About two weeks ago I finished my first Whole30, and I wanted to give a recap of the program and some of the benefits you can experience while it’s still fresh in my mind.
To start, what exactly is the Whole30 and why should you be interested? The Whole30 is a 30 day program that focuses on real, nutrient dense, whole foods and eliminates a lot of the common “problem foods” for most people. It was developed by Melissa and Dallas Hartwig and you can find more information in their book: The Whole30: The 30 Day Guide to Total Health and Food Freedom or on their website: whole30.com
On the Whole30 you will be eating: lots of vegetables, fruit, good quality protein, and good quality fat. It eliminates dairy, grains, legumes, alcohol, and sugar, and it also removes “healthified” treat foods such as paleo or “no sugar” versions of pizza, muffins, breads, brownies, etc.
The Whole30 program should be viewed as a way to get in touch with the foods your body was meant to run on and eliminate the foods that could be causing imbalance and inflammation. Did you know that 99.9% of our genes are the same as our Paleolithic ancestors? And one thing is for certain, they did not have access to energy bars or “breakfast” cereal. Our bodies are not meant to consume the mass quantities of sugar and refined carbohydrates that seem to be everywhere today, and that most of us are largely addicted to. It’s no surprise that when faced with carrot sticks versus a bag of chips that most people go for the latter. Our taste buds are so out of whack that foods like vegetables often don’t even taste very good to people. One of the goals of the program is to reset your taste buds and completely change your relationship with the food that you eat.
Why did I decide to do the program?
As a Nutritional Therapy Practitioner ( I will graduate June 2016!) I have a pretty good sense of what foods I should/ should not be eating for my body. So you may then wonder, “why did you feel like you needed to do a Whole30 challenge?” Challenges for me are honestly just a lot of fun. I enjoy the community aspect of a challenge (I started off also with a group of girls in my Nutritional Therapy Practitioner program) and I like the accountability. I also like starting off the year with a strong focus on health and nutrition (which is obviously incredibly important to me) and I wanted to give my body a break from the sugar/ alcohol over the holidays.
That being said, challenges are not for everyone. It really depends on where you are in your health journey and what type of person you are. For long term health and wellness, working with a Nutrition professional is really the way to go because you can get a custom designed plan, but if you do want to kick start your nutrition, I think challenges can be a fun way to do so.
Things I loved about the program:
- You are eating fantastic food. Seriously, the food tastes amazing. It is food that you can be excited about eating every day as you are filling your plate with vegetables, fruit, protein and some good quality fat. Some of my go-to meals on this plan were taco salads (grass-fed meat in taco seasoning over romaine lettuce with bell peppers, onions, and avocado), salmon or roasted chicken with sweet potatoes and broccoli, and eggs with “fried” plantains. If you are coming to this plan from a world where you don’t consume fat, I guarantee your taste buds will be happy the first time you try eggs in ghee (clarified butter).
- You will realize some of your “go to” convenience foods. Maybe it’s the popcorn or cookies after dinner, maybe you always stop by the candy bowl at work, maybe it’s that glass of wine you use to unwind or perhaps every Friday you end up ordering out for pizza. Often times, when we think about our diets we don’t see them as all that unhealthy but when we actually focus our attention on some of our habits (or we aren’t allowed to partake in them) we suddenly see that these “occasional” or “treat” foods are happening more times than we realize, and they could definitely be impacting your health.
- You don’t need to calorie count. This should be super exciting for a lot of people. When you are only eating real, whole foods there is really no need to count calories. The foods people often binge on are the processed, sugary, refined foods and not often too much salmon, sweet potatoes, and broccoli (although, yes, I guess that COULD be done).
- No scale allowed. You are not allowed to step on the scale for 30 days. This is so important because not only does the scale not always tell you the truth, but you can ask yourself more important questions than “am I losing weight” such as, “how does my energy feel?”, “how am I sleeping?, “am I still craving chocolate every evening?”. There are so many fantastic “non-scale” achievements that come out of this program and often unless people see the scale move down “X” pounds those achievements are overshadowed. I like how this program doesn’t make weight loss the only goal, because it shouldn’t be.
- You must stay committed. Not only is the 30 day challenge important for your body, it’s also important for your mind. Tell everyone you know you’re doing this challenge, make sure you are set up for success, and be excited to cross off each day as an accomplishment. It’s only 30 days, it’s not 360 days (though you could do that); I promise, if you really want to do it- you can. This will also show you that you can succeed in other areas of your life that maybe you weren’t sure you could. Trust in yourself and believe that if you set your mind to something, you can make it happen.
