Disclaimer: I am not a doctor, a nutritionist, or any sort of expert on health or nutrition. The thoughts in this post are just my own opinions and experiences with following the Whole30 plan.
Whole30. Maybe you’ve heard of it–it’s becoming increasingly popular in the dieting world–which sadly, is a world that many of us moms spend way too much time thinking about. Basically, Whole30 is an elimination diet plan focused on detoxing your body from “the most common craving-inducing, blood sugar disrupting, gut-damaging, inflammatory food groups for a full 30 days” in order to cleanse your body and learn what effects these foods may be causing.
Put simply, it’s 30 days with no grains, legumes, dairy, or added sugar. No alcohol of any kind, not even for cooking. That means this mama had to give up her red wine (the horror!). So why would I decide to voluntarily give up some of my favorite simple pleasures (vices?) for a full 30 days? That’s a good question.
When I decided to take on this challenge, I was closing in on four months postpartum from baby #2. My jeans didn’t fit – half the clothes in my closet didn’t fit right, to be honest. I was doing intense exercise 6 days a week, but the scale wouldn’t budge. I’d been gaining and losing the same 3 pounds since my 6-week postpartum appointment with my OB/GYN. My sugar cravings (a result of the free-for-all binge fest that was the end of my pregnancy) were out of control – I was eating dessert almost every night. Usually in the form of ice cream.
Something had to give.
Around this same time, a friend started doing Whole30. I saw the food she was eating, and she clearly wasn’t suffering. Everything looked delicious. The weight was falling off of her, her energy levels were consistently high, and she made the Whole30 seem totally doable. So I decided to join in on the fun. And I talked my hubby into joining in, too, because I needed to have a support system at home if I was going to succeed. Luckily, I didn’t have to twist his arm too terribly hard, although the day before we started he tried to chicken out. I convinced him to give it a week and then told him he could quit if he still wanted to quit. After that first week, he felt so great that he wouldn’t even consider quitting anymore.
After we decided to commit to a Whole30, I knew we had to get started quickly before we could chicken out. I also convinced some friends to join in for the fun, and a few of us started a private Facebook group for support. What started out with about 12 members (some real life friends and some internet “mom friends” I’ve met from my daughters’ birth month boards) has grown over the last month into an awesome community with more than 60 ladies.
The Whole30 creator Melissa Hartwig dishes out the tough love, but that tough love perspective is exactly what I needed to keep me going through those 30 days. One of the most quoted lines in the Whole30 world is the following quote: ““It is not hard. Don’t you dare tell us this is hard. Quitting heroin is hard. Beating cancer is hard. Drinking your coffee black. Is. Not. Hard.” How are you supposed to argue with that?
That’s not to say these 30 days are a walk in the park. I will be the first to tell you that sticking to this plan for 30 days was a challenge. But whenever the going got tough, I reminded myself of that quote, and it somehow seemed just a little bit easier. Not to mention I had constant support from my husband and my friends in my online community. I also put it out there to my Facebook friends that I was doing a round of Whole30 (so I couldn’t quit – because that would have been embarrassing!).
What Was The Hardest About The Whole30?
- Dining out is nearly impossible. Life is so much easier when you stick to food you prepare yourself when you’re in the midst of a Whole30. There are so many off-plan foods that are used in restaurants and you have so little control over what happens behind the scenes in a kitchen. We had carryout one night from The Paragon Club during our round (for my dad’s birthday) and we were able to order potatoes and steaks that were cooked with oil rather than butter. We still had salads but used our own dressing. It worked out, so it certainly is doable, but options are limited, and it’s definitely going to vary from restaurant to restaurant whether the folks in the kitchen are flexible enough to work with you.
- FOMO. Fear of Missing Out is so real during Whole30. I had to constantly remind myself that I wasn’t going to be banned from a specific food forever – it was just for 30 days. So when I watched my coworkers eat birthday cake on someone’s birthday, I remembered that I would get to have cake again someday. I still participated in the birthday party, and luckily we had a fruit tray, too.
- Dishes for days. Oh, the dishes. I thought I did a lot of dishes before I tried Whole30. Now I truly know what “a lot of dishes” means. When you’re eating real, whole foods, you’re in the kitchen all the time. If I never chopped another onion again, it would be too soon.
