My Whole 30 Review: I DID IT! My Experience and Results
I promised that I would give you rundown of my experience with the Whole30 program… I’m 10 days out and finally put down my thoughts on how it all went.
The Whole30 has been on my radar for well over a year now, as my sister had previously done a couple, and last spring, my mom did one with her. My mom felt so great after having done it, that afterwards, she went permanently Paleo. She’ll eat anything on Sundays, holidays, if she goes out to eat, etc. but for her everyday eating, she eats Paleo and has lost over 40 pounds!
That sounded great, but I was pretty convinced that I could not totally cut out so many things for an entire month. However, I decided to take the plunge in mid-June and… I DID! Also, I survived! I didn’t take any before and after photos, but below are my thoughts on the experience, along with my results. I wrote more than I intended, but I kept thinking of additional things to include!
Why I Did The Whole30
Thoughout the entire Whole30 book, the authors reiterate that losing weight should not be your primary goal when completing the Whole30. Well, full disclosure here… that was my main motivating factor. There were other reasons I wanted to tackle it (I’ll talk about those, as well), but getting a jump start on losing the rest of my pregnancy weight was number one on my list of reasons to give the Whole30 a go.
I gained a total of 36 pounds during my pregnancy (Thanksgiving and Christmas falling during my third trimester didn’t help!) and had lost 23 pounds within the first two weeks after Joseph. After that, however, I didn’t lose another ounce. I was not actively trying to lose weight at that point, though, so I assume that’s to be expected. Then, horror of horrors, I gained back five pounds. Ugh! We were eating a lot of take out, I was doing a lot of snacking, and I was eating at least one dessert everyday. I decided I really needed to do something to right the ship.
Improve My Eating Habits
I’ll be the first to admit that for as long as I can remember, I haven’t had the best eating habits. Ever since high school, I would routinely skip breakfast, snack for the majority of the day and make “meals” out of things that were most certainly not meal material (i.e. saltines with peanut butter and jelly). I’d eat some fruit or protein, hardly ever vegetables, but mostly carbs.
Having a baby did nothing but reinforce those old, bad habits. When you’re sleep deprived and starving, the last thing you want to do is spend time cooking. Grabbing some crackers with cheese or PB&J is so much easier. However, I wanted to nip that in the bud and get better about taking the time to make sure that I feed my body good, wholesome foods.
This desire to shift my eating habits goes hand in hand with my next motivating factor…
Joseph Starting Solid Foods
Joseph is just starting his journey on solid foods, but in the blink of an eye he’s going to be a toddler with real food, and I want to set a good eating example for him. I didn’t want to fall into the “do as I say, not as I do” trap and be goading him to eat his vegetables when he never saw me eating them. I want to be a better role model for him and not have him think that crackers with peanut butter is a suitable meal ;-)
What I ate During the Whole30
I ate A LOT, which was really surprising. I was absolutely expecting to be hungry pretty much constantly… I mean, how filling could fruits and vegetables and some protein be? As it turns out, VERY filling! More filling than anything I had been eating before I started the Whole30. Here are the basics of what’s in and what’s out on the program:
IN: Protein, Vegetables, Fruit, Healthy Fats
The cornerstone of the eating plan is for each meal to include at least three ounces of protein (or at least two eggs), two cups of vegetables, and one tablespoon of healthy fat (olive oil, clarified butter/ghee, coconut oil, avocado, nuts, almond butter, etc.). In addition, up to two servings of fruit a day.
OUT: Sugar, Flour, Dairy, Legumes, Processed Foods
The Whole30 plan calls for a removal of all gluten, sugar, dairy, legumes (peanut butter!) and processed foods. This was pretty much all I was eating before I tackled the program, so I was a little suspicious of being able to follow the program wholly, and truth be told, I was totally expecting to cheat, which probably wasn’t the best mindset to have going into it.
Did I Cheat?
So, did I break down and dive head-first into the peanut butter jar?
