Pep Talks to Myself: Exercise is not a punishment

Pep Talks to Myself is a series where I give myself (AND YOU) the tough-love advice that I need to hear. More ass-kicking here.

Two weeks ago, I committed to exercising every single day for the rest of the year. Yes, I had already been striving to exercise daily because of the 5 To Thrive, but I’d been missing a day here or there, and I needed to step it up. So now, I’m counting down to 2018 with my #exercisecountdown challenge.

To be clear, I’m not going full-out, drenched-in-sweat every single day. Those workouts are reserved for five days/week. Two days each week, I go on a thirty-minute “recovery” walk and follow up with some weight training. But the other days of the week, I am going ALL IN, pushing myself to the breathless, red-faced state that brings real change to a body.

Because here’s the thing: I do not care about being skinny. If I did, I wouldn’t be eating a #dailygrain or drinking wine or indulging in an office donut. I enjoy food way too much to care about the final pounds that really prevent me from having a totally flat stomach. Bodies are made in the kitchen so much more than they are made in the gym, and it’s very difficult to make a real change in your body without changing how you eat. Which — to be honest — I’m just not willing to do. Eating 100% clean to get ultra-skinny is NOT my style.

What I do care about? Like, a lot? Being strong. I want to be strong enough to move furniture, hold babies for hours at a time, and run from zombies (only kind of kidding there). Plus, I’ve found that consistent exercise is the only way to keep my wonky back in check, so I’m upping the consistency. Seven workouts each week. Period.

I’ve gotten mostly positive feedback after I posted about the challenge on Insta, but a comment I’ve heard a few times really bothered me. It didn’t hurt my feelings — I’ve got way thicker skin than that — but it made me really think about how exercise and fitness are perceived.

Several women — either via Instagram messages or in real life — have told me that they applaud my idea, but that they “don’t want to ruin Christmas with going to the gym” or that they “don’t have time to exercise during the holidays.”

Both of these ideas are TRAPS, ok?! Exercise is not a punishment. It’s NOT. Exercise is the most positive action you can take. When you think of exercise as a punishment and not a celebration, you are robbing yourself of the joy that exercise can bring.

If you’re rolling your eyes at me — I GET IT. I have been there. I used to hate exercise so much, so deeply. Some days, I still do. But I have seen the way that daily exercise has changed my life and my body for the better, and I cannot look back.

You know how they say that you have to put your own oxygen mask on before you can help others? Consistent exercise is kind of like that. When your heart and lungs and muscles are working hard, you’re laying a foundation of success for every other aspect of your life. Strenuous exercise leads to mental clarity, higher energy levels, and fewer junk food cravings. Sweating your face off multiple times each week makes your whole life better. It is not a punishment, it’s a requirement.

Adding exercise to your day does not ruin it. It doesn’t. There are at least sixteen waking hours in each day, and you’re going to spend one of them exercising. If you let that one hour ruin your whole day, I think that there are bigger fish to fry than the actual exercising.

Maybe you’ve just never found an exercise that you actually like. That’s totally, totally possible. Until I found workouts that were fun for me, I couldn’t get over the plateau to actually get fit. I really, really do not like running. But for a long time, that was my primary form of exercise. WHY. Why did I do this to myself? (I was too cheap to try exercise classes and too lazy to research inexpensive options.) So yes, working out felt like a punishment in those years where I had to force myself to go for a run.

As far as a workout ruining Christmas? It doesn’t have to. Getting a workout in on Christmas will be challenge. That much is true. Your gym is likely closed, and it may be too cold to get outside for a quick run. BUT, that doesn’t mean you can’t exercise. Can you do a pilates video on YouTube with your mom before presents? Can you play tag (like really play, running just as hard as they are) with your nieces and nephews for thirty minutes? Does the driveway need shoveling? Being active doesn’t have to include a drive to the gym or a sports bra every day.

And as far as not having time? That’s on you, girl. That may be hard to hear, but evaluate your life and really assess whether or not you have time to exercise. If you’re waking up only 30 minutes before you have to leave for work, you have time to exercise. If you watch T.V. after work, you have time to exercise. If you spend multiple nights each week at happy hour with your friends, you have time to exercise. (I’m sure there are a few of you that work two jobs and only get five hours of sleep as it is. You are the exception, not the rule, and I am not hating on you.)