- Making time to cook a hot breakfast in the mornings. As a work-outside-the-home mama, getting out the door in the morning is pure chaos. Adding to that chaos the time to prepare breakfast made my mornings super stressful. There’s something to be said for the convenience of cereal or oatmeal.
- Making time to cook dinner, too. Basically the same as my last point, except this time the problem comes at the back end of the day. Getting away from the office, picking up kids, getting dinner cooked and on the table, and then going through our typical bedtime routine – that’s a lot to try to cram in before 8:00 p.m.
So you’re probably saying – okay, Kim, this sounds like a lot of unnecessarily hard work, and you’re asking me to sacrifice chocolate and wine. Why would I ever give this a try? Don’t worry, I wasn’t going to tell you all the hard parts without giving the benefits, too.
What I Loved Most About Whole30
- Consistently even energy levels throughout the day. My coffee intake significantly decreased because I didn’t hit that 2:00 slump every day. I yawned less, felt less tired, and was overall more energetic. I loved not feeling like I hit a wall every afternoon and had to trudge through the rest of my work day.
- No more bloating. After 2 days of Whole30, my wedding rings started sliding around on my fingers, and they continued to do so for the rest of the program. My clothes fit better and my self-image was so much more positive than normal – because I felt good when I looked in the mirror.
- Discovering new recipes. We found lots of new healthy recipes that our family really enjoyed. We never would have considered Whole30 or Paleo cooking before Whole30, but now we have a whole new repertoire of recipes to choose from.
- I found that I actually enjoyed the time spent in the kitchen. I’m a lucky lady whose husband loves to cook, so he was formerly the primary chef in our house. During our Whole30, I did the majority of the cooking, and I found myself really enjoying it.
- My blood pressure came down. I have been struggling with high blood pressure for the past few years, but my numbers were consistently on the lower end of normal during my Whole30. I’ve found that my blood pressure issues are very much diet related – what an eye opener.
- Less Stress. It’s amazing, but food affects us in so many ways. Both my husband and I experienced a noticeable improvement in our mental well-being during our Whole30 experiment. It was helpful for our marriage, too – we were just generally less stressed and irritable, which made us less likely to pick fights with one another.
- I felt empowered. I loved the feeling of pride and accomplishment I felt as I went through the 30 days. I had picked a tough goal and I was sticking to it – each day felt like a victory.
- Hard and fast rules. With so many diet plans, you are constantly faced with the element of choice – how much of something is too much? Should I eat the ice cream today and skip it the rest of the week? Should I have this salad or indulge in the cheeseburger that I’m actually craving? With Whole30, the rules said I could either eat something, or I couldn’t. Everything was black and white, and I found that to be incredibly helpful.
Overall, I lost 15 pounds over the course of 30 days, however, I gained a couple of pounds back after my diet returned to normal. I didn’t follow through with the recommended reintroduction phase of the program, and I regret it. The idea at the end of Whole30 is to find your “food freedom” in whatever fashion makes the most sense for you. The idea behind “food freedom” is to eat the food that you find that you REALLY TRULY WANT in any particular moment. If you know it’s something that might not agree with you or might not support your health goals, but you still make a conscious decision to eat it, then that’s okay. But sometimes, after weighing the cost/benefit of the food, you might find yourself turning it down. I’m still on my “food freedom” journey, but I hope to continue to learn and focus on changing my relationship with food.
Whole30 is hard – but it is doable. It’s not a sustainable lifestyle to live forever, but it definitely offers benefits in the short term. If you are interested to see how different foods might be affecting your body, this is a great elimination diet plan to help with that investigation. My biggest complaint about the Whole30 actually came after I finished the program–I found myself having a hard time putting the breaks on eating the foods that had been “off-limits” after eliminating them for 30 days. I felt that the complete elimination of certain foods sent me spiraling in an unhealthy direction after I finished my Whole30.
I write all of this to say that Whole30 was an interesting experiment and it made me remember how important it is to take care of myself and make my well-being a priority. I am not currently on a round of Whole30, but I am actively watching my diet and tracking my food with the My Fitness Pal app these days. As moms, it’s hard to make ourselves and our health priority, but I’m here to tell you it is possible – and you are worth it.
Have you ever completed a Whole30? What was your experience with the program? I’d love to hear from you in the comments.