I can’t believe I made it. I am not the kind of person who does stuff like this. (Maybe I am now?) Friends, if I can do this, anyone can.
First, I have to give a HUGE thank you to everyone who inspired me by sharing their experiences and most of all, pictures, my sweet Instagram followers for encouraging me, my wonderful husband who volunteered to do Whole30 with me so that I would have support at home, and last but not least, my brother, for challenging me to do this in the first place and giving me ideas and support along the way.
I wrote a little here about starting Whole30, but I want to share a bit more because I’ve had some questions since that post. (I did a full Q&A here, and shared about my first week here). Lately a lot of people have been asking why I picked Whole30 over the other popular programs out there today (the 21 Day Fix, for example). Many of you know it was my younger brother who challenged me to do it alongside him. He has done several rounds of Whole30, and in between, lives a Paleo lifestyle. He’s been asking me for almost a year to do a Whole30. I spent most of my time reading up on Whole30 and didn’t really learn much about other programs until after I started. I still would have picked Whole30.
The two programs are completely different – most notably in their purpose. Whole30 designed to teach you how foods are affecting your body and mind through food category elimination. Though weight loss is a very common side effect, it is not the goal. The 21 day fix is designed for weight loss through primarily portion control, Shakeology shakes and workouts. It’s really apples and oranges to try and compare the two. There are so many foods you’re allowed to have on the 21 day fix (dairy, soy, legumes, gluten) that are strictly off-limits during the Whole30. Both programs are helpful in their own way. Both serve a purpose. They’re just TOTALLY incomparable. I have been feeling tired, bloated, crabby, irritable, and foggy for a long time and I wanted to see if it was my diet. And that question was answered loud and clear during my Whole30.
First, my starting point was near goal-weight, already eating a relatively low-calorie diet (not the best diet, but I wasn’t over-eating) and lightly exercising. I did not have a lot of weight to lose, and I didn’t experience the dramatic results on the scale as a lot of other people. My dramatic results were non-scale-related. People ask me ALL THE TIME how much weight I’ve lost, and I really didn’t lose that much – but that wasn’t the goal to begin with. I also added strength training in the last week, and I can feel that I’m retaining water as my muscles are adjusting. So, to anyone who is looking at Whole30 JUST for weight loss, yes, you will probably lose weight, and probably a lot more than I did, but you’d be missing the whole point.
PHYSICAL CHANGES I will use all caps to tell you that I FEEL LIKE A DIFFERENT PERSON. I noticed within the first few days that I didn’t have that uncomfortable bloat that you get after a meal or the morning after having a crappy dinner. I didn’t have that 2pm exhaustion every day. For the first time EVER IN MY WHOLE LIFE, I wake up around 6/6:30 in the morning and don’t feel like crawling back into bed for the whole day. My mind is not foggy. I have so much more focus. I feel more motivated. I’m not irritable. My skin is more clear and consistent. My blood sugar doesn’t dip and spike throughout the day. I feel smaller and healthier. I have far more energy. Although I didn’t lose a significant amount of weight, I lost a lot of inches which I think I can attribute mostly to the reduction in bloat. Which is so gross to think about. I feel leaner, especially around my midsection. I feel like I lost more than the scale said I lost. Here are my changes (and for reference, I’m 5’2”):
Weight -2.0 lbs
Hips: -1.5” (this is my belly-that-carried-three-babies pooch zone. SO surprised at how much this went down.)
For those wondering, my husband lost 7.6 lbs and all of his pants are loose! My husband is 6’1 and already pretty slender and fit, so this was a HUGE change. He had all of the other physical improvements I experienced.
