Yes, I am going to do the Whole 30. Some masochistic deprivation challenge that pairs terribly with summer cocktails and ice cream sundaes. That thing when people tell me they are doing it I’m like, “You will rip this bagel from my cold dead hands.” I am living proof that one should never say never.
What is The Whole30?
The super common diet challenge that launched a million hashtags is a 30-day reset where you eliminate certain food groups from your diet that could be having a negative impact on your body. Those include dairy, added sugar, alcohol, grains, legumes, carrageenan, MSG, and sulfites. The ultimate goal is to change one’s emotional and physical relationship with food.
Why Am I Doing The Whole 30 Now?
For several years now I have noticed that my forever apparent gut swells up to the size of a basketball by sundown. For real though, while I have always had a little jiggle in the middle no matter how hard I work out (CrossFit/HIIT 4x/week), I wake up relatively thin. But you can count on the fact that by bedtime I look 7 months pregnant. I don’t seem to have any apparent digestive problems and I am not gestating a baby. My blood tests do not show Celiac disease. Whenever I ask friends or even doctors about this, they suggest an elimination diet. But I have repeatedly said I will sacrifice a flat tummy for gluten.
However, since around November 2016, my eating habits have gotten out of hand. I wonder why I have been stress eating boxes of granola, hmmmmm? Also, my gym performance seems to have weakened. I simply don’t feel as strong. And I am tired all the time. I mean, it’s nothing new for me to pass out at 9 p.m. But what if my diet really is making me sick?
It’s time to suck it up and see.
You Know You Are Just Going To Get Fat Again Right After You Eat Your First Carb, Right?
True, it is highly unlikely I will give up sweets or pasta for good. But as with all challenges, I expect to learn about my diet and my body and take at least a few nuggets of helpful knowledge from this challenge. After reading the strict rules, I’ve already switched to carrageenan-free almond milk (maybe that stuff’s affecting my digestion after all) and tried to curb my bizarre gum-chewing habit (it helps me from being thirsty during workouts, but could also be doing weird things to my digestion).
Preparing For The Challenge
The first thing to know about the Whole30 is that there will never be a “good month” to start it. I know I have two trips this month where I was planning to eat whatever, but there will always be some occasion that you will want to hold off for. So I am giving myself one week to prepare and then beginning on July 1.
And preparation is key – and possibly part of the reason why my eating has gotten so out of hand. I’ve felt way too rushed and exhausted to prepare proper dinners lately, especially when I know whatever I’m going to make will be pushed aside by my children in favor of frozen fish sticks. It will take a full week of Pinteresting, researching, shopping, planning, and prepping to make this thing work. I do a practice run on Chia Pudding, (chosen foods), order a bunch of Whole30 compliant LaraBars, and organize a “Do Not Touch” shelf for all of my special foods.
The easy part for me will be giving up alcohol (it makes me feel crappy anyway) and I don’t have to worry about the transition to black coffee since I’ve been drinking it like a trucker for years.
The hard part will be everything else: giving up bread, cereal, cookies, ice cream, pasta, cheese, and even freaking chickpeas. Really, I can’t even have hummus? Fine.
Starting Weight + Measurements:
7/1/17: 144.6 LBS. I have no idea if I measured my waist and hips properly, but it was around 32″-39″.
I start the day with half the frittata I made the night before and go for my long, hard workout in 100-degree heat. For lunch I eat some leftover ground beef, cauliflower, and peas. I Instagram my creation and find out I have cheated within six hours of beginning:
Yes, peas are not compliant. Yet snowpeas and sugar snap peas are. I know, it sounds crazy – but there is rhyme and reason to this. And there is also a reason that cheats are a bigger deal than on a regular “diet.” It’s not about weight loss – it’s about detoxing your body from all the foods that could be causing inflammation, indigestion, and general yucky feelings. That said, I don’t feel like I need to add an extra day to my cleanse over these peas.
(Also, on day one, my parents decided to come over and order my favorite pizza. Whole30 is a diet best for those who live alone and in solitude).
We are going to a friend’s for a pool party and she is amazing when she learns I am on Whole30. She goes over the top buying me special things and planning my meals! She offers me plantain chips which we are both sure we saw on the approved list, so I eat them hungrily. We prep a dinner of chicken and sweet potatoes, special for me. Waiting for dinner I’m still super hungry (and used to dining at 5 p.m.) so I eat half a large bag of plantain chips. I’m about to take a bite of the delicious looking chicken when she describes the marinade which includes soy sauce. I want to cry because I realize I can not eat it and I am both 1. starving and 2. the worst guest ever. She is super accommodating and we grill me some plain chicken.
