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 and Privilege

I could say that doing the Whole30 reeks of privilege. Because it does. Kale, avocado, salmon, organic, local, free-range, coconut oil…this stuff is expensive and inaccessible not just to me in Djibouti but to people who live in ‘food deserts’ in the US or who don’t have margins in their budgets. People who can only get to the corner store where everything is overpriced and over-processed.

But you know what? Almost every meal I ate before the Whole30 reeked of privilege when I compare it to what many in Djibouti eat. This is something I wrestle with a lot.

My running clothes, ancient iPod, armband, headphones, and my shoes cost more than many of the people I run past will earn in months. I eat three meals a day. I live inside a house and it has walls and a roof and locks on the doors and screens on the windows. I have running water and electricity and a car and a computer.

This is abundance. Nothing, not one single thing about the Whole30 forced me to acknowledge my wealth any more than I am forced to acknowledge it every day. I could eat avocados or rice and beans until camels fly and it wouldn’t change one thing about the reality that the gap between me and someone living on the street is nearly infinite.

I’m not going to pretend that a month of eating this way changed how I think about food, community, or wealth and poverty and privilege. It simply gave me yet another opportunity to reflect on something I reflect on a lot.

Getting all high and mighty and condemning people who whine about how hard it is to drink coffee black while there is a homeless man on my street who has worn the same cast on his leg for months and months and months and who cries when I give him bananas would be manipulative and, ultimately, dishonest.

The Whole30 and Privilege1

I could say I felt so guilty eating my swiss chard nutrient dense salads or that I struggled with the reality that while some people have to fight to lose weight, other people in the world are dying from not having enough to eat. That would be the whole ‘eat your carrots because there are kids starving in Africa’ argument.

But the truth? I didn’t feel guilty eating swiss chard. I just ate it and felt thankful. And dropped bananas by the homeless man’s head while he slept in the shade. And felt thankful.

Another, contradictory truth? I feel guilty all the time, at least when I let myself wander down that path. Too many calories consumed – guilt. A non-generous response to a beggar – guilt. A new (used) iPod – guilt. A friend who can’t pay her daughter’s school fees – guilt.

My guilt or not guilt had nothing to do with the Whole30. It has everything to do with my plenty. No – my abundance, and what I do with it.

But I can’t live in that place all the time. I want to be aware and sensitive and generous and wise. But I also want to feel gratitude and joy.

Here is something I already knew but doing the Whole30 helped me think about how to apply it to food:

Intention is key. Living, and eating, with intention is something I increasingly value. Instead of running willy-nilly through my days and decisions, I want to be more reflective, more purposeful, more filled with intention with what I do and what I eat. For me, that might mean buying an extra kilo of bananas or keeping a package of dates in the car to hand to hungry people. It might mean biking more instead of driving or taking the time to help a friend move. It might mean speaking up about injustice – not on Twitter but in real life, when I see it in front of me. And it might mean choosing, intentionally, to eat certain foods with gratitude.

My point is that the Whole30 shouldn’t make anyone feel guilty. Going on this food cleanse does nothing to change your status or position in society.

But if it makes you more aware, if it makes you more grateful, if it makes you more generous, excellent.


My other Whole30 posts:

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, 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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