You may have heard of the Whole 30 before. Maybe you have a friend who was your DD for 30 days because they weren’t drinking. Maybe you noticed someone asking a lot of questions about what ingredients restaurants use when cooking their food. Maybe you’ve seen the book on the best seller list. Maybe you don’t know more than it requires cutting a lot of things out of your diet. Or, you may have never even heard of it.
WHAT IS THE WHOLE 30?
The Whole 30 is a 30 day nutritional reset that is aimed at helping you put an end to unhealthy relationships or habits with food, restore a healthy metabolism, heal your digestive tract, and balance your immune system. Food choices affect everything. From our skin, to our mental health, to how well we sleep, to energy levels throughout the day, and even to some pretty serious medical conditions. In a time where we often throw medicine at problems instead of trying to fix what could be causing them, the Whole 30 is designed to help you reset your body and feel your best. Looking your best is just an added perk! You can learn even more about the Whole 30 on their website www.whole30.com or by purchasing the books: It Starts with Food and The Whole 30.
Basically, the Whole 30 is cutting out: alcohol, dairy, grains (wheat, rye, oats, corn, rice, quinoa, etc.), added sugar (maple syrup, honey, agave, splenda, stevia, etc.), legumes (beans, chickpeas, lentils, peanuts, soy), carrageenan, MSG, and sulfites.
One of the things I love most about the Whole 30 is it is FREE. Yes, you can buy the books to learn more about the program, the reasons behind certain aspects of it, and get some of their recipes. However, it isn’t a requirement. All the information you need is online. It isn’t some company suggesting you buy a ton of products claiming that you’ll lose weight by taking a pill or drinking a certain drink. It’s a program really aimed at helping people reset and change their lives for the better. I can’t help but laugh every time I see someone claiming something is the “secret” to weight loss or health. There is no secret or quick fix. You have to eat healthy. You have to make sacrifices. You have to work hard. Sorry if the truth hurts!
A LITTLE BACKGROUND
I am annoyed with myself looking back. I ate everything. At one point, I went to McDonalds and ate two cheeseburgers, super sized fries, and a soda for an afternoon snack almost daily. In high school, I drank between 6 and 10 Dr. Peppers a day. College included going out and ending at Taco Bell or Waffle House for fourth meal four or five nights a week . In grad school, I lived off boxed mac and cheese and typically ate a whole box in one sitting. Sometimes when I was studying for hours on end, I would eat Oreos dipped in frosting. (A real low point!) My last year of grad school, I started working out for the first somewhat-consitent time since I played organized sports when I was younger. These workouts generally consisted of walking on the treadmill and a few crunches. After grad school, I figured I should start making some attempts to be healthier, or what I thought was healthy. I took Lean Cuisines to work for lunch and tried some smoothies here and there for breakfast. I still ate what I wanted for dinner and everything in sight on the weekends. I did a little more at the gym when I went and I went more frequently. But, I often found myself eating a cookie or three every day just because they were sitting around at work.
One day, my boyfriend jokingly asked “I wonder how long this can last?” after I had just finished a giant chicken fried steak covered in gravy. I had never thought of that. I had always eaten what I wanted and with little or no effort could stay decently small. There were times I may have gained a few pounds here and there, but I could make a few changes and quickly lose it. (I know, annoying.) Hearing that I may not be able to keep eating a lot of whatever I wanted, when I wanted to made me realize that I should consider some changes. I also was starting to consider that just because I was small, didn’t mean I was healthy.
I grew up in a house where weight was never something that a lot of value was put on. My mom eats ice cream EVERY night before bed. She snacks on cookies all throughout the day. She loves a good cheeseburger. She has been able to eat what she wants and has always been thin. She raised me to enjoy myself and to value myself for much more than what I looked like. I didn’t own a scale. I only knew what I weighed when I went to the doctor and then, I never really cared about the number. Being raised the way I was helped me feel confident and beautiful for many reasons outside of a scale or a size. (Thanks, Mom!)
After hearing some of my friends consistently talking about their number on the scale, I figured that as I started making some healthy changes that I should start being more ‘weight conscious’. I started spending my weekdays trying to lose the ‘weight’ (whether it be water weight or actual pounds) I gained on the weekends and do it all over again. I counted calories on my week days. The whole process was exhausting.
