(This post is long. Bare with me. I’ve included a synopsis of my past Whole30s.)
Why did we do it? A little back story.
This Whole30 was a necessary intervention for me. I was coming off of one year of new-relationship bliss and was (and still am) very much in love. But I had not felt heavier, more lethargic or unmotivated in years. I was depressed because my pants did not fit and also my pants did not fit because I was depressed. That correlation is a funny one. I became unproductive in what I knew I was capable of. I had lost my spark, my edge, and my desire for newness. My always thirsty and hungry self was “happy” just laying on the couch and eating chocolate dipped in almond butter when I came home from work. I couldn’t take it anymore because I felt so unlike the person I know I am and always was. I have a great life, so I have nothing to be sad about. So what was the culprit? Eating food that I know doesn’t work for me and drinking too much. It was so. much. fun. to do this, but one thing led to another and left me in the state described above.
Alcohol HAD been a big part of my life for a long time, because college and because fun. But in my adult-y life I realized its terrible effects on my mind and body, so I drastically cut down. I’d have one glass of wine per week but was fine without it. It just gave me this weird feeling in my stomach and made me dizzy. Yes, I’m a two year old.
Prior to beginning my relationship with Derek, I had been single for a solid and necessary two years. Two years that I spent REALLY taking care of myself. I focused on starting a business from scratch, exercising, and having super dialed-in nutrition to try and cure a lifetime of digestive issues. I felt great most of the time, but workaholic status meant my social life was inactive. I also discovered in those two years that I cannot eat gluten, dairy, grains, soy, or sugar without feeling horrendous for DAYS. This restrictive way of eating isn’t the line that you want to start out when you begin to date someone, when most dates center around food and alcohol.
On my first date with Derek, I was finishing up my second Whole30 and was feeling AMAZING. We met for drinks; he ordered a beer and I got a sparkling water. I knew he was the one for me because 1. I was sober and still wanted to see him again and 2. When we were about to go home, he poured some of my water into a wine glass and proceeded to act as if it were wine saying something like “I smell a great amount of effervescence in this vintage” swirling the glass around and giving the water a big whiff.
My birthday followed shortly after, and on the night before, I reintroduced one glass of prosecco and some chocolate. Not really any ill effects. The next day, my birthday, I had banana and peanut butter and gluten free toast, a few leaves of lettuce with a slice of cheese the size of a tire for lunch, more chocolates and treats, then my mom’s maduros slathered in brown sugar, orange juice, and butter topped with salted sour cream and queso fresco, plus chocolate cake and nitrogen ice cream. Way to come off of a whole30. This is NOT suggested. Plus, wine to top it all off.
My body was in an uproar. But I worked out, and felt better. The next day, Derek and I were meeting for a dinner date and “I’m on a whole30” was not an excuse anymore, and I just felt like continuing to have “fun” and be a “normal” person, so I decided to experiment more. That night we had cheese and a bottle of wine, and over the next few months we would drink several glasses of wine per night, plus delicious sweet cocktails at our favorite bar in Miami, plus cheese plates, plus more wine, plus me being a chef and being like “let me show you my talents!” and then proceeding to make sweet treats, drink wine, not get enough sleep, and not work out very much. I spent a lot of time complaining about how shitty I felt and did feel addicted to these foods and to be very real, I had a lot of trouble being honest with other people about my new-found allergies. It’s really, really, really hard for me to speak up sometimes. But, that ended fast when I became exhausted of feeling like crap. I knew I needed to do it because I know it works, and “tried” over the course of the relationship but there was always a birthday, a Friday, a Saturday, a night for partying and having fun, or a night to enjoy our delicious & jammy Zinfandels and chocolates. Two steps forward would take me one step back with each little indulgence. Not anymore. Derek was well aware of my mood and lackadaisical attitude towards life, so he suggested he would do it with me.
