#Whole30: Giving Up Sugar, Alcohol & Grains

[shareaholic app=”share_buttons” id=”20872686″]

If you follow me on Instagram, you may have noticed I’ve changed my eating habits the past two weeks. As in, gave up all the indulgent Southern fare and cocktails that are often my nightly dinner when out. Gulp; it hasn’t been easy.

It happened overnight, quite literally: We were having dinner at my parents’ house one night and I was complaining about the food allergies I’ve developed this year (not ideal if you are a journalist who spends a lot of time writing about food). Rather than go to an allergist, which was my first thought, my mom suggested I try Whole30. She’s been on it since May, and not only does she feel great, she looks it, too (bonus: she’s lost 25 pounds! go, Mom!).

I pondered the idea, woke up the next morning and said: I’m doing this.

Now, it may surprise you to know that SVV and I have been cooking 80 percent Paleo for the past two years. Simply put, it’s a lot easier if you just shop for what you need that night, we both can go without carbs, and it balances out all that we eat when we travel. But even then, even on a mostly gluten-free diet, we’d both been feeling pretty crummy. And then I read a story in Glamour about how a compound called FODMAP was likely the culprit of my constant stomach pangs, not gluten.

Why we decided to go Whole30
Why we decided to go Whole30

Good thing about Whole30: You can eat all the produce you like!

So we vowed to give up FODMAPs when eating at home. But still, I travel a lot—some months, more often than I’m here—so you know that our Paleo tendencies are put to rest the moment SVV and I go on a long-weekend getaway to a culinary mecca and consume 50,000 calories in five days, give or take. Traveling so often can be the kiss of death for a healthy lifestyle, and I’ve often fallen victim to the mentality: Oh, I’ll start eating healthy again on Monday/when I get back/next month after my next stretch of trips. My mom pointed out that in my line or work—where even when I’m at home for a long period of time, I’m at events with limitless buffets and open bars nightly—I was always going to have an excuse.

She’s right. (Did you hear that, Mom? Yeah, I said it.)

So I spent that entire first day reading up on the principles of Whole30 and how I was going to have to change up what I was doing. I was surprised to find that it’s a lot more different than Paleo than I expected; mainly, it’s much stricter. Whereas on Paleo, I could swap quinoa for grains or raw honey or cacao for sugar, there’s none of that on Whole30.

No dairy, no sugar, no grains, no legumes, NO ALCOHOL.

You can imagine that last part is what’s been the hardest for me.

Whole30 recipe: Bacon-Wrapped Quail
Why we decided to go Whole30

While my friends ordered cocktails at 5th and Taylor, I had the bacon-wrapped quail.

Essentially, you’re stripping food back down to the basics; it’s a primal diet where you eliminate all processed foods and preservatives for 30 days.

And, yes friends, this means I’ve had to learn my way around the kitchen. It also means that you have to put some thought into what you’re eating as likely what you’re currently consuming for meals is not compliant.

The good news is that this is not a diet, it’s not a gimmick where you “count your calories” or “cut out all carbs” or “eat five small meals a day” or anything like that. It’s about learning how food affects you and changing your lifestyle accordingly for the long haul. At the end, you start incorporating food groups back into your diet, a little at a time, so you can see what was negatively impacting you before—whether GI issues, decreased energy, headaches, whatever ails you.

Oh, and it helps that going back to the basics generally means you lose weight. One big thing the founders of Whole30 insist is that you don’t weigh yourself throughout the program because it’s not about that; I did, however, have my trainer take all my measurements as they stood on day one of the program, and I’ll share the results at the end.

You don’t even have to buy the book to do this; in fact, I’ve been using the extensive (and free) Whole30 website for most of my questions, and I’ve bookmarked several food sites that specialize in gluten-free. I’m no food blogger, but you can follow my Paleo and Whole30 Pinterest board here for more specific recipes.

Whole30 recipe: Burger with Peach Chutney

Leftovers: Homemade peach chutney over a burger and chard. Yum!

At this point, I’m halfway through the program, and I’ll say this much: You can suffer/endure anything for a month.

