Last January Chris and I did a round of Whole 30. Before I decided to do it I had thought there was no way I could cut out all gluten, sugar, legumes, grains, etc for a week, let alone a month. But, we did it! And it was such an eye opening experience for both of us. Chris loved the way of eating and actually kept a lot of things in place for most of last year.
I paid more attention during reintroduction and started to see some things that I wasn’t aware of before, like a sensitivity to certain kinds of dairy and a sluggish, heavy feeling after eating certain meals. I mentioned my findings on Fecbook and someone suggested that I read the Eat Right for Your Blood Type book as a follow up because they’d had a similar experience, and realized there were foods that didn’t work well with their digestive system. I kind of shrugged it off, but after 6 weeks of being in the land of plenty (a.k.a. North America) last summer I decided to give it a read because my body was not happy with some of my food choices.
As I read the lightbulbs kept pinging on and I realized that there might actually be something to this. Chris and I tested our blood and it made even more sense. We were on opposite ends of the scale. He could eat things I couldn’t, and he needed different kinds of exercise than I did. I realized that there is no one sized fits all approach to food, and that we all really needed to find what works for us as individuals.
For me this was a huge “ah-ha” moment. I had spent a lot of years beating myself up for not being able to stay on an eating plan or exercise regime. I would wonder why I would feel so exhausted after a more intense workout, even after weeks and weeks of exercising when a person would start seeing a shift happen. I wondered why whole foods that we ate on the Whole 30 seemed to still cause me digestive issues, like red meat. Well, it turns out my body was trying to tell me something.
Chris is a type O+, who needs meat protein and high intensity exercise to help burn stress and feel energized. I, on the other hand, am an A+, which lands at the opposite end of the scale. I’m supposed to be eating a mostly plant based diet, because my body can’t process meat protein the way Chris’ can, thus the digestive issues I was experiencing. When I get really intense exercise my body goes into fight or flight mode and treats the exercise like a stress event, and then I need a recovery period. I’m much better off doing things like yoga, walking or swimming because those tone my body and relieve stress.
My initial reaction to the idea of eating a plant based diet left me feeling lost and bewildered, but when I started to read through the recommended foods list I realized that deep down my body already knew this, because the foods I craved were all the ones listed. The ones that I wanted but didn’t feel good after eating, were all the ones that were on the “do not eat” list.
I spent last fall floundering around trying to figure out how to eat a plant based diet when I had a very hard carnivore in the family to also feed, as well as two kids that probably landed somewhere in between. It was a huge shift for me because I had always wondered why people would choose to not eat meat. I mean, it’s meat!! I say that sort of tongue in cheek, because I know for many it’s either an ethical issue, a personal taste issue, or a health issue. The bottom line is that they want to do what is right for their bodies. I wanted that same thing, but definitely felt lost.
Cooking has always been an easy thing for me. I can pull flavors out of stuff and know what should taste good with something. I rarely measure things, and just kind of keep playing with stuff until it’s good. I grew up in a home where my mom passed on what she’d been taught – a well balanced meal had some kind of meat, some kind of starch and a couple of vegetables. I would use this formula while planning our own meals, and things didn’t feel complete unless all the boxes were checked. I was always the one family member in our house who would make sure to eat a bit of everything, because that’s what was healthy.
I was also taught and immersed in that mindset where we talk about a type of food as being identified with one type of nutrient, like dairy = calcium, meat = protein, vegetables = vitamins, fruit = fiber, grains = carbs… You get the idea and were probably immersed in that too. Whole 30 was good at pointing out that we need to change this mindset, because foods are made up of a variety of nutrients. Vegetables, legumes, fruits and grains all have protein. They all have vitamins. They all have things like calcium, fiber and carbs. They are complex and are never one thing. So, if that’s the case, then I can get nutrients from a variety of food sources and bust out of my preconceived ideas, right? Yes.
