Friday, October 4, 2013

Whole30: Part I

Well, our Whole30 is officially over!!  I'm so glad we did it, but also so glad it's over.  It's a lot of pressure and a lot of prep.  The short story is - I lost 15 pounds (!) and we will probably keep eating this way most of the time.  We felt good, lost weight, were scientifically healthier, and expanded our eating horizons.

However, since it was such a big undertaking (and isn't that just crazy - that eating real food for a measly 30 days is a big undertaking??), I wanted to document it a little further and explain the ways it affected us, how we made it work with the budget, the bad parts, and some tips.  

Read on if you're interested.  I am going to break this down into 2 parts because it got sooo long! This part is about our results and my general feeling on it.  Part 2 will be about the food we ate and how we reintroduced food groups, as well as our plans for moving forward.

I tried to keep it organized but it's so hard to get it all out without rambling.  Apologies!  And if you've done it or want to do it, I'd love to hear about it!
We decided to attempt the Whole30 after I read Chelsea's blog post about doing it and her weight loss.  It hit me at the right time.  I was feeling so ick.  I knew I was eating poorly, I was unhappy with how I looked, and I always felt blahh.  I needed a way to jump out of the rut I was in.  I am so glad she posted about it - this was just the kick in the butt that I needed.  I read the book she did, It Starts with Food, and convinced Tony to do it with me.  I actually read the book on our beach trip, as I was shoveling fistfuls of Chex mix and downing Diet Cokes... and feeling like garbage.  I did not miss the irony.

To explain a little - the Whole30 was designed by the people who wrote It Starts with Food.  It is a 30 day eating plan that is based on the Paleo diet, yet it is a little stricter.  What that means is it's a diet based around real, unprocessed foods - animal protein, vegetables, some fruit, and healthy fats like avocado, coconut, nuts, and healthy oils (coconut, olive oil). The book does a great job of explaining how certain foods like dairy, grains, legumes (including soy), and especially all of the obvious and sneaky sugars in our lives, affect our bodies, often negatively. The Whole30 deviates from paleo in that it consists of no added sugars of any kind - even natural things like honey and agave.  They also tell you to not make "paleo" versions of regular cheat foods (subbing almond flour and coconut sugar to make paleo cupcakes, for instance), since part of this plan is to rid yourself of your unhealthy relationship with food.  You can't do that if you're just finding loopholes.

I won't go into all of the science of it here.  Read the book if you are interested.  It opened my eyes in a lot of ways.  The Whole30 is a way to break the cycle of eating processed, nutrient-poor foods.  

Anyway, here is a snippet I wrote before we started - it explains where I was with eating, thirty days ago:

Today marks the beginning of our Whole30.  I'm nervous, but excited, and really hopeful that this will help me.  My goals for the program center on my poor eating habits.  When I'm hungry, I reach for a carb.  My attempt at a "healthy" diet really consists of low-fat, nutrient-poor foods.  And when you throw in actual bad food, like brownies or a bag of chips, I have no willpower whatsoever. 

I want to re-frame my mind.  I want to see fruit or veggies or nuts as a viable snack, not just crackers or fistfuls of cereal. Vegetables shouldn't be occasional or optional - they should be required.  I want to broaden my horizons and be forced to try new things - I just might like them! 

Although surely it's due to chasing a toddler around, I have no energy these days.  I am dragging in the morning, have a spike around midday, then by the time Harper is up from her nap at 3pm, I feel beaten.  This is not good, normal, or healthy.  Once she goes to bed in the evenings, Tony and I veg on the couch for the rest of the night, neither of us having the energy to do much more.  I get headaches frequently.  My body always feels broken when I wake up in the morning - my shoulders pop, my feet prick with pain when I walk on them, and I'm achy and stiff all over.  My right foot has been sore/stiff for months now.  I always feel bloated and gross.  I get a jittery and icky feeling around mid-morning - usually causing me to reach for a snack of crackers or the like (and it's no wonder, based on what my morning looks like!).  I feel legitimately hungry often, leading to frequent snacking.
Here's a typical day, showing the Normal Day version / Bad Day version:
  • Wake up:  Coffee with tons of fat free vanilla creamer / two coffees
  • Breakfast: Low-cal cereal with almond milk / Bagel with butter
  • Snack:  Crackers, Cereal, anything sweet I can find / guzzle from chocolate chip bag
  • Lunch:  Turkey sandwich on wheat with 2 pieces of low fat cheese / Ramen noodles and some crackers and a Diet Coke
  • Snack:  Crackers, Cereal, anything sweet I can find
  • Dinner:  (actually usually pretty healthy since Tony cooks it!)  Some meat, some veggies, usually with my addition of bread and cheese / Meal out like chicken fingers, half a pizza, you name it
  • Dessert:  Bowl of ice cream / Half of the cookies I just made
My morning starts out with a sugar jolt and nothing substantial.  No wonder I feel gross at 10 am!  I feed the gross feeling with crackers, which to me are a comforting, filling choice (they aren't, really.).  We always choose low fat or low cal or no sugar type of foods, but as I've since learned - that's often sending my body the wrong signals and not a healthier choice.  I don't choose to eat veggies or fruit unless they are a component of dinner and I'm just obliging the cook.  I'm a dairy/grain machine - and it's clear that's just not working.  My hopes are high for the next 30 days!
Bleak, huh? :)

