Part II of the series, featuring specifics of what I ate and how I managed through the Whole30
When the first day of my Whole30 arrived, I was ready to jump in with both feet. Book was read, my pantry and fridge were stocked, and I was prepared mentally. In fact, the first week went by in a snap! I’d heard stories of people having severe “withdrawal” symptoms and shaking uncontrollably from the change in their diet. I was prepared for the worst, but it went way better than expected. I attribute much of this to my prep work and some pre-plan weaning from items that I expected to be problematic such as cereal and bread. Again, the temptation is to overindulge before you start the plan on items you won’t be able to eat, but this would be the week you pay the price for it. I was thankful that things went better than expected and it gave me a boost of confidence that I could see this thing through.
That’s not to say there weren’t temptations. The second night of the plan I fell asleep dreaming about DORITOS® of all things. I couldn’t even remember the last time I’d eaten these or we had them in our house, but for some reason my brain wanted them. I considered this my mini withdrawal symptom and chalked it up to processed food doing its evil work on my brain. It was part of my adventure, and I haven’t thought of them since.
And my first attempt at coffee was a colossal disaster. As were my second and third attempts. I quickly realized this was something I was going to have to live without. I was thrilled to find recipes for compliant versions of mocha, but it was just not meant to be. You don’t go from drinking frozen frappuccino to black coffee in a day or two (or 30). I can say without hesitation that coffee was the single item I missed the most.
The second week went by relatively uneventful as well. I’d gotten into a shopping and meal planning groove that was working, and I enjoyed the continuing education about food and ingredients. Even my husband liked everything we cooked. (I only learned afterward that he hated the beets we had three times, so extra points to him for being a trooper on that one!)
And then at the end of week two, smack dab in the middle of “I got this thing – no problem” came the reality check. I wanted nothing to do with all the wonderful, organic food items I’d just purchased. None of my recipes sounded appetizing. I was uninspired and crabby. I lived on LARA Bars and sunflower seeds for about three days. I’m pretty sure this is NOT what the authors had in mind for their plan of eating three healthy meals per day, but I didn’t care. I didn’t cheat; I didn’t quit, and I survived. Thankfully this only lasted a few days – I was worried that the last two weeks were going to be a downhill slide into unbearable misery, but it subsided.
The last two weeks were harder than the first two, but I also had a few “a-ha” moments. First was realizing that maintaining a similar diet after I finished the plan would not be as challenging as I expected. I was able to find wonderful recipes, delicious and more nutritious alternatives to things we already eat and even reintroduced myself to things I’d forgotten I’d really liked – those beets, radishes, and cauliflower for example.
Secondly, I realized that I had a significant shift in the way I was thinking about food. I realized I wasn’t missing any of the things I thought I would miss. I thought I would miss pasta and dessert and wine. I didn’t miss that stuff so much. I really missed healthy foods like oatmeal, yogurt, and hummus. These things aren’t allowed on Whole30, so I knew that when I completed the plan, I would have a better chance of eating healthier overall, even when adding these items back into my diet. I also noticed that many foods didn’t appeal to me when I was grocery shopping. Large displays of pumpkin spice cupcakes and tailgating junk food looked disgusting to me. I wasn’t even the slightest bit tempted to buy it or eat it. This spelled progress for me, and it motivated me to sprint to the finish!
I did develop a few “coping” strategies that worked quite well. Most days around 3-4pm when I was thinking of snacking, I would go for my run or a walk. I tried hard to stick to the three meals a day guideline, but that wasn’t a perfect system for me, and this was my way to manage that. On the few occasions when I wanted something sweet after a meal, and I was tempted to eat fruit, I remembered that this is just side-stepping the actual issue of re-training your brain not to need that sugar fix. I turned to tea instead, which also worked great when I wanted a glass of wine with dinner.
There are significant changes going on in the food industry and consumers are demanding better quality, more accountability, and transparency not only in the ingredients but in the methods and manner in which food is grown, processed and delivered to our tables. Thankfully there are brands and products that are responding to this change, and I got to know (and love) them very quickly on the Whole30! As I mentioned in my first article, there are going to be some hard days. This comes with the territory when you do anything worthwhile and impactful. The items featured here were like little life savers I discovered when things got tough.
Tessemae’s All Natural Dressings & Condiments
Salads are perfect for you – but dressings with sugar, heavy oil blends, and preservatives are not. I was shocked when I read food labels more carefully, especially salad dressings. Even my favorite Oil & Vinegar Vinaigrette was not compliant for my Whole30 because it had two grams of sugar! It forced me to find alternatives to making my own, and I quickly discovered this brand. I expected them to be diet dressings of the past – with little flavor and that funky aftertaste, but they were AWESOME! I liked every single one I tried – even my husband liked them. My personal favorites were the Southwest Ranch and Zesty Ranch. I’m also obsessed with their Chesapeake Mayonnaise! I’ve never seen this type of mayo and discovered it was fabulous with tuna served on large romaine leaves for a meal or a snack.
