Sara and I recently completed the Whole 30 diet? Program? Purification ritual? Feat of endurance?
Well, whatever it is, I beat it!
Wikipedia describes the Whole 30 as “similar to, but more restrictive than the Paleo diet” for all those people who were looking at the old loosey-goosey Paleo diet like, “do you even have rules, bro?” You can read the details here, but in a nutshell don’t eat any sugar, dairy, grains, legumes, corn, or alcohol. What you CAN eat is more or less your own body hair.
Now, I want to say right up front that, by and large, the Whole 30 is a bunch of malarkey. It’s one part pseudoscience and one part cheap psychology tricks to get you to buy in (and buy branded stuff), with one part of regular, old fashioned dieting advice (eat more veggies, yo!) That being said, it works for me personally as a diet by making everything very black and white. If you are wondering if you can eat something, the answer is probably, “no”. There are no cheat days, no gray areas, and no point counting.
Besides, I can do anything for 30 days, right?
I don’t know what I really set out to gain from this. I was relatively happy with my weight; I mean, who can’t stand to lose a few pounds, but I was already lighter than I had been in a decade. I guess I was just looking at is as more of a detox / reset: see how the old body feels without all this stuff in me. Even then, my motivation was dubious at best. I mean, I was just going to go back to doing everything I was already doing before when the 30 days was over, right?
On the other hand, we already do a lot of the things that the program is designed to teach you. We eat pretty healthy, as a rule, and we already do a lot of meal prep. It is nearly impossible to buy pre-packaged food or to go out to eat, which means you have to prepare everything yourself….which we already basically do. So I think it wasn’t as much of a challenge for us as it could be for some people, and I didn’t really expect to learn anything (though it turns out I did; see below!)
The first few days were pretty rough on me. I felt like I got run over by a truck. I was so hungry all the time and dizzy, and just had 0 energy. I think that I did learn a lot during those first few days, though. I think in the absence of dairy and grains and everything I just didn’t know how to eat to get my body the right nutrition that it needed. I guess I never thought much about that before…if I ate enough to be full, I got enough calories. I never had to worry about protein or fat before.
Another thing I should mention is that I also drastically cut my coffee intake during this time (DOWN TO ONLY 3 SHOTS OF ESPRESSO A DAY I PRACTICALLY QUIT COLD TURKEY IF YOU THINK ABOUT IT). I usually drink my coffee with cream and sugar, and those were both out. So at some point I was drinking it black and I thought, “Am I even enjoying this? Is this pure addiction at this point?” So it seemed like as good of a time as ever to scale it back, since I was cutting out everything else anyway. But that no doubt contributed to some of the tiredness in that first week. (Yes, I did end up using some of the approved coconut or almond milk substitutes, but they are POOR substitutes, let me tell you.)
After I got over that, things went pretty smoothly. I’m not really a “cravings” guy, and I’m more into salty snacking than sugary snacking, which is still permitted (mostly in the form of salted nuts). So I didn’t really feel the stuff where people were saying you want to punch someone for a cupcake or whatever. There was stuff I missed not being able to eat, and I got a little tired of eggs, but I mean…it was a hassle, yes, but it didn’t feel like the kind of thing that I should get a major award for or something.
One thing I do want to mention is that the cookbooks were pretty legit. I’m not talking about “sure, for a diet” legit, I mean legit, legit, even when you’re not on a diet. I don’t know if I’ve EVER had a cookbook with so many meals that I would actually want to eat. I mean, if we get one or two good solid meals out of a cookbook, that’s a decent cookbook. We will be eating a lot of things out of these cookbooks in the future!
So part of the program is that you aren’t supposed to weigh yourself until the end. I understand why they do it: if you’re working hard but not losing weight, it could be easy to get discouraged. I didn’t really care about all that, but in for a penny, in for a pound, you know? So I didn’t weigh myself. I was thinking it might be nice to lose a few pounds, but again, I wasn’t really focused on that.
So I was very, very shocked when I got on that scale! Turns out I lost about 11 pounds!
I have to say, that certainly motivated me to try to learn some lessons from all of this, rather than just immediately reverting to the way I was before. But even without that, I did feel like I learned a lot more about nutrition and how my body works than I expected to along the way.
Okay, so what were my takeaways from all of this? And what does it mean for me going forward?
- First off, I think it is very useful to just sort of hit the reset switch now and again. Not being able to just eat whenever I wanted just really highlighted the number of times I kind of mindlessly eat whatever I want. So for example, it used to be that I rarely had a snack in the afternoon. Then it became, “Well, now and again I get a little peckish in the afternoon,” to, “I should pack more lunch but I can’t think of what and I know I can always get a snack in the afternoon,” to, “It is 2 pm and I haven’t had my mandatory snack.” Obviously on some level I knew I should cut out some junk food snack that I ate every afternoon, but being prevented from having it really made me realize how far that habit had slipped. (I also learned that I am forever trying to just pop a little something in my mouth when I am preparing food for the kids!) So anyway, I think that after 30 days, those habits are now all broken. Over time they will surely resurface, but at least right at this moment I am back to ground zero, and now I know how to break the cycle again in the future.
- I really don’t need so much coffee. That was another habit that had been creeping up and up for years, and needed a reset. A cup or two in the morning is one thing; getting headaches because you only had a cup or two in the morning was too much.
- I need to get a glass of water when I first get to work. Usually I’m pretty thirsty from the walk, but I sit down first and start getting into things and after a while I’m not thirsty anymore. Just immediately go get the water! Once I have it, I will definitely drink it. This is not Whole 30 specific per say, but it’s certainly healthier and drinking more water helped me feel fuller during the morning.
- The main reason I don’t eat better is convenience. It’s so easy to pour a bowl of cereal or eat a cheese sandwich, that I just take the easy way out. But, at the end of the day, it’s not THAT much work to go the extra mile and get something healthier (i.e. grill a truck load of chicken over the weekend for salads!) Also, pack more food. You don’t need to snack when you’re full. I had gotten in the habit of taking less and less food (see afternoon snack above), and it was mostly because I was being lazy.
- I guess the final thing I learned is both kind of a doozy, and probably just me having been an idiot. What I realized is that decades of messaging has taught me that oil and meat, especially red meat, equals instant heart disease. I have this half-formed idea in the back of my head that nearly anything I could eat is healthier than eating meat. I’m sure eating meat is not the BEST thing for you, but here’s the thing: you have to get protein and calories from somewhere. So if you replace your meat intake with say grains and cheese and sugar, those things are all bad for you too, and in some ways worse for you. So like, everything in moderation, but eating eggs and fried potatoes for breakfast always seemed to me like a heart attack on a plate, but replacing that with some sugary cereal is a downgrade, not an upgrade.
Again, I think that I could have figured a lot of these things out on my own, if I had some reason to. But doing this program kind of forced me to learn them, and now I can’t unlearn them. So while I expect to revert somewhat back to the baseline, I do think I came out of this as a smarter and healthier individual.
And also, I won.
Anybody else out there tried the Whole 30? Any experiences, positive or negative to share?