On the ride home I feel bloated and weird, as if I’ve done something very, very wrong. Turns out I have. Packaged plantain chips are NOT on the Whole30 – you can’t buy some processed canola oil and salt chips on a veggie and call it compliant. And I didn’t just eat a few – I ate a ton. So basically I could have just had all the normal, delicious food and cocktails anyway.
I also realize in retrospect other places where non-compliant foods snuck in over the 48 hours. Did you know most canned tuna inexplicably contains soy – even the stuff that comes in water? Many of my vitamins and supplements contained wheat or dairy. Again, this cleanse needs to be as close to perfect as possible – although it’s very hard to meet the mark on this program unless you are cooking everything from scratch yourself and reading every single label.
But, alas, we will call it a learning process and rather than restart. And more than likely I will continue eating Whole-30-ish for some time after this is complete.
If you don’t want to eat too much red meat and you’re tired of chicken, you have to get creative as hell. I threw together this roasted portobello mushroom with roasted cauliflower, walnuts, and arugula (garlic, olive oil, salt, pepper, oregano). It was pretty good.
Days 4, 5
They say this is around the time you start to feel weak, angry, and inexplicably enraged. They are right. I am terrible at my workouts and not pleasant to be around. But I make some very Instagrammable dishes:
Days 6,7, 8…..
Everything I’ve read says to expect to feel tired, weak, bloated, fat, and miserable during these days. So I am right on target. My workouts are exhausting, everything is exhausting, and I feel dizzy, lightheaded, and sick to my stomach. Also, I feel fat. It’s awesome.
The brightside: I have no real cravings or interest in food. I understand now what people mean when they say “eat to live, not live to eat.” I mainly eat to keep from being hungry. I actually feel like if I ate a carb I would explode.
I am also CRAZY thirsty. I usually drink a lot of water but now I am probably consuming twice my body weight in water everyday. And peeing nonstop.
Day 9, 10:
I host a bagel and mimosa brunch. I am unphased. But I still feel dizzy and lightheaded off and on throughout the days and suffer through my workouts. The blazing summer sun is not a great match for low energy – but I still prefer doing this challenge in the summer when fresh fruits and veggies are abundant and I am less likely to want to hibernate.
I jolt awake at 6:30 a.m. Is this Tiger Blood? Please, please let this be the Tiger Blood phase!
Not exactly. I certainly don’t feel amazing but I don’t feel as god awful as before. I’m simply used to this now – but frustrated that I feel just as fat and bloated as ever. I’m starting to suspect there is something more wrong with me and look into different bacterial gut ailments like SIBO. This can not be normal.
Days 12, 13, 14:
My first time traveling on the Whole 30 – a little more than 24 hours in D.C. I stock up on RXBars, Beef Jerky, and almonds, convinced I’m unlikely to find anything to eat anywhere. I am very pleasantly surprised that compliant foods abound. The conference buffet dinner has roasted mushrooms and eggplant, the buffet breakfast attendant was incredibly accommodating with dairy-free eggs, and I found a steak salad with vinegar and oil in the lunchroom. I feel like the world is far more food-sensitivity friendly than I realized (at least in these some parts of the country). If I only I could start truly feeling better I’d be golden.
Day 15, 16:
Halfway there and I feel fine. Not better, not worse, and not thinner. But I have basically crushed all cravings and have no qualms about heading to the beach – land of funnel cake and French fries.
We go out for a seafood dinner and I order an indulgent salad with lobster meat – lemon + olive oil to dress. I also order bacon-wrapped scallops – I don’t love bacon or scallops, but something about those two things together. We go out for ice cream and I am thrilled to see they have banana whip made with nothing but bananas! They don’t have any real fruit toppings, but I have some nuts, raisins, and unsweetened coconut flakes in my snack bag so I am all set!
For dinner the following night I break out the coconut aminos, the approved soy sauce sub, and make the best stir-fry evah!
If I’ve gained anything from the Whole30 it’s rejuvenated creativity in the kitchen. I have been taking whatever my CSA gives me and turning it into pretty decent meals – even if I mainly horde them for myself while my family eats fish sticks.