- You’ll focus on other healthy habits. Maybe it’s sleep or exercise, but when all of a sudden your food is making you feel good and you get some new found energy, you might realize that you actually want to work out or that you need to focus a bit more on sleep. This program will help you look at your life more holistically and realize how many factors do go into overall health.
Things I found challenging about the program:
- You have to cook, a lot. I’m not going to lie, I was cooking constantly while I was on this program. When you can’t fall back on convenience foods like having a sandwich, grabbing a yogurt, or picking up sushi, it may seem like you are just constantly in the kitchen. This didn’t really bother me as I love cooking, but sometimes, it got hard. But honestly, on those days, just grab a compliant salad bowl from Chipotle and call it a day.
- 30 days. One of the benefits and one of the challenges. In 30 days a lot of stuff is bound to come up. I had happy hours at work, a trip to New Jersey to see my family and friends, and a few nights watching football games where I was the only person not drinking. But at the same time, if you tell others what you’re doing and they’re not respectful and supportive of those goals, maybe you should reevaluate those relationships. And if you can’t commit for the 30 days, then maybe this program isn’t right for you. Looking back, the program flew by and I have no regrets about missing out on a few drinks (just grab a kombucha and put it in a fancy wine glass!).
- It can get expensive. I pretty much eat this way all of the time, so buying grass fed meat and organic chicken isn’t something new to me. However, for a person just starting out, this can be overwhelming. For them, I would say to do the best you can, but don’t beat yourself up if you can’t always find the organic, cage free, local eggs (often times I can’t make this happen either and I just choose the next best available option!). That being said, hopefully by eating more meals in the kitchen as opposed to going out to dinner/ ordering out will offset some of this cost. Also, you don’t need to make elaborate recipes every night. If you are feeling overwhelmed or your food costs are getting too high, keep it simple.
- It can get difficult to sustain. The creators of this program didn’t make it a “forever” diet, but rather a 30 day plan to remove potentially inflammatory foods and discover the world of real, nutrient dense, whole food. I’ve eaten “paleo” and “gluten free” for a few years now and, while I enjoyed this program, I don’t want to eat this way all of the time. Food is more than just sustenance, it’s fun to make pancakes on Sunday morning, go out for sushi with friends and enjoy having a glass of red wine when you go out to dinner. If you are dealing with a particular health challenge or have very specific goals, this plan may work for you longer term. But I think for most people, allowing yourself some balance is good for your soul. It’s just when we’re seeing those “soul” or “comfort” foods show up too frequently then we might want to take step back and give our bodies a break.
Information and Key Points to get you started:
- I would definitely encourage you to buy the Whole30 book. I was initially hesitant on this because a lot of the program materials are online, but I’m so glad I ended up getting it because not only is the information fantastic, there are so many great recipes in there!
- You need 30 days. The creators do not approve any slip ups on this program. This is not only key for determining if you have some sort of food intolerance, but it also is a long enough time for you to see some measurable changes.
- A good attitude. I think this one is so important because you want to be excited about this. I don’t necessarily think the Whole30 is for everyone, but if you want to see how your body feels when you give it only nutrient dense, whole foods and take out some of the common problematic foods, then you should give this a try! But, it really depends on where your mindset is at. This is not a deprivation based plan and is not a “quick fix” diet, it is setting you up for foundations for life.
- The resources on the website are fantastic. Shopping lists, quick refreshers on compliant versus non-compliant foods, and TONS of answers to reader submitted questions and more can all be found here: whole30 downloads. When you get started on this challenge, it might seem simple and straight forwards (it also definitely might NOT seem this way, depending on where you are starting from) but all of a sudden, then you turn around the label on a bottle of salad dressing and suddenly you are panicking again. What is xantham gum? What is sucralose? Are they compliant ingredients? The website will also show you products that are Whole30 approved, so you can pick them up without even having to read labels (although, even with that, I would still encourage people to get in the habit of reading ALL labels ALL the time).
So, all in all, what did I think? I thought the program was awesome. I am so glad I committed for the full 30 days and I would without a doubt recommend this program to others. While I didn’t use this challenge as a weight loss tool, most people do lose weight if they are overweight or they need to (on average, I think people lose about 6-10 pounds). This is also a great challenge if you want to learn if you have some sort of food sensitivity (which most people probably do if we’re being honest), or just want to see how your body feels when you provide it with clean, nutrient dense foods for a month (I can almost guarantee you will be happy with the results).
Are you a fan of challenges? Would your or have you ever done a Whole30?