It's been two weeks since I finished Whole30 and I feel great! More than that, I learned A LOT. So much so that I thought I'd share with you some of the biggest lessons and takeaways from my time on Whole30. But first…
What is Whole30?
For the uninitiated, Whole30 is a food program similar to an elimination diet (it's also very similar to the Paleo diet). For 30 days, you cut out all grains (including whole grains and corn), legumes (including peas, beans and soy), dairy, sugar (including natural sweeteners like honey and maple syrup) and alcohol, and then slowly add each back in to see how your body responds.
When I told people I was doing this, I inevitably got strange looks and the exact same question every time: “Oh my god, then what can you eat?” Actually, a lot. I ate a ton of fruits, vegetables, eggs and meat. I was NEVER hungry on Whole30, except before mealtimes, and I never once felt unsatisfied after eating a Whole30 meal.
Why do Whole30?
If you're considering doing Whole30 or curious about why anyone would ever cut out so many things from their diet, I highly recommend reading “It Starts with Food“. All of the answers lie within the book's pages, as does motivation, inspiration and knowledge. I've found the best way to stick to any diet or to eat your way to health is to understand the science behind food and what happens in our bodies when we eat certain foods. This book explains it all, and in an easy-to-digest (pun intended!) and fun format.
After completing the program, I think there are three main reasons to do Whole30. 1) To determine if you have any food allergies, sensitivities or intolerances. 2) To heal your body, detox and reset your system and promote health. 3) To tackle any emotional issues you may have with food.
That last one's a big one–though I don't personally have any food addictions or all-too-regular habits (i.e. a case of diet Coke a day, a severe need for sugar, emotional reasons for binge eating, etc.), I think that many Americans do and committing to a plan like Whole30 is a great way to beat your demons and achieve a healthy relationship with food. It might be the best reason to do Whole30!
So why did I do this? I have leaky gut and a congested liver, which has caused a host of health issues over the past few years. Though I've been slowly and steadily healing my body with food and natural supplements, I thought of Whole30 as a way to supercharge the healing process and speed up the restoration of my health.
My Results on Whole30
So what happened? Well, I lost 8 pounds. My indigestion symptoms, like bloating and heartburn/acid reflux, disappeared. My stomach was the flattest I'd ever seen it, and overall, I just felt great!
I also saw significant healing in my gut, which I'm measuring by the level of food allergies I showed pre- and post-Whole30. After completing Whole30, my food allergies were cut in half, and are now down to almost zero. Likewise, I know my liver congestion improved, as my acne was greatly reduced–though this is also due to the supplements I've been taking to heal my liver.
What didn't change? Sleep quality and energy levels. I honestly didn't notice much difference here–I was still super tired when I woke up in the morning, even after 8+ hours of sleep, and my energy levels were still on the low side.
Even though Whole30 wasn't quite as life-changing for me as it has been for other people (I think it has a lot to do with how you eat before you start the program and how different it is from your normal routine–for me, it wasn't a radically different way of eating since I already eat mostly real, whole foods and an anti-inflammatory diet), it doesn't mean it wasn't worth it.
I am SO glad I completed the program, and I learned so much about my body, nutrition and wellness. To wit, here are the top 15 lessons I learned from Whole30:
1. Avoiding sugar is really hard.
I'm not much of a sweet tooth and happily skip dessert 99% of the time. But sugar, in all its forms, is in EVERYTHING. So cutting out sugar was easily the hardest rule on Whole30, as it was so difficult to find sugar-free products. From salad dressing and chicken broth to ketchup and nearly all condiments, deli meat, bacon and jerky, non-dairy milks and everything in between, I was amazed at how much sugar companies put into their foods.
2. Whole30 and a social life don't mix well.
No alcohol, plus not being able to eat 99% of items on restaurant menus made for a very quiet month for the Kordsmeiers. On the plus side, life on Whole30 meant waking up every morning with no regrets. You almost don't realize how bad you felt until you see how good you can feel. No hangovers? What a revelation! No guilt from pigging out on french fries? What a rush! Though I missed partying with my friends (or even just having a glass of wine at dinner with them), it felt great to…well, feel so great! And it got easier and easier to not drink as time went on–and that's coming from a two-glasses-of-wine-a-night drinker.
