7 Things I Learned From The Whole 30 (And If I Thought It Was Worth It)

Diet.  Just the word may make you shudder.  And rightly so!  It's been said that if you simply plan to go on a "diet", it's highly likely you will gain back any weight you lost.  If instead you plan to make a dietary change to your life, there's a good chance it will stick.  So why did I try a temporary elimination diet?

There were 2 main reasons I wanted to try this.  1. I wanted to eliminate grains to find out if they were causing me any problems, and 2. I had considered paleo back when I ultimately converted to whole food plant-based eating, and I've wondered if paleo would have been a better choice (spoiler alert - it wasn't).

If you're asking yourself, what in the world is Whole 30?  In a nutshell it's an elimination style diet that is very similar to a Paleo diet and asks participants to ban all soy, dairy, grains, legumes, and added sugars for 30 days.  At the end of the 30 days you can begin reintroducing food groups, slowly, so you can get a sense of what, if anything, does not do well in your system, both physically and mentally.

Because I eliminated all dairy almost 2 years ago it's not going to appear on the list below but I can tell you that this was very very hard for me to do.  I mean, cheese...…  And a touch of milk in my morning coffee.... ugh.  I feel so much better though and have eliminated many of my seasonal allergy issues (I am not allergic to dairy) since saying goodbye to dairy.  I will say it took a full 30 days of no dairy to feel relief, but what a relief it was!  I've since tried eating foods that contained small amounts of dairy a couple of times and I immediately got a sore throat and headache and was sick (sinusitis) for the next 3-5 days.  So no more dairy for me.

Onto the lessons learned!

1. I Can't Eat That Much Meat
For me, this is why I didn't try Paleo 2 years ago when I was looking at dietary changes.  I just couldn't imagine eating 3 meals of meat/animal products.  But, I continued to wonder if I would do well on this, so I gave up the whole food plant-based eating I had transitioned to in order to try Whole 30 for 30 days (you can't eat grains or beans so I opted not to do it as a vegan).  And I did not feel good at all.  The lack of grains was ok, although I was SO hungry for the first week.  I also started getting this strange pain in my chest that went away once I stopped eating animal products and began eating plant-based again.

Here's my thought on this - take it for what it's worth.  Clogged arteries (and the medical complications that come from it) are a result of a build-up of cholesterol.  Excess cholesterol is from animal products.  If you eat cholesterol-laden foods, your chances of this happening is a possibility.  If you don't eat cholesterol laden foods, your chances, it seems, would be almost non-existent.  This is not intended to be medical advice, it's simply my thoughts on this. (I know this is a hot button topic, it's just my opinion, nothing more, nothing less....)

2. I Eat Too Much Flour
Oh how I missed bread!!  Pasta and bread are 2 things that I've known I enjoy but didn't realize how much of either that I actually eat.  Regardless of what lifestyle dietary changes you make, it is known that flour is not the healthiest of ways to get your grains.  Because the grain is ground down it's absorbed into your body differently than if it remained a whole grain.  I've since learned to limit both pasta dishes and bread.

3. Eliminating Sugar Is HARD
Actually, I found this out a year and a half ago when I had eliminated sugar successfully for a couple of months, but I relearned it again during these 30 days.  I will say that eliminating added sugar (honey, maple syrup, refined, coconut, date, etc.) from your diet does make you feel better.  That being said, it is very hard to keep sugars out of your diet.  You will CRAVE sugar.  You will dream about sugar.  You will be ready to give up your family, if only you can have something that contains sugar.  But you'll resist and you will push through.  Mostly because you don't want the 30 days to start all over again.

The best tips I can provide if you are trying this on your own is to figure out ahead of time what you will be able to eat when you would normally eat something containing sugar.  So, let's start with coffee or tea.  If you currently use any type of sweetener, you will not be using a sweetener at all.  Can you drink it unsweetened?  It takes a couple of weeks, but you do get used to it.  Do you eat something sweet mid-day or in the evening?  If so, what can you eat instead?  Make sure you bring something that you can snack on to work when everyone else in your office is munching on candy, cookies, cake, or the like.  Read labels of the food in your home - you'll be surprised at how many items (condiments, sauces, breads, nut butters, etc.) contain added sugars.

