Updated: Mar 27
Last month I completed my first Whole 30 journey. Really, it's the fourth time I've attempted it. In those past attempts of this "hardcore" elimination diet, I learned a lot about myself and was finally able to turn the corner towards success.
The Whole 30 program touts lifechanging results (you can read more about it here https://whole30.com/):
Change your life in 30 days with the Whole30® Reset your health, habits, and relationship with food, and discover lasting food freedom.
In fact they tout that in a 2016 survey of 7,700 Whole30 alumni, 88% reported the Whole30 really did change their life.
After having gone through this process 4 times now, I can say that each time I learned a little more about myself, my food habits, how food is created, and more...all of which has changed the way I think about food and how I observe how food affects me. So, what did I learn?
I'M ADDICTED TO SUGAR
There - I said it.
It took me a long time to come to terms with this. But the more I have learned about how sugar affects the brain and chemicals in the body and how I respond when not on (and then back on) sugar, the easier it is to see. So, now I can at least be more mindful when it comes to eating sugar - either avoiding it in foods that have no business with added sugar (ie - as an additive in Ketchup or salad dressing) or purposefully choosing to indulge in a sweet treat. And, to be completely honest, I still have a hard time not binging on sugar. It's not just because "I'm addicted"...there is actual science behind it. Sugary treats are designed to fire off feel-good chemicals in the body without offering any real sustenance or nutrition - chasing this feel-good chemical reaction leaves you wanting more...and more...and more. PLUS, when your body doesn't detect any actual nutrients in the food you eat your brain doesn't feel like you actually ate anything - which makes you want to eat more...and more...and more. You can read more about this in a Precision Nutrition article HERE.
I'M MORE INTUNE WITH MY BODY
SNACKING: While on the Whole 30, the goal is to eat enough food in a meal to feel satisfied enough so you don't have to eat again until the next meal - minimizing snacking. I discovered that I snack when I'm bored, stressed, thirsty or had a meal that wasn't very nourishing. When I was focused on eating whole, nutrient-dense foods I found that I had the urge to snack less. Or, if I did have the urge to snack, I'd make my way to the water cooler or find something else to do. By minimizing snacking I was more able to tune-in to my hunger cues and eat when I was actually hungry.
HYDRATION: As I mentioned, I would snack when I was bored, stressed or thirsty. I was putting food in my mouth when my body needed water. This caused me to cover up that thirst...which meant I was not drinking enough water and I was getting dehydrated. You can tell when you are getting into dehydration because your lips always feel dry. So, with less snacking on the Whole 30, I was more mindful that I needed water - and I drank it.
SATIETY: Whole 30 meals are very nourishing for the body because they are filled with veggies and clean protein, no fillers. These meals help you hone in pretty quickly on whether or not you really are full (vs full but still wanting to eat that tasty burrito). Have you ever tried to eat as much meat or veggies as you can? These foods help the body send the correct signals when you've received enough nourishment...and it usually doesn't take as much as when you've got things like bread and cheese to tempt your tastebuds. I was able to determine after just a few meals that I can only eat a medium-sized salad - not the large ones I was preparing.
ENERGY LEVELS: Getting back to nourishment here. Eating clean food gives the body better, sustainable energy. No brain fog, no energy crashes. I found myself feeling better and having better conversations, better yoga sessions and better workouts, and being more productive.
HOW TO GIVE MYSELF GRACE
I have learned this one the hard way...through lots of times where I didn't give myself grace and talked down to myself, felt disappointment and resentment, and felt like a failure.
Whole 30 journey #1 (2018) ended in tragedy. When I did meal planning on Sunday (a little over a week to go), I had planned to make Salmon Cakes - the recipe called for canned sweet potatoes (not the kind swimming in syrup). I looked high and low at the grocery. And another grocery store. And a natural foods store. Who makes canned sweet potatoes without the syrup? I gave up and set it aside as I prepped all my other foods for the week. And I forgot about it. Later that week I was ready to make the Salmon Cakes and I started to pull out the ingredients. I realized I never found the canned sweet potatoes. At this point I was hungry, trying not to snack, tired from a day at work. I panicked. I broke down. My husband and daughter weren't home and I started sobbing on my kitchen floor. I was too far gone to problem solve and find a substitute for the sweet potatoes or to just make something else from my menu (even scrambled eggs would have been fine). I caved and declared my Whole 30 over that night, about one week short.
The next year I decided to get past my wounds and try Whole 30 journey #2 (2019). I had learned from last time that substituting is OK and made Salmon Cakes with canned pumpkin (they're really good, too). I had the meal-planning process down and I simplified meal prep a bit - at this point, there were a few more options available to buy pre-made Whole 30 foods. This time, however, temptation got the best of me. Between yummy treats and tasty foods in the office for lunch and special events and even at home for my husband and daughter, my willpower gave out...once again with about a week left to go.
