This could just be one of those crazy California things, but Whole30 has completely permeated our dieting world. It seems like everyone I know has done it, wants to do it, or knows someone who’s done it.
At the beginning of the year I posted about how I was going to try to work on one area of my life that needed improvement per month for the next year (twelve months of new year’s resolutions, sort of). January’s area of focus was dietary self-discipline and I decided Whole30 was just the plan I needed to achieve my goal for the month – namely, gaining some self-discipline over my eating habits.
I also fell prey to the excessively optimistic hope that Whole30 would address some other problems in my life – like insomnia, impatience, and tiredness. Whole30 calls these things “non-scale victories” and their list of benefits is LONG. Check them out here.
WHAT IS WHOLE30, YOU ASK?
In a nutshell, Whole30 is thirty days without added sugar, dairy, grains, legumes, alcohol, and sulfites, among other things. You can read about it in more detail here.
THE DAY WE DECIDED TO START TOMORROW:
My husband and I had planned on starting Whole30 with millions of other people on January 1st. But December 26th came and while I was lying down rolling my loose stomach skin between my fingers and thinking about how many sees candies I had consumed, I realized that the only thing I would get out of waiting a week to start Whole30 would be 5 more pounds to lose. So I rescued my future self from the depths of overindulgence, dragged my kids to the grocery store, and stocked up on everything we’d need for our first week of Whole30.
HOW BAD WAS IT?
I had a substantial headache going by 3pm on day one. Things were pretty rocky for about the next week. One hour I’d feel like I was recovering from a stomach virus – low energy, brain fogged, and slightly nauseated. The next hour I’d feel totally fine. I had bursts of energy and moments of extreme fatigue. I had constant headaches. I felt like my body was starving even though I was eating more than I normally do. After about a week I felt better, but it never did get easy and I certainly never got anything remotely close to “tiger blood“.
Incidentally, Eddie had no negative symptoms whatsoever and thought it was the best diet he’s ever been on. Men.
WHAT WAS THE HARDEST PART?
Undeniably, the hardest part was just going a month without alcohol or dessert. A month is a long time. By the end I would have sacrificed a lung for a glass of wine. No matter which month you choose, there are going to be multiple social events and lots of stressful days. Wrapping up an emotionally draining day with an apple and a handful of cashews just doesn’t have the same effect as a cozying up with a warm slice of pie.
The next hardest part was the level of cooking required. Now, I’m a person who enjoys cooking and who cooks regularly – pretty much every day – but Whole30 required more cooking than I’ve ever done in my life. Everything has to be made from scratch – mayonnaise, barbecue sauce, salad dressing, ghee, chicken broth, etc. There are no shortcuts. Cooking is required at breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I pretty much lived in the kitchen for a month.
DID I MAKE MY KIDS DO IT?
I run a kitchen, not a restaurant, so obviously my kids were served whatever I cooked my husband and I. However, I did continue our normal daily routine whereby I make sandwiches for lunch and give them dessert after dinner. I also occasionally added non Whole30 foods to their meals – like a piece of french bread or a side of beans. But in general, yes, my kids ate all the Whole30 meals I cooked.
DID I LOSE WEIGHT?
Yes, but not a ton. I assume this is because I ate a lot of food – probably more than most people do on the diet. I wanted to make sure my milk supply stayed plentiful and besides, parenting while hungry is a recipe for disaster. I lost six pounds, three of which hopped right back onto me after I started eating regular food.
DID I FINISH FEELING LIKE A MILLION BUCKS?
Unfortunately, no. The Whole30 book gives the impression that people who finish feel better than they’ve ever felt. They describe the physical benefits as almost a sort of high. They even say some people feel so good they decide to continue the Whole30 beyond the 30 day mark.
I am absolutely convinced the authors of Whole30 made that up to keep people like me going when day 20 comes and we still feel like crap.
Sure, by the end of the month I was no longer having the withdrawal symptoms I had in the beginning, but I still felt tired, irritable, and unsatisfied. I was sleeping worse than before. As far as physical performance, by the end I completely gave up on running because I just didn’t have the energy to make it up the hills without walking and this depressed me.
