My experience with the Whole 30

Honestly, do I even need a disclaimer? If you think I am any sort of health/medical/nutritional professional, you clearly haven’t visited this blog before. I blog about books (and not even smartsy-fartsy books most of the time, to be totally honest.) I am your average Jane. But in case you do need a disclaimer: what I’m writing below is simply my experience with Whole 30, how it impacted my life, and little tricks that made my life a lot easier. You need to do what’s best for your body. Period.

What the heck is the Whole 30?
Whole 30 stands for whole foods for 30 days. The concept behind it is not your traditional diet because the motivation is not for weight loss — it is to feel your best. Certain inflammatory foods can have a negative impact on your body without you even realizing it. They could be making you tired, causing digestive issues, acne, chronic pain, weight gain, etc. From the Whole 30 website — “Eliminate the most common craving-inducing, blood sugar disrupting, gut-damaging, inflammatory food groups for a full 30 days. Let your body heal and recover from whatever effects those foods may be causing.”

So what foods do you eliminate for 30 days?
Sugar (of all kinds), alcohol, grains, legumes (this includes peanuts and soy), dairy, junk food, processed food, or any of that nasty junk you shouldn’t want in your food anyway like MSG. Again, you want to eat WHOLE foods, so when you don’t recognize an ingredient on your packaging, you don’t eat it. You want clean, real foods that are chemical and additive free.

That’s a lot of foods! What can you eat for 30 days?
Meat, seafood, eggs, vegetables, fruits, healthy fats (think extra virgin olive oil, coconut oil, or avocado), nuts in moderation, herbs and spices.

If you want more information on the Whole 30, you can read the program rules on the Whole 30 site or you can BUY THE BOOK(s) (highly recommended).

Why did I decide to do the Whole 30?
I’ve been fortunate to always have clear skin (never had that rough teenage acne stage) and I’ve also had a high metabolism that allowed me to eat a lot of junk and drink a lot of alcohol all the way through my 20’s while still maintaining a pretty thin physique. I know. I’m a real pain in the ass.

But that all changed in the past few years. I suddenly had horrible hormonal acne that couldn’t be stopped no matter what I tried. I gained about 30 pounds. I constantly felt tired in a way that’s tough to describe — it’s the ultimate exhaustion, as if walking from one room to the next was truly difficult. I started getting tremors in my hands, joint pain, and unusual heart pains and rhythms. (So bad one day I ended up in the emergency room at the heart hospital.) I felt sudden debilitating anxiety (that therapy did nothing for). I had a number of tests done with both medical and naturopathic doctors — many of them thought I had everything from Parkinson’s to RA to MS to Celiac Disease. I had brain scans, echo cardiogram, blood tests, etc. Everything came back relatively normal and most doctors just shrugged and gave me the bill.

The closest I came to some discovery was with my naturopath who found I was having reactions to a loooooong list of foods, and she set me on a path to eliminate those foods by following a very specific diet. I did it for 4 weeks, and it was MISERABLE.  I didn’t feel any better and I wasn’t enjoying my foods. I knew I couldn’t maintain that for life — I’m a big eater! I love food!

The other break-through from this same doctor found that I had a pretty severe case of Adrenal Fatigue. Go do some Googling, if you’re interested. Essentially, my cortisol levels were scary low. You’re supposed to get a spike first thing in the morning and then slowly decline throughout the day, and mine was almost non-existent the entire day until I had a slight raise at 11pm. Clearly, this wasn’t a good sign, and it explained why I constantly felt exhausted.

It was good to know these things, but I felt like her “treatment plan” wasn’t doing anything for me, and again, I was responsible for some VERY expensive doctor’s visits. So I ended up taking my health into my own hands in a number of ways — spending a lot of my spare time doing research, finding the right supplements, and adapting to a healthier diet and lifestyle.

