Last year, when I had a number of health issues, including the development of tendonitis in my shoulder, which has been SUCH a joy (/sarcasm) I really fell off the health wagon, due to feeling terrible, which in turn made me feel MORE terrible, and by the end of the year, I had had enough. I tried a few different exercise programs but just didn’t have the physical energy – OR, more importantly, the mental energy – to get myself back on track.
But where to start? I couldn’t really get back into logging every piece of food that I put in my mouth a la MyFitnessPal. Don’t get me wrong – MFP works and I recommend it. But I didn’t have the energy to remember to do it, and I didn’t want to do it. So, roadblock number one, right? Anybody who has ever lost weight can tell you that you have to be in the right headspace to do it. You can’t make anybody lose weight, as much as you might want to. Even yourself.
And then in January, after starting up the Beachbody workout Cize (fun dance routines! I really like this workout system) I was reading some post on a design blog I follow, and they were talking about how they were doing a sugar detox and had linked the book they were using. That diet seemed pretty bullshit – instead of sugars they replaced it with some sort of fake “natural” sugar… I forget what. Not stevia or coconut sugar, but something else. The post author wrote about the Whole30 and stated that they didn’t like the attitude of the book or something, which actually got me curious so I clicked over to the website… and loved what I was reading over there.
The entire program is available on the website and you don’t have to buy a book, though the creators do have two books, It Starts With Food, and the The Whole30: The 30-Day Guide to Total Health and Food Freedom. (I requested my copies from the library and just picked up the latter!) However, they are not necessary to be successful on the program.
The program boils down to this: remove the known-to-be-inflammatory foods from your diet for 30 days to heal your body from all the processed stuff you’ve been feeding it, and then afterwards slowly reintroduce the eliminated food groups to find out what your body’s reaction is to them in order to remove them from your diet if they are harming you.
It is also a very good teaching tool to learn about what goes into foods during the processing process (hah) and how to read labels. I was pretty surprised to see how much sugar is added into everything, from mustard to, sometimes, canned vegetables and even meat.
Basically the rules boil down to the following foods that are allowed/not allowed.
NOT ALLOWED (at all, no exceptions):
- Grains (including bread, pasta, flour, corn, quinoa, etc.)
- Legumes (beans, chickpeas, soy products, peanuts, etc.)
- Dairy (of any sort)
- Sugar (any and all kind of sugar that you add to things, including honey, stevia, artificial sweeteners, etc.)
- Pancakes and other things you make with allowable ingredients, as the point of the Whole30 is to wean you off bad food habits, and subbing a banana-egg pancake for wheat pancakes is against the spirit of the challenge.
- Meat (preferably grass-fed and not cured unless it doesn’t contain sugar)
- Vegetables (unlike a regular Paleo diet, white potatoes are allowed – this is what sold me)
- Healthy fats
Seems limited, right? But… as it turns out, it’s totally not. Here’s some of things I’ve made/eaten in the last month.
- Pad Thai with spaghetti squash noodles (this was my favorite new recipe and made it twice!)
- Roast Pork Loin with apples, celery, potatoes, carrots (this was my first time roasting a pork loin in the oven – I usually use a crock pot. Great recipe that I will use again)
- Bolognese sauce over oven fried potatoes (I make this in my regular life! love it!)
- Meat & potatoes (I make this in real life – it’s just ground beef fried up with potatoes, I just left out the tablespoon of flour)
- Taco hash (ground turkey or beef with potatoes, a can of Rotel, jalapeno, mushrooms, taco seasoning)
- Jalapeño burgers (super delish!)
- Baked chicken breasts
- Crockpot chicken thighs
- Grilled chicken thighs
- Lemon Garlic Cauliflower
- Various salads
- Various homemade salad dressings
- Vegan Pesto (even without parmesan in it, it’s fine)
- Homemade mayo (SO DELICIOUS) – I used the “dump method” mentioned in the comments
- Homemade ketchup (meh – probably the biggest fail, recipe-wise. It was too sweet for my taste – I just like Heinz, you know?)
- Garlic Chicken Sausage from Trader Joe’s (Only sausage I found that is Whole30 compliant – no weird additives or sugar)
- Chicken salad
- Egg Salad
- Fried Eggs
- Deviled Eggs (I love eggs)
- Apple Cider
- Homemade Almond milk
- Black coffee
- Hashbrowns (need to work on my technique)
- Oven baked garlic fries
- Sweet potatoes
That’s only the tip of the available iceberg, too. I just didn’t have time to try all the things I wanted to. For the most part, I ate great over the last 30 days. Plenty of flavor, new recipes, etc. etc. Good stuff.
Benefits I saw from this program (Non-scale victories or NSVs):
- Inflammation is way, way down. This is the main thing I was hoping for by axing sugar, bread, and cheese from my diet. My tendonitis has gotten somewhat better over the last six months but I was still dealing with daily, chronic pain. Swelling in my shoulder, upper back area, and under arm never really went away with physical therapy, but by eliminating the NO foods I have seen a vast, vast improvement in my mobility and pain management. In fact, between January 18 and February 16, I only had one real bad day, and maybe a couple days where I was aware of some pain but not anything to really be bothered about. One bad day! I’m thrilled.