But he doesn’t eat like I do. He doesn’t need to watch his consumption of food AT ALL. He is naturally thin and eats whatever he wants. He has no emotional attachment to food. He loves it, but he can take it or leave it. He can skip meals without batting an eye and never eats for other reasons than hunger. Isn’t that nice? His favorite meals are pizza, pasta, bread, cream cheese, nutella, anything chocolate, glazey, sweet sauces and whiskey. But he knew I needed to do this and was interested in his own mental strength (because this does take mental strength) and how it would affect his energy throughout the day. Usually, he feels a 3PM slump and needs coffee or something sweet to bring him back to life. He has trouble getting out of bed in the morning. He has good skin and just doesn’t think twice about getting stuff done throughout the day. So we decided to dive in. We also added a calendar to our refrigerator and crossed out the days as we got through them. This gave us a strong sense of accomplishment plus lots of motivation and inspiration.
The nitty gritty
So what is it exactly?
This is what you CAN’T eat:
Take a deep breath. There is A LOT you can eat:
Additionally, you cannot eat foods made from Whole30 compliant ingredients that resemble the “real” thing. The program refers to this as “Sex With Your Pants On” because it’s good but not THAT good. Also, your brain cannot differentiate between the real thing and the imposter, so you’re not taking into account the emotional reasons that you need the food (IF you are trying to rid yourself of bad habits). So that would include things like chips, pancakes, or dried fruit & nut candies made in the food processor, among others.
They also suggest ridding yourself of foods you tend to overeat. For me, this is all nut butters, dried fruits, lara bars, and even sweet fruits such as mangoes, figs, pineapples, etc. I did my best not to eat them the entire time.
(First trip to Costco)
What did our groceries look like?
I knew I would be in charge of most of the meal planning and preparation and I knew that Derek needed to NOT get bored. He & I knew that if he was doing this by himself he would be eating eggs for breakfast, bars for snacks, sausages for lunch, and steak & potatoes for dinner every day.
On our first grocery run we went to Costco and bought:
We then focused on getting things like ground beef, salmon, steaks, shrimp, chicken thighs, eggs, sweet potatoes, ghee, peaches, coconut milk, spaghetti squash, butternut squash, zucchini, etc, and other vegetables. Derek would eat an RX bar (coffee flavor) and/or Lara Bar (lemon pie, cashew cookie, coconut cream pie) every day because I needed to make sure that he was eating enough. I also added ghee or coconut oil to everything he was eating because calories. LaCroix and other sparkling waters were a HUGE lifesaver, as they filled that “munchy” need at the end of a meal. So were herbal teas.
(How our fridge looked most of the time. I have mild fridge OCD. There is a bunch of cut fruit, lettuce, tomato sauce, tuna salads, meatballs, stews, eggs, sausages, minced ginger, garlic, herbs, etc.)
How did we meal prep?
I would spend a few hours over the weekend prepping vegetables for roasting (so when we got home during the week all I had to do was throw some ghee on a pan and stick those babies in the oven to cook themselves), slicing and washing fruit to be ready to eat, cutting lettuce, making salad dressings for both of us, and making sure our spice cabinet was stocked and a few homemade spice blends were available.
I also would usually make a tuna salad, some sort of mini spiced patties with turkey, baked chicken thighs with a spice blend, and two full meals with lots of leftovers that he could eat during the week for breakfast or lunch. Usually based in ground beef ie a Thai spiced ground beef, bolognese & spaghetti squash casserole, chicken tikka masala, Thai-spiced beef stew, that were good to reheat. I also made him a frittata but he realized he doesn’t like those. When we were running low on food, he would scramble himself some eggs for breakfast and then bake 3 sausages to take for lunch.
Sometimes I would marinate a steak in the fridge and he would cook it when he got home or we could just sear some steaks, pork chops, or broil some salmon and make it easy. I also planned on one instant-pot meal per week so we could come home to delicious food without effort.
What did our meals look like?
This Whole30 was a little more complicated for me because I decided to completely avoid nuts & nut butters, and I don’t eat eggs unless I know the source so most of the time, I don’t eat eggs.
*Our meals ALWAYS contained an animal protein, some vegetables, a starch for him, and some fruit in between with a little added fat in the form of ghee, coconut oil, or avocado for me (Derek doesn’t eat avocados).
