I like a challenge. Challenge is one of the reasons I loved teaching high school kids. Challenges drive me, invigorate me, jolt me from stagnancy. So, when a friend mentioned she was doing the Whole30 challenge, I was intrigued and immediately jumped on the bandwagon.
In case you are unfamiliar with Whole30, I’ll break it down for you.
The “Whole30: Let Us Change Your Life” Promise:
Simply, you are allowed to eat meat, fish, eggs, vegetables, and healthy fats. You are not allowed to eat anything else.
Whole30 markets itself as “pushing a ‘reset’ button with your health, your habits, and your relationship with food.”
The physical benefits of Whole30 are supposed to be “profound”: “weight loss, improvement in body composition, high energy, better sleep, improved focus and mental clarity, healthy digestive function, improved athletic performance, and a sunnier disposition.”
The psychological benefits claim to change your “long-standing, unhealthy habits related to food, develop a healthier body image, reduce or eliminate cravings, particularly for sugar and carbohydrates.”
“Food freedom” is what they call it. I was excited to start!
First: I’ll be honest: I really wanted to overcome the weight plateau I have been stuck in since December. I kept bouncing back and forth between 3–4lbs and it was driving me crazy. So frustrating. I had to switch it up.
Second: I wanted to see if eliminating certain foods from my diet would really help me feel better. Would I feel more energized? Would I feel less bloated? How will this affect my mood?
Third: I really wanted to curb my cravings for sweets. My hope was to no longer feel deprived of sweets and to have more of a casual outlook towards dessert.
Fourth: I wanted to see if I could do it. Could I possibly have the willpower (which I previously somewhat lacked) to conform to this type of lifestyle?
Oh, a caveat: I am temporarily living with my parents whose house is FULL of non-compliant foods. So, although one of the Whole30 requirements was to rid your house of all non-compliant foods, that was not an option for me. Thus, I had to be extra mindful of temptation. Also, I was already loosely following the Ketogenic Diet, which is similar to Whole30, except dairy is allowed and carbs are not. I go to the gym 3–4 times a week. I’ve been on this “kick” for a year.
One of the first, and probably most difficult, eliminations was the cream and sugar in my morning coffee. Throughout all of the changes to my diet I made last year, I still kept my cream and sugar because I drink only one cup a day, so I figured it wasn’t a big deal. Well, Whole30 thinks it’s a big deal, so I had to let go. I switched to a splash of unsweetened almond/cashew milk in my coffee, no sugar.
I prepped meals every Sunday. I dislike cooking, so I wasn’t going to get too creative. I stuck to simple meals: grilled/baked fish, meat, poultry, eggs, lox, or sausage with grilled/roasted veggies. I ate some fruit and nuts. I ate a few complaint Lara bars, but to me they taste like chewed up, solidified mush, so not a fan.
I lost those stubborn 5 pounds. My stomach is now flatter.
I had random bursts of energy throughout the 30 days, but I can’t say I was way more energized than before. I was stronger and more driven at the gym, most of the time, but still struggled with motivation at times. I still had difficultly waking up in the morning, possibly more so than before. I never felt bloated, or like I overate, even when I ate a lot. Digestion improved. I got constant headaches and migraines. My blood pressure significantly dropped a few times and I felt rather terrible. I am told this is due to lack of sugar and should have ended within the first week; it did not.
“Food freedom” this is not. Not for me, anyway. I thought about food more than I thought about anything else. Every choice was a battle. Going out was nearly impossible; one can eat only so much dry chicken/steak (most sauces aren’t complaint). I painstakingly suffered through family dinners, girls’ nights out, dinners with friends, Easter brunch, birthday parties, and company luncheons.
I was miserable about 30% of the time. And, although 30% seems like a small percentage compared to the benefits I experienced, I was so truly miserable and crabby that the 30% made me slightly despise the entire program. I say “slightly” because I can’t entirely dismiss the good side effects. But, sometimes I hit a wall so hard that quitting seemed like the most rational step. My mind was in constant turmoil over food. I wanted chocolate. I wanted bread. I wanted spicy tuna. I wanted so much. I thought if I stayed true to the program I would no longer want those things, but that proved to be untrue. Today is the last day and I cannot wait to shove a piece of dark chocolate in my mouth for breakfast tomorrow.
Whether we like it or not, food is the center of our lives. Every social gathering revolves around food. Coworkers bond over lunch and bring decadent baked goods. Girls’ nights out involve tasty food and sugary mixed drinks. Family dinners are plentiful. For the past 30 days I felt like a social pariah. I was obsessed with this challenge. I started bringing my own “creamer” to my standing Starbucks date with a friend. I had to ask my friends to special order meals for me when they invited me over. I fought with my parents over food. I would spend hours at the grocery store frantically reading nutritional labels. I had guilt-ridden nightmares in which I binged on cake and other deliciousness only to wake up relieved that I actually didn’t ruin the challenge. I was more stressed more of time. I envied everyone around me who “got” to eat toast. I salivated over a slice of pizza on the ground at the subway station in Philly. I imagined kicking a woman eating gummy bears on the train.
Whole30 took my minimal self-control and drove me into a state of delirious obsession. I may look better. I may feel better in some ways. But, the entire process has been psychologically and emotionally arduous and torturous. So, Whole30 did change my life: It made me realize I am not this person. I am not the person who deprives herself of cake at birthday parties. I am not the person who brings her own food to other people’s events. I am not the person who deprives herself all of the time. I realized these are not my goals, these are not my priorities. I will probably always be slightly overweight (according to those charts, anyway). And, I’m starting to think I am good with that. I’m starting to think if I eat relatively well and continue to be physically active I will be fine. Maybe, more than fine. Whole30 taught me eating whole, fresh food is wonderful for my body (and I will continue to be mindful of what I am eating), but my mental and emotional wellbeing needs chocolate. And, sometimes: cake.