I had *always* dreamed of eating a very strict diet with no sugar and no processed food, but I never had a name for it. Never a program defined. No rules laid out. It turns out Whole30 is just what I wanted. Strict. Serious. No bull. Surprising. Liberating. Perspective-shifting.
See the Whole30 program here
I have no doubt that the notoriety and success of the Whole30 brand has everything to do with its complete support, huge community, and countless reports of life-changing results. I listened to "It Starts With Food", their first book on the subject, two years ago on a business trip while I was pregnant. At the time, I shrugged it off thinking it was a nice idea, but I couldn't possibly do it while pregnant or breastfeeding. I figured I would do it when things slowed down and I didn't have a little baby depending on me. Fast forward after a year of parenting under our wings, Dalton had been asking to do something strict with our diets to see if he could gain more energy. And I had been marketed to by Whole30 for two years at this point and Melissa’s (whole30 co-founder) famous quote sealed the deal “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.”
Dalton wanted to do the Whole30 to see if it would change his energy. But mostly, he was on board to do it to support us and make it easier for meal planning. August has had keratosis pilaris (chicken skin) on his arms & legs for 10 months, so we had discussed all going on Whole30 to see if it would clear that up for him. I wanted to do Whole30 because, well, you're not COMMITTED to real food until you have the deprivation of Whole30, right? ;-) Kidding... I wanted to do it to see if I could experience more energy in the afternoons and maybe see some minor issues disappear.
The Why (but you already eat really clean, right? Why'd you do the Whole30?)
It's funny that I didn't even think of some of my "issues" as issues because I'd gotten used to them or because they didn't appear to be issues until I saw them clear up on the program OR return all of a sudden once I was off of the Whole30.
All in all, I personally did the Whole30 for these reasons:
- My son's keratosis pilaris
- My energy levels, mostly the 2pm slump every day
- Swollen glands in my armpits
- A tidbit of keratosis pilaris on the backs of my legs
- To detox from sugar for 30 days
- To feel the amazing sense of accomplishment from completing such a tough challenge
How it went
I definitely felt a "sugar hangover" for day 2-4. I got very irritable, shaky, and had a terrible headache. Now, I don't drink pop or eat any junk on a regular basis... on an average day I might have added sugar once or twice. At breakfast I may have some coconut sugar or maple syrup in my oatmeal or yogurt, at lunch I may have some dried apricots, and maybe 2 times a week I may have a chocolate bar after dinner. Every 3 weeks I tend to partake of a sweet at a birthday party or get some ice cream with Dalton. While I wouldn't consider my sugar habits intense, sugar is my downfall. I LOVE sweets. And I knew I had a degree of addiction to them, even while being healthy. The Whole30 refers to it as the "sugar dragon" that is never satisfied, and it's so true! It never is tamed! Whole30 didn't just make me abstain from sugar for 30 days to try to break me from it's appeal and effects. Whole30 discussed cravings versus hunger, rewards and food (why do we often reward ourselves with food instead of a new class, craft, or outing with a friend?), and our emotional eating tendencies.
I had been meaning to get my crap together with menu planning for the last 4 years. Can you believe it!? I run a food education/ health business and post all my fresh meals on social media... yet did not have a legitimate menu that I could reuse and recycle to be organized, efficient, and a better "chef". I just planned out 5-6 meals for the week on Sunday & bought the ingredients that day. I know, it's not too shabby. But I wanted to be more efficient and not have to work so hard with planning meals. Because the program felt so extreme, I did my homework (for once). I got their Whole30 book, made up a typed menu in a calendar, and was loaded for bear on Day 1 of Whole30...until I forgot to turn the crock pot on that morning with a whole chicken in it *humph* Whole30 pushed me to do it and now I am still doing it. The sense of accomplishment from that alone... *KaPOW!*
My menu is just an example of how we made it work. There’s tons of recipes out there for you to choose from. If I said “pgXX” it is from the Whole30 book I referenced earlier and pictured to the right. I ate leftovers almost every day for lunch. Breakfast was usually a mix of spinach, mushrooms, and eggs in some way. We often had sweet potato noodles sauteed with sunflower seed butter. And I made a sugar free berry crisp with coconut flour and coconut oil for August & myself for breakfast. I think Whole30 standards may frown upon it, but it was compliant in ingredients and did not cause me to use it to “prop up my sugar cravings”.
See my 30 day menu here
- Chicken in the crock pot is something I did at the beginning of most weeks to use that chicken with veggies or in a casserole later in the week.
- Hard boiled eggs were clutch to have on hand. I had never made them before Whole30!
- I often made red potatoes in the oven that we frequently had with eggs at breakfast or we used them as a side for dinner.
