The Whole30 in Africa: the Aftermath

When I finished the Whole30, I didn’t feel like much had changed about my eating habits or my attitudes toward food. This is because initially, nothing changed. After my reintroduction stage, in which I felt great (remember that run during which I had the superhero powers of bread?), I dove into a bag of Easter candy from my mom. I ate brownies and I licked the bowl. I ate chocolate muesli for breakfast (and as a late night snack). I ate bread and cheese and pizza and hamburgers (with the bun, no cheese, just tasted better that way). And I still felt great.

Whole30 Aftermath1

Until I stopped feeling great.

It wasn’t mostly physical. I don’t really feel much different, which confirmed what I thought – that most of this talk about food is a bunch of hoo-ha (for me, anyway). Unless you have an actual disease, eat bread. Otherwise, make wise choices and enjoy food.

It was that I missed the food.

I missed my morning egg pizza thingy and banana with pecans. I missed the date balls. And, holy heck, the food I was eating – that Easter candy and the pretzels – they didn’t even taste good. An apple flavored candy just didn’t taste as good as an apple.

Okay, the chocolate tasted great. But the jelly beans? And the pretzels without chocolate? Not good, more like cardboard.

Other things I was now eating – popcorn, gum, the muesli with yogurt – tasted great but I had to control myself or I would waaay overindulge. Like three bowls of muesli, please.

But other things just didn’t taste good anymore.

And then the light bulbs started going off.

If they don’t taste good…don’t eat them. Doesn’t mean they are bad or unclean, they just aren’t what I want to eat. So don’t.

I don’t need to redo the Whole30 or live that way, because I still want to eat bread before I run and I want to eat popcorn and I want to eat chocolate.

But the things I don’t want to eat? Just don’t eat them. It sounds so simple. And the things I do want to eat – eat them guilt free, fully aware that I am making a choice. I am in control. Not the food, not a food journalist, not an article about the latest food trend. Me.

After about 10 days totally off the Whole30, I made my egg pizza thingy and banana with pecan. I didn’t even want the muesli and yogurt I’d eaten every morning before the Whole30. But guess what? As I’m writing this blog post, I have a big bowl of muesli and yogurt in my lap.

They say knowledge is power, right? I’d add knowledge + experiential evidence + personal preference = power. I knew all this stuff before – that jellybeans won’t fuel a great run or that chocolate muesli is essentially starting the day with a big bowl of cookies. But now I had evidence of a changed palate and a changed attitude toward the food and could harness that into making choices I could feel good about. Not good or bad or clean or dirty choices, just choices that made me happy.

So. There you have it, my Whole30 journey. I’m now almost two months out and am still eating cocoa date balls, more salads, more vegetables, less junk food, less processed food, and am simply being more intentional. Nothing very radical but I do know my body better now so I fulfilled my personal goal for the month.

Anyone out there going to try the Whole30?

My other Whole30 posts:

The Whole30 and Privilege

A Runner’s Journey

Learning (again) to Cook

A Reluctant Food Post

What is the Whole30?

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: Learning (Again) to Cook

When it comes to cooking, everything I know I learned in Somalia. Well, not really. But I like how it sounds and I did learn a lot. Then, I started the Whole30. I had a whole lot more to learn.

relearning to cook

When we moved to Somalia in 2003 I knew how to cook frozen pizza, pizza delivery, and spaghetti with sauce from a jar. What, exactly, did one do with whole tomatoes? Did beef come in any form other than ground? And how could beef be distinguished from goat or camel when hanging from a wooden beam and covered with flies? I’ve written about these early years before, for MultiCultural Kids Blog, A Life Overseas, and Running Times:

When Popcorn and Bananas are for Dinner

What’s For Dinner?

Dining in Djibouti

Relearing (again) how to cookThe point is, my cooking from scratch journey began in Africa and my family, eventually, grew to be quite satisfied with the results.

But, I’ve stagnated. We follow a pretty predictable routine of meals and I’ve grown tired of this. I needed some fresh ideas. Plus, when I started The Whole30, I needed to figure out how to cook with foods I wasn’t familiar with.

Thankfully over the years Djibouti has significantly improved in what is available. Still…

Some people suggested that compared to doing it in Minnesota, the Whole30 would be much harder in Africa. They’re right and they’re wrong.

Here’s how they’re right:

I have to actually, truly, literally make everything from scratch. The Whole30 website has an entire page devoted to Whole30 products you can buy at places like Trader Joe’s or Tessemae’s All Natural Whole30 Pack from Amazon. Yeah. Nope. No bottled anything, no Amazon delivery.