Until you see exercise as the most important task of the day, the task that gets rescheduled or cancelled as an absolute last resort, you won’t have time for it. But once you see exercise as essential, it becomes hard to make time for oversleeping or watching mindless T.V. (though, btw, you can still watch Bravo on the treadmill in most gyms).

My advice? Go get your planner or open your Google calendar, and plan your workout for tomorrow. Where can you fit 30 minutes or an hour? Could you change your happy hour plans to a long walk with friends? Can wake up an hour early and dig out a dusty exercise DVD? Once you’ve planned for tomorrow, KEEP GOING. Plan for the rest of the week. Once you start, you cannot stop. Make it a habit, not something you do occasionally when you remember.

I’m trying a new class at work tomorrow, so I’ll have to leave early for the office and eat lunch at my desk to make it work — but I’m making it work! Scheduling life is a puzzle — figuring out how to make the pieces fit is up to you. Some weeks, I’m jamming two pieces together with a closed fist, but I’m doing it.

I hope this tough love kicked your butt a tiny bit. I hope you exercise this week. I hope it’s more than once.

There are only 21 days left in 2017!!! Are you going to start 2018 on the way to being your best self, or are you going to show up January 1 the same you that you’ve always been? It’s up to you❣️, but I’m here to help. Leave a comment or message me on Instagram so I can spread the encouragement!

How do you fit exercise into a busy week?

Our Grand Canyon hike

Don’t hate me: I didn’t love the Grand Canyon.

Yes, it’s crazy-beautiful. But it’s also kind of a tourist trap.

What I did love was finishing such a challenging hike with my ❣️husband❣️. The smile on his face when we got back to the viewing ledge was very sweet and very memorable. And I loved the bottle of truly terrible “Grand Canyon” champagne that we shared at our post-hike lunch.

Hiking the Grand Canyon was the hardest physical challenge that I have ever accomplished. It’s so different than hiking a mountain.

When you hike a mountain, you get to look forward to the view from the summit. At the Grand Canyon, you have already seen the view. You’re hiking out of a big hole in the ground, only to get to the top and see the view you saw when you started. That was bizarre.

Beyond that, descending and then climbing 1,000,000 stairs and long switchbacks for five hours is no joke. By the end, I had an incredibly sore knee and socks that were irreversibly stained with red dust.

But the next day? I was barely sore. My knee was a little tender, but my thighs and butt weren’t sore at all. Walking through the Phoenix airport, I was very thankful for every spin class I’ve taken and every squat I’ve done to a Black Eyed Peas song in zumba.

When I’m exercising during the week, I’m not thinking about these big, once-a-year hikes. I’m thinking about daily strength, heart health, and fitting into my jeans. But the stamina I had on this hike surprised me. Physically feeling the fruits of my exercise labor was a new experience for me. Yes, I feel daily workouts getting easier or notice that I can up the resistance on my spin bike, but to be able to speed through such a challenging hike was damn incredible.

And, I don’t think Grant would mind me saying, I totally kicked his butt. 😜


We stayed the night before our hike at the historic El Tovar. It was beautiful (I was especially impressed by our cute bathroom), but very, very outdated. There’s a stellar view of the Canyon off the back deck of the hotel, and that was the main draw for us. Also, it was a five minute walk from our hotel room to the trailhead. Huge bonus. We ate in the lounge and in the fancy restaurant. The food was good (my steak at dinner was incredible), but the service was not.

I brewed coffee in our room and brought it outside to watch the sunset.

That’s our hotel in the middle-right of the photo! Very American Horror Story/Nancy Drew video game.

A sunset photo that does zero justice to the view.

After we watched the sunset, we had cocktails in the lobby and filled out a wedding journal that I purchased during our engagement but didn’t open until our honeymoon. Whoops. It was so fun and special to journal about how we met, how we got engaged, how we chose each other, and more. We took turns writing our “version” of the story and reading it to each other. Definitely the most cheesy “honeymoon” thing we did on the trip (we both cried in the lobby, ha!), but it was the BEST.

The next morning, we started hiking as the sun was rising, which meant we had a lot of shade.


The path in the lower-right of the photo is a good example of the endless switchbacks that you hike to get in and out of the canyon.

The beautiful  creek at Indian Garden, where we stopped for a rest before hiking back out.

G posing with a souvenir knife that his grandparents gave his dad fifty years ago.