I ate mainly non-starchy vegetables and limited my starch to nighttime on days that I had worked out. Our meals depended on how much time we had. Takeaway message: this does NOT need to be complicated. So you don’t need to be making “recipe meals” for every meal. Searing a protein is fine. Roasting vegetables with salt & ghee is delicious. Tossing lettuce and salad veggies with vinegar & oil is perfectly fine. A lot of our meals looked like this. I would amp them up a little bit with a homemade dressing, spice blends, or sauce like chimichurri. But not always. Don’t make it more complicated than it needs to be. Of course weekends and when you have time you can make recipes, but otherwise, keep it SIMPLE. You are already having to exert lots of effort in terms of the willpower of avoiding some of your most beloved foods.
(An example of Derek’s breakfast & lunch, to-go: frittata, meatballs, tomato sauce, two baked potatoes, asparagus soup, walnuts, larabar, & berries)
How much does this cost?
This is kinda expensive. Think about it, you are making everything from scratch and not buying any processed foods. Which means you need to look at ingredients and make sure they’re clean, and cleaner foods are super expensive. That first trip to Costco was $250.00, but that lasted us a solid two weeks. We would then go to the grocery store once per week and spend about $100-150, and I would make mini-pit stops throughout the week to pick up anything random that we needed and spend anywhere from $15-50.
So, was it worth it?
Honestly, this wasn’t that hard. We had a lot of fun doing it together. We ate really delicious meals. I can’t stress how important it is to have support. If people around you are eating tons of food you can’t eat or are peer pressuring you to eat chocolate or guzzle booze, the program’s difficulty goes through the roof.
The entire time, I only heard one peep out of Derek that he wanted whiskey after a long day of work. Maybe he wanted cheese one other time. But 99% of the time, he was happy and did not complain. He also didn’t say he missed the other foods. He didn’t experience any intense cravings or fatigue. He began to sleep much better throughout the night and would fall asleep immediately once his head hit the pillow. Skin began to glow. Digestion was fine (perhaps more frequent?) but it was fine to begin with. Felt more energy throughout the day and did not really need that 3PM coffee that he was used to. Mental clarity also felt the same. He has also begun to work out again, something he hasn’t done in about a year.
Over the past week he has re-introduced all of the food groups. He’s had cheese, whey protein shakes, milk, peanut butter, chocolate, burritos, sandwiches, alcohol, and there has been NO change in how he feels. Last night he had some pizza with wine and key lime pie and he woke up this morning and said he felt “a little bloated.” Over the course of the entire month, he lost 2.3 pounds while eating TONS OF FOOD. POUNDS OF IT. Like several starches per day plus bars and fruits and nuts with spoonfuls of fat on top. Just goes to show you the effects that real food has on the body while lowering inflammation. He will continue to eat clean when he’s at home, but isn’t going to be crazy about it when he’s out of the house. This is not a permanent thing, but he is glad he did it for the sake of curiosity.
I, on the other hand, feel much differently. First of all, I’ve always said I’m an HSP (highly sensitive person) so food affects all parts of my being. It affects the way I think, feel, act, and look. If I want to have a good day, be nice to those around me and get some semblance of work done, I cannot eat poorly. Also, I have had terrible stomach problems my entire life that only get ameliorated when I eat the Whole30 way. I also come from a background of disordered eating tendencies and anxiety/depression, so this is just as much for my mental health. It took a long time for me to accept this, but “eating healthy” isn’t about dogma or being a holier-than-thou-art snob. I don’t poopoo on how anyone else eats nor do I force my views on others. If you ask me, though, I will spill my guts. I just share MY experiences, so the food I choose reflects my values and how I want to approach life every single day: fully, vibrantly, productively, and energetically.
