I have finally decided to embark on the Whole30 challenge!
Ok. I know. Big deal. You might be thinking: been there, done that. This program is not new and hundreds of thousands of people have already completed it and reported positive results. I have had friend and co-workers complete the program and LOVE IT.
But I was very reluctant to try it myself. I was skeptical of this seemingly very harsh, very restrictive “diet”. On first blush, it appeared to be against my whole eating philosophy that you can eat thing things you love, like baked goods and treats, by making healthy, simple swaps. The idea of giving up all sugar, grains, baked goods and dairy (I get why alcohol is a big no no….sigh) even if it these foods have positive health benefits was counterintuitive to my health beliefs.
Time for a change.
So why did I cave? For one, my holiday splurge. For the past month, I have been on a food bender. Party apps. Desserts. Eating out. Wine. A lot of wine….so so much wine. Don’t get me wrong – I don’t regret it. It’s the holidays, a time to splurge and have a good time with family. But now I’m feeling the consequences, bloated and sluggish. Now that the holidays are over, it’s time to set those resolutions into gear. A new year and a new me! Right?? #2018goals.
But this decision went beyond just the holiday indulgences. It was also to deal with some food habits I had formed and was really struggling to break.
For the most part, I am very proud of my eating habits and lifestyle. I enjoy creating and cooking delicious food that is also very good for you. I avoid processed foods/refined sugars to the best of my ability and cook with healthy, wholesome ingredients (check out my food philosophy for more details). This is the main reason I initially avoided Whole30. I’m already a healthy eater so did not feel compelled to insanely restrict myself for 30 days.
However, I’m not perfect and still have room for improvement.
For one, I’m slightly obsessed with dessert. I’m huge dessert lover and stand behind my philosophy that dessert can be eaten every day. I’ve learned to create healthy, refined sugar free nutritious desserts. But here comes my issue. You should eat dessert every day IF you are hungry for it. But what if you aren’t hungry and just eating dessert because you always crave sweets? I had formed this habit of eating a treat/dessert every time I ate something savory, even if I wasn’t hungry. I was almost forcing myself to eat something sweet because I was convinced I needed it to feel satisfied. I realized I had a “sugar dragon” (what the program calls sugar cravings) that needed to be conquered.
I also tend to eat when I’m not hungry. I work from home often, and find myself frequently in the pantry looking for a snack even though I’m not in the least bit hungry. It’s a mindless habit I formed while working on my computer. I do grab healthy snacks, but even too much of a good thing can be bad. It leads to me overeating and feeling guilty for doing so.
Also, my sleeping habits. I am a terrible sleeper. I fall asleep with no problem, but wake up constantly throughout the night and can only sleep until about 6am.To deal with this sleeping issue, I started relying on a sleeping aid, which usually makes me feel foggy and tired the next day. I understand eating habits can play a critical role in your sleep patterns. I had a hunch that eating dessert late at night and over snacking during the day could be contributing to my sleep issues.
The straw that broke the camel’s back: when my husband gave me tums as a stocking stuffer. When I gave him a confused look after unwrapping this unexpected gift, my husband exclaimed: “honey, you love those things. You pop them like candy.” Yep, time for a change!
Ok, what is this Whole30 thing all about?
Right around the new year, I saw a lot of information about the Whole30 program pop up on my social media feeds. The food in the pictures looked delicious and it seemed like a tight knit community. Well, it wouldn’t hurt to look into it.
I was still apprehensive about the program. I think my reluctance stemmed somewhat from fear of the restrictions – I doubted my ability to give up ice cream and peanut butter for 30 days and I was scared to fail. But I pushed those fears aside and bought the book and checked out the blog to learn more about the program, exactly how it works, and the reasoning/science behind its principles.
What I learned: It’s not a diet. It’s not a forever commitment. Whole 30 is a restrictive dietary program designed to change the way you eat and think about food in 30 days. Basically, you eliminate all potentially inflammatory foods and beverages in your diet, which includes dairy, grains, added sugar, alcohol (bye bye wine), legumes, and baked goods for 30 days. No ifs, ands, or maybes about it. You cannot consume these foods/drinks for 30 days. Period. If you break one of these rules, you must start over from the very beginning. The program creators are all about tough love. Their infamous line is, “It is not hard.”
