For the past month, I have been following The Whole 30 diet plan. And by “diet” I am just referring to the specific foods one eats, not a restriction of calories in order to lose weight, although weight loss has been one very nice side benefit. Today is Day 31 (meaning I am done), and I wanted to take some time to summarize how things went, what I learned, the results I experienced, etc. In their own words The Whole 30 is “a short-term nutritional reset, designed to help you restore a healthy metabolism, heal your digestive tract, calm systemic inflammation and put an end to unhealthy cravings, habits, and relationships with food.” Based on these goals (and other results), I would have to say that my Whole 30 was a success.
When we talk about elimination diets, most people focus on what you CAN’T have to eat, so let’s get that out of the way right now: No sugar, no artificial sweeteners, no alcohol, no grains (including corn), no dairy, no soy, no beans or legumes (including peanuts), no MSG, carageenan, or sulfites (you’d be amazed at where you find these lurking), no white potatoes.
Here’s what you CAN have: meat, fish, eggs, fruit, vegetables, nuts (including nut butters), seeds, and healthy fats from oils, fruits, nuts, and seeds. It may not sound like much, but trust me, I ate loads of seriously delicious foods in the past month, and very rarely felt deprived at all. I eat sweet potatoes like they’re going out of style. I use canned coconut milk in my coffee, my cereal, my recipes. I eat grass fed beef, and organic chorizo, and wild caught salmon, and almond butter, and watermelon, and blueberries, and peaches … and I’m making myself hungry.
I do need to add a bit of disclaimer or qualifier here. As with most things I do, I modified my Whole 30 a little bit to suit my needs. So I suppose technically, I didn’t follow The Whole 30 to the letter. I had a few treats when we were in Chicago in early July (including a few glasses of wine and some truly amazing s’mores on the night we went camping in Wisconsin), and rather than start my Whole 30 over as you’re supposed to do, I elected to just add on 5 more days at the end, one for each day of our trip. Overall, I was pretty pleased though with how closely I stuck to my Whole 30 while traveling. I think the way I ate on that trip is a perfect template for how I plan to eat now that my Whole 30 is over. My results might have been a little bit different had I not had those few treats, but I’m so pleased with the results that I don’t really care. I just want to be clear for those of you who feel nit-picky about these sorts of things. Yes … I cheated. Deal with it.
Let’s talk a bit about where I struggled in the past 30 days.
The biggest roadblock for me, which kept me from trying the diet at all for months and months, was what to eat for breakfast. Most people who follow a diet like this eat a TON of eggs, for breakfast and at other meals, as snacks, etc. Unfortunately for me, I am sensitive to eggs, so eating them regularly is not an option – maybe a couple of times a month is all I can stand (I also don’t really like eggs very much, which reinforces for me that my body knows what it’s doing). I have already posted the two non-egg breakfast recipes I found that got me over that hurdle, and once I found those, I was ready to go!
I struggled with sugar cravings less than I expected, but the Sugar Dragon still breathes down my neck with unpleasant frequency. I have noticed though, that it’s generally just when I am around sugary foods. Walking through the grocery store, I am bombarded with sweet treats, and therefore I want them. At home, I am generally okay. If I am truly hungry but also craving sugar, I might have a piece of fruit along with some nuts. It’s amazing after not having sugar for a month, how incredibly sweet and satisfying fruit tastes. But I’m not kidding myself … the Sugar Dragon is something I will have to continue to battle daily.
One of the things many people talk about in their Whole 30 is how their energy levels stabilize and they no longer have that afternoon energy slump. I can honestly say that I no longer have an afternoon energy slump … but for several weeks, I experienced a 10 a.m. energy slump. Every. Damn. Day. It’s not a caffeine thing because I never drink caffeine in the morning anyway. The only caffeine I have is the iced tea I order when I’m out to lunch or out and about running errands on the weekends. Thankfully, the morning slump seems to have mostly passed. I’m not sure why it happened, but I’m used to having nice consistent energy in the mornings, so this was frustrating.
And of course, I struggled with wine. We’re not talking alcoholic type cravings here. I’m not a big drinker, but I do dearly love my occasional glass of wine. And so a couple of times, I gave in and had a glass. And it was delicious. I’m not sorry. So there.
So those were the struggles … now let’s talk about what went well.
I had absolutely no problem at all staying off grains and dairy. Really didn’t miss ’em at all. Of course, I’ve been off gluten for a year, so that probably helped. And when I went off gluten I couldn’t eat dairy for a while either, so eliminating those things wasn’t new to me. I do miss my regular tacos from TacoDeli … and so my first non-Whole 30 meal is going to be the Cowboy and Papadulce tacos (on corn tortillas) for lunch today. :)
I also didn’t mind at all eliminating legumes. Not only do many of them not agree with me, I don’t particularly care for most of them. Ever since I can remember I’ve avoided foods that have the texture of paste, which is pretty much all beans and many other legumes. I’m one of the only people I know whose hummus always goes bad in the refrigerator. I really don’t like lentils. Don’t get me started on lima beans. You should see the “icky face” I’m making even as I write about this.
