I did it. I finished my Whole30! For an entire month, I ate as clean as could be, avoiding wheat, soy, legumes, added sugar, dairy and alcohol. I cooked almost every night, turned down an insane amount of food and drink, and successfully navigated restaurant menus. I climbed that mountaintop. I slew that [sugar] dragon. I lived to tell the tale.
… Okay, I’ll stop with the melodrama. In all seriousness, the Whole30 doesn’t have to be hard. It’s actually incredibly enjoyable connecting with food, cooking it yourself, and understanding its impact on your health. That said, we live in a society where food options are plenty, time is scarce, and meals are best shared. Existing in the real world makes it mighty difficult to stick to such an inflexible, detailed diet. The pain, however, was well worth it, as I’ve learned so much about nutrition through this little experiment.
Though my overall experience did vaguely resemble the reverse bell curve described by the Whole 30 timeline, it wasn’t at all predictable. I had to take each day as it came, checking in with myself and seeing how I felt in the moment. While I didn’t notice significant mood swings, I’d sometimes get a bit too neurotic following the rules of the program. I also battled major slumps in energy and extended periods of “flatness,” likely due to my drastically reduced carb intake. My appetite similarly waxed and waned, including days where I simply didn’t feel motivated to eat. Importantly, however, I never felt deprived of food, whether I was following the meal template or not.
In fact, I ate incredibly well over the course of the Whole30. I did have to invest in quality ingredients, including some “alternative” ones (coconut aminos, I’m looking at/loving you) — but grocery shopping actually saved me money compared to dining at restaurants. The bigger sacrifice was the insane amount of time I spent in the kitchen, which particularly wore away at me during the work week. It’s nearly impossible to complete the program without intensive meal planning; convenient, this diet is not. That said, my palate and food prepping skills improved exponentially with all that practice. They say that technique is more important than recipes, and I can heartily agree. Among my favorite things to make:
- Roasted vegetables
- Slow-cooked red meat (for example, kahlua pork or beef and tomato stew)
- Chopped cabbage, as a slaw or braised
- Stir-fried anything
The major drawback about eating Whole30 was, unsurprisingly, its impact on my social life. One of the things I love most about food is its power to bring people together. Unfortunately, having so many restrictions sucked nearly all the joy out of sharing a meal. At times, I felt destined to be one of the following:
- a diner making obnoxious special requests,
- a guest offensively rejecting food, or
- an outsider awkwardly isolating herself.
While I was careful not to fall into those camps, my diet still inevitably became a “thing.” It was an elephant in the room, eliciting admiration, pity, baffled looks, incessant questions, and always entirely too much attention. While I may have fanned the flames by openly discussing the program, by its end, I just wanted to stop talking about it — especially because it no longer felt so foreign after all.
Halfway through the program, eating Whole30-style started to become effortless. Most impressively, my cravings reduced drastically. I started the program hooked on cookies — but, in the last few weeks, I was baking all sorts of desserts (cake, cookies, tarts) without even tasting them for quality assurance. It’s not that they were no longer attractive to me; it was just that I knew their physical effects weren’t worth the instant gratification. I mean, I melted chocolate on several occasions and didn’t lick it off my fingers. That’s a huge deal, y’all! The fact that I was gained control over my sugar addiction has been indescribably reaffirming.
We also can’t discuss a dietary plan without talking about the physical results, can we? One surprise: my skin and hair have been positively glowing! More significantly, though, I lost an estimated five pounds (major last-minute binging and bloating affected my baseline measurements). Although I loved the way I looked when I was restricting and training intensely, I also felt like I was often literally beating my body into skinny submission. Now, I’m at a size and shape that feels natural, and am “in tune” enough with my body that I can sense how it reacts to diet and exercise day-to-day. My challenging, but not brutal, workout program has also helped me make gains in strength and toning. We’ll see how this progresses, but I’m definitely thankful for a more positive body image.
Of course, the Whole30 isn’t just about results; it’s about a lifestyle shift. As strange as it sounds, I’d grown so comfortable in my routine that I actually feared completing and being off the Whole30. Well. I was right to be nervous, because I didn’t just fall off the wagon in Portland… I rolled around in the mud and broke every rule in the clean-eating handbook. While my body didn’t go into paralytic sugar shock, I did feel incredibly heavy, uncomfortable, and unhappy. What’s worse, most of my indulgences didn’t provide me with the emotional or epicurean pleasure I’d expected. Unhealthy food simply wasn’t worth it. Lesson learned.
I’m glad to be done with the Whole30 and its exhaustive list of rules, but more than that, I’m glad to have gone through it. It was a ton of work, but I feel like I’ve really accomplished my goals: to beat my sugar cravings, to get in tune with my body again, and to get my weight back on track after the holidays. I’d totally recommend this program to others, with the caveat that you really have to want to be all in. Paradoxically, being this restrictive has actually retaught me moderation. I’m even considering doing a second round in a few months, in order to truly treat it like an elimination diet and reintroduce food groups individually. For now, though — I hope to eat clean 80% of the time, to eat casually the rest of the time, and to eat well all the time.