Did Whole 30 change any of these symptoms? Was I feeling better?
Let’s talk about the negative first. Many advocates for the Whole 30 talk about a huge gain in energy that they call “tiger blood.” Most people experience this change by the end of the Whole 30. I did not. There really wasn’t much change at all in my energy levels, so I’m led to believe it didn’t do much for my previously mentioned adrenal fatigue (still working on that.) This was a real bummer and the primary reason I started the Whole 30 to begin with. This, of course, doesn’t mean that YOU wouldn’t experience the energy spikes everyone else seems to rave about. Everyone’s body is different.

Now, lets get to the good stuff. I’ve struggled with IBS symptoms for as long as I can remember. I had diarrhea at least once a week and usually more — lots of bloating, gas, abdominal pain, and just all around uncomfortable digestion. It’s embarrassing and unpredictable. I never knew when I’d be on a date or in an important meeting when I’d feel suddenly sick and have to rush to the bathroom. In many ways, I was so used to this, I’d just accepted it as normal or at least normal for me.

I HAVE NOT HAD ONE SINGLE DIGESTIVE ISSUE SINCE STARTING THE WHOLE 30.

This is truly transformational. I can’t even believe it!!!!! Seriously, not even a hint of those symptoms I was so used to experiencing. My stomach feels better than it ever has in my entire life! This is every indication to me that there are definitely some foods I need to permanently eliminate, and I will determine what those are through the reintroduction phase of the Whole 30 starting tomorrow.

I experienced improvement in my skin, but it’s not perfect yet. I’ve definitely felt a reduction in my anxiety — there is just sort of a calmness now in social settings that I hadn’t felt in a very long time. I don’t feel the joint pain, heart rhythms, or tremors.

And maybe most importantly, it has helped me acknowledge and change my relationship with food. If I’m having a bad day, I don’t need to eat a greasy cheeseburger and wash it down with a beer. This is unhealthy behavior. I don’t track calories or check the scale. This is also unhealthy behavior. I listen to when I’m hungry and when I’m not, and I also listen to my body’s now healthy cravings. Initially, you may have a craving for cupcakes or french fries (that’s not the healthy cravings I’m talking about). Now, I know when my body needs a little more protein or a little more fat, when I haven’t eaten my greens, etc. I rarely miss those unhealthy foods I was so used to eating, and I feel completely satiated with my meals. Many of the habits I’ve formed in this process of discovering a healthy way of eating I will maintain with some modification forever (except not when I’m on vacation in a few weeks, but that’s a special occasion and MY CHOICE.)

Common Misconceptions
I’ve had a few people react negatively to the Whole 30 because they’re under the impression that the Whole 30 is carb restrictive. Let’s talk about what carb restrictive means — if you mean because you can’t have bread or oatmeal, then yes, it’s “carb restrictive.” But you’re still eating plenty of carbs. Vegetables are carbs. Fruit are carbs. And guess what else is allowed? POTATOES! Yes, that’s right, my friend. In fact you can even cut them up, sprinkle them with olive oil and salt, and bake up some french fries if you want.

Just for fun, I calculated what I ate in a normal day.

Breakfast
2 scrambled eggs and Frank’s hot sauce
Black coffee

Snack
Apple and almond butter

Lunch
Baked sweet potato stuffed with shredded buffalo chicken

Snack
Larabar

Dinner
2 turkey burgers, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, and avocado

38% Fat
36% Protein
26% Carbs

Yes, I suppose my carb total is less than my protein or fat, but it’s not LOW. The amounts of the foods above can change per person. If you want to have a sweet potato with every meal, GO FOR IT! You need to find YOUR healthy relationship with food, and that may look totally different from mine. This amount of food felt comfortable for me without feeling deprived. The goal is not weight loss. The goal is HEALTH.

It is not calorie restrictive either. DO NOT TRACK YOUR CALORIES. DO NOT TRACK YOUR WEIGHT. If you’re hungry, eat! There is no limit to the amount of food you can eat as long as it is compliant food. (Remember, binge eating isn’t a healthy relationship with food.)

What tricks helped me get through the Whole 30?

