I did it. I survived the Whole30 eating program. 30 days without added sugar, alcohol, bread, legumes and processed foods. I am very much the average Joe, and I simply wanted better health after an entire summer eating pop tarts, chips, ice cream and fast food.
I’m a sweets and carb-loader from way back, and I knew the food I was eating was driving my down moods, anxiety and difficult digestion. Inflammation was so common it was the sad norm, and I knew my physical health was also affecting me as a parent.
I read up and studied on the Whole30 body reset and wondered if I could possibly live without sugar-my favorite emotional crutch-for 30 days.
How Did You Prepare for Whole30?
I prayed for will power and a taste for things that come more naturally to the Earth.
I got busy creating margin in my freelance writing life so I could give this program the time and attention I deserved. I take terrible care of myself when I’m over-committed, and I had been for some time. I resigned from one regular writing job and scaled back on blogging and social media. I knew it was a sacrifice, but I really wanted a change.
I took a week to read the books and do a 7-day trial run to get a feel for how I would do meal preps with school back in full swing. I probably should have taken longer, but I didn’t want to lose momentum.
My results on Whole30
No cheating, no formal exercise, no measuring food or counting calories. Just a sole concentration on changing what was on my plate.
Here’s what happened:
- 12 pound weight loss
- Down 2 clothing sizes
- Elevated moods and energy
- More active, plus the will and motivation to be productive
- Reduced appearance in varicose veins (was not expecting this one!)
- Zero need for caffeine (I have 1 cup of coffee in the morning, more out of habit than need, and no sodas)
- Whiter teeth
- Smooth digestion, almost no inflammation, zero heartburn
- Clearer thinking, less anxiety
- Sense of calm, more patience, better parent
- Better self esteem and body image
- Restful sleep
- No aches in hands in the morning
- Desire to get out and be more active (family bike rides, nature walks, etc)
What was Hard on Whole30?
Lack of cheese. I thought I would die without bread, but I didn’t miss bread at all. I missed cheese, and the dinnertime burger commercials on tv with melted cheese almost did me in, but I refrained.
Dishes. So many dishes. I tried to do bulk preps on the weekend to reduce the load during the week, but I was cooking food for myself separate from the rest of the fam, and the dishes are real. (Helpful hint: paper plates)
Smells. Driving past Sonic made my mouth water, and I actually took my own little lunch box when I ate with the fam at McDonald’s. Fast foods have distinct smells that you recognize right away, but I felt so good on Whole30 I really wasn’t tempted.
The unexpected. I had to quickly grab leftovers from the fridge to eat before rushing to a school meeting I forgot about, but I made sure to regularly cook enough to have leftovers so it was okay. And I keep an apple and macadamia nuts in my purse if I’m out and about.
Portion sizes. This is something you work on from day 1, figuring out how much you should eat of each kind of food so you are satisfied and don’t need snacks between meals. I overate a few times and under-ate a few times, but you’ll get the hang of it.
Headaches. I started out with a 2-day headache from sugar withdrawals. I knew it would likely happen based on the “what to expect” schedule from the book so I planned to start on a weekend when my husband was home and I’m really glad I did. (My advice: STICK WITH IT, happy days are straight ahead.)
My Tips for Whole30 Success
Thinking about trying it for yourself? I highly recommend it. The whole30 book has a ton of suggestions on how to handle things that will come up. Here are the ones that really helped me, plus suggestions of my own:
1. Make a To-Do List
Make a list of light tasks to do around the house to keep your mind occupied when cravings hit. This helped me a lot. I cleared out and organized a few junk drawers and huge boxes of school papers. I cleaned out my closet and organized a book shelf.
2. Don’t Try Too Much at Once
Overwhelm is very real if you do too much at once. Go through the book and make a list of things to buy from 2 or 3 recipes you think you would like per week. Don’t run out and buy all the weird stuff you don’t need right away, slow and steady wins the race. I rarely use the coconut aminos, coconut flour and shallots I bought, but I use the heck out of ghee (it’s like regular butter without lactose). I had fresh herbs go bad because I didn’t use them fast enough. Go as simple as you can. Eggs are easy, as are canned olives and raw nuts and you don’t have to buy organic everything.
3. Cook in Bulk
Easy recipes in the book that guarantee leftovers are a good way to start. I loved the sweet potato soup, pot roast and roasted chicken recipes. If you find something you like, make large portions. It will be a relief on many occasions to just reheat stuff that’s already made.
