whole30 take 4: our chief’s post-trauma road to recovery

as you may recall, i (along with my 60-ish-year-old father) embarked on this thing called whole30 just one year ago. and you also may recall that what started as whole30 evolved into whole60, then whole90, as we enthusiastically wanted to finish out our efforts with a #septemberwhole30 bang. and, so we did. dad lost a whopping 16 lbs; i lost a pitiful 3, but that number was bulked up by the plethora of non-scale victories that are too numerous to list. then, of course, i blogged about how whole30 changed my life while barely budging the scale. end scene.

but that, my fabulous fitbookers, was unfortunately just the beginning. my original intention for doing whole30 back then was to correct my chaotic hormone levels, but deep deep down all i really wanted was to nudge the scale needle leftward; to look like the once pint-sized entrepreneur in all those fitlosophy flashback pics; to have confidence in who i was, and to not feel like a fraud flaunting my #livelifefit mantra around whilst continuing to pack on the pounds. experts (and i have an army of them) told me time and time again: "it doesn't matter what you eat – your hormones are the problem.” “your workouts are having the reverse effect and stressing you out." blah blah blah, with all due respect to my aforementioned mentors, doctors, and experts. but, i'm not a quitter. i don't sit around and whimper; i workout. i regain control. i take matters into my own little hands. i don't cry about it; i do something about it. until I couldn't. until doing wasn't an option.

[warning: long-albeit-important backstory to follow]
rewind to december of this past year. december 15th, 2016, to be exact. an inexplicable, horrific event happened that maybe someday i'll be more open about. but for now, we'll just call it what it was: "the incident." the incident that had me in the hospital trauma unit; that left me bloodied and bruised; that put a man behind bars for attempted murder. that incident is one that i survived, thanks to a merciful God who saved me in ways you wouldn't believe. and muscles, my muscles saved me too. (insert strong-arm emoji) and of course, in the aftermath, as always i put on a brave face. i made jokes about it using humor to heal, because, “i mean, you should see the other guy!”

but in all honesty, i was terrified, wounded, and would face months of physical pain + emotional trauma. it has been nothing short of exhausting and frustrating, as well as confusing when coupled with an overwhelming sense of gratitude to be alive. who am i to be complaining about pain when i'm still here?? easy to say from the outside; much more difficult when you're in the throes of it. but such is life, right?

one of the toughest things for me over the past four, five, heck even six, seven, and eight months after the "incident" has been when someone asks how i'm doing and i mention pain or physical therapy, to which their almost immediate response is: "still?". my stomach ties up in knots, the silence only broken by my knee-jerk reaction to explain myself. in my head i'm like, "yes, STILL!!!", but, inevitably shame sets in. what's wrong with me? why am i not feeling better? why does my leg still throb and my back feel like there are mini-daggers jabbing away incessantly?

this spiral of self-condemnation has taken a toll, but fortunately i've been blessed with a small-but-mighty support system of friends, family and health professionals who have literally walked (and limped) through every slow step of this with me. it was only a few weeks ago that i texted my friend that i had jogged for the first time in 9 months - albeit a sad excuse for a jog, which lasted approximately 20 seconds at best. but i could jog!!! i'd be lying if i didn’t admit that i’ve snarled in jealousy (just a little) when a spandex-clad woman twice my age jogs past me effortlessly, and there i am walking. pshhh, whatevs...jogging is sooooo overrated.

and it was maybe only a month ago that i finished my spin class, still a bit cautious and not doing any fast sprints out of the saddle, but miraculously my leg didn't cramp up or result in my usual post-workout gangsta limp. and even as i type this on my phone, i'm admittedly soaking in an epsom salt bath (don't laugh - ideas come at the most inopportune times), because while i've felt like a million bucks these past 30 days, just two days ago i started bawling because the pain was back. not as intensely, but it was back. and so it goes, this cycle. three steps forward, two back. three steps forward, one back. repeat. that's life.

so, what does this have to do with whole30, one might ask whilst yawning as i ramble on? well, when the #septemberwhole30 rolled around this year, all of my lovely facebook memories reminded me of my disciplined endeavors the year prior. after everything that’s happened in the past year - the "incident" exacerbated by almost losing my sweet 12-year-old yorkie mylo, coupled with another tragic loss in the family - let's just say we gladly bade 2016 adieu. all that being said, my whole90 partner-in-crime, my dad, had also been through a lot, and along with a major back injury, he'd put back on a few pounds. and with me not being able to do much more than walk for nine months, let's just say there was much more chief fitlosopher to love than she'd like. so, here's where it gets juicy.

