Casey and I did the Whole30 nutrition challenge program together from August 1st through today, and it was an interesting experience. While I was a bit reluctant in the beginning, I'm happy we did it. In fact, it's likely something we're going to do at least once a year in the future.
A few months ago, Casey mentioned that she wanted to do an elimination diet for a month, and asked if I'd like to do it with her. We had found out through testing earlier in the year that she has Celiac disease, and because of some symptoms she was having, she though that small amounts of gluten may have started creeping back into her diet. This elimination diet would be an opportunity to “reset” her diet from a clean slate.
I told her I'd do it. Trying to do a restrictive diet on your own can be a huge challenge. Not only is the emotional support essential, the day-to-day logistics are a lot easier with more than one person participating. Trying to do it alone in a house of six would be close to impossible.
So with August approaching, Casey announced what her monthlong reset would look like: The Whole30 Challenge.
What is the Whole30?
The Whole30 is a super restrictive 30 day paleo diet. The idea?
Cut out all the psychologically unhealthy, hormone-unbalancing, gut-disrupting, inflammatory food groups1 for a full 30 days. Let your body heal and recover from whatever effects those foods may be causing. Push the “reset” button with your metabolism, systemic inflammation, and the downstream effects of the food choices you’ve been making. Learn once and for all how the foods you’ve been eating are actually affecting your day to day life, and your long term health.
That means eating real food:
- good fats from oils, nuts, and seeds
And not eating or drinking:
- sugar of any kind (real or artificial sweeteners)
- grains (including corn)
- legumes (beans peas, chickpeas, lentils, peanuts, and all forms of soy)
- any foods containing carrageenan, MSG, or sulfates
- white potatoes
The authors and creators of the Whole30 repeatedly make the point of the importance of following both the letter and spirit of the program's rules. In other words, instead of recreating junk food with approved ingredients that technically follows the rules, use the 30 days to create a new, better relationship with food by sticking to the spirit of the program.
I've long been dismissive of paleo diets. The idea of exclusively eating foods just because our prehistoric ancestors did seems like magical thinking to me. But dogma aside, eating a diet based primarily on "real foods" while limiting the empty calories in simple carbohydrates and processed foods not only makes intuitive sense, it's supported by a lot of evidence and science2. As a method of weight loss, the paleo diet gets this right, simply because you're eating foods that leave you feeling more satiated per calorie consumed than foods containing carbohydrates.
And let's be honest — a monthlong dietary change is more than doable:
It is not hard. Don’t you dare tell us this is hard. Quitting heroin is hard. Beating cancer is hard. Drinking your coffee black. Is. Not. Hard. You won’t get any coddling, and you won’t get any sympathy for your “struggles”. YOU HAVE NO EXCUSE not to complete the program as written. It’s only thirty days, and it’s for the most important health cause on earth – the only physical body you will ever have in this lifetime.
How it went for me
I'll be honest and say that I was a little grumpy the first day or two of the program. Not because I was going through withdrawal or had huge cravings, but because I had a bad attitude. I already ate pretty well, and I liked the greek yogurt I had everyday for breakfast.
Thankfully, the realization that the whole point of the program is to dramatically change your eating habits "clicked" for me on day two, which empowered me and made the rest of the month go quite smoothly.
We found the biggest thing about doing the Whole30 is that it takes a lot of planning and preparation. Casey does all of the meal planning in our house, so I have no complaints there. I do my share of meal preparation though, and a few times our schedules meant that our planned meal for lunch just didn't get made. This creates a bit of a problem while doing the Whole30, since you can't just make yourself a sandwich or grab some fast food. Pretty much all of that stuff is off limits.
We quickly found a few "go to" foods that we became a part of our routine. Because of this, I have never had so many eggs in my life as I have this month – at least two for breakfast, everyday, plus more for lunch or dinner on several occasions. The same goes for avocados – I've easily eaten more in the last 30 days than in entire life up until August 1st.
Between taco salad, chicken salad, fish taco salad, hamburgers tooped with guacamole, and some very yummy chicken fajitas, we had some great meals for lunch and dinner. We tried a few meals that didn't turn out that well, but Casey was able to consistently find recipes that fit into the Whole30 plan and tasted delicious. So, props to her for that.
I'm pretty sure I had more fruit during the month that the creators of the Whole30 would recommend. Fruit is allowed, but is supposed to be limited because its sugar content could lead to cravings for other sweet foods that are not allowed under the plan. I didn't find this to be the case for me though, and I found what sugar I did get from fruit to be enough to keep me satisfied. Plus, an apple, banana, mango, or fresh peach is better for you than almost any other "snack" food you can buy.
Also, monkey salad makes a great Whole30 desert.
I can't say that I had any dramatic changes to my body because of the Whole30. This didn't surprise me, because I've never had any issues with dairy, gluten, and other food ingredients. I can say that I felt really good though, probably because my blood sugar levels were evened out by cutting sugar and sweeteners out of my diet.
Based on my weigh-in on the first day and today, I lost 6lbs in August. The most impressive thing about that to me is that it was done with zero calorie counting3. That means I ate anything I wanted off the approved foods list during the month, without worrying about my TDEE. No doubt this was helped by the exercise I did every day, but it was nice not having to keep track of every piece of food I put into my mouth.
What I'm taking away from the Whole30
Like I said at the very beginning of this post, I'm glad Casey and I did the Whole30 challenge. I'm sure we'll be doing it again. Until then, I'm hoping to stick with some new eating habits that developed this month.
Gluten: rarely. While Casey has been gluten free since March, I hand't been until this month. So while I have no medical reason to avoid it, food containing it isn't typically all that good for you. So while I might indulge in the occasional Qdoba burrito, I have no plans to eat much bread or pasta.
Sugar: moderately. I'll welcome back the sugar in my daily greek yogurt, but I intend to keep candy and sweets to rare occasions.
Artificial Sweeteners: eliminate. I successfully stopped drinking diet soda for the month of June, and now again during August. There's really no reason I can't continue this indefinitely.
Is the Whole30 for you?
You won't find out unless you try it. It's just a month of your life, and it's not that hard.
Most importantly, taking some time to think about what kind of food you're putting in your body is worth it!