When my roommates decided they were going to do Whole30 and they wanted me to join them, my immediate reaction was “Hell no!” I had heard about the diet and seen all the pretty pictures of Whole30-approved meals on Instagram, but one glance at the list of “rules” and foods I couldn’t eat had me running for the hills. What do you mean I can’t have bread?!
I decided to do some research. I read through all the reasons the creators of Whole30 believe certain foods negatively affect our lives, and I watched a ton of Youtube videos of real people talking about their own Whole30 experience. The results were overwhelmingly positive, with most people choosing to keep eating mostly Whole30 after their month was over. And I thought, “Maybe this is actually worth trying.”
So, in support of my roommates and a need to change my unhealthy food habits, I decided to go for it. And man, it really is life-changing! But I feel like it’s important to know what to expect before you jump into it, so here’s a quick rundown of my Whole30 experience.
What exactly is WHOLE30:
- Whole30 is essentially an elimination diet (but I hate to even call it a diet). For 30 days, you completely cut out “bad” foods so that your body goes back to a clean slate. It’s about eating natural, non-processed foods that allow your gut to reset and, in turn, show you how those other foods were making you feel. Learn more about Whole30 here.
- What you CAN’T eat: added sugar (of any kind, including honey), alcohol, grains (I know, bread!, ugh), dairy (yeah, that includes frozen yogurt, sigh), legumes, “treats”, carrageenan, MSG, or sulfites (most additives).
- What you CAN eat: meat, vegetables, fruit, nuts, and potatoes.
What to expect:
- It will be hard. This is not an easy diet. I didn’t realize how much sugar I was consuming until this program, and boy, did my body rebel. The more you’ve been depending on food or sugar for energy or to make you feel better, the harder it will be. But most good things are hard at first.
- You’ll be doing a lot of dishes. For the whole month, we didn’t really eat out since most places use ingredients we couldn’t have. This meant LOTS of trips to the grocery store. Expect to spend more time cooking and preparing meals and also cleaning up in the kitchen. Healthier food is expensive but not eating out all the time actually saved me money.
- Lots of label reading. Besides grocery shopping, you’ll be spending more time making sure you buy things that are Whole30 compliant. This means scouring the organic aisles or Googling, “Can I have ______ Whole 30?” There will be ingredients you didn’t even know existed until you’re reading labels and screaming, “Why does every ketchup have sugar in it?!” Know it will take a while to figure out what to get, especially if you’re used to buying certain brands. *See Whole30 Favs List Below*
- Your coworkers will suddenly bring donuts to the office. It seems the moment you’re trying to get healthy, Satan sends a plethora of temptations your way in the form of pizza and dessert trays. Expect to be offered a lot of free food during this month. Just stand firm and kindly reply, “No thank you. I’m on Whole30.” And then go cry in a corner.
- You’ll think it’s not working. It takes a while for you to notice the results, but little by little, whether it’s more energy, your skin clearing up, or feeling less desire to eat a cookie, you’ll start to feel better.
How did my 30 days go:
- The first week was the hardest for me. Day 1, I was feeling pretty good. But when it came to 10 pm and I hadn’t had any sugar that whole day, I almost caved and got a milkshake. I wanted one soooo bad! But I thought, “No way can I give up on the first day.” So I ate some grapes and some nuts and groaned and called it a day.
- Day 2-3 was literal hell. This is what they call the “hangover period,” and boy, did I feel that. I had a massive headache, my body ached, and I was so tired! I could barely stay awake because my body was so used to getting energy from the sugar I would eat every day. I had to leave work early because I couldn’t keep my eyes open. And on Day 3, the leg cramps started. I’m the only one of my roomies that got this, but apparently it’s pretty common. Just another part of the detox. During this phase, I literally thought I was going to quit, but people kept saying to just give it a couple more days.
- By the second week, I was feeling like this was much more doable. The detox was done, but now I was bloating. Just a sign of your gut figuring out how to digest food differently. And then the food dreams started. It was right around Easter when I dreamed I ate an entire basket of chocolate bunnies and had no regrets.
- Day 15, the halfway mark, was when I started seeing results. My waist felt slimmer so I tried on a pair of jeans that had been too tight before, and they actually fit! I had more energy and didn’t felt like crashing immediately when I got home from work. And the cravings were significantly lower.
