Whole30-Timeline-COLOR-SmallerUp until my early 30s, I weighed a ridiculous 105 lbs and could eat pretty much anything I wanted and not gain weight. I was on the low end of normal for the standard body mass index chart. Yeah. It wasn’t fair. But it was kind of awesome.

As I aged (and learned to cook) my weight slowly climbed. By my mid to late 30’s, I’d hit the 120-125  range (really about right for my 5’3″ small boned frame). And by my early 40’s I was between 125 and 130 pretty consistently, with occasional bouts of South Beach dieting or 3 day Detox smoothie resets to reign in the weight gain.

I’ve long had an interest in local food systems and health, and so our diet (I do most of the cooking) has shifted to more and more from-scratch cooking and less and less processed foods over the years, including knowing where our meat comes from. No longer do I look forward to making the Pillsbury pop-n-fresh Cinnamon Rolls on Sunday mornings like I did in my early 20’s. You won’t find boxed mac & cheese in our cupboards or frozen hot pockets in our freezer or fast food wrappers in the car. I literally can’t remember the last time I drank a full sugar soda. So compared to the average American diet, we really were eating pretty “clean” and had been for a very long time.

But this year, my weight hit 135. 135! I’m now officially just a few pounds from officially being overweight. With menopause kicking in full steam, I could no longer ignore the numbers on the scale or the paunch around my middle, despite our generally healthy diet and decent level of activity. And I could definitely not just eat whatever I wanted and not gain weight. My body seemed to hang on to every bread calorie like it might not ever see food again.

A friend of mine had done Whole30 during her long weight loss journey (she’s probably lost over 100 lbs since I saw her at our 20 year class reunion in 2004 and has kept it off, with a lot of hard work, by figuring out what works best for her). Another friend had successfully done a stint with the Bright Line Eating plan. Both diets are based on eating whole foods. Because I take to heart Micheal Pollan’s advice of, “Eat food, not too much, mostly plants” and “Don’t eat food your Grandmother wouldn’t recognize” both seemed like good programs that look to change long term eating habits, not substitute a meal with a prepackaged meal replacement shake. The winner, however, was Whole30, primarily because it required zero measuring of the foods you eat and there was less emphasis on eating as an addiction (which it clearly is for some people – it is not for me).

I joined a couple of Whole30 Facebook groups to get a feel for the program and explored the official Whole30 website. And July 9th, we decided to take the plunge. (My husband was all for it, which made it SO MUCH EASIER!)

Whole30MealPlate

The Rules! 30 days of:

  • 56namesofsugar

    No added sugar, real or artificial. This means no natural sweeteners like honey or maple syrup either. And no spenda or stevia derived sweeteners. Fruit juice, used in moderation as a natural sweetener in recipes (but not as a beverage) is allowed.

  • No alcohol in any form, including cooking.
  • No grains. This includes the gluten containing grains like wheat, rye and barley, but also the non-gluten containing grains like oats, corn and rice, and the pseudo grains like quinoa and amaranth. Or any of their derivatives (not a big issue for us, as we don’t eat much highly processed food anyway, but corn is in a LOT of things under tricky names).
  • No legumes, aka beans of any kind, including the obvious ones, but also including peanut butter and soy sauce and soybean oil – which is used by pretty much every restaurant, and the additive lecithin. Green beans, sugar snap and snow peas are allowed, as they are more pod than pea (and they had to draw the line somewhere).
  • No dairy. Ghee, which is clarified butter in which the milk solids have been removed, is allowed. And it tastes awesome. People are weirdly freaked out about trying it.
  • No deep fried anything, even if the item itself is compliant. So no french fries or sweet potato fries or potato chips.
  • No chemical additives of carrageenan, MSG or sulfites. Again, not a huge issue for us because we cook from scratch, but found in a LOT of processed foods.
  • No baked or dessert foods made from compliant ingredients but meant to mimic the things you are supposed to be avoiding. They call this SWYPO, or Sex With Your Pants On. So no banana/egg/coconut flour pancakes, or paleo crust pizza.
  • No scale for 30 days! Because the focus is on changing your eating habits, not on losing weight.

