I first heard about the Whole30 on one of my all-time favorite blogs, A Beautiful Mess. Elsie’s post about her experience is well worth the read and a lot of things she said really resonated with me. At the start of her post, she talked about how frustrated she was that exercise never led to weight loss for her. She said:
One of the biggest things I have learned is that fitness and weight loss aren’t the same thing, and they don’t necessarily come hand in hand…[When I was training for a marathon] I was definitely feeling stronger and more disciplined than ever before in my life. I was running long distances leading up to the race (five miles, then six, then eight, then ten….), and it was a great experience! But I did this at my highest weight ever. And I’m not going to lie…it was frustrating in some ways because, even though I felt accomplished and fit, I was a little disappointed that I didn’t lose any weight. —Elsie, A Beautiful Mess
That. Is. So. Me. I could not put it better. I had recently been feeling really betrayed by my body. I had felt as though I was doing the things you are supposed to do: being mindful of what I eat, pushing myself to exercise more and better, but with little to no result on the scale. Over the past two years I made it a goal to up the amount of exercise in my life. I woke up an hour earlier every day and went to the gym four to five times a week before work. I was running faster and longer and my flexibility and strength were better than they had ever been in my life thanks to yoga and Pilates. I could feel muscles forming, I knew I was getting stronger, I had more energy—but I was not losing weight. Far from it—if anything, I gained weight. Now don’t get my wrong, focusing on increasing exercise to my life was NOT a mistake. This routine has become an integral part of my life and I’m 100% grateful for this. Moving your body every day is a good thing, no question about it. But the fact that I was putting in all this time and work and my clothes were fitting WORSE, not better, was very, very discouraging. Why was I waking up early every day, trudging through the rain and snow to the gym, if the result was just that I needed to size up in my pants?!
I also ate what I felt was a pretty healthy diet, mostly by cutting out grains and legumes during the week and limiting when I added dairy like cheese or milk to a dish. I rarely indulged in sweets. But I definitely made exceptions; my rules weren’t hard and fast. I looooove cheese. I regularly indulged in wine or my favorite drink, gin and seltzer with lime (seltzer! it’s healthy, right?!). I felt that indulging in a fancy cheese plate once every two weeks and a glass of wine or two (or more) a night was what I deserved for all the hard work I was putting in. I was willing to restrict things, but I wanted to live a little too, right?! But “living a little” often turned into total derailment on the weekends: let’s have bagels in the park this morning, football time, I’ll just munch on a few of those fries at the bar while we drink a few beers and watch the game, whew, what a day, I’m tired, should we order a pizza?? Drinking led to bad eating decisions as well—hello, cheese drawer, my old friend—and I’d wake up the next morning feeling disgusted with myself. I’d throw myself back into my restrictive eating to try to make up for my misbehavior.
Once I started reading about Whole30, I liked what I saw. You can read all the details for yourself here. I liked that the program was very clear. Some people might be put off by how restrictive it is, but to me this is one of the benefits. Plans that allow you to save up “points” for “treats” just do not work for me. Cheat days do not work for me. I think this is because it’s really psychologically confusing for the body. One day you may have saved up enough calories to have that slice of lasagna. The next day, you can’t. I don’t think your body and mind truly understand that difference. It’s also a very negative loop. Either you’ve “been good,” so you deserve the treat, or you’ve “been bad,” so you can’t have the thing you want. Whole30 has none of that. Foods are approved or they are not. There’s no “this week you can’t have dairy but next week you can have a little bit.” For the 30-day program, you either can eat it or you can’t.
I also liked that Whole30 involves no math. There is no calorie counting. There is a meal template that shows you basically how much protein, vegetables, fat and fruit should be incorporated into a meal, but it’s a rough guideline. As long as you are eating approved foods, you are following the program. You are doing it right! You are also not starving yourself on Whole30. Because you are eating nutrient-dense foods and filling up on them, you not only have more energy, but you don’t get hungry as quickly. One of my mantras while dieting used to be “if you feel hungry, that’s good, it means it’s working.” NOOOOO. No, that was so bad.
Whole30 is also psychologically healing and supportive in a way that most diets are not (they claim to be, but they are not). It sets you up to eliminate guilt. The program is strict for 30 days, but after that, your choices are your own. You can choose to reintroduce the foods you missed—or discover you don’t miss them as much as you thought. The goal is to break bad food habits and addictions you’ve developed, develop new clean eating habits and then give you a baseline health to which you can incorporate the things you love. I know I’m not going to live a life without cheese. That’s just not going to happen because cheese is heaven. But Whole30 gives you a way to eat cheese AND NOT FEEL GUITLY. It helps you get to a place where you don’t need cheese. And this applies to whatever your dragon is: sugar dragon, pasta dragon, pancake dragon, pizza dragon, cheese dragon.
I also like that Whole30 bans the scale during your 30 days. I completely and 100 percent agree what they say about the negative impact the scale has on your self esteem. I had come to that conclusion myself awhile back. I would be feeling good about myself one morning, thinking I looked pretty great and then I would step on the scale and absolutely be destroyed. What do you mean that’s what I weigh?? Suddenly a day that had started out great would be totally ruined because of a number. And did I mention the Whole30 costs nothing? No fees, no pre-packaged meals you have to buy, no membership to get the rules. The only thing I bought was the book, and that was just for their recipes. You can find ALL the program details online so doing Whole30 will cost you nothing extra than the food you need to eat.
