Today’s personal post is a little glimpse into what I’ve been up to the last 30 days.
In late March, I embarked upon my first Whole30. In case you’re not familiar with the Whole30, here is the basic philosophy:
Certain food groups (like sugar, grains, dairy and legumes) could be having a negative impact on your health and fitness without you even realizing it. Are your energy levels inconsistent or non-existent? Do you have aches and pains that can’t be explained by over-use or injury? Are you having a hard time losing weight no matter how hard you try? Do you have some sort of condition (like skin issues, digestive ailments, seasonal allergies or fertility issues) that medication hasn’t helped? These symptoms may be directly related to the foods you eat – even the “healthy” stuff. So how do you know if (and how) these foods are affecting you?
Strip them from your diet completely. Cut out all the psychologically unhealthy, hormone-unbalancing, gut-disrupting, inflammatory food groups for a full 30 days. Let your body heal and recover from whatever effects those foods may be causing. Push the “reset” button with your metabolism, systemic inflammation, and the downstream effects of the food choices you’ve been making. Learn once and for all how the foods you’ve been eating are actually affecting your day to day life, and your long term health.
And here are the (basic) rules:
- No added sugar
- No alcohol
- No grains
- No Legumes (lentils, peas, chickpeas, peanuts)
- No soy
- No diary
None of the above things for 30 days. What does that leave? Eggs, veggies, meat, fruit, nuts, seeds and fats from things like coconut oil or clarified butter.
Now, I will admit up front that I cheated. And on the Whole30 that is a big no-no. The rules state that if you take even one bite of an outlawed food, you have to start all over again. I knew this and I did it anyway. Why? Because for me, this challenge wasn’t about being 100% compliant, but about becoming more aware of what I was eating, the choices I was making, and most importantly, how much sugar I was consuming on a daily basis. (Fact about me: I LOVE dessert).
So how did I cheat? I had alcohol twice, I had grains three times, I had dairy twice. I had corn once. And I definitely ate sugar within the grain and dairy and corn things I ate above. I also ate things like french fries and potato chips, which are on the list of DO NOT EAT, even when the ingredients are completely compliant (i.e. sweet potato chips that have been fried in sunflower oil with only little salt). In addition, I had gum. Gum is outlawed from the Whole30 on principle (though I have a beef with any of the things outlawed “on principle”), but for me it helped me fight afternoon cravings to snack, which was more important to me than following that rule.
Each time I cheated I did so consciously, with deliberate choice, and I went back to my strict regime at the next meal. It wasn’t a downward spiral, there was no “well, I cheated once, this day is shot” mentality, and there was no guilting myself about it afterwards.
For me this is huge. I was able to stick to my goals for the challenge, explore new foods, and discover how many good recipes exist out there that don’t involve sugar, grains, or dairy. And feel good about it along the way.
What I Ate
What did I eat? I ate a LOT of eggs. Sometimes as much as 4 eggs a day, but most often, two eggs a day. My favorite breakfast was two hard boiled eggs and a plate of fruit (including a banana) and sometimes a handful of raw cashews. I found this breakfast to be satisfying, kept me full until lunch, and tasted great! I tried several other breakfasts and enjoyed some sugar free breakfast sausage or bacon on occasion, but anything that included sugar-free almond butter made my stomach hurt, so I gave that up. I also tried unsweetened almond milk over nuts, seeds, and fruit, but it was just too much like cereal (but didn’t taste nearly as good), to be something I enjoyed eating. And I love breakfast, so I knew I had to find something that I enjoyed starting my day off with. Eggs and fruit were it.
I also ate a lot of meat. I replaced my usual lunch go-to, yogurt and granola, with meat and veggies. We prepped and froze sweet potatoes, green beans, and grilled chicken on the weekends and they were so easy to grab and stuff in my lunch box. Leftover dinners were also great lunches and I have to say I really enjoyed having so many options for hot lunches.
My other favorite food? Sweet potatoes. I would slice up a sweet potato or two, toss them in olive oil and salt, and bake them. Oh my gosh, so so good. I could eat them at almost every meal. And they tasted so good that I didn’t even miss the BBQ sauce I would usually dunk my sweet potato fries in.
If I needed a snack, I grabbed cashews and dried fruit (without added sugar), but I really tried to limit my snacks and after dinner munchies. When I really needed just a little something before bed, dried apples were my go to.
Was it Hard?
In some ways yes, in some ways no. I really didn’t have many issues transitioning to a new way of eating. I didn’t get headaches or overall grouchiness in the first week, which is quite common as people detox off of sugar and alcohol, and though there were times when I really wanted something I couldn’t have, it wasn’t so bad that I felt the need to tear into a forbidden food. I had Girl Scout cookies in my freezer the entire time and I was never tempted to open them, nor did I open the freezer to stare longingly at them.
My biggest challenge in the first week was nailing down a breakfast I enjoyed and learning how much to eat at each meal so I wouldn’t be hungry before the next. My portion of chicken in my lunches week one was definitely not enough to keep me full till dinner, so I had to adjust that in week two.
I definitely had cravings throughout. Week two all I wanted to do was take a big swig of apple juice, straight from the jug. I started to really miss yogurt at lunch and a glass of skim milk with dinner. And by day 21 I was dreaming of cake and candy bars. But they were manageable cravings and I got through them just fine.
Many people embark on a Whole30 to figure out some nagging digestive problems or to see if it helps their energy levels. I didn’t have any problems like this, but I was curious to see if I would notice a difference in some place I wasn’t expecting.
The biggest change? My skin! I typically fight a breakout or two per month, especially in the week before my period, but I had no breakouts for the entire 30 days. I have no idea what this is tied to (though my guess is either gluten or sugar, or both), but within two days of finishing the Whole30, I had a breakout pop up.
Other positives I noticed were slight weight loss and great workouts. You can’t weigh yourself during the Whole30, but when I stepped on the scale on day 31 I was 2 lbs. lighter. Maybe not as much as I had hoped, but I did notice that I looked slimmer–like my body had turned some of that extra fat into muscle. Plus my runs started to feel really great. As in running-faster-than-I-have-since-college-and feeling-awesome kind of great.
In conclusion, while I officially “failed” the Whole30 (according to their rules), I personally feel like I “won” MY Whole30. And there are definitely things about the Whole30 way of eating that I will take with me. I really enjoy my egg and fruit breakfast and I have yet to have a bowl of cereal since finishing. I also liked eating more meat and more protein to keep me full longer and curb snacking. Nuts and dried fruit are definitely my jam. And the sweet potatoes will never go away.
However, I definitely won’t keep myself from eating grains or sugars when there is an occasion to do so. I’ll eat a bagel at a breakfast meeting, pancakes on the weekends, and chocolate chips after dinner if I want something sweet.
But I’ll be doing it all with a more thoughtful and deliberate approach. Which is a win to me.