Phew. Seems like a lot doesn’t it? That leaves meats, vegetables (including white potatoes but excluding sweet corn – more on that later) and fruits. Maybe a few seeds here and there. Nuts. Coconut. Eggs. Not a lot it would seem at first glance. (Note: there IS a version of Whole30 for vegetarians and vegans, in which they allow legumes.)

The Whole30 diet isn’t meant to be a “lose weight” diet. It’s an elimination diet. It’s designed to eliminate most foods that might be causing issues for people, be they allergies, inflammation, GI/bloating issues, skin issues, auto immune disease issues, type 2 diabetes etc.; along with getting you off of the sugar high/sugar crash that is caused by processed sugars and grains (remember, a piece of white bread actually has a higher glycemic reaction than straight sugar – though granted, not by much). This is called Killing Your Sugar Dragon. The idea is to retrain your palette and your brain to really taste the natural sweetness in whole foods, and to give you control over the fire hose of processed crap that is forever being shoved in our faces via every ad, every display rack at the grocery store and every office birthday party.

Then, at the end of 30 days, you reintroduce categories of foods, one at a time, slowly, to see what you react to. You don’t just go, hooray, I’m done, now I’m gonna go eat all the things again. It’s meant to be a reset that puts you on your way to a lifelong lifestyle change. As one Facebook group poster put it, “I’m doing a science experiment on myself and FEELING THE RESULTS FIRST HAND.” It helps you figure out what foods you need to be your very best functioning self, and what foods you should avoid. This list is not the same for everyone. Some people are allergic to eggs. Some to nuts. Some to the nightshade family (kill me now). All three of those things are allowed on Whole30. So it won’t work as written for everyone. Every body is different. But this 30 days gives you a chance to figure out what works and doesn’t for most people.

whole30-meal-planningWhy did I do Whole30?

Because even though we ate mostly home cooked whole foods, I was still seeing the pounds slowly creep on, and I suspected grains were a part of the problem.  Because I have a sweet tooth, and really look forward to dessert after dinner and didn’t seem to be able to just say no to that piece of chocolate, or frozen yogurt, or slice of pie. • Because I’d gotten into the habit of buying myself a dark chocolate coconut candy bar or a dark chocolate peanut butter candy bar as a treat for myself every time I went grocery shopping. • Because I love Peach Oo La Long tea, and while its lower in sugar than a soda, it still has 60 calories of added sugar (4 teaspoons) per bottle.

Studies have shown that if you meet all of your nutritional needs with the food you eat (not just carbs, proteins and fats, but vitamins, minerals, fiber etc.) you only have a few calories left over for things like refined sugar and extra fats. For an average woman, the amount of discretionary sugar works out to about 6 teaspoons per day (that’s 1/8 of a cup), for a man, it’s 9 teaspoons. I was definitely exceeding my daily limit.

• Because I wanted to walk the walk more when it came to healthy eating, and as a friend says, doing Whole30 would “paint myself in to a corner” when it came to having to eat more vegetables. • Because I love to cook, and I enjoy the challenge of making delicious meals with less. • Because it would get us out of our food rut and force us to try new things. • Because I hoped, REALLY hoped, that eating better without having to feel deprived and/or hungry would help me lose weight.

The results?

Starting weight 135.4. Ending weight 130.2. I lost 5 lbs. My husband lost more (men, the bastards, almost always lose more weight then women).

Other non scale victories?