intentions are everything. they determine your outcome, but in the process, they redefine your definition of success. with daddy on-board for whole30 part 4, my goal this time around was one thing and one thing only: get this blankety-blank pain under control. popular for being a weight-loss diet, that is NOT the intention behind whole30, but rather a welcome side effect. our society has trained us to fixate on that. i mean, i'm guilty of it. combined, my dad and i racked up some 16 draw-dropping non-scale victories on whole30, but being the marketer that i am, what do i promote? dad lost 16 lbs!!!! slow-clap. #fitlosophyfail

fast-forward to this whole30. my goal in undergoing this one was very different than the last: reduce inflammation, which is very closely connected to pain. literally within a week of starting #septemberwhole30, the level of pain went from probably an 8 or 9 to a 4 or 5. no joke. by taking out foods that cause inflammation, like alcohol, dairy, sugar, and grains, the results shocked even me. but what surprised me even more was my ability to follow whole30 in a much more peaceful manner. during my first whole90 (let's just call a spade a spade), my sugar dragon (as the creator headmistress melissa calls it) would still haunt me at night. even if i “won”, it was just sheer willpower. then sometimes i would give in and ravage a bowl of fruit, all the while knowing that this isn't how it's supposed to go. even if you stay "technically" whole30, i'm pretty sure that berry-bingeing is a big no-no. but, i was too ashamed to admit it. i mean, who wants to admit they have food issues when they run a company called fitlosophy?

whole30 even states as a disclaimer: if you've ever dealt with eating disorders, whole30 might not be for you. me: "whatever, i got this." and honestly, i did pretty well. i stuck to the program for the most part for 90 days solid, but gypped myself of any meaningful changes in my mind because my goal was one thing and one thing only: weight loss.

but a funny thing happens when you survive a near-death, life-changing, eye-opening experience that results in your complete and utter inability to break a sweat. especially when for the majority of your life, working out is how you've handled life and stress and weight and loss and, dadgummit, that's even how you make a living! i quickly found that i’d made food and fitness my idol for far too long, so when that was taken from me, i was forced to face some inner demons in a whole new way. i won't bore you with a sermon , but let's just say that it puts things in perspective.

fast forward to today: i just finished my whole30. and it was hands-down a “win” in my book. i just did deadlifts and walked on the treadmill and my leg is like, "pain, what pain?", and i know that tomorrow might be a different story, but this is progress. i'd be lying if i said i hadn’t hoped to see the scale dip down a wee bit, but that wasn't my goal. my intention didn't change the outcome, but it did change my definition of success. and for me that's made all the difference.

speaking of differences, there was one key (nutritional) difference between my first and my most recent whole30 worth sharing. in a convo maybe three months ago with my trainer/nutrition guru/therapist/coach dude, he literally yelled at me and said “stop it already, you’re tiny…i could throw you like a football!!” as a way to interrupt one of my woe-is-me, my-pants-are-tight-and-i-feel-sorry-for-myself rants. when i ran the idea of whole30 by him, he liked it – like a lot – especially for the anti-inflammatory benefits and because he thought it could help in our other efforts with my hormones. (that’s a whole other blog; i'm a human science experiment, like just put me in a petri dish already.) then i asked him about bulletproof coffee, thinking that it might be good to give it a whirl, whole30-style of course.

my purpose for wanting to integrate bulletproof coffee into my whole30, in all honesty, was to give this intermittent fasting fad a try. i mean, our blog editor katy gave it a go + the results were impressive. so, why not blend in some bulletproof with my whole30? but, the aforementioned trainer-slash-nutrition-expert-extraordinaire-turned-friend brad davidson, author of the stark naked 21-day metabolic reset, warned me: “you can try it, but intermittent fasting is going to increase your stress levels and could have the opposite intended effect.” so, sure enough, the more research i did, i found that the reason that intermittent fasting works (for some people) is that it literally sends your cortisol levels through the roof, creating a fat-burning effect. this can work for low-stress individuals, often more sedentary or overweight (not you, katy!!!), but given my already-imbalanced hormonal state (be forewarned), this didn’t seem to be a good route for me to go down. even the whole30 founder herself poo-poo’d the idea of intermittent fasting (and i quote):