A month is just 30 days, 720 hours, 43,200 minutes. It’s 0.0009 percent of the average human being’s lifespan.

Somehow, I’ve managed to slay the sugar dragon, having virtually no cravings—well, until I walked past the Oreo display at the grocery story; damn you, Oreos and your preservative-filled goodness!—and I haven’t cheated, not once. I’m a very goal-oriented person, and if I set my mind to something, I’ll do it. But if I allow myself the thought of “oh, I’ll just have one cheat,” then it’s all over. And then all the good that I’ve done so far is—POOF!—vanished. Better to just avoid cheating in the first place.

By far, the most challenging parts have been:

  • Preparing in advance. Because my life is so hectic—home two days, at the condo two days, on the road for four, wash, rinse, repeat—there’s not a lot of room for consistency. I’ve had to set aside time to prep for each meal or knock a lot of it out on Sundays, as has usually been the case.
  • Eating healthy is expensive. Our closest grocery store is just two minutes away but sells no organic meat, nothing that’s grass-fed or on the Whole30-compliant list. As such, I’ve had to drive an hour to our nearest Whole Foods and stock up on a lot of beef, poultry and fish in advance. This also means what I normally spend on groceries in a month, I do in a single week what with having to rely on WF for food. It’s a sacrifice I’m willing to make, though—and I guess if you think about it, I’m not eating out nearly as much this month (not to mention, not drinking at all), so it likely all evens out in the wash.
  • Speaking of grocery stores, you’ll be going a lot. When you’re eating foods without preservatives, they go bad a lot quicker, so you find yourself at the store every other day (sometimes even daily) in order to keep your pantry stocked. The upside: You quickly get to know the cashier on a first-name basis.
  • I miss my coffee. You can still have coffee on Whole 30. You can’t have creamer, and you can’t even have the boxed almond or coconut milk because it’s full of chemicals (who knew? for years, we’d been drinking this stuff as a substitute for milk, only to find it’s actually horrible for you!). What you can have is full fat coconut milk (to make sure you’re buying the right stuff, it can only have three ingredients: coconut milk, water, guar gum). I started pouring half a can in the blender with a French press-full of coffee to make coconut milk lattes, and while they’re definitely better than drinking coffee black (blech), I still miss my flavored creamer like whoa. That might be something I can’t cave on long-term, as I do plan to make many of these changes as permanent as reasonable.
  • Going to social events blows. I’m just going to be honest: Do this on a month when you don’t have many obligations. On the fifth night, I went to my company’s annual bartender bash—my favorite work event of the year!—and couldn’t drink a single thing. Meanwhile, SVV, my friends and all my coworkers kept telling me how awesome the sweet potato cocktail with marshmallow was. I cried into my fourth bottle of water. Other than one other work event I’d already committed to and a friend’s wedding in Georgia, which is not going to be easy, I’ve cleared my plate on social events until I’m done. It’s just not worth sitting through the agony.
  • Eating out is hard. Even with Nashville’s boom of gluten-free restaurants, I’ve still felt that many aren’t Whole30-compliant, nor are they willing to allow me to tweak a dish slightly to make it something I can eat. As a result, I’ve stopped going out much, which means I also won’t be seeing friends until this is over. But at least I’ll finally catch up on How to Get Away with Murder before the second season premiere, so there’s that I guess.
  • You spend a lot of time Googling “can I have X ingredient on Whole 30?” For the most part, if it doesn’t contain preservatives, grains, dairy or sugar, you’re fine, but there are always exceptions you’re finding that don’t make sense at all. Or revelations like the fact that 99 percent of all bacon comes basked in sugar, so nope, you can’t have that either. (I found some sort of unsugared, uncured kind at Whole Foods, and while it’s not as good as my normal bacon, it’ll do.)
  • It helps to have a partner. This can be a spouse, a sibling, a roommate, anyone who will be dining with you regularly so you have an accountability partner. (Hey, misery loves company, right?) SVV isn’t doing Whole 30 to the full extent, but he’s been eating everything I have for lunch and dinner when we prepare it accordingly and never complains when I have to substitute a common ingredient for something obscure that I could only find on Amazon (like coconut aminos, for example).