I already described how I felt pre-Whole30, and post-Whole30 my life is changed, again. My clothes all fit, I sleep like a freaking rock (for the past few months I’ve had BIG issues falling and staying asleep), I wake up at 5:30am without an alarm clock happy and ready to take on the day, my thinking is clear and productive, digestion is perfect, minimal bloating, I want to work out every day, and all of those feelings of lethargy and depression are pretty much gone. Like, I used to randomly cry throughout the day for no reason (I’m thinking now it’s because of the new-found links between the gut microbiome and the brain, and the fact that inflammation is becoming a contributing factor of depression, and all Whole30 foods are anti-inflammatory) and that is non-existent, thank God for the people around me. I would do this to my dad (who would be like seriously, your stomach issues, again? What can it be?) and Derek (who was and is always the most supportive, patient, and loving person I know) or my best friends.
I also feel more creative; for a long time I had lost my ability to write or make art or express myself (hello, I totally abandoned this blog) and now I feel like the fire in my butt is back. I’ve always been a Type-A, accomplish-everything type of person (probably to the point of unhealthy sometimes) and that drive is back. I just feel more like the person I know I’m meant to be, who now feels well enough to tackle all of the things I want for my life. I’ve had my own little business for the past three years that I’m currently working on expanding in a BIG way, and this takes clarity, focus, attention, discipline and lots of drive. The Whole30 way of eating will be the foundation for that. I’ve always been a hippie, and my connection to the earth and universe just feels STRONG.
For me, this wasn’t just about the food. It brought so much more. So much, in fact, that I will continue to eat this way, forever, until things come along that are REALLY WORTH IT. I haven’t deliberately reintroduced any of the foods (besides some alcohol this past weekend, which left me with a hangover after 2.5 drinks) nor do I plan on doing so until something worth it comes along. This is not easy considering I’m a chef and baker and overall food lover, but after years of going back and forth I’m confident that clean foods create spillover for my entire being. I only hope for positive ones. This takes extra time, planning, and patience, but for me, it’s completely worth it.
Should you do this?
If you have ever struggled with your weight, if you feel bloated after meals or at the end of the day, if you have tried EVERYTHING and nothing works, then this is for you. You might not even know that your favorite everyday foods are affecting you negatively until you pull them out. For my whole life, I ate wheat, sugar, and dairy multiple times a day and always thought that people on restrictive diets didn’t know how to live right, but pulling them out was eye-opening.
On another level, if you struggle with food addiction, sugar addiction, depression, anxiety, mood disorders, mental disorders, lethargy, bad sleep, brain fog, please know this can help and you can get your “old self” back.
It’s really scary at the beginning and yes, it is hard sometimes. But you can do it if you set your mind to it. You can do anything if you set your mind to it. Plus, it’s only 30 days. Just keep in mind that this is meant to fuel a lifestyle change and you can’t just do this for 30 days and then go back to eating crap IF you have issues that you want to take care of. This is a program of awareness and healing and NOT a quick fix. It’s meant to tackle emotional issues around food, and once you’re done you can re-evaluate what you eat and create an individualized framework that makes you feel awesome.
How can you start?
Visit the Whole30 website: www.whole30.com. It has EVERYTHING you need. Support, plans, ideas, shopping lists, forums, FAQ’s. Plus, It’s all free.
You can also order the book for a more comprehensive outline, here. Additionally, you can order Dallas & Melissa Hartwig’s first book, It Starts With Food, which details the reasons we shouldn’t be eating the off-limits foods.
What are some good cookbooks?
There are a lot of Paleo cookbooks out there. These are the ones I like:
Also note that a lot of cookbooks have Whole30 recipes by default. If you think about it, most fine dining is based off of a seared or grilled protein plus vegetables.
What are some good blogs to follow?
Well, this one, duh. I’ll be sharing more of my recipes and meal ideas & tips as time goes on, but here are some other ones that my picky self loves.
We cannot make sustainable change with food, our bodies, or our surrounding habits until we honestly explore and get curious about our relationship with each of them. Mindset change is not easy, but so, so worth it.
Being healthy starts with learning to cook simple foods in easy, delicious ways with approachable and practical recipes and techniques.
Our health begins with properly nourishing our bodies with nutrient-dense foods. I believe in bio-individuality: each person requires different types and amounts of food to feel their best. Learn how to eat intuitively for the rest of your life!