Let me start off by saying this: I LOVE FOOD. There, I said it. I’m not here to preach to you about what’s “healthy” and what you “should” be eating. I just want to share with you my experience with the Whole30. You may take from it what you will. Note that I will be using a lot of “quotation marks” because I am aware that each individual typically has their own definitions for many of the words relating to food that I will be using in this post.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with what Whole30 is, you can read more about it here on their website. My approach to the Whole30 was what I like to call a “food experiment” where you eliminate most of the processed foods and additives (including any form of added sugar) from your diet in order to “cleanse” your body. To clarify, you eat meats, seafood, fruits, nuts and seeds (no peanuts, because they aren’t actually nuts), and vegetables and omit grains, legumes, and dairy (and alcohol). After 30 days, you reintroduce each group (dairy, non-gluten grains, and gluten grains) into your diet one at a time and assess your body’s response.
My boyfriend and I generally try to make “healthier” food choices by cooking our own meals, limiting the number of times we eat out or order takeout, and trying to eat “well-balanced” meals. We do go through cycles, where some months are better than others due to work schedules and travel. However the months of December-March was particularly bad. Coming off of holiday season, we were not eating “horribly”, but we were going out to eat a lot. And I was admittedly lazy and bought a breakfast sandwich from either Dunkin’ Donuts or McDonald’s most mornings on my way to work. I must say my guilty pleasure is a McDonald’s Egg McMuffin with cheese and bacon, and don’t forget the hashbrown. So tasty. But I digress. It was time to shape up!
Enter Whole30. I’ve know Whole30 existed for awhile, but never had a real reason to go for it. This was probably it. I checked out the book from my local library and gave it a quick read. I thought that this would be a great reset button for us. A defined program with lots of guidelines. And a fun experiment to boot (I like science, can you tell?)! I brought up the program with Mike and he agreed to do it with me. How did it go? Read on and find out!
On Day 0, the day before we started the Whole30, we weighed ourselves and took measurements and before pictures. We wrote down a few vague goals, since we weren’t really doing this in hopes of some type of dramatic life change. At the beginning, I weighed 153 lbs, with measurements of: bust=36 1/2”, upper arm=12”, waist=32 3/16” (gotta be exact, y’know), and thigh=25”. You can see the before/after picture comparison if you keep reading. 😉
For the first week, I was super determined. I was also hyper-aware of all the things that I wasn’t “allowed” to eat. Like the banana chocolate chip muffin my coworker was eating for breakfast, the jar of pretzels sitting in the break room of my office, and all of the delicious food pictured in the slew of promotional emails I received from Smokey Bones and Formaggio Kitchen (did I mention I love cheese?). This was going to be tough.
Not to mention food shopping is super difficult. Want to buy a jar of pasta sauce? Prepare to spend 10 minutes reading the ingredients of every single brand and flavor looking for one that doesn’t have any added sugar. Think you can buy just any sausage? Wrong. Most sausage brands have ADDED SUGAR, not to mention other unmentionables! Nut butters? There are only a few with no added sugar (why do you need sugar in your nut butter!?!?). Bacon? You can forget about eating that. I always kind of knew that there was a lot of hidden “stuff” in packaged foods, but I was actually FLOORED by how limited we were in buying products that SHOULD be ok to eat. But this is another issue for another time.
From what I’ve read, most people who do the Whole30 experience a sugar withdrawal of some sort. Fortunately, I was not one of those people. I’m going to take that as a win, meaning I wasn’t eating too much added sugar to begin with (I don’t ever drink soda because the bubbles bother me and make my nose feel funny). I was, however, exhausted for almost all of weeks 2-3 because of the reduced carb intake (no more rice and beans!).
After the first two weeks or so, I noticed that I stopped craving a lot of the foods that I love and used to not be able to say no to. Ice cream? Ok. Looks good but I’m gonna just eat my strawberries. Bar of chocolate on my coworker’s desk? Meh. I’ll munch on pistachios instead. The real stand out moment is when I needed to run to the grocery store and pick up some eggs and some sort of vegetable (can’t remember exactly what it was). I walked by the bakery section and DIDN’T CARE ABOUT ANY OF THE CAKE OR BREAD! Who was I? What had I become? Had my mind become hijacked by some strange, alien life form? This is so unlike me! All of my food cravings were GONE! Which is what I struggled the most with beforehand. If I wanted something, I ate it. But no longer! I was free!
The last few weeks of the Whole30 went smoothly. I was able to navigate visiting friends and family, and going out to eat, all while still eating according to Whole30. Sometimes this entailed suggesting a certain restaurant, or offering to bring a dish for everyone to eat (that I knew was Whole30 approved). However, trying to explain the Whole30 to my grandmother proved to be nearly impossible. She just kept asking me all these questions that pretty much amounted to a big, flabbergasted “Why?”. I eventually just gave up and accepted the plate full of brownies (which I brought home and froze for a later date).
Towards the end I started having the strangest thoughts about eating bagels and cream cheese (of all things). Apparently it’s normal in your last stretch of the Whole30 to have food thoughts like this….the brain sure is weird.
At the end of Day 30, we weighed ourselves again and took “after” measurements and pictures. At the end I weighed 145 lbs (total weight loss of 8 lbs) and my measurements were: bust=35 1/2”, upper arm=11 1/2”, waist=31 1/4”, and thigh=24”. So I lost about an inch all around (we engineers estimate). I can’t say I felt dramatically better than before, but I was sleeping better and my performance in workouts was improving slightly (not sure if this was Whole30 related or because I was working out more, perhaps a combination of the two). Overall I was feeling good. And now you can finally see my before/after comparison:
So now for the obvious “lessons learned” bit. What I learned from completing Whole30 is that label reading is so important! I like to know what I’m eating, but with such a busy Life, sometimes it’s easier to just grab whatever is convenient and cheap (I’m a sucker for cup noodles). This process has made me more aware of the choices I make with regards to food. Another thing I kind of already knew, but was reinforced with the Whole30, was that delicious food CAN be simple and healthy! Mike and I both work full-time and live active lifestyles (read: not much time for cooking). Our favorite Whole30 approved go-to meals on busy nights were:
- Whole30 compliant sausages, sautéed onions and peppers, and fried eggs; and
- Ground turkey with sautéed garlic and onion in Whole30 compliant spaghetti sauce with a sautéed vegetable (usually green beans & garlic or broccoli & garlic) – you could also do ground beef here
That’s about as simple and quick as you can get!
More great Whole30 recipes that we found during this process (and will continue to use) were:
- Whole 30 Crockpot Carnitas (great for a Sunday meal, with leftovers for the week);
- Paleo No-Bean Chili (which I actually discovered long before Whole30);
- Paleo Sweet Potato Hash Browns (a great post-workout snack, or good with breakfast); and
- Rainbow Sweet & Sour Slaw (so easy to make, so delicious, and great for the upcoming cookout season!)
If you are considering the Whole30, the Whole30 book is a great tool. But I have read that some people just use the website (which has a ton of free info). And, of course, there is always Pinterest for additional recipe ideas!
I hope that sharing my experience has helped you in some way, or even just given you some food for thought (I’m very punny). Happy Eating and Happy Life!