If you’re reading this, it means that I made it through my second round of Whole30 and just arrived in Europe—likely in a mildly alcohol-induced jetlag coma—without killing anyone. In life, and extreme eating plans, you count your wins, y’all.
I want to start out by stating this, though: Whole30 did not change my life.
I don’t know if I expected it to per se, but everything I read on the Internet was to the effect of: “Whole30 is awesome!” or “it changed my approach to food!” or “my skin was so dewy and I lost weight and my mind cleared and I’m basically Anna Kendrick!”
Well, maybe my mind didn’t need clearing or my skin dew-ing (we all know I could benefit from having a bit more Anna Kendrick in me) … because I didn’t feel any of those effects.
But, I do feel great. I got rid of that bloating that had been haunting me since my work travel schedule went into crazy mode beginning in April. I feel accomplished by sticking to a goal for 27 straight days (the length of time I did it this round pre-Europe trip). And yes, I lost weight.
For me, ultimately, Whole30 was primarily a mental challenge the first round last August: I wanted to see if I could eliminate all of those toxins to my body for a month as I figured out what it was that was making me sick so frequently. Was gluten the culprit? Was I allergic to dairy? Were raw greens busting my gut?
I also wanted to lose weight—I’m a woman and only human; I figure this is just implied—and doing this leading up to my sister’s wedding last weekend was one extreme way to do so.
The hardest part by far, though, was the not drinking part. How do you pregnant women do it? I have even more respect for you than I already did!
By The Numbers
Round 1 (August 2015)
- Weight lost: 9 pounds
- Starting size: 6
- Ending size: 4
- Inches lost: 1 (in my hips, waist, and each arm and leg)
- Body percent lost: 3 percent
Me, 9 pounds down, the day after I ended Whole30 the first time.
Round 2 (August 2016)
- Weight lost: 14 pounds
- Starting size: 8
- Ending size: 6
- Inches/body fat lost: didn’t measure this time
Me, 14 pounds down, on day 22 of Whole30 the second time.
Let’s be clear: The first round I had less to lose. I was already starting at a much lower weight following two years of being mostly Paleo. I work out a lot, so going from an already healthy weight to a strict plan that eliminates all carbs, sugars and alcohols didn’t have me drastically shedding
But this second time, I was undoing all the harm that five months of nonstop food and drink assignments—plus, a newfound affinity for beer—had helped me accumulate, so I had more to lose.
What to Expect
The first few days you’ll be on a high. Life is so great! Why did I ever think I needed carbs? I can keep this up forever!
And then … you crash.
The first time for me was a total bitchfest; I was cranky for 28 straight days (the amount of time I did it the first round, since day 29 was Kari’s wedding), and the second week was by far the hardest.
This go round, those feelings were delayed and all came to a head during the third week. Luckily, my W30 accountability buddies—Jade, my sister, and my friends Katie and Dolly—all seemed to be on the same page as on day 15, we were all exchanging texts. “I think I’m going to cheat.” “I’m so over this.” “I’m BORED of food.”
I thought I’d give in so many times, but I never did, and I’m glad I didn’t. I will say that on two occasions—at both the two-week and the three-week mark—I poured myself a bourbon with water. But to each her own: It rejuvenated me and gave me the motivation to continue.
If you feel the absolute need to cheat, then do it. Maybe your body really needs that food (unless it’s sugar, in which case that’s your mind trying to play tricks on you). But then hop right back on the bandwagon—don’t let yourself spiral downward from there. No judgment here!
The Whole30 site has an excellent day-by-day timeline of what to expect to feel when.
So I’m done. Now what?
I think a big question when one finishes Whole30 is always: what next? Do I go back to eating all those poisonous things I was putting in my body before? For me, the answer is maybe…sometimes…in moderation.
I’d still like to drop another 10 pounds and get back to a 4, which is a comfortable, healthy size for an athletic body type like mine, but I’m giving myself a break, consuming what I want to in Europe—within reason; I’m still going to go light(er) on carbs, sugar and beer—and then I might do a third round this fall. Or I might not need to if I can sustain an 80% Paleo diet, which has been SVV’s and my goal since we started eating clean back in early 2014.
