Hellooooo there, Tasters, and happy Friday! I hope you’re all having a stellar week and I’m so glad you’re here to start the weekend with me.
This post, like I promised last week, is going to be all about my experience with my first round of Whole30. Let’s start from the very beginning… a very good place to start. (Brownie points if you know what that’s from!)
What is Whole30?
Whole30 is a dietary program that involves eliminating certain foods that are known to cause inflammation and cravings. The program, which was created in 2009 by Melissa Hartwig and her then-husband Dallas, has helped millions of people pursue better lifestyles since its inception.
Despite its popularity and evident results, the Whole30 program is challenging. I hesitate to say ‘hard’ because, as Melissa puts it, “Quitting heroin is hard. Drinking your coffee black is not hard.” But I think ‘challenging’ works. It’s a struggle to challenge everything you’ve grown up with, but it’s worth it. But I’ll get into that later.
- Eating anything with or using added sugar or sweeteners: You’d be surprised how much food has these types of products in them. And it’s not just Stevia, Splenda or even regular sugar. You have to keep an eye out for things like honey, agave and coconut sugar, which may be healthier alternatives but are still against the rules, as well as chemical names for sugary substances that are often hidden in ingredient panels.
- Drinking or cooking with alcohol or smoking: Realistically, they’re not healthy habits anyway.
- Eating grains of any kind: If you’re a carb queen like me, this might be the rule that kicks your butt. No rice, no pasta, no bread, no corn… the list goes on and on. My body craves these things all the time, and they can often be hidden in the ingredients as well, so they’re especially hard to kick. Staying away from them for long enough, though, can really help kick the cravings.
- Eating legumes: Which includes peanuts and peanut butter, another hard rule to follow for me. This also includes beans and soy.
- Eating or drinking dairy products: From any animal, in any form. Bye bye, ice cream and my fave coffee creamers.
- Consuming carrageenan, MSG or sulfites: These are constantly snuck into food products for a variety of reasons, but at the end of the day, they’re just not good for you. The human body cannot digest carrageenan, and consuming it can cause inflammation. MSG, which is an additive often used to flavor Chinese food and canned goods, has also been known to cause headaches, nausea, numbness, chest pain and more, so that’s definitely a no-go. And then there are sulfites, which are the suspected cause of ever-annoying wine headaches. All around, it sounds like everyone, whether on the Whole30 program or not, should avoid these three additives as much as possible.
- Eating or making junk foods or baked goods with approved ingredients: Though it’s so tempting to make Whole30-compliant muffins, pancakes, breads, etc., that’s defeating the whole purpose of training your body to veer away from cravings.
- Measuring or weighing yourself: This may sound odd, but the program advises against doing this so that Whole30 becomes more than just another diet. It’s about creating lifestyle changes and witnessing the little changes in yourself, not about starving yourself to look a certain way.
There are some additional caveats to the program, such as the ability to eat ghee (clarified butter) and salt, but I’ll let you guys check them out on the Whole30 website yourselves!
Though the rules may seem daunting Whole30, the program is really great because it doesn’t force you to eat tiny portions (though you shouldn’t gorge yourself) or obsessively count your calories. Instead, it’s about eating whole foods that really fill you up (and taste good!) and creating better habits and a healthier relationship with food.
Now that you (hopefully) have a better understanding of what the program entails, I want to share my own experience with my first 30 days as well.
I spend a lot of time on Pinterest. And when I say a lot, I mean it. Whole30 had come up in my feed a bunch of times, but I kind of just brushed it aside because I didn’t want to commit to anything that difficult.
I didn’t really learn much about Whole30, though, until I interviewed Teri, the blogger behind No Crumbs Left, for my internship. She cooks mostly Whole30 (and posts really awesome Instagram stories about it), and during the interview, we got into a very candid conversation about how Whole30 could benefit me. I have always struggled with my weight and body image, partially in part to my polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) diagnosis. When I told Teri about my health struggles, she thought that Whole30 could be a great option for me.
And so I started researching it. Like really researching. I read blogs, I watched videos, I read articles, I looked at recipes. It was the first time I had really taken the time out of my life to try and figure out how these life changes would help me.
I started a Pinterest board of Whole30-compliant recipes, and before I knew it, I was getting started.
