Surprise! I completed a Whole30 recently, very belatedly completing one of last year’s resolutions in doing so. I’m sure you have a lot of questions, so let me just start from the beginning.
Whole30 is a nutrition plan, aka a diet, that is intended to be a 30-day reset for your nutrition and digestion. The way I see it, the big picture goal of Whole30 isn’t necessarily weight loss. Rather, it’s for identifying if you have any digestive triggers that you may not have known about prior. For example, let’s say you frequently end meals with a stomachache, nothing major enough to have seen a doctor about and even minor enough that you just kind of accept that you eat too much or too fast and will have a bellyache afterwards. If you do Whole30, where you eliminate most major trigger food groups, and discover that you no longer have that feeling after you eat, you may have an adverse reaction, even if it’s minor, to one of the foods you eliminated. After the 30 days, you gradually reintroduce the foods group-by-group to see what elicits the bad reactions.
Yes, Whole30 is an elimination diet, first and foremost. The rules are about what you cannot have, and what you can’t have are:
- Any added sugar. This means no cane sugar, of course, but also no stevia, honey, agave, maple syrup, Splenda, nada. The only sugar you can consume is whatever is naturally found in fruits and vegetables.
- Any grains. This includes wheat, rice, corn, quinoa, etc. and anything that includes any grain products like cornstarch, etc.
- Any legumes. No beans whatsoever, including soy, and no peanuts, and this includes soybean oil and peanut oil and any other products like soy lecithin (often used as a stabilizing agent).
- Any dairy.
- Any alcohol.
- Carrageean, MSG, or sulfites.
- Baked goods, junk food, or treats that are technically “compliant”. That means things like my 3-ingredient pancakes are out.
One final rule that wasn’t related to what you ate was no weighing yourself for the duration of the 30 days. The goal here isn’t weight loss.
Why did I do this?
Even I was a little bit shocked that I was doing the Whole30, if I’m going to be honest. My reasons were not for weight loss or even to identify trigger foods. My reasons were two-fold:
- In the weeks leading up to our vacation, Ben and I were eating out a lot. Way too much time would pass between cooked meals, and I was simply spending a lot of money (and time) eating out. I wanted to force myself to cook more of my meals.
- When we finally were on vacation, I wasn’t eating particularly healthily. Carbs on carbs on delicious carbs, but not a particular abundance of fruits and vegetables. I wanted to force myself to reduce my carb intake and eat healthier.
There are easier ways to get myself to eat healthier and eat out less, but I know what it takes for me to form habits, so I require some pretty severe changes to implement better habits.
Here are a few things I learned and felt during my Whole30:
I really like free food. Similar to other times that I’ve abstained from entire foods or food groups, one of the hardest parts of saying no to foods is when the foods are offered for free. It’s that inner college kid wanting to eat all that the world is offering to me without my having to hurt my wallet for it. The problem with this is that free food is rarely healthy. I said no to doughnuts, cake, chocolates, cookies, so many baked goods… I also said no to happy hour offerings like fries and tater tots and wings. (There was a reason I had to give up fried foods for Lent last year…) I didn’t realize how lucky I was to have cultivated a life where I have access to so much free food until I was turning it down.
I am weirdly satisfied by smelling the foods I can’t have… This weirded out my coworkers a lot but when they would offer me food I couldn’t eat, I would take a deep inhale and then move on. It seemed torturous to them, but I really did just like the smell. At one point, I purchased doughnuts myself to celebrate the autumnal equinox and I ate none of those doughnuts, I just breathed them in. But that brings me to my next point…
I may have set myself up for a weird mindset regarding my willpower. Exercises like this remind me that I have more willpower than I think I do, when it comes to food. Think about all the food I smelled and didn’t eat! (Once when Ben was sick, I made a McDonald’s run for him and had to smell that deliciousness in my car… I almost broke that day, to be honest.) But am I going to be that moron in the future who will go “Well, I know that I am capable of not eating this cake, but why put myself through more torture I’m going to eat all this cake”? I hope not!
Chinese restaurant obligations… really ruined me. You are not supposed to cheat on Whole30, as with any diet, but if you do, you are supposed to start over from day 1. I didn’t do this, so technically my Whole30 was ruined about halfway through and I did something more akin to two separate Whole15s. But I was celebrating with family at our favorite Chinese restaurant, a place where everything is cooked with soy and sugar and starch and rice, and I was heavily socially obligated to eat certain dishes as it was me that we were celebrating. I abstained where I could, for example, not eating any rice or noodles, but those meals were definitely not compliant.
I love cooking at home. I really really love cooking. I think I might love cooking more than I love eating the food I cook. There were nights when I would come home and just cook and cook and cook for hours and by the end of it, I was barely hungry. I felt so satisfied just cooking and cleaning up.
Compliant stuff can get so expensive. One thing I really dislike about Whole30 is they have this real about no pancakes and foods that are technically compliant but not in the “spirit” of Whole30, but the recipes and ingredients that the Whole30 folks endorse are often substituting veggies for pasta and doing things like using coconut aminos, which is soy sauce made from coconut nectar?? I don’t know how that’s so different from making pancakes with bananas and eggs, to be honest, but it is a great way to get people to purchase very expensive products. “Make your own almond milk!” they would say, but are you kidding me. Even making my own mayonnaise at home got cumbersome the few times I did it. I wanted to make my own ranch dressing, but I gave up when my mayo split and went to buy some compliant ranch. I felt like a quitter and didn’t feel like I was getting any particular benefits doing this.
I didn’t experience any of the extreme feelings that people online talked about. I did a lot of research prior to this Whole30, in addition to when I attempted Whole30 at the beginning of 2016. I expected to experience sugar withdrawal the first few days and then some kind of “tiger blood” sensation about halfway to three-quarters of the way through.
But I felt nothing. I didn’t feel better than before or worse than before. I still got migraines, I still had fatigue.
I didn’t feel any difference except in my goals to eat at home more and eat healthier. I really didn’t feel any of the health benefits that are purported with Whole30. I just felt like a lot of my time was going to preparing food and I was saying no to a lot of food I would have otherwise eaten. Otherwise… my life was the same, which was disappointing.
I didn’t do the gradual reintroduction. I took it easy the first 2 days but then tossed caution to the wind and ate as I liked.
I’m glad I did this because I enjoy preparing my own food so much, and I am glad I don’t need to use grains and sugars as crutches when I cook. I still make a lot of compliant meals for myself and for my family, but it’s nice to know I don’t have to.
Also, I’ll be sharing some recipes I loved making while I was on Whole30 really soon after I finish travel recaps, so stick around for those! I didn’t take photos of the food I made while I was on Whole30, but I did make an effort to make my food look good so that I would enjoy eating it more.
Would I recommend Whole30? ONLY if you suspect that maybe a food isn’t sitting quite well with your gut. Honestly, though, it was a huge inconvenience and I don’t understand how people felt such a big change and I felt… nothing. I think eliminating some of these food groups isn’t bad but Whole30 was really restrictive and it felt needless. I am also not actually a huge fan of some aspects of the community, so I did my Whole30 alone and on the down-low.
Do you have any food sensitivities that you’ve discovered? I know I have an issue with large amounts of lactose (so while I’ve never had whole milk, I probably shouldn’t start drinking it…) (I don’t like milk anyway so I’m not upset about it) but other than that I’m not really sure. I think if I eat a ton of carbs I get bloat-y, but I think everyone does?
Have you tried any diets and liked them? I don’t know that I like diets, but I like exercising some willpower over myself and trying new recipes. I really like the feeling of accomplishment and achievement when I deny myself delicious things, as masochistic as that sounds.