As I came into 2018 I wanted to put more effort into actually going more plant based, and breaking away from my food frustration that came with it. I knew, after plenty of trial and error, that there are foods that just make me feel less good. That is a fact that I’ve had to accept. No many how many times I eat cheddar cheese, it still makes my stomach churn a bit. Red meat leaves me feeling full in an uncomfortable way and I feel like my body can’t easily digest it (truth – it can’t). Too much gluten leaves me feeling puffed up like a balloon, and too much over a period of days will lead to crappy sleep and crankiness. I know these things now, and it was just time to put more effort into focusing on the positive – what could I eat/do?
Making Small Changes
The whole idea of switching anything in your diet, whether it’s eliminating something, or adding something in that you never thought you would, can be really overwhelming. For me it has been, for sure. I struggled with trying to figure out how to cook meals that we could all share while making sure everyone was getting what they needed/wanted. I have always said I will never be a short order cook in my home where I have four different meals prepared for four different people. No way! So, I needed to figure out how to cook for all of us at the same time.
What I’ve recently realized is that I needed to shift the way I thought about the make up of a meal. Like I said earlier, I typically centered my meal around what type of meat we were having, because there was always meat, for the protein. The reality is, if I’m eating a plant based diet, then Chris is really the only major meat eater in our home at this point. The kids eat some, but really waver back and forth with how much from day to day. Alex has never been a huge fan of red meat, so when we would have steak sometimes he would want some, but most times he wouldn’t. Olivia will typically want some, but not a large portion. If we have chicken, both kids will eat it with Alex eating more than the rest of us – most days. If I made things with beans the kids would both gobble it up. We all like fish and shellfish, but Alex will typically eat some shellfish and then he’s good.
When I started to pay attention I realized that I needed to shift creating meals around my needs. That sounds selfish, but hear me out. We will all benefit from and need to eat a certain amount of plant based foods to be healthy, but not everyone in my family needs to eat all kinds of meat to be getting their best nutrition, so it would make sense to focus on the plant based part of a meal and make that the focus, then prepare any meat parts as a side, right? It’s actually logical. But, it took me a while to figure it out. I also realized that there were foods that easily overlapped. Things like rice, beans, salad and veggies, etc. If I focused on those, then made sure Chris had a meat option, then we’re good.
This exact thing played out at dinner the other night. I decided to make curried lentils for myself, and made enough to eat for leftovers and freeze for later. With it I made rice, salad and baked chicken legs. I assumed that I would be the only one eating the lentils, over rice, with some salad, and the rest of the family would eat rice, chicken and salad. Dinner time came and the lentils smelled so good that everyone else tried them, then proceeded to eat at least two helpings. The chicken was barely touched. It was encouraging because I realized I could make some really delicious plant based meals that the whole family would enjoy, and supplement them with sides to meet the other needs.
The Heart Wants What the Heart Wants
Going into this, and really Whole 30 too, I knew the biggest hurdle for me was the mental/emotional part of it. I had initially told myself that I couldn’t do Whole 30 because I couldn’t live without those foods. Then I did Whole 30 and realized that I could live without them. Some of them I didn’t really miss. I do have moments where I indulge, but for the most part I don’t eat much sugar anymore. When I do have too much I feel it, and it feels gross, so I move away from it and am fine. I can live without it. It’s not where I get my sense of happy anymore. I still have some strong ties to gluten, but I can go without it if I work at it. Gluten is a bit harder because flour is in so many things when you start paying attention.
In order to make a long term lifestyle change I knew that my feelings about food would need to change, and that I couldn’t force that to happen. Yes, I could try new dishes and enjoy them, but that didn’t mean I wouldn’t crave a steak. How could I move beyond the desire for certain foods when I knew they weren’t the healthiest for me? When I knew they were hard for my body to use? Honestly, I knew this was something that God was going to need to change in my heart. I know that not everyone that reads this will share those views, and that’s fine. For me, that’s where the bottom line was. And you know what? It’s happening.