One of the biggest smiles I’ve ever seen from this guy, right after we finished the hike.

We ate in the food court after. I had a corn dog (with mustard, ketchup, AND ranch, thank you), french fries, and French silk pie, and I could have eaten more.

Then I drove us the four hours to Phoenix, where we arrived precisely at rush hour on a Friday night. That part was not as perfect.

And, with this final honeymoon recap, I think this is the end of wedding content. I guess I’m just an old married lady now. 😎 Thanks for following along. It’s been very fun to write about. I’m so happy that I’ll have these posts to look back on when I’m actually an old married lady.

Where did you go on your honeymoon? 

Sedona Honeymoon: Where we hiked, what we ate, and where we stayed

Last week, Grant and I honeymooned in Sedona, Arizona. It was magical. Sedona is incredible, and I can’t even remember the last time G and I had that much uninterrupted time together. Maybe never?

That said, we definitely have different ideas about the perfect getaway. We talked about it and decided that Grant prefers a trip, and I prefer a vacation.

Grant would be happy to go on a honeymoon that was 100% scheduled with activities, and I would prefer for there to be 50% activities, 50% drinking by the pool. In a true act of marital compromise, we were able to make this trip fit a little bit in both worlds. There was plenty of hiking, and I did get to take one drunken pool nap.

Where we hiked: 

Airport Vortex: This was our first hike of the trip, and it was short, sweet, and very special. It’s a tiny, very easy hike to a little vista, where we cinched our hoodies and watched the sunrise in the crazy wind.

If you’re not familiar, Sedona’s energy vortexes are spots that are said to carry special energy. I’ve read about it being described in different ways, but mainly a feeling in the head or heart of deep warmth and positivity. Maybe it was placebo, maybe it’s real, but I loved it.  

There are many vortexes in Sedona, but there are four major, mainstream ones. Many of the undocumented ones were used by Native Americans for ceremonial purposes (and may still be today).

X marks the spot at the Airport Vortex.

Cathedral Rock: This was one of the hardest hikes I have ever done (and I’ve done some doozies). It’s only 1.5 miles long, but you gain 600 feet of elevation. Which means that portions of it are basically vertical.

The summit is totally shaded by the “cathedral towers” on either side. It is breathtaking (well, however breathtaking it can be when you’re already totally winded). The vortex on this hike is beyond the summit (to my right in the photo below). Even though we didn’t go off-trail to reach it, I felt so at-peace even being in its presence. I don’t know if that feeling is different than the feeling I get after reaching any summit, but I didn’t try to interrogate that too much.

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Another day, another ✨energy vortex✨

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Boynton Canyon: The highlight of this hike, another vortex, was Grant’s unexpected yoga class. When we got to the end of the trail, there was a spire of rock that looked scaleable. It was technically off-trail, but there were already two men at the top, so it couldn’t have been that bad.

Being the murderino that I am, I wasn’t really willing to climb to the top to a very small standing area. For all we knew, those dudes at the top were in some sort of cult and were waiting for fresh meat! (Hi, I’m dramatic.)

My teeny tiny husband, on top in the red shirt

Before I could totally explain my concerns to G, he had bounded off and was climbing. And, while I sat and watched at the bottom, he learned ujjayi breathing from these two men, who were apparently about to livestream a mindfulness practice workshop from that spire. (They must have had killer service because I could barely send a text.)

Devil’s Bridge: This is definitely the most Insta-famous Sedona destination, meaning that it was one of the more crowded hikes we took. While I wasn’t crazy about that, it did mean there were plenty of people to take our photo at the top!

I thought the view from under the bridge better showed how cool this rock formation is.

Bell Rock: This, our final Sedona hike, felt incredibly special. I, in all honesty, didn’t really want to do it at first. It was nearing lunchtime, we were feeling tired, and I wasn’t sure I had it in me. I’m so glad Grant convinced me to go.

The whole Bell Rock area is known as a vortex space, so we set off on the trail with the mindset that we wouldn’t find a particular vortex spot. Before we’d gotten very far up on the rock formations, the trail markers stopped. Now, that Boy Scout up there ⬆⬆⬆ is a big stickler for parks service rules (as we all should be). But he really, really wanted to go higher on Bell Rock. So we went off trail. 😲

It was incredible. So beautiful and so calming, we worked together to find safe ways up, and neither of us died!

