Well, we did it! Matthew and I have completed the Whole30 and couldn’t be happier with our experience. It was tough at times, but an extremely rewarding process.
In early July, a friend asked us if we’d like to join her on the Whole30. The last time I had thought about this program was when a friend mentioned it about two years ago. Back then, it didn’t take long for me to read the rules and decide there was NO WAY I could go thirty days without sugar, dairy, legumes, alcohol, and all grains. It seemed absolutely impossible.
This time around, I approached it with a new perspective. I viewed it as a personal challenge, an opportunity to see how dietary changes impacted my body, and as an overall learning experience. Instead of reading about what I couldn’t have, I read about what I was allowed and got excited about the possibilities.
I know everything looks different in hindsight, but I can honestly say it wasn’t impossibly hard. Aside from a few strong cravings and moments where I didn’t want to step into the kitchen for one more second (so, much, cooking!), I’m surprised by how quickly I adapted to the lifestyle change.
I’d like to tell you about my experience in depth. If you’d just like to read about some of my favorite recipes, skip to the bottom! Apologies in advance for not having many photos to share (I was too busy cooking/eating to properly document the process).
- I feel lighter on my feet.
- My clothes fit much better, or no longer fit (too big!)
- I’ve reduced emotional attachments to food/drink. Taking a break from some of my consumption habits (glass of wine with friends, special meals on the weekends, ice cream after dinner on a Netflix binge…) allowed me to focus on enjoying other people’s company, nature, the entertainment at hand, etc. without relying on food/beverage to determine whether or not I had a good time.
- Increased self confidence – not just from a looks perspective, but from a “I put my mind to this and I’m doing it” standpoint. This was a huge accomplishment to me and I’m proud of it!
- Increased daily hydration (water 24/7 – several people have commented that I am “glowing”).
- Reduced anxiety! Meal planning and set rules on what I was “allowed” to eat took a lot of stress out of my week. I used to feel preoccupied with obsessing over whether or not I was eating healthy or working out enough. This program allowed me to just be and take the guess work out of giving my body the right nutrients.
- If I could do this all over again, I would be sure to take measurements on Day 1 to compare on Day 31. I didn’t and I know I definitely lost inches, but I’ll never know how many. Oh well!
- Food or “cheating” dreams: the Whole30 timeline indicated I would start dreaming about food throughout the program, and let me tell you: the struggle was real! I never knew I could feel so guilty for having a sip of wine, or a handful of popcorn. There were many mornings where I woke up horrified that I had accidentally cheated (requiring me to start over on Day 1, per program rules). Needless to say I was always relieved to realize it was just a
- Letting go of the scale: this is a two-part observation. You’re not allowed to step on the scale during Whole30. In the past, I weighed myself daily or every other day. As an adult I’ve always been conscious of my health and weight and became attached to the number on the scale. I saw it as a reflection of progress or an indicator that I needed to make a change. At the beginning, I did panic a few times that I might actually be gaining weight instead of maintaining or losing. After all, I didn’t have my trusty scale to keep me in check! However, a month-long break from weighing in was exactly what I needed. It was soothing to my mind and body. I learned to accept the number on the scale is just a number (just one data point!), and there’s a lot more to pay attention to in terms of tracking your health. I was able to let go and just live, feeling assured that I was eating whole foods and my weight would take care of itself. And sure enough, it did (I lost 8 pounds, which is in addition to months of watching what I ate and exercising in anticipation of my wedding in May).
- Reducing internal inflammation: I’d read a lot about how inflammation is partly caused by what we consume, and reducing inflammation was one of the number one reasons I wanted to try this program. I was shocked to immediately see results after just a few days. I would say by Day 4 my stomach was flatter than it’s been in years. That trend continued throughout and I felt more comfortable in my own skin.
- Non-scale victories: while an added benefit, weight loss is not the purpose of the program. Whole30 encourages you to focus on the other positive changes happening in your life. Some of my favorite NSVs have been:
- Better sleep: it’s easier for me to fall asleep, the quality of my sleep has vastly improved, and I often wake up before my alarm instead of dragging myself out of bed in the mornings.
- Reduced pain: since a high school dance injury, the left side of my neck/shoulder has always given me problems. In recent years it’s been diagnosed as chronic and I’m always anxious to get to my massage therapy appointments. About two weeks into Whole30 I observed my neck pain was still there, but it wasn’t as noticeable as usual. I attribute this to reducing inflammation in my body.
