A Whole30 Experience

I’m one of those people that dives more or less headfirst into things I don’t actually know how to do. So when my friend asked me if I would do a “diet” with her called the Whole30, I said yes with very little hesitation or actual background research on what I’d just committed to. I use the word “diet” very loosely, since I was (technically) allowed to eat unlimited amounts of bacon and avocados. I call it a “food thing”.

So what exactly was this food thing?

  • No added sugar (of any kind).
  • No dairy.
  • No grains (even gluten-free ones).
  • No legumes (or peanuts, because they act like legumes).
  • No alcohol.

Woof. People looked at me like I was crazy. “So you just eat vegetables?” Um, also meat, fruit, fish, some oils and nuts. But yes, lots of vegetables. I’ve been a vegetable-lover for years, though, so I was on-board with upping my intake of green (and red and yellow and orange) things. The goal of Whole30 is to eat only those good foods for 30 days, detox your body of all the inflammation and bad-news-bears (insulin spikes, unhealthy gut bacteria) those foods cause, and then slowly reintroduce them later to see how each one feels in your system.

It was kind of brutal, at first. I learned of something very, very unfortunate.

Yes, you can be hungover from not eating sugar and grains. It was horrible. It was several days of horrible. It was constant headaches and an upset stomach and… some other things I won’t describe for you. (You’re welcome.) And then came the angry days… I was mad at everyone and everything. Thankfully I was also happy, because I’d started a new, awesome job which balanced it out a little. But also really pissed off by everything for a solid 36 hours straight, and then some. Somewhere in there, I also became lethargic.

My runs got shorter, slower and more painful. I felt like a big old blob of nothing. If my neighbor had been offering me a delicious muffin, I wouldn’t have had the energy to walk across the street and get it. Just living life was a pretty tall order, for a few days. I had vivid dreams, or maybe they were nightmares, that I’d accidentally broken the rules and slurped down an entire Diet Pepsi before realizing it wasn’t Whole30-approved. Every time I walked past a cupcake, experienced a short bit of that rage coming back. I kept on walking.

But there was so much awesome yet to come.

Like so, so, so many sweet potatoes.

My energy levels began to level out and I didn’t have that mid-day slump that’s always been a killer. I slept like a rock, consistently. I became significantly less bloated and lost some love handles I didn’t realize I had. I was able to run again and tackle those longer miles, and my knees didn’t bother me as much. I obsessively read every food label and for the first time ever, realized just how much added sugar is tucked into the simplest of foods. (Like breakfast sausage. Rage!) I saved a ton of money because eating in restaurants was a special kind of hell.

But none of that really compared to the biggest benefit of all:

I learned how to cook so many things.

Spiced sweet potato "latkes" and bacon. I am in heaven.

A post shared by ▪ s a l l y ▪ (@sallyinplaces) on

Together with my friend, we got together at least weekly in her fancy-schmancy kitchen (it’s beautiful) and planned meals for the week. We crock-potted. We sauteed. We baked. We chopped. We spiralized. We took recipes from the internet, altered them, and over and over again ended up with an incredible dish (or 6, we cooked in bulk). I don’t think I’ve ever spent so much time in a kitchen nor tried out so many new recipes in such a short amount of time. And I’ve definitely never had so much success doing it. By the end of the month, we could prepare and cook two separate family-style dishes in a matter of a few hours, plus a small dinner.

I learned how to cut butternut squash, sear different types of beef, that salt and baking soda react with each other, what thyme tastes like, that guacamole is delicious (refresher), how to poach an egg and how to cook the perfect sweet potato. I ate kale. I discovered cashew butter. I revoked my analysis of celery as a sub-par vegetable, because it’s actually the perfect vehicle for eating cashew butter, which redeems it entirely. I know just how much of a very tiny, very spicy red pepper will turn my face into fire and you might as well call me Queen Zucchini, because I can cook the shit out of that vegetable and you will like it.

You will.

Spoiler alert: it takes very little.
Spoiler alert: it takes very little.

