Sam’s Ups and Downs on Whole 30 and on Eliminating Toxins

If anyone says to you, “Hey, I’m on the Whole 30,” you should respond, “That sounds absolutely fascinating… but I really have to be going.” Then, run like hell.

Debbie, in her endless quest to improve me, and frightened by my recent appreciation for elastic waistbands, challenged me to a second go-round with this “toxin elimination” diet. We first did it in solidarity with other family members in 2016. I swore, “Never again.” But I agreed to it this time if Debbie did half of the meal preparation and half of the clean up – a considerable step up for her from the current division of kitchen chores.

The diet consists of eliminating all “toxigenic” foods. As a physician, I question the toxigenicity (as defined by health food enthusiasts) of many of the food staples that I am denied on the Whole 30. Dairy, gluten, grains (bread and pasta), legumes (beans, peas, lentils, peanuts), simple carbohydrates (rice, corn, anything with added sugar), alcohol – GONE!

OK, sure, empty calories are obesogenic and, indirectly, toxic. Some people have distinct food allergies, including milk and peanuts. Others are simply intolerant of them. Alcohol in excess is directly toxic, but remarkably well tolerated. Didn’t Mark Twain say, “ Too much of anything is bad, but too much whiskey is just enough?”

Science has not proven that all these foods are toxic

Some people are made ill by gluten and some people (without demonstrable illness) don’t tolerate it. Alternatively, some people with biopsy-proven gluten enteropathy have minimal or no symptoms and refuse to give up bread. But it is not scientifically proven that for most of the general population gluten, dairy, beans, etc. are truly toxic.

Sweet potato wedges with cilantro and lime, made by Debbie

We should not conflate disease (gluten enteropathy), allergy (from rash to anaphylaxis), and intolerance (flatulence, cramps) with toxin (poison). They may be related, but they are not synonymous.

And I challenge you to try to find foods without added sugar. Courtesy of government subsidies and corporate manipulation of our eating habits, added sugar is everywhere – ketchup, salad dressings (and every other flavor enhancer), processed meats (sausage, salami, bacon), cereals (granola, trail mix), baby food, peanut butter – you name it.

If you pick up a commercially available product in a non-organic food store (and you have to double check even in an organic food store), odds are the manufacturer has added sugar (dextrose, fructose, corn syrup, among others).

To avoid sugar, shop where the stock boys wear loin cloths

The only place that one is safe from added sugar is the Paleo Section of your organic food cooperative. That is the section where the stock boys wear loin cloths and you have to eat the purchased food in 24 hours. Otherwise it perishes.

But the real problem with the Whole 30 regime is the cult-like quality of its followers, folded into the corporate culture of its financial and marketing success. Its emails consume you. Its products seduce you. Ultimately, it takes over every conversation.

Every emotional perturbation takes on new importance

Because of the alluring belief that toxins are being flushed from our bodies, every physical sensation and every emotional perturbation are seen in terms of where we are in relation to our progress on the diet (what day out of 30). If one wakes up in the middle of the night thinking – “What in Heaven’s name am I going to say to that group of community college graduates in the fields of nursing and allied health care professionals about end-of-life decision-making by elderly patients?” – your beloved is likely to advise you that you are in the “hangover” phase of the diet and, “In another day or two this anxiety will pass.”

Broccoli scrambled eggs, made by Debbie (great!)

Or, if you find dishes soaking in the pantry from a roast chicken lovingly prepared 48 hours ago and ask politely, “What the f*ck is this pan doing here – you were supposed to clean this up yesterday morning?!?” The reply is likely to be, “Don’t worry dear, I will get right on it. You are just in the Dragon phase of the diet where you want to kill all the things.”

Under other circumstances, these scenarios would be attributed to the routine dialogue between an anxious public speaker and a passive aggressive dishwasher. (Ed. note: ha ha) On the Whole 30, however, it is the result of toxin reduction.

No small factor in my general cynicism about diet fads might relate to my exposure to my maternal grandmother’s personality and her strongly held views on diet, food production, and food distribution. A Massachusett’s Cantabridgian who mingled with the Boston Brahmin set, she believed that virtually every foodstuff was deleterious to her health. Sometime, in an early mid-life crisis, she pared back her diet to be limited to one steak, some bacon-fried potatoes, and one grapefruit, three times per day – every day.

My grandmother ate no steak raised east of the Mississippi

Her steak came from several particular sources out West. It was her unshakable belief that beef sourced east of the Mississippi was raised on discarded editions of the New York Times soaked in molasses.

On holidays, she had the occasional popover. During the summer in Maine she allowed herself a single lobster with butter. I never saw her eat a vegetable. I am not making this up.

I never knew her before this lifestyle change, but I can attest to the fact that while eating her special diet, she was amazingly irritable and (as my father generously characterized her) “difficult.” But she lived 40 or 50 years on this diet, into her late 80s, well beyond the average life expectancy for her era. Go figure.

Sam was a hit at Miranda’s Zumba class in Stonington: “14 beautiful women and one groovy guy.”

Of course, the Whole 30 really is just another ketosis diet (which leads to weight loss) wrapped in a detox marketing package. And although Whole 30’s promoters say W30 is not a weight-loss diet, per se, why would anyone put oneself through this if they were not going to shed a few pounds? I would not. I am certainly planning on finding my high school physique somewhere below this blubber.

Tiger Blood has begun…

Well, we are 17 days in and I have lost four pounds and two inches of girth, but perhaps I am simply more practiced in sucking in my stomach than when we started.

In any event, I am looking forward to the “Tiger Blood” phase of the diet. That is when one starts feeling rampant and before one tires completely from the denial of every indulgence. Curiously, I went to a Zumba class yesterday. Maybe the Tiger Blood has begun!

Interesting links

Whole 30 Challenge Confessions by Good Morning America Social Media Producer

Vowing to Eat Smarter Carbs for 30 Days (as a Type 1 Diabetic)

A Month Without Sugar

Recipe for scrambled eggs with broccoli

This is our new go-to for breakfast. It’s amazingly quick and delicious and I expect we will still be making it after the 30 days are up. What Sam doesn’t say above is that we both feel pretty good after two weeks on the Whole 30. It’s certainly healthy eating, whatever else you want to say about it. We both feel energetic and clear-headed. Of course, that may be due to forgoing wine and beer. – Debbie

INGREDIENTS (serves 4; use less for one or two people)

1 head broccoli
8 eggs (I use six eggs for two of us; one yolk and five whites)
1/2 cup filtered water (I don’t add water)
1 teaspoon coarse sea salt
ground black pepper, to taste
2 tablespoons butter (I use olive oil on Whole 30; butter not allowed)


1. Finely mince the broccoli. Whisk eggs, water, salt, and pepper in bowl until uniform.
2. Melt the butter (or use olive oil) in a skillet. Add the finely minced broccoli and sauté until bright green. (It really gets bright green.)
3. Pour in the egg mixture.
4. As eggs begin to set, gently pull the eggs across the pan with an inverted turner (I don’t know what this is; I use a wooden spoon), forming large soft curds.
5. Remove from heat while eggs are still slightly runny as they will continue to cook in the pan for another minute or two.

2 Responses to Sam’s Ups and Downs on Whole 30 and on Eliminating Toxins

  1. Eliza Myers January 20, 2019 at 3:35 pm #

    I’m going to send you an inverted turner, with which to stir your tiger blood.

    • Debbie Weil January 20, 2019 at 6:00 pm #

      Ha ha. That will be great. Sam thinks it might mean an upside down spatula…

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