Whole30 recipe: Eggs and a Coconut Latte

Love my daily breakfast of fried eggs and a coconut latte.

But the positives? There are so many:

  • My stomach hasn’t hurt since I started. Even with all the produce I’m eating, I’ve felt great. Whatever was ailing me has definitely been eliminated in this process. Let’s just hope I can quickly identify it when I start introducing foods back in.
  • I wake up not bloated. I like waking up hungry, rather than with a food hangover, as so often is the case. In fact, this lack of bloating means I might even try to wear jeans one of these days real soon! Mind-blowing stuff, right?!
  • I have plenty of energy to work out. I’ve always been one who works out five to six times a week, every since I was a wee Luna. That’s just in my genetic makeup. The first two times I did Paleo whole hog, I was so weak and had severe headaches each morning and never wanted to work out. None of that business with Whole30. In fact, I have had less headaches overall. That’s been a nicer perk.

I plan to write a full recap post of my month—which will technically just be 28 days instead of the full 30 because that’s when my sister’s wedding falls, and people, I’m not a masochist (BRING ON THE CAKE AND THE BOURBON)—however, if you have any comments, let me know below so I can be sure to answer them. This whole process has been a huge learning curve, so I’m happy to serve as a resource for any who are thinking of making the transition themselves.

Whole30 recipe: Green Juice at Urban Juicer

Note: It has to be said to cover my own ass, but I’m no licensed dietitian or nutritionist. Obviously, you should consult your doctor before making any huge life changes like this.

  • September 6, 2015
    Paige Payne

    Thanks for sharing your journey. I have both books – It Starts With Food and The Whole 30 and have been trying to get motivated to start the program. Like you, I have a very busy life (who doesn’t?) and it was nice to read about some of the things that have worked for you (meal prep on Sundays). Best of Luck to You!

    • September 6, 2015
      Jere W

      I want/need to do this! Thanks for sharing.

    • September 7, 2015

      I find that if I set aside 3-4 hours on Sunday, I can prep (and plan out) through Wednesday or Thursday. Some that have been easy to prep and then store in Tupperware:

      Burgers for burger bowls (and sometimes I make a homemade peach chutney)
      Sonoma chicken salad (on the Whole30 site)
      Pesto chicken
      Juices that I store in mason jars

      My favorite go-to juice is a bag of oranges, a bag or carrots, then stir in cardamom (and a dash of vanilla + raw honey if I’m not doing W30 but am just Paleo). So delicious! My husband also likes this one:


  • September 7, 2015

    I have a confession to make. My family and I went for lunch yesterday, to celebrate my parents’ wedding anniversary. I had one too many glasses of wine and as soon as I got home I was seriously intoxicated and felt SO SICK. I swore to myself I am never drinking alcohol again. EVER.

    • September 7, 2015

      Hahaha. I don’t think I could ever do away with alcohol for good! But for 30 days, it’s…possible 😉

      (Hope you’re feeling better!)

      • September 8, 2015

        Much better thanks! I will have to start big – a while ago I went alcohol free for FIVE years 🙂

  • September 7, 2015

    I’ve been wanting to try the Whole 30 but I don’t eat meat or fish. Do you happen to know if they have a vegetarian plan? I’m glad you’re feeling so good!

    • September 7, 2015

      That’s a great question. We’ve been eating a LOT of fish and chicken, but at the same time, when I eat strictly Paleo (as opposed to W30), I don’t eat a lot of meat usually as veggies are so easy to prepare so maybe? I found this link you might want to read:


  • September 7, 2015

    That’s some serious will power!

    • September 7, 2015

      Not gonna lie; I am counting down the days till wedding cake and bourbon (12!).

  • September 7, 2015

    Happy to have read about your experience because for a while I have considered doing a similar lifestyle change – but giving up alcohol, especially wine, seems like it will be a bit of a challenge!

