I’m in the midst of my first Whole30. Today is day 26.
You’ve heard of the Whole30, right? It’s at the top of the New York Times Bestsellers list and social media is abuzz with Whole30 success stories.
It is NOT a diet.
Whole30 is meant to be a lifestyle change, and the primary reason I decided to do it was to increase my energy. In short, I was tired of being tired, and I was stuck in a cycle of too-much-sugar and the energy highs and lows that come with that.
For 30 days, May 1st-30th, I am eliminating all grains, dairy, legumes, soy, sugar, sweeteners, and alcohol from my diet. What do I eat, you say? Whole, unprocessed foods! Lots of meat, vegetables (oh so many vegetables; my green bin is three times as full as it usually is), eggs, fruit, nuts, and seeds. I drink water and black coffee. Not one splash of cream in my coffee, not one taste of ketchup on my eggs, not one bit of honey in my tea, not one cheat or slipup or fail. I’m doing it 100%, all in, committed, as per Whole30 rules. I’ve made it through bridal showers and girls nights and family gatherings and Mother’s Day brunch. And for that fact alone, I am happy. I love challenges and rules and black and white; no grey area, no bending the rules, no maybe-just-this-one-bite.
This is a 30-day ‘reset’ for your system, ridding your body of all inflammatory foods and creating a clean slate. And that’s the most interesting part for me; Whole30 is designed to help you learn how food affects you, so there’s an important gradual reintroduction process I will be following once May 31st rolls around. What does dairy do to energy levels? Do grains contribute to a feeling of bloat? Does sugar add to anxiety and nervousness? These are the questions I’m learning to answer for my own self, with my own digestive system, and my own unique nutritional history. My answers will help me understand what food choices to continue to make in the future.
Melissa Hartwig, one of the Whole30 founders, talks a lot about grouping foods via the question, “Does this food make me more healthy or less healthy?” And while there certainly is room in life for unhealthy food choices, the downsides of those unhealthy choices need to be weighed against the upsides of their enjoyment. For example, I can guarantee with 100% certainty, that I will always make the choice to eat cake on my birthday (and on other people’s birthdays, and on date nights, and sometimes on a random Tuesday). However, I can also guarantee that I will not make that choice if the cake is wheat-based. Gluten, especially wheat gluten, makes me feel that terrible. That downside is just not worth the upside to me.
The Whole30 book explains stages that you’re likely experience through your 30 days, including the ‘hangover phase’ (I didn’t notice this one), the ‘I need a nap phase’ (day 5 and 6 for me), the ‘kill all things’ phase (day 7 and day 9 for me), and ‘tiger blood.’ And that’s where I’m at now, tiger blood. I feel better than I have felt in years, possibly in forever… but that’s such a hard yardstick to measure on; I-feel-amazing is tough to gauge. My energy is through the roof and my sugar cravings are all but gone… my so-called Sugar Dragon’ has been tamed or at least, has been sedated. And while I didn’t take pre-Whole30 measurments because I didn’t want my issues with weight and body image to creep into this, I would guess that I’ve dropped a few pounds and have definitely lost a few inches from my waist. I have learned:
- I am very gluten-sensitive (this is something I already knew, but the Whole30 has reaffirmed this fact).
- Sugar in my coffee is a ‘gateway drug’ (to borrow the term from my dear friend Chrysta) that sets me up for a day of poor nutritional choices. So black coffee it is.
- There is sugar hidden in everything. Everything. Diced tomatoes, mixed nuts, spaghetti sauce, sunbutter, almond milk. And it’s not always called ‘sugar’; it’s disguised as ‘organic cane juice’ or ‘dextrose’ or ‘xylitol’ or dozens of other sneaky names.
- Homemade mayo and salad dressings are much tastier, and healthier, than their store-bought counterparts.
- Food boredom is non-existent with resources like Against All Grain, Nom Nom Paleo, and Instagram.
- Meal planning, food preparation, and a support system are keys to success.
Give it a try, friends. Don’t you want some tiger blood too?