It started as a quirky, crazy sounding experiment popping up here and there on my Facebook newsfeed in 2012. “What the crap is Whole30?” I asked my friends. Answer: a very strict way of eating that could produce awesome results. Sub-answer: you have to give up Diet Coke.
So that made it a definite “no” for me.
But I was still intrigued. I was exercising and dieting like a crazy person, hungry all the time, or caving and then stuffing my face with junk food because I just couldn’t take it anymore. A giant soy latte for breakfast, Shakeology with soy milk for lunch, dinners packed with low-fat options and artificial sweeteners. I wasn’t obese by any means, but the pudgy baby weight from my second son just wouldn’t go away no matter how many hours I spent in the gym. It was extremely discouraging.
Plus, I’m really grouchy when I’m hungry, and that wasn’t fun for anyone.
And always there, in the back of my mind, was my sick relationship with food and dieting. Since my teenage years, I had carefully taught myself that the quantity of food on my plate was the gateway to all body image happiness. Feeling hungry was a GOOD thing, I thought, because it meant I was exercising portion control. It meant that my body was having to burn all that ugly fat … didn’t it? And dieting meant you would loose weight. Dieting was the be all, end all.
Still, it wasn’t working.
I like a challenge, and Whole30 certainly sounded like a big one. Plus, I clearly needed a change. Could I, for 30 days, give up all grains, legumes, dairy, soy, preservatives, flavor enhancers, most cooking oils, sugar, artificial sweetener and, most importantly, Diet Coke? Could I just eat real food? WAS IT EVEN POSSIBLE FOR A HUMAN TO DO?
And so in early 2013 we started the Whole30. Thirty days of just eating real food — veggies, proteins, healthy fats with every meal and fruit now and then. Quitting cold turkey the stuff that had been getting me through my days (soy and artificial sweeteners, for the most part), and trying to see if our health got any better as a result.
And it did — dramatically. But not just in pounds lost. That’s not the only reason Whole30 changed my life.
One of the big challenges of Whole30 for most people is the sudden shift from using primarily packaged foods to making everything from scratch — a change that is necessary because packaged foods contain the things we, under the plan, needed to avoid like gluten, soy and insane amounts of preservatives. If you’re used to spending a minimal amount of time in the kitchen opening packages of things, mixing them together, tossing them in the oven and calling it good, going to a system where everything has to be made by you is a big deal.
For example, look at the typical taco night. Cook meat, toss meat with package of taco seasoning, heat beans, corn and tortillas. Open bag of chips. Sprinkle stuff with cheese and salsa. Consume.
Whole30 taco night? Cook meat. Gather seasoning ingredients. Mix seasoning. Toss meat with seasoning. Chop veggies to go with meat. Cook veggies. Shred lettuce for under taco (because tortillas are out). Slice avocado to use as healthy fat source. Pray this tastes good without the cheese you love. Consume.
See all those extra steps? And tacos are a simple example.
But the big difference between the first example and the second when you actually sit down to eat is this — with “normal” tacos you will likely overeat thanks to all the delicious chips and cheese (I DARE you to only eat a handful of chips. DARE). Or you may only eat a small amount because you don’t want to go overboard on the calories.
But with the second example? You are free to eat until you are totally satisfied because there is no extra sodium or fat in anything you are consuming.
The first example is easy.
The second example brings food freedom.
And that’s exactly what I found on Whole30 — food freedom.
Instead of worrying about calorie counts and quantities, Whole30 taught me to worry about quality through the obsessive ingredient reading I had to do to stay complaint with the program. Instead of constantly bouncing around diet to diet, Whole30 taught me a new way of eating that has become a lifestyle.
Whole30 changed my life because it’s not about how much you eat. It’s about what you eat and it’s about how you think about your food.
Over the course of the 30 days I lost about 10 lbs. But, more importantly, I lost my bad attitude about food. This is really how the Whole30 changed my life: instead of looking at food is an enemy to be tamed, I now look at it as a tool for health. Food is my fuel. If I want to feel good, I should eat good food. If I don’t care how I feel, well …
And guess what? Food made with ingredients that aren’t packed with crazy preservatives taste better. And they’ll probably make you feel better like they did for me.
After my first Whole30 I switched to almost entirely Paleo diet — very similar to the rules of Whole30, without the strict adherence. I don’t miss Diet Coke. (Crazy, right??). Once in awhile I miss ice cream or white chocolate covered pretzels. But when I do, I eat some … and I’m reminded that I feel better without them. I’ve lost 20 lbs since day one of my first Whole30.
In fact, I’m so used to not eating that food that when I do eat it I feel very ill. My running slows. My triathlon training and CrossFit workouts suffer. I have trouble getting out of bed in the morning. And boy am I grumpy.
The strict eating challenge of the Whole30 may not be for everyone. You may not be able to say “Whole30 changed my life” — instead you may say “Whole30 makes me very angry.” To do it you have to be sure that you are willing to give your body the chance to adjust to not having the grain-based carbs it is probably used to, and you have to be willing to do that while spending what will feel like a ton of time in the kitchen.
But after not very long you will get used to it, and your body and long term health will thank you. Give it a try!
Interested in trying the Whole30? Check out the Whole30 website for all the details you could possibly need. Or leave us a question in the comments!