- Feeling satisfied: after I figured out my correct portions (at the beginning there were a few days where I wasn’t eating enough – I learned that when I kept feeling dizzy when I stood up) each meal kept my full until it was time for the next one. My urge to snack was infrequent.
- Leading by example: I mentioned my journey on social media a few times (mostly Instagram) and to close friends. It surprised me how many people ended up trying out Whole30 because they liked hearing about my experience. It is great to see so many people in my life making healthy, positive choices for their bodies!
- Anticipation: in our instant gratification society, I find I usually fulfill my cravings when they strike. Want wine after a long day at work? Open a bottle that evening! Want something sweet on a Monday? Buy some ice cream or head over to the froyo shop! I found these choices turned into habits, eliminating the build up of anticipation and excitement for a treat. Now, I find myself looking forward to a true treat after the 30 days are up, and plan to build in anticipation for future treats as well, instead of satisfying my craving on the spot.
- Eating Out: going out to a restaurant wasn’t something we did very much (I think we went three times total). I thought it would be really hard to find food to eat, but that was the easy part. Sticking to staples like fajitas (confirm the type of oil used, confirm no sugar marinade, then stick to the meat, grilled veggies and guacamole) made choosing something off the menu a breeze. The HARD part was being tempted by all the sights and smells of foods we craved but couldn’t have, right in front of our faces! I highly recommend eating in as opposed to out when possible on Whole30. It’s just easier!
I Wouldn’t Have Survived Without…
While it wasn’t that difficult to make it all 30 days, I must give credit to the things that got me through the occasional rough spots.
La Croix (especially coconut flavor): this stuff is like healthy crack and is such a welcome break from regular ol’ ice water. Tip: add frozen fruit to make a “mocktail!”
Organic sugar free almond butter: if I’m being honest, I probably abused this stuff more than I should have (part of that whole emotional attachment to eating thing…). However, when I needed a little extra protein in my diet, adding a tablespoon or two to bananas, apples, peaches, or blueberries really boosted my energy and mood.
Sweet potatoes: sometimes my body doesn’t want to “feel full” on lean meats/fish and veggies. Sweet potatoes were an excellent addition to my plate and ensured I was getting enough calories.
Guacamole: is any explanation really needed? It complements chicken, beef, fish, eggs, you name it!!
My husband: last but certainly not least, having Matthew do the Whole30 by my side was the greatest gift. If you’re considering doing the program, find someone in your life to do it as a team. It will make it more fun and will help pass the time!
A lot of people asked me if I followed a “menu” provided by the Whole30 folks. No. My strategy was to purchase compliant food at the grocery store and enjoy making different creations in my kitchen (I love to cook). Here are some of the dishes I made over the last month that turned into favorites. You might think: that’s it? Most of these dishes are extremely simple: both in ingredients and how to prepare them. It’s true! Easy, simple, healthy and very flavorful. Win x 4.
- Spaghetti Squash “Spaghetti”
- Prep time: 10 minutes, Cook time: 90 minutes
- 1-2 pounds of lean ground turkey
- 1 jar of no-sugar-added spaghetti sauce
- 1 chopped red onion
- 1-2 chopped green bell peppers
- 1 box of chopped mushrooms
- 1 spaghetti squash
- Pre-heat your oven to 375 degrees, place pot over medium-low heat on the stove top, drizzle a bit of olive oil on the bottom.
- Once the oven is heated, place the entire spaghetti squash in a baking dish and stick it in the oven for an hour and a half. Note: you can also slice the raw squash length-wise, scoop out the seeds, add salt, pepper and olive oil to each side, place face down in a pan with a bit of water and bake it on 375. However, I find baking it whole works just as well and is a bit easier (cutting the raw squash takes some serious muscle!).
- Add the onion and bell pepper to the pot, stirring occasionally for about 3-4 minutes. Then add the ground turkey and brown the meat.
- Once browned, pour the jar of spaghetti squash in the pot and stir well to coat all ingredients.
- Turn the heat to low and cover the pot, let the sauce simmer for at least 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.
- Once the spaghetti squash is ready, take it out of the oven and let cool for at least 5 minutes.
- Carefully (covering your supporting hand with an oven mitt or dish towel), use a knife to slice the squash length wise. It will be very hot!
- Use a spoon to scoop out the seeds and discard. Then, take a fork and scrape the squash lengthwise so it starts to get stringy and has a “spaghetti noodle” consistency.
- Put your squash noodles in a bowl and top with the sauce. Mix it up until fully coated and enjoy!
- If you’d like more spice, add red pepper flakes on top.