I didn’t! I did intentionally cheat twice during the last week because I made two desserts (the coconut cake and chocolate cake) that were new and everyone loved them so much that I wanted to taste them so that I could share them with you. I won’t post and share a recipe if I haven’t actually eaten it! I took a little slice of each, and that was the extent of my cheating.
Now, as far as following the plan to the letter of the law, I strayed a little bit. They really discourage snacking between meals, and I went into it thinking, “oh yeah right, there’s no way I can go without a snack!” Every other time I had tried to lose weight, while I saw results, I was always hungry. As it turns out, by eating a good serving of protein, veggies and some healthy fat, I was NOT hungry between meals. I was totally stunned… I never felt like I needed to raid the pantry in the middle of the afternoon or in the evening.
However, my days don’t always go according to plan with Joseph. Between missed or super-short naps, teething, and bedtimes, my schedule can’t be too rigid. As a result, sometimes I don’t get to eat lunch until 3:30 in the afternoon or eat dinner until 8:30 at night. I needed something to get me through until the next mealtime, so I would eat a little something, but it was all Whole30-approved foods (grass-fed beef jerky, dried apricots or fresh fruit, almonds, celery with almond butter, etc.).
While I still did some snacking, trying to stick to three meals a day made me realize how many times I would mindlessly wander over to the pantry throughout the day and nibble on something.
How I Felt
I was surprised that I didn’t have too many withdrawal symptoms, given how much of the “no” foods I was eating before I started the program. Within three days, I immediately felt less bloated around my midsection and when I put on my jeans, there was a significant decrease in the muffin top situation.
The biggest thing I noticed was that even though I would eat a large meal and be pretty full afterwards, I never felt bloated. Such a huge difference compared to how I had been feeling!
Within a week of starting the Whole30, I had a surge in energy without having adjusted my sleeping habits at all. In fact, on quite a few nights, I was getting even LESS sleep since at the beginning of the Whole30, Joseph decided to go through a phase where he wanted to be up hanging out from 2am until 5am. Luckily, that lasted less than a week and coincided with some teething and a growth spurt, and he went back to being a great sleeper.
Prior to starting the program, I was really struggling with being exhausted from mid-afternoon until bedtime. I was getting 6 to 7 hours of sleep at night (on a regular night), which isn’t awful, but I literally could not keep my eyes open from about 3pm until I’d go to bed, and usually couldn’t keep my eyes open past 9pm. After starting the Whole30, this is one area where I noticed a significant improvement. I had energy ALL DAY! EVERY DAY! Even when Joseph was up in the middle of the night. I’m not sure if the sleep I was getting was better quality sleep, or if by adjusting my diet, I was no longer experiencing sugar crashes throughout the day. Whatever did it, the quality of my wake time during the day improved a hundred-fold.
If you ask my husband, he’ll tell you that I am totally guilty of the hangry phenomenon. You know, you’re so hungry that you’re actually ANGRY. I would be the absolute crankiest person if I got too hungry. I would get a headache, feel a little light-headed, and just be an all-around miserable person.
I never experienced this once during the Whole30. Yes, I got hungry, especially on those days where my lunch or my dinner was delayed by hours. However, I was just hungry. It was totally manageable and I didn’t morph into Oscar the Grouch.
So, what were the quantifiable results from my month on the Whole30 program? Here is the rundown:
I lost 7 pounds over the course of the 30 days!
The book really stresses not weighing yourself during those 30 days, and I stuck to it. Usually when I’m trying to lose weight, I weigh myself every day or every other day, which can be a downer if you think you ate well and the scale doesn’t budge or goes up slightly. To negate this and focus on all the other ways your body is responding to your new way of eating, you’re supposed to stay off the scale. I’m really glad I adhered to this rule, because I think if I would have weighed myself halfway through and not seen a high enough loss, I would have been discouraged.
[I should add that I did not exercise during the 30 days. I know, I know. That’s the next thing I need to work on!]
Even though the carpal tunnel I developed my pregnancy went away after delivery, I did also get a related case of tendonitis in my left wrist. It had been awful, and I saw a hand specialist who said that I would need minor surgery to correct it. My husband urged me to reconsider and try something alternative (at the time, we had been talking about acupuncture), so I put off the procedure, but never went to the acupuncturist.
