You know how sometimes you keep running up on the same thing over and over? How you feel like maybe the universe is trying to tell you something? Well that’s what happened with me and The Whole30 Program.
If you have the time and are inclined to read it, I am sharing the whole story of my Whole30 in this blog post, But the condensed version is this – Whole30 has changed my life – mentally, physically, and emotionally.
My decision to try Whole30 and commit to this dietary reset wasn’t based on one thing, but rather it was prompted by a few key factors:
- Factor #1: The number on the scale – When I saw the number on the scale at my doctor’s visit last fall, I really hit me hard. It was a number that has been creeping steadily-upward these past five years. A number that was alarming from a vanity aspect, but even more so alarming from an actual, physical health perspective. My weight had now become unhealthy. So as I sat on the exam table, expressing my frustration to my doctor at my seemingly impossible efforts to lose weight, her response was “you’re going to have to do something drastic with your diet.” She went on to explain that although exercise has many excellent health benefits, for post-menopausal women, losing weight is 90% a function of diet.
- Factor #1: Buying a bigger bra – It was that moment last fall, one morning when I was getting dressed to go to work, when I could not hide from the truth any longer. Spilling out of my bra in every direction, trying to find a loose enough top so that it wouldn’t show, I knew that I was going to have to go up a size…yet another confirmation of how my weight gain has affected my body.
- Factor #3: The universe speaks – For the past several months, I have been listening to podcasts while I am at work, and of the ones that I have come to really enjoy is the ‘For the Love‘ podcast with Jen Hatmaker. Anyway, last fall I listened with keen interest to the episode with Melissa Hartwig (the co-founder of Whole30) where she discussed how this program has helped millions of people transform their health, improve their relationship with food, and create lasting changes in their lives.
Sign. Me. Up.
So in typical Kelly fashion, I bought the book It Starts with Food and read it cover-to-cover in about three days. Eyeopening. Illuminating. Inspiring – by the time I finished reading the book I was ready to start. But here was the problem…this was two weeks before Thanksgiving. And I just couldn’t see how I could manage a program that eliminates sugar, dairy, grains, and alcohol during the holidays which basically involve feasting on foods from all these categories.
Lightbulb moment #1 – the way I celebrate with and gather my people around food.
Finding a thirty day stretch in my calendar with no ‘food celebrations’ was not going to happen – I knew that I would have to make concessions for this. But working this program in during the holidays seemed like it would make it harder that it was already going to be and that I might be setting myself up for failure. So I decided to postpone committing to the 30 day program until after the holidays.
Fast forward to January 8, 2018 – the day I commenced Whole30. And honestly, I was ready….SO READY. The month of December was a complete blur and I was a complete mess – mentally, physically, and emotionally. I was ready for some order and boundary and grounding in my life and committing to Whole30 was where I started.
So the basic premise of the Whole30 Program is that it is an elimination diet designed as a:
“short-term nutrition reset, designed to help you put an end to unhealthy cravings and habits, restore a healthy metabolism, heal your digestive tract, and balance your immune system.”
My first real taste of this ‘tough love’ approach was eliminating the milk from my morning coffee. And as much as I was sure this was going to be the VERY HARDEST part of the program, guess what…I survived. I drank black coffee and survived. It was funny though – the first week, I actually found myself going to the fridge first – like I was on autopilot – to grab the milk before I even poured my coffee. And here’s the other thing…admittedly, those first few mornings, I felt as though my morning ‘cuppa’ had lost some of its comfort factor. If you drink hot tea or coffee, you might know what I mean when I say that my morning coffee is a sort of ritual that I have established over the years. And not having my milk felt a bit like my special morning rite was missing something. In fact, those first few mornings I was sure that milk in my coffee was going to be the very first thing I added back on day 31. But after 30 days, the truth is that I don’t miss it. AT ALL. As I am typing this, I am six days post W30 and I am still drinking black coffee.
Lightbulb moment #2 – I don’t actually need the things that I’ve told myself I need.
So moving on from that early success (and yes, I do consider learning to enjoy black coffee as success!), the next order of business was eating eggs for breakfast. Which as someone who doesn’t like eggs and/or breakfast food in general, it felt like I was crossing another big hurdle. Also big for me was thinking ahead and planning out my menu for the week – something I don’t generally do, but making sure I always had food on hand for Whole30 “compliant” meals was an important factor for setting myself up for success.