One of the book's reasons why many foods make you "less healthy" is because of the way they play with our minds through our hormones.  That was my biggest reason for embracing this plan.  My "unhealthy psychological response" to food (as they call it) was always most clear in comparison to Tony.  When I was hungry, I wanted a food that would make me happy (ie - not a healthy choice).  Tony could always just eat something that he knew would fill him up and satiate him, whether he loved it or not.  Now, I am vain enough to stop myself from always eating what I really wanted, but I rarely made smart choices, acting on my emotions instead of the reality of food as nourishment.  So it was easy to convince Tony to do the Whole30 with me, and he was happy to see me want to embrace a change.  

Sure, I was hoping to lose some weight in the process.  But I truly wanted to re-frame my mind.  That's why the Whole30 appealed to me - it wasn't a diet.  It was a lifestyle change.  A way to approach food with a different lens.  Something maintainable.

I've never been a diet person or a person obsessed with the scale.  I go based on how I feel and how my clothes fit.  I know when it's not good just by how I feel.  I have a pretty healthy self-image and confidence, so I knew that I would do well with something like this that is strict enough to give you a framework to be confident within, but something that wasn't deprivation-based or unsustainable.  

Anyway, enough rambling, here's how it went:

Our Results
- I lost 15 pounds, and Tony lost 10!!  In 30 days.  And honestly, I was busy starting my new pt job and got sick and we were traveling etc. etc, so basically I rarely exercised this whole month.  So that's a lot of weight just by food changes alone!  I cannot wait to keep eating this way and add in more exercise and see what happens.  I lost the first ten pounds in the first two weeks, and the other five during the last two.  I haven't lost this much weight since the time before our wedding when I was killing it in the gym (although I always like to joke that I once lost 25 pounds in one day (birthing a large baby helped)).  This took much less effort. 
- We both felt healthier.  Neither of us had any big health issues that we were hoping to solve or find the root cause of during this month.  We just had general malaise and minor aches and pains.  But we both agreed that we felt much better after meals.  I never felt bloated.  I actually didn't realize how bloated I used to always feel until I didn't.  Tony's heartburn went away.  I actually even forgot about how achy I used to feel in the morning until I just read my pre-month synopsis above!  I don't feel that way anymore!!
- Scientific proof of more-healthyness! Tony has to get yearly physicals for his work health insurance, including blood work.  He scheduled this year's for the last week of the Whole30.  He had his results (blood pressure, cholesterol, etc.) from last year and was able to compare them.  In all ways, he got healthier.  His cholesterol levels went down significantly (yes, even with eating this much meat!).  I wish I had the same metrics to look at!
- We stayed full.  Yes, there are many things you can't eat.  Yet I didn't feel hungry between meals at all.  I got hungry when it was time to eat again, at an appropriate time.  It was weird to feel honest hunger pangs - something I rarely felt before because I was constantly grazing.  I didn't often feel the need to snack - and if I did, I reached for something healthy.
- My food perspective definitely changed.  I have a new appreciation for food and how good food can make you feel...good!  I'm not going back to my cracker and cereal ways!  I used to be the girl who could NEVER eat a hamburger without a bun.  Or a sandwich without cheese.  Well, guess what -- I got over it.  Now it will be a treat, not a requirement.  And I ate lots of veggies - and they were GOOD!  
- I learned to read food labels.  And no, not the way I used to where I looked at the calories, maybe the fat.  I skip that section now.  Instead, I focus on the ingredients.  I was floored by how many nasty ingredients were in the things I used to eat every day.  For instance, I knew my coffee creamer was bad for me, but I was astounded when I actually read the ingredients with a critical eye and realized it was straight fake sugar and chemicals.  And it's incredible how many products have soy in them. Soy is literally everywhere - in so many things that it shouldn't be in.  Ick.  One of my biggest ah-ha moments was when I realized that rotisserie chickens that you grab at the grocery store are filled with all kinds of stuff.  I thought - it's shaped like a stinking chicken - shouldn't it just be chicken???  It's not.  This woman's blog - 100 Days of Real Food - has some great posts about food ingredients (a Chick-fil-a chicken sandwich has over 100 ingredients in it - what???!).  The book helps you decipher how nasty stuff is sneaked in there - "natural flavor," "artificial flavor," lecithin, carrageenan, etc.  It's fascinatingly disgusting.

