I’ve been aware of the Whole30 program for several years but was never interested in doing it, because it sounded so intense. In a nutshell, if you aren’t familiar with it, the founders, Melissa and Dallas Hartwig call it a “reset”, not a diet.Â The Whole30 focuses on changing lifestyle habits related to food, by means of eating whole foods only and eliminating all foods that could be contributing to compromising one’s total health. Basically, they argue that you should eliminate these foods for a minimum of 30 days to see if there is a change in your health. Then you gradually reintroduce those foods back into your diet, paying close attention to how they affect you physically or emotionally. The foods in question are: Sugar, alcohol, soy products, legumes, dairy, and some additives, such as sulfites. Also, they want you to avoid baked goods, junk food or treats made with “approved” ingredients (this was the hardest for me!) More detailed information and the arguments in favor of trying such an elimination process can be found here. There is tons of information on the website.
This post is just my experience with it. I think it is different for everyone. I like that it its heart, it focuses on the individual and doing a “science” experiment on yourself to see what foods make you feel good and which don’t.
A lot of people lose a ton of weight. Jamie’s squash coach lost 30 pounds in the summer. I, on the other hand, lost a negligible 2 pounds. Since our weight can fluctuate a lot even during the day, this isn’t saying much. I did lose a lot of bloat though. But, the Whole 30 is explicitly NOT a weight loss plan, and they encourage you to not weigh yourself or track that kind of thing, because the focus is on the food and nutrition and overall health. Another term they use for this is “non-scale victories”, of which, I’m happy to say I had quite a few.
Some of these include: Sleeping way better every night; having more energy without caffeine during the day (it is not required, but I cut out all forms of caffeine while doing the Whole30, including cacao powder and black tea!); ending my sugar, chocolate, peanut butter addiction, reducing the general aches and pains I had all over my body (arm, back, shoulder); surprisingly, a new appreciation for cooking and trying new ingredients and vegetables. I already enjoy cooking, but it took it to a whole new level for me! I cooked every single meal except for one the whole month, and I actually LOVED it. I started using way more fresh herbs and now must have a variety at all times. I started browsing the produce aisle with renewed curiosity and marveling at the beauty inherent in fresh vegetables and fruit.
So I definitely count those as wins. And the one reason why I decided to tackle the Whole30 was to “healthify” my life! After my hellish year dealing with injury after injury and dental issues, all stemming from stress and over working (written about in more depth here), I made a commitment to make adjustments in my lifestyle across the board.
During this process, I realized that the only time I had made a concentrated effort to take care and truly nourish my body in my adult life was when I was pregnant with my son 14 years ago! I took a tally of all the injuries I have sustained since having him: Broken foot, two sprained ankles, sprained thumb, frozen shoulder, chronic back pain, torn elbow tendon, torn hamstring tendon, tendonitis in knee, all due to over training and probably not eating well. Kind of crazy. When I started cooking all my meals and being so careful about my ingredients (sugar is in everything, people – I’m looking at you Sriacha), it reminded me of how careful I was when I had pre-gestational diabetes during my second and third trimesters. It is such a nice feeling to feed myself with the focus of nourishing my body and making it feel good, rather than other reasons (oh that’s fattening, or oh, that food reminds me of x,y,z), mostly mental/emotional or just removed, and going through the motions.
I think that the Whole30 is not for everyone. Denis was NOT going to do it, and that is fine. I think it would be really hard and feel restrictive if you weren’t coming from a place where you believed that changing your eating habits would improve your life. It would just feel like a bunch of rules that you’d be dying to break.
Now, I’m slowly reintroducing foods. So far I’ve learned that dairy is not so great, especially cheese. I already knew I was lactose intolerant, so this is not surprise. I occasionally eat Greek yogurt and that seems OK. I still avoid caffeine and sugar, though I’ve had a little bit of the latter in cough drops and some honey. Legumes are fine. Bread is fine, but I don’t really care for it. I really missed rice though. And some soy, just because it is more convenient (soy is also in everything! Even as another ingredient in some of my vitamins). I figure being ethnically Japanese, soy is fine. Surprisingly, I haven’t had a drop of alcohol, and I totally don’t miss it. I was aware before that it was messing with my body as I get older anyway.
I still have a sweet tooth, so that’s annoying. But plain fruit tastes so sweet to me now, that’s all I eat. Even some vegetables like sweet potato and delicata squash taste like dessert to me now.
The seeds are also great!
Some tips for food prep if you decide to do the Whole30:
- Have a lot of prepped foods in the refrigerator so you don’t have to think when pulling together a meal – I like to always have roasted vegetables, steamed vegetables, sauteed vegetables, different forms of protein (eggs, sauteed, grilled, and roasted meats), lots of condiments and fresh herbs
- You can make a bunch of condiments at once, like on a weekend. Then you have it all week or longer. My favorites are: clarified butter, flavored butter, pesto, homemade ketchup, homemade mayo, Sunshine sauce (see recipe below), guacamole, salsa, tomato sauce, fresh squeezed lemon and lime juice with kosher salt.
- Make the slow cooker your new best friend. It’s so easy to cook a lot of meat and vegetables and stews and curries for leftovers. Even though Jamie and Denis weren’t doing the Whole30, I was able to make meals for all of us, and just swap out rice, bread, pasta, cheese, with more vegetables on the side.
- Easiest, no thinking required meals were: Salads and hot bowls made out of the above items – a palm size of protein, a thumb size of healthy fats, a ton of vegetables
Things I would do differently would be to limit my nut, dried fruit, and seed consumption. It is so easy to overdo it! Also I would try to keep a better record of how I was feeling physically during the month. It is so easy to forget after a week. When I read how I was feeling the first day (in pain) and how I was feeling the last week (pretty great), it is pretty cool to see it in writing. Also, I had blood work done near the end, and my blood sugar levels were lower than last year, and everything was really good.
Would you ever try the Whole30? Have you already done it? If so, what were the best things for you? And what would you do differently if you did it again? Leave a comment below. I’d love to hear about your experiences!
Some recipes I adapted based on Whole30 recipes:
1/2 cup tomato paste
2 tablespoons unsweetened applesauce
1/4 cup cider vinegar
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
- Mix together.
Note, the Whole 30 version uses cider and the mixture is cooked. I found I liked it raw, and I couldn’t find apple cider that didn’t cost an arm and a leg just for ketchup.
Sunshine Sauce (adapted from Melissa Joulwan)
1/2 cup tahini
1/2 cup coconut milk
juice of 1/2 lime
1 tablespoon coconut aminos
1 clove of garlic, finely minced
1/2 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
- Mix together.
This sauce is SOOO good with raw vegetables, or thinned with more coconut milk and drizzled over roasted vegetables or salad.