Inside: If you’re considering doing Whole 30, this will give you an honest look – Part 1 is an overview, the good, and the bad. Part 2 is life after Whole 30 as well as helpful tips if you decide to go for it!
An Honest Look at Whole 30
So remember that time when your social media feeds were blowing up after New Year’s with everyone’s resolution to drop a few pounds and get healthy? (No judgment. Me, too.)
That’s how I found out about Whole 30.
One of my friends on Facebook was starting a Whole 30 support/recipe share group, opening it up to whoever wanted to join. I had no idea what Whole 30 was, but it sounded healthy, so -ah, what the heck. I joined. January passed on and I still had no idea what Whole 30 was.
Somewhere in that month, my husband brought home a book from his coworker. He said there were some really good recipes and that I should try making them some time. (“You should try making them sometime!” is what I wanted to say. But didn’t.)
Dutifully, I look through the recipes, and when I saw the title, it was The Whole 30 (Amazon affiliate link) by Melissa Hartwig and Dallas Hartwig (Amazon affiliate link). I vaguely remembered my friend’s Facebook group and wondered if this Whole 30 bit might actually be a ‘thing.’
Oh, it’s a thing, all right.
I started reading through it, and I was intrigued.
The idea behind Whole 30 is that certain foods we eat have a negative effect on our bodies that we aren’t even aware of. These foods:
- “promote unhealthy cravings and habits”
- “disrupt your metabolism”
- “damage your digestive track”
- “burden your immune system”
- cause “chronic systematic inflammation”
These effects have been scientifically researched and proven. We can’t tell how certain foods affect us until we eliminate them for 30 days and then gradually add them back in our diets. Here are examples of a few (well, a lot) of ailments that are related to silent inflammation:
OK, that list got my attention. All of that can be traced to food. Whoa.
Chances are, even if you are fairly healthy, you probably are a “little sick all the time” – not feeling 100% and likely, without you realizing it, it’s due to your food choices. Whole 30 is like pushing ‘reset’ button on our bodies and health.
So, for 30 days, you eliminate the following:
- Added sugar and artificial sweeteners
- Grains (even whole grains)
- Legumes (including peanut and soy)
The book outlines each group specifically and indicates some of their negative properties. Now, you might feel fine eating several of these items. But you won’t know how they affect you until you eliminate them for 30 days and then gradually reintroduce them one by one.
If you freaked out a little when you read this list, you’re not alone. I did, too. I mentally ran through a list of what I usually eat and thought, “Can’t eat that. Can’t eat that. Or that. Or that. Or that.” You’re probably asking, “So, what can I eat?”
Below, in a nutshell, is the short version of the rules: (Check out Official Whole 30 Program Rules for more particulars and a printable version.)
When I saw this, I said, “No way. Not me. Can’t do this. There’s no way I can do this for 30 days.” But when I saw some of the benefits listed – more energy and better sleep, specifically, I began to reconsider. My life is so hectic with my twin boys. After I long day with them, I was tutoring 3-5 nights a week. On top of that, I was working on a bunch of freelance projects. On top of that, there’s the house, cooking, the laundry, my husband, God (not in that order).
So when I saw that Whole 30 could give me more energy and better sleep, I opened myself to the possibility.
Then, I saw this quote from the book, and it was the motivation I needed. Somehow, these words just kicked me in my butt and gave me that final push. It’s only 30 days. You can do anything for 30 days.
“It is not hard. Don’t you dare tell us this is hard. Beating cancer is hard. Birthing a baby is hard. Losing a parent is hard. Drinking your coffee black. Is. Not. Hard.”
So, on Feb. 2, 2017, I started my Whole 30 journey. I set out with a degree of skepticism. Every program promises to change your life – Weight Watchers, Nutrisystem, Slim Fast. But for me, they never did because I was never going to count points or eat shakes and bars for the rest of my life. Would this just be 30 days or would this really change my relationship with food and reset my body? Would Whole 30 deliver on its promises?
Well, read on to find out. Here’s an honest review.
