I live to eat. And when I deny myself food, it’s because I don’t want to eat it and not because I can’t eat it. I’m not one to fall for fad diets and I have participated in a couple of food challenges. There was once where I subjected myself to no sweets for one week. This ended up with me almost biting The Angmoh’s head off by Day 7. I’ve also joined Fakebooo for “Live Below The Line”, which you can read about our experience here. Recently, I embarked on a 4 week clean eating challenge organised by my crossfit gym and it put me in an extremely uncomfortable place. The rules were simple: eat real food, period. It was not 100% paleo (as many crossfitters are) and there’s some flexibility as to how strict you want to restrict yourself to certain foods. The big no-nos were refined carbohydrates (such as flour), refined sugar, processed foods and alcohol. Small amounts of dairy and complex starches (such as rice and legumes) were allowed.
And that’s not the end of it. There’s Fran. What’s Fran, I hear you ask. Well Fran is not the sexy sultry pouty nasal-sounding lady we all adore. In the crossfit world, she’s one bitch of a workout. It consists of 21 thrusters and 21 pull-ups, followed by 15 thrusters and 15 pull-ups, ending with 9 thrusters and 9 pull-ups. It generates a crap-load of horsepower and leaves you collapsed in a messy wheezing heap of sore thighs, arms and an audibly pounding heart, ready to burst out of your chest. And Fran is the benchmark for the challenge. Do it on Day 1, train hard and eat well over the next 4 weeks and do it again on Day 29. And it’ll be awesome if you can up your weight, rely less on assisted bands for pull-ups and do it in a faster time.
I wasn’t aware of any of this when I was casually asked if I’d like to partake in this madness. “Challenge accepted” I stupidly readily agreed and found out all of this on the very first day of the challenge, having missed the briefing due to work. Not one to tuck tails, I hopped on the bandwagon, completed Fran and on wobbly legs, headed home to plan my meals for the days to come. My eating rules were: no refined carbs, no refined sugar, no alcohol, no processed foods and no cheese. I allowed myself small amounts of rice or potato and small quantities of milk and yoghurt. As I wiped away a tear, I bade farewell to Beatrix and Jocks.
There was no weaning period for me. I quit sugar cold turkey. Day 2 into the challenge, the headaches hit. Desperate for a lick of something sweet, I fell back on fruit and bananas became my best friend. My meals consisted of protein and vegetables and once a week, I indulged in a bowl of rice.
I thought it was going well until Monday of week 2. My day involved a simple lunch of roasted cauliflower soup, only to end with a workout of more thrusters. Bad food mistake, I simply had no energy to lift and was left physically and emotionally exhausted. It also made me panic because that meant I was going to suck big time at the impending Fran. Wiser eating choices had to be made.
As I progressed into week 3, my mood swings were more volatile having PMS and I took my frustration out on The Angmoh. My coach even remarked that I was more tired than usual. But I did not let it get to me. I turned up at every possible work out and trained at least 5 times a week. I made better eating choices and started including more rice into my meals. I noticed I was no longer craving processed desserts when colleagues at work brought in an insanely rich chocolate cake and I had no inclination even for a taste of it.
Not to say I didn’t have any sweets over the past 4 weeks. I’d go insane and The Angmoh would have dumped me lickety split. My sweets consisted of the raw variety. There was raw cheesecake from Patch and raw chocolate from Pana. These desserts contain natural and raw ingredients, such as cashews, coconut and agave. Eating out was tricky so I used the challenge as an opportunity to check out Little Big Sugar Salt, Combi and Raw Trader.
My meals varied from the simple vegetable soups to the fancier roast pork belly with apple puree and fennel. There were the usual paleo players of zucchini noodles and cauliflower rice. The Angmoh made me oven roasted fish with a nut crust, on a bed of wilted vegetables. On one of the weekends, instead of brunching out, I threw together a simple summery salad of sashimi, leaves and tomatoes, dressed in a lemon and wasabi dressing. Some mornings, I indulged in a homemade gluten-free breakfast of banana pancakes, drizzled with maple and topped with natural peanut butter. Throughout the 4 weeks, I continued practising Meatless Mondays and relied heavily of spuds or rice for energy. My snacks at work were Corn Thins smeared with hommus from “The Pure Produce Company” or peanut butter by Mayvers.
The downside of the challenge is that I miss my comfort eating like slurping up pasta coated in bolognaise or biting into crisp chewy sourdough. Social occasions can be lonesome when you are at a pub drinking water while the boyfriend nurses a chilled beer. The initial rocky start of being hungry and tired all the time evened out over the weeks as my body adapted and I made smarter food choices.
The upside of the challenge is that I was never alone. My crossfit buddies shared their experiences regularly and this provided great comfort. The Angmoh endured throughout my challenge and not only cooked food to suit the challenge, but ensured I had enough to eat all the time. (He did pig out on a pizza on the very last weekend while I munched on a salad but I forgive him.) I also discovered new and fun places to eat at and fell in love with raw desserts. I started reading food labels more carefully and now think twice before putting an item into my shopping basket.
On the last day of the challenge, I put together a semi-raw carrot cheesecake (gluten, dairy, egg and sugar-free, oh and recipe soon to come), had a delicious kimchi bibimbap for dinner and tucked myself early into bed. Fran 2 has been done and dusted. Not only did I manage to up my weights, I smashed my time by more than a minute.
I’ll be honest. If ever approached to do another restricted diet challenge, it is highly likely I’ll think twice before saying yes. But I’m glad I did complete this one as it has made me more aware of what I put into myself and I am keen to continue practising a lifestyle of minimal sugar and processed foods.