The Whole30 book talks a lot about how the foods that are eliminated on the eating plan are inflammatory and by removing them from your diet, it can allow your body to heal and deal with a large list of potential ailments. Amazingly, the tendonitis is now about 95% gone, which is insane to me! It started a few weeks before Joseph was born and had showed no signs of going away or getting better. Now it has nearly disappeared!
Sugar and Dairy Sensitivity
The biggest thing I’ve noticed after starting to add foods back into my diet? Just a few bites of a sugar-laden treat has given me a headache on more than one occasion. CRAZY!
To a lesser extent, I’ve noticed that dairy is a little bit hard on my stomach.
So far, I haven’t seen any negative effects from gluten.
So, How Hard Was It?
I was totally surprised by the fact that cravings weren’t much of an issue for me. I was expecting them to be a lot worse, but it was definitely the hardest during the first five to seven days. After that, I felt like I was kind of on autopilot.
Even Sunday dinners with our huge spread of food didn’t prove to be too much of a challenge. I just stuck to eating the meats, vegetables and potatoes each week, skipping the pasta, bread and dessert.
The biggest hurdle of all was by far the food preparation time. Since I was actually assembling meals and not snacks I was passing off as meals, it took more time. Here is what I was eating most days:
Breakfast: Almost every morning I had scrambled eggs with onions/mushrooms/random veggies/spinach or fried eggs with avocado and fruit. Not too difficult, especially if you have bags of chopped onion and mushroom in the fridge.
Lunch: I would make 6 pounds of boneless chicken breasts in the slow cooker (based on Gimme Some Oven recipe, but I add smoked paprika to the seasoning!), shred it and portion it out into packets and put in the freezer. Then, I would thaw for a minute in the microwave and make a huge salad with veggies, nuts/seeds and a simple vinaigrette. Depending on if I was still hungry, I would have fruit, as well.
Dinner: For the most part, I tried to stick to either slow cooker meals or easy, quick dinners that I could make in less than 45 minutes. I always made extra so we could eat leftovers and I didn’t need to cook every single night. Some examples of meals that I made: sautéed beef with cauliflower rice, slow cooker carnitas with sweet potatoes, roasted spaghetti squash with meat sauce, Thai zucchini salad with shrimp. I used quite a number of recipes out of the Whole30 book!
What About Breastfeeding?
When I originally mentioned that I was thinking about trying the Whole30 program, many of you asked how it would affect breastfeeding. Joseph stopped nursing around 4.5 months, so this wasn’t an issue for me, but there are sections of the book specific to pregnancy and breastfeeding and how the program should be modified. Of course, if either of these situations apply to you, I would definitely check with your doctor/pediatrician/lactation consultant before starting!
So, here I am, 10 days removed from finishing the Whole30 and I am basically still eating the same way because I feel so great! On Sundays, I have a little bit of everything and a little bit of dessert, but I’m not going crazy, I’m not eating dessert everyday, and I’m eating much more balanced meals. I’m much more cognizant of what I’m putting into my body and how it makes me feel.
I feel like my eating habits have done a complete 180 – I now think in terms of complete meals and fill my plate with vegetables! That alone has been worth its weight in gold in terms of the plan having been beneficial for me. In addition, I think I’ve become much more mindful of my eating – paying attention to when I’m actually hungry, versus thirsty, bored or tired – and then eating good, whole foods that will satisfy my hunger.
I still plan on eating a burger and fries every now and then, and having my desserts (OF COURSE!). I’m just going to be enjoying smaller servings of great quality (homemade) desserts instead of eating store-bought treats every single night, which was a bad habit that I’m glad I was able to kick during those 30 days!
In a nutshell, I’m so glad I did this and would absolutely do it again.
Resources – Books and Websites
If you’re interested in learning more about Whole30, these are some great books, cookbooks and websites to get started:
It Starts With Food
Well Fed 2