Last week, I finished Whole30, the nutritional program where you give up dairy, grains, added sugar, preservatives, legumes, and alcohol for 30 days. I didn’t think I’d make it, to be totally transparent, and while I did have one intentional mishap (of course I had to drink a beer at a Dierks Bentley concert, c’mon), I’m proud of myself for making it completely through a diet-cleanse for the first time.
And the last time.
Turns out, I was already kinda healthy and balanced before doing Whole30, but it took going through the program to fully understand that, so I am grateful to have experienced it. I’ve always joked that, because I workout so often but love good food and a glass of wine with dinner, if I ever stopped eating junk and ate healthy for a long period of time, I’d probably turn into a twig.
As it turns out, some things are just left to genetics. After eating whole foods for 30 days straight — we’re talking solely veggies, fruits, eggs, meat, and nuts — I’m down a whopping three pounds. Yeah, I definitely feel more toned and some of my clothes fit a tad looser, but this isn’t the drastic weight change I had joked about and imagined happening.
Don’t get me wrong, though. I didn’t do Whole30 TO lose weight. I am happy with where my body is and was before starting the program but felt I needed a healthy reboot after a holiday season of much indulging. That, I feel I’ve accomplished. I’ve also had this idea in my head that my activity levels are super high and healthy, yet I lack in the nutrition department, so I thought that once they were more aligned, I’d suddenly have some kind of bikini competitor figure.
In reality, I think I’m always harder on myself after eating a bowl of ice cream or drinking a little wine, and those moments stick out more in my brain than all the times I choose salads or drink 12 bottles of water in a day.
The “bad” always outweighs the “good,” and so goes the saying that we’re all our own worst critics.
However, not all benefits of Whole30 were lost on me. Even though I didn’t have this wild physical transformation I’d imagined, my mindset has shifted in some impactful, positive ways. But there were also a handful of things I did NOT like about the program — all of which I’ll lay out for anyone considering giving it a go — and these are the things that will probably lead me to not participate in another Whole30.
But — who knows? — that could just be the PTWMD talking. (Post-traumatic wine-missing disorder.) Check back with me after next holiday season.
- Toned muscles. Like I said, I didn’t lose a ton of weight, but I felt my arms, abs, and butt specifically tighten up during the duration of the 30 days. Eating lots of protein via meat three meals a day nearly every day surely didn’t hurt.
- Less cellulite. I’ve heard a large sugar intake correlates with cellulite abundance, and though I’ve never had a TON of it (again, probably genes), I noticed it diminished significantly over the past few weeks.
- Less mindless eating and drinking. Or more healthy options for it. I’m such a boredom eater and drinker. I hate it, but if I don’t have plans, you can bet that I’m on my couch with a glass of wine and some sort of grazing snack. Without any indulgent options of goodies, I’ve been forced to sip on water, tea, or La Croix and munch on nuts, fruit, or veggies — or, of course, nothing at all.
- More focused. I find myself being able to read or work for longer periods of time without breaks to scan social media, and the time spent on either, or other activities, feels more productive.
- Higher levels of creativity. This goes hand in hand with focus for me, but I’ve been able to lay out my thoughts and creative plans more articulately and satisfyingly, and, it’s difficult to explain, but ideas are just coming to me easier.
- More confidence; less anxiety. I think this comes from the stress that society places on consuming “bad” (processed, added sugar, fatty, high calorie) foods. Since I wasn’t getting ANY of those, I naturally felt some sort of weight lifted, and a sense of confidence came with it. (I don’t know if this is necessarily healthy, since even those foods considered “bad” are just fine to have in moderation.)
- Ability to stay up later. Usually by 10 p.m., I’m falling asleep, regardless of whether I’m in bed, on the couch, or at a bar. (Kidding. Kind of.) But I found myself way less tired at night during Whole30 and even staying up until 11, or later! Goodbye, granny Audrey.
- No less groggy in the mornings. I figured with so many nutrition-positive foods and no alcohol, I’d wake up early every day chipper and ready to tackle it all. To my disappointment, I was still as in to my “snooze” button as normal, and it took me the same time and energy to get up each day.
- Muscles fatigue quicker. During workouts, I felt weaker and shakier early on in the session. This lessened as the 30 days went on and I adjusted my macros, but at first it was frustrating feeling so fatigued so quickly.
- Headaches. Also in the beginning, I don’t think I was getting enough carbohydrates for my activity levels, what with not being able to eat grains, which caused some gnarly headaches. So I made sure to get some fruit and potato in every day, which helped curb my issues with headaches.
- Heightened negative mindset toward food. Not being able to eat such a long list of foods made me feel anxious toward what I would be able to eat guiltlessly after I finished the program. I’m really trying to work on not considering foods either “good” or “bad” because, truthfully, everything is just fine in moderation, even higher calorie, higher sugar, and fattier foods. To me, this program heightened my worries around foods (especially when I’d think about what I would eat after the program) instead of making me feel more aware. I think for people with gluten allergies or other similar concerns, this program would enhance their education around food. For me, since I don’t have food allergies, I felt hyper-conscious about everything, and not in a good way.
