Whether you’ve done Whole30, know a lot about it or barely know anything about it, I’m sure you have your own opinions on elimination-style diets and/or diets in general. I did—and still do—too. I’ve never believed in the complete elimination of foods or entire food groups from my diet purely for weight loss reasons, as I know it’s not something I can realistically maintain. In fact, the D-word (“diet”) has never really been a part of my vocabulary. To me, dieting is a vicious cycle of deprivation, short-term results, binging, and self-imposed guilt. I’ve been an avid supporter of intuitive eating since before I even knew what it was. Basically, I just really love food. Always have, always will.
Nevertheless, I completed my first Whole30 this January (*gasp*), and I thought I’d use this platform to share how it went down. My hope is that if you’re reading this and have been considering Whole30 for whatever reason, this post will help provide some insight. I’d like to quickly note that I am not a nutritionist or gastrointestinal expert—these are just my personal experiences.
What is Whole30?
Whole30 is an elimination-style diet created by Melissa Hartwig (#girlboss) in which you avoid grains, dairy, soy, legumes, sugar, artificial sweeteners and alcohol for 30 days. There’s no calorie counting or weighing yourself allowed during the 30-day program (can I get an “amen”?!). There is also absolutely no cheating. What happens if you slip up on Day 27? You start over from Day 1. Hey, I don’t make the rules. Once the 30 days are completed, there is a 10-day re-introductory period, where you slowly reintroduce food groups back into your diet one at a time to see which, if any, are your trigger foods.
Unlike most diets, the goal of Whole30 is not to step on a scale and watch the number decrease. Rather, the goal is to completely change the way you think about food—your cravings, your eating habits, your approach to cooking, etc.—which Hartwig refers to as “Food Freedom.” Another goal of the program is to help you become better in-tune with your body and to simply feel better, from both a digestion and energy perspective. While this program only lasts 30 days, Hartwig promises that Whole30 will dramatically and permanently change your life.
Why I did Whole30
If you know me, you know how difficult the decision to commit to 30 days without cheese was. But I had been dealing with stomach issues (severe bloating + belching, constipation, etc.) for nearly 2 years. I had seen a gastroenterologist who ordered multiple tests, all which came back with glowing results and cost me a small fortune. I was then prescribed Prilosec—another medical expense—which proved to be unsuccessful after a 3-month trial period.
Listen, I’m happy to invest in my own health when necessary, but if I can address an issue without over-the-counter medication (especially one like Prilosec with potentially harmful long-term side effects), I’ll always opt for that route. A friend of mine who had been dealing with stomach issues of his own had recently completed Whole30—and discovered his lactose intolerance as a result—couldn’t say enough about the program and how amazing he felt afterwards. So, I did some preliminary research and decided I would give Whole30 a shot in January before making any trips back to the doctor for more testing. I was on a mission to get to the bottom of these tummy troubles once and for all. (Note: I was not on a mission to lose weight, although I knew that might be a favorable side-effect after coming off the holiday season a few pounds heavier than my norm.)
What I ate on Whole30
I knew I wasn’t going to make it through the 30 days eating the same boring meals every day. I had to get creative and find some new recipes I’d be excited about cooking (and eating). I followed @whole30recipes on IG (they have a different blogger take over the account each week and share tips and recipes—highly recommend) and went to town saving Whole30-approved recipes on Pinterest.
I can definitely say that Whole30 requires a LOT of meal planning and prepping. I’m already pretty organized when it comes to meal planning and genuinely enjoy meal prepping, so this wasn’t a huge barrier for me. Yes, it’s time-consuming AF, but I promise it can be fun once you dedicate the time and energy.
