I am a firm believer that food choices make a huge difference in making diabetes easier to manage. I personally cannot eat lots of carb-yummy foods along with bucketfuls of insulin and expect anything other than roller coaster blood sugars. I am not good at moderation and usually do better with none rather than one. I can’t stop at a single potato chip or one chocolate chip cookie. In general I eat a diet that would be categorized as moderately-low carb. I do okay most of the time and then drift into patterns where I’m eating foods that trash my blood sugars. Most of my over-snacking with big boluses is in the evenings and I end up with lows at bedtime followed by 2:00AM spikes. Multiple Dexcom alarms destroy my sleep and blood sugars rebel well into the next day. Before- and after-dinner glasses of wine magnify the blood sugar swings and sabotage any semblance of willpower.
Occasionally I need a total reset to break the pattern. For the most part I don’t do diets with names and I have never followed the South Beach Diet or gone Paleo, Keto, Bernstein or Mediterranean. Last spring I decided to investigate the Whole30. The only reason I knew about the plan was that Kelley of Below Seven had blogged about her successful Whole30 experience in February and March of 2017.
The Whole30 describes itself as “a short-term nutrition reset, designed to help you put an end to unhealthy cravings and habits, restore a healthy metabolism, heal your digestive tract, and balance your immune system.” I bought the book in May and dove in headfirst. In general I hate to cook but tried a bunch of the recipes in the book. My husband was patient with the whole experience and we quickly agreed that we mostly like meat, fish, vegetables, and fruit with few spices or add-ons. The Whole30 is a do-or-die plan where sugar, grains, dairy, and all sorts of food are forbidden. Interestingly potatoes are allowed and after rarely eating them for several years, they were a treat. I was quickly amazed at how much fruit I could eat with minimal blood sugar disruption. Absolutely forbidden were diet soda and alcohol. I technically flunked the plan on Day 10 when I put lemon pepper on my chicken without knowing that it contained sugar. Unwilling to go back to Day 1 as the plan requires, I continued towards Day 30 as an imposter with lemon pepper on my conscience.
All of a sudden on Day 25 I didn’t care anymore. My first sin was Diet Coke and a wonderful carbonation buzz. The second was a glass of red wine. Surprisingly the food restrictions of the plan didn’t bother me much. I had few sugar cravings and my most-missed foods were string cheese and peanuts. I felt little guilt about quitting so close to the finish line because I lacked the conviction that Day 30 was going to change my life.
Fast forward to October. After a mostly-okay summer, I was again mired in bad habits. Too much diet soda, too much alcohol, too many snacks. I hit bottom two weeks ago when my husband was out of town and I determined that three old-fashioned donuts (two chocolate-covered and one sour cream) would be an acceptable dinner. You can imagine how well that carbohydrate binge went. Despite massive doses of insulin, my blood sugar soared and crashed all night long.
I started the Whole30 again the next morning. The first day was rough as my blood sugars relived the last 24 hours. Since then it has been smooth sailing. The food part of this diet continues to be easy for me since I really like vegetables, fruit, nuts, meat, and eggs and it is not intended to be a forever-diet. I have made my two favorite recipes from the Whole30
cookbook—Spinach Frittata and Classic Chili—more than once along with basic dinners of meat, vegetables, and potatoes. Mixed nuts and honeycrisp apples have worked great for snacks and bananas, grapes, and juice have combatted the occasional lows. I am not missing Diet Coke which is kind of a miracle.
Am I cheating? Yes, but within the ground rules that I established at the beginning of the diet. I use glucose tabs for lows when away from home and obviously they are a big no-no. But they are convenient and “medicinal.” I am also allowing things like lemon pepper and soy sauce which are forbidden. Other than that, I am toeing the line.
Will I make it 30 days? Probably not and that is not my immediate goal. I have an endocrinologist appointment tomorrow and that was my original target end date. Unfortunately the donut bender will show up as Day 1 of my 14-day CGM tracings. Other than that, my BG numbers have been good. If I don’t indulge in a post-endo Diet Coke reward, I might keep going for another week or two. Maybe all the way to Day 30….
Is there anything magical about the Whole30? Probably not. It is one of many diets with a rigid no-cheat framework that can help people break bad habits in the short run while providing motivation for the future. It is probably an oversell that it claims to change your life in 30 days. At the same time both of my “almost Whole30” experiences have been successful in steering me back to healthy eating and better diabetes numbers.
If you have interest in trying the Whole30 plan, you can explore the website and probably learn everything you need to know. I bought the book at Amazon and haven’t regretted having it for reference and recipes. You should read Kelley’s series of blogposts at Below Seven because she details what she cooked, how she felt, and how it affected her diabetes. And unlike me she made it 30 days without breaking the rules!
A final question which I don’t address today is: If following a plan like the Whole30 makes diabetes easier and allows me to almost flatline my blood sugars, why don’t I eat like this most of the time? Good question.