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Last week, I explained what the Whole30 elimination diet is, and how to best prepare for it and eat during it. This week, I’m going through how I felt during my Whole30, my Whole30 results, what I learned from my reintroduction phase, and whether I’d recommend it to you. So if you haven’t, I’d suggest reading that post first and then coming back here to the thrilling conclusion.
Just to briefly recap, Whole30 is a 30 day elimination diet forbidding alcohol, dairy, soy, beans, legumes, gluten, grains of any kind, added sugar of any kind, and additives like carrageen, sulfites, and nitrates. The point is to clear these things out of your system for 30 days and then to slowly reintroduce them to see if you have any sensitivities that were previously masked by the daily onslaught of these foods. The point is also to reframe how you think of food. Instead of an emotional outlet, it is fuel, delicious fuel, but not to be mistaken for comfort, love, or happiness.
Whole30 Results: How I Felt Day to Day
Let’s just say it was up and down. How I felt about the Whole30 program swung wildly during the course of the 30 days. At first, I felt fine, happy to be eating better, but very restricted. After a few days I noticed I was hungry all the time, which means I was hangry more often than I like to be. It took a few days to sort out that I needed to eat more starchy vegetables like sweet potatoes and squash with every meal, as well as add a fourth meal. Once I did that, the hangries subsided for the most part unless I found myself too far from my kitchen for too long.
Week two began two weeks of digestive issues which were unpleasant to say the least. Luckily that did level off in the last week, but two weeks of IBS really had me doubting my life choices.
During the third week of my Whole30 I felt bored with the food I could have and annoyed with all the damn cooking I had to do all the damn time. I mean, can’t a girl just grab a sando once in awhile? Apparently not. I also wasn’t feeling many non-scale victories (“NSV” in Whole30 talk) like more even energy and emotions or clear skin so I began to question whether this program was worth it at all.
I also had my biggest “slip” in my third week of the program. I accidently ate a feta-laced-frittata while at a ski hill with my kids. We hadn’t planned this trip so I was underprepared for 10+ hours away from a kitchen. I could not survive on nuts and Lara bars alone so I ordered a frittata for breakfast, asking about about flour, butter, and corn. I forgot to ask about cheese. I made it halfway through my frittata before I realized there was feta in it. There I was with two tiny children hanging off of me at a crowded ski resort cursing myself, the Whole30 program, and the cafe for not listing cheese in the description.
Whole30 Results: Why I Didn’t Make it to Day 30
Under the Whole30 rules, I should have started the 30 days over because adding dairy into my otherwise pristine digestive environment set off an immune response which would taint the results of my reintroduction phase. But that frittata fiasco came on day 16. Sixteen days of checking every single ingredient label for additives and sugar (it is in everything!). Sixteen days of making from scratch nearly every food that passed my lips. Sixteen days of dirtying more dishes than I knew I owed and using every appliance in our kitchen every day. Sixteen days of digestive issues, mood swings, exhaustion, headaches, and sixteen days of BLACK COFFEE.
Melissa Hartwig, the co-created of the Whole30 program famously said that drinking black coffee is not hard (cancer and heroin addiction is hard, or some such). But guess what? It is hard (as she admits in her updated Whole30 book). No, it’s not as hard as cancer, but it makes my tummy hurt and I’m so tired from babies and making food that to have my beloved copilot start stabbing me in the gut feels like a betrayal of epic proportions.
So I did not start over. And I did not start over on day 26 when I realized the tablespoon of fish sauce I’d added to my shrimp curry had added sugar on the ingredient list. It is impossible to remember to read every ingredient list, or at least it is for me. And if I started over every time I made a mistake, I’d be doing the WholeForever program, not the Whole30.
Heck, I didn’t even make it to day 30, for which I would be brought up on a stake if I admitted in the Whole30 Facebook forums. I only made it to day 28. After my fish sauce fiasco, I went to the forums and was so disheartened by the militaristic responses of my fellow Whole30ers that I started to feel a little skeeved out by the cultish nature of it all. So I quit and added some damn agave to my coffee. It was glorious.
The forbidden foods list is pretty clear so in theory one should be able to get through 30 days without accidentally eating any of the noncompliant foods. In fact, many people claim to get through 30 days successfully. When I asked the Whole30 Facebook community – how, how is this possible? The answer was a unanimous “don’t ever let anyone else prepare any food for you. Ever.” Because it’s nearly impossible for you or the server to remember the entire list of noncompliant food and to remember if those eggs were fried in butter or whether that sauce was thickened with cornstarch or if that marinade had soy sauce in it. So sure, you “can” go out but if you do, eat only the most basic foods possible or bring your own. I was starting to understand why so many people were on their third or fourth round of Whole30.
