The Whole What?
Last year around the holidays, my husband, Chris, and I were a little extra indulgent. When it came to sweets and wine, we pretty much didn’t say “no” for about two months straight. Leading up to Christmas, we were really feeling the effects – tired, bloated, just generally not feeling well. We knew we needed to clean things up and I had been seeing a lot of this “Whole30” thing floating around the internet. I did some more research on it and we decided to start our first 30-day Whole30 challenge on January 1.
What is Whole30, you ask? It’s a 30-day clean eating nutritional reset program designed to
eliminate foods that commonly make people feel sick, tired, bloated uncomfortable, ill, and generally just not well. These foods include but are not limited to grains of all kinds, added sugars of all kinds, soy, dairy, alcohol, and more. For 30 days you eliminate all of these things. There are no “cheats” – it’s all in. If you do “cheat,” your 30 days starts over. The idea is to rid your system of all of these things to allow it to “reset”, then slowly start to reintroduce them back in and assess how they make you feel.
For example, if you start eating yogurt again and realize it upsets your stomach or gives you headaches, maybe you should stay away from dairy. On the contrary, if you thought maybe you had a gluten intolerance, but added wheat back in and didn’t notice any negative effects, you’re probably okay there! Aside from eliminating specific foods, it also is meant to eliminate certain habits and behaviors like snacking and eating dessert. Even desserts made with compliant ingredients aren’t meant to be had.
It is worth noting that the elimination of all of these foods (except for those that make you feel crappy) is meant to be temporary. It’s only 30 days! No coffee creamer? Only 30 days. No alcohol? Only 30 days. No ice cream, cookies, or cupcakes? Only 30 days. No cheese, bread, rice, etc? Only 30 days!! This is not a long-term program, although the foundational principles of it can (and should) stick with you forever. More on this later.
Jumping back to January 1, 2016, the day we started our first round of Whole30. This was also a significant day for me, as it was the day I injured my leg horribly doing box jumps. Long story short, I missed a jump, nailed my shin on the edge of the box, and about 5 hours later ended up in the ER with a traumatic hematoma that took about 8 weeks to truly heal. I couldn’t walk for about two weeks, and I was very limited in what I could do for another 3-4 weeks after that. All in all, it was bad.
All that said, having started the Whole30 that day, I kept to the program for the entire month while I was pretty much bed-ridden, and I truly think it was the best thing I could have done for my body at that time. I was feeding myself only high quality, real foods, and I believe that helped me heal quicker than I would have otherwise. It would have been so easy to fall into a trap of eating pizza and drinking wine every day out of self pity. But I took the opposite approach and controlled what I could – food.
By January 30 I was getting back on my feet and we had finished our first full 30-day challenge. Chris and I felt great! We were both surprised at how much of a difference it actually made in our daily lives. My case was a little different than his because of my injury but we both noticed changes in our energy levels, our cravings for sweets had diminished, and we had become far more aware of everything we were eating and what was actually in certain foods. The habits we formed (and got rid of) during the month of January generally stuck with us until summer.
Enter summer. The season of weddings and all things indulgent. Don’t get me wrong, we loved our busy, wedding-filled summer! We had so much fun seeing some of our closest friends get married and enjoyed all of the parties and celebrations that surrounded and led up to the big days. We also can’t forget that Chris and I got married ourselves at the beginning of the summer (that was our favorite one!). But for the entire summer we only had one or two weekends where we were both at home. We were all over the place, socializing with all kinds of people, and as a result, we indulged way more than we wanted to or would have otherwise. By the end of the summer, and our final wedding, we were more than ready for another reset, so we looked back to the Whole30 and decided to give it another go.
On September 5th, Labor Day, we started our second Whole30 challenge. This one was different for me because I was able to be moving and exercising, not bed-ridden like my first go round. This made me notice even more what my body was lacking and needing. For example, throughout the first two weeks I started to notice that if I didn’t have some kind of carbs in the morning, I felt really sluggish and off throughout the day. On the other hand, I didn’t miss carbs in the evenings at all! I was able to tune into my body even more finely this time than I did the first time. On October 4th we were finished with our second challenge and felt even better the second time than the first.
We learned A LOT in the process of doing these challenges. Each time we learned something different. My major takeaways were the following:
- Being prepared with food for your day is absolutely vital to success.
- Meal planning and food prep takes a lot of time but is 100% worth it in the long run.
- My energy levels changed drastically – I used to nap every single day and felt like I truly needed to. During the 30-day challenge, I napped maybe two or three times and it was more out of boredom than necessity.
- I have a serious sweet tooth and I am not shy to give in to it. During the 30 days, I didn’t crave sweets at all. I didn’t miss having a treat at night, I didn’t even think about it most of the time. And when I saw sweets at the store, on TV, etc. I didn’t long for them. This was huge for me!
- We became far more aware of what is actually in certain foods. Sugar or some variety of sweetener is hidden in nearly everything. Reading food labels and being conscious of ingredients is hugely important.
- I became content with being hungry. You’re not supposed to snack or graze on the Whole30 but I never felt like I wanted to. Sure I had times when I felt hungry and wanted to eat, but I had no problem sticking it out until my next meal.
- It was pretty easy to stick to 2-3 meals each day and I didn’t feel the need to eat more often than that. My meals were usually pretty big, but always held me over. There’s no calorie counting or portion controlling on the program. Just eat when you’re hungry and stop when you’re full.
- I missed drinking wine. This was the only thing I truly felt I was lacking. But it was only 30 days and I survived!
Like I said earlier, the restrictive nature of this program is meant to be short term. But there are foundational principles to stick to for the long run:
- Plan and prep your food ahead of time.
- Read your labels thoroughly.
- Be intentional about what you’re eating.
- Don’t get too caught up in counting and tracking – eat when you’re hungry, stop when you’re full.
It should be noted that although this is a restrictive program, it is not by any means bland or boring. We ate some seriously delicious food!
To find out more information on the Whole30, check out their website at www.whole30.com, and the book is also an excellent resource.