Over the past 24 days, my mom and I have been participating in the Whole30, which is a program to restart your eating habits and promote healthy eating and cooking. For 30 days, we choose not to eat grains, sugar, alcohol, dairy, legumes, soy, and any processed foods. When I tell people this, their first question is often, “What can you eat?”. The foods available to eat on the Whole30 are meats, vegetables, fruits (in moderation), and healthy fats, which include oils, seeds, and nuts. Uh oh. The list of “can eat” is considerably shorter than the “can’t”, and I’m allergic to nuts! How can I possibly survive on this restrictive diet?
Spoiler alert: it’s not that hard.
Let me be clear about my allergy. I initially had a reaction to almond cereal during my freshman year at JMU. My throat closed up and my lips swelled. Thank goodness I was with friends who had a car to drive me to the hospital. Since then, I haven’t had any notable reactions! But I do carry an EpiPen®. Although I’ve only had this extreme reaction to almonds, I avoid any and all varieties. My allergy, however, does not limit me from eating peanuts (which grow in the ground), or coconut, which the FDA includes on their list of tree nuts (even though it’s technically a seed, not a nut).
So, how did I do it? Having a tree-nut allergy is a challenge, but my allergy actually helped me to be faithful to the program, learn to enjoy simple foods again, and access my creative thinking!
Sticking to the Program
One of the goals of the Whole30 program is to sever the relationship between you and your food addictions. One way this is accomplished is by prohibiting the re-creation of unhealthy foods with Whole30 approved ingredients. For example, I have had a particular craving for pizza over the last 24 days. All I can think about is the squishy crust, gooey cheese, and salty pepperoni, all smothered in ranch. Are you drooling yet? I am…
A quick internet search will show you that there are lots of ways to make pizza with Whole30 ingredients. You can make the “crust” with almond meal, and the “cheese” with macadamia nuts. However, doing so would go against one of the strictest rules of doing the Whole30 (they even have a clever name for it): no cheating! The point is not to simply replace bad food with healthy ingredients for a disappointing result but to radicalize your idea of go-to foods so you no longer crave the sugary, processed, ultra-convenient ones.
With this in mind, my tree nut allergy actually helped me resist temptation. Instead of spending time and energy looking for cheat recipe replacements, I just looked for meals that were nut free and full of nutrient-rich ingredients. Having an allergy took tempting creations off the table for me, so it was no longer even an option. There are almost no junk food re-creations that are nut free. Instead, I realized just how much I like food that is good for me.
Rekindling the Flame
I used to eat protein pancakes or a bagel every morning for breakfast. It was so easy to stick something in the microwave and run out the door when it dinged. Now, it takes significant prep to have a fancy breakfast. I certainly don’t have time to prepare a full brunch each morning, but that doesn’t mean my nutrition has to suffer. I can still use the microwave! Without my allergy, I could have succumbed to what was easy. I very easily could have eaten a bag of almonds and a banana as I was driving to work. Instead, I put a sweet potato in for 4 minutes and while it’s cooking, I fry an egg. When that’s done, I add some salsa and avocado to the mix and all of a sudden I have a yummy, filling breakfast made with pantry staples.
Are my meals always exciting and exotic? No, but I have learned to love the basics. Throughout the day, I have more energy than ever, I have no tummy troubles, and I feel freedom from over-sugared foods! That, to me, is way worth the extra effort to manage my time each morning and plan each lunch. Eggs, potatoes, chicken, and salad have taken on new identities for me! When I was eating Eggos every morning, of course, I wouldn’t want to make an omelet or a hash, who would want the hassle or the cleanup? But by making consistent choices, I have found that it’s not that hard to eat a breakfast that will sustain and energize me until lunch. And when it comes to dinner, that’s where my creativity shines.
New is Always Better
Doing the Whole30 has really opened my eyes to some new ingredients. For example, coconut aminos are a great replacement for soy sauce in Asian-inspired dishes and ghee is the best milk-free butter out there for frying eggs and potatoes. Even though I don’t spend time trying to create junk food out of health food, there still exists a huge amount of Whole30 recipes, riddled with tree nuts. Sometimes, I still feel discouraged when I see a really yummy recipe that has almonds in the ingredient list, but the first thing I try to do is consider if I can replace the nut for a seed and get the same flavor.
My mom has many options when she wants a snack. She can eat Lara bars, Kind bars, or just have a handful of cashews. She used to feel guilty that she could eat these things that I couldn’t, but she doesn’t have to because I found this delicious recipe for coconut-date protein balls! You might notice that the recipe calls for almond butter, but I have the perfect replacement: Sunbutter!! Sunbutter is an allergy-free alternative to other kinds of nut butter, as it is made only with sunflower seeds and salt. Sunflower seeds have changed how I think about potential recipes. If something calls for walnuts, almonds, or cashews, I can (usually) just swap it out for sunflower seeds.
I know, it doesn’t seem that revolutionary. However, my hang up was that I was convinced that there was no way sunflower seeds could taste like peanuts or almonds. However, my world changed when I decided to put Sunbutter on a banana. That perfect combo of salty with creamy and sweet? It rocked my world. I thought it was better than peanut butter. Now, I’m confident that I can replace anything with sunflower seeds and enjoy it just as much as I would if it had any other nut.
I’ve eaten so much good food over the past 24 days (like this panang curry recipe I made last week!), I’m even thinking of keeping up my eating habits and sticking to a Paleo diet. I guess we’ll see what happens after next Sunday when mom and I start reintroducing certain food back into our diets to see how it affects us!
Have you ever done the Whole30? What are your favorite recipes? I’d love to try them. Have you ever stopped yourself from trying out a new recipe because of your allergies? What healthy workarounds have you found? I’d love to hear from you!
Until next time,