On the 19th day I decided to splurge on some of the Whole30 approved meals from Snap Kitchen (use my link for $10 off). I don’t usually think that place is worth the money, but for the Whole30 meals it totally is. I am super thankful now for the existence of something I used to believe was a millennial money pit.
I am now 99% sure I have SIBO so I order an at-home breath test which I am super anxious to take so I can confirm my suspicions. But the test is literally drinking 75 grams of glucose – not only would it destroy my Whole30, it would make me super ill. I debate whether to wait another 10 days to take it.
Remember what I said yesterday about waiting to finish this out and then taking the SIBO test?
I am on Day 21 and I have been almost 100% compliant. But for whatever reason, I feel like I am reaping zero benefits from this program. I feel and look no better and I am certainly no thinner. I don’t have more energy, I don’t feel stronger, and I still have the gut of a pregnant woman, which grows every single night to the size of a bowling ball even if I eat nothing but eggs and grapes.
If I can feel like garbage and look pregnant while eating bagels and pasta and wine, then what is the purpose of feeling like garbage and looking pregnant while depriving myself of joy?
Truly, I have become super used to eating this way and could absolutely sustain if it I felt any benefit. But I have pretty much reached my breaking point.
I am tired of waiting to find out if it’s some kind of gnarly gut bacteria that makes me feel tired and fat despite working out hard and eating pretty clean in general. So tomorrow I will stick to Whole30 PLUS no nuts or fruit in advance of this test (which leaves me with nothing but jerky and lettuce), and then Sunday it’s downing some glucose, feeling totally nauseous, and then getting right back on the horse for no good reason.
This is the day I have to officially cheat. If I am going to take this glucose test tomorrow I am seriously limited in what I can consume today (Whole30 + no fruits/nuts/chia pudding). So I decide to drink a paleo protein shake post workout – and it has stevia in it. I thought about this damn shake for a long time but decided to just have it, partly because I thought it might be a good idea for my body to get a small dose of some kind of sweetener before I deaden my soul with 75 grams of sugar tomorrow.
Did you ever eat no trace of sugar for 22 days and then guzzle an entire cup of sugar in 30 seconds? I DON’T RECOMMEND IT. The glucose breath test was awful and made me feel like I was actually dying. If this test gets lost in the mail, I will rip someone from limb to limb. In the meantime, I just have to spend the rest of the day in bed, trying to even out my body with as much protein as possible.
I have cravings for strange things now. I dream about cheating with crackers and peanut butter. God help me, I even think about McDonalds.
I don’t have SIBO. Or at least that’s what the test says with 85% accuracy.
I don’t know whether to be thrilled or frustrated that I still don’t know what the hell is wrong with me. All things considered, the exhaustion could just be working-mother-of-two-syndrome. And in my journey to understand my distended belly, I am now considering a muscular issue like diastasis recti. More to come as I work to get to the bottom of this belly.
That said, I finally feel like maybe this Whole30 is making a smidge of difference. I am down about a pound and a half and look slightly less pregnant at night.
This is when I have an epiphany.
I’ve been so frustrated that I don’t look or feel substantially different after this drastic diet change. But what if that’s actually good news. What if it means I wasn’t eating so terribly in the first place? That I don’t have major food sensitivities? That I can go back to the occasional pasta or ice cream knowing with 100% certainty that I’ve been on the right path all along?
Final Weight + Measurements:
7/30/17: 143 LBS. About a pound and a half – which I’m actually quite happy with because I don’t have a tremendous amount to lose – and also we all know that scales are not true measurements. Again, no idea if I am measuring my waist or hips properly but looks like each went down about an inch – maybe 31″-38″. This is surprisingly good news.
All Of The Cheats:
A handful of peas, a hearty serving of processed plantain chips, one protein shake with stevia, and 75 grams of pure glucose.
Despite the ups and downs, I have no regrets about this experiment. Even if I gain back the little bit of weight I lost, I now understand that I didn’t need to make a massive diet change to feel better. I’ll likely eat a bit less of them now, but the carbs are not killing me. I can eat without fear. Also, I have kicked my weird and gross gum chewing habit, I have become a more creative cook, I got the push I needed to look into other potential health issues that could be holding me back, and I now I know I can live without grains and sugar if I have to. You can get used to just about anything – but, fortunately, I don’t have to get used to saying no to ice cream.
HELPFUL PRODUCTS FOR WHOLE30: