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!! :)