  • I didn’t have to measure anything or count calories! Honestly, this can be a super important tool if you have a food addiction and are prone to mindless or emotional eating. I’m not. And so not having to weigh and measure and calculate means that this way of eating has a much better chance of becoming a permanent sustainable part of our lifestyle, rather than something we can’t maintain long term.
  • I was literally never hungry beyond my normal every day hunger.
  • We really didn’t have severe detox/withdrawal issues, as our eating was already pretty clean and we weren’t asked to give up caffeine.
  • We’ve eaten a crap-ton of vegetables in the last month, from zucchini noodles to sweet potatoes to bacon/hamburger salads with garden ripe tomatoes.
  • Because Whole30 and the popular Paleo diet share a lot in common, there are a TON of recipes and ideas out there for meals. I still have a list of things I haven’t gotten to yet, and we aren’t even to soup/stew season! I was definitely not bored with our meals. In fact, many of them were supremely delicious and satisfying.
  • We didn’t really miss the breads and sweets, other than an occasional passing craving.
  • While I don’t have the severe health issues listed above, I do find the aches and pains of growing older creeping up on me. I noticed a general increase in flexibility and the routine “snap, crackle pop” of joints in the last 30 days that in the last year seemed to have solidified.
  • I’m sure I’ve lost inches, though I didn’t take measurements. My pants are definitely fitting better.
  • My mental clarity and sleep have been excellent.
  • I was able to continue to swim 1/2 mile 2 to 3 times a week during the 30 days. When I didn’t feel strong while swimming, it was a good indication that I needed to eat more before I exercised.
  • My hot flashes, which seem to come in clusters, have abated. A welcome improvement during our recent 100 degree weather.
  • We’ve tried lots of new things. • A bit of canned coconut milk on fruit is fabulous. • Flax seed crackers are easy to make and good when you want a bit of crunch/salt. • Lara bars are often “compliant” on Whole30, and good in a pinch when you need something to get you through after your swim or when you find yourself away from home without enough food. • We made homemade mayonnaise and beef jerky for the first time. • Coconut aminos are OK, but no substitute for soy sauce. • Almond butter is good on apples, but not the same as peanut butter. • Hint water is really good, especially the watermelon, pear and pineapple varieties. • Between almond and coconut milk, I’ll take coconut milk. • Pan fried plantains are way better than bananas. • Cauliflower rice, while it sounds weird, is actually quite good, and a reasonable stand in for rice with stir fries. • Chia seed pudding, with added fresh fruit and nuts, made a good breakfast for my husband – though technically he should have had more vegetables and more protein for breakfast. • While spirilized zucchini will never be an adequate substitute for real noodles, they do make a nice base, raw, in mixed vegetable salads.

The cheats.

There’s this rule with Whole30 where you are all in or all out. And I get that. Most people need the world to be black and white. They need hard and fast rules. They need a “if you slip up and realize your BBQ sauce contained hidden soy, you have to start counting your 30 days all over again”. I’ve learned this from soapmaking groups as well. Follow the FDA labeling rules for your products or THE WORLD WILL END! There’s a very large swath of the general population that just wants you to tell them what to do, no exceptions.

Me, I’m not that hard and fast. I wasn’t in this to mitigate type 2 diabetes, or crohn’s disease or irritable bowl syndrome or rheumatoid arthritis or to fight a cancer diagnosis. I was in it to lose a few pounds and take control of my sugar dragon. Plus, I research the heck out of whys for rules and then decide for myself if they make sense FOR ME. Hello external vs internal locus of control. I could give two hoots if someone I’ve never met thinks I’m doing it wrong. So here are the judgement calls I made for my own 30 days.

I continued to use 1 teaspoon of sugar and 1 tablespoon half and half in my single morning cup of tea (a whole bunch of die hard Whole30 people’s heads just exploded). That was my ONLY processed sugar for 30 days. But I just didn’t think that 1 tsp of sugar was going to either derail me or make it impossible for me to resist my cravings. And it didn’t. I don’t think I have any issue with dairy, (northern European descent, no gut or skin issues) so rather than make tea with nutpods or coconut milk or ghee, I just stuck with my normal half and half. And the world didn’t end. And that was the only dairy we used at home during the entire 30 days.

We ate sweet corn a few times during our 30 days even though no corn is allowed. It’s the height of corn season (literally the ONLY time I eat sweet corn is between July and September), corn has a lower glycemic index than the white potato that is allowed (52 vs 78) and most importantly, there is a huge difference between whole food sweet corn on the cob (not GMO by the way – it almost never is) and processed giant monoculture flour corn processed into everything from chicken mcnuggets to high fructose corn syrup. I get that the Whole30 folks weren’t up to educating everyone on the differences – or even knowing the difference themselves. And that a lot of people have sensitivities to corn and its derivatives. But I am up on the differences, and so we ate corn with ghee a few times. I regret nothing.

We had a bit of cheese/dairy on two occasions when we ate out. Once in ranch dressing with some chicken wings and once as gorgonzola on a salad.

We had a bit of legume (edamame) when we ate out at a Japanese steak house. We did not eat the rice.

