We put our writer to the test, and she shares her experience in this exclusive three-part series.
Part I – Preparation
I recently learned about the Whole30 food program. Some of you may have heard of it, but not know the specifics; others may not be familiar with it at all. The easiest way to summarize the program is that you consume no sugar, no dairy, no grains or legumes, and no alcohol for 30 days. You eat only “whole” foods – fruits, vegetables, protein (meat, fish, eggs), and nuts. These nutrient-rich foods help cleanse your system, jump-start your metabolism, eliminate food cravings and repair your body. It’s a similar formula to the Paleo diet, which has also been popular lately.
I was intrigued by the challenge and interested to learn more about the program. I wanted to understand the logic and the science behind the Whole30 and what it might do for me. I had a few friends who’d recently completed the program and were raving about it, so I did a bit of research online and decided to buy the book.
I did my Whole30 in September, but began the process in August when I purchased the book, “It Starts With Food.” The authors are certified nutritionists and the program’s backed by mounds of scientific research and data. I would not recommend anyone begin their Whole30 Journey without reading the book first. It helps you understand how your body processes food and the impact of your food choices. These insights are particularly useful on difficult days and helped me remember why I was doing Whole30 in the first place. It also changed my entire outlook on food and what I consumed. It helped me understand that Whole30 is not a crash-diet or health fad, but a lifelong and more conscious relationship with what you eat and drink.
Now let me insert a bit of a disclaimer here: I’m not going to preach about how this program transformed my life and that I’ll never eat another brownie. For some people, yes, this program is life altering – which is wonderful. But I also believe in having a little fun in life, and anyone who knows me knows that I love food! I believe food is joy, sharing, entertainment, nourishment, and experience. Even though I view food differently than some, I learned so much on this journey, and it has indeed changed the way I think about food.
After reading the book, I wanted to outline what I hoped to get from this experience – something to track and compare against when I was done. Ironically enough, losing weight was not even part of the equation for me. My primary goal in this effort was just to be more aware of what I was eating. My husband and I eat relatively healthy and are both active, but I wanted to fine-tune our diet a bit. I wanted to be more aware of how food came to our table and what was in it.
I do enjoy cooking and trying new recipes but was looking for ways to add more vegetables and fish to our menu. I wanted to be more conscious of buying organic produce, free-range eggs and chicken, and wild-caught fish. I wanted to understand what products contained artificial ingredients or preservatives, and how to opt for healthier solutions.
After I had started shopping and reading labels for this article, I was astonished by how many products do have sugar in them – salad dressings, soups, and even deli lunchmeat. Items that I thought I could eat on Whole30 were quickly eliminated, and America’s sugar epidemic became apparent.
Another goal of mine was to eliminate sweet and salty cravings. These hit me about 3:00 every afternoon when there’s a bit of lull in the day, and I go looking for a snack. Sound familiar? I figured 30 days of forcing myself to make healthy choices would be the way to tackle this head-on.
Lastly, I wanted to try to understand if certain foods might be causing stomach sensitivity. I’ve had tummy issues for years, and recently they’ve become more problematic. I hoped that Whole30 might give me some insight into specific items that might be causing problems, and possibly eliminate the need for medications. Much of these discoveries wouldn’t happen until the Whole30 was complete and I ventured on the “Reintroduction” period.
I quickly learned that preparation would be key to successfully completing this challenge. After I had read the book, I went to Pinterest to see what recipes I could find. To my surprise, there were tons of great information here, and even an official Whole30 Pinterest Board. I also visited the Whole30 website (www.whole30.com) and found great resources here – shopping lists, weekly menus, and more recipes. I prepared a binder with my checklists, recipes, and notes so everything would be right at my fingertips.
One of the pieces of advice I found helpful was to have 1-2 go-to dinner and snack ideas that you can use in a pinch. If you haven’t planned carefully or stocked your fridge adequately, you’re more inclined to make choices that are non-compliant. For me, snacking is where I’m tempted to breach the plan, so I made a list of 15 snack items that I would have on hand at all times. It included things like sunflower seeds, dried apricots, hard boiled eggs, and apples. I even put a bag of nuts in my car so if I got hungry while out and about it was easy to stay on the plan.
I also realized that eating out at restaurants might be challenging while on the program, so I made a conscious effort not to schedule outings for lunch or dinner. Of course, I had a few engagements on my calendar already, so I kept those and planned accordingly. Surprisingly – eating out wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be.
The other thing I did before I even started my Whole30 was to reduce or eliminate some foods for two weeks prior. I know it’s tempting to indulge right before you begin a program like this, but it helped me ease off some things so when I began my Whole30, it didn’t seem like such an adjustment.
For me, I knew breakfast was going to be a challenge. I’ve never been a breakfast eater, so if I can bring myself to eat a bowl of cereal or granola bar for breakfast, I consider this a major accomplishment before 9 am! Whole30 encourages you to eat three hearty and healthy meals each day, with appropriate proportions of protein, fruit/veggies, and healthy fats. For breakfast, this usually means eggs with veggies, maybe potatoes, and likely some fruit. My oatmeal, cereal and granola bars went right out the window. I figured I could make smoothies. The book talks specifically about smoothies and advises against them because they aren’t balanced enough and don’t have the staying power you need. That all makes sense, but what the heck am I going to eat for breakfast!?!
In the spirit of “necessity is the mother of invention,” I set out to make my own breakfast recipe. After some trial and error, I landed on this utterly delicious and ridiculously healthy Pumpkin Apple Mash recipe. It’s warm and tasty in the morning and has a consistency similar to oatmeal. I would make a batch on Sunday and have breakfast for the week – ready to heat up and eat each morning.
So there you have it – some of my tricks and insights to getting prepared for a Whole30. I credit the extra prep work for keeping me on track and focused on finishing. There are some tough days – I’m not going to lie – that no amount of preparation can solve for you. But as with anything, you look at the upside and hope that it ultimately offsets a few days of discomfort or inconvenience. Next month, I’ll feature some specifics about my program and a few of my favorite products that got me through.
Author has not been paid or compensated by Whole30 or by any of the products featured in this article