You can purchase this brand at Whole Foods and other natural markets, as well as Amazon, but I went directly to their website where they let you build your 4-pack or 6-pack of products. I ordered two condiments and four salad dressings before I even began the Whole30. Of note: their dressings are natural, but not all are Whole30 compliant, so you still have to read labels. Some include dairy or honey which are not allowed on the plan.
When I hit rock bottom on the plan halfway through, these little gems kept me going. They’re made of just fruit and nuts, so very healthy and a great alternative to the granola bars I was missing. Plus, they’re portable, so a perfect item to keep in a tote bag or car. My absolute favorite is Cherry Pie – it was nice and tart with a little crunch and the staying power of nuts. They’re also readily available at most stores, so easy to find. Not all bars are Whole30 compliant, so read the labels here too.
Spindrift Sparkling Water
Water. You will drink a lot of it. I like water and drink much more after giving up soda three years ago. Sparkling waters are an excellent alternative, but my longstanding relationship with La Croix went through a bit of a rough patch in September. With the lack of variety on the beverage front during the Whole30, I really needed something else. Enter Grapefruit Spindrift. I’m not embarrassed to tell you that I bought out my local Target store of their entire stock of this stuff on more than one occasion. It’s bubbly and tart and has a bit more flavor than other sparkling waters because it’s made with real fruit juice – not just flavoring. The brand offers a variety of flavors, but I always returned faithfully to my grapefruit. It was exactly what I needed, and it’s still stocked in my fridge. You will thank me for this one!
One of the easiest changes I made to my diet was eating more nuts and seeds. I enjoyed all kinds of nuts and began to wonder why they weren’t part of my regular snacking routine. Cashews, almonds, pecans, walnuts, and even macadamia nuts were all stocked in my pantry and consumed on a daily basis. However, I’d forgotten how much I liked sunflower seeds (roasted – no shell). During a program like Whole30, when you stumble into one of these fun little surprises along the way, it can have a big impact. Something this small can invigorate and motivate you to keep going. I ate sunflower seeds almost every day, and still incorporating more nuts into my snacks and meals.
Each week I planned for 3-4 meals to eat with my husband, and the rest of the week we ate leftovers or ate something separately. Usually, this meant one beef protein serving, and one or two fish and chicken servings. We enjoy many varieties of fish, so incorporating that into our meal rotation more often was another easy adaptation to make. Then I would plan a salad and one more vegetable for each meal. This challenged us to try new things, but also find new ways to prepare things we already liked. It also helped tremendously that many fresh foods were in season in Minnesota during this time, making access to the great variety and reasonable prices one less challenge for staying on track.
Two of our favorite meals were Grilled Sea Bass and Lemon Garlic Chicken Wings. I prepared the Grilled Sea Bass with a tomato + sundried tomato chutney and what came to be known as the “Greens & Beans” salad. This salad is also featured with the Lemon Garlic Chicken Wings. I sautéed the beans instead of steaming them, so they had great flavor and more crunch. Spices are key – garlic, oregano, dill and crushed red pepper were essential for savory food that didn’t taste like bland, diet food. Almost every salad had pine nuts too – such an easy way to get those healthy fats.
I also took advantage of Whole Foods Olive Bar – olives are allowed, as are a variety of peppers, and the marinated artichokes became a staple! When I was craving comfort food and couldn’t eat pasta or bread, I created a homemade Roasted Tomato Soup that was super tasty and packed with extra veggie servings (see recipe). The extra flavor from using roasted tomatoes was incredible and so different than standard tomato soup. I guarantee this is even kid-friendly! Occasionally we had breakfast food for dinner but made sure the meals were hearty enough with protein from eggs, potatoes or hash browns, and a compliant breakfast sausage.
I made the decision not to eat out any more than I had to during my Whole30. On the few occasions where meals took me to a restaurant, two things were important: have a plan and be nice to the server!
Planning ahead, like anything else with this program, saves you from tempting or uncomfortable situations. I always reviewed the menu ahead of time and knew exactly what I was going to order — including a backup option. By knowing ahead, it made ordering a breeze, and I didn’t have to scramble to find something when my friends were socializing with their glorious wine and cocktails (which I also couldn’t have). My best bets always included a salad, so I brought my own Tessemae’s Salad Dressing with me. It felt a little odd, but it was never an issue.
When I was seated at the meal, I would let my server know that I was on a special diet and may have some questions about the menu. Every server I had was more than accommodating and thanked me for the heads-up. With all the special food plans and allergies these days, servers are used to dealing with inquiries and special requests, and I found this to be much easier than I expected.
So I survived the Whole30 and you can too! It looks and sounds more intimidating than it is. I also kept a journal of what I ate for each meal, my beverage intake, and my exercise for each day. It helped me stay focused and see that I was making progress day by day – even when it didn’t feel like it. This was encouraging, but also provided a dose of laughter because I would document how I was feeling throughout. At the end of week two, my journal literally reads, “I hate everything today!”. Oh well…..
Next month I’ll share with you how I did on my goals, some key learnings, and advice, as well as outcomes from my “Reintroduction” period, so stay tuned.