"Have you ever heard of the Whole30 diet?" asked Susannah, the rail-thin girlfriend of my 27-year-old son, Daniel.
“No,” I answered, staring sheepishly into my glass of red wine and at my dinner plate filled with grilled lamb, roasted potatoes and green beans.
“We started this week,” Susannah responded.
I glumly shot a look at my son, who acknowledged he was, in fact, “in.”
“So did I,” added Jacqueline, my svelte wife of 30 years.
“Let me think about this,” I said with all eyes glaring at me.
Who was I kidding?
My decision was pre-ordained. Of the four people at the table, I — alone — was the one who needed to lose weight. At 57 years old and six feet tall, my weight stood at a concerning 212 pounds. I had added more than 20 pounds to my previously athletic frame during the last decade after I stopped running because of an arthritic big toe.
I did not conceal my eating and drinking sins. The stress of owning and managing businesses led me to soothe myself with a large glass of bourbon on the rocks while I cooked dinner, and a glass or two of wine with my main meal almost every night. With my love for cooking, I began to serve very large portions of pasta with every meal.
I frequently skipped breakfast the next morning, only to compensate with massive, unhealthy sandwiches over lunch: The cheesier and breadier, the better. And, if I missed lunch, a handful of junk food munchies always filled my tummy in the afternoon: The more sugary and salty, the more appealing.
On the road to largeness, I uttered all sorts of ridiculous sounding rationalizations. “More to love,” I would joke with my wife. “Less is more,” she would respond. “A sign of prosperity,” I would tell my son, with a grin. “Then, why are you fretting over higher education expenses?” he would answer.
Clearly, I was deflated and cornered.
“Okay, I am in, as well,” I said.
And so began my journey to much-needed weight reduction and personal renewal.
The Whole30 is a 30-day diet that eliminates sugar, alcohol, grains, legumes, soy and dairy. Foods allowed during the program include meat, nuts, seeds, seafood, eggs, vegetables and fruits. During the Whole30, you don’t count calories or weigh yourself. After the program is complete, you gradually and strategically reintroduce non-Whole30-compliant foods.
The program was created in 2009 by sports nutritionists Dallas and Melissa Hartwig. Susannah graciously bought me their cookbook, and I used it frequently to make sure my dinners were compliant and tasty. Still do — it's great. Among my favorites are Jamaican jerk salmon and grilled tuna over fennel slaw.
Breakfasts consist of eggs, potatoes and fruits. For lunch, I take a salad topped with bacon, ham, chicken, turkey or beef, with oil and vinegar dressing.
The impacts were immediate and noticeable. By most afternoons, I felt very hungry, but I resisted my usual crackers and cheese and, instead, snacked on nuts and fruits.
By early evening, I felt grumpy and headed to the kitchen to cook. But I answered my urge for a bourbon on the rocks with sparkling water and lime.
The process wasn't pretty. Nor were my moods.
However, the results were inspiring.
Within a week, I began to tighten my belt by a notch and noticed how much thinner my face looked in the mirror. My old suits stopped feeling tight around the shoulders and thighs. My wedding band felt looser on my ring finger.
My mind was also significantly sharper. And I found myself feeling more “in the moment.”
By habit, I am a very early riser and enjoy working between 6 a.m and 8:30 a.m., before colleagues and employees come to the office. Within 10 days, I noticed how much more work I was getting done, how much easier it was to solve complex problems, and how much more patient I was resolving work issues of others.
At the end of 30 days, I jumped on a scale and wasn't surprised to see that I was 11 pounds lighter. Thrilled by the results, I sparingly returned to the foods that had been restricted.
That's because I remain motivated to continue my new eating habits. To this day, I seldom eat sandwiches and have given up junk food snacks. I avoid creamy salad dressings and sweet sauces; I haven't had a bowl of pasta or a pizza in months; I eat sugary desserts only once or twice a week; and I do not drink alcohol two days in a row.
Another 30 days later, I trimmed another five pounds and am now just slightly above my target weight of 192 pounds. I am confident I will get there and maintain my old weight by staying the course and taking two to three lengthy bike rides every week.
No studies specifically looking into the health impacts of the Whole30 have been conducted. While dietitians generally agree with the program's emphasis on proteins, vegetables and unprocessed foods and the avoidance of added sugars and alcohol, some view the diet as too extreme. Cutting whole grains and legumes is particularly at odds with nutritional evidence.
Still, I thank Susannah every time I see her for teaching me about the Whole30 diet and the changes in habit it triggered. And therein lies the most important lesson of my experience: A change in the direction of good health often requires a nudge from someone you least expect to hear it from.