We kept going until the rock faces were too sheer. And, at the random spot where our hike ended, we found a piece of paper, weighted down by rocks.

Maybe it seems silly now, but to find this special spot together without the guidance of signs felt fortuitous. It felt like the world was on our side. I will never, ever forget that.

View from the almost-top of Bell Rock

Grand Canyon (not in Sedona): G hiked all the way to the bottom of the Grand Canyon with his dad and brother years ago, so he wanted to go back and show me what all the fuss is about.

We didn’t hike all the way, but we did do a nine-mile loop called the Bright Angel Trail.

It was, to put it mildly, a challenge. But we did it! (I plan to write another post about this experience, so stay tuned.)

This may seem like a lot of hikes, and it was, but we really enjoy hiking together. There is nothing like the endorphin rush of reaching the summit, especially with your new husband.

What we ate:

First of all, I highly recommend Sedona just based on food. We had so many delicious meals, and G was always able to find something to eat, even with his allergies and restrictions. I have never seen so many vegan options sprinkled into a “regular” menu. I was able to order whatever I wanted, and G still had choices (often way more than he’s used to having, which I think overwhelmed him a bit).

SaltRock Kitchen: One of my favorite tips is to eat dinner at the lobby restaurants of fancy hotels. They’re often delicious (check those reviews!), and it’s an excuse to see the property. Order the grilled octopus appetizer and the watermelon salad.

Mariposa: The kind of Latin-inspired steakhouse that serves chimmichurri on everything. I don’t think you can go wrong here. We loved the lentil-walnut croquette appetizer, and the grilled shrimp were very tasty.

Che Ah Chi: Another fancy hotel meal. This restaurant is at the Enchantment Resort, which is huge, very luxurious, and very expensive. It was very fun to have an excuse to wander around for a bit. The Cathedral Rock toast was AMAZING. Thick-cut chewy toast topped with avocado, ricotta, tomatoes, shallots, and a lemony olive oil.

Creekside American Bistro: One of the best crab cakes I’ve ever eaten. Weird, I know, but the server pushed it, and I’m glad I listened.

Tamaliza: Must-eat. Cafeteria-style Mexican food, including vegan tamales.

Secret Garden Cafe: My favorite meal of the trip. Hot tip: the caprese salad is served with a huge mound of arugula and baby spinach, and it’s perfect with a steak on the side.

Whyld Ass (Flagstaff): We went to Flagstaff specifically to eat breakfast here. An all-vegan menu, owned by a very cool and friendly dude. The biscuits and gravy were next-level and the snickerdoodle we got for a car snack was 🎉.

True Food Kitchen (Phoenix): Awesome menu that combined traditional offerings with vegan options, all around an anti-inflammatory diet. (Which means they didn’t serve coffee, a real bummer since we ate there for brunch. I ordered kombucha instead.) G had a butternut squash pizza with vegan ricotta, and I had a mushroom and Brussels sprouts pizza with non-vegan Taleggio.
Nami (Phoenix): All-vegan and incredible. We both had enormous breakfast burritos, and we shared the banana churros, which were perfect, cinnamon-sugar-rolled donut holes.

Where we stayed:

Poco Diablo (Sedona): We stayed here for the majority of the trip. While the service was not great (a little slow, seemed annoyed at normal requests, and our room service tray lay outside our room for days), we would probably stay here again. The room was large and comfortable with plenty of storage. There was a fireplace in the room and a private deck off the sitting area 💓. The robes — a metric by which I judge all hotels — were plush and warm.

Since it was off-season, we barely saw another guest, which was awesome. Even at afternoons by the pool, we had our pick of chaises in the shade and the sun.

El Tovar (Grand Canyon): This hotel is situated right on the canyon rim, which was cool and beautiful. We watched the sunset Thursday evening and even saw a couple get engaged.

It was awesome to walk from our hotel room to the trail head Friday morning. That’s a definite plus of this hotel. But I’m not sure we’d stay here again. Service, especially in the bar and restaurant, was not great, and the whole place badly needs an upgrade. The outside had recently been redone (paint and shingles) and looked great. The rest of the hotel could do with that facelift.

That’s El Tovar, on the rim on the right side of the photo.

Hotel Palomar (Phoenix): We stayed here our last night. Comfortable, stylish, beautiful rooftop pool. The robes were waffle-weave, which I didn’t love, but you can’t win them all.

