My Whole30 Experience
Updated: Jan 2
"I can't eat bread for how many days?!" My reaction when my mom said she wanted to do the Whole30. The Whole30 has been a talked about diet that becomes pretty popular at the beginning of a new year (new year, new me kinda thing). I had been seeing it on my Instagram and got sent a copy of Melissa Hartwig's Whole30 Cookbook so I thought why not see what the hype is about. As a future dietitian, I figured it might be helpful to try out some of these "fad" diets to really get my perspective on them. I knew it would be easier if I had someone to do it with me so I recruited my mom and February 1st we started.
Let me give you some background about the Whole30 and what it is. It is a kind of nutritional reset. The program requires you to remove things from your diet that are commonly linked with food sensitivities, cravings, hormones changes, inadequate sleep and other issues. It is sort of an experiment designed to teach you how certain foods you eat can affect how your body responds to them. The main purpose I did this was because I have pretty bad knee joints (4 surgeries worth of pain), and wanted to see what foods made my pain worse and what made them better. My mom did it to 1. support me and 2. see if her digestion would get better. The program requires eating moderate portions of meat, seafood, and eggs; lots of vegetables; some fruit; plenty of natural fats; and herbs, spices, and seasonings. The foods that were removed during these 30 days included added sugars (real or artificial), alcohol, grains, legumes, and dairy.
I overall eat a pretty clean diet, not very many processed foods, mostly whole foods but I do love the occasional glass of wine, tortilla chips, and frozen yogurt (plus toppings of course). I was preparing for this to be extremely difficult and dang near impossible.
Day 1 my motivation was high, I was ready! I had read a lot about the Whole30 and everyone preached MEAL PREP. That was the saving grace of the Whole30. I have never really been a big meal prepper, I never found the time and the energy to do it. I knew that it would help so much so I figured I would give it a try. I put some salmon, veggies and potatoes on a sheet pan and put them in the oven and ba-da-boom I had lunches for the whole week. I am so used to eating the same things every day that I wasn't worried about getting sick of anything (later on I realized that wasn't the case). I work at a cafe in a big gym so I am constantly surrounded by food. There are always little snacks laying around, extra food and temptations. I made it loud and clear to my coworkers that I was on the Whole30 and could not be tempted. Thankfully there were very respectful about it and were very supportive through it. The fact that the cafe I work at was health focused, it was easy for me to find foods that were Whole30 approved. I had to do some modifications but overall I made it work.
The further along I got doing the Whole30 the more I realized I was eating THE SAME things every single day. Not only was it getting boring but I didn't have any new content to post on my Instagram (I know, sounds silly but it's true)! Breakfast was either eggs, turkey bacon and sweet potatoes or cauli-oats with fruit and nut butter. Lunch was some sort of salad with turkey or chicken and lots of vegetables. Dinner was cauliflower rice, broccoli and grilled chicken. I was getting BORED. I knew I had to start mixing it up or I wasn't going to get through it. That's when Pinterest came to the rescue! All I had to do was type in "Whole30 Recipes" and a million and one recipes came up. With my limited time, my mom really was the real MVP. She is just as Pinterest-obsessed as I am and she was all for trying new recipes and would always make enough for herself, my dad and me! My favorite recipe that she made was a Whole30 Orange Chicken and OH MY was it so good! Once we started broadening our horizons and trying new recipes, I knew that we could ease right through this!
In the original Whole30 rules, it says that you cannot recreate or buy sweets, treats, and foods even if the ingredients are technically compliant. This is because they think it is missing the point of the Whole30 and could compromise your results. We didn't follow this rule because honestly, I thought it was silly. I didn't think it was going to affect my results if I ate a pancake (made with banana and eggs). So we started testing out all sorts of recipes and found some really good ones and some not so good ones. The hardest thing to try to find good recipes for were sweets or desserts. After I eat something savory I need something sweet, that's just how it is. We tried a couple different "sweet treats" including apples with almond butter, dried fruit, dates, we even found a recipe for brownies that only had banana, almond butter and cocoa powder. I just couldn't find something that would satisfy my sweet tooth so I just had to accept it and keep on keeping on.
February might not of been the best month to do the Whole30 because Valentine's Day was smack-dab in the middle of the month. We had been smooth sailing for the 13 days prior to this day but I knew the 14th was going to be a challenge. One thing my boyfriend and I love to do is try new pizza places (he's from Chicago) and rate them. We have a whole list of places we want to go and it something that we just love to do! We had planned to do that for Valentine's Day, not knowing I was going to be on the Whole30, but our plans had to change. He was such a trooper through this and supported me through it all. We ended up staying in and making dinner (salmon, sweet potatoes and asparagus). For dessert we had some strawberries and called it a night!
After about day 15 I was feeling so good... I had so much energy, my digestion was ON POINT and I just was in a good headspace. This was when I realized I loved how I felt when I stayed away from processed foods and how appreciative my body was to be fed whole and natural foods. The rest of the Whole30 was a breeze and it just became a habit. As a nutrition major, I firmly believe that food is medicine and what you eat can affect your body. A major thing I noticed during this experience was my knees felt better than normal. There was much less inflammation and they didn't feel as achy and sore always. This is what kept me going and motivated me to finish strong!
Day 30 came and I couldn't believe I made it! 30 days, no grains, dairy, sugar, alcohol or legumes! The next step after the 30 days is the reintroduction portion. Over the next 10 days you are supposed to slowly and carefully reintroduce some of the off-plan foods you eliminated and evaluate how you they make you feel. One group at a time would be reintroduced at a time while the rest of your diet would remain as Whole30-clean as possible. I hit a MAJOR roadblock during what was supposed to be my reintroduction phase. The day after I finished the Whole30 was when I was leaving to go to Expo West (a HUGE natural food expo in Anaheim). As much as I wanted to finish the program the way it was supposed to be finished, I knew that wasn't going to be possible. This Expo was a 3-day event that was filled with snacks, sweets and treats. Long story short, I ate all the snacks, all the goodies, all the non-Whole30 foods and lets just say my body was not happy with me LOL. Unfortunately I didn't get to figure out what foods cause my body to react poorly so it kind of felt like a waste of 30 days but I am still glad that I did it and I will definitely be doing it again, the right way!
My take away of the Whole30: it was a great experience and my body was so happy with me throughout it! MEAL PREP. MEAL PREP. MEAL PREP. This will save your life. Pick one day out of the week to do grocery shopping and prep foods to last you through the week so you don't end up snacking on those chips you keep the pantry. Keep Whole30 approved foods and snacks in your house at all times! Try to avoid buying foods that are not compliant so you won't have any temptation. Going out to eat is going to be challenging, but not impossible. Scan the menu ahead of time to see what you can get and don't be afraid to make modifications. Get someone to do it with you. Having the support and another person who is doing it with you will make it easier and you both can keep each other accountable. EAT GOOD, FEED GOOD. Filling your body with whole, natural and unprocessed foods will make you feel good inside and out!