MENTAL CHANGES I crammed donuts into my face the day before Whole30 started. I thought of all the junk food I wasn’t going to be able to have and carefully planned July 1 to be a smorgasbord of crappy and delicious food. As the days passed, the crappy food started to sound gross. I felt so good that I didn’t want to screw my body up. I went to a few parties and didn’t think about the food how I usually do. I stopped looking forward to chocolate and salty carb-loaded snacks at night and started thinking about what else I could be doing. I stopped thinking about my favorite places and where I could drive through when my kids were asleep. I broke my addiction to bad food. <—THAT by itself was totally worth it.
Have you ever spent a lot of time reading labels? WOW. There is so much junk in what we consume. Sugar, gluten, sugar, oil, sugar…Sugar in everything. Sugar in processed meat. Sugar in nut butters. Oil in bags of nuts and seeds. Vegetable oil in my old coffee creamer. (“Here, have some coffee with vegetable oil. Yum.” Not.) I know that it’s extraordinarily difficult to read every label of everything all the time (If you’re one of my food allergy or sensitivity friends, then this is your way of life and you understand), but it’s a new habit of mine that I’ll gladly keep. I don’t want vegetable oil in my coffee. I don’t want sugar in my meat. It makes a difference in how I feel, and I’ve learned that I like feeling better more than I like that stuff (and most of the time, it doesn’t even make a difference in the flavor! So not worth it).
I think of food differently now. Food is fuel. It’s not a friend, it’s not comfort, it’s not a cure to boredom, it doesn’t make me feel better about myself, and it’s not a coping mechanism. There are so many healthy foods I skimped on or skipped on Weight Watchers (which I’m not knocking, I really overall do still love WW), because they were too high in points even though they were healthy – avocados, nut butters, nuts, olive oil, salmon) that I LOVED having without guilt. My fat intake has increased but it’s HEALTHY fat. My body needs that. By the end, I was eating SO MUCH food every day. I loved not ever having to worry about what it would do to my body. I tracked a few days just to see what the Points Plus Values would be of my days and I was EASILY 10-20 over my recommended daily intake. When you’re eating good food, though, you don’t really have to think twice about the amount. I am so thankful that I got to experience this process because I truly learned what healthy food is and how it makes me feel. I get it now. I understand why people make what seems like a HUGE sacrifice. Eating gluten-free crackers isn’t going to make you feel different. Removing gluten entirely from your diet will. Eating low-fat dairy isn’t going to make you feel different. Removing dairy entirely from your diet will. I’m not saying everyone should, I just encourage everyone who is feeling crappy to look at your diet and consider that you might be the one making yourself feel this way. I know that I absolutely was.
I did not have the “perfect” Whole30. I did not cheat, but I was not perfect. I spent the first few weeks snacking (on compliant foods), which is a no-no during Whole30, because it took me a long time learn what a truly full, complete meal is for my body. I had more fruit than what is typically recommended (not that fruit is bad, but filling up on vegetables sustains you more, so it’s discouraged to fulfill hunger with a lot of fruit because it won’t satisfy your body the way that vegetables and protein and fat will). I also let an almond butter label slip by me for a week before I realized it had cane sugar in it. I only had a very small amount a few times, but I was so disappointed. I switched as soon as I realized. ALWAYS READ YOUR LABELS! Lastly, we ate at Chipotle and I got chicken and fajita veggies (with lettuce, guac and pico de gallo) before reading that they cook the chicken and vegetables in soybean oil (the carnitas are the only whole30-friendly meat option there at this time). It was my fault for not researching ahead of time. Whole30 tells you to start completely over when this happens. I chose not to.
This program takes a TREMENDOUS amount of planning and discipline. You have to be willing to say “no.” You’ll go to parties, go out to dinner, travel for work, – and you’ll have to say no to things you want. We went to several get-togethers during Whole30 and just had to eat beforehand and only pick at the things that were compliant. It was hard, but it’s only 30 days. Our friends were more than understanding. My husband travels for work frequently and he was able to stay on program the whole time. He had a lot of eggs, fruit, salads with chicken, or steak with steamed vegetables and baked potatoes. It was hard, but there is always a way if you’re determined.
