Whole30: A love story? (and the one thing that surprised me the most)

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I did it. I finished 30 entire days without alcohol, added sugars, bread, beans, and dairy. I ate healthy fats, animal-based protein and vegetables. While US News & World Report named Whole30 #37 on a list of 39 diets, it (mostly) worked for me.

I figured the easiest way to share my experience is to answer the questions that I heard the most throughout the month.

What is Whole30? Whole30 is technically an elimination diet. You remove anything that could impact your body negatively — alcohol, added sugars, soy, gluten, dairy, and legumes (like beans, chickpeas, and peanuts). Nothing processed! After 30 days, you slowing reintroduce these food groups and see what impacts you.

Why do something so restrictive? It was time. At the end of December, I was feeling just … gross. I ate so many cookies, drank so much wine, and just hit a breaking point.

I really felt like I needed a really strict plan to follow, like when I run a half marathon. For me, I needed to eliminate EVERYTHING — not just added sugar or alcohol. Starting from scratch actually felt more doable.

I actually love this quote about Whole30: “It is not hard. Don’t you dare tell us this is hard. Quitting heroin is hard. Beating cancer is hard. Drinking your coffee black. Is. Not. Hard.” Not eating cookies isn’t hard — especially for 30 days.

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How did you feel? I’ll break it down, week by week.

  • Week 1: I felt pretty much fine. I expected to have a headache or feel really deprived, but I felt okay. I’m sure not drinking caffeine helps; so many people complained of soda withdrawal or not being able to put sugar and creamer in coffee. I was worried I’d cave as soon as I saw dessert, but since it was January, most of my friends and co-workers were also trying to eat a little healthier.
  • Week 2: I had my first Whole30 dream! I had a dream about eating something not compliant. Oops. I also felt a little more tired this week and found myself really struggling to get up in the morning. But, Week 2 was also when I had the biggest surprise of all 30 days. Someone in a Facebook group mentioned that her carpal tunnel syndromes had lessened. I’ve been dealing with inflammation from “scrolling thumb/wrist” (yes, for real) for several months; it was so bad that pushups, downward dog, etc. were too painful. I bent my wrists forward and back. No pain. I tried a few yoga moves. All good. Could sugar or gluten have been the actual cause of my pain!? We’ll see when I re-introduce them …
  • Week 3: I was anxiously awaiting “tiger blood,” this term for the burst of energy they say you get around Week 3 … but nothing. Eating this way felt easier, my clothes felt looser — but no extra energy.  On the positive side, I got a lot of feedback from people who were impressed with my dedication. I also saw my acupuncturist, who really thinks that reintroducing gluten will have a bigger impact than sugar.
  • Week 4: Still no wild energy, but whoa — my pants are looser. My coat had enough room that I could wear another sweater. I even woke up on the weekend before my alarm went off, which NEVER happens. A few people commented that I look slimmer. (Not going to lie — YAY!) The idea of reintroduction — and possible negative responses — looms. But so does eating a Perfect Bar.

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Did you cheat??? Nope. I didn’t eat a single thing that wasn’t allowed. I scoured labels and made sure that I didn’t accidentally eat sugar or another non-compliant ingredient. I avoided eating out so I wouldn’t risk eating something I shouldn’t. (My sweet friend, Madeline, tolerated me asking for my eggs and potatoes cooked in olive oil rather than butter when we had breakfast together.) Knowing that it was only 30 days made it easier to stay on track.

Did you exercise at all? I didn’t do much, which is weird for me. I’ve been battling a running injury for a year, so it might’ve been different if I could run, but honestly, Whole30 is a lot of mental dedication. (I did go hiking on Day 27 and only needed a handful of almonds as “extra” food for the day.)

Did your husband eat the same thing as you? Yes and no. I’m very lucky; Steve usually cooks ALL of our dinners. With Whole30, I knew that he wouldn’t want to eat some of the meals, so we basically agreed that sometimes we’d have the same meals and sometimes we wouldn’t. He’s been super supportive and has still made me a lot of meals. (He also loves grilling and was more than happy to grill chicken and turkey burgers for me. Win!)

Is it really expensive? I think it evens out. Yes, I’ve personally spent about $150 from my own pocket on groceries this month, which includes some food delivery services (see Pro Tips), but I’ve barely spent any money eating out for lunch or dinner. By about Week 3, I started to figure out how to keep costs down by keeping meals basic — a protein (like grilled chicken), a healthy fat (like avocado) and lots of veggies (like sautéed peppers and mushrooms). A lot of the costs were in the first week, buying things like ghee, ground flax, sugar-free BBQ sauce and coconut aminos. (For those reading who don’t know me, Steve and I don’t have kids. I’m sure keeps the Whole30 costs much lower.)

SO?!? Did you lose weight? YEP. (Honestly, if I didn’t, my overall opinion of Whole30 would be very different. I won’t lie; losing weight and cutting sugar were my two reasons for trying Whole30.) While I think a few pounds were definitely water weight, I lost 10 lbs in 30 days. My winter coat isn’t as snug, my pants button without stretching them, and I can just tell that my stomach is flatter.