And, while I do have decent variety, I don’t have all the variety, or can’t afford it. $18.00 for six (rotten) raspberries? Yeah, not gonna happen. No kale, no locally grown anything, no fresh spinach (though I just found some last week, so maybe twice a year or so). And sometimes, the country will simply be out of eggs.

Plus, there’s the whole community aspect to food and life. The local diet is roughly 80% dependent on fluffy white baguettes, rice, and pasta. Oh, and beans, Coke, and tea that is more sweetened condensed milk than tea. All off my table for the month and none of my friends would be joining me. How would I deal with food and the people around me on the Whole30? And thinking of community brings up issues of wealth, health, privilege, and money. I’m tackling this topic in its own post. You’ll have to come back for that.

But here’s how they’re wrong:

Far, far less temptation. There aren’t Starbucks on every corner (or any corner), there aren’t heaps of donuts or brownies or even salads with sugar-filled processed dressings at every mom’s meeting (there aren’t mom’s meetings), there isn’t a bowl of candy on co-workers desks, we rarely go out to eat. So unless I purchased something or my kids baked something, it was easy to avoid food I couldn’t eat.

I already make almost everything from scratch. One of the biggest things people on Whole30 forums struggle with is the time involved in preparing things at home, from scratch. I already do that by necessity, easily spending a few hours a day in the kitchen or scrounging around the market or food stalls to gather what we need.

relearning to cook

But, I still had to increase my variety of vegetables and eggs or meat-based meals and I loved it.

Here are some of my favorite Whole30 recipes that worked in Djibouti, with what I had available, and that are rolling over into my post-Whole30 life. I tweaked some recipes, followed others, and just made up some of my own.


Coleslaw. I used canned pineapple instead, can’t afford the fresh ones when they are in stock. The pineapple replaces sugar for sweetness. And I didn’t use Himalayan salt. Salt is salt. I also didn’t use Chinese 5 spice, don’t have it. I also didn’t add rutabaga. Don’t have it. Still, I sorta kinda followed this recipe. Oh – I also added diced up pineapple. This was so good on hot Djibouti days.

Homemade mayo

Cauliflower rice. Toss a bunch of cauliflower in a blender or food processer. Pulse until it is chopped up pretty small. Sauté in a bit of olive oil, add some salt. Voila. Cauliflower rice.

Roast chicken thighs. This is the best chicken and so easy. While it is roasting, I prepare a pan of cut up red potatoes by drizzling olive oil and salt and pepper, then add to the oven. When there are twenty minutes left, I had another tray of sliced leeks, thinly sliced carrots, and mushrooms – also with just a little olive oil and salt – to roast.

Chicken, leek, potato, carrot soup. Yet another modified recipe – no parsnips, no kale. But still, this was fantastic. My family ate it with fresh bread, I just slurped down the soup.

Egg vegetable pizza thing. That great name is what I call this one. Chop up a bunch of veggies. I use sweet peppers, mushrooms, onion, spinach (I only have frozen), tomatoes. Beat about 8 eggs (our eggs are really tiny, I use 8 small ones and that fills my pan). Sauté veggies in a little olive oil in a flat-bottom pan like a crepe pan. Spread veggies out evenly and pour beaten eggs over the top. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Cover and let it sit until the eggs are cooked through. Optional: add bacon or sausage. When it is done, I cut it with a pizza cutter and it makes 4-6 days worth of breakfast. Just reheat the leftovers in the morning.

Cocoa date balls. As a runner, I needed something to fuel the longish runs I hoped to still tackle during the Whole30. Measurements don’t really matter for this. A handful or two of pitted dates, ¼ cup or more of craisins or dried cherries or apricots or whatever dried fruit you like, handful of almonds or walnuts, and a couple scoops of cocoa powder. Blend it all up good in a food processor and then squish into little balls. Optional: add coconut flakes.

Banana and nuts. This has become my favorite breakfast, snack, or pre/post run food. Just grab a banana – I love to use frozen ones. Slice it up into a bowl. Sprinkle chopped pecans or walnuts over the top, add a dash of cinnamon.

Balsamic garlic butternut squash. Cut squash into ¼ inch-thick slices. In a bowl combine diced garlic with a couple Tbsp olive oil and a couple Tbsp balsamic vinegar. Toss with squash. Grill or broil until caramelized and crispy.