- Food self control is unaffected. Maybe I was doing something wrong (definitely), but even though I couldn’t eat so many types of food, if I ever had a craving, I’d just tell myself, I can have that in X amount of days. And since the program has ended, I’ve eaten EVERYTHING I couldn’t have during it. So, maybe I should say my temporary self control is a-okay… but longterm is nonexistent.
- SO MUCH cooking and kitchen-cleaning. I made a whole meal plan to keep up with, which was great since it allowed me to enjoy creative, new meals every week, but I was in the kitchen all the damn time. It was too much for me. While I loved enjoying different meals, I don’t think I’ve spent that much time in the kitchen in all my collective years prior to Whole30 than I did in these 30 days. If I had a more demanding schedule and didn’t have John to cook some of the meals, there’s no way I would’ve lasted.
- It’s expensive. You’d think that not eating out and not buying alcohol would save you money. Nope. Buying oodles of produce and meat every week seriously adds up, and I’d bargain to say that I probably spent more during Whole30 than during a normal month where I’m drinking and eating at restaurants sometimes. (Although, I did restock my wine supply the last week in anticipation of being able to drink again, so take that how you will.)
- Men, please stop reading for just this little section. I doubt I have any men reading, but just in case my dad, grampa, etc. dudes are checking out my blog, this is going to be awkward for all of us if you continue reading this bullet point. Y’all all gone? Okay. Ladies, I had the weirdest hormonal experience. My period was supposed to start during the second week of Whole30, but I started spotting — heavily and consistently — a couple days in. And it continued until my period. And after. I was basically bleeding for 20ish of the 30 days. It’s kind of scary that FOOD affects hormones this much… My schedule is usually spot on, but it was all kinds of messed up during the program. I’m not sure if it’s because I wasn’t eating dairy (which has been known to cause significant hormonal changes) or what, but pretty freaky, right?
Most of these take some (read: a lot of) time, but were SO DELICIOUS, and leftovers were aplenty… So, they were almost — almost — worth the hours spent making them. (Click on each meal name for your web browser to open the recipe.)
- California Chicken Bowls
- Hearty Vegetable Soup
- Sweet Potato Noodles with Beef Bolognese (My FAVORITE!)
- Slow Cooker Pork Carnitas (Put on top of some baked potato wedges — so yum.)
- Zuppa Toscana
- Paleo Baked Spaghetti
Hacks I’ll Keep Using
- Frozen fruit instead of dessert. Two words: FROZEN MANGO. It’s the treat you haven’t realized you’ve been missing all your life. Frozen berries are also prime.
- Dried fruit for snacks. Speaking of mango, dried mango tastes pretty much like candy, minus all the gross additives.
- Sweet potato noodles and cauliflower rice. I’d never tried either, but now I’m hooked on both. We bought this spiralizer to make noodles, and we grated cauliflower with a cheese grater to get it to rice size and consistency. Honestly, I never thought anything could substitute for real pasta or rice and actually taste better than decent, but these options are so stinking good.
- Hot sauce. Obviously, hot sauce has always been a part of my dining routine, but I really had to rely on Cholula, Franks, and Louisiana Hot Sauce for spicy toppings, especially when I couldn’t use other flavors like dressings and such.
- Forget the microwave. Whole30 was a lesson in leftovers, and I learned that the microwave sucks for reheating meals. It makes stuff all mushy and soggy, but the oven crisps it up and makes it taste new all over again. Oh, and tin foil is officially my bestie in making reheating cleanups easy.
- La Croix instead of booze. Sometimes, it’s just nice to have a glass in hand of something more fun to drink than water, and honestly, my top choice is usually a beer or some wine. It stems from boredom or stress or laziness most week nights, but La Croix has so many fun flavors (and no added sugar/sodium) that provide no headache the following day, so I’ll be reaching for these sparkling waters more often in the future.
The Best AND Worst Part
- No alcohol for 30 days. I’m not a huge drinker — at least, not compared to my college days. I’ll have a few drinks on the weekend and some wine with dinner (and The Bachelor on Mondays, obvs) during the week, but I probably haven’t gone this long without drinking since before I turned… 19. And I’m 25. That’s CRAZY to think about, and it was nice to have a hiatus and clear my mind (and liver) out a bit. While I don’t think I would do Whole30 again, I would do a dry month or few weeks, since I think that was the most beneficial part for me.
If You’re Thinking About Doing It, Make Sure You…
- Find someone to keep you accountable. Since I live with John, it would’ve been super difficult if he hadn’t done Whole30 with me. We eat most meals together and obviously influence each other very much, so it was major to go through this process together. Get your roommate or your significant other or your closest friend on board, and you’ll already be set up for success.
- Make a meal plan. Even though I had to cook all the flipping time, without my meal plan, I would’ve ran out of ideas and gotten burnt out so quickly. Yes, it takes a lot of time and planning, but my meal plan is what saved me when I felt uninterested. It was a black-and-white road map for exactly what I needed to get at the store and make every week.
- Keep plenty of compliant snacks around. I grazed on fruit, Larabars, veggies, nuts, and homemade trail mix throughout my days, and it helped curb that empty stomach feeling you’ll be introduced to, plus it kept major cravings at bay.
WHEW. I think that’s about it! Clearly, a major learning curve was a big gain from my Whole30, and for that, I’m happy I did it. If you have any questions I didn’t address here, feel free to ask away in the comment section below, or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photography by Jessica Steddom.