My Experience with The Whole30

Sara's adventures in changing her dietary life.
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Sara's adventures in changing her dietary life.
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I've always been pretty skeptical of fad diets, so when #Whole30 statuses and Instagrams from friends and former classmates began appearing in my feeds, I wrote it off as just another passing food trend. But the posts kept coming, and when two girls in my book club had done it and were raving about it, the husdude and I decided to give it a try. 

The husdude and I really, really like food. We like eating out, we like trying new things and new cuisines, we like cooking, and we both like a drink now and again. We thought we were eating healthfully, but at the beginning of 2016, we both found ourselves a bit overweight and experiencing problems with our sleep, our energy levels, and our moods. We both knew our sedentary jobs and chill lifestyle weren't jibing with our diets. It was time for a change. 

The Whole30 is a modified paleo diet that is designed to help people change their relationship with food; their website describes their plan as a "nutritional reset" that removes foods that might be causing health issues, like potential allergens or inflammatory foods. 

I'll be very transparent - this is a very restrictive diet, but there is no calorie counting. It's not a crash diet. I pretty much never felt hungry while I was on the diet. This wasn't just about weight loss for us - it was about our health as a whole. 

So, this is what my experience with the Whole30 was like:

It was hard... 

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The Whole30 is no joke. Not only are you removing all grains, dairy, legumes, and alcohol from your diet, but also any food with added sugar or sweeteners, MSG, sulfites, or carrageenan. Foods that I ate on a regular basis that I consider healthy, like coconut milk or almond butter, were out because they had added sugar. I couldn't even put honey in my morning coffee. 

One of the hardest parts of doing the Whole30 was eating meat again on a regular basis. As flexitarians, the husdude and I were not used to eating meat in nearly all of our meals, and almost all of our go-to protein sources, like soy and beans, were off limits. It seemed counterintuitive to what we had always believed - that a vegetable-based diet where meat is eaten sparingly was the healthiest diet for us. My body also wasn't used to eating meat regularly - even with a ramp-up week where we ate some meat before starting the Whole30, I had some side effects during the first few weeks that weren't exactly pleasant.

Last but not least, it was hard to go out with friends or coworkers while on the Whole30. The likelihood of finding food I could eat at the bars, restaurants, or parties I was invited to was slim to none, and I definitely couldn't drink any alcohol. In the first few weeks, I politely turned down almost all invitations to go out because I didn't trust myself not to give into temptation. 

I would go out later in the Whole30 and have a seltzer or La Croix - I did a Painting with a Twist work outing sober, which was surprisingly more fun than I expected - but I felt like a stick in the mud turning down a boozy brunch or after work drinks. 

...But not as hard as I thought it would be. 

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During the first week, I had pretty intense cravings for random foods, like Christmas cookies or chicken noodle soup, but after, I had almost no cravings at all (unless I wanted to eat my feelings - more on that later). If there was food in the office, like pizza or tacos, it became easy for me to walk right by. 

By week 4, I felt like a little like a badass cravings-killing robot, turning down food without a thought or twinge of regret - especially since I was so prone to giving into my cravings before the Whole30. 

Even if a craving came up, it was easy to ask myself, "Do you really want that?" and realize I didn't really want the food - I wanted to eat that thing because I was bored, or didn't want to feel left out, or needed a reason to get away from my desk at work.

I also thought I would be bored to tears with the food, but it was surprisingly easy to find and make meals that were delicious and didn't make me miss my pre-Whole30 meals. We tried particularly hard not to replace meals we ate previously with compliant versions, because we knew we would just crave those versions of the food and be more likely to slip, so we tried lots of new recipes. And it was fun! It was almost shocking how many awesome Whole30 recipes we found online.

I was worried we would be overwhelmed by food prep and cooking, but it really wasn't that bad. It was difficult some days when we would come home and didn't want to cook, but there were some takeout options available, like Chipotle and Panera Bread, so we could grab something in a pinch if we really weren't up for it. 

It was expensive at first, but we ended up saving money. 