I did a warm-up for my Whole30, which I’m not sure if a lot of people do, but I recommend it. I made the decision to commit to a Whole30 in December, but knew it was unrealistic to start until after the holidays. This is a decision that’s supported by the program itself. There are just too many special traditions that revolve around food at the holidays and trying to do your first Whole30 then might make you resentful or set you up for failure. My birthday is also at the beginning of January, so I decided to set my start date for two days after my 30th birthday (fitting, right?).
Though I knew it was the right decision to delay my official Whole30, I also wanted to spend the time until it started wisely. I read the The Whole30: The 30-Day Guide to Total Health and Food Freedom and started scouting out my grocery store for new products I would need, like coconut oil. I read all the labels in my pantry and fridge and made a list of things that I would need to find compliant brands of, like sausage, lime juice, and tuna (the brands in our house included sugar, sulfites and soy, respectively). Can I just say, going through your pantry and reading every label is so, so eye-opening. There really is sugar in EVERYTHING.
I also talked to Andrew about the Whole30. He wasn’t ready to do the program himself, but he was totally supportive of me doing it. He has been 100% amazing about my decision, has listened to me talk about it endlessly and agreed to eat Whole30 dinners with me (so we only have to make one dinner). This has been such a huge help to me. And he’s not the only one who has supported me! Once I talked about the plan with him, I started wanting to tell everyone—my friends, my Mom, my coworkers.
Since Andrew isn’t doing Whole30, I didn’t totally clear out our house of unapproved products. What I did was organize our fridge and pantry into Whole30-approved sections. Since both Andrew and I cook a lot, I also took unapproved products that I thought Andrew might accidentally add to a dish since he’s not expected to have the rules totally memorized—like flour, sugar, honey, peas and corn—and put them in a “Box of Shame” (my joking term, none of these things are actually shameful, obviously). I left rice, lentils and quinoa in our pantry because I knew Andrew might want a side of them with his meal and that’s not something you might just put a pinch of in a dish.
I also started challenging myself not to drink. The first three days were hard—I had really gotten used to the release of a glass of wine after work. But by the fourth day I was buzzing with my success. I went to a Christmas party on day five and even though I wasn’t officially on Whole30 yet, I chose not to drink at the event. I was super proud of myself and felt great. I even started to see a difference in the way my clothes fit—and I wasn’t even doing the full program!
Then Christmas and my birthday happened, I ate a lot of cheese and my family’s special traditional dessert (which I thoroughly enjoyed and am glad I did!) and lost most of those results. But it made me even more excited to start my Whole30 for real! I didn’t have to panic about my eating over the holidays. I had a plan.
One of the first huge changes I noticed from Whole30 was my sleep. As the amount of alcohol I regularly drank increased, my sleep had been more and more disrupted. I would wake up three or four times a night. I needed two glasses of water by my bedside because I would be so dehydrated throughout the night. Some nights, I would basically have a panic attack around two in the morning. I would have to drag myself out of bed in the morning and moved around in a fog. Going to the gym in the morning helped clear up a little of this sluggishness, but it was nothing compared to the result I saw after only a few days of not drinking. I felt completely calm, slept through the night (maybe waking up once to pee, but that’s a big difference from every couple hours), needed only a sip or two of water if any during the night and woke up feeling energized and refreshed. That alone was enough to convert me to Whole30. The feeling was just too good to want to go back to the old ways.
Keeping up with the cooking was actually not too difficult, and you can read about my favorite recipes from the Whole30 and my strategy for cooking here. A big part of my success was cooking all my work breakfasts and lunches for the week on Sunday, which I go into detail on in the Recipe post.
By Day 14 of my Whole30, I was itching to know if I had lost any weight. I wasn’t going to break the rules and step on a scale, but I decided to try on a pair of jeans that three months ago barely fit. Like, they were so tight I couldn’t really bend over once they were buttoned… I slipped them on and…they were loose!! Haha! Victory!
The biggest negative to the Whole30 for me was my digestion. Most people experience some tummy troubles at first, but it took me almost until day 24 for my digestion to get back to anything close to normal. I tried taking probiotics, but they had no effect. I did a little research and tried eliminating nuts for a few days and I think that’s what did the trick. I’m just going to be more mindful about where I incorporate them in future.
And now, I know you’re been dying to know. What are the good things that happened during my Whole30?
My Results, to name a few
2″ off my waist, hips and bust
Dropped 15 pounds!
Better sleep: sleep more soundly, wake more rested
More even energy throughout the day: no midafternoon crash
Few to no cravings between meals
Satisfied and full after eating
Overall more positive mentality
Less anxiety and stress
Never feel guilty about eating, even when I’m eating something delicious
Feel the burn in my workouts faster
What’s next? Lots of people have been asking me what I plan to do next. The answer is, mostly keep up with Whole30! The rules set out by Whole30 are very similar to the paleo style of eating, so I can follow that to keep up and maybe even improve upon my Whole30 results. I plan on using the “Slow Roll” reintroduction schedule, which means that you don’t reintroduce a food until something really worth it comes along. I’m going to have to do a little exploring to see what works for me. How often will I have a glass of wine? When will I go for the slice of pizza I know is in my future? There’s a fancy cheese plate waiting for me somewhere. But in terms of my day to day, I’m still planning to eat Whole30 breakfasts, lunches and dinners 80% of the time. And we’ll see how that goes! I think I may want to do another Whole30 or two between now and my wedding.
I hope reading about my experience is helpful to some people!