3. Bloated isn't your body's natural state.
Regardless of my weight, I've always felt really bloated–you know that small pooch at the base of your tummy that isn't fat, per say, but just sticks out a lot, preventing a flat stomach. Just me?! After a week on Whole30, the bloat was totally gone. I couldn't believe how flat my stomach felt. Not only that, but I couldn't believe all my indigestion was gone. Mattie and I often joked about how amazed we were to discover that you don't have to feel horrible after you eat. You don't need a nap after lunch? No need to spend extended periods of time in the bathroom after dinner? No popping Tums or antacids or rubbing your stomach complaining of “cheese belly”? Wow! Feeling good after a meal might have been the very best part of Whole30.
4. You eat a lot of meat on Whole30.
During Whole30, I found myself eating animal protein at nearly every meal, which was a huge change from the way I was eating on my anti-inflammatory plan, where I mostly ate vegetarian until dinner time. I honestly felt healthier eating that way. My meals contained more salads and grain bowls with beans and veggies, but on Whole30 it was bacon and eggs, steak and lots and lots of chicken. It didn't feel healthier.
I understand cutting out things like sugar and alcohol–let's be honest, we eat these things solely because they're delicious and bring joy to our lives, not because they're healthy in any way–but cutting out quinoa and black beans, hummus and peanuts just didn't make as much sense to me, even after reading “It Starts with Food” and hearing about how they aren't great for our digestive systems. But the same goes for meat–sure, it's a great, healthy protein source, but too much really isn't good for us either. And in order to feel satiated, I felt like lots of animal protein was my only choice on Whole30. Which brings me to my next point…
5. I need more fiber.
I found that without whole grains, beans and legumes, it was really difficult to get enough fiber just from fruits and vegetables alone, despite their high fiber content. This was a problem for me, as someone who suffers from chronic constipation–although I wasn't bloated at all during Whole30 (hallelujah!), I wasn't quite as regular as I was eating an anti-inflammatory diet that allows whole grains, beans and legumes. Plus, Whole30 discourages smoothies, so I didn't have my daily green smoothie like I was used to, and I think that was part of the fiber problem. As soon as I added them back in, my constipation subsided.
6. I really missed bread.
I'm not a huge carb eater–sandwiches, pasta, cookies… they've never been a huge part of my diet–BUT, going 30 days without a single slice of toast or a tortilla or grain was really, really hard. And I realized how much I rely on carbs as a vehicle for other ingredients, namely eggs and vegetables. A poached egg without toast just isn't right. A bunless burger just didn't do it for me. And a girl can only eat so many lettuce wraps. I missed true tacos, avocado + egg toast, the occasional sandwich or burger or even just a cracker, and a little whole grain in my bean and veggie bowls. Likewise…
7. Cheese is AMAZING.
Cheese is probably the hardest thing for me to give up entirely. It's amazing what just a sprinkling can do in terms of flavor. I made tons of omelets and salads and sauces on Whole30, and while they were all delicious, I couldn't help but notice how much better they'd taste with just a little bit of cheese. I did find nutritional yeast to be a nice cheese sub in egg dishes and pestos, but nothing beats melty, nutty, tangy, rich, gooey, oozing…OK, I'm losing it. Cheese is good. Period.
8. Black coffee isn't so bad.
Before Whole30, I always put a couple tablespoons of half-and-half and a spoonful of sugar in my coffee. And it was DELICIOUS! On Whole30, only black coffee is allowed and the first few cups I forced myself to choke down were pretty terrible. But after about a week of training myself, I actually started to like black coffee. Especially when I made it with freshly ground beans in my French press with a sprinkle of cinnamon. Yes, coffee with cream and sugar is better. But black coffee really isn't so bad. Neither is tea. Other than the occasional latte splurge, I think I'm a convert to black coffee now… and proud of it!
9. I gained a newfound appreciation for natural tastes.
Black coffee wasn't the only taste I acquired on Whole30. Eating only real, whole foods and nothing else for 30 days was a super quick way to re-sensitize my palette and appreciate the natural tastes, especially sweet, of real foods. Fruit is super sweet. Did you know you don't need to sprinkle sugar over strawberries to make them delicious? That oatmeal doesn't need heaping spoonfuls of brown sugar to taste great? Or that pancakes without cups of syrup are actually really tasty? Sure, a little sprinkling of natural sweeteners can go a long way, but that's exactly the point: a little goes a long way and when you cut out processed sugar, you quickly realize how cloyingly sweet almost everything you ate before really was.
10. 2016 is a great time to be eating healthy, natural and organic.