We made a paleo crust no sugar added apple pie (well, my husband did) because we had a crop of Gravenstein apples sitting on the counter from one of our trees.

I made Almond Joy DIY Lara bars, that while fully compliant, were too sweet and too much like dessert and so definitely SWYPO. We ate them anyway, in small 1″ chunks, over the course of about a week. If I make them again, I’ll be cutting back on the dates and increasing another dried fruit like prunes or apricots.

I made flax seed crackers. Pretty sure this is technically SWYPO as well. I regret nothing, and was able to eat them slowly over the course of a week, rather than having a snack attack and eating them in a sitting or wishing I could put cheese on them.

As mentioned, we used chia seed pudding for some of our breakfasts. Probably not officially compliant because of the lack of plated fat/additional protein/more veg, but worked in a pinch for market days and husband’s breakfasts (he is loathe to take anything with him that requires morning prep or more than opening a container to eat. We also did egg muffin bakes but his yogurt and/or oatmeal habit is so ingrained that he mostly forget they were an option.)

The bacon we ate was home cured and contained sugar and nitrates in the curing mix. I regret nothing. Because home cured bacon from a local pig trumps hard to find store bought no sugar added bacon in my world (and “natural” bacon still has nitrates, they just come from celery powder, a natural source).

I consumed a total of about 5 spenda packets over the course of 30 days, used in fresh squeezed limeaide and iced chai blended with almond/coconut milk. Did not set off my sugar demon and make me eat all the sugar in the house.

I ate a LOT of fruit. We’re in the height of fruit season right now, and we had the first significant harvest from our apricot trees and the first harvest ever from our peach tree, plus ongoing crops of blackberries, blueberries, raspberries, apples, plums and melons. So I’m sure my fruit consumption was way beyond the suggested 1/6 of a plate and only once a day. We used apricots as a base in some of the chia pudding, and I made berry/coconut milk frozen pops a couple of times (no sugar added). Again, I regret nothing. It didn’t send me into the kitchen for the chocolate stash (which is still there by the way, untouched 30 days later).

Where do we go from here?

Well, what we DID miss was the occasional adult beverage, legumes (I don’t suspect we’ll have a problem with them – and giving up soy sauce, peanut butter and humus, not to mention dried beans in general, is extreme for me given that they aren’t causing me distress), dairy (mostly plain yogurt over fruit and cheese as an accent flavor) and oats/home grown home ground whole corn flour for polenta. We eat quite a bit of oats in the normal breakfast rotation. So we’ll be adding back those things unless there are some unforeseen reactions.

We don’t really plan to add back other grains to any great extent, or processed sugars, except for really exceptional occasions. Honestly, I have had certain desserts in each category (pie, cake, cookie etc.) that has been exceptional and memorable and are the benchmark by which I judge all others. But 98% of the time, I’ve eaten a dessert and thought, that was OK, but not really worth the calories. So simply leaving these things out isn’t really a hardship when you get right down to weighing that slice of oversweetened cake vs the weight gain and blood sugar spike that accompanies it. We’ll aim for a 90%/10% split on eating modified paleo from here on out.

What to know if you decide to try it.

Meal planning and prep is key. It’s been great fun watching people on the Facebook groups actually learning to cook at home for the first time. This is not a, “I forgot to plan dinner and its 6:15 pm and the family is starving and OMG I need food right now” way of eating. Because whole foods take time to turn into chopped and cooked foods. And that doesn’t happen in 15 minutes. A lot of people do meal prep on Sundays for the week. Making double batches of things so you can take leftovers for lunch is a good idea, once you figure out what you like.

Expect some changes as your body adjusts (see calendar above). Especially if your current diet relies heavily on processed convenience foods, white breads and refined sugars. Your small intestine digests those things rather quickly, leaving your large intestine, which is full of important gut bacteria, with not much to do. When you suddenly start filling your plate 2/3 full with vegetables at EVERY meal, it suddenly has a LOT to do. Kind of like asking a 52 year old couch potato to get up and run a marathon next week. You’re now asking your body to get energy from a completely different place (the breakdown of complex carbohydrates – something that really only happens in the large intestine through your gut bacteria). It’s gonna take a few weeks for the system to fully come on-line and be running at peak efficiency. People experience headaches, fatigue, gassiness and big time cravings as you ask your body to transition from doing the easy stuff (processing simple sugars) to the hard stuff (breaking down cellulose and long chain polysaccharides). Stick with it. It really is worth it.

