the whole30 | our experience

I first heard about The Whole30 Program when a friend completed it back in the fall. I loved the concept of a short-term food overhaul that eliminated certain food groups (like sugar, dairy and grains) that dominate my daily meals and allow my body to essentially reset itself in their absence. I began the long road of cutting highly processed foods from our diet three years ago, so although we try to follow a real food diet in our day-to-day lives, I knew there was room for improvement. Allen and I batted the idea back and forth throughout Thanksgiving and Christmas and finally decided to commit come January 2. I was eager to get started, and I was anxious not knowing what lay ahead, but we jumped in head first and started 30 days that changed our lives.

I have shared bits and pieces on social media along the way, chronicling some of the delicious food we have made as well as my ups and downs with sugar withdrawals. I have had so many people text and message me about what we are doing and ask for advice on how to get started that I wanted to share our story and my own take-aways from this past month. If you have ever considered taking control of your diet, I hope you will read on and be inspired to make changes. You won’t regret it!

To get the whole scoop on the program, I totally recommend reading Step One of The Whole30, which lays it all out for you.

The Whole30 is DOABLE! – It seems cliche to say, but if I can do it, anyone can. Seriously. Not only am I a recovering stress eater and sugar junkie, but during the 30-day challenge, I came down with walking pneumonia, took a weeks worth of strong steroids and traveled for two days with my oldest daughter. If I can battle through the ‘roid munchies and stay on track during a road trip, you can too!




The Whole30 is HARD! – The follow up to the Whole30 being achievable is that was really hard… at least it was for me. In fact, it’s one of the hardest things I’ve ever done in terms of my emotional and psychological well-being. The Whole30 website lays out the author’s thoughts on this by saying the following:

“[The Whole30] 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. You’ve done harder things than this, and you have no excuse not to complete the program as written. It’s only thirty days, and it’s for the most important health cause on earth – the only physical body you will ever have in this lifetime.”

I both agree and disagree.  I knew I was a snack-a-holic and sugar junkie, but I had no idea how emotionally dependent I was on my favorite foods (like grilled cheese sandwiches and late-night bowls of cereal). No, I wasn’t dealing with life and death scenarios each day, but I was working to overcome my own kind of loss, and it was indeed hard. I wasn’t half way into the first week when the “emotional claustrophobia” set in. I would literally pace my kitchen feeling trapped by how much longer we had to go. If I was panicking after 4 days, how in the world was I going to make it 26 more?! I half-heartedly joked with Allen several times a day about quitting and probably would have if I wasn’t so innately stubborn. I had read a lot about the breaking point in The Whole30 and expected the feelings to last 5-6 days. Instead, I struggled for the first 13 days. Yes, I counted. And then on day 14 I woke up and everything was different. The claustrophobia lifted, and I was at peace with what we were accomplishing! There were still occasional struggles in the day to day, but it wasn’t anything I couldn’t work through.




Allow yourself some GRACES! – The authors of The Whole30 don’t mince words when it comes to following the guidelines of the program. I love their straight-forward approach and agree with them 100-percent. I read this part to Allen at least five times before we started.

“The only way this will work is if you give it the full thirty days: no cheats, slips, or “special occasions.” … You need such a small amount of any of these inflammatory foods to break the healing cycle—one bite of pizza, one splash of milk in your coffee, one lick of the spoon mixing the batter within the 30 day period and you’ve broken the “reset” button, requiring you to start over again on Day 1. You must commit to the full program, exactly as written. Anything less and we make no claims as to your results, or the chances of your success. Anything less and you are selling yourself—and your potential results—short.

Don’t even consider the possibility of a “slip.” Unless you physically tripped and your face landed in a box of doughnuts, there is no “slip.” You make a choice to eat something unhealthy. It is always a choice, so do not phrase it as if you had an accident. Commit to the program 100% for the full 30 days. Don’t give yourself an excuse to fail before you’ve even started. You never, ever, ever have to eat anything you don’t want to eat. You’re all big boys and girls. Toughen up. Learn to say no (or make your mom proud and say, “No, thank you”). Learn to stick up for yourself. Just because it’s your sister’s birthday, or your best friend’s wedding, or your company picnic does not mean you have to eat anything. It’s always a choice, and we would hope that you stopped succumbing to peer pressure in 7th grade.”

HOWEVER… I did allow myself to splurge occasionally on foods that are technically within the limits of Whole30, though frowned upon by the program in a broader sense. There was more than once when I pounded a pint of blueberries after the kids went to bed because I was so starved for my usual after-dinner dessert. I drank smoothies some mornings with my eggs and made cashews and almonds my munchies of choice (did I mention I was on steroids for six days?!?). I maintained my will power through preparing muffins and pancakes for my children, and even took them for ice cream a time or two without so much as a nibble. I never went out of the parameters of The Whole30, but I did allow myself graces on indulgences within the limits of approved food groups. I consider that a win.