For every unhealthy company filling their products with harmful additives, unnatural chemicals, synthetic dyes, artificial flavors and other non-food items we shouldn't be eating, there's a growing number of amazing brands doing it right. We're so lucky to live in a time where brands care about our health and making nutritious, wholesome and delicious products!
Avoiding so many ingredients forced me to really study food labels and I was so pleased to find so many amazing natural products on the market today. Some of my Whole30 favorites: Primal Kitchen mayo (their salad dressings are also delicious but do contain honey), Epic grass-fed protein bars (chicken sriracha is my fave!), Tessamae’s salad dressings and condiments, Pederson's Natural Farm's sugar-free bacon, Simple Mills grain-free baking mixes, Evo Hemp energy bars, Numi organic teas and SeaSnax roasted seaweed snacks.
11. My body now craves healthy food.
Just like most healthy eating plans, there's an “upward spiral” effect that happens–as in, the healthier you eat, the healthier you want to continue eating. Yes, there were moments when I missed french fries and pizza and cheeseburgers…but I don't crave them the way I used to. The better I ate, the better I felt and the better I wanted to keep eating.
And it gets easier as you go. The first few days of Whole30, I was miserable. I questioned why I was even doing this, what was the point, had I lost my mind, I NEEDED A GLASS OF WINE RIGHT NOW. But by the end, I almost didn't want to stop eating by Whole30 rules. I felt good and it became easy…which brings me to:
12. Sometimes it's easier to be all-or-nothing than to moderate.
I'll admit, I'm someone who has major panic attacks when told I can never have something again, so the first week of Whole30 was super hard and I nearly threw in the towel at every meal. But once I wrapped my mind around it and got the hang of it, I felt at extreme peace knowing that certain things were ALWAYS off-limits, rather than trying to moderate how much I could eat. Admittedly, as much as I believe in moderation, I do struggle with how much is enough to not feel deprived, but not so much that I'm hurting my body. On Whole30, I didn't have to try and walk that fine line, and it was liberating!
13. Meal prep is key.
I've never been great at prepping meals days in advance–I like to eat what I feel like eating in the moment rather than what I decided on Sunday that I would eat on Friday. But on Whole30, that spontaneity was really tough. It's not so much that you need to plan out exact recipes, but you need to know that you always have fruit, veggies, eggs and meat on hand. You need to always have Whole30-compliant foods you can reach for. In the past, if I didn't have time to prepare an extravagant meal or even if I simply didn't feel like cooking, it wasn't a big deal to pick up takeout or go out to dinner. But that's really not an option on Whole30 as almost everything at restaurants is made with some combination of sugar, dairy, grains (particularly flour) or soy. So having a fully-stocked fridge and pantry was paramount to staying on track.
14. Sometimes simple is better.
By that same token, simple meals were often best on Whole30. I'm not usually one to bake a boneless, skinless chicken breast, steam some broccoli and call it dinner. I love big, bold seasonings and complex, layered flavors. But that didn't always make sense on Whole30, as I'm also not used to cooking 3 meals a day at home, from scratch. Some days, I had to embrace simplicity and just grill a piece of fish and eat a simple salad.
15. Accountability helps. A lot.
Mattie and my mom did the Whole30 challenge with me and it helped me stay on track like nobody's business. I highly recommend doing the challenge with a spouse or roommate who you share meals with. Likewise, telling your friends and family about your eating habits makes it easier to both spend time with them when they know your limitations, and to have someone else hold you accountable and encourage you to stick with it.
Alright, so that's it–I completed the Whole30 challenge and I'm better for it.
Moving forward, I don't think I'll restrict this many foods 100% of the time, though I imagine I'll do many Whole7's in the coming years–especially before an event or after a particularly indulgent vacation–to detox, debloat and reset.
So what's my strategy? I plan to eat mostly gluten- and dairy-free and to limit my grain and legume intake, eating things like bread, beans and rice only a couple of times per week, rather than daily.
Likewise, I think it's important to incorporate the foods that are special to you back into your diet in healthy moderation. I really missed toast, wine and cheese, but if you missed pasta, cookies and corn, then by all means, find a way to healthfully add those foods back into your diet. Of course, if you didn't miss a food on Whole30, leave it out.
Just because you're not eating Whole30 permanently, doesn't mean you should just go back to eating the way you did before. Be mindful. Pay attention to how your body feels and nourish it with the right foods.
That's my biggest takeaway from Whole30. When it comes to food, I think the most important thing to recognize is that all of our bodies are different and nutrition is not one-size-fits-all. The best thing you can do for your health is to listen to your body and truly enjoy what you eat.