Essentially, Whole30 is a strict Paleo diet geared towards clean-eating. The idea is to cleanse your body of sugar cravings, fuel your body with real food, and eliminate common inflammatory foods so you can determine what types of processed food groups aggravate your system. By enforcing strict eating rules for a full 30 days, you detox your body from all the gunk in there and, supposedly, have “a life-changing” experience (according to 88% of people surveyed people post-W30).
We’re on Day 9, or just over a week in. The first week is commonly called The Detox Week, because your body is adjusting to using the fuel you provide—fruits, nuts, vegetables, meats, and a few other hippie-like foods—and coping with the loss of foods you can’t consume for 30 days. Here’s a brief list of what we’ve sacrificed eating for 30 days (text in the parentheses is pulled verbatim from the Whole30 website):
- No grains. (This includes [but is not limited to] wheat, rye, barley, oats, corn, rice, millet, bulgur, sorghum, amaranth, buckwheat, sprouted grains and all of those gluten-free pseudo-grains like quinoa. This also includes all the ways we add wheat, corn and rice into our foods in the form of bran, germ, starch and so on.”
- No legumes. (“This includes beans of all kinds (black, red, pinto, navy, white, kidney, lima, fava, etc.), peas, chickpeas, lentils, and peanuts. No peanut butter, either. This also includes all forms of soy – soy sauce, miso, tofu, tempeh, edamame, and all the ways we sneak soy into foods (like lecithin).”)
- No dairy. (This includes cow, goat or sheep’s milk products such as cream, cheese (hard or soft), kefir, yogurt (even Greek), and sour cream”
- No alcohol of any kind.
- No real or artificial added sugars of any kind. (No maple syrup, honey, agave nectar, coconut sugar, Splenda, Equal, Nutrasweet, xylitol, stevia, etc.)
I’m going to come right out and say it: this is a commitment, and if it’s something you’re thinking about doing you’re going to need to plan ahead. But, it is something I’d recommend thinking about if you’re interested in trying it. Since we’re a week in, I thought I’d share some of my motivation to try Whole30 and what my initial reactions/thoughts are to the program.
- Other people I know personally did it and loved it. Sam claims the reason I’m doing this is because the guy at our gym’s front desk recently did it. It’s not exactly false. I talk to the gym guy practically every day and he said nothing but great things about the program. Truthfully, I’d heard about Whole30 four or five years ago, but I wasn’t ready to commit to it. With the gym guy raving about it, plus finding out two co-workers were going to start in January and that Sam wanted to make some changes to his eating habits, it felt like the right moment to try it.
- I need a post-holiday sugar detox. I think this speaks for itself.
- I’m curious. I did a mini trial-and-error test a few months ago with dairy and found out that I have a pretty extreme lactose intolerance. It was heartbreaking because extra sharp cheddar cheese is pretty much my definition of heaven, but it’s true. My stomach cramped in writhing pain in the days my body spent trying to digest lactose products, and eventually I decided to give up dairy altogether. To be honest, discovering this intolerance DID change my life. If it took me 27 years to discover I have a lactose intolerance, maybe I’ll find that my body has trouble with gluten, legumes, alcohol (HA), or one of the other billion things I can’t eat for the next 30 days.
- Plenty of group encouragement. Sam agreed to try this out with me, and two co-workers of mine are doing it as well. It’s easier having three people to share ideas, heartbreaks, and observations with instead of keeping a journal. Good vibes are high, and they get me through some of the tough times.
- It’s not a diet. Whole30 is only for 30 days, and then you can go back to doing whatever you want. It’s not about losing weight, it’s about listening to your body and discovering what foods you’re sensitive to so you can use that knowledge when making future food choices.
- I need strict rules for these kinds of things. “Dieting” doesn’t work for me, because I’ll bend rules and find ways around mediocre guidelines. This is super strict, and the program is known for its tough-love approach. Plus, like I said, it’s not forever…so I can deal with super strict for now.
INITIAL OBSERVATIONS (WEEK 1)
- Whole30 is (pardon my language) FUCKING EXPENSIVE. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. This is astronomically more costly than we initially realized. When Sam and I set our January budget, we allotted an extra $50 spending cash for groceries and planned to use a $50 gift card to help support the grocery costs (totaling an extra $100), setting our budget $400 for the month. By day 6, we’d spent close to $250 on food or ~60% of what we’d set aside. THAT’S INSANE. I’m not sure this will be a sustainable experiment, and if we quit partway through it will be exclusively for financial reasons. My theories for why this is so much more expensive are outlined in some of the points below, but I wanted to give you a heads-up in case you decided to do this for yourself. It is not cheap, but apparently, it’s worth it (it’s too early for me to say at this point if it’s actually worth it).
