And if I would recommend the craziness to you…
Last month I embarked on one of the hardest challenges of my life, food-wise. I don’t know what initially spurred me on; I think I must have seen something on Pinterest, and I’d heard so many things about it before that this time it really stuck out to me.
Yeah, Whole 30. Something that my husband later looked up and found that it was one of the worst recommended diets because it’s so dang restrictive and most people don’t finish it. I mean, who wants to live off basically nothing for 30 days?
If you’re not familiar with Whole 30, it’s basically an elimination diet. Over the course of 30 days, it helps you re-think about the way you approach food. It’s supposed to help you find the food groups that irritate your gut without you even knowing about it. While it’s no miracle diet, people have been known to lose weight, improve their skin, find more energy, and even knock off some of their medications for high blood pressure and cholesterol. I’m not here to promise anything like that will happen, I’m just going to lay out my experience and let you decide for yourself. It’s also best if you check out the Whole 30 [link] website for more information.
So first, why did I decide to do Whole 30?
I’m not into diets. I believe that too much restriction can lead to swinging the opposite way and binging on complete junk. While I do agree that the staples of Whole 30 (meat, veggies, nuts, seeds, fruit, and healthy oils) are very good for you, I also think that—even with the gluten-free trend—there are still a lot of benefits in some of the other foods we weren’t allowed to have. Mainly happiness.
But I was curious if Whole 30 would help my relationship with food. I tend to overindulge anyway, and I thought that maybe if I cut out the foods that tend to trigger me for a while, I might have more ease. And I did want to know if foods were causing me digestive distress without me even realizing it. And it didn’t hurt that a lot of people ended up with flatter stomachs. When you’re three months out from having a baby that’s kind of at the top of your wish-list. Oh, and that promised Tiger Blood energy. I wanted that, too.
How did I go about starting the Whole 30 program?
First of all, Whole 30 is expensive. All of that fresh produce in the recipes adds up. I didn’t even buy organic or grass fed meat or any of the fancy stuff, because we just couldn’t afford it. But I planned ahead. That was key: planning ahead. Sometimes we want to change ourselves so bad that we jump into something new without a foundation of any sort. I knew sticking to 30 days of daily cooking and not eating at two weddings and Easter dinner and a banquet and Taco Tuesday and oh so many events would be difficult, so I had to psych myself up. I love food, and I especially love it when someone else makes it. FOMO was for real that month.
Over the weeks prior, I read through a lot of blogs, collected recipes, and psyched myself up. Not only did I plan ahead, I mapped out my entire month of meals: when I would cook and when I would have leftovers, based on my schedule. I starred dates where I would have to bring food with me because I would out of the house for the meal.
So how did I afford Whole 30?
Our existing food budget just didn’t allow for a Whole 30 grocery haul. That was another reason why I gave myself an entire month to plan (yep, one whole month). I had to skim off a little money here and a little there from other areas in our budget. Then I saved back a bit from the prior month’s grocery budget, and almost all our spending money (certainly all of mine), went to Whole 30.
I primarily shopped at Aldi’s and only visited other stores for items I couldn’t get there. Also, I was lucky enough to win a gift card I could use for more groceries. Lastly, I kept the meals as simple and affordable as possible. I didn’t cook with ingredients I knew we wouldn’t use in multiple recipes (like any coconut flour or ghee). Even still, we ended up doubling our original budget for that month.
How was the actual Whole 30 experience?
Now, one thing I had to watch for was my breast milk supply. As much as I wanted to do Whole 30, I was not about to lose my milk for my baby boy. Even though the folks at Whole 30 recommend sticking to three meals and limiting your fruit intake, I ate as much fruit as I wanted and ate whenever I was hungry. I knew those carbs were important in milk production since that’s what my body knew to use. And in the beginning I was hungry all. The. Time. I stormed through meals and ravaged my snack supply and I still couldn’t get enough. I knew my body was readjusting to this new lifestyle. But it did make me wonder how many calories I was taking in before if I was this hungry.
I’ll be honest. I didn’t go through all the mood swings and feelings a lot of people do in Whole 30 to the extent I thought I would. Now, full disclosure, I did find out later that soy crept in to a few of my recipes without me realizing it, but because I could not afford to start Whole 30 all over again (and it wasn’t really that much), I had to let it go.
Otherwise, I stuck to the rules, and I don’t think those little bits of soy made a huge difference in my diet. But my hangover period wasn’t bad, and besides a little bit of yelling at my husband, “kill all the things” could have been a lot worse. I didn’t get a bunch of tiger blood energy either, but I think the fact that I had a baby who still wasn’t sleeping through the night affected my energy a lot.
I decided as I neared the end of the experience that I wanted to go back to eating whatever I wanted to, within reason. Because I didn’t feel a major difference in my body I didn’t think I had any major food sensitivities. And I really missed dairy, and ketchup, and donuts. For some reason the entire month I was stuck on donuts…
I was a little nervous about reintroducing dairy, because I found out late into the Whole 30 challenge that if you stay away from dairy too long your body can lose the enzyme that breakdown lactose, so I made sure dairy was the first thing I reintroduced. And I ate a lot of it. Along with an entire bag of sweet potato chips. Funny enough, the food I binged on was technically compliant. So the first day I was a little bit bloated but otherwise I felt good.
Three days later, I couldn’t leave the bathroom. I felt terrible and started researching everything I needed to do to heal my gut. A few days before I felt fine with my food choices. The way I felt then was enough to keep me from ever eating dairy again.
And then my husband, who didn’t do Whole 30 with me, got sick as well. And some friends of ours succumbed to something the exact same day. So then I realized it wasn’t lactose intolerance, but either food poisoning from the restaurant we all went to two days before or a stomach bug. To this day, we still don’t know. But that did give me a glimpse into what other people go through when they have food sensitivities.
The next day, when I was feeling much better, I indulged in junk. Not only did I not eat a lot of healthy foods, but I ate a LOT of bad foods. My seasonal allergies, which I hadn’t been experiencing along with everyone else, flared up, and I felt tired and lethargic. Those Oreo cookies, ice cream, and breadsticks weren’t worth it after all, I guess.
So, what were the lessons that I personally learned from this entire thing?
- As much as Whole 30 claims to be a miracle diet, food alone is not the key to your health. Exercise and good sleep habits are still big components of looking and feeling good and having energy. You really can’t have one without the others. Food affects how well you sleep, but how well you sleep affects the food decisions you make. Start working on one, but make sure to incorporate the others, too.
- I went into Whole 30 hoping it would affect my binging problem. People always say sugar triggers something in your brain that makes you want to eat more and more. So I thought that was part of my problem. While I still enjoyed fruit—so yes natural sugars were still present—I stayed away from everything else, as per Whole 30 rules. However, I still struggled with eating food just because it was there and just because I was bored, or because it’s what I did at night while watching TV. So sugar isn’t the only problem; I also struggle with self-discipline and self-control. Removing food groups isn’t going to heal that.
- I still believe that, as long as you don’t have food allergies or some medical reason to stay far away from a certain food, you can enjoy food in moderation. The few days before I overindulged in sweets and bad things, I enjoyed sugar here and there, and I still felt good. The fog came when I replaced too much of my good nutrition with the junk food. I think it’s difficult to completely cut out certain foods all the time, unless you have amazing willpower (which some people do), a lot of money for food (which some people do), and never share meals with other people (which, some people do).
- Whole 30 is hard, but should you complete it, you’ll come away with food lessons of your own. Would I recommend doing it? Again, it’s not for the faint of heart, and it’s not for someone wanting a quick fix or crash diet. PLEASE DON’T CRASH DIET! I think if you’ve already started making strides in your health journey, than this is something you can tack on. It’s not a beginner’s challenge.
If Whole 30 is something that appeals to you and you want to do everything to make it successful, I reformatted the document I used to plan my meals. You can download it for free here. My biggest suggestion is to go into Whole 30 with an open mind. What happened above was my own experience, and there are other bloggers out there who went through something different. Read those blogs, eat until you’re full, and stay strong even when others tell you to quit. Also, invest in a couple food items that will help you stay the course, like compliant Larabar Bars and Crio Bru (oh I could drink that stuff all day). That’s my Whole 30 advice to you.