Yes, just not eating certain foods will make you want them less, but it’s important to remember that while I’m not eating them, I’m still preparing them. It’s great when you can just remove them from your home and life, but when you’re still using them it’s a lot harder. Slowly, over time, I’ve stopped feeling like I’m missing out on some of these things, and just don’t want them anymore. The other morning I made sausages and eggs for Chris and the kids for breakfast, and the smell of the sausages made my stomach turn. I’d never had that happen before. I can cook bacon for them now and not want to eat it all. The other night we were out with some friends and Chris ordered smoked swordfish, which normally would have been something I would have eaten, and when I tried a piece there was nothing about it that I enjoyed. The taste, the texture – it was all just not something I wanted.
Is It Worth It?
One thing I gained (among many) from doing Whole 30 was asking the question, “Is it worth it?” Once you start reintroducing foods and see how you feel, you can make a mindful decision about whether that food is worth it to you. Sometimes the answer will be yes, even if it makes you feel less than ideal. Most of the time the answer might be no. The same principle is encouraged in the Blood Type Diet. They encourage you to eat 80/20 – eat according to type 80% of the time, and then 20% of the time eat foods that you enjoy, even if they aren’t the best option for you.
This is a big thing for me as I work on moving to a more plant based diet, because it has room for movement. When I first started I took the fact that I “could” eat some eggs, chicken, fish and a few other things, and maxed out on those during the week. Now that I want those things less and I know that I do have certain reactions to some of them makes me stop and ask if it’s worth it that day. For example, eggs can leave me feeling a bit off. If I have one I’m generally okay, but more than that and it’s opening myself up for digestive trouble. In the mornings I’m often preparing breakfast and thinking, “Do I want to do eggs today, knowing how they’ll make me feel?” Sometimes I say yes and a cook one or two for myself. Most days I say no and eat something else.
Look For the Positives
I’ve realized that a big hangup for me is that I want to think about the negatives, or the challenges, rather than focusing on what I can do. The reason that changing diet seems overwhelming is because it involves saying goodbye to some foods, things I really loved. But, when I was able to see how they made me feel, and realize that I didn’t feel good, I started loving them less. This leaves room to try new things, so I started trying to focus on what I could have, rather than what I couldn’t.
This has been a really important thing, especially living in Haiti, and it’s still a struggle simply because of life in general. I typically go and do a big grocery run in Port au Prince about once a month. This is when I stock up on things I can’t get out in our local area. We have a pretty good variety in our area, but there are more options in PAP. Normally this works just fine, but things happen and we have to roll with them, like having vehicles that don’t run well enough to make a trip two hours away, so we don’t do that. I haven’t done a big grocery shop since the beginning of January, and even then didn’t stock up on certain things because we weren’t out of them and I assumed I would be doing my normal trip in a few weeks. Then our cars broke down and I’m doing what I can with what I have available. It means being flexible and creative.
When I looked at the list of recommended, and not recommended foods, I felt overwhelmed because we live in Haiti, and our options are already limited because of that. But, when I sat down and really went over the list I realized we had a lot more here than I thought we did. I retyped the food list and only included what I could find here, so now I can reference that instead of the book, and not feel discouraged as I look things over and plan meals.
Everyone Can Change
The bottom line of all of this, is that people can change. The Blood Type Diet encourages you to go slow and make small changes, rather than jumping all in and feeling really frustrated. That’s what I keep reminding myself of, even though my culture tells me I should be all in right away. When I feel discouraged I think about the progress that I have made, even though it might not translate to a weight loss at this point. I think about what I’ve learned about my body and what I want to keep working on. I’m wanting to care for myself and not just eat well or exercise because I “should”. I see my kids asking questions, and rather than saying I’m on a diet, I can legitimately say that a certain food doesn’t make me feel well, so I’m not eating it, or I’m trying new things in it’s place. I hope that sets them up to make healthy choices as they get older that are based on what their bodies need, and not what they think they “should” be doing.
I still have a lot of work to do, but I’m getting there. In particular, I want to work on better portion control. Just eating less all around, because I know I need to. I also want to work at incorporating more veggies and fruit into my diet. I know you’re probably thinking that eating a more plant based diet would make that easy, but remember that “plant based” also includes legumes, seeds, and grains. It’s easy for me to eat a lot of those things and not enough of the fresh veggies and fruit.
I would love to hear about your eating/diet experiences, especially if you’ve made what would be considered a big change.