The key to success is to PLAN, PLAN, PLAN! – I think this goes without saying, but you absolutely have to plan ahead to succeed with this program. Like I mentioned earlier, we cut highly processed foods from our diets years ago, so I am well aware of hidden ingredients and the pitfalls that come with reading ingredient labels. I do this gave us an advantage since the change wasn’t TOO drastic from what we were already doing. But I was seriously shocked to see how many pantry items have added sugar — salad dressing, chicken broth and bacon were among the biggest eye openers. I managed to find all three with an incredible amount of searching and label reading though! I also researched the heck out of The Whole30 to make sure I really understood the rules prior to jumping on board. I read blogs and printed stacks of recipes that are Whole30 friendly. I wrote extensive meal plans and grocery shopped twice a week, usually on Sunday and Thursday. My girls were still eating all of their normal foods, so we needed a kitchen stocked with alternatives that stayed within the parameters of The Whole30. For the first two weeks I kept an extensive list of items needed for prepping meals in advance and often cut vegetables and fruit at night in preparation for breakfast the next day, or after lunch in preparation for dinner. It became easier as time went on and my system became more efficient so that I wasn’t spending quite so much time in the kitchen.

Below are some blogs from which I drew meal plans and inspiration, and the first meal plan I wrote.

Meatified – this is actually where I found our favorite recipe (pictured below too)!
Nom Nom Paleo
Good Cheap Eats
100 Days of Real Food – one of my favorite “real food” resources pre-Whole30.




The benefits are ENDLESS! – I could go on and on about all of the ways we have benefited from the challenge of The Whole30. For all the time I spent dreaming about cookies and cheese, I have to admit that it is going to be a while before I can eat them without feeling like I am doing myself a disservice. I guess that is part of finding the balance in real life post-Whole30. These 30 days have changed my entire mindset about the crutches of my standard diet, and that is the greatest benefit of them all! But the two benefits I want to touch on here are my energy and my lifestyle.

I have always been skeptical of these Real Food proponents who swear that they don’t get the midday slumps and tout all of the endless energy that comes from eating wholesome food. Afterall, I eat pretty well most of the time, and I still want to crash come 2:00 most days. But toward the end of the first week of our Whole30, I realized that I was still on my feet when the girls woke up from their nap. I was motivated to pick up around the house and keep going like I never have been before. It happened so sneakily, I almost didn’t even realize it. But my house and my husband both thank me! Today, on Day 29, I have honestly never felt better.

In the beginning, I didn’t tell many people we were taking on this challenge. Most people already think we are crunchy, granola-eating, hippy freaks because we don’t follow the Standard American Diet (whose acronym, ironically, is SAD). So to get even more restrictive and thoughtful about what we put into our bodies was sure to make some heads explode. When we finally did open up about it, I felt like I needed to wear a sign that said, “I am not on a diet, and I am not trying to lose weight!” This is not a diet as most Americans define it (no point system, no calorie counting, no meal supplements, etc.). Rather, it is potentially the first step to a major shift in lifestyle. We were not trying to find a quick or easy way to “cleanse” or “detox” or lose weight. Lord knows it wasn’t easy. Instead, we were trying to open the door to a new way of thinking about our food without all of the “psychologically unhealthy, hormone-unbalancing, gut-disrupting, inflammatory food groups” that we Americans have grown to love. About two weeks in, I did start to notice my face and waist line slimming up. There was no more overhang around the top of my jeans — you girls know what I’m talking about! We don’t own a scale, and I don’t weigh myself on a regular basis, but I had a check up this week and estimate that I have lost at least 10 pounds. In my mind that is just an added bonus.




It is only 30 days! – Try telling that to me 24 days ago. Ha! Actually, my friend Heather did tell me that. Many times. “It isn’t permanent.” … “You can eat cookies again… just not today. Wait till February!” … “It’s only 30 days!” And she was right. I’m so incredibly grateful for the support we received this last month, and I am so proud of what we have accomplished. Tomorrow is our last day, and though I am changed in a lot of ways, I am looking forward to finding our new normal and am ready to say HELLLLLO FEBRUARY!! :)



Grammy You inspired me to do (not try) the Whole30 and if I can do it, anyone can. Today is day 30 for me. Thank you for your encouragement and support.March 29, 2015 – 11:36 pm

Tereasa Amanda,
Congrats to you, Allen, and the girls! But 13 days!!! Now, I know we are what we eat…I know this…but, so hard!

If someone did the planning, for me..shopped for the food, for me..and cooked it, for me!! I would do wonderfully!!!