“intermittent fasting (IF) is inherently stressful on the body. adding IF to an already stressed system can backfire, leaving you less metabolically healthy than when you started.”

she goes on to list the people who shouldn’t try intermittent fasting and someone with outta-whack hormones was basically at the top of that list. womp womp. so, after much research, consideration, and consulting the experts, i decided to edit my bulletproof approach, shown in detail below. so often, i think we read the headlines and see these before + after testimonials and think, “well, if it worked for them, it might work for me!” and to be honest, as a born marketer, admittedly, that’s what they/we want you to think! in my defense, journaling is much different than a nutritional fad. i mean, if we had a tv ad on during prime time, the only disclaimer would be a stern warning that overuse of a fitspiration journal could lead to higher levels of happiness and joy and wonderfulness.

so, taking brad’s advice, we created a whole30 program that works for my lifestyle. and if you haven’t learned anything after my 2052 words yet, it’s that this may or may not work for you. you have to research, try things out, but most importantly listen to your body. here's what the past 30 days have looked like – for me:

[6:30am (ish) - but first, lemon water]
no, it doesn’t have the same ring as coffee, but each morning i make it a priority to start my teapot when i wake up + add hot water to the juice of 1 squeezed lemon. with hot lemon water in-hand, i start each and every day reading my bible, journaling gratitude + doing 5 minutes of guided meditation in the headspace app. life hackers like tim ferris and dave asprey (creator of bulletproof) swear by morning journaling, specifically gratitude, but i've found that adding that extra dose of God-time has been the real game-changer for my morning ritual.

[7:55am (ish) – supps]
i hate supplements. like detest them. but the bonus byproduct of taking them for me is that i literally drink like ½ a liter of water before breakfast. while my breakfast is cooking i begrudgingly gulp down my omegas, probiotics, thyroid support and whatever hormone-related pills i’m popping at the time, along with my multi, adrenal support, and ugh, i’m exhausted just listing them, but you get the point.

[8am (ish) – breakfast of champions]
a must: a high-protein, big breakfast to start my day, whole30-approved of course. most days: 2-3 eggs, ½ a sweet potato cut into thin rounds + sautéed to a crisp in coconut oil, maybe ½ a small avocado + coffee. with my morning wall street journal in-hand and percolator within reach. tip: if you’re hungry mid-morning, you probably didn’t eat enough protein!

[2pm (ish) – bulletproof coffee]
i don’t dig lunch – i’m busy and i just don’t like lunchtime foods all that much. so, this was my compromise: bulletproof for lunch! it allowed me to build bulletproof into my life without the stress-inducing intermittent fasting component, but gave me the added benefits that bulletproof had to offer. bonus: i don’t have to stop mid-project to eat lunch, i just plow through my day. here’s my go-to, whole30-approved bulletproof recipe.

[4pm (ish) – this girl is on fiyah!]
after an uber-productive, oddly-energetic afternoon of work most days, i exert my bulletproof-induced enthusiasm to hit the gym. it’s an odd mix of mental focus and clarity that doesn’t leave me jittery, and surprisingly doesn’t affect my ability to fall asleep at night. most days, my bulletproof does double-duty as not only my lunch, but also serves as my pre-workout boost. important: i also have religiously recorded my workouts + food in fitbook so i have a visual log of how food or fitness affects pain levels.

[6pm (ish) – din-din, done]
post-workout, i eat a large high-protein, veggie-packed dinner right after the gym, so it’s fairly early since i haven’t really eaten since breakfast, but oddly i'm not starving. most nights my dinner is either my go-to crockpot chili, arugula with my paleo egg salad, or a turkey asian hash with cauliflower mash. i’m a creature of habit, so once i prep for the week, it doesn’t bug me to eat the same thing 3-4 times. (p.s. all recipes are here – i referenced this blog when starting whole30 again this time, which made it so much easier!)

[8pm (ish) – something sweet - sometimes]
usually i’d be getting some sort of golden glow from standing in front of the refrigerator so long, contemplating a night-time snack. truth is, this time around i just rarely have cravings. pinky swear. but, part of food freedom is not having a “rule” that you can’t eat past a certain time. if you’re hungry, eat something – if you’re not, don’t. every now and then i have a small bowl of sleep-inducing, melatonin-packed frozen cherries drizzled lightly with coconut milk and sprinkled with cinnamon. some nights i have maybe half a bottle of whole30-compliant GT’s strawberry kombucha. but most nights, i just have a hot tea. no rummaging through cupboards or exercising superhuman willpower necessary; this time it was as though something just clicked.

