If you happen to run with a health conscious circle, you may have already heard of the “whole 30”. With a recent surge in trendy cleanses, and new diet fads the Whole 30 has quickly climbed its way up the popularity ladder. What is it exactly? Developed in 2009 by Melissa and Dallas Hartwig, it is a “nutritional clense” designed to cease unhealthy cravings, reset your metabolism and basically promises to heal most every ailment from menstrual cramps to Parkinson’s. With the enticing tag line of let us change your life, its hard not to be intrigued. If that doesn’t sell you, how about the thousands of positive reviews from people (mostly women) who have gained ‘food freedom’ lost at least 10 pounds, inches off their body, and who have overall gotten their groove back. How does it work? Essentially, for 30 days you eliminate all foods (sugar, dairy, grains and legumes) that could potentially cause inflammation or otherwise wreak havoc in the body. During that time, you’re to load your plate up with 75% veggies, 25% protein, and 25% healthy fats, such as quality olive oil, avocados, or nuts – but only certain kinds of nuts, so peanuts are a no go (because they’re actually a legume). Seems easy enough, right? WELL. Let me tell you…
As a health coach, I was skeptical about it at best. I’m always weary of a diet, especially one that claims to do so much. Still, the program seemed to have its merits. I’ve also wanted to give some Paleo recipes a try, so when my friend asked me if I wanted to help keep her accountable while she did her first round, I thought I would give it a go as well. I bought the book, I pinned some recipes, and I mentally prepared myself for the challenging month ahead. I thought it would be so EASY.
“I eat healthy already! This will be a piece of cake! I don’t need dessert every night.”
Soon I realized all the foods I held dear to me were no longer available to me. A main catch of whole 30 is that you can’t mimic non-compliant foods, with compliant ones. So no paleo bread or gluten free pancakes. This isn’t a rule just to be mean, there is a purpose to this. Recreating those foods while you are on a cleanse sends a mixed signal to your brain. The idea is essentially to rewire your brain to no longer need those foods. Here is where I made my first deadly mistake. I thought that rule was silly, and there’s no reason why I shouldn’t be able to have my usual chia pudding since everything was compliant. By the third day, I was going insane. I was battling my inner “sugar dragon” and it got UGLY. It was a huge reality check for me! I eat clean whole foods 90% of the time. I cook from home mostly, but every night I went for dessert. It was as if something just clicked in my head when I finished dinner, I was immediately thinking about eating something sweet. Every time my fiancé and I go out to dinner, we have to have dessert. It was something we did while we dated, and has continued on 5 years later. Now, here I am on day 7, on the brink of tears, sniffing my empty cookie jar. This sort of thing went on for about two weeks, until I finally got up off the table, and didn’t immediately head for our snack cabinet. The dragon had been slayed! Still, the struggle wasn’t over yet. I found myself struggling to find things to make for food, or things I wanted to eat. I hated having eggs, every freaking morning. By the 12th day, I began to lose sleep, leading to having no energy, and being extra extra crabby. My typical PMDD symptoms were exaggerated leading to an overall sense of depression, and anxiety. I was miserable, but sticking to it. I was so determined to smash this diet, even though I could hardly live. After about two weeks of feeling miserable, on day 26 I caved. My muscles were aching, and my typical hormonal neck spams were worse than ever. So, I had a cookie. It was such a weak way to go out. I was so dang close! That was it, I couldn’t call it an ‘oops’, and continue as I was. It wouldn’t be a true whole 30 then. I reflected on the last 3 and half weeks, and how miserable I was – how sick I felt, and I decided.. this was just NOT for me. That is the beauty of health though, not one diet could (or should) work for everyone because of our bio-individuality. After adding the foods Ive been missing back into my diet, I started to feel so much better!
Overall, would I recommend this diet to someone? Maybe. It certainly has its merits. For one, encouraging people to read the labels on the foods they buy is a fantastic practice in general. You need to know what’s in your food! Another positive aspect of whole 30 is you kind of have to cook all your meals. Cooking your own food is not just a good practice, its good for the soul, and I am a firm believer that ANYONE can cook. A major flaw in the program is its strict rules with strange loopholes; you can buy mock ranch dressing but cashew ‘cheese’ isn’t allowed? It can be very confusing and rather stressful to try to figure out what is compliant and okay. If you are interested in clean eating but don’t know where to start, aren’t super confident in your cooking skills, and may or may not be silently suffering with a food sensitivity, I would say Go for it. If your diet consists of fast food at least once a week, and take out the rest of the week – DEFINITELY DO IT. Try for as long as you can. I’ll warn you, it takes an incredible amount discipline and inner strength to do it. I’ll also warn you that if after 21 days you don’t see a difference or are feeling WORSE, stop. This is designed to make you look and feel your best, if that’s not what is happening to you – it is not working. Trust your gut, and try to listen to your body.
If you do decide you want to venture into A whole 30- here’s a few tips I would suggest:
- Think outside the box for breakfast. You WILL get sick of eggs. You’ll have eggs coming out of your eyeballs by the end of it – so think differently. BLT salads were my favorite non-breakfast breakfast item. notable favorites were bean salads, and roasted veggie bowls.
- PLAN PLAN PLAN // MEAL PREP MEAL PREP MEAL PREP – prepare for the worst. Because I work from home I figured that I could just wing it. That was a mistake. I found myself lost before mealtimes, and so hungry I couldnt think which led to bad decision making on my part. (I’m looking at you Larabars) if only I had prepped lunch or dinners my whole30 would have gone waaaay smoother.
- Stick with your favorites – find what you love and stick with them. If you go crazy trying to think of 90 different meals, you will go crazy. You’ll also likely burn out, and get discouraged and quit.
- Finally, give yourself a test round. Especially if you never cook, and your dinners are typically delivered to you in Styrofoam boxes, you’ll need that extra month (or few weeks) to test the waters. Give yourself the freedom to mess up, and learn from it. It will make you more aware of what you have to do when you really go into it.
Have any of you done a Whole30? What were your thoughts? Comment below and tell me what you think!