Part of the Whole30 program rules’ “tough love” section is one of their famous quotes: “This is not hard.” When I first read that before completing the program, I thought, “Hm, we’ll see.” But I can truly say that it is not hard. I mean, I ate some freakin’ delicious meals during my Whole30. Some I’ve even continued to make post-Whole30 because they’re just that damn good. Thanks to Whole30, egg muffins have become an almost weekly breakfast staple in my kitchen. Here are a few of my favorite, tried + true Whole30-approved recipes:
- Taco Stuffed Sweet Potatoes
- Skillet Chicken Piccata
- Skinnytaste Asian Beef Zoodle Soup
- Turkey + Egg Breakfast Casserole
- Shrimp and Cauliflower “Grits”
- Asian Chicken Chopped Salad
I also just want to note that I didn’t eat out at all during my Whole30. Sure, most restaurants can probably make a meal Whole30-approved, but unless you really know where all your food is coming from and exactly how it’s being prepared, it’s difficult to be positive. Plus, I saw not eating out for 30 days as a welcomed money-saving initiative. Win!
The only place I got food “out” from was Snap Kitchen. I tried to cook my own meals whenever possible, but Snap Kitchen became my life-saver if I ever needed to eat on-the-go or if I didn’t have a meal prepped for some reason (i.e. One day, I had jury duty and couldn’t pack a lunch, so I went to Snap on my break for some Whole30-approved sloppy joe loaded sweet potato fries—YUM).
How I felt and what I learned
I hope you’re still reading because I’m just getting to the good stuff. My feelings during Whole30 covered the whole spectrum—hangry, bloated, lethargic, energized, cranky, enlightened, you name it.
I actually had a meltdown towards the end of Week 2 because I was still severely bloated and was beginning to worry that Whole30 would be a failed mission for me. But I’m not one to easily give up once I’ve accepted a challenge, so I stuck with it.
Shortly after said meltdown, my bloating subsided for the remainder of the program. That’s when the unrelenting hunger and crazy energy (Hartwig calls this “Tiger Blood”) kicked in. This is where I really learned to listen to my body and understand it’s needs. If I was hungry—even if I had just eaten 30 minutes prior—I ate. If I wasn’t hungry—even if it was lunchtime—I waited. If I woke up at 7 a.m. on a Saturday with energy, I took full advantage.
By the end of my Whole30, I truly felt AMAZING. I didn’t weigh myself afterwards because I genuinely didn’t care—my stomach was flat for the first time in years, and that was all I needed to feel good. I went to Daybreaker Philly on the last day of my Whole30 and confidently wore a sports bra without a shirt over it!!!! This was HUGE. And let’s just say things in the bathroom were going (*ahem*) smoothly by the end of it.
I’ll begrudgingly admit that I didn’t follow through with the 10-day re-introductory period, but I have a perfectly reasonable excuse. My coworker scored free tickets to Philly Magazine’s Philly Cooks event—conveniently scheduled the day after my Whole30 ended—and invited me to be her guest. I went, and I ate everything. #noregrets
It has been a month since I completed Whole30, and while I didn’t make any profound discoveries re: my trigger foods, I can honestly say that I still feel a lot better than I did prior to starting. And I’m very glad that the outcome of my Whole30 wasn’t discovering that I’m lactose intolerant or have celliac, because tbh, I like dairy and carbs. I did commit to cutting out beer after completing Whole30. I never drank much beer to begin with, and while I can’t definitively say that I’ll never have a beer again, I know that it does not agree with my stomach and I can live without it (bring on the vino!).
I learned a lot about myself and about food during those 30 days, and I continue to take those learnings with me. I learned that prepping breakfast and making time to sit down to eat and drink coffee in the morning a) improves my day, and b) helps me stay fuller longer. I learned that fruit has the ability to satisfy a sweet tooth—drizzle some almond butter and cacao nibs over a banana or sprinkle some cinnamon over a pear or apple and bake it, and you have an amazingly satisfying snack or dessert that won’t leave your stomach in knots. I learned that coffee can still taste good without sweetener and food can still taste good without cheese (both things I didn’t really believe prior to Whole30). I also learned small but effective ways to tweak recipes to make them healthier and easier on the gut. Most importantly, I learned to listen to my body and give it what it needs when it needs it.
Hello, Food Freedom!!