My First Few Weeks
I started over Spring Break, which may have been a mistake because practically everyone I knew wanted to go out to eat and I just didn’t think it was possible. I actually delayed starting the program because my dad really wanted to take me out for our first drink together after I turned 21.
In my first few days, all I wanted was carbs. I almost gave up a couple of times because my family had Girl Scout cookies in the house, but, by some miracle, I was able to stay strong.
I did eat a lot of potatoes, though. White, sweet, purple… I tried every variety I could. My favorite Whole30 meal quickly became a breakfast skillet with sweet potatoes, an egg, and an avocado. It is just so yummy. It’s still my favorite, and honestly, I’d eat it even if I weren’t on Whole30. I’ve started doing some variations on the original as well, sometimes adding figs, spinach and/or onions, other times substituting a different type of potato.
After my first few days doing the program, my mom and I went into the city to see Anastasia on Broadway (which was amazing, BTW!), and my mom really wanted to go out to eat. We got into a huge fight, though, because I didn’t want to go out to eat if I was just going to be resigned to eating a salad and couldn’t get what I wanted.
I ultimately decided to suck it up because I couldn’t let following a program like Whole30 prevent me from living my life, and I think that’s a huge part of the program itself. It isn’t meant to keep you from living your life. Instead, it’s meant to teach you to set guidelines and develop willpower that will help you live the best life possible.
My mom and I went to Starving Artist Cafe in Franklin Square and I got their Shrimp and Avocado Salad, which was actually totally delicious. So much so, in fact, that when Lauren and I went to Chopt Salad that same week, I tried to recreate it as best as possible. This made me realize that it is still possible to eat out (and eat yummy food!) while doing the Whole30 program.
Coming back to school the following week was a bit of a learning curve as well. I wasn’t eating meat because it was still Greek Orthodox lent, so it was hard to find something in the dining halls that followed all the Whole30 rules and would still give me the nutrients I needed.
So I started cooking for myself. I made my own salads, shrimp, eggs, potatoes, spinach, and more. And even though it was time-consuming (boy, oh boy, was it time-consuming), it was so worth it because not only did my food taste good, it felt awesome to know exactly where my food was coming from and that I was using all whole foods. This healthy relationship with food is a large part of what Whole30 is about.
My Last Few Weeks
Over the next few weeks, my whole world became about food, but in the best way possible. I think it might’ve even made me more productive… at least in a sense. I was using a lot of my unneeded downtime to cook, and then going back to my room and getting my work done. I did still spend a lot of time watching the Food Network, though. Some things will never change.
For every meal, I’d try to prepare a protein with a fruit and/or veggie. I started to get pretty creative (with a lot of help from Pinterest) and make some really yummy meals, like a breakfast sweet potato with banana slices and an almond butter drizzle.
More importantly than the taste of the food, though, was the fact that as I got closer and closer to my end date (which I decided would be Greek Orthodox Easter), I was more excited about going back to Whole30 after Easter than I was about eating badly again.
During my first go at the Whole30 program, I did notice a bunch of changes to my body and my life that were more than just in my appearance.
- I got my period: Ok, this might be totally TMI, but I felt like it was such a big deal that I had to share. PCOS can often cause the menstrual cycle to be irregular and even super painful. I’ve long struggled with periods that would come every few months and stay for up to 30 days. All in all, totally unfunny. My body does have a tendency, though, to immediately menstruate when I start eating low carb. I got my period a week into Whole30 for the first time since May of last year, so to me, this was a total indication that Whole30 was doing something right.
- I was sleeping better at night: I use the Sleep Cycle app (which I love, BTW) to track my sleep. The app tracks my hours and quality of sleep, as well as how much I snore (snoring is just a fact of life, ok?). Since I started Whole30, the quality of my sleep improved and the amount of time I spent snoring decreased dramatically (I’m talking a change from two and a half hours to 45 minutes here).
- I felt more energetic: Maybe this has to do with the improved sleep thing, but every morning, I woke up feeling like I was ready to take on the world, and I didn’t get sleepy midway through the day.
- I stopped getting heartburn: And bellyaches, too. I used to get awful heartburn before I did Whole30, but once I started to eat well, it vanished. I was much happier, to say the least.
- I felt motivated to get things done: Knowing that I could do something like Whole30 made me feel like I could take on anything. That’s even part of what made me come back to blogging!