Because it’s worth the sacrifice. The creators of Whole 30 promise total food freedom. That this will change my life. It will help me slay the sugar dragon. It will lead to better sleep. It will return my body to a healthy digestive function. All things I could really use at the moment. I could give up ice cream and peanut butter for 30 days for total food freedom.
But I couldn’t just take the creators’ words for it. I went beyond just reading the Whole 30 book and blog. I found testimonials from real people who had completed the program to learn about their experiences. I read A LOT of testimonials and even reached out to friends. I found most to be very positive. Many people did report that they felt their lives were forever changed for the better. The program helped them get better in tune with their cravings and changed their food preferences. The three things I found most consistently noted by whole30ers is: 1. better sleep; 2. reduced sugar cravings; 3. more energy and feeling genuinely happier. All of those things sounded wonderful.
I was sold. I was willing to give it a try. It’s only 30 days. Plus, I love a good challenge.
Misery loves company.
But why do it alone? Misery love company, right? I recruited my husband, mom, and dad. They all agreed to embark on this journey with me (but have admitted that they are still drinking on the weekend; technically not allowed, but I’m no Whole30 ref). I feel more confident in my decision to take the Whole30 plunge with a complete support system. I can reach out to them for advice, recipe ideas or pep talks. I know I will need my mom to talk me off the ledge when I inevitably face the “I need chocolate now or will die” moment. I also know I would likely break if I see my husband eating chips or ice cream in front of me. He’s now stuck being miserable too (just kidding, we are going to love this experience, i.e. what I keep telling him!)
Failing to prepare is preparing to fail.
During my research, I also found many Whole30ers emphatically recommend that you must fully prepare for your Whole30 in order to find success. This is not something you can just do on a whim. I had mentally committed to fully completing this program and there was no room for failure.
So I prepared.
I first picked the days of my Whole30 – January 2-31. I knew realistically I would be a little hungover and hangry on January 1, so that day was not going to work to avoid carbs and sugar. We also have a tripped plan for the beginning of February, so it was the perfect event to celebrate the end of the program.
I next prepped my pantry. I eliminated all of the off-limit foods from our apartment. I packed up a small bag filled with any types of sugars, like maple syrup, honey, coconut sugar, and artificial sweetners, all breads or carbs of any kind, and chocolate and treats, and hid them in a place I could not access for the next 30 days. I went through my fridge and threw out any off-limit food that would expire in the next 30 days. My husband and I also finished off the last of the ice cream and our favorite wine during the holiday weekend. I took these measures to minimize any chance for a slip up. I knew there was no way I was going to attempt this all over again if I messed up half way though, so I was going to have to do it right the first time.
I planned our first week of Whole30 meals (which I cannot wait to share with all of you) and stocked up on Whole30 ingredients. I went to Whole Foods, Target, and Trader Joe’s to pick up Whole30 compliant condiments, bars, sauces, and other items I would need to pack for lunches or use in cooking (you can google and find a lot of Whole30 compliant shopping lists). I also picked up copious amounts of veggies, a couple of meat items I would need for my dinners, and some fruit to eat with each meal (the Whole30 plan recommends not overindulging in fruit to satisfy the sugar dragon). Finally, I did some meal prep by baking sweet potatoes, packing lunches, and making sauces we would use all week long.
I was officially ready for my Whole30.
My hopes for the program.
I am nervous and excited about this experience. I will miss ice cream and cheese, but am excited for this challenge and the health benefits I hope it brings. My biggest hopes are I discover any foods that cause inflammation and affect my gut health, my energy improves, and I crave dessert less. I am also excited to be more creative in the kitchen using only wholesome ingredients (and relying less on cheese and grains to make food flavorful).
I plan to share my Whole30 recipes with all of you and my experiences throughout this journey.
Wish me luck!