I don’t believe in comparing yourself to others, especially when it comes to bodies because everyone is built so differently. But, hearing that others who worse a size or two bigger than me weighed about the same got me thinking about muscle vs. fat. When I ate whatever I wanted and barely worked out, I would have called myself ‘skinny fat.’ I wore a size 2, but had hardly any muscle or definition. I didn’t feel good. I really disliked the feeling of yo-yoing between the weekdays and weekends. I kept making healthy changes over the next year or two. I added in weights at the gym and started doing more challenging exercises. I stopped eating preservative filled, microwaveable food and opted for fresher food I cooked myself. I stopped eating fast food except for a few road trips or extremely rare cravings here and there.
In the Summer of 2014, my boyfriend and I traveled to Italy. We ate pasta, pizza, and gelato until our hearts content. Some days, we walked close to twenty miles. When I got home, I hadn’t gained a pound and more importantly, I felt great. About that time, I heard about the Whole 30. I also had a friend who had just started it and I was intrigued. I researched what it was and bought ‘It Starts with Food.’ Something clicked at that time about how good, pure ingredients and an active lifestyle not only make you healthier, but happier. (Okay, being in Italy doesn’t hurt either). Before I had finished reading the book, I decided I was starting my own Whole 30. I did the next day.
I have always been someone who does what I put my mind to. If I have decided to do something, especially when it’s to make a change for the better, I do not let other people’s opinions interfere. I also do not let small moments of frustration derail me. I had friends give me a hard time and try to get me to cheat with ‘just one drink’ or ‘just one bite.’ I got some backlash. I also had some wonderful support and encouragement. Not only did the Whole 30 put my relationship with food into perspective, it put some of my personal relationships in perspective as well.
I stuck to it the entire 30 days. No cheating. I attended several weddings and other events or dinners during this time. I ate before I went and I didn’t drink. Was it hard? Yes, it was a challenge. Was it the hardest thing I’ve ever done? No. Putting myself through college and three years of graduate school takes the cake for me. The creator of the Whole 30 puts it into perspective wonderfully: fighting cancer is hard. Raising a family as a single parent is hard. Saying no to cow’s milk or sugar in your coffee is not hard. I really like this tough love perspective. Yes, I had dreams of brownies and ice cream, s’mores, pasta, and entire pizzas to myself. I really wanted a glass of wine at the end of the hard day. But, I fought the cravings and pushed through. The sense of accomplishment I felt after completing my first Whole 30 was incredible. I had never felt better, slept better, or in my opinion looked better. I could eat all day and my stomach wouldn’t be bloated at the end of the day. In my boyfriend’s words my “skin was glowing.”
I wanted to know what foods affected me so I took my reintroduction following my first Whole 30 very slow. I started with adding back in things like wine, champagne, and gluten free alcohol. I then added agave and some other added natural sweeteners in moderation. I kept going experimenting with gluten and dairy after that. I kept eating close to the Whole 30 with the exception of a bad meal or two and drinks each week, depending on how I felt and what I was doing. I did not count calories and ate what my body told me it needed. One day when I did calculate calories just out of curiosity, it was around 2200-2500 depending on what snacks I had. I rarely weighed myself.
When I went out of town or on vacation, I ate what I wanted. I don’t want to be at my grandmother’s on Thanksgiving and turn down her homemade food, no matter how many sticks of butter are in it. I also don’t feel like I get the full experience of certain cities without eating their foods. I mean, salad is salad. If you are in NOLA you need to eat Cajun food. If you are in Key West you have to eat Key Lime pie (everyday). So, I chose not to turn things like that down. If I have a craving, I’m going for it, but I keep it in moderation when I’m at home.
Each time I ate poorly for a few days in a row, it didn’t take long for me to not feel great again. After a two week break of eating everything during the 2014 Christmas season and feeling terrible, I completed my second Whole 30 in January of 2015. I went back to my habit of eating healthy and relatively Whole 30 approved 80-90% of the time.
In June of this year, I left to join my boyfriend in South America for two months. We lived in Sao Paulo and traveled throughout Brazil, Argentina, and Chile throughout our time there. I ate everything. It started slowly and I didn’t feel great, but I sort of just said ‘forget it’ and went all out. I ate cheese bread and cake every day for breakfast. I drank their national cocktail, which contains several teaspoons of sugar, often. I loved every second of it and did not feel guilty. I immersed myself in the culture and was able to experience everything. But, I knew when I got home I was going to do a Whole 30 and I couldn’t wait to get back on track and feel good again. This past Sunday, I completed my third Whole 30 in a little over a year.
About 2.5 weeks into each of my Whole 30’s I always feel like my mind is more clear and that I am less irritable. I am stronger in my workouts. I am happier. During this Whole 30 I also started a new workout plan and I have never felt stronger. Did I have pizza on day 31? You betcha. And ice cream. Life is all about balance my friends.