One of the things I am most pleased about is giving up artificial sweeteners, in my case Stevia. Months ago, I realized that I was drinking sweet tea way too often, which equaled too much sugar and too many calories. I decided instead to switch to sweetening my tea with Stevia, which is a more natural sweetener. I went through loads of the stuff. The problem with this is twofold. First, even Stevia keeps your body accustomed to have very sweet tasting food. It may not affect your insulin levels like sugar does, but it doesn’t help eliminate the cravings for sweet-tasting foods. Second, unless you’re using actual Stevia leaf (I wasn’t), packaged Stevia is still processed, and can still have negative effects on the body. I wasn’t sure I would be able to stick with this, but 30 days later, I am Stevia free! And it turns out my addiction isn’t to sugar, it’s to iced tea, sweetened or not. And I am fine with this. It doesn’t even have to be the black tea caffeinated variety. I make pots and pots of iced Moroccan Mint herbal tea at home and I am just as happy with it. I am not entirely caffeine free – I still order black tea from restaurants that don’t have a decaf option – but I am sweetener free, and that is a huge accomplishment for me.
I also feel pretty fantastic. Toward the end I definitely entered what they call the Tiger Blood phase. I wake up in the morning after 7-8 hours of sleep with plenty of energy. It’s still my morning introvert energy, so it’s more low-key and antisocial than what people might associate with high energy. But I do feel pretty good for pretty much the entire day now. I still have energy when I go to bed at night – but fall asleep pretty easily. My running is going well – no big changes there – other than a few lethargic runs early in the my 30 days, I am running as well as I was before the Whole 30.
A lot of people talk about how they sleep better and/or their skin has cleared up during their Whole 30. I can’t really say I’ve noticed much of a difference … I have been blessed my entire life with really good skin and Olympic-level sleeping abilities. My skin might look a little bit better, and I might be sleeping a little more soundly, but honestly, my baseline for these was already so high, it would be hard to improve upon that.
UPDATE: Apparently my skin has improved more than I thought. I was shopping at Nordstrom this weekend, and a manager and I were talking and she asked me what kind of makeup I was wearing because my skin looked so fantastic. Here’s the thing … I wasn’t wearing any makeup. So instead of suggesting skin care for me, she wanted to know what I used. I had to tell her it was more about what I was putting on the inside than what was going on the outside.
But the best part of my Whole 30 … MY CLOTHES FIT!!!!
Yes, I did lose weight this month. Eight pounds to be exact.* Without significantly cutting my calorie intake (can you say “Goodbye inflammation”?). I am now only a few pounds above my pre-anemia, pre-gluten intolerance, pre-hypothyroid weight. I am now basically back to my set point – the weight I have been able to maintain with little effort since I was a teenager (notwithstanding periods of weight gain due to health issues, injury, or eating disorders). I’d love to lose 3-5 more pounds (there’s one skirt and one dress that are still a teensy bit snug). But ever since I got sick back in 2010, all I have really wanted was to feel like I was living in the body I’m supposed to have … the one that feels healthy, and that feels like ME. I just wanted to be able to wear the closet full of clothes that I have had for years and still love. This was not about achieving some unrealistic level of thinness, or about hitting any particular number on the scale. Sure, we all have those few vanity pounds we’d love to lose. And I’m definitely not skinny by any means – I’m not even sure you could call me thin. What I am is back to a normal, healthy weight for MY body. I cannot even express what a GIFT that feels like after the past three years of struggling.
Now that my Whole 30 is done, I’ve given a lot of thought to where I go from here. The Whole 30 isn’t something that is intended to be strictly followed after the 30 days are up. But I also don’t want to just go back to the way I ate before this. I feel so much better eating whole foods and minimizing my dairy, grain, and sugar intake. I also am seriously enjoying wearing my cute clothes again after three years, and I really don’t want to f*%$ that up. I like looking in the mirror and seeing someone who looks like ME. I’d like to keep doing the things that made that happen.
I read recently that the man who coined the term Paleo Diet, suggests following the 85:15 rule – meaning that your diet should be 85% Paleo, with 15% wiggle room for non-Paleo foods. (The Whole 30 is essentially a variation on the Paleo Diet, although they – and I – prefer to talk about it more in terms of eating whole foods and eliminating anything processed). This comes out to about three meals a week that include non-Paleo foods. I think this sounds right on, and this is basically what I am going to try to do from now on. That doesn’t mean that I plan to have three meals each week that contain dairy, grains, legumes, sugar, AND alcohol (and obviously, gluten remains off the table). This isn’t the 15% binge plan. But it does leave room for the foods I might really miss, or for special occasions, or the perils of trying to eat well while traveling. It leaves room for lunch at TacoDeli … and the occasional glass of wine … and gluten-free s’mores on a camping trip …and now I’m hungry again. ;)
No preaching here … as far as I’m concerned you can eat whatever the hell you want. But I will say that the Whole 30 worked wonders for me, and I am officially a big fan. If you want to ask me about it, I am happy to share. If you want to try it, good for you! Let me know how I can help. And I’ll keep posting my recipes for anyone who’s interested. They won’t all be Whole 30 approved, or even Paleo. But hopefully they will be delicious and won’t make you feel like crap. Because as the title of the Whole 30 book says, It Starts With Food.
* I can’t believe I’m going to do this (and I may decide in 5 minutes to go back in and delete them out of sheer embarrassment), but here are my “before” and “after” photos. I hope they inspire you to something other than ridicule. But I think it’s important to show realistic pics of real people and their results.
Here I am on Day 1 of the Whole 30:
And this is me on Day 31: