Have you heard of the Whole30? Maybe you kind of know what it is? Well, I did one. Here’s how it went down. Brace yourself, this is kind of a long one. Thank goodness for amateur food photography.
Wait, what exactly is the Whole30? In a nutshell, it’s 30 days of no-excuses super clean eating. You focus on whole, unprocessed foods of the highest quality you can afford, and eliminate all foods that have been found to cause any kind of inflammation, cravings, or irritation in your body. The idea is to do some internal healing – gut, hormones, and blood sugar levels, etc., and also get a firm handle on any emotional issues involved with food. So what does that mean, exactly? As I heard someone say the other day: If you can grow it, farm it, or fish it, you can eat it. Which is pretty close.
No, that’s off limits: Added sugar or sweeteners of any kind (obviously sugar, but also honey, maple syrup, agave, stevia, etc.); legumes (black beans, pinto beans, peanuts, etc.); gluten; grains or ancient grains (wheat, barley, quinoa, etc.); dairy; soy or soy products; vegetable oils; and many common food additives (such as carrageenan or MSG). Also off limits: pseudo-food like “protein pancakes” or any version of old favorites made with compliant ingredients (like making waffles, pizza, ice cream, etc.) Also no stepping on the scale. The focus isn’t weight loss, but life improvement.
Yes, please, I’ll have some more: Grass fed organic meats; free-range poultry; eggs; organic vegetables; vegetables; vegetables; potatoes (all varieties); high-quality oils like coconut or olive.
Wait, that NO list seems a lot longer than the YES list… It does feel that way at the beginning a little bit. But once you have your act together, and have plenty of food stocked in the fridge and freezer, things get much easier.
Superbowl Chili we made probably four times – so delicious!
Here’s what I learned:
- I am a pretty kick ass cook. Modest, I know. But this program really tested my limits. I was determined not to resort to grilled chicken and steamed broccoli for eternity. Because that’s easily what this program could turn into, if you let it.
- You really can go without your absolute favorite foods and it won’t kill you. Even cream in your coffee, which I swore up and down I could never give up. As it turns out, coconut milk (the kind in a can, in the ethnic foods aisle) is pretty delicious.
- There is a huge amount of pride in working hard and treating your body right. The first few weeks were pretty rough, and I definitely didn’t feel like a hero. After about ten days I really started feeling better, got my rhythm down in the kitchen, and was sleeping better, so the program started to seem easier. (“Oh, hey, this shit works!”)
- My body became a lean mean energy machine. Holy cow.
- I didn’t think I had an unhealthy or emotional attachment to eating, but there were a couple days where I came home extremely tired and stressed – all I wanted was some pizza and ice cream. The healthy meal I had ready for that night wasn’t cutting it. I hadn’t noticed this before, but it came raging into focus during the Whole30. Here’s the thing – just eat something compliant and move on. Repeat this to yourself: “there will be other meals in my future, it won’t kill me if this doesn’t knock my socks off tonight.”
- It feels strange to suddenly be the person who brings her own groceries. I’m a pretty easy going person when it comes to visiting friends and family; I don’t typically care where we eat. I love eating. But there is nothing easy going about this program, and honestly I think it was good practice for me to put a (friendly) foot down stand up for myself. “Yes, this is what I’m eating. I’ll be happy to cook for you. No, I don’t want to go to that restaurant – or, yes, I’ll go to that restaurant but I’m not eating – I’ll eat beforehand.” I could write a whole separate post about how the program made me feel in terms of my personality and social interactions.
Here are some helpful tips:
- If you’re skeptical as to why the hell you might want to do this in the first place, read the book It Starts with Food. It covers all the science behind what food does in your body, and has a rationale for everything that’s allowed on the program. Then get The Whole30: The 30-Day Guide to Total Health and Food Freedom. Just do it. Or borrow it, whatever you have to do. Yes, you can find all the rules and details online, but I really liked having a handy resource that covers everything. (Honestly. You feel like having a blow out fight for no reason with your significant other on day 5? That’s actually normal. Whew.)