Reading every label, carefully planning meals ahead of time, prepping food to have it ready when it’s time to eat because you can’t just grab a pizza or pour a bowl of cereal, – the time investment is significant in the beginning. IT IS SO WORTH IT, but it is significant. If you choose to do a Whole30, be sure to allow yourself time to learn and plan and prepare. The discipline part, well, you just have to decide whether this is worth it for you. If you’ve felt any of those things I mentioned above, I would encourage you to at least try. I was not ready to do this until last month. I was not mentally there. I wouldn’t have made it. When I finally did commit to it, I knew I was ready. If you’re already making excuses about why you’ll fail, it is not the right time to start. You need to be ready. That said, don’t stand in your own way.
I am doing a reintroduction (reintroducing food groups and taking note of how they make you feel in terms of bloat, headaches, stomach distress, etc) to determine exactly what foods make me feel certain ways. I will probably do the full reintroduction and then go to an 80-90% Paleo (less strict but same food groups) lifestyle afterward. I feel so much better that I can’t go back to the way I was. I want to be mostly healthy but have the freedom to splurge on special occasions. I do plan to add back coffee and creamer (I tried drinking it black but just couldn’t, so I skipped coffee for the 30 days), but I’ll be switching to a natural creamer and not the chemical/vegetable oil creamer I used before. I’ll also be cutting down to one cup a day as opposed to my typical 4-6. I had a tall nonfat caramel latte this morning from Starbucks, and my stomach was in knots, so I’m pretty positive I’m going to be cutting dairy almost entirely with the exception of a little creamer some mornings. I’m adding tea sweetened with raw honey into the mix some days, too. I really, really missed my warm cups in the morning. I’ll also be adding back certain condiments (ketchup, Worcestershire sauce, etc) in very limited quantities. I doubt I’ll be adding gluten back in anytime soon. Maybe a donut on a special occasion 😉 And of course, I’ll add back sushi.
Another big question people ask is where I got meal ideas. I’m a picky eater and as a mom of three kids 5 and under, I just don’t have a lot of time to make complicated meals. I listed out some meals just based on things I liked from the food list, I searched #whole30 and #whole30 recipes on Instagram and I searched the accounts of the Whole30 people I follow. Since I didn’t eat eggs, I had fruit with either nuts, almond butter or meat (compliant bacon or prosciutto) for breakfast. Lunches were usually chicken with raw vegetables and fruit, sometimes with sweet potato rounds. I had BLTA lettuce cups a few times and Buffalo Chicken lettuce wraps with celery and green onions, too (just toss shredded chicken with a little hot sauce mixed with a little melted ghee). Dinners were either grilled, roasted or sautéed proteins (chicken, pork, steak) with roasted vegetables and potatoes. I just toss with a cooking fat (ghee, extra virgin olive oil or coconut oil), season with salt and pepper and then add any other flavors or seasonings I felt like (lime, garlic, herbs, paprika). I would say I had potatoes about half the time with dinners. We had “Addictive and Healthy Paleo Nachos” from paleogrubs.com a few times, I made meatballs and spaghetti squash with homemade pasta sauce a few times (meatballs were made with grass-fed beef, almond flour onions, one egg, salt, pepper, Italian seasoning and parsley, mush together, form into golf ball sized balls and bake at 400 degrees for 30 minutes, sauce was just a can of peeled tomatoes, onions and garlic that I softened in olive oil before adding the tomatoes, salt, pepper, Italian seasoning and parsley that I simmered together then puréed) and steak-stuffed peppers (recipe at the bottom of this post). If you want to see more details and other things I ate, browse #jenplanscooks on Instagram!
I am so grateful for this experience. I never thought I could do such a restrictive program, but I found that the purpose of learning more about my body was valuable enough that it was worth it. It was only a month. I can do anything for one month!
If you have any questions, please feel free to ask in the comments! Thanks so much for reading about my experience, and I wish you the best of luck on yours!