Oh, and expect to poop more. Fiber. Just sayin’.

Plan to do this when you have 30 uninterrupted days as part of your normal routine. This is not something you want to do when you plan on being away from home a lot, or during a kitchen remodel where your stove is out of commission, or when you are also training for a triathlon, or generally when your life is in upheaval. Because it can be a big change and a big added stressor to make every single meal you eat. Especially if you aren’t used to doing a lot of cooking. As one person on the forums said, “I don’t miss the non-compliant foods, I miss the convenience!” This way of eating is NOT convenient. It’s work, and takes committment.

It’s almost impossible to eat out on Whole30, because just about every restaurant meal is cooked in soybean oil/butter and/or has added sugars or dairy or something else you are avoiding. There ARE some compliant salad dressings you can seek out, and people do order a plain salad at a restaurant and bring their own compliant dressing. Chipotle has a few things you can order (google Whole30 Chipotle hack), and you can get an Animal Style burger at In-and-Out Burger (because – California – land of special diet requests). But the options are few and far between, and a pain in the butt for the people with you, not to mention the wait staff who have to deal with your long list of “can’t have’s”. So if eating out is part of your regular routine, this is gonna be a serious change. Be ready to get to know your significant other in a way that doesn’t involve waitstaff and drinks!

Don’t let one slip up totally derail you. People will eat compliant for 17 days (often called R1D17 for Round 1, Day 17), and accidentally (or on purpose) put non-compliant creamer in their coffee or eat a french fry or discover their multi-vitamin contains soy, and get SO down on themselves. The way I look at it, you ate 17 x 3 = 51 healthy good for your body meals and had one bad taste of something. That’s a 98% average of making good choices, and 17 days of choosing the right things for your body that you would not have otherwise had. Get back on the wagon and move forward. Don’t use it as an excuse to have a bacon double cheeseburger and curly fries and half a bottle of wine, because “I’ve already screwed up anyway”.

Don’t make this a permanent lifestyle choice unless you really must for health reasons. I see people on the forums who are doing round 4, day 39. Which means prepping every meal, pretty much never going out, and likely not doing much socializing, because being around someone with a ton of food limitations when you don’t have them can be exhausting for all involved. Do the hard work to find your Food Freedom instead.

That said, don’t ever feel pressured to eat something you shouldn’t just because everyone else is. As the founder of this program, Melisa Hartwig says, “You never, ever, ever have to eat anything you don’t want to eat. You’re all big boys and girls. Toughen up. Learn to say no, or make your mom proud and say, “No, thank you.” Learn to stick up for yourself. Just because it’s your sister’s birthday, or your best friend’s wedding, or your company picnic does not mean you have to eat anything. It’s always a choice, and we would hope that you stopped succumbing to peer pressure in 7th grade.” Let me just mention that I love this woman’s no nonsense attitude. Grin. The whole point of this program is to learn what your food issues are and then learn how to move forward in a healthy way so you can function as your optimum self. For most of us, that does not mean never eating peanut butter or soy sauce again.

The official website is a HUGE source of information and help. There are also books, and yes, you can buy them. But even the author/founder says that most of what’s in them is also on the website. They also have a pinterest board with approved Whole30 recipes (tons). If you google “can I have x on Whole30” you’ll almost always find it discussed on the Whole30.com website or forums. And no one is standing there with their hand out trying to get you to pay for additional information with every click. It’s very low pressure and feels very genuine. I loved that. I never bought any of the books, though if I were to buy one, it would be “Food Freedom Forever“, which really emphasizes how to find out what works for your individual body instead of being fully ON or fully OFF Whole30.