  • September 7, 2015

    Just a quick note to say that, at least for gluten, in order to even know whether removing it from your diet has any effect, you probably have to remove it completely. People who have Celiac disease (like my husband, so I’ve researched this a lot) must have less than a few parts per million of gluten in their system in order not to feel sick. I am not convinced that people who are not diagnosed Celiacs or allergic to gluten can actually benefit from removing gluten from their diet. But if you want to test it properly then you have to remove it completely (even soy sauce contains wheat!) or don’t bother, because it’s very likely that you will feel the same on tiny amounts of gluten as you will on a “regular” gluten diet.
    Good luck with Whole30! Sugar is the killer substance, everything else you will eat has little negative effect by comparison.

    • September 7, 2015

      Exactly. I have an auto-immune disease they originally thought was celiac, then I had the test done to determine it wasn’t. We have been on-again, off-again Paleo for two years but even when being strict about it were still feeling sick. Hence the reading more into it part and discovering FODMAPs may be the culprit (not to mention carrageenan in things like packaged coconut and almond milk that we consume regularly!).

      And yes, I fully acknowledge that sugar is something I need to cut out. It’s just so haaaaaaard!

      • September 8, 2015

        No need to remove sugar completely though, right? Our bodies need some amount of it. My husband has started avoiding foods that contain sugar but shouldn’t (fruit yogurt, store-bought sauces, etc.) or that contain more sugar than you’d think. It’s a start, and I should probably follow suit… I’m a dessert person though, so I’m with you on how hard it is to give up sugar completely. What I did is that I trained myself to only enjoy really good desserts (high quality chocolate, home baked goods, etc.), and now I happily can’t stand most grocery store-bought things 🙂

        • September 9, 2015

          Same! (If this blog name weren’t any indicator of that, ha.) I love my desserts, and I love my alcohol. I never drink/eat yogurts or juices with sugar because I’d rather consume my daily sugar intake in dessert form!

  • September 7, 2015

    Thanks for posting about this! I currently am going through something similar and have been taking foods out of my diet (this week, dairy) to see if it makes a difference. It feels like torture on the tiniest changes/not eating certain ingredients. The FODMAP is next on my agenda, if things don’t get better… 🙁 But at least I have an expert help!

    • September 7, 2015

      I did the exact same thing! I went dairy free all of July and definitely felt better but would still have bouts of sickness, which is when I went to Plan B: the extreme. =)

  • September 8, 2015

    Phew! That’s some diet and you’re some dedicated girl so that’s alright!

    The only time that I didn’t drink alcohol at all was when I was at university. Yep! I was a really good daddy’s girl and being that I went to a British university (?!!%$&!), it’s best to keep a clear head, and when I had an operation on my foot. I had to be alcohol free for 3 months and it was painful all over again. And of course, when I was pregnant.

    I didn’t mind being pregnant n’ all but the operation thing really sucked. I was on crutches and all the skin on my leg fell off too. Aaaaah!

    • September 9, 2015

      I could not go without drinking for 9+ months! You (former) pregnant people amaze me =)

  • September 9, 2015

    My husband has Crohns disease so he does the SCD diet – no grains, sugars, processed foods, starches, lactose, or things from a can (there’s a lot more but I can’t remember). I always thought Paleo would be a piece of cake compared to what he does. Glad to hear you’re feeling better with Whole30 and have a found something that works for you. And that you have the resolve to actually do it and SVV is doing it with you. Good luck!

    • September 11, 2015

      That sounds just like Whole30! And yes, reverting back to Paleo WILL be a piece of cake after this 😉

      P.S. My auto-immune disease is a lesser version of Crohns, so I feel what he goes through (that not as dramatically). Poor thing!

  • September 12, 2015

    This post has inspired me to bite the bullet and start the Whole30 this Monday. Luckily, I will not suffer alone, I’m roping my bf in with me as well…

    • September 17, 2015

      How are you doing so far??

      • September 19, 2015

        The carb flu is no joke! This first week has been harder than I expected, but I have a feeling it can only get better. Almost 1/4 of the way done!