It was a hard 30 days for me and an even tougher time for my friend, who dealt not just with a death in the family but a friend’s wedding. (Are you impressed? Because I’m impressed. I’d have stuffed my face with approximately 25 brownies if I were her.) But both of us pulled through the thirty days, successful, triumphant and seriously ready for some freaking pizza. (Which we both ate shortly thereafter and had horrible stomachaches from, but it was kind of worth it.)

The website says that a Whole30 will change your life. Did it?

Yeah, it kind of did.

I’ll never cook the same. I didn’t miss cheese, which shocked even myself, so I probably won’t eat cheese anymore. I’ve had my eyes opened to some incredible foods I didn’t even know existed, like cashew butter. (Mostly cashew butter.) And I’ll never pick up a package of food again without scoping out the ingredients and seeing if there’s any secretly-added sugar. That stuff is in literally everything, it’s absurd, and there’s no one you could ask who wouldn’t agree that excess sugar wreaks some havoc on your body.

I ain’t about that.

But will it change the way I eat when I travel? Doubtful. I’ll be in Germany over Christmas (travel plans!) and there’s no way I’ll be turning down delicious, German food because it’s not that good for me. Puh-lease. I ain’t about that, either.

So yeah, in the meantime, I’ll be perfecting my sauteed zucchini. And looking forward to that currywurst waiting for me across the ocean.

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Have you ever done a “food thing”? Did it change your life? How great are sweet potatoes? And how great is currywurst?

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16 thoughts on “A Whole30 Experience”

  1. It’s interesting to read about this because I have made some diet-related changes lately. I’ve seen a naturopath and a nutritionist (and started dabbling in acupuncture) because western medicine just doesn’t ‘get’ my problems. I started with cutting out gluten and alcohol mainly. I am now going into my month detox (I guess the idea is like what you’ve done) and I am to avoid things like bananas (HIGH SUGAR!!) and peanut butter (NOOOO) but have gotten really close with spaghetti squash and almond butter. I’m already a clean eater so it’s amazing now what I have to cut out for a detox. I can relate to the headaches… for about a week, I was just all over the place. I still can’t get a proper reading on my moods, but I think I’m levelling out. Hopefully, fingers crossed! Thanks for sharing your experience. And also… I wonder what this means for my travels in the future – I can’t imagine going to the land of bread and beer and not indulging. Especially over Christmastime.

    1. Two words: cashew butter. (But seriously, better than almond butter! And dare I say this… better than peanut butter. There. Said it.)

      That is really interesting though that so many of us (see all above comments) are doing “food things”. It definitely says something about the state and quality of conventional food in the Western world. Cutting alcohol out is mildly depressing, even for me, who isn’t that much of a drinker, but it really does wonders and I feel miles better without it. & I think you’re going to start noticing some positive effects very soon and the moodiness will subside. I was miserable for roughly two weeks and then things got much, much better. I’d be really curious to hear how everything goes for you, though, so let me know how you feel in a little while! And keep it up, it’s probably just as hard for you as it was for me. But you can do it. 🙂

  2. My friend swears by the Whole30 and she’s done it a couple of times. I always try to do some detox diet and get halfway through and get too tempted by a cookie… ZERO self control. I was interested in giving Whole30 a try but I’m also a “part time vegetarian” (I don’t cook meat, only eat it at restaurants occasionally) so I don’t think it would work for me. But interesting to hear your take on it and glad that you learned some things from it! Now go eat a shit ton of strudel!! 🙂

    1. Hahaha yesss! I totally understand where the cookie would tempt you. Cookies are delicious. I think it would be hard to do if you didn’t eat a lot of meat, because you have to work much harder to fill your stomach with substance, but if you’ve got a lot of squash, potatoes and seafood on your plate then I think it’s totally doable.

      STRUDEL! 😀

  3. I just decided yesterday that I’m going to start a Whole 30 on Monday and while I’m excited to see if it has any benefits for me (specifically clearing up my skin and helping me sleep through the night) but I’m also SO SCARED. This gives me some hope that while it won’t be super easy, that it is doable. Though, I agree, I already know it won’t change the way I eat when I travel. That would take a lot of the fun out of it… But I figure if I eat healthily while I’m home then it all sort of balances out. Congratulations on making it all 30 days!