Since starting the Whole 30 and completely changing my eating habits I have gained muscle and have made it into the athletic range of fitness based on my % of body fat. I have lost a size in pants. But, my weight has only slightly changed. The scale is so deceiving and exhausting and it really doesn’t create a clear picture of your body or your health. Neither does a certain size. Feeling good is more rewarding than anything!
One of the most interesting parts of doing a Whole 30 is that your tastes change. I crave good foods. I want to eat salad. I can’t wait to find new ways to add in spinach to recipes. My body knows how great it feels when it has certain foods and it wants them more often than not.
I’m not saying I don’t ever want to eat a whole cheese board for dinner or that I don’t like ending some nights with some cookies and ice cream. But now, I have non-dairy milk ice cream and gluten + dairy free cookies when possible. I actually prefer it now. Instead of eating pizza every Sunday night and another night during the week, I save it for a date night out with my boyfriend or friends. I like to enjoy it with a glass of wine and good company, rather than just eating it because I don’t feel like cooking or at 3:00 in the morning after a night out. I choose my 10-20% ‘off’ meals wisely. They give me something to look forward to with family or friends. They feed my cravings. They keep me sane. They remind me that while I love certain foods, I also love feeling good.
I won’t pretend like I won’t have days, weeks, or maybe even months again when I don’t eat what I’ve learned I should. But I do know that I have learned to make healthier choices and to feed my body what it needs to function at it’s best. I’ve learned what a strong connection food has between our mental health (which has also influenced how I approach my job since I work in the mental health field). I’ve learned it can affect your confidence, your skin, your sleep, your hormones, your productivity, your relationships. I at least know better now, so I can strive to do better. Each day is another chance to better myself, so even if I fall off (which I know I will) I can try again another day. I will make (and share( recipes that contain plenty of not so great ingredients. If you follow me on social media, you will see food that is not always healthy. I am a foodie. I love it all. But, I think there is a time and a place and that life is about balance. I’m learning about myself and my body every day as it continues to change. All I ask is please don’t judge my journey or the journey of others!
Since completing my first Whole 30 a little over a year ago, I’ve had several friends who have also done one or more. They have experienced similar positive changes like I have and I’d say their lives have also changed for the better. I can’t even imagine how much healthier my life will be going forward on this path than it would have been if I would have stayed on the soda and fast food path. It really scares me to think about.
If you’re thinking about doing a Whole 30, there are definitely some things you can do to ensure your success.
- Research. Learn about the Whole 30 and the reasons behind cutting out certain foods. Learn what you can’t have while doing it. Quite a few things may really surprise you!
- Prep. Clean out your pantry & your fridge so you aren’t tempted at home. You’ll be tempted enough other places. Home shouldn’t be one!
- Find a support system. Whether it’s someone to complain to that you want a cookie when a craving hits or someone to share recipes with, this was a big key to my success.
- Plan. Find recipes (Search Pinterest, read the Whole 30 book, or I have a number on website.. with more coming. Look for the tag: ‘Whole 30‘ or ‘Paleo‘ for easily modifiable recipes). Prep your meals for the week so you aren’t tempted to go off-course when the week gets going and you are too tired to cook.
- Read your labels. There is sugar hiding in EVERYthing. For example, there are brands of chicken broth with sugar. Why?!
- Be patient. Your first few trips to the grocery store will take time. Serious time. Reading each label on 10 kinds of mustard before you find one that is compliant is not a quick process. However, once you know which brand to buy, you’re good. I know exactly which brands or specific items are Whole 30 approved now, which makes grocery shopping (and eating out) a lot easier.
- Sign up for the daily e-mails. You’ll get a daily e-mail starting when you begin your Whole 30 that will help explain certain feelings you may have through the 30 days. For example, headaches can be common on some days as your body detoxes from sugar. When your body switches over it’s energy source from carbs and sugar to fat, you may experience increased athletic or workout performance.
- Look at this as a lifestyle change, not a diet. This mindset really helped me.
If you’re considering a Whole 30, please feel free to reach out to me with questions. I am not a medical doctor so this is purely my experience and is not meant to be taken in any way as medical advice. However, I do know the positive changes I have experienced and would be happy to share what helped me be successful. I always love new Whole 30 recipes, too so feel free to pass any along to me that you’ve found and loved. Even if you’re just inspired to try a Whole-30 approved day each week, every little bit counts. You only get one body, so take care of it as best you can. Happy Whole 30-ing my friends!