My first round of Whole30 is done and all the treats are before me. Well, not really. It felt nice to be able to enjoy a treat yesterday, but I also really don’t want to go back to the way I was eating. I did feel slugglish after the sugar and it felt, well, gross. It kind of reminded me of how I had let things slide since adding grains back into my diet last February. I had also started experiencing some digestion issues, fatigue and acne since returning to the school year. Knowing I wasn’t feeling my best and worried that each month my symptoms were seeming worse, I delved into Whole30 hoping for a solution to what seemed to be unconnected symptoms other than food.
The past 30+ days have been the perfect reset to remind me why I like eating so clean and of how good I can feel. I am starting to believe that most health issues truly are connected to food. I am feeling better than in months, lost a few pounds (no idea how many, but I feel it in how my clothes fit), my skin, nails and hair are looking better than ever and I’ve had more energy than I can recall in a long time. I’ve also felt stronger on my runs lately. My digestion issues have improved, although they are not completely gone, and I have had no major acne since beginning Whole30 (two very small clogged pores is all!). It’s hard to quit something even when it’s a challenge with results like this.
In a strange way there was and is an ease with restriction. It doesn’t matter what I was craving or what foods were in front of me… if I was not eating them, then I couldn’t have them. I am no stranger to elimination and restrictive diets. I did not eat dairy for a year when my son was a baby and I was breastfeeding as he had issues with the dairy proteins through my breast milk. Four months after adding dairy back into my diet I was diagnosed with gestational diabetes with baby number two and the carb restrictions began. Seven and a half months after having baby number two we found out she had FPIES to all grains and bananas. I spent the next almost nine months eating no grains or bananas. I also did not eat any added sugar for two months after getting her diagnosis to help clean up my eating and better my gut health. Less than a year after returning to eating without restrictions I started my first Whole 30.
Saying no to Whole30’s food restrictions was also easier than it sounds because there was a reason for it-healing my body and breaking my bad habits. I understood that a slip up meant that food protein would be in my body and affecting my bodies healing process with the full extent of a setback not something I could really know. This process also led me to realize as much as I did not think I had much of any sort of emotional attachment to food, I learned that I wasn’t really being honest with myself. On really stressful days I noticed how much I wanted a sweet treat to help the day along or a latte from Starbucks to help me cope with that days challenges. Not having those emotional supports led me to learn to handle those emotions without food. I found myself reading more than scrolling. Sticking to my workouts more than wasting time. Writing in my gratitude journal instead of snacking or having something sweet.
I’ve also realized over the years than sometimes allowing the cannot haves back in to my diet is a slippery slope. A few this usually leads to a few more after a while. Sometimes I use restriction because committing to saying no or avoiding certain foods is easier than the slippery slope of I will have just one or today I can have it because…without it turning into every few days. Whether this is uniquely me or due to following some sort of restriction diet for the last almost four years, I don’t know for sure.
I do feel I’ve got a new respect for my body and a greater understanding of what these foods can do along with why limiting or avoiding them is important. Armed with the knowledge I gained from It Starts With Food, I know I can’t unknow what I now understand about food and the body. Still, I feel a little unsure of what to do next and am defaulting to all Whole30 foods otherwise as I follow their reintroduction plan with my own spin. It’s scary (and also empowering) to bring all the foods back in and have to face the reality that a specific food might not be a good choice for me.
Going forward I plan to carefully reintroduce each food group one at a time to really see how each affects my body following their suggested introduction plan (with a few of my own modifications). What’s the point of the sacrifice of the last 30 days if not to really learn how each food makes me feel. I’m interested in avoiding dairy (I didn’t miss it) and gluten except for on special occasions going forward (if they don’t give me problems during the reintroduction). Other than missing enjoying a beer here or a slice of pizza there, these two food groups are not that appealing to me any more. I really know I feel best when I eat clean, real foods despite our modern fast pace and busy mom life chaos always challenging this.
In a world where we often rush and cram food mindlessly into our mouths without thinking about it, I really found so much value in reading this book and completing this experience. It forced me to really look at my eating habits, investigate some health concerns I was having and how foods might be the cause, and it got me to be honest with myself about my emotions and how they are tied to food. The experience also got me questioning how I feed my own kids and what I am teaching them about food.
There are so many stories of success out there with Whole30 healing digestive issues, autoimmune issues, diabetes, and a host of other concerns with people’s health. If you are struggling with something health related I urge you to explore food as a way to heal along with seeing your doctor. I did visit a doctor who offered no explanation for my symptoms or suggestions other than to keep doing what I am doing and come back in a few months if my symptoms worsen. This experience with a medical doctor was exactly what I expected it would be, but I went to make sure I checked that box. Then I took my health into my own hands…er, kitchen!
If you’re interested in beginning your Whole30 journey and experimenting with what works best for your body, here are a few of my tips for success:
1. Meal Plan and Prep-Have a plan every week for what you will eat each day and prep as much as you can ahead of time. Hangry people with no fast fixes are not pleasant and they make Whole30 feel harder than it has to.
2. Research your grocery store options! Living in a small town I learned quickly my options were even more limited. I could not find any compliant deli meat, bacon or non-almond nuts (all had peanut protein listed as an ingredient). I also struggled to find any not standard grocery store items like sunflower butter, ghee or clarified butter. I had to make trips to the next larger city to find these things.
3. Read It Starts With Food before and during your Whole30. It explains the why for each restriction in such a way it makes you want to keep going. Without understanding why a food group is off limits the restrictions will seem too extreme to some (no dairy, no legumes, no grains, no added sugar, no alcohol, no processed foods). Several times I found myself wanting to quit due to failed meal prep or not finding something at the store. Reading this book helped me stay the course because I understood the why behind what I was trying to do and how it would benefit me in the long run. The bottom line for me is when I’m concerned enough about my health I’m not sure what I wouldn’t try if it meant feeling my best.
4. Use a daily tracker to stay on track. I found perhaps more satisfaction than I should have in shading in a circle after a successful day of following Whole30. I love commit 30’s trackers on their website such as the one above.
5. Consider doing a trial Whole30 and using what you learn to set yourself up for a successful Whole30. 10 days in I forgot to put my lunch in the refrigerator at work only realizing this 4 hours after it sat out. Having to throw away my lunch was frustrating because I also threw away ten days of progress. There are no Whole30 compliant lunch options in the community in which I live (I’m pretty sure). That night I figured I might as well have a couple beers since my meal was not compliant in several categories. I accepted the failure and took a few days off to better prepare (meal prep and grocery shop) and then restarted my 30 days. I felt much more prepared the second time I started because of what I learned the first ten days.
6. Surround yourself with at least one person who will encourage you (or at least not be a completely negative force on what will already by difficult). For me this was my husband. He didn’t always love that I was doing Whole30, and he might have enjoyed a few beers and treats while noisily savoring their deliciousness, but he did talk me off the edge a few times when I was starving (because of bad planning! When you eat as they suggest you will not be hungry!) and frustrated and just so done with this process.
7. Find healthier swaps for your favorite foods. Your tastebuds will adjust! There are so many ways to replace less healthy for more healthy with a little research!
Food education is something I find to be so important. I also believe all of us has a unique body. What works for one may not work for all as they state in their book, but starting somewhere and taking responsibility for your health is always imperative. Learn about the food you eat. Be honest with yourself about how you feel right now. If it’s not your best or what you believe can be your best, then you are in charge of changing that. We all deserve to feel our best, and food is a big part of that!
Who else has done Whole30? What was your experience?