- On Day 22, I hit the SO OVER IT phase. I was tired of potatoes. I never wanted to see a potato again. And it seemed as if all the foods I loved so much (Chick-fil-A, cookies, Diet Coke, bread) were everywhere. I just wanted to be done.
- By Day 30, I was excited and proud to be almost done with the program. But part of me was like, “Hey, I can actually keep doing this. I feel really good and this isn’t that hard.”
What WHOLE30 did for me:
- I slimmed down. I didn’t weigh myself before or after finishing Whole30 (they recommend not to during), so I don’t know how much weight I lost, but really, I don’t care. I have noticed that my waist and hips feel slimmer and so does my face. That’s good enough for me.
- I have more energy. This took some time, but by the end, I was waking up before my alarm every day–something that NEVER happens. This “Queen of the Snooze Button” is waking up at 6 am some days! Unheard of in this house! And after work, I actually want to do the dishes or go on a walk rather than crash on my bed.
- More regular. Yay poop!
- I’m not sick. I usually get sinus infections several times a year, especially right around Spring. But this year, I didn’t! I really think this was because of eliminating certain foods that I might be mildly allergic to.
- I feel more healthy. The biggest benefit of Whole30 has been that I generally feel much better! It’s a feeling I can’t really explain, but in comparison to how I used to feel, it’s huge. This is what really convinced me that Whole30 was worth it and made me want to keep going.
- I learned how badly I was treating my body. Before I was reading labels or watching every bite I put in my mouth, I just ate whatever. But eliminating sugar and other foods made me realize that I wasn’t taking care with what I was consuming. I feel like I better understand the importance of eating well and just how much your diet affects every part of your body.
- I depended on food to make me happy. You don’t realize how much you go to food for comfort until you can’t eat your comfort foods. This was probably the hardest part mentally, but I had to find other ways to relax. Reading, writing, walking, etc. became my replacements for food. But I’m definitely still learning this.
- Iron Chef here I come. I’ve never been much of a cook, but Whole30 has definitely made me more confident in the kitchen. Because I have to cook all my meals, I’ve learned how to use spices and now have some great go-to recipes that I can whip up anytime. Yay!
Tips to get through your own WHOLE30:
- Don’t go hungry. The best way to resist temptation is to be sure you’re well-fed. I found that whenever I was struggling and wanting foods I couldn’t have, eating a big meal that I enjoy had me feeling satisfied instead of desperate. I say, eat as much as you want!
- Meal prep. Half the struggle is the inconvenience of not being able to just go out for dinner or hit the drive-thru. Make sure you’ve got a meal or a snack ready at all times. Sundays were our apartment’s meal prep days, but pick a day when you grocery shop and prepare your meals in advance.
- Grab a buddy. I attribute most of my Whole30 success to the fact that I had two other people doing it with me. Not having bad foods in the house and rotating dinners during the week helped so much! If you aren’t able to have someone do Whole30 with you, at least tell someone that you are doing it so you can have some accountability.
- Find a reward besides food. Since I was used to eating my feelings, I had to find alternatives to reward myself. Buy a new pair of jeans. Go see a movie. Read a book. Discover ways to redirect those cravings toward positive, healthy rewards, which, of course, is easier said than done.
- Whole30 is a process. If you’re anything like me, you’ve had years of unhealthy eating habits, and those take time to get rid of. Allow yourself to adjust and know that Whole30 is just a starting point toward a healthier life. You got this!
My Fav WHOLE30 Brands:
There are a bunch of different tried-and-true Whole30-approved brands, but here are some of the ones that helped me survive my own 30 days:
- Tessemae’s: They’ve got great ketchup and bbq sauce that I literally put on everything! Some of their salad dressings are also compliant, such as ranch or vinaigrettes. Plus, they have ready-to-go salad packs with Whole30-approved ingredients that work great if you need lunch in a pinch.
- Primal Kitchen: It’s hard to find Whole30-compliant mayo, but this was great for when I needed to make coleslaw or chicken salad. They also have salad dressings.
- Lara Bar: You have to watch out because not all of these are compliant, but they are good if you are on the go or will be somewhere where you’ll know you’ll be surrounded by food you can’t eat. Banana Bread and Pecan Pie are my favs.