- I felt more confident: For the first time in a long time, I felt more comfortable in my own skin. I started wearing more workout and tighter-fitting clothes and stopped wearing as much makeup. It was so nice to stop always second-guessing myself.
- My cravings went away: As someone who has literally spent her whole life craving sugar and carbs, I was so surprised when I stopped craving pasta and ice cream and started craving avocados, zucchini, and eggs (which I used to hate, BTW) instead. To me, that was another sure fire sign that Whole30 was changing my body for the better.
- Swelling in my body went down: This one is about my appearance, but I thought it was worth it to share because so many people pointed it out to me. From professors to my parents to my friends to my ever-judgmental Yiayia (grandmother in Greek), it was so nice to hear that I looked just as good as I felt.
Technically, the Whole30 program has two different ways of reintroducing non-compliant foods into your diet. The first is the Fast Track, which tells you to incorporate one forbidden food group at a time while keeping the rest of your diet Whole30-compliant. For example, on the first day, you can have dairy with each meal (cheese in your eggs for breakfast, feta cheese on your salad for lunch, cream in the sauce for your zucchini noodles, etc.) all while keeping the rest of your diet compliant. The program advises that you then return to Whole30 for two days in between each reintroduction in order to help yourself evaluate how these foods may make you feel.
The second reintroduction method, which is called the Slow Roll, encourages you to maintain Whole30 and only go off when you find something super delicious or are celebrating a special occasion. This can help minimize the effects of the non-compliant food while also helping you realize how they’re affecting your body.
I kind of combined the two methods, though. Since I finished the day before Greek Orthodox Easter, I went right in and ate a halal double lamb over rice platter with white sauce right after church finished around 2AM. And let me tell you, I did not feel good in the morning. I thought I was going to throw up or faint or both. The feeling eventually subsided, and I continued to eat all my favorite Easter foods (how can you say no to Greek spinach pie, tzatziki sauce, and galaktoboureko?), but in moderation to hopefully diminish the side effects.
And wouldn’t you know, I felt purely disgusting in the morning. I felt like I had been hit by two buses and a train. So I learned my lesson: Whole30 is the way to go, at least for me. So from now on, I’ll be taking the Slow Roll method very seriously.
Resources and Inspiration
I don’t think that I could’ve been successful with my first go at Whole30 without some inspiration and resources, so I wanted to share them with you.
Melissa Hartwig has published several books that are all super helpful to people going through the program. I read The Whole30: The 30-Day Guide to Total Health and Food Freedom during my first two weeks of the program just to get a taste of what it would entail, as well as some food inspiration! I am now working my way through It Starts With Food, which explains the scientific theories behind the Whole30. I just bought The Whole30: Day by Day as well, which is a journal-type book that helps you track your progress and keep yourself accountable and inspired.
I was also very motivated by bloggers like Teri from No Crumbs Left and Alex from The Defined Dish. They both make Whole30 look fun and appetizing (which it totally is!). I was also inspired by one of my favorite bloggers, Lee From America, who has made incredibly healthy changes in her life to help her battle her PCOS. Seeing the examples of these three kick-ass women made me want to go after my goals as well.
I should also thank my family and friends for their support. My parents, for paying for the food and the books, and my mom especially for driving 45 minutes to school and then back home again just to bring me fresh produce. My grandparents, aunts, uncles, brothers, and cousins, for not telling me what I’m doing is stupid and helping me find food to eat at family events. My friends, for being patient and understanding when I couldn’t go eat with them in the dining hall. My suitemates Alyssa and Marissa, for sitting in the kitchen with me while I cooked even if they definitely didn’t want to be there. Ian, for being patient while I checked out every possible fresh fruit and vegetable at the farmers market on campus. Chloe and Becca, for always telling me how good my food looked and helping me regain motivation when I started falling. And Lauren, for trying the crazy concoctions over Spring Break (sorry about the burnt purple potato chips). I really wouldn’t have been able to do it without any of you.
To sum it all up, I’ve been so happy on Whole30, and love that I feel healthier both physically and mentally. I highly, highly recommend this program to anyone who is ready to finally start living their best life.
So that’s my spiel. I hope this inspires you to try Whole30 or at least make some healthy changes in your life. There will definitely be more Whole30 material on my blog soon, but until then, I’d love to hear your reactions, experiences, questions and more! Let me know if there’s anything else you’d like to see on here, too.
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