The Easy Parts

- The food.  Well, after the initial suffering (more on that below), the food was easy.  It was yummy food (most of the time).  We ate so many meals that we said we would totally make any time, not just during the Whole30.  We found many new recipes that will be standards from here on out.
- The weight loss.  Like I said before, we didn't do much beyond just eat real food.  The veggies did the work for us.  The book does a great job explaining how bodies eating the way I ate learn how to burn quick, cheap sugar for fuel, abandoning the more natural method of fat burning for fuel.  So once I ditched the sugar, my body started learning how to burn fat again.  I guess it figured it out pretty quickly!
- Not eating sugar.  I thought this would be so hard.  In my past, sweets were always the go-to thing I craved.  The sweeter, more decadent, the better.  Yet this was surprisingly easy to avoid.  I didn't really even want anything sweet.  Sure, I had the expected sugar hangover the first few days, but I never found myself ever really craving sugar.  Even now, I don't really have any desire to run out and eat a plate of brownies.  I'm glad to have banished that!

The Hardest Parts
- The first few days.  Ugh.  This was intense for me.  See, I did something stupid.  I decided to quit caffeine at the same time.  You can have coffee or tea on the Whole 30, you just have to drink it black or with coconut milk or something.  I only like coffee that tastes like candy, so I decided to abandon it altogether.  I know from my previous forays into this that I have really intense withdrawl headaches, even though I only have one or two caffeinated beverages a day.  Yep.  Add that to the sugar hangover, and I was OUT for that whole first weekend (tip: start on a weekend when you can writhe in peace).  Like, felt like I was dying, in bed by 6 pm out.  Tony didn't feel great, but nothing like I did.  Meat is really fun to eat when you feel like you're dying.
- The meat.  I've never been a big meat person.  I don't love it (I'm a grain girl), but I eat it.  You have to eat a decently-sized portion of protein at every.meal, otherwise your body isn't getting the fuel it needs on this plan.  It was pretty hard to eat that much meat those first few days.  Even my carnivorous husband was struggling.  We got used to it, knowing that you better eat that meat or you will be hungry later.  
- The sleepies.  There is a timeline that is a helpful guide to how you will feel as you go through the plan.  Our experiences pretty much followed it, with a little variation and without the crazy energy boost.  We were so so so tired those first few weeks (again, our bodies were learning how to get used to not having a crazy kick of combustible sugar all of the time).  It took all we had to drag ourselves to the cutting board.  Speaking of...
- The prep.  Oh, the prep!  This takes a ton of work in the kitchen.  When you are using almost all real food, the convenience factor is majorly impacted.  I haven't chopped (or eaten, honestly!) this many vegetables in my whole life.  Cubing a butternut squash is like carving a darn pumpkin (but so good!).  I was peeling sweet potatoes in my dreams.  We went through knives and cutting boards like it was our job.  I ran my dishwasher 3 times a day, at least.  We spent probably a good 2 hours of total time preparing food each day, and even more when you add the actual cooking and eating.  It's a time suck, for sure.
- The planning.  We aren't big meal planners around here (mostly because Tony cooks dinner and he's a guy).  But with this, you must plan or you will fail.  I used these meal plan templates to plan a few days at a time.  This way, each evening, we would know what we would need to prep or cook for the next day's breakfast and lunch.  It was fun for the first few days, then I was so over it.  But those plans saved our lives in the crunch of it, and I'm glad to have them for the next time we attempt this Whole30 business.
- Not eating grains.  It surprised me, but I found myself saying I could probably give up dairy if I had to choose - but not grain.  I wanted bread so badly.  I would daydream about homemade bread loaves.  A muffin.  A bagel.  Even some rice.  Anything!

Life Still Happens
- We traveled.   I want to shout from the rooftops about how amazing my mama is.  We had planned to go visit my family one long weekend, and so my mom set about educating herself on what we could and could not eat, researched recipes, found some ghee, and planned out and cooked every.single.meal. for the entire weekend, all Whole 30 friendly.  She is the best!!!  That made travelling a lot easier, understatement of the year.
We ate out.  It's tricky, but it can be done.  You aren't supposed to use veg/soy oil on this plan, but that's impossible at 99% of restaurants.  It's one of those things where you weigh your options and do your best.  I had a few meals with friends planned already, so I endured bread baskets and pita-less gyros.  Most places have some sort of grilled meat, and you just go dressing-less with the salad.  Fajitas work too (minus the tortilla, cheese, beans, and rice :) )
- I got sick.  Blah.  The timeline says the last few weeks of the Whole 30 are when you feel great - energy, happiness, general euphoria.  Well, I got some bug from Harper and felt none of that.  I  had a fever and chills and a super sore throat.  What do I like to eat when I'm sick?  Toast.  Maybe cereal.  What did I get to eat?  Eggs and meatballs.  I figured if I could push through that,  without my usual comfort food, I could do anything.

