Following the Whole30 program for a month helped me focus on a brand-new cooking and eating confidence.
When I embarked on eating the Whole30 way for a month in August, I received a few questions and raised eyebrows. “You can’t have ANY sugar for 30 days?!” And, “Wait, so no alcohol? Not even wine?”
I’ve cut out gluten and dairy in the past, and even skipped alcohol at social gatherings to lose weight and feel better overall, so this plan wasn’t a total surprise to my family and friends. Cutting sugar out completely, however, was foreign and especially revealing when they were as shocked as I was to learn that sugar lurks in unexpected places. (Read about my first 15 days on the program here.)
Recent news of Big Sugar bribing scientists at Harvard throughout the 1970s to shift their heart-disease blame from sugar to fat comes as no surprise to me: Sugar is delicious and highly addictive. I found myself seeking it out like a zombie before I reset my cravings with the Whole30 and nixed the white crystals altogether.
Fat, on the other hand, is also delicious, rich, and deeply satisfying to our bodies, offers nutritional benefits, and is problematic only when industrialized into trans fats and consumed in excess. (Learn more about the benefits of eating fat from Dr. Mark Hyman in this video interview with founding editor Pilar Gerasimo.) Stay tuned for more facts on fat in our November issue, out October 25.
With the Whole30, I was cooking more often — and finding a new ease in the kitchen. The recipes were tasty and so simple to make. After the first week or so, I truly grasped the need for food preparation. I could wing it with salad bars (using olive oil and lemon for the minimal dressing); it became more and more frustrating (emotionally and physically) to have to track down food for each meal. Instead, I started using Sundays for prep, and I’d whip together:
- A batch of homemade almond milk
- Whole30 tomato sauce (the sweetness comes from carrots!)
- Roasted squash
- Cauliflower rice (also now available prepped and chopped in bags fresh — or frozen!)
- Ground beef
- Grilled chicken breast, which I could shred and add to salads
Each night at dinner, I’d reheat my prepped food and add fresh mixed greens or quick-cook zucchini noodles. Then I’d pack up my lunches for the next day.
For breakfast, I’d enjoy a bowl of grain-free granola and berries à la Pilar’s Quick-Trick Snack Stack, or cook up two eggs over-easy to layer on sweet-potato toast with microgreens or spinach and top with hot sauce.
It became routine, and by day 18, I realized I had stopped thinking about what I’d eat for dinner. I stopped looking at restaurants and wishing I could just grab takeout. I quit debating about dinner with my husband — who would cook and what would be made? — and the stress subsided. It was a huge relief.
Once the 30 days were up, I was sad to see the program conclude. I decided that I wanted it to be a Whole45 or Whole60, and that many of these recipes, prep, and planning tips will be useful as I move forward. As I’ve reintroduced certain eliminated food groups in September, I also discovered new rules for my body, gut, and health:
- Eating beans is out for now. I tried those on Day 1 Reintroduction and had terrible stomach pains. (Sadly, this is something I had been previously told through blood testing for food allergies. I just didn’t want to believe it.)
- While I didn’t get the usual GI upset from dairy that I’ve had in the past, I did break out, and to save my skin (and not replay my dark teen years living with acne), I don’t mind cutting it out for the most part. As much as I love it, I was even able to live without butter, and yes, amazing cheeses, so I’ll be more cautious when I choose dairy going forward.
- I lost 10 pounds in 30 days! This is great — although not the most important benefit — and I linked my plateaued weight loss post-baby to gluten and grains. When I reintroduce this category, I saw a 3-pound gain in a week (possibly just water weight), and I’d prefer to skip the bloating and keep dropping weight. I’m happy to get creative and limit grains for now.
- I slept better: more soundly, fell asleep faster, woke up refreshed. Part of this may be due to the timing allowances for coffee: The Whole30 rules say to keep it to a cup or two and stop by noon. (More on coffee timing next week.)
- When I did eat some sugar again for my birthday on September 12, just a little went a long way. During the days that followed, I didn’t need more sugar, and only once this week thought, I could go for some chocolate. I opted for dark chocolate, and again, just a few squares did the trick and didn’t send me back into the throes of the sugar monster. I’m still in charge of what I eat, thank you very much.
- My mood improved. Yes, I’ve also returned from an amazing Hawaiian vacation with my husband, and time away always helps boosts our moods, but I truly feel much more in control of my energy and stress responses, as if my wacky hormones have stabilized.
Weight loss, better sleep, improved mood, and body awareness — it was definitely worth it to complete a Whole30. No doubt I’ll return to it in the future.
In the meantime, happy meal prepping.
TELL ME: Have you completed a Whole30? Working on one now? Share your thoughts below, or find me on Twitter at @clewisopdahl.
P.S. For the keen-eyed reader, that heart-shaped object in the photo above is a tomato that a grew in my own container garden. Bonus points for those who mention it to me on Twitter!