  • September 12, 2015

    Ah, I agree – it’s sooooo hard! haha I tried it for 3 weeks and it was so tough at some points. your post just inspired me to get back on the health bandwagon! xx 🙂

  • September 13, 2015

    thanks for sharing this, Kristin! Although I haven’t tried the Whole 30 yet, I’ve been Paleo for 2 years and I love it. I cheat sometimes though, so I guess I’m more Primal as I do include some dairy, treats etc occasionally. I’d like to go completely grain-free, but it’s SO hard. I’ve nearly completely cut out gluten and feel somewhat better, but all the GF alternatives are corn-based or other grains. SO I’m presently trying to cut back on grains overall, which makes eating out nearly impossible…I completely agree with you there.

    Even after going Paleo and cutting out gluten, I was still getting occasional heart-burn and gastro-related issues (though it’s MUCH better, at least since going Paleo) and then I discovered the FODMAP ‘diet’. I was hesitant at first, but wow, what a difference, I was reallllly shocked. There are a few different kinds of fodmaps, of course, so I gather you need to figure out what bothers you more as it’s usually a certain group.

    As soon as I cut back on onions, garlic and cauliflower, for example, my heartburn issues almost completely disappeared. I went from popping zantac almost daily to hardly ever when I cut back on certain high fodmap foods. It was so hard because I cook a lot and love making soups and since onions/garlic make up the base of most soups (and many meals–even Paleo ones), I was eating those way too much without even knowing they were causing my problems. I can have a bit of onions, say in a salsa or a soup at a restaurant once in awhile, but I go overboard I really pay for it. I have heard that’s common in FODMAP sensitivities, if you eat them in small amounts, spread them out over the day then it’s not too bad as long as you don’t have too much at once. It depends a bit on how severe your sensitivities are and which ones, too of course. I even had a beer yesterday (gasp! lol) but not really feeling any affects from it so that made me quite happy 😀

    Just wanted to share my thoughts on Fodmaps as learning about them have helped me SO much.

    But good for you with this regime, I’m glad it’s going well for you despite all the challenges. It’s so hard not to have a glass of wine or dessert and as a food-lover too, it can be a pain to eat out sometimes. Luckily the paleo/farm-to-table movement keeps growing, making it a bit easier.

    You’ve inspired me maybe give the Whole 30 a try, I’ve been wanting to but kinda scared! HA HA

    • September 17, 2015

      See herein lies the problem: onions, garlic and cauliflower are part of our daily diet! UGH. Which tells me right there that FODMAPs could be the problem (though I haven’t actually had any trouble with these since starting W30, so maybe not?). I’ll definitely be going back to modified W30/Paleo after Saturday, as I’d like to stick to it 80% of the time (at home and as much as I can when going out to eat—but with wine/bourbon of course, ha!).

  • September 15, 2015

    I’m surprised you had to hear about FODMAPs on the internet! My doctor put me on to it ages ago. But that is probably because I go to a GP that works at a university that pioneered the program.

    I’ve tried to stick to it- but I’m afraid I’m doing a lot worse than you are. Especially in the alcohol department! I just can’t seem to give up my red wine.

    I’m trying to stick to a new eating plan and its going surprisingly well. I’m mostly living off roasted chicken or fish with sweet potato! The aim is to create a buffer for my upcoming 10 month trip to Europe. I know I’m going to put on weight so I’m trying to loss some before I go so the pain is minimal! hahaha

    • September 17, 2015

      Not even the Internet, in a Glamour issue! To be fair, I haven’t gone to the GI in years (not since finding out I had lymphocytic colitis). This was all self-diagnosed =)

  • September 17, 2015

    can’t wait to hear how it goes! impressed that you’ve stuck with it for so long. sorry for all of my cheese, wine, and bread photos from italy….

    • September 17, 2015

      I have been strategically waiting to catch up with your blog posts until I was done! With just a day to go, I think I’m strong enough to handle it now 😉

  • November 4, 2015

    I’ve been drinking hardly anything while doing my Divemaster and I feel SO great. Add to the fact that everything here in Indo is freshly prepared and you have a healthy mix. This seems like something that I can transition in to when I get back home to reinforce my new healthy habits. Great post, as always 🙂

    • November 10, 2015

      Ahhh that’s awesome! Sadly, I’m back on the drinking wagon. It’s either not at all or five nights a week for me. I need to find a healthy balance between the two! But we are still eating mostly Paleo, so there’s that 😉

Leave a Comment