On January 5, 2015, I put my willpower to the ultimate test when I embarked on a 30-day nutritional journey that eliminated sugar, dairy, legumes, soy, grains and alcohol from my diet. It’s called the Whole30 and, as you can imagine, it was a Whole ‘lotta work, but totally worth it!
Created by Melissa and Dallas Hartwig, the Whole30 is a nutritional program designed to change not just what you eat, but the way you look at food. The couple asks you to think of it like “a short-term nutritional reset.” I initially looked to it for weight loss, but the program is actually not a weight-loss diet. It’s an elimination diet and one that has been created to “put an end to unhealthy cravings and habits, restore a healthy metabolism, heal your digestive tract and balance your immune system.”
When you eliminate the foods that have a history of disrupting everything from your gut to your skin, you may realize you weren’t feeling your best! Plus, as a nice little side effect, you just might lose weight. As amazing as all of this was, I discovered it did not come without a struggle. Looking back on my Whole30, here are some tips to get the most out of the program.
1. PREPARE – Sounds familiar doesn’t it? Some food prep will be needed to avoid those pesky temptations. But preparing is more than just battling cravings. Preparing starts a few days or even a week before you begin the program to read labels, check restaurant nutritional information and make sure whatever you put in your belly is Whole30 approved.
If you are already a healthy eater or even a Paleo follower, you still have prep work. Foods you assume are fine to eat might not make the Whole30 cut. Take nuts for example. Grabbing the Planters Nuts in the snack aisle, probably means cottonseed oil, a no-no ingredient. Hint: Buying nuts straight out of the bins at places like Native Sun or Earth Fare, or purchasing the raw nuts in Publix produce are almost always Whole30 approved.
Other things like banana chips may seem harmless enough but potentially have loads of added sugar in them. READ EVERYTHING and don’t be afraid to ask a restaurant to hold the bun (places like Five Guys and Burger Fi offer lettuce wraps in place of a bun) or ask what type of oil your dish is cooked in.
2. SUGAR, SUGAR EVERYWHERE – “Really, Jena? Do we have to discuss sugar? It’s like the most obvious food to avoid.” Yes, you’re right but what you may not realize is that the honey you put in your tea or the coconut palm sugar you used in baking or the rice syrup in your Kind Bar are all sugar, no matter what fancy word you use to describe it. Sure, they aren’t all created equal and different types of sugar may be better than others. But since one of the purposes of the Whole30 is to eliminate that sugar dragon, adding a teaspoon of honey to your tea won’t help you kick the habit. DON’T ignore this rule. It’s one of the most important.
3. YOUR MIND IS A BAD INFLUENCE – One of the hardest parts about my Whole30 was myself. I got in my way every single day. I’d argue with myself about why the crackers in the pantry were actually good for me because they would make me happy, even if they later made me feel awful. I’d firmly decide that I didn’t want a life without (enter whatever food was enticing at the moment here) so why not just eat it now and not delay the inevitable? That little voice inside my head egged me on, especially in the first few days. Sometimes I could ignore the urge for the sugary latte, but when my mind grabbed my ear, it screamed at me. Get ready for the internal argument. It’s like the friend who says, “come on nobody has to know.”
Let willpower step in. Take control of your mind and your eating habits will fall into place. You might have to spend some time re-learning food and your relationship with it but remember it’s just food. Instead of using food to sustain life we tend to use it to satisfy an emotion. If we change the way we see it and re-train our minds to look at it for what it is – fuel – then we can control the cravings and stop the chatter. I had to remind myself constantly that the Whole30 was empowering me, not depriving me. It helped and eventually that little voice got quieter and quieter.
4. YOU’LL FEEL FREE – Despite the prep work and occasional mental struggle, the Whole30 is freeing. For the first two weeks, I spent a lot of time in the kitchen and worried if I had enough Whole30 foods available. I admit, I can be a bit obsessive about food. I look forward to eating and sometimes even fantasize (or even worry) about the next meal. It took me a while to learn to eat more at my meals so I wouldn’t want to snack. But once I did I felt free! I was more relaxed about my eating schedule, and I had more time to focus on how well I was doing on the program. Side note: If you are working out a lot, chances are you will need a pre- and post-workout snack. By no means does the program ask you to starve yourself. If you’re hungry, eat!
5. DON’T MAKE TWO DINNERS – If your husband wants to join you on your Whole30 adventure, fantastic. If he doesn’t, don’t force him. But don’t make two separate dinners! Remember how I just said I felt free from watching the clock and making sure I had enough food on hand at all times? Don’t complicate that feeling by thinking you have to make your kids and partner a different meal. You don’t and you shouldn’t. A simple Google search of Whole30 dinners will provide tons of delicious meals, and your family won’t even realize they are Whole30 approved. Both my husband and oldest daughter love this Whole30 chili I make. In fact, there were several meals they gobbled up so quickly I added them to my rotation.
Have you done a Whole30? What tips do you have to stay on track?