In May, I completed my first Whole30 (I wrote briefly about it here). I’ve had lots and lots of questions about this experience, so I wanted to write a more detailed post to try to answer them all! I like to say that completing the Whole30 was the “easiest hard thing” I’ve ever done. Basically, it’s a very strict paleo style diet that allows you to eat veggies, fruits, lean protein, and good fats. Yup- that means no sugar, no alcohol, no grains, no legumes, no dairy, and no snacking.
I should probably start by explaining why I chose to embark on the Whole30 challenge in the first place. I was in an “ehh” kind of place in my life. I didn’t feel healthy, I was overweight and desperate for a change. But in addition to that, my chronic hives had returned with a vengeance and I was on way more medications than I felt comfortable with to try to control them (FOUR Zyrtec a day people!!) I was constantly tired, moody, bloated…you name it and I was probably experiencing it. I felt like I needed a serious ZAP to my system to reboot/refresh. Plus, mentally I felt like I needed a challenge…I’m weird like that.
I started to do some research (Pinterest, of course!), and came across this thing called the Whole30. I’d heard of it in passing, but really had no idea what it was. I found out that they have a website with tons of FREE resources (www.whole30.com). The more I read on the website, the more intrigued I became. I ordered the book It Starts with Food…I actually purchased it on my kindle so I could start reading right away. (Take this as an indication of how desperate I was for this change…I couldn’t wait the 2 days for Amazon prime to deliver a book!)
It Starts with Food was a life-changing book. I cannot recommend it enough. I’ve always had “healthy” habits, and felt like I had a good handle on nutrition. This book was eye-opening to some of the things I’ve always assumed were healthy, but might actually have been doing my body a disservice. In the same sense, it started to open my eyes to the fact that same food groups that I’ve always run from (FATS FATS FATS) are NECESSARY and HELPFUL to the body, as long as you are choosing the right fats. This book lays out the entire Whole30 plan with the scientific rationale behind each part, which is something that I really appreciate.
Once I finished that first book, it just made sense. I knew this was something I had to try. I was actually excited to start. This is the mantra that runs throughout the Whole30 Plan:
It is not hard. Don’t you dare tell us this is hard. Beating cancer is hard. Birthing a baby is hard. Losing a parent is hard. Drinking your coffee black. Is. Not. Hard. You’ve done harder things than this, and you have no excuse not to complete the program as written. 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.
Wow. How do you argue that? It gave me chills to read it then, and still does now.
And so I began to plan. I read blog posts from people who had completed Whole30’s, I searched Pinterest for recipes, I started a grocery list, I used the free resources on the Whole30 site, and I purchased the The Whole 30 book. This book is awesome as well, and I think it’s a crucial resource in the program (not to mention is is a huge, gorgeous cookbook!!) It includes lots of details on the Whole30 plan and tons (like hundreds) of great recipes. I find myself pulling many of the recipes even when I’m not on a Whole30.
On a Monday morning in early May, I started my Whole30. I spent the weekend shopping, meal planning, and prepping those meals. I was going cold turkey with caffeine (I typically drank a cup or two of coffee and one Coke Zero a day at this point- and I cut it all out at once. In hindsight, not a good decision). By the end of the first day, I. FELT. HORRIBLE. I had the worst headache of my life, and I was tired beyond words. I knew it was part of the detox process, and forced myself to stick with it. This continued for two more days. I went to bed at 7:00 pm for those few nights, and each night told myself it would get better soon.
By the fourth day, something magical happened. I woke up with a clarity that I can’t explain. I felt refreshed when my alarm went off at 6 am. I even started waking up before my alarm (something previously unthought of). I was able to attack my days- my job, my workouts- and come home with energy to give my kids and husband the attention they deserved. I started staying up later at nights (I’m usually not much of a night owl), and just felt better all around.
These great feelings continued for the remainder of the 30 days. I also lost around 15 pounds in the course of those 30 days, but my clothes fit amazingly better and I could visibly see a difference. But you know what the best part was? My confidence and my relationship with food changed. I felt accomplished. I was doing a hard thing, and succeeding. I felt healthy in a way I had not felt before (even when I was teeny tiny and running 1/2 marathons in college). My mindset completely changed. When you only eat 3 meals a day, you plan really well. I figured out that I needed to add proteins and fats to hold me over, especially on days I worked out. It took some tweaking, but I eventually adjusted to specifically what my body needed. And knowing that you are fueling your body with the optimal foods is really an empowering feeling.