  1. Plan your meals ahead of time, grocery shop, and meal prep. This is so important. In fact, if this isn’t something you’re used to doing, you may want to get in the practice of it for a few weeks before you begin. You will always need PLENTY of compliant food on hand so you never go hangry and you never have to wonder what you’re going to eat.
  2. Go for the simple. There are plenty of drool-worthy Whole 30 recipes out there, but if you don’t want to spend a lot of time in the kitchen, don’t! My staples were baked sweet potatoes and a few crock pot meats that I always had on my rotation. It took me no time at all, and I was always prepared. Whip up some scrambled eggs for dinner, top them with some avocado and salsa. It does not have to be fancy.
  3. Keep snacks with you wherever you go. Eat before social settings. I would almost always have a La Croix and a Larabar in my purse at any time. I would quickly eat my lunch that I brought from home before I went to the catered business lunch. You don’t want to be stuck hungry in an uncomfortable position. Again, you’ve got to plan ahead and always be prepared.
  4. Try to avoid eating out. Arrange time with your family and friends in a way that’s comfortable for you. I went out to eat twice on the Whole 30 and both times it was unavoidable. I was able to make special requests to the server and it wasn’t the end of the world – just go for the meat and the veggies – but I didn’t ENJOY it. Those were the most difficult times because I was staring down the bread and butter at my table the whole time. If you’re not ready to be put in that situation, don’t! This is your journey. I asked friends to come to my house or go get a coffee instead of going to a restaurant or a bar.
  5. Don’t decide to do this on a whim. Choose a time that’s stress free for you when you can be well-prepared and ready! This is going to be a difficult process for EVERYONE. It’s a major life change. The last thing you want to do is decide to do this during final exams or a new job.

Where did I find my food/recipe inspiration (#foodspo)? 

My two favorite bloggers feature Whole 30 compliant recipes ALL THE TIME. You need to follow them. Yes, they’re both on Instagram.

Teri Turner at @nocrumbsleft https://nocrumbsleft.net/

Alex Snodgrass @thedefineddish http://www.thedefineddish.com/

Pinterest is a gold mine. Get on there and search Whole 30 recipes, and you won’t be disappointed. The popularity of the Whole 30 has really made it easy on us newcomers. There are so many ideas out there! I hardly had to even think about it!

Last but certainly not least are the Whole 30 books themselves!

Here are a few recipes I made and loved!

Crispy baked buffalo drumsticks

Thai turkey burgers

Breakfast casserole

Turkey wraps

Bang bang shrimp lettuce wraps

Slow cooker buffalo chicken stuffed sweet potatoes

Whole 30 Mayo

Frequent quick, no thought meals I made were skillets and tray dinners. You just throw some meat and some veggies on a tray with a little olive oil and spices and bake. Or you can put ground turkey and veggies in a skillet and serve! I liked to add compliant marinara for flavor.

Often I would just scroll through Pinterest or the Instagram accounts I mentioned above, and I would create my own recipes using their inspiration. I’m not the type of cook that needs to follow an exact recipe. You can still have freedom in the kitchen to do what you like!

My final thoughts
You need to do your research. I invite you to do your own reading before you attempt to this on your own to REALLY understand what is compliant and what isn’t. If you’re coming from a Taco Bell diet, you may need a little more work. I was already used to grocery shopping and cooking at home. This has been a routine of mine for a long time. On that same token, I’d read about the Whole 30 extensively before I gave it a real go. You may need to take baby steps before you dive in. I did.

Understand what makes a food compliant and what doesn’t, and read your labels. I’ve mentioned Larabars in here a few times — not every Larabar is compliant. I eat Frank’s hot sauce — not every bottle of Frank’s is compliant either.

If you generally feel great and already have a healthy relationship with food, then maybe you don’t need to do the Whole 30! I didn’t feel great, and I didn’t have a healthy relationship with food, so this has been an experience I want to share with others. It feels pretty fantastic to have stuck with it and seen some major improvements in my health.

Please, please, please message me with any questions at all. I love chatting about it!

Feel good. Be well.
– Maggie

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