- Balsamic Brussels Sprouts
- Prep time: 15 minutes, Cook time: 35 minutes
- 1-2 pounds of raw brussels sprouts
- Salt and pepper
- Olive oil or melted coconut oil
- Balsamic vinegar
- Optional: Cayenne pepper (eliminate if you can’t handle heat)
- Optional: Bacon (if you can find uncured and sugar-free, watch out for sneaky sugars like honey!)
- Optional: cherry tomatoes
- Pre-heat the oven to 400 degrees.
- Wash the brussels sprouts and set aside in a bowl.
- On a cutting board, slice off the end of each brussels sprout and discard, then cut each sprout in half.
- Place the halves (and cherry tomatoes if you’re using them) in the baking dish.
- Lightly drizzle oil across the dish, salt and pepper to taste and add cayenne sparingly (if using).
- Cut strips of bacon into half inch pieces and scatter throughout the dish (if using).
- Add cherry tomatoes to the dish as well (if using).
- Stir to combine seasonings and oil and place in the oven for 35 minutes.
- “Hot Chicken” and “Rice”
- Prep time: 15 minutes, Cook time: 35 minutes
- 1-2 pounds of boneless, skinless chicken thighs
- Salt and pepper
- Frank’s hot sauce
- Olive oil
- 2 cauliflower heads
- Pre-heat the oven to 375 degrees.
- Place chicken thighs in a baking dish, salt and pepper both sides.
- Douse the thighs in Frank’s hot sauce (I think a lot of the heat gets cooked out in the oven, so don’t be shy here!)
- Cut the cauliflower heads into florets and add to a food processor in batches. You should ‘pulse’ in the food processor until the cauliflower has a rice-like consistency (do not over pulse).
- Spread the “rice” across a greased baking sheet (I use a circular one with a wall/lip so the rice doesn’t fall off the sides of the sheet in the oven).
- Salt and pepper and drizzle olive oil on the top. Mix to combine evenly.
- Place the chicken dish and the cauliflower rice dish in the oven (make sure the rice is closest to the coils) for 35 minutes.
- Chicken sausage and scrambled eggs
- Prep time: 2 minutes, Cook time: 20 minutes
- 1 package (4) sugar-free chicken sausage links
- 2-3 eggs (more if you have hungry eaters)
- Handful of baby spinach leaves
- Salt and pepper
- Optional: Blueberries
- Optional: Pico de gallo
- Place a non-stick pan over medium to low heat.
- With the casing on, cook links about 5 minutes on each side, then rotating around the pan for another 5-10 minutes to make sure all sides of the link are cooked through.
- Transfer sausage to a plate.
- Scramble eggs in a bowl and add the baby spinach leaves.
- Pour on to the pan you just used for sausage and cook until done.
- Plate your eggs and sausage.
- Add a small handful of blueberries or a spoonful of pico de gallo on the side to complete your meal (if using).
- Sweet and salty sweet potatoes
- Prep time: 5 minutes, Cook time: 35 minutes
- 1-2 sweet potatoes
- Olive oil or coconut oil
- Sea salt
- Pre-heat the oven to 400 degrees.
- Thoroughly wash sweet potatoes.
- Using a sharp knife over a cutting board, dice the potatoes into 1-inch pieces (skin on).
- Place potato cubes into a bowl and lightly coat with olive oil or melted coconut oil.
- Heat a non-stick pan over medium to high heat and add the potatoes.
- Sauté the potatoes until they’ve browned a little bit on the sides.
- Transfer to a baking dish and lightly dust with cinnamon.
- Bake the potatoes for 25-30 minutes
So now, the million dollar question: will I continue this lifestyle? First of all, the Whole30 is not designed to be the Whole365. This is a reset to help you gain control of your health and food choices, the creators never intended for people to follow it all the time. We are going to start by following the recommended reintroduction plan. If any of these foods bother me now (or if I don’t miss them), I’ll eliminate them permanently. I feel too good and have made too much progress to ruin it with foods I don’t love or those that make me sick.
All in all, we plan to eat at home more frequently and I will continue to cook this way unless it is a special occasion (and special occasions will not be several times a week!). I am definitely bringing the wine back – mostly on the weekends. Giving myself some parameters around when I can have this treat will help me keep that caloric habit in check. I find comfort in the fact that if I ever start to feel out of control, I can always go back to program for a week or longer, just to get back on track. I know I can do it, because I already have.🙂
Thanks for reading about my Whole30 experience! I hope it was interesting and if you’d like more information from me, feel free to tweet me at @hersideproject. xoxo