Anything you didn’t like about Whole30? YesWhile I understand that the idea is to identify foods that may impact your body negatively, a lot of healthy foods are eliminated. Chickpeas and yogurt (that isn’t packed with added sweeteners) aren’t bad for you.

Two things that disappointed me were “tiger blood” and how Whole30 impacted my skin. On the former, I kept waiting for this amazing energy burst and it just didn’t happen. I Googled it and read that for some people, tiger blood is more of a feeling of “I have this; this is getting easier.” Yeah, I felt that, but endless energy did not happen for me. I also hoped that cutting sugar and inflammatory foods would make my skin glow, and while it didn’t make it any worse, but I didn’t see any change for the better.

I also think the idea of SWYPO (“Sex With Your Pants On” — aka making off-limit foods, like pancakes, with allowed foods, like bananas and eggs.) can be a little extreme. The idea is that making a faux pancake (or whatever) will trigger you to want a real pancake. I think that makes sense with whatever YOUR trigger foods are, but it shouldn’t be blanket across the board. (I personally eat pancakes like once a year, so a banana and egg “pancake” isn’t going to make me run for the pancake mix.)

In the end, my main issue isn’t just the restriction, but mild obsessiveness that Whole30 can cause. While I think it’s great to be aware of what’s in our food, I don’t know that constantly planning and reading labels is sustainable. (Maybe for some — I’m speaking for myself.) I plan to pay more attention but not let the planning and triple-checking impact me as much. For 30 days, it’s totally sustainable.

THIS IS MY OVERALL OPINION. You do you.

Will you keep eating this way? I honestly feel really good. Just … clean? I feel a little lighter, a little healthier. That being said, there are some foods that I really miss, like oats and chickpeas. But better to miss those than cake, right?? I’ll be doing a version of the reintroduction for about 2 weeks to see which eliminated items impact me. (According to my acupuncturist, gluten takes SIX WEEKS to leave your body, so trying to hold that until the end.)

I also love that I feel full after eating. I was one of the those people who never ate poorly (aside from the occasional cakes and cookies), but I ate a lot. The day didn’t feel complete without dessert. I love that I actually feel FULL after breakfast, lunch and dinner and don’t feel the need to have dessert. (Seriously … it’s kind of weird.) That’s a huge win for me and something that I want to continue.

But, as I said, I don’t think it’s fully sustainable every day. It’s a great way to reset and following the general guidelines is great, but I’ll be having a smoothie, thankyouverymuch.

Pro Tips

  • TELL EVERYONE. I announced that I was doing Whole30 and others knowing helped me stay accountable. I didn’t want to have to tell anyone that I failed! Plus, I learned that a few friends were doing W30 and I was able to lean on them.
  • Read the ingredients. Sugar is in EVERYTHING. No, really. Read the actual ingredients to see if there’s added sugar. (See words ending in -ose, -ase, etc.? They’re probably sugar. Check the list.)
  • Meal plan. I don’t like doing it, but it was crucial for 30 days. I just used a Google Sheet, but there are tons of great templates to download like this one from Healthy Little Peach.
  • Lean on prepped ingredients and meal delivery services. I’m not a natural cook; I don’t enjoy being in the kitchen. For me, having fresh food delivery services like Terra’s Kitchen ($40 off your first order) with meal kits and pre-chopped veggies and already prepped vegetables from the grocery store were essential. Sometimes dinners were pre-sliced peppers and onions sautéed with mushrooms and some grilled chicken.
  • Eat (healthy) fat! I did keep track of what I was eating for some of the days just because I did want to lose weight. Most days, fats were 35-40% of my daily caloric intake. Early 2000s me would be appalled, but educated 2018 me knows that healthy fat is GOOD and keeps me full. Bring on the avocados!
  • Try to limit travel and food-related social activities, if those are tough for you. I try to travel somewhere every single month. (Yes, #wanderlust is real.) Travel often means not eating as well. I also tend to have drinks/dinner out several times each month, so I limited those in January. Again, it’s only 30 days.

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My Favorite Meals

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Awesome Resources

  • The Whole30 website. Ready for the sin of sins? I only read one Whole30 book, and that was a week after I started. The website is SO comprehensive. (Be sure to read the “Can I have … ?” page.) I didn’t think the book that I read, It Starts with Food, was that helpful, but it might be if you’re totally new to nutrition/Whole30.
  • Facebook groups. Whole30 Beginners, Whole30, and Whole30 New Year 2018 have all been super helpful. It’s been nice to have a little corner of the world where I can vent about sugar in turkey bacon, pick up some recipe ideas, and just know that other people were in the same place as me. (Be forewarned: Some groups are more supportive than others. Know that people may call you out if you ask something you should know if you’ve read the site/books.)
  • Greatest. I think I actually learned more from Greatist’s Whole30 posts than anywhere else. Their intro post and shopping list are amazing.
  • Whole30 Instagram accounts. Follow @melissasfoodfreedom, @oliveyouwhole, @primal_gourmet, @healthylittlepeach (who has a great W30 download!), @thewholesmiths, and @nomnompaleo (who actually has a lot of W30 recipes).

I would LOVE to hear from you if you’ve tried Whole30. Tips? Recipes? Just want to tell me how tight/loose your pants are? Mad that I said smoothies are okay? Cool. Let me know!

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