Why I did it, how I did it, and what I learned along the way
I’ve been sitting down thinking about how to describe this experience for a while now. My internal battle is: it’s really not that deep versus, how can I share about something so complex? Food, it’s actually very complicated. Well, not food itself, but how we eat it. If you think it’s not, I encourage you to think about it a bit more.
I get a lot of advice, information, stories, etc. from people in my life whenever I talk about certain eating plans or diets I decide to follow. I can’t say I really ask for most of that advice, but I have found that people will take Facebook articles very seriously… But really, how does this relate to doing Whole 30? Well, Whole 30, and many other diets that eliminate food groups, definitely get some bad press these days. That was the main thing that deterred me from doing it. Especially because some of that bad press is very real and have caused deficiencies, eating disorders, distorted food relationships, you name it. I did my fair share of research on Whole 30 before making the decision to do it, and I even had people reach out to me with their own stories. I knew the risks, and I knew the potential rewards. Ultimately, my decision to do it was a hesitant one, but I just took it one day at a time.
For those of you that haven’t heard of Whole 30, here’s the basic lowdown, sourced right from their official website: “Eat meat, seafood, and eggs; vegetables and fruit; natural fats; and herbs, spices, and seasonings. Eat foods with a simple or recognizable list of ingredients, or no ingredients at all because they’re whole and unprocessed.” What that doesn’t include is real and artificial added sugar, grains, legumes, dairy and essentially any other highly processed food. It is an elimination diet that can help “reset” your body and help you stick to real ingredients.
If you want to know the truth, here’s what convinced me. Another quote right from the Whole 30 website: “This is not hard. Fighting cancer is hard. Birthing a baby is hard. Losing a parent is hard. Drinking your coffee black. Is. Not. Hard. You have done harder things than this. It’s only thirty days, and it’s for the most important health cause on earth—the only physical body you will ever have in this lifetime. Hear me now: The Whole30 is exactly as hard as you decide it’s going to be.” That spoke to me in a way that just made sense. I spent so many years treating my body like it didn’t deserve love. I’ve spent a few years now trying to make up for those years. And let me tell you, it’s a lot harder to un-do that hurting than it was to eat crap for twenty years straight. This body is the only one I’ve got, so why not try this thing? Why not do this science-backed program to help level up my health? I had no reason not to.
I started on November 5th, two days after running my half marathon and working with a very sore body. At first, the fear of what I was going to eat was greater than my reality of actually eating. It brought me back to the period of time I was vegan — often worrying about meals that I didn’t have 100% control over. Releasing that worry took time and was definitely my biggest challenge throughout the 30 days. As I said, I took things one day at a time and relied heavily on planning and meal prep to ensure I wouldn’t get myself into a situation where I was left without something to eat.
For breakfasts, I luckily didn’t have to change much from my usual routine. Breakfast for me normally looks like a couple of eggs with vegetables and meat, and usually some kind of cheese. I learned this worked best for me during my time following the keto diet, and I like it because I can change it up depending on the type of meat, cheese, or vegetable. Whole 30 meant no dairy, so I stopped with the cheese but kept everything else pretty much the same. I did notice myself getting hungry a little earlier without having that added fat in my morning meal, so I started to add avocado to make up for it, or would have some sweet potatoes with it. Whole 30 rules don’t allow things like paleo baking to make healthier pancakes or muffins, so eggs were it for probably 28/30 days.
For lunches and dinners, I often stuck to somewhat of a formula: some type of protein, any vegetable(s), and something that would satisfy my taste buds (i.e. compliant sauces, spreads, dressings or seasonings). When I had more time, I did make more extravagant things or follow approved recipes, but I tried my best to really keep things simple. Was it as satisfying as eating a big plate of pasta or burger and fries every night? No, not usually, but at the end of the day it felt better; I knew I was treating my body well and I could feel it both physically and mentally. And just for the record, I definitely was not, NOT satisfied. I love myself some well cooked veggies and meat, and I usually eat similar meals anyways!
Many of the questions I got were about how I felt from Whole 30, so I’ll tackle that now. Physically, I felt less bloated than I have ever felt. I’ve talked before about how I have a very sensitive stomach, and therefore many meals leave me feeling somewhat uncomfortable. I take medication for this as needed, but during all 30 days I only had to take my medication twice (I usually take it almost every day). That alone made this whole thing worth it for me. Other than that, I noticed my sugar cravings were significantly reduced after making it through the first week or so. I also had no real desire to snack after meals (this could have been physical or mental). I did notice my skin clear up a bit more, and something else that could have been related to the diet is that my joint pain that I have in my wrist and fingers didn’t bother me at all (like I said, may or may not be related). Mentally, I had some struggles but was overwhelmingly happy during the experience. I felt great because I knew I had control on this one part of my life no matter what else was happening. Some days I didn’t know how my day at work would be, or how much traffic I would hit, or if I would be busy or not, but I did know that I was going to follow Whole 30. This worked well for my personality type that seeks control. Also, I felt good about myself because I was following through on a goal I had and it was paying off. Now, on the other side of this journey, it feels good knowing I had the restraint to do it and proves to me that I can push myself to do hard things.
Of course it wasn’t all amazing, and the things I didn’t love about Whole 30 are probably pretty obvious. It is restrictive, it does challenge you in social situations, it does make you have to have uncomfortable conversations and sometimes you just want a brownie! The hardest part for me was that I wasn’t able to create as much as I normally do with paleo baking and meals for my friends and family. The diet is very straightforward and doesn’t inspire creativity as much as a paleo diet. Sometimes I questioned why I was really doing this, like will it really matter if I have sriracha even though it has a little bit of cane sugar in it?! Realistically, maybe it wouldn’t have mattered, but that wasn’t the point. The point (for me at least) was to follow through, be flexible and adapt.
I will always be thankful for my Whole 30 experience. I learned that I can get closer to real ingredients without the extra fluff. I learned that I don’t NEED something sweet after a meal. I learned that I can travel, and work and go out with friends and still eat clean. Most importantly, I learned what my body craves, got more insight on which foods really fuel me best, and got inspired for the future. I am done with Whole 30 now, but that doesn’t mean a whole lot needs to change. I plan on continuing the course I’m set on and doing my best to stick to real foods when I make my choices.