Overall, this was an amazing trip. I know that this post was more about logistics, but it felt so special to spend so much uninterrupted time with Grant. We spent a lot of time talking about what we want our life and marriage to look like and feel like, we lingered over dinner, we took naps together in the middle of the day — basically all of the things that we never, ever have time for in the real world. I think that’s part of the reason Sedona felt so magical. It was totally separate from our normal hyper-busy, hyper-connected life.

Love you, G. Thanks for marrying me, thanks for teaching me to hike, thanks for sparking my love of food, and thanks for making sure I got plenty of time to read my vacation book.

If you have questions about Sedona, or more recommendations for next time we go, leave a comment!

Get your ass to the front of the class! (And two more secrets to enjoying group fitness)

Until a few years ago, I had never, ever exercised with any intention. I played basketball and volleyball in middle school, but those practices were largely spent hiding from the ball, avoiding drills, and I rode the bench a lot during games.

In college, I would occasionally use the elliptical, and I took a pilates class to fulfill my physical fitness requirement.

That was it.

I do remember setting out to “go on a run” on campus at some point, maybe my junior year. I couldn’t even run for one straight minute.

It wasn’t until a few years later, when I was in grad school, that something snapped. I don’t remember what the catalyst was, but I do know that I downloaded the Couch 2 5K app on my iPhone 4, and I taught myself how to run 3.2 miles on sidewalks around my shitty apartment in midtown Kansas City. It was the first time that I had stuck to an exercise regimen, and I got so much stronger. I had calf muscles! I had cardiovascular endurance!

But, the truth is that I never really liked running. It’s just fine. It’s basically free, you can do it anywhere, and it doesn’t take long to get a solid, fat-burning workout in. It’s just so boring. So I didn’t stick to it. I’d go through phases of running 10-or-so miles each week and phases of barely getting my ass off the couch.

So, between 2014-2016, I exercised off and on. I ran on the treadmill, I went to occasional church rec room zumba classes (can’t beat a $3 class, even if you don’t attend the church), and I did some yoga and pilates.

It wasn’t until the start of 2017 that I really figured out how to stick to exercise. Turns out that I love group fitness. I love the accountability and the community, I love watching my classmates get stronger and slimmer over time, and the classes are FUN. Beyond getting a genuine runner’s high once or twice, I’m not sure I’d ever had fun before with routine, weekly exercise.

Each week, I take four classes: two zumba and two spin. Those four hours are some of my favorites of the week. I show up, give it my all, and then coast on the endorphins that you only get from dripping sweat.

Keep reading for my top three tips for liking, loving, and looking forward to a fitness class.

Note: I’m lucky enough to take zumba at my company’s gym for free, and I take spin at my very cheap suburban community gym (only $25/mo, all classes included). I found those spin classes through Google! If you’re interested in taking a class, and don’t know where to start, Google is your BFF. If your city has a gym that you’re already subsidizing through taxes, take advantage of it! I’m kicking myself for not using this resource earlier.

  1. When you show up to class, get in the front row!

    This tip is the most important of the three, and the next two depend on this one to really work.

    If you’re new to the class, it may be your impulse to hide in the back. Don’t do it! Getting in the front row means that you’ll have fewer distractions, you’ll be able to see the instructor better, and she’ll be able to see you! In a class like zumba, where you need to be able to see the instructor’s whole body, you’re doing yourself a huge favor by getting to class early and claiming one of those front row spots. You’ll be able to see exactly how the instructor moves her feet, which means you won’t have to guess.

    When the instructor can see you, she’ll be able to correct your form, which means your workout will only be better. There’s no sense in doing an hour-long workout incorrectly, especially since you could hurt yourself that way.

    Being in the front has always helped me to learn the moves more quickly. There’s no trying to see around the woman in front of you, or finding your view blocked during songs with lots of jumping (I’m pretty short). And learning the moves means that you can get that much more sweat out of the class. Once you learn all the moves to a zumba routine (the BEST feeling), you can power through the song at your maximum level, instead of pausing to watch the instructor.

    This is pre-workout. Post-class is not nearly as cute.
  2. Even once you’re in the front, please remember that no one is watching you. No one looking at your resistance level on your spin bike, and no one’s making a mental note when you miss an arm press rep. Everyone is focused on their personal workout. Especially in a studio with mirrors, they’re looking at themselves or at the instructor. Seriously.

