I just finished a month on Whole30. And by finished, I mean I crawled across the finish line and dove headfirst into an apple pie. Slight exaggeration, but not by much.
For those unfamiliar with Whole30, it entails spending 30 days eating only whole foods, nothing packaged or prepared. You also cut out dairy, all grains, legumes, and sugar. It's a way for your body to reset its metabolism and discover any food irritants.
As a rule, I don't believe in dieting. Whole30 is more about food choices, which means you can eat an unlimited amount of "acceptable" foods.
The Whole30 website at whole30.com suggests meals like buffalo chicken kabobs, bacon-wrapped asparagus or herb-encrusted salmon. I'm not really in the encrusted-salmon phase of life. My meals consisted mainly of apples, almond butter and whole piles of vegetables sautéed with eggs.
During the first week, I went through the five stages of food grief. I denied that I needed this program at all. (I'm not overweight! I don't have a sugar addiction!) Then I was just angry. I already don't drink, smoke or even guzzle soda. Why would I deprive myself of a chocolate chip cookie?
I worked my way through bargaining and depression, finally arriving at acceptance by week two. I made cookies for the kids and sliced myself an apple. I made cinnamon rolls for house guests and sliced myself an apple. I baked pie for my in-laws and made myself a banana smoothie.
What did I learn?
One, I should probably plant an apple tree. Two, I've come to be ruled by my food choices. I don't have to be.
Three, Americans eat way too much sugar. I recognize that by making pie, cinnamon rolls and cookies I am a co-conspirator in this problem. But everywhere I went I was offered sugar: church functions, school functions, book clubs, a writing conference. We are a nation driven by our sweet tooth. It's always dessert time. And that's a problem.
Four, as the main chef in the family, I do a lot of mindless nibbling: while making meals, packing lunches and cleaning up. I consume a lot of extra, empty calories this way.
Five, I eat my kids' leftovers to avoid food waste. I am no better than the family dog, licking the plates clean. I need to not feel guilty about throwing away food.
Whole30 was a good exercise in self-control. I've learned that fruit makes an excellent dessert, all by itself. I've learned that the American diet uses refined carbohydrates as a filler. They can be eliminated from most meals without sacrificing nutrients or taste.
I've learned that, as a friend once said, sometimes it's good to go a little hungry. In our nation of excess, we are used to complete satiety. We are a society driven by impulse. This doesn't just relate to food. We buy the new shirt, the house, the car. We watch the Netflix episode, or the entire season, in one sitting. We are full to the brim. We've forgotten what it means to want, just a little.
When we go a little hungry, we practice our ability to check all the appetites and passions that drive human nature. We learn patience, modesty and delayed gratification.
In that vein, I've been reminded that moderation is the best approach, when it comes to food and life. As we roll into the season of bounty and thanks, I hope to remember just that.