- Real food costs more than processed food. I know this isn’t a surprise and I already knew it was true, but I’ve really felt it in the first week of doing this. Understanding why low-income families are forced to resort to unhealthy and fast food options over fruits and vegetables makes complete sense to me now that I’ve tried enforcing the healthiest regimen ever. It makes me sad all over again, realizing how much our food system fails us as a country to keep up afloat of over-population and class barriers. We’ve also had to sacrifice organic produce because it’s too expensive to manage when we’re eating this many fruits and vegetables. (I realize organic produce is a class privilege and I shouldn’t whine about this. People are way worse off than we are. However, organic produce is important to us and we’re willing to pay the cost difference…just not for how much produce we’re eating.)
- A true Whole30 is impossible to do as a vegetarian athlete. I welcome push-back on this point, but I firmly believe it’s true. Without access to the carbohydrates and proteins I typically use to fuel my active lifestyle—brown rice, whole wheat, quinoa, tofu, beans—I was essentially starving the first three days of Whole30. I ate a giant vegetarian meal with “stay full” attributes (eggs, coconut milk, avocado, etc.) and my stomach growled two hours later. The nice thing about Whole30 is that there are no limitations to how much you eat, just what you eat. But it’s annoying to eat a full meal every two hours. I ate a lot of food, but never felt satiated. On day three, I started frantically researching meat. I craved meat. I needed it. I wanted to feel full and satiated so, so badly. Sam went and bought some salmon, and between the two of us, we ate a pound of salmon that night. It was one of the most gratifying moments of my life, finally feeling like my body was truly satiated and content. We went out the next day and bought three more pounds of salmon. I also tackled a rack of ribs for brunch on Day 7. I will stay away from eating chicken and beef, but for now, I’ve realized the only way I’m going to make it through this month is eating meat periodically. It’s a reality I don’t like facing, and I’m looking forward to being back on my vegetarian diet soon. Purchasing free-range or hormone-free meat is definitely one of the reasons our grocery budget has skyrocketed.
- I’ve not felt any difference in my body, except being hungry all the time. Physically, my body hasn’t changed at all. I haven’t noticed any changes in my energy levels. I still fall asleep at 10 pm and wake up (often just a few minutes before my alarm) at 6 am, feeling refreshed. I’m not sure what I expected to feel, but I don’t feel it yet. Some people say the effects don’t kick in until the first 10 or 15 days are passed, so I’ll give it time. But I can’t help but wonder if…
- I wonder if I already eat healthier than I realized. One of my coworkers complained about massive headaches the first two or three days of being on W30, but I didn’t have any side effects during the “detox” week aside from raging hunger. I didn’t think I was unhealthy to begin with (I decided on W30 as a detox/experiment, not because I plan on changing to a paleo diet), and maybe my Whole30 experience is just to confirm this. We’ll see if I feel differently about this on Day 30.
- In this week, I’ve pretty much kicked my gum-chewing habit. Gum is banned on Whole 30, and it’s my biggest vice. Normally, I chew gum constantly during the day (after meals, when I’m craving snacks, anytime I run, essentially any hour between 6 am and 9 pm). This is huge.
- Eating out means planning ahead, but it’s not impossible. I’m fine asking for special treatment on certain things, since I’m already used to that from being vegetarian, and our friends are supportive about it and ask us to help choose a place that works for our limitations. It’s great to have their support!
- Community is important. I went over to my friend’s apartment and we cooked together. I’m texting people about my triumphs and struggles, and they can relate to what I’m going through. Sam and I talk about how we’re feeling, trying new recipes, cooking together, and swapping dreams about the first things we’ve going to eat on Day 31. Sam’s also keeping me humble by pushing back a lot about why we’re doing this. It’s nice to have other people going through this with me, so I know what to expect and to help get through tough cravings (like wanting to destroy an entire bag of fresh tortilla chips).
- THERE ARE A BILLION DISHES. I’ve never wanted a dishwasher as badly as I’ve wanted one these last nine days.
- It’s slowly getting easier. The constant food prep, the waves of cravings, the fear of not knowing if I’ll have something decent to eat two meals from now, the nagging hunger I feel after another salad. I’ve realized this is my new normal for the next three weeks, so it’s getting a little easier.
- I’ve eaten more fruits and vegetables in the last 9 days than I thought was humanly possible. That can’t be a bad thing, even though it IS really expensive.
Interested in Whole30? Have you done it before? Any questions about why I’m crazy enough to do this? Leave any thoughts in the comments section for me!