4. Black Coffee Is "Meh"
I had already transitioned away from adding sugar (or alternatives) to my coffee, but I was using a touch of coconut & almond milk creamer to add a little something-something.  That, of course, ended for the 30 days (it contains an illegal ingredient.....).  It was like when I first transitioned from dairy to coconut milk.  Yuck, was my response for the first 3 weeks.  I don't care who tells you there is a "good" substitute to dairy, it is still noticeably different from dairy, and therefore, hard to adjust to.  And now that I'd finally learned to accept my substitute I found myself longing for it.

5. Read Labels On Everything
And re-read them, because company's make changes without you knowing.  Look up any ingredients you aren't familiar with so you know exactly what you're eating.  Did you know that palm oil is added to a lot of "natural" nut butters?  That xylitol is being added to peanut butter (making it deadly to dogs)? That some oat milks contain canola oil????  And, of course, that there is high-fructose corn syrup in a ton of products.  It's downright scary.

6. I Did Not Look Forward To Breakfast
When I converted to a whole food plant-based diet, breakfast was the hardest meal for me to figure out.  No matter how many plant-based converts try to sell me on eating soup or beans for breakfast, I just can't do it.

When I began the Whole 30 I thought, woo hoo!  I get to eat eggs again!  By day 5 I was no longer shouting "woo hoo" and instead wanted to run from them.  I couldn't figure out what else to eat for breakfast.  I couldn't have veggie breakfast burritos (no tortilla shells).  I couldn't have oats or other grains.  I couldn't have smoothies.  I was out of ideas.  Some mornings I ate veggies only and others I just skipped breakfast (I know, I wasn't supposed to) because I couldn't stand the thought of eating eggs again.

7. Pre-Plan Your Meals For Success
It's such a change over what you're currently eating that it will be difficult if you don't pre-plan to figure out what to eat.  You already feel like throwing in the towel (sometimes on a daily basis) because you miss what you've always eaten, that if you don't meal prep and pre-plan, you will be setting yourself up for a very hard time.  If your family is not doing Whole 30 with you, try to plan meals where they are eating much of what you are so you aren't cooking two entirely different meals.  There are restaurants who now offer Whole 30 compliant meals, so it is easier to go out for dinner as an alternative too.

As you can tell from the list, I was super excited at day 30.  Bring back the beans and grains!!   I couldn't wait to stop eating meat and go back to oats for breakfast.  I crossed my fingers and hoped for no adverse reaction to grains when I began reintroducing them.  And thankfully, I was fine!  I did have some bloating with the reintroduction of beans, but as long as I eat them in moderation, I don't seem to experience any issues.

Others who have tried the 30 days of elimination have found they slept better.  I did not feel I had any changes to sleep patterns.  I honestly didn't find that it was as life-changing for me as others have reported, but it could be because I was already eating a primarily whole food diet.

Summed up, the 30 days was worth it.

I think it can provide very valuable information so you have a better idea of how different types of food react with you both physically and mentally.  It has some very good aspects (no refined foods, no sugars) that can help re-set your system.  I would highly recommend having a selection of Whole 30-compliant snack items on hand so you are set up for success.  I would also recommend you have a Whole 30 partner for accountability purposes.  You need someone to help push you forward when you want to give up (and you will want to give up).

And most importantly, don't go back to eating as you always have.  Use what you learned to alter the way you eat to a healthier, more whole-food based diet.  If you found that any foods react adversely when reintroduced, eliminate them or at least eat them minimally going forward.

What about you - have you tried this or another elimination diet?  Did you learn any valuable information from it?


Donna OShaughnessy said...

I love the Whole 30 plan. I've done it three times in the last 16 months and each time I am more motivated to continue with a diet where I avoid sugars and breads. Because we raise all our own grass fed beef (no grain ever) I am very comfortable with eating lots of beef. We also raise our own hogs and chickens who get organic grain only. It is an adjustment but my alternating between Paleo and Whole 30 has worked very well for me. Fifty pounds gone and energy like crazy!

Staci at Life At Cobble Hill Farm said...

Donna - that's fantastic! So happy to hear you've found what works for you. Thank you so much for sharing your story!! :)