Unexpected Results
- I flossed my teeth so much more.  Broccoli tends to stick a little more than a club cracker.
- Our trash slowed down.  We had so much less trash and far less recycling filling up our bins  Produce bags and meat trays don't take up that much space.
- We fit it in the budget.  This is not a cheap way to eat.  At all.  They suggest you do organic, grassfed, pastured - the whole bit.  We tried to do it when we could, but honestly, I often bought things based on what was on sale.  It was a balance.  I would say we spent at least $500 on groceries, probably more.  But what we overspent in groceries  we totally underspent with our entertainment budget, as we didn't go out to eat unless we had to.  I wish I paid more attention to our exact expenses, but I do think there is a way to work eating this way into a modest budget if you decide what to prioritize in terms of buying the best quality.
-My cooking skills improved.  There were times when I had to cook all by my self. And it was scary. That's why I would often eat Ramen for lunch before starting this - I was ill-equipped to cook real food for myself when Tony wasn't home.  I focused on learning from him this month.  I even cooked some meat all by myself (including totally murdering some pork chops...rock hard...).  I prepped lots of meals and my knife skills are mediocre at best now (as opposed to terrifying to watch).  I feel a little bit more in charge of my food destiny now.

Click here for Part II where I talk about what we actually ate (with recipes!), as well as our plans for moving forward.


  1. Claire. This. Sounds. Awesome. Good for you and your family for keeping up with this and completing the challenge. It sounds like it had an impact on you, and you are starting to realize the best things to put in your body. I am very impressed. Do any of the links include how to maybe do this for a veggie diet? I know you said you weren't big on meat, but it sounds so super interesting/cool/healthy, and I don't eat meat at all...Is fish allowed? Again, super impressed (and that you were able to keep it up because sometimes toddler parenting makes us all look for an easy way out sometimes!)

    1. Hi Karen! Thanks!! I know the book has a section on how you can do it as a vegetarian, although I didn't read that part (and am not sure how you could do it - since soy and beans are off the table...but I guess there's a way). And yes, fish is fine! I'd be interested to see how it would work for a vegetarian.

      Thanks again!

  2. Good for you for taking this on and sticking with it!! I went dairy/soy free for 4 months while I was trying to help out B and his reflux, and I got so angry about soy being in EVERYTHING. I feel awful for people who are allergic to soy, because it's everywhere and so frustrating to label read. And don't get me started on restaurants- oof.
    Now that you've discovered a love for fruits/veggies- have you heard of Bountiful Baskets? You should check out their site- I'm sure there is one near you. It's a great way to explore new produce and the savings are awesome. I look forward to our basket every time.
    And, thanks for posting on instagram awhile back that you were using myfitnesspal- I started using it religiously and realized very quickly that, while I was getting lots of fruits/veggies in my diet, I was overeating by quite a lot. I've gotten hooked on tracking my calories (and making healthier choices while eating out) and feel great, plus I've lost 10 pounds since I started. So thank you!

  3. Did my long comment not post? Argh. So the shortened version: This is so awesome. I'm so proud of you. 15 pounds in 30 days??? Holy moly lady.

    I'm planning to do this in March though I feel like I could incorporate a lot of the foods to our family meals now, just not for diet purposes so much as general health. Then once the baby is born (we're likely done at 3), I'm going on a major "Done having babies, lets' get back to my old activity level and body" kick.

  4. I'm so glad you shared this! And congrats on sticking with it and really seeing results. I actually started the book, but haven't gotten very far into it. I'd like to get back to it because I find it fascinating. And I know it's important for me to eat better, especially with Henry around now. You are totally inspiring me.

  5. Way to go Claire! I'm so glad you shared your experience, as I'm really starting to think about doing this, maybe in January? I want to wait until I'm done pumping since everything I do seems to affect my supply. I'm trying to eat minimally processed foods, but doing that you can still eat lots of sugars and bread items. I want to do it mainly because of weight loss, since I'm really struggling to loose weight right now. But I know I picked up bad eating habits while I was pregnant and in the early stages of lactation (when I honestly, literally ate just about everything in sight), and this sounds like the most effective way to kill those habits.

    I'm worried about getting my husband on board though (and I know I can't do it unless he is too), and the whole nut thing, since he has a but allergy. How much did nuts and nut products make up your diet? Would it be easy to skip out on these things? I know most people eat almond butter, but that's out for us, and so is soy nut butter.

    I'm also really looking forward to reading about the changes you plan on keeping. I can imagine going dairy and grain free for 30 days (maybe? hopefully?), but not for forever. Since you were such a carb-lover before, I'm really curious to read if you feel like you can give them up long-term, or how the experience impacted your love for those items.


Your comments make me happy!

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