4. Plan, Plan, Plan
The books helps you a lot with this. It runs you through several If/Then scenarios to think about. For example: If there is an office birthday party, then I’ll eat a healthy snack beforehand so I’m full. Or if I am traveling, I will pack xyz in a carry-on until I can get to a grocery store.
We just visited a pumpkin farm and I knew we would get hungry while we were there. They weren’t likely to sell Whole30 foods, so I ate a big healthy lunch before we left the house and I packed an apple and nuts in my bag to snack on. The family ordered food there so we all ate together.
It’s also a great idea to keep a food journal. Stuck on figuring out what to make? Look back to what you made in previous days to get ideas. Also notate what was good, what wasn’t and how you felt that day.
5. It’s Okay to be That Person
I took a little lunch box to McDonald’s a few times and no one cared. I was there with family from out of town and we bought food for others there. You have the power to choose what you eat. Research nutrition info for various restaurants on their websites ahead of time when picking a place to go, they are very detailed.
I only felt confident ordering food at a restaurant once on Whole30. It was our wedding anniversary, and my husband was happy to go there. Thank you Chipotle! You can get the pork carnitas salad bowl with pico and guac and it’s a-ok! A whole, compliant, glorious meal in one. Not exactly romantic, but happy wife, happy life.
I’ve done this long enough now, I would feel more confident ordering like Meg Ryan or just bringing my own dressing or making a special request.
6. Prep Work Makes the Dream Work
There is a ton of prep cutting vegetables on Whole30. I ended up buying some pre-cut at the grocery store to save on prep time. It’s more expensive, but to me it’s worth buying zoodles since I don’t have a spiralizer, and diced butternut squash because that stuff is hard to cut! I do most of the prep myself but a little break is nice once in a while starting out.
7. Meals 1, 2 and 3
I love how they say in the book not to think of meals as breakfast, lunch and dinner but as meals 1, 2 and 3. Because then you won’t limit yourself to only certain foods at certain times.
This was a lifesaver because I ate approximately 8 billions eggs in the beginning. It was getting old, so I am fine eating grilled chicken in the morning. Trust me, at one point you’ll be all cooked out and you won’t care what you eat when, and leftovers are a blessing. It’s great for variety too. I’ve even mixed up diced chicken with eggs for protein in an omelet.
8. Pay Close Attention to Your Body
They describe this phenomenon called “Tiger blood” when you feel so good, it’s amazing and you feel like pure power is running through your veins. It’s true! I had it, though it was more mild than eye of the tiger. But I could definitely tell when I had crossed over into real health.
9. Eat with as Few Distractions as Possible
If you have kids and you just laughed out loud, I hear you. I got up 30 min before the kids in the morning and quietly sat and ate by myself. No tv, no phone, just concentrating on every bite, the taste and how I felt before the kids woke up.
We get so busy and eat on auto-pilot a lot of the time, so this was really valuable to me. Sometimes the kids get up and it’s business as usual, but it’s a good exercise.
10. Savor Favorite Foods
I am massively in love with sweet potatoes. When I knew I would be taking my own food to eat somewhere, I would pack things I truly love that feel like a treat, and sweet potatoes always got me through. I also love green olives. So I try to slow down and savor the foods I like. I’m a fast eater and I can throw down on a big meal, but slowing down to savor things helped me feel satisfied.
11. Fails Happen
It’s okay to fail. Sometimes you have no idea how to care for fresh herbs.
Sometimes you use coconut flour to dredge the chicken in your favorite chicken marsala recipe and it destroys the whole meal. It’s okay.
This is another reason it’s a good idea to keep a running cycle of leftovers. I had hard-boiled eggs in the fridge as a protein and I ended up mixing and matching weird foods together to make a compliant meal.
Don’t be too hard on yourself. You are taking steps to get healthier because you want to do better, and that’s a win in any ledger to me.
Interested in learning more? See also:
Also, here are the books I followed: (affiliate links)
It Starts With Food concentrates more on the way your body processes food, which is great background info to know how your body is reacting to what you eat. It also includes details of the program.
The Whole30 Book is all about the program and what to expect, how to plan for travel, the unexpected and a busy schedule. I recommend both. And please feel free to ask me any questions!
(Also available in paperback and Kindle)