Whole 30 states that this is not meant to primarily be a weight-loss program, although most people who participate lose weight. It’s more about changing your relationship with food and seeing how food choices are negatively affecting your body and eliminating those foods. They focus a lot on the non-scale victories. Here are several that I experienced:
1| No more aches and pains
I’m typically an achy person – neck pain, knee pain, lower back pain, headaches, especially from lifting and carrying two 30 lb. babies throughout the day. As I progressed through Whole 30, I saw huge improvements. It’s like those aches and pains disappeared about 95%. I truly had no idea food was a contributor to the inflammation and pain I had been feeling.
2| More energy
I felt this one right away. Usually, after I put my boys to bed, I was out the door for a tutoring lesson. I was dragging and struggling to keep my eyes open. During Whole 30 (after the initial rough stage – I’ll talk about that more later), I had so much more energy. I wasn’t dragging myself out on the nights I was tutoring. On the nights I was home, my engine was still running strong until about 10 pm. Normally, I would be passed out on the couch at 8 pm, right after we put the boys to bed.
I also had lots more energy with my boys during the day. Keeping up with twin toddlers requires a lot of steam! I felt the difference in this area.
3| Clearer thinking
This benefit was fabulous. Tutoring requires so much mental energy. Before Whole 30, I was struggling during many lessons to have cohesive thoughts. My mind felt fuzzy when I was trying to help my students work on their writing or to explain difficult concepts. I was so much sharper while doing Whole 30! Even during the day at home, I felt like I could thinking through my tasks and complete them much more efficiently. The best way I can describe it is that I felt like my mind was ‘sharp.’
4| Better sleep
Oh, the sleep. This is probably my favorite benefit of all. Usually I’m up every 2 hours or so, tossing and turning, trying to get comfortable – mostly because of the aches and pains. During Whole 30, I hit my bed like a rock and slept soundly until I heard my little guys chatting in their monitor. The change in my sleep was ah-mazing. Seriously, this was a game-changer and why I’ve never looked back. I love my sleep too much.
5| Delicious food and recipes
I worried so much about what I would do without all those foods I was used to eating, but the foods we were making on Whole 30 were delicious. The recipes were so, so good. I’ve never gone through so many spices in my entire life! I’m not a great cook at all, and to be honest, my husband probably tolerates my cooking more than enjoys it. However, he was complimenting our dinners just about every night.
From someone who doesn’t really cook, I felt like a rockstar in the kitchen. I mean, I was making meals with spaghetti squash! Me – spaghetti squash! I tried so many new foods that I never would have tried prior to Whole 30. I loved that I found all these new options and new ways to prepare healthy foods. There were so many delicious alternatives that I really didn’t miss pasta or bread or cheese (well, I missed cheese a little. But it was OK. The other foods made up for it).
And I loved that there was no special foods, bars or shakes to buy, no sign-up fees to join. Just buy real food and eat it.
6| The psychological benefits
I honestly had a little swag in my step during that month. I felt so good knowing I was doing something really good for my health and body. Every time I was in the kitchen preparing food or in the grocery store reading labels, I felt like I was on the same side as myself. (Does that make sense?) I was caring enough for my own self to not put crap in my body, and that made me feel fantastic. And I felt good knowing that while I was doing something positive for me, a better me is better for my sons, and hopefully, I’ll be able to steer their eating habits in this direction as they get older. All of that, in turn, gave me a better attitude and outlook.
7| Change in craving and eating habits
You are eating so much real food during Whole 30 that after the initial detox the first week, the cravings for sugar diminish a lot! (You’ll see that post Whole-30, when you eat a snack again, it will not be that tempting at all because you’ll be so used to real food!) The desire to snack between meals goes away because you are genuinely full from the 3 meals you are eating. Even though that ‘no-list’ seems really restrictive, I never, ever felt hungry. In fact, it was the opposite most of the time – I was full after eating. I still struggled with ‘wanting’ to snack during my weak hours (usually between lunch and dinner), but because Whole 30 discourages snacking, I pushed through that. Breaking those old associations is part of Whole 30’s goals.