I can also say that for me, the strict rules were helpful. I’ve found I do better with strict rules than rules I can “cheat” with. Totally blocking out certain groups of food made me stop craving them (this actually did happen!) For example, I love ice cream. It’s my favorite food on the planet. On other “diets” I’ve done…I still always want ice cream. With Whole30, of course I wanted it, but I was able to say no. For the majority of the 30 days, I didn’t have any true cravings. I quickly found that I had stopped craving the sugary junk I had slowly been eating more and more of over the years. The couple random cravings I did have were almost comical- for example, one day I craved a PB&J sandwich like none other!?!? Very bizarre. I also had an intense craving for pizza at one point.
One aspect of the program that I didn’t do perfectly was the reintroduction process. The creators of Whole30 have a specific system of reintroducing the food groups to your body. I had every intention of following this to figure out what triggered issues in my body. But, the end of the school year + an anniversary celebration + boating season + summer vacation all hitting at the same time happened. Life happens, right? I broke all the rules in one day practically. But you know what? I gave myself grace. I did a hell of a job. When I do another Whole30, I will follow this part of the plan more carefully, but the first time, I did the best I could.
Here are some of the tips I have for a Successful WHOLE30 Experience:
1. Accountability: I posted every single meal on Instagram. I wanted to stay true to the program, and I knew this would force me to do it. I also told everyone what I was doing. It helped me stay on track.
2. Meal Planning and Prep: I always meal plan, but making sure I had meals that would work for my entire family (young children) and me was challenging at times. I cannot say enough about meal prep. Talking the time to chop veggies, boil eggs, cook chicken, make sweet potatoes, prepare fruits made all the difference. It’s not hard to follow the plan when the next meal you reach for is already prepared.
3. Leftovers are Amazing: I figured out very quickly to make larger batches of meals and use for leftovers. The great thing is that all of the Whole30 foods reheat very well!
4. Emergency Snacks: I always had a stash of cashews on hand in case of emergency. Larabars also have some flavors that are Whole30 approved.
5. Coconut Oil is the BOMB: Enough said. This stuff is the very best to cook with. I’m forever hooked.
6. Coconut Milk in Coffee: Okay, so eventually I had to drink one cup of coffee in the morning. I drank it with no sugar, but with a dash of coconut milk and then zapped it in the blender. It was do-able for 30 days, but I’ve since switched back to a (more natural) coffee creamer.
7. Eggs, eggs, and more eggs: You will eat a ton of eggs while doing your Whole30. Embrace the eggs. Scramble, fried, hard-boiled, omelettes, frittatas…so many options. Don’t make one version and burn yourself out!
8. Other Essential Ingredients: Unsweet coconut makes a great “treat” on fruit, I went through tons of onions, bell peppers, and sweet potatoes. Cashews and pecans are great essential fats. Bananas are magical and can be prepared in many forms. Aide’s brand sausages (Chicken and Apple) are VERY good…grill those babies and add mustard. YUM.
9. Other people won’t understand: Some people in your life with look at you like you have just returned from another planet. It’s okay. Others in your life will become your cheerleaders. And yet others will be inspired by you.
10. Read the books I mentioned above: They really are great resources. If you don’t understand the “why”, you won’t follow through with it.
11. Eating Out is hard: It’s really hard to eat out during the Whole30. You can go to a nicer place and get steak or chicken, veggies, and a potato with water to drink. Or you can eat a simple bowl at Chipotle. That’s about it. It’s easier to commit to making your own meals for the month.
12. Attitude: Attitude is everything. You have to go into this wanting to succeed. I also found it helpful to focus on what I could have, instead of all the things I couldn’t have. Eating fresh is delicious, I just had to make the decision to remember that.
I will be posting some of my favorite recipes from the Whole30 periodically. Honestly, some of the very best meals were random “throw crap together” and cook in skillet type things! Who else out there has done a WHOLE30? What are your best tips or recipes? I would love to hear them!!! Also, would you like it if I devoted one a day week to sharing WHOLE30 recipes that worked for me?