Thoughts on The Whole30

I have this friend who’s been on the gluten-free bandwagon for a long time, and here’s what I’ve always told her: if you take away beer, pizza and cookies, I don’t have much left to live for.

Okay sure, there’s the kids, but whatever. All I’m saying is that giving up wheat is really not consistent with my world view.

But then the Universe would not shut up about The Whole30, and all the wonderful things that would happen if I gave up wheat, AND all the other grains, and sugar and alcohol and dairy and even legumes, for chrissakes. (Everyone knows that black beans are healthy, right?)

Shut up, Universe. There’s no way I’d ever do something THAT crazy.

Still, there were an awful lot of people making an awful lot of claims about The Whole30 that really appealed to me: clearer skin. Better sleep. Reduced joint pain. And of course, weight loss. These are things I want badly, and have wanted badly for a long time. Badly enough to give up all those foods? Even drinking?

Finally, after a high school reunion weekend that involved way too much alcohol, I felt fat and lousy. I decided it was time to try something drastic. And there was that damn Whole30, coming at me from blogs and social media and bookstores…

At the same time, I started working with a life coach. I heard myself telling her all the reasons I couldn’t possibly do The Whole30, and I sounded like a big loser.

So I decided I better do it.

And I did. Perfectly. The whole damn thing—no cheating. I don’t have a great track record of sticking with diets, and I’ve never tried anything this strict. However, I think that’s exactly why I was able to do The Whole30: because you can’t half-ass it. You follow the rules, or you start over. Simple as that. No negotiating in your head, no hemming and hawing; this is all-or-nothing.

Honestly, it wasn’t difficult to give up those foods. After the first couple days, I genuinely didn’t miss anything except wine, which I’ll discuss later. The most difficult aspect for me was the lack of convenience. Because you are using no processed foods, you can’t just hit a drive-through on your way to work because you overslept. You can’t pick up a pizza on the way home if you don’t feel like cooking. You must plan ahead and prepare most of your food from scratch. Cooking everything from scratch is time-consuming. The change to my lifestyle was much tougher than the change to my diet.

The Whole30 promises to change the way you look at food, and I can attest to that. Here are some ways it did that:

  • Once you stop eating junk, you stop craving it. So instead of choosing food based on cravings, I was free to choose food that I knew would make me feel good and keep me full. That really happened; I just didn’t want junk food.
  • I knew there was a lot of sugar in processed food, but I didn’t realize it is EVERYWHERE. Did you know rotisserie chicken has sugar in it? Once you start reading labels, you really get suspicious of food manufacturers. I would walk in to a 7-11 (for Perrier! My new love!) and I would get angry at the rows upon rows of brightly-packaged JUNK. I’d think, “Here is a whole room of things people eat, none of which are food.” It wasn’t a holier-than-thou feeling. It was frustration. Where is the actual food?
  • I realized that most of the reasons I eat certain things were not because of hunger, or even moods—just triggers. I want popcorn because I’m watching a movie. I want wine because it’s Friday. I want diet Coke because I always have one while I’m out running errands.

Once I got my groove on with the cooking and food prep, I really enjoyed my Whole30. I tried new foods (rutabaga, anyone?) and new cooking techniques. I even had a dinner party with all-compliant foods. It was like a fun experiment.

The Results

Sugar cravings: you already heard about the cravings being gone. My Whole30 ended over a week ago and I still haven’t had any sweets. I really don’t want them. On the other hand, fruit tastes delicious! So sweet! Beer and wine taste sweeter to me, too. My palate is has definitely adjusted to appreciate the natural sweetness in food.

Sleep: I slept like a baby on The Whole30–deep, wonderful sleep. I habitually woke up before my alarm, and towards the end of the month, I even stopped hitting the snooze button. I did have some wacky food dreams, but I hear that’s typical of detoxing.

Periods: OMG. I can’t believe how much better my PMS symptoms were. I typically have two brutally emotional days just before my period—weepiness, horrible thoughts—I’m a wreck. I started the Whole30 four days before my period and finished it two days before the next one. I had NO weepy days. Also, I typically take Advil to manage cramps for at least three days of my period. Both periods required Advil on the first day only. I can’t even remember the last time I had it that easy.

Mood: I’m a moody girl, very prone to depression. I noticed that my general outlook was markedly better during The Whole30. Fewer bad days and better good days. Some days I felt so happy, it was kind of ridiculous. The world may not be ready for Super Perky Meg.

Diet Coke: I kicked a lifetime diet Coke habit. Seriously, I was like a crack whore for diet Coke. I drank it first thing in the morning and often exceeded 64 ounces a day. I know that’s gross and dangerous, and I was actually pretty ashamed of that habit. Now, I don’t want diet Coke at all. I drink iced tea for caffeine in the morning (I don’t like coffee) and I drink sparkling water (unsweetened) when I want something fizzy. Diet Coke actually tastes gross to me now. I have absolute confidence that I am done with diet Coke.

And finally, weight loss: I lost 10 pounds. That’s pretty good for me. Usually, two pounds per week is the best I can expect. I wish I had taken before and after pictures, or measurements, because I’m pretty sure my gut shrank, and my face seems thinner.

The Less-Than-Stellar Bits

My skin didn’t clear up much. This was disappointing for me because so many people rave about what The Whole30 does for their skin. I understand that skin takes a long time to respond to changes—dermatologists have always told me it takes months to see the effects of medication on skin, and I’ve read the same about dietary changes, so I suspect it just didn’t have enough time.

I really missed alcohol. I didn’t struggle with cravings; I just missed it. It was hard to go to parties without drinking, and I abandoned all hope of internet dating without the help of wine– forget that. I realized how much the world revolves around alcohol. Giving it up wasn’t fun.

Many people experience significant reduction in joint pain on TheWhole30. My old lady hip felt a little improved, but not significantly. Again, I may not have given this enough time. Overall, my body felt much less stiff on the Whole30, but that one hip continued to hurt.

I completely bombed the re-entry. You’re supposed to re-introduce foods gradually, one group at a time, and note the effects they have on your squeaky-clean system. Because I didn’t plan well and I had social events immediately following my 30 days, I got sloppy and mixed up the groups. Also I drank too much. Not out of hand, just more than I should have introduced into my system. Sure enough, I felt lousy, but I can’t tell you which food-culprits are responsible.

Did it change my life?

Somebody asked me whether The Whole30 changed my life. I think it did, and after a week off the Whole30, I can tell you why. This week, I’ve been eating less carefully, but I’m really not enjoying it. I had pizza the other night—good pizza that I’ve always loved—and it was fine, but it wasn’t delicious. Certainly wasn’t worth feeling lousy for. And beer doesn’t seem so great anymore, either. I took one bite of a cupcake the other night and threw the rest away. Who am I?!?

After being off it for a week, I realize more and more how different I feel when I make poor food choices. My mood tanked. I’m sad because my sleep is no longer amazing and I feel like I screwed it up. All I want is to get back to Whole30 health as soon as I can, for as long as I can. I know what healthy feels like, and I want that feeling more than I want pizza, beer or cookies. That’s a pretty significant change.

Probably the biggest life-changer: I did something that I thought was really hard, something a lot of people can’t seem to finish. I felt very strong and in-control, which was a great feeling. It’s been a while since I felt this sense of accomplishment, and it makes me want to take on more goals. If I can finish The Whole30, what else can I do?