No bun avocado burger. The family had buns and burgers and ketchup. I had a Jones Original Burger topped with avocado slices, mushrooms sautéed with onions and a little balsamic vinegar, thinly sliced tomatoes, and lettuce. Delicious – without all that bread and ketchup, I could really taste all the other flavors and have started eating all my burgers with a fork, no bun necessary.

Grilled fish with avocado topping. This was amazing. Here’s the original recipe but we can’t afford salmon so I used whatever fish the guys who sit outside grocery stores with coolers full of fresh-caught local fish had that day.

Swiss chard and walnuts. I’m addicted to swiss chard. I didn’t even know what it was before but now the man who sells it out of plastic bags near one of my grocery-run stops knows I’m coming for it every week and that I’ll buy whatever he has. Chop it up, sauté in olive oil with diced onions. Add a handful of chopped walnuts or pecans, salt and pepper. Chow. Optional: add diced grilled chicken or drizzle with a combo of olive oil, balsamic vinegar, lemon juice, and salt

I ate a lot of other salads, often with hardboiled eggs, avocado, tuna, arugula (which I also just found, with the chard guy). Mixed up dressings but discovered that the best was usually just a simple balsamic vinegar, olive oil, and salt combination. Nuts added the crunch I missed from croutons.

These recipes were all quick and easy. I didn’t get much fancier on the Whole30 but all of these are dishes I’m still eating.

Didn’t like

While people in online forums raved about zoodles – noodles made from zucchini, I wasn’t a fan. I don’t have a spiralizer to make the zucchini noodle shaped, but by shaving it thin I could get a decent approximation. But nope, didn’t like it. Also no good? The chocolate chili that people can’t seem to stop devouring. Too rich. Couldn’t stomach it. And still can’t eat eggplant – the texture is just too much like vomit for my mouth. Ah well, there was plenty of other things to eat and play with, no need to waste my time on eggplant.


So, there’s a flavor of what I ate and what I loved. Turns out there is plenty to cook with what I can find. About that Whole30 in Africa cookbook idea…

If you’ve done the Whole30, what are some of your favorite recipes?


The Whole30 in Africa, a Reluctant Food Post

What is the Whole30?

The Whole30 book: It Starts With Food: Discover the Whole30 and Change Your Life in Unexpected Ways

What is the Whole30 in Africa?

I realized, after posting on Monday: The Whole30 in Africa, a Reluctant Food Post, that I didn’t explain much. What is the Whole30? If you already know, this won’t be interesting and stop by again next week. If you don’t know, read on.

Here’s the website: The Whole30.


Here is a short, basic primer.

It isn’t a diet (I didn’t go into it hoping or planning to lose weight).

It is more of a food ‘cleanse’ or a detox or a reset, of sorts.

For thirty days you eat:

NO alcohol, added sugar, legumes, dairy, or grains.

Along with the obvious things that are cut out, that means no honey, artificial sugars, maple syrup. No corn, rice, quinoa, oats, popcorn. No soy, chickpeas, peanuts, peanut butter. No milk, yogurt, cheese.

You don’t weigh yourself, you don’t snack, you pay attention to your body – cravings, feelings, strength, energy, sleep, etc.

You don’t cheat by making whole30 ingredient approved sweet foods like pancakes or energy bars or granola.

Ideally, you eat local and organic. That was an area I couldn’t follow, but not one of the rules, so I didn’t feel I was cheating. Almost nothing, literally, is grown locally other than khat, a leafy drug-like amphetamine, which thought not explicitly prohibited, I assumed was off limits.

You go the whole thirty days, no ending early, no slip ups.

After thirty days you slowly reintroduce the foods you’d cut out and again, pay attention to your body so that you understand how you respond.

The rules are pretty strict but that is in order to get the full benefit and to really learn your body and your personal reactions to various foods.

I like the strictness. If I were allowed to cheat, I would, and then I wouldn’t be doing the program.

The question is, then, what can you eat?

Vegetables, meat, eggs, fruit, olive oil, nuts, and all the things that can be made from combining these ‘real’ foods.

Some people really freak out, especially the first week. I read about things like swearing at the refrigerator and being unable to control pulling into a bakery parking lot and stuffing one’s face with donuts. It isn’t supposed to be easy.

For me, there was no swearing and there are no donuts which are at all within the range of worth eating ever, so those weren’t my specific challenges.

But doing the Whole30 in Africa was challenging. More about that to come next week.

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