Just saying!January 31, 2015 – 6:32 pm

katie and matt | mountain brook club wedding

I loved Katie and Matt’s wedding for so many reasons — the elegance and attention to detail were obvious. It was the love and pure joy that radiated from not only Katie and Matt, but also their family and friends, that had me smiling all day. You didn’t have to look far to see how truly happy everyone was for the new Mr. and Mrs. I am so excited to finally be sharing just a glimpse into their day. It was an honor to be there to witness, and I wish only the best for Katie and Matt as they start their lives together! (Also, a million thanks to my friend Taylor Haynie for lending her talents and shooting with me that day. Many of the images below were taken by her!)

Three generations! :)

I love everyone’s reactions to seeing Katie for the first time.

Of course Matt’s reaction was the very best of all!

Stacy Squires Photography simply beautifulJune 14, 2014 – 4:51 pm

Alex Great pictures, Amanda! Love the reception candid shots. Grand Exit photo is so much fun.December 25, 2013 – 8:53 pm

Lynzi Judish These are all so beautiful!November 19, 2013 – 8:39 pm

Taylor Haynie Gorgeous wedding and couple! Thank you so much for letting me be part of their big day! Love shooting with you! :)November 11, 2013 – 11:12 am

Deb Wood So many beautiful photos – from the first of the bride’s shoes to the last of the ribbon wands, which is my favorite!November 7, 2013 – 8:10 am

Maggie LOVE all the pictures! Gorgeous bride and groom!November 4, 2013 – 9:33 am

katie such a gorgeous wedding and such classic photos. love these.November 2, 2013 – 7:00 pm

jennifer and ray | savannah, ga wedding

I have been eagerly anticipating Jennifer and Ray’s wedding in Savannah, Georgia since first meeting them last fall. The day was as perfect as they come — beautiful weather, glowing bride, excited groom and HELLO? we were in Savannah! You couldn’t take an ugly photograph in that town if you tried!

Besides the gorgeous setting, you want to know the best part of a destination wedding? My commute was as quick as a mosey across the hall to Jenn’s room where she was getting ready. Everyone was putting on final touches when I arrived and since Jennifer and Ray didn’t have a wedding party, we were able to take our sweet time and keep the day as relaxed as they wanted. A big thanks to Jenna Davis, my internet photo friend and a local Savannah photographer, for helping me. Several of the images you see below were taken by her!

Victoria Christophe Wow these pictures are so gorgeous. Awesome job AmandaJune 29, 2015 – 3:12 pm

Deb Wood I adore this wedding! Small and elegant, a knock-your-socks-off venue, and beautiful details at the reception! The outside photos under the trees are so Savannah. Well done.October 28, 2013 – 9:16 am

Joy Cross Such a gorgeous wedding! The quilt-in-progress is such a great idea. Would LOVE to see the finished product!!October 17, 2013 – 7:41 pm

lawson | newborn photography

It’s been oh so very quiet around here for the last few weeks. I’m trying to soak in as much quality time as possible from my girls before the rush of fall photos starts, so bear with me through the deafening silence for just a few more weeks…

It was so fun to take a break from my break and photograph Lawson for his newborn session. He has grown so much since his birth, and I was excited to see him and catch up with his sweet mama. He was an absolute doll throughout his debut photo session, and I love what we were able to capture. Here a just a few favorites from our time together. Enjoy!

Open While marriage is coommn to most cultures, the customs surrounding the ceremony vary greatly. For a Christian couple, the primary concern is not whether their wedding will fulfill all the expectations of local custom. (Romans 12:2) Rather, their paramount desire is to conduct their courtship and marriage in a way that brings honor to Jehovah God.—1a0Corinthians 10:31.Since marriage is an honorable arrangement, it is not something most couples would want to keep secret. In many Western lands, couples among Jehovah’s Witnesses coommnly arrange to be married in a ceremony at their local Kingdom Hall. Afterward, they may choose to hold a reception where they share a meal and possibly some entertainment with family and friends. Such occasions need not be elaborate. It must be admitted, though, that organizing a wedding and a reception is stressful and may entail considerable expense. For example, in the United States, wedding receptions often cost thousands of dollars.In an attempt to minimize stress and expense, some couples have chosen a more simple option. “We told our parents that we were not going to have a traditional wedding,” says Cindy, “because we wanted the occasion to be simple and inexpensive. My parents assured us that they understood our situation and sympathized with our concerns. They were very supportive.” On the other hand, when Cindy’s fiance9, Allen, mentioned earlier, told his parents their wedding plans, they found the decision difficult to understand. “They thought it was their fault,” says Allen, “that we made the decision because of something they had done. But that was definitely not the case.”Your parents too might be disappointed if you decide to have a very simple wedding, since they may want as many people as possible to share the joy of this special day. What, though, if you are thinking of getting married without even telling your parents because you know that your family would oppose the very idea of your getting married?Consider Your Family’s FeelingsIt may be that your parents would object because they feel that you are too young to make such an important decision. They may fear that your tastes will change as you mature and that you will soon regret your choice of marriage mate. Alternatively, they might consider you old enough to marry, but they see what they perceive as flaws in your loved one’s character. Or they may even forbid you to marry because your chosen partner does not share the same religious convictions as you.If your parents are true Christians, they likely have Bible-based reasons for their concerns. It is only right that they would express any misgivings they might have. Indeed, Jehovah would view them as negligent and unloving if they failed to do so. And it is in your interest to hear their point of view.—Proverbs 13:1,a024.To illustrate: When you buy an article of clothing, you likely seek someone else’s opinion as to whether the item suits you. You may not always agree with their opinion, but you would still expect close friends to tell you if they thought the garment was the wrong fit or style for you. You appreciate their comments, since they may help save you from wasting money. How much more so, then, should you appreciate hearing your family’s opinion about your choice of marriage mate. Although you can exchange or discard a garment, Jehovah expects you to keep your spouse for life. (Matthew 19:5,a06) If you choose a mate who is not really a complement of your personality and spirituality, the union will make you infinitely more uncomfortable than would wearing an ill-fitting garment. (Genesis 2:18; Proverbs 21:9) And as a result, you may miss out on a chance to find true happiness.—Proverbs 5:18; 18:22.September 30, 2015 – 2:55 pm