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Buying organic meat and veggies and minimally processed processed foods added up fast, yo. We were easily spending 1.5x our normal grocery budget, and it was almost overwhelming how MUCH food we needed to buy - we played a lot of fridge Tetris trying to fit all our groceries into our fridge after shopping trips, and some weeks we just BARELY fit everything. It actually made me anxious, how much food we had, because I thought it was going to spoil before we could eat all of it. 

It didn't. We actually threw away much less food than we normally did pre-Whole30, and by the time we went shopping the next week, our fridge was practically empty. It's kind of funny, actually, to think about the volume of food me and husdude actually ate on this super-restrictive plan. 

Factoring in how much money we wasted on the food we threw out before and how much we spent on getting meals, snacks, or drinks out pre-Whole30, we ended up saving money. And not pocket change, either - we saved something like $100 a week by not getting takeout or running to CVS for a bag of chips or getting Sbux on the reg (just kidding, I still got Starbucks like 3 times a week - the passion iced tea is compliant). 

Dolla dolla bills, y'all. 

I felt amazing. 

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I can't even begin to describe how good I felt by the end of my Whole30. I felt smarter, sharper, and more focused. My skin cleared up a bit, and probably would have looked ahhhh-mazing if I wasn't so bad about washing my face at night. 

I had more energy throughout the day, and didn't just want to collapse into bed as soon as I got home from work. I was motivated to read, to draw, and to journal on weeknights before going to bed. I wasn't losing my weekends to hangovers and I was actually sleeping through the night, not waking up at 2 am before tossing and turning for hours. I didn't get winded climbing 4 flights off stairs at my parking garage. 

And yes, I lost a bit of weight. Not a lot, but enough that I noticed my jeans, bras, and button-up blouses were fitting better. 

Since ending my Whole30, I've reintroduced wheat, dairy, alcohol, and sweeteners back into my diet in various amounts, and I can tell you that, as much as I missed those foods, I can feel a huge difference in my body and mood when I consume them. I'm more sluggish and tired and irritable. Soft cheese makes me feel bloated and crampy. (Why have you forsaken me, soft cheese?) I broke out all along my chin after I reintroduced dairy. 

I'm on vacation right now, and indulging in fun things like donuts, pizza, and beer in an awesome food city, but I think I'm going to do another week of the Whole30 when I return, because I truly miss how I felt when I was eating the Whole30 way. 

I realized I had a lot of bad food habits. 

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During my last two weeks with the Whole30, there was a big change-up for me and my team at work. I was excited for the change, but it also made me anxious and a little sad. After I got the news, all I wanted when I got home from work was a big bowl of pasta with lots of cheese, some caramel-y ice cream, and a glass or two of red wine. That craving persisted for the next two weeks until I felt settled and comfortable again. 

Pre-Whole30, I would have indulged those cravings without a second thought, whether it was pasta or Indian food or packaged ramen. On the Whole30, I had to sit with that craving, and it wouldn't go away like my other cravings did. 

I spent most of my weeknights that week in front of the TV watching Gossip Girl and drinking can after can of La Croix. By Friday, after I burned through an entire season in four days, I realized that craving was so persistent because I wanted to eat my feelings. I couldn't on the Whole30, so I was numbing myself in a different way  - with hours and hours of mindless TV. 

I had joked about eating my feelings with my friends before, but I had never really thought I was eating emotionally until I realized that there had been a LOT of situations where I turned to food when I was feeling anxious or sad rather than dealing with my emotions or finding healthier outlets. The Whole30 helped me realize that my previous diet, which I thought was a practice in moderation with room for indulgences, was probably less controlled than I thought it was. 

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Final Thoughts 

If you are considering doing the Whole30, be sure to do a lot of research and think about the reasons why you're doing it. I would also suggest you consult your primary care physician before starting, just to be safe - especially if you are taking any medication or have serious or chronic illnesses to take into consideration. I had a great experience with the Whole30 and would recommend it to anyone, but I'm not your doctor or you, and you need to do what feels best for you, not what worked well for me. 

Have you done a Whole30? Do you have any questions about the Whole30? Have you tried a different clean eating plan and want to share your experience? Let me know in the comments below!