- I got an immersion blender that was really helpful for soups & mayo
- The whole30 meals I enjoyed the most were: shepherd’s pie, chicken chowder, and the roasted pork shoulder w/ butternut squash & tomatoes. They were so yummy that I continue to make them every other week or so.
how it went
A pain I had in my wrist for the last 10 months felt 80% better within 5 days of the program. Wow. I had forgotten it was even an issue because, again, we tend to just live with a lot of issues and call them friends after a while. After the first week, I started thinking "This is feasible. I'm doing this. We are doing this!" and that alone felt amazing. Dalton isn't an emotional eater and he doesn't care for sweets, so maybe the sense of accomplishment wasn't as dear to his heart as mine, but I felt unstoppable. I felt very strong saying no to everything thanks to knowing the reasoning behind the program, understanding inflammation, having friends that have completed it, and the thorough help Whole30 offered as they walk me through day by day. And after a week the swollen glands in the pit of my arms were totally gone. hmm... the sugar? dairy? gluten? Whattttt the heck, mannnn... why all you tasty foods gotta be the ones causing upset?
You better believe Dalton and I were often voicing food fantasies to each other while eating hard-boiled eggs in the car after church or watching a movie together drinking a LaCroix... "man, ice cream sure sounds good right now. Oh, and pizza! Yeah, pizza! What's the first thing you're going to eat when we're done!?" Though, the appeal of "bingeing" after the program waned as we neared the end.
The second, third, and fourth weeks had really no noticeable changes physically. I could tell I'd lost more than a few pounds and felt slender and confident. But otherwise, while there was no burst of energy, there was also no 2 p.m. tiredness like I’d had before. During these weeks, though, I had a huge perspective shift about food -- about the purpose it serves, how we relate to it, how there's sugar hidden in everything, even more than I had believed. I was rejoicing during this time for the way it made me change my thoughts towards food. It turns out that the biggest benefits I gained were self-discipline, control over sugar cravings, and confidence that I CAN DO THIS! All in all, I lost over 10 pounds and saw a number on the scale that I had not seen since my sophomore year of high school, and I wasn’t even aiming for major weight loss during this challenge. It was a bonus benefit!
a light at the end of the tunnel
I did the "fast track reintroduction" after we’d finished, and it was hellish the first week, with a pounding headache that I could not quite pinpoint. I believe it was the small amounts of sugar I was introducing. When I ate some ice cream for the first time, I woke that night with swollen and stiff knuckles! Yikes! I also had bumps on the backs of my legs return with a vengeance somewhere between dairy & gluten. Dalton had a few IPA's once we were off the plan and he had a pounding headache the next day. He said he realizes he should drink more liquor, like tequila instead of heavy beers. We laughed that that was his take-away. Jokes aside, though, he now plans on packing his lunches more. (He's on the road, so it's very hard, but he learned he could do it!). He also opts for more nutrition in his snacks, and is on board with lessening sugar and making our own condiments as part of our daily foodtine.
- Menu planning is 10x better
- The way I see sugar- for the raging sugar dragon that never satisfies
- The way I view rewards (that they don’t have to be food-related!)
- Self control with food
- Creativity with food; using my spiralizer more, immersion blender, having "dinner foods" for breakfast, doing funky things with lettuce wraps
- Much healthier snacking with more protein and fats (hard-boiled eggs, nuts, tuna, small meals - soup, stir-fry.. I used to opt for fruit or something more in the sugar category)
- The appeal and high of sugar was definitely lessened
What I would do differently... if I could start back at day 1:
- Sign up for the daily emails because they have great tips and content for only like $10 for the entire month
- Plan for 45 days on the program. 30 did not feel like enough for me.
- Do the slow reintroduction plan. So, all in all, the program may have taken me 75-90 days to complete. I am thinking of doing that "major overhaul" version next year.
I love the extensive support Whole30 offers in their book, on their website, and in their community (like Keep Calm and Whole30 On... and the national Whole30 group on Facebook). It's all very encouraging, feels like you have a whole army doing this with you, covers all your bases, and empathizes with what you're experiencing. It's a tough-love, no b.s. program, but that's why it works and that's why it has such a die-hard fan group.
I'll be offering a Whole30 challenge for January 2018 for whoever would like to join, whether you're in Chicago, the West Coast, or just right here in NW Ohio. I would be honored to support, encourage, and share my tips & recipes for you throughout the month of January. All for free. I just want to be a resource and a help to those who may be battling a disease, suffering through problems, or just know they need to get a grip on their eating habits. This program isn't for everyone; you have to be “all in" to want to do it. I highly suggest reading portions or the entire book that has the standards, reasoning, and delicious recipes before diving in.
Whole30 should be on your 2018 Priority List
The challenge reset my taste buds and refreshed my perspective on good, wholesome, hearty food. What should we be eating each day? Should we be eating a healthy dose of fat at lunch? Maybe ½ avocado or a handful of cashews? (Yes.) Should we be snacking at 10 pm at night after we had dinner two hours prior? (No.) Should we reward ourselves for having a bad day with a chocolate bar at the end of the day? (Um, no.) Should we feel in control and disciplined when it comes to what we feed ourselves and our kids? (Absolutely.)
Whole30 clearly defines healthy food boundaries for everyone, but the key component of the program is how it allows an individual to walk away with new knowledge about how foods agree or disagree with YOU. You gain your own custom eating plan. You gain, as they say, food freedom.
If you've done a Whole30 would you share your experience in the comments below? I'd love to have local examples for others that are thinking of doing it!