No one cares that you’re sweating like a cold beer, no one cares that you’re tomato-faced, and no one cares that you’re not performing at the same level as the instructor.

If someone has time to stare at your workout, they’re not working hard enough. 

Deciding that you won’t take a class because you’ll feel embarrassed or because you’re unsure that you’ll be able to keep up is just an excuse. No one is perfect in these classes. People modify the moves all the time, instructors lose count of reps, and no one cares. We’re all there with the same goal, so perfection isn’t expected. 

When it comes to zumba, for example, I may know the moves, but I’m not executing them with any style or grace. And moves when the arms and legs move in opposite directions? Forget about it. I am literally incapable. But you know what I do instead? I just move my body in the best approximation of the choreography that I can. Because the only thing that really matters is that I keep moving. So what that my left hand is in the air when my right hand should be? No one cares!!!!!!

Making this realization was the biggest turning point for me. Once you get in the mindset that no one is watching, it’s so much easier to go all-in. If your instructor says to sing along, sing along! If a zumba routine ends with you slapping your own butt, slap your butt! What is the point in showing up if you’re not going to give it your all?

  1. I love classes because they’re a combination of solo exercise and camaraderie, but that camaraderie only comes it you make buddies. It’s the best to have someone to high five after getting through a particularly hard set of reps or someone to roll your eyes with when an annoying song comes on. Chat with other women in the locker room, commiserate about how sore you are from Monday’s class, and encourage them if they seem down. Knowing that I have friends in the class that will miss me if I skip makes it that much more important to get my booty to the gym.

Exercise classes have changed my life. Seems melodramatic, but it’s true. I am more fit, more confident, and more energetic. And I look forward to classes, even the one at 5:15 a.m. And, that, my friends, must be some kind of magic.

What classes do you love? What are your best workout tips? Are there roadblocks preventing you from taking a class?

How I Lost the Weight: A Love Letter to Gretchen Rubin and the Whole 30

When I set out to lose weight earlier this year, I didn’t know what I was doing. I’d never tried to lose weight before, at least not in more than a half-hearted way.

I didn’t try a bunch of different diets or even consult a nutritionist. What follows is not a magic recipe or a quick fix. It can’t be explained in 30 seconds or less, so I don’t think I’ll be marketing the Caitlin Diet anytime soon. But it’s what worked for me.

I did one round of the Whole 30 diet in February, and then changed my daily diet and exercise habits using the principles Gretchen Rubin outlines in her book Better Than Before.


I stuck these books together in a photo because I wouldn’t have had the same success without both. I needed the clean-eating principles of Whole 30 just as much as I needed the habit-formation ideas from Gretchen. One wouldn’t have worked as well without the other, and I am super grateful that I found these books when I did.


The #Whole30 gets a lot of play on social media, and I was very skeptical at first. I still think some of the ~science~ in the book (It Starts With Food) is a little sketchy, but the principles worked for me.

The Whole 30 diet is simple and very restrictive at the same time. During the plan, you eat meat, eggs, nuts, veggies, fruits, and fats like coconut oil and avocado. You don’t eat dairy, legumes, any sugar (including honey!), alcohol, soy, or grains.

You stick to this restrictive plan — with no cheating at all, or you have to start over — for 30 days, and then reintroduce the eliminated foods one at a time.

A basic meal for us during the Whole 30 was grilled chicken breast, roasted sweet potato chunks, green veggie. Boring, yes. Low calorie? Not necessarily, especially once you factor in the coconut oil and an avocado on the side.

But cutting out processed food like Cheez-Its, flavored yogurt, and sandwich bread really helped me realize how much I leaned on food like that as a crutch. I thought that Grant and I ate healthfully, but we were ingesting a lot of processed sugar and junky carbs.

And the “occasional” dessert we were indulging in? More like 3-4 times a week. And, yes, banana bread is dessert. It’s a hard truth, but someone’s gotta tell it.

The Whole 30 is difficult. If you’re like me and use food as an emotional shield, cutting out basically all comfort food is a struggle. I formed quite the bond with cashew butter.

Whole 30 grocery haul.
Life after Whole 30 grocery haul. Everything complies with the plan but the kombucha.

Sticking to the plan is a lot of work. You can’t eat out very easily, and almost all meals have to be prepped ahead of time.