katie I’m such a sucker for a good mom/baby shot. 4th one down- favorite.
:)August 28, 2013 – 12:59 pm

April Ahhh!!! Daddy kissing the nose!!! That may be the most precious photo ever:)August 16, 2013 – 8:39 am

Twilla Susanne Jackson Love!!! Great pictures!!August 15, 2013 – 8:33 pm

Deb Wood I’ve missed seeing your family sessions. The last photo is one of a perfect, beautiful child.August 15, 2013 – 6:39 pm

sara beth and trae | cullman wedding

Sara Beth and Trae were married this past Saturday at First Baptist Church of Cullman. The whole day left such an impression on me that I don’t even know how to sum it all up. There were several times throughout the day I found myself smiling (and more than once, crying) behind my camera as a true supporter of the love between Sara Beth and Trae. They were so wholly focused on each other and the commitment they were making that the rest of the day followed with an aire of pure happiness. It was truly an honor to have a front row seat in which to watch it unfold!

Sara Beth and her girlfriends were getting ready when we arrived. She wasn’t even dressed yet, but was already glowing and gorgeous. The smile she has below didn’t fade all day…

As sweet as the first look was between Sara Beth and Trae (which you’ll see in a second), I was struck by the pure, unorchestrated moments when her mom, dad and brother each saw her as a bride for the first time.

The couple exchanged gifts (a pearl necklace and cufflinks) before saying an emotional prayer. Having extra time for portraits is awesome, but THESE are the moments that make a first look worth it! Sara Beth and Trae both commented that they would have missed out if they hadn’t been able to do this until after the ceremony…

I really believe who you are a person shines through in how others react to you in certain situations. Sara Beth’s friends were right there with her all day doting on her with truly happy hearts. It made me smile to see how loved she was on such an important day!

Whoever said a first look takes away from the moment a bride enters the church only needs to look as far as this next photo. Even though Trae spent the day by Sara Beth’s side, he was still overcome with emotion as she walked down the aisle.

After giving away his daughter and stopping for the opening prayer, Sara Beth’s dad stood before them and performed the service. Remember when I said I cried a few times that day? Almost all of them were during the wedding ceremony. His words were so honest and personal and it was obvious he put a lot of thought and heart into his call to the couple. He spoke of Sara Beth’s childhood and the prayers for the man who would someday bring her to this moment. He spoke of the day Trae asked for his daughter’s hand and the realization that Trae was an answered prayer. It was a truly beautiful ceremony. Sniff. Sniff.

As the guests were settling into the reception at the beautiful Terri Pines Country Club, we snuck out a side door to take a few more portraits on the golf course. I love these, of course!

Hannes Uys Your work is so fresh Amanda. Love it!July 16, 2013 – 6:01 am

Dan and Melissa I love the pictures of them praying together. It was perfect! Awesome pictures in allJuly 9, 2013 – 12:01 pm

Lisa Haislet WONDERFUL captures…you truly have a gift in capturing just the perfect moments! GREAT work Amanda!June 29, 2013 – 1:54 pm

:) camille Amanda,

These are wonderful. Great stuff. :) Truly, truly wonderful!!!June 29, 2013 – 10:30 am

JennRob I second your mom…your narrative along with the pictures makes me feel like I was there crying right along with you. So, so sweet. I’m overjoyed for a couple I don’t even know :) Congrats to them! I can only imagine how blessed & thankful they feel for choosing you as their photographer :)June 29, 2013 – 2:17 am

Deb Wood Absolutely gorgeous wedding. Your narrative had me teary.June 28, 2013 – 8:47 pm