About mid-year, I thought I'd try Whole 30 journey #3. I was not mentally prepared and gave up sometime in week 2. So at this point, I had 3 unsuccessful Whole 30 journeys (this is what I told myself - nevermind that on the first two I had 3 solid weeks of clean eating and came away with solid information about myself).
Jump to December 2019. I was talking about my plans for another January Whole 30 with some co-workers, this would be Whole 30 journey #4. One had heard about Whole 30, one had tried before, one didn't know much about it. As we talked we decided to form our own Whole 30 support group and went into our holiday break knowing we'd be on the Whole 30 together when we saw each other again. For this go-round, I felt like I was in a better mental space and I had my learnings from previous journeys. AND I would have daily access to my support group.
During this journey, I had a work trip to KC, just one overnight but it was for a team social - which meant a mixture of different snacks and dinner and alcohol. I stood strong here and talk to the waitstaff as much as possible about what I could and could not eat/drink. Dinner was interesting - we didn't go to the best place for Whole 30 options. Here is where I got to really practice giving myself grace. While I probably didn't have the cleanest food, I certainly tried, I did the best I could with what I had to work with. And I didn't let this small derailment stop me. When I got back home I was right back on my Whole 30 plan. That was a key lesson - to get back on after falling off. Another key lesson - to talk nicely to me about these circumstances and offer words of encouragement.
Then, I got the flu. Like, the stay in bed for 2 whole days with boxes of tissues, fever, and body aches kind of flu. I wasn't eating much then, but what I did eat was clean. Until I started to feel better - when I'm sick I usually find comfort in a bowl of tomato soup and a grilled cheese sandwich. So, that's what I had. Sure I argued with myself a little about it. But then I made it, ate it and didn't feel bad about it. Once again, I got back to my Whole 30 plan the next day. Can you guess how this one ended? I got through all 30 days.
Yes, there were times I didn't eat as clean as I should have*. But I was on the Whole 30 far more than I wasn't. I was able to reap mostly all of the same benefits. The lapses were definitely from circumstances outside the norm (travel, illness). And I came back to it each time. This, for me, is the embodiment of Progress, not Perfection.
*The Whole30 plan is based on at least 30 whole days of the elimination diet. Any transgression would mean you start back on day one because you have now interrupted the body's healing process. Remember what I said above, I'm a work in progress...this round was better than my last 3 rounds.
ACCOUNTABILITY PARTNERS REALLY DO MAKE A DIFFERENCE
I mentioned above that I had a small accountability group with some co-workers who were taking this Whole 30 journey with me. Oftentimes in the past, my accountability came from myself or my husband (which isn't always an easy combination to contend with).
Having accountability partners outside of my family unit had its perks. We shared recipes, meal-planning tips, struggles, and wins. We would remind each other of the various rules so we wouldn't inadvertently go astray (what kinds of aminos can you use in place of soy sauce?).
Having accountability partners in my daily space affected my decisions (even when not directly holding me accountable). There were many temptations in the office and at home (pizza night) but my support system came in strong here. Having the gals at the office keep me accountable and my husband pep talking me to not have pizza made a huge difference. If I had been left to my own devices my willpower would have caved again. There is certainly strength in numbers.
OLD HABITS ARE HARD TO BREAK, REAL HARD
I am finding that my day-to-day habits pre-Whole 30 have a way of finding their way back when I'm not in a full Whole 30 mindset. At this point you know that I'm 1 in 4 for completing a Whole 30 journey...so it should come as no surprise that my re-introduction to foods like dairy, peanuts, grains, processed foods, sugar was not the slow-roll that is advised. I went from Whole 30 to a volleyball road trip. I probably could have made more accommodations but I was trying to keep the stress out of the trip so my daughter could be relaxed and focus on her tournament.
Back at the office, the same old snack basket is still present with all its cookies and chips, oatmeal and granola bars. AND you'll see in the photos below the other types of temptation that comes in every other month or so in the form of football parties, birthday celebrations, dog birthdays, you name it.
I tried to commit to getting back to a Whole 30 meal plan for the week after the tournament...but there is a different mindset when you are "officially" on a Whole 30 and when you're just trying to "eat clean."
Once again, applying grace and the idea of "progress not perfection."
After all that, I've got a game plan for the year to help keep me - or get me back - on track (I'll share that in an upcoming blog post). And, I'll be doing another Whole30 journey next January.
CHANGING HABITS IS HARD - DON'T DO IT ALONE
This health journey that I've been exploring for myself is a key reason I've decided to become a Healthy Lifestyle Coach. Just as I am working towards the healthiest version of myself, I also like helping others do the same.
Are you working towards healthy habits and having a hard time making them stick? It can be hard to do it alone.
As a Healthy Lifestyle Coach, I've learned to become an accountability partner to help others work through the highs and lows of changing habits. I love helping people bridge the gap between physical and mental fitness so they can become the healthiest version of themselves inside and out.
I'll be taking new clients soon with my upcoming Spring Energy Reset: nourish + recharge...if you think you could use my help, sign up for the VIP notification list so you'll be the first to hear when this program is available for purchase.