    1. The best advice I can give is try your hardest to rope someone else into it with you, even if you’re already halfway through, so you can text each other miserable things and spend time cooking together. It’s really hard in the beginning because you’re moody and not that committed yet, but things get significantly better. Good luck!! (& I can tell you now, you’re going to sleep like a rock.)

  4. Morning.

    Great post, Sally.

    Gotta hand it to you, that sounds torturous to me, but I have to admit that I’m in need of some dietary shake up, and this seems like a good option.

    Thanks for the low down.

    Steve

    1. Sometimes torture is good… like torture that allows you to eat bacon. Haha but really, there are a ton of good meals you can make within those confines, you just have to stretch out and cook some new things. But then again… muffins… I understand if you don’t want to. 🙂

  5. You’re a rockstar. Well done. I gave up on all ‘food things’ here on an island because it’s just way too hard/expensive to get stuff, and the veggies are shitty and only a few kinds, so I think Whole30 would suck here. I’m going to look into it when I’m in a better geographic location though!

    1. For sure. I didn’t mention this above but doing “food things” are such a sign of privilege it kind of makes me gag. Not everyone actually has food choices…

      If you want to chat about it when you’re somewhere else and thinking about doing something, let me know! 🙂

  6. I’ve never heard of Whole30 before this post – thanks for sharing! I’ve been planning (aka had the thought in the back of my mind) to do a month of no dairy/eggs/meat once I’m back home. This is due to the health reading I’ve done since January (The China Study, Whole: Rethinking the Science of Nutrition, Food Over Medicine, & In Defense of Food) and the digestion problems I’ve been fighting for years and years. The fact that you made it through this 30-day detox gives me motivation to actually do my monthlong experiment and stick to it.

    Have you read “The Omnivore’s Dilemma”? I’m about 40% through it right now, and would already recommend it. And speaking of book recommendations, do you use Goodreads?

    1. I don’t use Goodreads but maybe I should… should I? And I haven’t read that either, partially because I just really like meat and I want to live in my little bubble just a bit longer.

      From what I’ve read, though, cutting out all dairy (including butter) could do everyone a whole lot of good. And as for needing motivation, the Whole30 website has a lot of funny motivating quotes that could be taken out of context and used for your own needs. Let me know how that goes for you, I’ll be curious to read about it!

      1. Yes! Well, I’m a fan of Goodreads. My whole life I’ve kept lists of every book I read: written in notebooks when I was younger, then excel spreadsheets, next GoogleDocs, and now in Goodreads (the best mode for me). I also love its “to-read” shelf, so I can keep everything in one place instead of book titles jotted down on random scraps of paper or on the web. The bonus is that in addition to keeping track of everything I’ve read/want to read, it’ll give me recommendations (you can choose what they’re based on – books you’ve read, what you’re currently reading, etc.). Friends can also recommend books, and you can recommend books to them. Looking at book ratings and reviews is also another function, though that’s not my primary use. It’s not a time-sucking site at all, I just go on when I need to add a book I’ve started, mark that I’ve finished one, or add a book to my “to-read” list.

        “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” covers a lot more than what I thought it would be about. The first quarter of the book is about corn – something I never knew could be so interesting nor that it was so key in U.S. health issues. The second section, the one I just finished, is about the word “organic” and what it actually means in our country. Super interesting book so far, and I love Michael Pollan’s writing.

        Will surely write about whatever eating experiments I take on in the coming months!

  7. Wow, good for you, girl! 😀 That’s pretty amazing stuff. I could do with something like that – I’ve been in such a bad eating funk lately. It’s November now – are your eating habits still altered?

    1. I ate terribly in October, but still ate well at home, so I think I’m slowly getting better. I’m starting up with it again this November, too and trying my hand at moderation during the holidays (which will be REALLY hard).

      I’ll keep you up to date!

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