Whole30 Results: Reintroduction
Despite quitting few days early, I did follow the quick reintroduction schedule suggested by Whole30 because I was hoping to spin my grueling 28 days into something of use. I started with legumes (peanut butter on my apples, miso stir fry, and some soy sauce) and saw no change. Now I was really disillusioned and feeling like a sucker for trying this WholeMess at all. I hadn’t lost any weight (though that wasn’t my aim, still) and now no reaction to legumes! Hmph. I was legit angry that I didn’t have a food sensitivity. Obviously not having cheese for a month had affected my rationality.
But when I reintroduced non-gluten grains a few days later (giving my body a few days of Whole30 eating between reintros to “reset”), I immediately noticed an issue. Tortilla chips gave me mad bloat. I puffed up like crazy after like 3 chips. And my breakfast of oatmeal sat in my stomach like a lead weight. A few days later I tried dairy and had a huge headache. A few days after that, gluten nearly killed me with stomach cramps, bloating, and more digestive troubles.
So now I know. My poor body had been waging war on my behalf against all the gluten, grains, and dairy that I’d been throwing at it all my life. Giving it a rest allowed me to listen to my body for the first time ever, really. I am not swearing off these foods for good (I literally just ate an amazing cream-filled kronut) but I do know how they affect me and can make the choice, do I want to eat this deliciousness and feel bad after? Is it worth it? (Artisan kronut as a once in awhile weekend treat, yes! Crappy grocery-store cookie every night, no.) Maybe I’ll just have a taste, or maybe I’ll pass, or maybe I’ll throw caution to the wind and live in the now, knowing the food hangover was worth it for the experience because, say for example, I’m at a famous patisserie in Paris… A girl can dream, can’t she?
I also finally saw some non scale victories. I was less bloated generally, and thinner through my face which was really awesome since I’d always hated my small wattle. I was cooking like a champ, and had learned to use vegetables in new and delicious ways (oven roasted cauliflower rice is amazing). If I ever over ate on Whole30, the feeling was fleeting and not debilitating like it was if I ate too much, say, pizza. I do think my emotions regulated toward the end, but I still get the mid-afternoon energy slump. But my sleep was definitely better, no sleep aids necessary after about day 14.
Should You Do a Whole30?
But here’s the real question, was this knowledge and were these benefits worth 30 days of making every single food I ate, agonizing over ingredients, fighting food boredom, bitter coffee, and all the doubts in my head saying this was not worth the outcome? I’d give it a tentative yes.
The thing is, the Whole30 is a nearly impossible program. I know, then how do so many people do it? I really have no idea. I am a very analytical, detail-oriented, healthful person and I couldn’t do it perfectly. Luckily, nearly perfect was good enough to give me the information I needed. The real testament to the program is that two weeks post-Whole30 and I’m still eating 90% Whole30. I like eating this way, even if it is a lot of work. I feel better. The 10% left is the wiggle room I needed to eat outside of my house, have sushi once in awhile, and not worry so much about added sugars but rather just avoid soulless sugary treats (That kronut had a beautiful soul).
So should you do a Whole30? Even with my imperfect experience, I think I would recommend it, with the caveat that you just promise to do the very best you can to stick to the program, but don’t listen to the book-thumpers telling you that you’ve failed, you won’t see any benefit, or who try to make you feel stupid for making a small mistake or doubting the program. And decide for yourself whether to start over or not if you do slip. For me, a small mistake wasn’t worth starting over for, but if I were really focused on the food sensitivity piece then maybe I would have. Same if I had made a decision (as opposed to a mistake) to eat off the program and I was focused on changing my food habits. Since this was just a grand experiment for me, I decided to keep going. Whatever you decide, above all, be kind to yourself.
Whole30 has done a lot of good for a lot of people who needed major assistance making better food choices. Bad food choices and emotional eating are epidemics in this country. Any program that gets a large swath of otherwise untapped potential motivated to make difficult and counter-comfort decisions about food for an entire month has earned my respect in addition to changing my eating habits I hope for good.
Have you ever tried a radical change to your diet like this? Did it change your eating habits for good? I’d love to hear in the comments.
**May contain affiliate links. Honest opinions are all my own.
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