Two days before Thanksgiving, I finished my first Whole30. If you’re not sure what it is, a simple Google search will yield plenty of information. Briefly, it’s 30 days of eating very clean: no added sugar, no grains, no legumes, no alcohol, and no dairy. The reasons to do it and results vary by individual, so I wanted to share my experience, in case anyone was considering it.
To start, I have been paleo at different periods over the past 10 years, so this was not a huge new thing for me. I didn’t have a lot of the typical withdrawal symptoms in the early days because we didn’t go from bread 3 times a day to none. We actually don’t really eat much pasta and bread in general (except Monkey, who lives on Mac and Cheese right now), but we aren’t as good about eating vegetables. Rice and chicken is a pretty standard weeknight menu.
My eating habits were good but not the best, and I knew I could do better. I knew I ate way too much sugar (lots of colleagues with birthdays this summer didn’t help!). I had the typical after lunch slump and constant snacking that is familiar to so many. Working out regularly wasn’t getting me the results I was looking for. So after seeing a friend on Facebook post her meals every day, I looked into the Whole30 and it seemed like a good thing to try.
I didn’t post my journey on social media the way that so many find helpful, though I did talk about it at work. A lot. Initially because I wanted to be sure they wouldn’t count on me eating half of the weekly baked goods as usual, so they could adjust the portions appropriately! I run with a few colleagues at lunch, and it was natural to talk about it as part of our usual fitness conversations.
With Thanksgiving just two days after I ended, I had planned on reintroducing gluten grains like wheat, since the rest of Thanksgiving would be pretty compliant – turkey, mashed potatoes, green beans. But that first night, being able to just order a pizza when we were exhausted from packing up the car for the ride down to my sister’s was just too tempting. And while I didn’t feel awesome, I didn’t have any serious reactions. So I decided to just eat normally.
Unsurprisingly, after almost three weeks of eating “normally” however, I do feel pretty gross. And sugar headaches/hangovers are a very real and painful thing! So I’m slowly going back to a cleaner version of my normal food. Mostly making sure breakfast is as clean as possible (eggs & spinach, chicken sausage & avocado, almond butter & apples), hoping that a good start to my day will keep me on the right track. But with all the holiday treats floating around, I think I’ll be at a 50/50 good/bad ratio until the New Year when I’ll try for 80/20.
My Whole 30 experience
- Not needing tea in the morning (more energy). This was a big one for me. I don’t drink coffee, so my cup of black tea in the morning is pretty important. Since it’s not supposed to be the first think you consume in the morning on the plan, I would put it off until work. But after a week, I found I didn’t need it.
- Weight loss. Like many, this was not my main goal. But take away added sugar and bread, and you’re going to lose weight. I also had the 5k and my regular workout routine, so about 7 pounds disappeared by the end of the month. I’m pretty much at my pre baby weight, which is nice, since I was getting very close to needing new, bigger clothes. For me, spending more on good food > spending more on clothes. (I’ve gained 2 back in the past 2 weeks of “regular” eating)
- A better relationship with food. We all know we eat when we’re bored/stressed/sad, so pinpointing the situations where it comes up is very helpful. There were definitely moments that I wanted chocolate and had tea instead, but those got fewer as the month went on. Making food about nourishment and fuel, instead of a comfort or reassurance, is key to separating emotions and food.
- Not feeling stuffed after eating. This took some getting used to, but it was nice to not feel super bloated/full after a meal. When I got hungry, I was HUNGRY, but after the first two weeks, I knew how much I needed to keep me going until the next meal. Feeling satisfied, not stuffed, was nice.
- Work functions. I forgot about a few, so I had to sit there watching people eat lovely catered food while I had my reheated chicken and sweet potatoes. But by the end of the month, when the ice cream social came around, I could watch people stuff their faces without feeling jealous. (Though I might have saved some in the freezer for later…)
- Budget. I didn’t go organic on the meat, and it was still pretty pricey. I usually compromised by getting sausages/hot dogs without added sugar, which are almost always the organic brand. My splurge tends to be cage-free/free-range eggs, even before this experiment.
- Not eating all the little bits and pieces of Monkey’s food. I didn’t realize how automatic it was to take bites off his plate until I couldn’t anymore! And while I’m sure it was good for him to see me eating healthy things, he wasn’t interested in tasting anything.
- Thinking about food all the time. It got a little tiresome to be constantly thinking “is this enough protein? Enough fat? Am I hungry or just tired? Should I eat a sweet potato before my workout or a banana?”. And it made me worry that I wouldn’t be able to just enjoy food once it was over.
Things I expected to happen that didn’t:
- Better sleep. However, with a toddler, this will be bad no matter what you eat. I did feel like I had more energy than normal the nights I got even less sleep than usual, so that was a nice bonus.
- Better skin. After 30+ years, I may just need to accept I will never have a beautiful complexion, no matter what I eat or how many Korean beauty products I try.
- Better gums. I have some mild to serious gum health issues, and while they didn’t get worse, they didn’t really get better.
I’m thinking the gum and skin might actually get better if I do a whole60 (or just watch my sugar intake!)
For anyone who’s thinking of trying it after the holidays, it’s not the easiest of months, but it’s also not the worst either. Figuring out why you’re doing it is key to maintaining motivation. But getting to the end, knowing you were able to say “no” to so many things, really helps with other choices, both food and non-food related.