for one day while traveling, I can do it no problem, for 29 more days at home. And so, I did.

Here’s another book about it:

How’d it go?

I had a lot to learn about cooking this way. Our meals are grain-dependent. We love spaghetti, lasagna, hamburgers, tacos, curry, pizza. Pasta, rice, and bread are every day foods for my family. So how could I cook without relying on these things? Especially when my family wasn’t joining me? I would have to cook things that I could eat and that they would want to eat. Sometimes this meant making two things, though they did, to their great dismay, give up homemade pizza for the month.

I’m going to break this down into a few posts. At first I wasn’t even going to write about it but I will, possibly because I am running out of other blogging ideas. I will, reluctantly, join the internet glut of food-related bloggers.

Why do I cringe at this? I’m honestly not sure. If you have insights into this strange reaction, please enlighten me.

Here are the topics I hope to cover in the coming weeks:



Attitude Toward Food


After the Whole30

For now, what can I tell you about the Whole30?

I felt great before I did it, great while I did it, and great now that I am off it and have reintroduced anything I want. So did I learn anything? Ya, sure, you betcha. Come back later to read more about it.

Have you done the Whole30? Especially, are you an expatriate who has done it? I’d love to hear about your experience.

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