One important aspect of the program is committing to it for the full 30 days. And during the course of those 30 days, participants can experience a wide range of effects. I love this funny infographic of the Whole30 timeline that offers a hint of what you might expect during the program.
Obviously, everyone is a little different, but some of it was accurate in my Whole30 experience. Generally, here’s how it played out for me:
Week 1: I didn’t really experience much a hangover I think because I had tiptoed into Whole30 the week before my official start date. So from January 2-7, I was Whole30 compliant in every aspect except for the milk in my coffee and one glass of wine on Friday and Saturday nights. I also wasn’t terribly grumpy (maybe ask Tripp or Kelsey to confirm this, but I don’t think I was) but there were definitely a few days in that first week that I would have given my right pinkie finger for some dark chocolate or a good, crusty piece of bread with butter. Or chips & salsa. Or a glass of wine. Or a <<insert non-compliant food group here>>.
But on those few occasions where I was feeling deprived or being a little whiny, I literally stopped whatever I was doing and I said out loud, “No one is forcing me to do this program. I am choosing this for myself.” Because it’s easy to fall off the wagon (so to speak) when I feel like I’m being forced to do something I don’t want to do – it’s human nature I think. So what I tried to do was change the narrative in my head, and by doing so, it kept me aligned with my original intention and motivation for committing to the program in the first place.
Lightbulb moment #3 – When it comes to making positive changes in my life, the mental game is half the battle. Once I set my mind to something, then it’s so much easier to follow through.
Despite having a couple of tough days though, what I noticed most during that first ‘official’ week was that my stomach was noticeably less bloated and I generally felt less puffy all over. In addition, I was feeling more clear-headed and focused. But on the weekends, I did try to get a little more rest (I actually took a nap one afternoon). Plus, I also drank lots of water.
Week 2: During the week, I found that it was fairly easy to remain (wait for it, here’s that word again) Whole30 compliant. But the weekends were hard because that’s generally when we eat out the most. And eating out on Whole30 meant that I was that annoying girl asking:
- ‘Can I substitute vegetables for that?’
- ‘Could you make that without butter?’
- ‘May I have a salad with nothing on it and oil & vinegar on the side?’
- ‘Does this have flour/breading?’
Ugh…so embarrassing. But I have to tell you that everywhere we ate, the restaurants graciously accommodated my requests. So my embarrassment in asking was clearly my shit not theirs.
Lightbulb moment #3 – It is OK for make my physical health a priority. It is OK for me to ask for what I need.
Also surprisingly hard while eating out was not having a glass of wine (or two) with my dinner. Sometimes I asked for club soda just to feel like I was jazzing things up a bit. But mostly I just drank water. And, yes, once again, I survived. In fact, when Tripp and I went out to dinner to celebrate our anniversary (sans a glass of bubbles of course), I still thoroughly enjoyed the date night with my love.
Lightbulb moment #4 – The way I enjoy food (and wine) as entertainment.
As I mentioned before, planning ahead helped and the weekends were where I found that it was most beneficial. So often, Tripp and I will be out running around on a Saturday and just grab a quick bite – usually fast-ish food. So having food in the house to eat before heading out helped me avoid being in the situation of trying to find something I could eat at places that don’t typically cater to the Whole30 lifestyle.
But despite these challenges (and I’m using that term very loosely here because let’s be honest – not having a glass of wine with my dinner or a drive-through burger and fries is totally #firstworldprobs), the upside to this week was one thing that had been alluding me for a solid six weeks – SLEEP. Sweet Jesus, I was sleeping. Sleeping like I have not slept in months…maybe even YEARS. Restful, Restorative, Reinvigorating sleep. In addition, another noticeable change during this time was not being hungry all the damn time. So those two things, paired with the continued mental clarity and the diminishing bloating/puffiness, gave me so much encouragement – What I was doing was having a positive effect in my life.
Week 3: Throughout this process, I didn’t drastically change my overall diet or starting cooking completely different dishes for dinner. For starters, Tripp and I already eat a fairly healthy diet that includes meat and plenty of vegetables. But the main reason is that I really wanted this way of thinking and eating to become a permanent lifestyle change (albeit a little more moderated upon completion of 30 days). So for us, that looked like me making Tripp’s favorite blue box mac & cheese while I ate roasted sweet potatoes or butternut squash instead. Both of which were something I already liked. Sometimes I made a dish Whole30 (here’s that word again!) compliant by leaving out certain things that didn’t really make much difference in the final dish, like making beef stew without the bag of frozen veggies that I usually add.