Breakfast is especially hard. Since you can’t have oatmeal or toast or cereal, you have to plan ahead so that there is a baked sweet potato to go with the eggs you quickly scramble. Smoothies, the ultimate quick breakfast, are discouraged on the plan. You’re supposed to use the 30 days to train your body to do without added sugar, and the sweetness of a smoothie undermines that progress. Which I understand, but COME ON.

I made egg and veggie bakes every weekend and ate the leftovers until I never wanted to see another egg.

And the plan is not cheap. Grains are cheap. Sugar is cheap. That’s one of the reasons that processed foods are often so much cheaper than fresh ingredients, calorie for calorie.

Coming home from the store with enough potatoes and squash to serve as starchy sides for the whole week, instead of a bag of rice and a box of pasta? That added up. And the no-added-sugar version of typical snack foods, like almond butter or dried fruit? Those are more expensive too. (Case in point: compare the price of a Larabar to a regular granola bar. Yikes.)

It was worth the work and the money, though. I learned what good energy felt like, without a post-lunch carb crash. When we reintroduced the eliminated foods, I learned that dairy makes me break out, and that Grant is allergic to oats.

And I lost 15 pounds.

If you’re looking for a quick way to jump towards a weight loss goal or want to examine your relationship with processed food, I could not recommend this program more. (But again, I’m not a doctor, so you should talk to one first, probably.)

Life after Whole 30 for me includes the occasional pasta and weekly desserts, but keeping our meals light on the grains has helped me to continue to lose weight. (My new thing is bean-based pasta. I know, sounds terrible, but it’s not. Edamame and black bean pastas are my new, protein-packed side of choice.)

Yes, it's that ugly in real life. (From Trader Joe's)
Yes, it’s that ugly in real life. (From Trader Joe’s)


Gretchen Rubin is my new Oprah, and I do not say that lightly.

Her book, Better Than Before, is all about strategies for habit formation, based on your “tendency.” Gretchen breaks personalities into four tendency types: Upholder (✋), Obliger, Questioner, and Rebel. (You can take a quiz to find out who you are here.) The book presents strategies for forming lasting habits based on your personality tendency.

Better Than Before inspired me to keep going, to push harder, to lose the next 15 pounds.

Gretchen thinks that our life is made up of the habits we repeat every day, and I could not agree more with her. Eating a cheeseburger SOMETIMES is okay if you eat salad for lunch MOST OF THE TIME.

She says that building positive habits can make us happier. Again, I totally agree. Meeting my diet and exercise goals has made me happier and healthier, and I couldn’t have met those goals without positive and fruitful habits.


There are lots of individual strategies in the book, but one of the simplest and most impactful is ABSTAINING. Gretchen suggests making a very specific rule of something you never do. My abstainer rule: at a potluck, I never eat a store-bought baked good. (To be clear, I mean grocery-store baked good, not a bakery-made baked good. I’m not insane.) I’d rather save the calories and potential sugar headache for something really yummy and really homemade. (And, oh yeah, that’s a Whole 30 side effect I didn’t mention above. Processed sugar gives me a headache now.  😒)

But, more than the individual principles that Gretchen introduces in the book, the idea that HABITS MAKE OUR LIVES HAPPIER resonated with me so deeply. That message (which is also the central focus of her podcast) made me want to do better.

It seems so simple: our lives are made up of habits. Change your habits; change your life. But thinking about life like this flipped a switch for me. Getting up early got easier when I thought of it as a positive habit. Choosing veggies over pasta became easier when I thought of saying no to grains as a habit.

Veggies at every meal? Sure, I can do that most days. Walk laps at work in the afternoon instead of succumbing to the vending machine? Yep. Make my bed every morning? Working on that one.

I’ve heard that Better Than Before speaks to everyone in a different way. I needed help finding wellness habits, but maybe you’re looking for budgeting habits. (Let me know what you find out, k? 💸)

I’m still on a journey with wellness and solidifying good habits. Actually, I’m not sure that “journey” is the best word to use here. Journeys have destinations and endings, and I’m sure I’ll never totally figure this health thing out. Maybe wandering is a better word: I’m wandering towards wellness, with my buddy Gretchen in my ears and a Larabar in my purse.

I’d love to hear if you’ve done the Whole 30. How was your experience?

Any fellow Gretchen-lovers out there? She’s from KC, you know!