This way of eating can be expensive, especially if you are used to inexpensive processed carb heavy foods like ramen soup and boxed mac and cheese. It’s meat heavy, and meats are expensive – but remember, a serving of meat is 4 oz, not 16 oz! If you aren’t used to shopping in season and think that recipe for sheet pan roasted asparagus and brussel sprouts looks fabulous in late July, when the local asparagus season is done and the local brussel sprout season hasn’t really started yet, your budget is gonna be blown pretty quickly, and the quality of what you do find is gonna be terrible. Buying tons of Lara and RX bars, Epic jerky, and compliant salad dressings and sauces adds up fast as well. seasonal-produce

There ARE ways around this, especially if you enjoy cooking. Precut cabbage for “egg roll in a bowl” is expensive. A whole head of cabbage is pound for pound one of the least expensive vegetables at the store. The same goes for things like buying frozen cauliflower rice vs making your own from a fresh head of cauliflower. And there are DIY recipes out there for Whole30 everything from BBQ sauce to ketchup to something called “dump ranch” dressing (which is WILDLY popular). Easy. Fast. Healthy. IF you have an immersion blender and a food processor and/or a blender. Just google the product you are looking for with “whole30 DIY” in the search and you’ll almost always find something.

We’re lucky. I work from home and love to cook. I love DIY hacks of commercial products. And we don’t have a bunch of hungry kids around melting down because dinner isn’t on the table yet, or a partner who doesn’t want to eat Whole30 and requires a separate meal. Not to mention I grow food for a living and we have a freezer full of local meat and a fridge full of eggs. Part of why I chose to do Whole30 now is because produce and fruit is so abundant and beautiful right now!

Like always, it’s a question of the trade-off of time vs money. You CAN do it on the cheap, if you are a savvy shopper and a willing home cook. But it takes patience and practice, even for those with solid kitchen experience.

You’re likely gonna eat a lot of eggs and avocados. Breakfast seems to be the hardest for people on this plan, because we are so used to eating carbs for breakfast, be it baked goods, sweetened yogurt, oatmeal or a fruit smoothie. The trick to breakfast is to think about it as “meal #1” of the day, rather than “breakfast”. You can eat anything for breakfast, and in some parts of the world, savory is the norm. Google “Whole30 breakfast no egg” when you hit the wall with eating eggs every morning. And egg bakes, either as a casserole or in a muffin tin, are a great grab and go option that you can change up with the type of meat and veg they contain.

Did this work for us?

Well, if you haven’t gathered by my tone by now, yes. Yes it did. It was a great personal experiment and I’m really glad we did it, and we plant to continue with a lot of the eating habits.

Note that Whole30 and Paleo and Keto eating plans are all somewhat similar. No fruit on Keto and dairy is OK (very heavy on healthy fats). Paleo allows for some natural sweeteners, and does lots of SWYPO hacks like cauliflower pizza crust or almond flour pancakes. Once you know the basics, you can look at paleo or keto recipes and often find a way to modify them for Whole30.  Note that none are better than the other. It’s all about finding what works for YOU.

A few additional recommendations.

During the course of our 30 days we watched The Magic Pill documentary on Netflix. Do I buy into what they were saying 100% for everyone? Absolutely not. Because each of us is different in our genetics, our cultural heritage and our gut microbiome. But it is worth a watch and dramatically shows how a change in diet can make a huge change in the quality of your life.

Hidden HalfAnd a friend lent me a copy of the book “The Hidden Half of Nature: The Microbial Roots of Life and Health“, and it is WELL worth the read. I thought I was fairly up to date on this subject, and it blow me out of the water. If there was ever an argument beyond making you feel better for filling 2/3 of your plate with vegetables, this is it. The connection between our gut microbiome and our immune system is astounding.

I also highly recommend Whole30 Facebook groups. I joined “2018 Whole30 Recipes, Meals and Gentle Support” and “Whole 30 support group”. Even if you don’t actively participate, the success stories are awesome and totally inspiring!

Tons of recipe resources and other advice found on Whole30’s official pinterest board.

Lastly, if you have real issues in your life around food, not just in how it makes your body feel, but in how you use it as a tool to deal with your emotional/psychological life, while I would recommend this diet to you, I would also gently say that you might need some additional help. (Note: I’m a big fan of therapy and benefitted greatly from it in my 20’s – life doesn’t come with an instruction book – having an unbiased person in your corner to help you navigate the emotional land mines of life can sometimes be a big game changer and there is absolutely zero shame in that!).

© Miles Away Farm 2018, where we take great pleasure in the food we eat, from a vine ripened tomato to a beautiful grilled local pork chop to a crisp bite of backyard apple, and find that food is always best when shared in the company of friends.