You could call me a follower, although I prefer to think of myself as up for any challenge… especially if all my friends have already done it. So when it seemed that half my world around me was doing the Whole30, I decided to jump on the bandwagon. I can do ANYTHING for 30 days, right?
A quick summary for those who need it: The Whole30 is a 30-day digestion reset. It’s a total elimination of any foods that are potentially inflammatory, including dairy, grains, legumes, alcohol, and added sugar. This is the paleo diet kicked up a notch. The point is to clean out your system of all possible irritants, and then gradually re-introduce them to find out if your body has a reaction to them. Why? Well, sluggishness, upset stomachs, headaches, and joint pain can all be exacerbated by particular foods, but we often don’t know it’s the food causing the problems because these symptoms are just normal for us. I had stomach issues for YEARS and thought it was just the way I am before I realized dairy was the culprit behind my daily, um, discomfort. It’s also a program that forces you think about the foods you put in your bodies and WHY.
The Whole30 is also a pretty popular way to shed some weight, which is a no-brainer since all you’re eating is meat (so. much. meat.), veggies, and fruits. Oh, and nuts. I ate my body weight in almonds, but more on that later. I didn’t do this to lose weight but would be lying if I said I wasn’t a little stoked when the scale settled back down to my mid-summer rockin-the-treadmill weight. (and for you Whole30 veterans out there, yes, I KNOW that weighing yourself is a big no-no, but I guess I’m bad at following rules.)
Not gonna lie here. It was tough. You would not believe how omnipresent sugar is. It’s in everything! The hardest part for me was just taking the time to read labels and find products that contained no added sugar or sneaky grains. For me, this turned into a month of making everything from scratch and really analyzing what’s in my food. A tip to those who want to dive into the Whole30: Buy or borrow the book. I fancy myself pretty nutritionally-savvy, but I learned a lot about the “why” of this program in the book, and scored some keeper recipes as well.
You can read all sorts of reviews of the program online. They all say the same thing: You’ll feel like crap as your body detoxes from the sugar, then you’ll feel great, sleep better, and be able to concentrate more. Then you’ll feel like you rule the world and don’t need to continue the program for a full 30 days (but stick with it anyway!). Then you’ll reintroduce your favorite foods and feel like such a bloated slug that you’ll wonder how you’ll ever enjoy life again.
All that is true. But there’s freedom in knowing the truth. Here’s my truth:
- I need a lot more protein than I ever knew. My body feels amazing when it’s powered by protein, not carbs.
- Carbs make me tired. And hungry. Believe it or not, bread with dinner actually makes me feel hungrier than if I just filled that space with more protein and veggies. A snack of carrots, nuts, or a sweet potato are so much more satisfying and filling than a bagel or slice of pizza.
- I really, really like veggies. I could live on veggie-and-egg scrambles. Yum!
- I can actually eat a lot more calories than I thought when the calories are nutrient-dense. I stopped counting calories (but in the back of my mind I kept a loose tally, and I far exceeded what I previously thought was my weight-maintenance limit) and found such freedom in enjoying good-for-me foods regardless of their calorie count.
- Chocolate isn’t actually that good. The first night I was off the Whole30, I nibbled some of my daughter’s Rocky Road Easter egg… and it was gross. I’m all for something a little sweet after a meal, but don’t crave dessert, and I’ll be a lot pickier with my desserts than I used to be.
- Wine. I could live the Whole30 if it weren’t for the wine. For 30 days, I didn’t necessarily miss the taste of wine, but I missed the ritual. I missed pouring a glass of wine after work and sipping it while I made dinner, music playing in the kitchen while my kids played outside. I tried to recreate the ritual with herbal tea, but it just wasn’t the same. I learned that I like having my little treat after a long day at work.
- Dining out is much cheaper on the Whole30. You don’t order appetizers, you don’t splurge on a drink, and your restaurant choices are limited so you probably won’t dine out much anyway.
- I don’t want to even look at another raw almond in my life. Nuts (except for peanuts) are an ok snack on the Whole30, and I ate more cashews and almonds than I ever thought possible.
I plan to stick the basic premise of the Whole30. I’ll limit my treats and truly enjoy them rather than mindlessly scarf them down. I’ll continue to cook a big batch of shredded meat on Sundays to add to my lunch salads throughout the week. What a great way to pack in the protein and add some heft to what are otherwise boring salads! I’ll look at my nutrition without the judgement of “will this make me fat?” but with a “will this make me feel good?” perspective.
And after 30 days of a pretty intense scrutiny of my diet, that’s what I’ve gained. Food is fuel. Food is tasty fuel and should be enjoyed. But food should make me feel good, not turn me into a bloated zombie. Perhaps if our bodies are waging war on us, we should listen to what they’re trying to tell us.