8| No Counting
By that I mean – no counting calories, no counting points. Just eat compliant foods at 3 meals a day including a protein, a vegetable and a fat. That was always the downfall for me with Weight Watchers or something else. I knew from the start I was not going to count points for the rest of my life. Those programs never felt like lifestyle changes; it was a short-term fix to lose weight . Whole 30 definitely had a different feel to it…it was just 30 days, but after 30 days, you really had changed and going back is really unappealing.
9| Improved body composition
It was amazing to me that I noticed changes not just in my weight but in my body composition. I noticed the belly bloat go away and that I had a leaner look and more defined muscles. It was February, so I didn’t really even exercise much when I was on Whole 30. It was definitely the eating that changed how my body looked. Once you start to see those results, it’s hard to go back.
(I just want to throw this in: I did Whole 30 with a few friends, and I asked for their outcomes. One friend told me that her cholesterol and blood panels all improved; her husband had lower blood pressure and he stopped snoring!)
10| Weight Loss
OK, you’re all wondering about this. So did I lose weight? Here’s the scale victory. Yes – I lost 8 lbs doing Whole 30. Of course, that is one of my favorite outcomes, but honestly, if there weren’t so many other benefits, I would have gone back to my old eating habits post-W30. I think that’s why so many diets fail: you might lose weight, but you aren’t getting any of those other non-scale victories. The weight loss is great, but it’s the non-scale victories that really seal the deal, as far as lifestyle changes go.
So, of course, it’s not all rainbows and sunshine. There are some difficult aspects to this as well.
1| Rough first week
For me, that first week was really rough. My body was detoxing from sugar and so many other additives and preservatives, it was kind of in shock. I truly felt like I got hit by a bus. I was super-tired, lethargic, headaches – but I persevered and things got better from there.
2| Labor-intensive meal prep
Yes, I felt like a rockstar in the kitchen, but it was a lot of work. For a while, I felt like I was in the kitchen all the time, and preparing meals was my full-time job. If you know your way around the kitchen, it might not be as bad for you, but it’s definitely not my natural habitat! I took a lot of energy looking up compliant recipes, going shopping to make sure I had the right ingredients, making sure the ingredients I was buying were compliant, preparing actual the meals. For many things, it’s hard to find compliant items such as BBQ sauce, ketchup, salad dressing, mayo (most have sugar in them, even organic products) – so we had to make those things at home. There are some compliant alternatives, but it’s not like you can go to your local grocery store or even Trader Joe’s for several items. To make many things from scratch was time-consuming.
3| Frequent trips to the store for fresh produce
For me, I consumed a LOT more fruit and vegetables than I ordinarily would have. Fresh produce goes bad more easily, so I felt like I was at the store a lot – at least 2 shopping trips a week. Sometimes, it was hard to plan so many meals in advance, so I’d have to run out mid-week to get the right ingredients.
4| Initial outlay of money to stock up the pantry
I wouldn’t say that, overall, Whole 30 is more expensive than how I’d normally eat. It was more expensive in the beginning because I had to stock up on so many compliant pantry items. For me, that was a bunch of spices I normally don’t use, ghee, coconut products, almond butter. In the beginning, you are trying to figure out what you can and can’t eat -and chances are, a lot of what you have in your pantry is non-compliant. So, it took a week or 2 to stock up. However, you aren’t spending your money on snacks and crap-food, so I think, in the end, it does balance. You are buying more meat, which is more expensive than boxed mac-n-cheese, but I would just buy what was on sale, freeze it, and then find a compliant recipe,
5| Difficult if you’re the only one in your house doing it
For the first week, my husband was not on board, so it was tough to have non-compliant temptations around the house, and it was tough doing all of that meal-prep just for one (although, I often fed him whatever I was making and never told him is was Whole 30). About a week or so in, he decided to do it with me, and that made things a LOT easier. Whole 30 is a lot of work. Not only is it easier logistically if your household is doing it with you, but you have a built in support system, which is huge!
That’s a lot to digest right!?!? If you’re curiosity is stirred and you want know what happens after Whole 30, read on! Part 2 covers life after Whole 30 and some helpful tips for success. You can read Part 2 here!
Any other Whole 30-ers out there? I’d love to hear your experience with it!