[11:00 (ish) – sleep]
this is so underrated when you’re doing whole30 – but especially when your body is healing from injury. i literally track my sleep more religiously than my steps (and i take my steps verrrry seriously) with my fitness tracker. i set a reminder on my phone for 10pm to turn off all technology, including email, netflix, and time-sucking social. sometimes i take a bath, most often i read, but i almost always journal as a way to unwind from the day. logging an average about 8-9 hours per night has been an important part of not only the healing process, but also getting my hormones somewhat back on track.

things I didn’t do this time around:
  • weigh myself – because it’s a whole30 no-no.
  • weigh my food – gasp! yes, i preach it, but i used these 30 days to let my body determine what amounts were enough, not my darling digital kitchen co-pilot. except for weighing my collagen protein for my bulletproof coffee, because what protein doesn’t come with a scoop??
  • reward myself with food. my last whole30, i'd often still revert to this mentality. this time, i employed other methods of self-love, like buying a pair of jeans one size up that make me feel slim, or taking full advantage of the athleta friends + family discount to stock up on workout clothes that make me feel good. or even simpler/cheaper rewards, like a new book or fresh flowers from the market. 
  • count the days. last time it was like, “X more days until i can enjoy a glass of wine with my friends!” this time, it’s been more like, “yay it’s been 10 days since my pain has flared up!” rather than waiting for whole30 to be over, i'm grateful for the results i'm seeing and anxious to continue to the next phase: finding food freedom.

what is food freedom, you ask?
this is the whole30 book that came out after the whole30 phenomenon became just that. the creator wrote it to help whole30-ers reintroduce foods back into their life in a healthy way, not just nutritionally but emotionally and physiologically to embrace this concept she calls “food freedom.” right now, i'm only about halfway through with the book, but unlike the last whole30 where i just skipped the whole reintroduction-process (my bad), this time i’m going to implement this process as it was intended: to find out what works for me. you’ll have to stay tuned to see how that turns out when i post my results (and book review) for you in a few weeks!

so, in closing, i'm sure you’re all dying to know: but did you lose weight? and shame on you! (okay, sorry i totally set you up for it.) but, here’s the truth: i haven’t weighed. and i probably won’t for quite some time. the scale is like the devil: it’s a punk. it’s not a good indicator of progress, and quite frankly my progress right now is measured more in pain-free days than in pounds . over time, my jeans (may) get looser. someday, i might be back at my fighting weight. but that day isn’t right now, and that’s just quite alright. as my coach reminded me, “patience, grasshopper!”

my hope in ranting at-length is that someone, anyone, even just one of you reads this and thinks “she gets it” or “me too”, because what i’ve learned through the hardest times in my life, is that sometimes you don’t need someone to fix it; often times you don’t even need someone to understand. but regardless of what you’re going through, there’s incredible jaw-dropping power in knowing that you’re not alone.

your scrappy little chief,

3 Responses

mary Manzanares
mary Manzanares

October 15, 2017

Ang, you are so inspiring I love reading your blogs you are so positive and your book has help me with a lot! Since my divorce I gained 44 pounds and I have lost Just 7 so far but I just started and can’t wait to lose more to be happy and healthy again!!


October 15, 2017

Angela, I am so happy you are able to find what works for you. And as a Personal Trainer & Empowerment Coach, I love your trainer/coach/guru’s words to you. Be kind to yourself. While you didn’t share the details, I went through a horrible life altering challenge in college that affected my physical and emotional well being at a time when I was coming off the first Marathon high. Literally, the week after. I also understand the Cortisol level shifts, as all 3 of my kids have faced life threatening medical challenges and even though training hard, my body felt off. So I had to listen, learn, really tune in and it is amazing. The routine you have implemented is similar to what worked for me, and how I coach my own clients. So happy you are feeling better! And thank you for creating Fitlosophy. I give them as gifts often and love them.
Happy new week ahead- Erin


October 15, 2017

you might find a whole foods, PLANT based diet eliminates all of your inflammation issues, not just 50-70% :) and help you lose weight without ever worrying about what you eat

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