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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.