- I no longer need my 3 pm snack because I’m eating properly the rest of the time.
- Kicked my daily, sometimes 2x daily, coffee habit (though, I really do miss sweet sweet creamer. I will have to evaluate how much I want to bring that back into my life since it may be a trigger food).
- Learned a LOT about what is in food and how sugar is sneaked into so many products! There are a lot of things I won’t be eating on the regular anymore.
- Sleeping so much better. Prior to this, I was waking up around 2-3 times a night, getting only 2-3 hours of sleep per stretch. Now I am going to bed earlier and sleeping more, I am regularly getting 5-6 hours at a stretch and only waking up around 1 time (early in the morning not long before my alarm goes off). It would be nice to improve this but so far so good! It also helps that my shoulder hurts so much less because I think that was part of the problem as well.
- Somewhat more energetic – I actually feel more up to doing a Jillian Michaels workout, which are my favorite, but I haven’t had much energy to do them in the last few months, plus I couldn’t do the planking exercises because of my shoulder. I may start one of the workouts up in the next few weeks; I’m thinking Body Revolution which I really liked and it starts out pretty easy.
- Lost a dress size! I had to buy a bunch of new pants in December because literally all my work pants bit the dust at the same time, and now all those pants are baggy in the butt and thighs, especially the skinny jeans! I’m still going to wear them though, until such time as they start falling off. I kind of want to get down into another size (the elusive 14) before I spend anymore money on pants.
- My skin looks GREAT; I had zero blemishes this whole past month. ZERO.
- Bloating and stomach pains much lessened.
Some not-so-great stuff:
- The first week of this was hard. Not food-wise, I had prepped really well, stocked up on healthy groceries, and had a lot of meals in mind. But physically, Oh Em Gee – I quit coffee the first week because I couldn’t stomach black coffee (at the time, it’s totally fine now!) so quitting sugar AND coffee gave me like a three day withdrawal headache. Plus, my body was flushing out all the bad stuff. If you get my meaning. So all that was super fun. Oy vey.
- Massive sugar cravings hit about day 12 through day 14. This was awful, all I could think about was cookies, and I don’t even eat cookies that often! I only got through this by drinking some organic pressed apple cider from Trader Joe’s.
- Stomach issues that I have had have not completely gone away. There is room for improvement here. I think I need to eat more fiber, which can be hard because I am just not a salad/greens person – and smoothies aren’t allowed on the program as it’s better to eat greens regularly rather than grind them up. I have to find a good solution to this, or other veggies to add to my diet that aren’t salad. I can do salad a few times a week but every day makes me sad, and the last thing I want is to be a sad salad eater. Assuming I don’t have any dairy allergies I plan on trying to get back in the smoothie game once it gets warmer.
- It’s SO expensive to eat this way. I need to figure out a better way to budget for this. Probably just meal plan better. I wasn’t even doing organic or grass-fed much either (though come on, free range chicken is so much more delicious than caged!)
I would do a Whole30 again in a heartbeat (and plan to in the summer after my birthday, maybe). The benefits FAR outweighed any negatives, which were totally negligible and I had to think pretty hard to come up with any. I plan on eating this way for the foreseeable future though I wouldn’t call myself a Paleo adherent… Maybe just “Paleo Adjacent.” I never went hungry either. I would also like to thank my mom for her help and support with this – she offered up her Vitamix to make almond milk, supplied me with spices I needed, and cooked Whole30 compliant meals for the three Sunday dinners I was at their house.
The next ten days are dedicated to reintroduction so I can find out what, if anything, I may have a bad reaction to. I’m hoping that cheese/dairy isn’t part of it as I would love to, you know, eat cheese and yogurt again (on a limited basis). Weirdly enough though, I haven’t really missed cheese and yogurt (the cheese thing is so weird because hello, I am Mexican, cheese is basically it’s own food group. And I didn’t even think about burritos once! WTF.)
About eighteen months or so ago I was looking at the label of my big jar of taco seasoning and didn’t know what some of the ingredients were. Shouldn’t a spice mix just be familiar spices? I found a recipe online and have been mixing my own taco seasoning ever since. This really started making me aware of ingredients in products and helped me be ready to take on eating clean for 30 days. I think if anyone was really interested in doing a Whole30 that they really need to do their research on the site and decide if it’s right for them, because it can be very hard physically and mentally to give up all your treats for a month, as well as read every single label you come across. But keep in mind: if you stick with it, you may not even think about or miss your treats. I didn’t, except for the great mid-point cookie freakout.
Plus, you know, I lost 12 pounds in 30 days. I wouldn’t recommend doing a Whole30 simply to lose weight (that first week was brutal, honestly) but my body composition is a lot better and I can tell I lost inches in my waist and thighs, and my cheekbones/dimples are showing again on my face.
Which is great! And I feel great too, which was the whole point of this. Not only did I succeed in finishing the Whole30, but I proved to myself that I don’t need all that junk in my life. The Whole30 guys were right: it’s life changing.