SO, NO WHOLE30 EVER AGAIN, RIGHT?
Despite all the negative things I have to say about the month – from how hard it was to how it made me feel – I think I would do it again. Not tomorrow, but maybe next January.
Here’s why: The main reason I did Whole30 was to exercise self-discipline in an area I was lacking. Prior to the diet I would tell myself I was not going to eat dessert one night, but one hour later find myself sitting on the couch with a bowl of ice cream. So what did my “no” mean? Nothing. I couldn’t even keep my word to myself!
There were many times in the diet where I wanted to give up. The Whole30 book describes the tendency to want to fold on day 28 perfectly:
“Aren’t 28 days just as good as 30? Um, no. Twenty-Eight days is not as good as 30. You made a commitment to give yourself 30 full days of Good Food and improved habits. You made a commitment to finish the Whole30… you made a commitment to changing your life, and the specific commitment you made was to last 30 full days.
Take these promises seriously. If you cop out now, you’re telling yourself that the commitments you make to yourself are open to compromise. You’re telling yourself that you are not important enough to honor your promises to you. But that is simply not true.” (pg 40)
That excerpt is the entire reason I made it the Whole30 days. I told myself I was going to do it and gosh darn it, I needed to keep that promise to myself.
The diet also happened to coincide with my reading of Jerry Bridges Respectable Sins. The chapter on self-control really hit home for me – it both convicted and encouraged me as I continued through the Whole30. Self-control is not just about losing weight or being healthy. It’s about growing in the fruit of the spirit. Lack of self-control is sin, and we need to view it through that lens in order to overcome it.
Whole30 required me to exercise self-control in a way I had never done before. This was hands-down the biggest benefit of the program and the sole reason I would consider doing it again. It’s not just about proving to myself that I can do it – it’s about working that muscle so when the diet is over, an increased level of self-control remains.
First, make your husband do it. My husband didn’t technically have much of a choice because I cook 100% of his meals (in his words, he just had to show up). But he did support me by following the diet in areas he didn’t necessarily have to (like choosing not to put creamer in his coffee and not partaking in alcohol around me). This was huge. I think it would be extremely difficult without a husband doing it with you.
Second, find a group of friends to do it with you. I started a Whole30 accountability group on Facebook with a bunch of my friends from MOPs. Unfortunately, there were only two of us that completed the Whole30 (from a group of 30), but it was fun in the first week or so to share recipes and successes. Plus, after putting myself out there and starting a group I wasn’t about to quit part way through, so that was good motivation. If you don’t have anyone who wants to do it with you, just tell everyone you can that you’re doing it so you’ll be too embarrassed to quit mid-month.
Third, read the book. A lot of information can be found online about the diet, but certain specifics can be easily missed if you don’t read the actual book. I ended up buying it for future reference, but it was available at my library as well.
Fourth, meal plan. I can say with almost 100% certainty that you will not be successful without meal planning your breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I meal planned for a week at a time.
Last, make good food. If you try to make things easy on yourself by having a sweet potato and broiled chicken every night for dinner, you will get bored really fast. Initially I searched for Whole30-specific recipes (and did find a few good ones!) but as the month went on I found myself going to my own recipes and just “whole30-izing” them. Somehow I found this food more satisfying.
A LAST NOTE:
I saw this quote from the book multiple times while perusing the internet for Whole30 motivation:
“IT IS NOT HARD. Don’t you dare tell us this is hard. Beating cancer is hard. Birthing a baby is hard. Losing a parent is hard. Drinking your coffee black is. not. hard. You’ve done harder things than this, and you have no excuse not to complete the program as written.” (pg 16)
That’s a nice pep talk, but honestly, Whole30 is hard. I’d actually argue it’s harder than birthing a baby because
a) birthing a baby usually takes less than 24 hours
b) you get a baby out of it.
Go into it expecting it to be hard. It will be hard. But it will be worth it. When you are done, you will have a sense of accomplishment you didn’t have before. It’s like finishing your first marathon. You will have more self-control. You will be happier with yourself. It will feel good to know it was hard but YOU DID IT. And bonus, you will probably lose weight.