It really DOES start with food (a Whole 30 story)

On his 61st birthday, guest blogger John Wallace, PT, colleague and friend, shared his personal Whole 30 story with us! Below is some compelling anecdotal evidence for the power of diet and exercise to transform your life. 

January 18, 2014 was my 60th birthday. Birthdays have never been a problem for me, but 60 was different. At the New Year, the realization crept in – that no male in my immediate family had lived past 72. My father had a stroke when he was 62. My mother has had two.

My son and I share a birthday, 40 years apart. I realized I needed to make a change if I wanted to be around to meet my future grandchildren.

My relationship with food was broken. Partly from my own learned behaviors and partly from my “traditional” nutrition training. I used food as a reward, as a coping mechanism, and a way to combat the boredom of travel. My weight fluctuated between 235-245 pounds. I’ve had hypertension since my late 20’s. I developed sleep apnea 8 years ago, and my lab work was looking more and more pre-diabetic. I had lost weight twice using the Atkins Diet and once using Weight Watchers. Atkins worked to get the weight off but wasn’t sustainable as a lifestyle. Weight Watchers was just too complicated, especially with travel.

In the last half of 2013, I had already begun to exercise again – walking on the treadmill 10-12 miles per week, and had lost about 5 pounds. As a physical therapist by training (and a background in exercise physiology and nutrition) I thought I had the tools I needed to manage my own health, but I was struggling to find a direction. I felt more and more like my problems were purely genetic, and I was powerless to change.

In February 2014, I saw a post on Facebook by another physical therapist colleague, Ingrid Anderson. She had posted food pictures and descriptions of something called The Whole 30 nutrition plan based on the book It Starts with Food. Ingrid is a smart gal, not one to be taken in by propaganda or prone to hyperbole, so I checked it out online, ordered the book, and in mid-February, I started my first Whole 30.

The Whole 30 It is not a weight loss diet; it’s a way of eating that focuses on whole foods, the importance of food quality and macronutrient content. It is a 30-day commitment (thus the name), and I figured I could do anything for 30 days. My first Whole 30, I slipped up once, but restarted right away and did a total of 45 days. In that first 45 days, I lost about 10 pounds. After the first few days, it was challenging, but not painful. I already felt better – my sleep improved, my skin looked better and the chronic morning aches and pains were gone.

I felt so good, I stuck with the plan – no grains, dairy, legumes, added sweeteners or alcohol (well, I’ve added SOME booze back after the first 45 days). I go to the gym 3-5 times per week for 40-60 minutes.

I had my annual physical in December 2014, and the differences from August 2013 were staggering. I lost 34 pounds, but that was the least impressive change.

  • I lowered my fasting glucose from 143 to 92.
  • I lowered my Triglycerides from 242 to 169.
  • I increased my HDLs from 32 to 62.5, making my total Cholesterol:HDL ratio 2.29. This lowered my cardiac risk from 1.5 times normal in August 2013 to 0.5 times by December 2014.
  • I lower my CRP from 1.4 to 0.4 (a reflection of a decrease in systemic inflammatory activity).
  • I no longer have to use a CPAP machine for sleep apnea
  • My resistive hypertension is in the normal range (with meds), and it had been 150/90+ in August 2013.

My physician said that it is unheard of for someone my age to make changes of this magnitude, and even asked to show my lab work to his med students.

My relationship with food has changed completely. I look at food now as the most important “medicine” I put in my body. I read a lot of research. There is no such thing as “mindless eating” for me anymore, and I don’t worry (as much) about hurting someone’s feelings by saying “no, thank you” to food I know doesn’t work for me. I eat plenty of things I used to think of as “bad” (like fats from seeds and animals), and avoid many foods I used to see as healthy.

I rarely have to weigh or measure my portions and I have solid strategies for dealing with restaurants. I pay attention to my sleep hygiene, my exercise as well as my recovery days. Mostly, I’ve learned to respect my body by being mindful about what I put in it and do with it.

I travel 30% a year, and have managed to eat this way and continue exercising on the road and at home. It takes persistence, commitment and planning, but it is completely possible. Success is much more attainable if you can find a supportive partner to support you and hold you accountable.

I feel younger today on my 61st birthday than I have in years.

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