All that being said, I did experiment with a few new-to-me ingredients that have been gaining in popularity the past couple of years due to interest in the paleo lifestyle – namely spiralized vegetables and cauliflower ‘rice’. Here’s what I have to say about that – meh. I mean, I guess spiralized zucchini noodles (aka zoodles) weren’t horrible as a spaghetti substitute, but going forward, I think I’d rather just have a grand bowl of pasta less often and enjoy the real thing. Same with rice. It’s okay, but honestly, I think I could just skip it altogether and be just as happy.
So according to the timeline, week three is when they say you start to experience what they call ‘tiger blood’. And I’m not exactly sure what they had in mind, but to me, this was the point where I felt like I was on fire in the best way possible. Great energy, amazing mental clarity, and wonderfully deep sleep. Feeling awesome because I was accomplishing all the stupid, nagging little things that had been on my to-do list forever (i.e. taking a load of stuff to Goodwill, cleaning up the junky little room upstairs, calling to have that old mattress picked up). It was also during week three that I noticed having more flexibility in my yoga practice. My shoulders that are usually so stiff and tight, I was able to move freely like I had not done in a few years. Plus, I was able to twist and bend so much easier because my gut wasn’t in the way.
I believe this is the magic that Whole30 promised and it really delivered. Also, on day 21 I wore a size smaller pair of pants to mass.
Boom. Rock on. Amen. Hallelujah.
Week 4: As I approached the end of the program, I was feeling just a general sense of well-being in every aspect of my life. But especially noticed this in the improvement in my mental clarity. Because, as I shared, when I started Whole30 I was a mess. I was overly-emotional and irrational. I was having the hardest time thinking things through. Like I was slogging through a brain full of molasses. Every step, every decision felt so complicated. And yes, I know that I joke a lot about having the gift for making things harder than they need to be, but this was something different.
In my defense though, December was an incredibly stressful month due in large part to the anxiety I was experiencing over Tripp’s big work changes. And combined with the usual holiday stress, I was starting to feel like my life was completely out of control. And to some degree it was. But let’s be honest, it’s also the one time of year that my diet is also out of control in terms of the amount of sugar and alcohol I often consume.
It’s fairly obvious to me now…With a little distance and perspective it’s not too hard to connect those dots between my poor mental/emotional status and my poor physical habits.
This is THE lightbulb moment for me. Which is the reminder of how intimately interconnected I am BODY * MIND * SPIRIT. These aspects of my life do not function independently but rather as one, integrated whole. And I say ‘reminded’ because I know this. I have known this for a long time! But it’s the first time in a long time that I have experienced it to this degree.
So on February 6th, I successfully completed the Whole30 program. And true to its claims, it has changed my life for the better. I have a deeper understanding of all the ways I tend to use food for purposes other than nutrition such as for entertainment and social connection. I am no longer a hostage to my ‘sugar dragon’ and have found freedom from my cravings and poor habits. And I feel strong and clear and whole again for the first time in years.
As a sidenote, I am gauging the success of this 30-day reset have been in how I feel. Which I believe is a good indicator of my overall wellness. But I have also scheduled a regular, physical exam with my doctor in a couple of weeks where I hope that my anecdotal evidence will be confirmed with concrete medical results.
Anyway, if you are inclined to learn more about Whole30 I would highly recommend that you read the book It Starts with Food . Beyond that, if you are thinking about doing the program, my best advice would be to plan ahead. Always have food on hand and ready to eat because there is so little Whole30 compliant convenience food that is readily available. If you’re into food prep (i.e. prepping three or four days of meals ahead of time) that helps tremendously. The basic idea is to avoid the position of being hungry and having no time to make food.
So now that I am post-Whole30, my goal is to slowly reintroduce the previously eliminated foods back into my regular diet while also maintaining this feeling of overall well-being. I imagine that keeping my sugar dragon tamed will continue to be a challenge, but I also believe that there is a place in this lifestyle to enjoy the sweeter things in life.
And so with that, I’ll wrap up this post. Thank you so much for letting me share my story with you.