- We eat pretty healthy around here as it is, and even with that, the Whole30 was CHALLENGING. So keep that in mind. It might not hurt to clean up your diet a little bit before starting the 30 days. I didn’t see this recommended anywhere, but it couldn’t hurt. Ditch soda and granola bars; start eating less of things like store-bought salad dressing, cheese, butter, salty-crunchy snacks, and bread. Cut WAY back on the alcohol. Doing this for probably two weeks will make “the big switch” less painful.
- Branch out for new recipes. The Whole30 book is obviously a great resource, but moving beyond that into websites and other Paleo-type cookbooks really helped keep things interesting. I started following Whole30 and Whole30Recipes on Instagram, which also provided fun support and recipe ideas.
- Preparation is key. Every resource will tell you this, but that’s because it’s true. I work part-time, so my schedule allowed me to get really creative in the kitchen and spend A LOT of time prepping and cooking. Otherwise, I think a big chunk of time spent on Sunday would’ve done the trick. I was more concerned with keeping it interesting and learning new things, so I did more cooking than was probably necessary, I didn’t use my time wisely.
- Locally-owned health food stores, farm markets, and Whole Foods will be your new go-to. Kroger, Meijer, Publix – whatever you may have near you – are good for organic meat and poultry in large quantities, but for the more obscure and compliant ingredients, don’t waste your time on the big grocers – in the Lansing area, stick to places like Fresh Thyme, Foods for Living, and Whole Foods. Yes, it’s more expensive, but you’ll just get more and more frustrated if you try to find ghee or Whole30 compliant bacon/sausage anywhere else.
- You WILL get tired of cooking at home and maybe not seeing any friends. (Was that just me?) So. Go out to dinner, but remain firm on the restaurant choice. Do your homework and find some place that will serve you grilled chicken or steak with a plain baked potato and steamed veggies. Don’t be afraid to bring your own salad dressing – seriously. Everyone at the table will find you hilarious, and you should really own up to your quirkiness.
- Ordering groceries off the Internet is weird, but do it. At the beginning, you’ll be so overwhelmed by making ALL OF THE FOOD you won’t have the energy to also whip up mayonnaise, ketchup, and dressings. (Seriously, nobody has time for that.) Order direct or try Amazon. Also great spots: Tessemae’s, Vital Proteins, Epic.
- If you are having a meltdown of any kind, for any reason, and are craving something crappy just tell yourself “I can have it tomorrow if I still really want it” and then have a La Croix. By the time you wake up in the morning, you’ll be over it.
- No one likes a righteous eater, so try to keep your food experiment to yourself when dining with others. Don’t admonish what they have on their plate. If they’re relentless with the questions, focus on why you’re eating this way – hell, make up some kind of ailment if you need to. “Oh, I’ve been having a lot of IBS issues and this diet is supposed to fix it.” Crickets. (I heard this suggestion elsewhere, and I love it.)
- Think of the Whole30 less like an intimidating strict eating plan, and more like a culinary adventure that’s going to make you a badass in the kitchen, while making you feel like a million bucks.
Your new hobby for the next 30 days is cooking – and it’s awesome.
In general I eat pretty cleanly, but the Whole30 really challenged me to move out of my comfort zone, try a lot of new things, and adopt new healthy eating strategies that I can use for the rest of my life. It was difficult, true, but so is anything that’s worthwhile.
A note of transparency: why did I title this post “My (Pretty Much) Whole30?” Because I’m an adult (or so they tell me) I chose to have a red wine and some hard cider while on an annual camping trip during the third weekend. And I chose to eat some pulled pork on a gluten free bun just a few days before I hit the official 30-day mark. Do I feel like I blew it? Not really. I made both of those choices consciously. In the book, the authors are pretty clear – the whole 27 is NOT the Whole30, and I understand that. I chose to eat some GF bread and drink a little alcohol – both in the list of no-no’s, but I’m ok with that. I don’t feel like a failure. I successfully abstained from gluten, legumes, dairy, sweeteners, and highly processed food for all 30 days, and I feel amazing, thank you. Now to be fair, when I do the program again, I’ll give it my best shot to go the entire 30 days without so much as a blip. I think it says a great deal that the program was so challenging and I’m still interested in doing it again. Here’s to continued health and good eating!