SVV and I had been cooking Paleo for the better part of two years; sure, we’d cheat every now and then, throw in some pasta here or a flour tortilla there, but we rarely (if ever) do takeout and we don’t cook with preservatives. I’d say we’ll go back to this philosophy but be more cognizant of preservatives and other can’t-haves on Whole30. I’d like to stick to the plan for breakfast and lunch (the easy meals to follow in my mind), then maybe ease off the throttle for dinners—at least when I’m going out to eat.
I will not, however, eat bread simply because a server brings out a complimentary basket. Nor will I drink three beers a night just sitting at home binging on Stranger Things (side note: please tell me you’ve all watched it, and can we talk about that ending, please?). So maybe in a sense I have changed and just didn’t realize it?
- I don’t need sugar every night after dinner. Who knew?
- I do crave alcohol more than I realized (more for the social aspect than anything, I think).
- Fruit can actually be dessert (especially if you freeze a banana, blend it and drizzle peaches atop it).
- More foods have preservatives than you think. Like bacon. And any meat really. So read those labels, folks.
- Coffee actually tastes good without a teaspoon of coffee and double the dose of creamer. It made me appreciate higher quality beans and a good batch of cold brew.
- You can feel your body producing its own energy.
- You’ll sleep a lot better without the sugar, carbs and alcohol (common sense, I propose, but many of us need to be reminded of this).
- Even though you want to punch the people who say “it’s not about the numbers,” it really isn’t about the numbers. Put that scale away from day 1 until day 30—it’s not healthy to gauge your progress by weighing daily (*speaks from experience*).
- When you restart your system, you don’t regain that weight back plus more (unless you go on a six-month beer bender like me, heh; that said, I kept my weight stabilized for six months afterward).
My Go-To Dishes
If you’re a newbie, you’re going to want to refer to The Official “Can I Have…” Guide to Whole30 about a dozen times a day. Once you’ve got the main points drilled into your head (no soy, no legumes, no sugars or alcohol of any kinds), you’ll know what to look for when reading labels.
- Two eggs, medium and cooked in ghee, and bacon
- Grilled peaches with coconut cream
- Cold brew coffee with homemade coconut milk
- Poached eggs over avocado pico de gallo
- Sonoma Chicken Salad over a bed of lettuce
- Baked sweet potato with ghee
- Egg salad using W30 mayo
- leftovers from the night before
- Small bowl of cashews and red grapes
- Orange, carrot and cardamom juice**
- Larabars in extreme emergencies (i.e. when I’m out for the day and can’t find compliant food)
- Banana “ice cream” (frozen banana, almost brown, popped in the food processor)
*Technically, Whole30 discourage snacking, but I work out for 90 minutes most days, so I need the added calories given that I’m eating so little at meals. I don’t snack out of boredom; I snack only when I’m absolutely ravenous from burning calories.
**Again, Whole30 isn’t a fan of juicing, but a) it’s easy for me to batch prepare with my hectic on-the-go schedule always and b) it’s one of the only ways I get all my vegetables in, so … do what you gotta do, I guess?
- Burger bowls (a well-seasoned burger patty over a bed of greens, sweet potato, avocado and seasonal tomatoes)
- Peach Pan Jam (we froze enough peaches this summer to be able to make this through the spring)
- Corned beef, cabbage and carrots cooked in a crockpot (be sure the beef is compliant)
- Flank steak with capers and potato salad (with W30 mayo, Annie’s Dijon, hard-boiled eggs, dill from our garden, green onions, salt and pepper)
- Thai Chicken Stuffed Sweet Potatoes (use coconut aminos instead of soy and omit the honey)
- Pesto chicken (basil, garlic, pine nuts, olive oil and salt) with roasted broccoli and cauliflower
- Cardamom-and-coriander salmon with asparagus tossed in Ghee and garlic
- Vegetable hash (Brussels sprouts, sweet potatoes, onions) with nitrate/nitrite-free sausage
Your Shopping List
Whole30 is food stripped down to its simplicity. You’re eating all things that are fresh and so clean (clean), nothing preserved, so get used to going to the store every couple days as it’s a lot of food. A lot of clean-up. A lot of dishes. It’s worth it.
Here’s a list of go-to ingredients that are super helpful to have on hand going into this whole process, some of which you may need to order online:
- Unsweetened coconut flakes
- Cashews and almonds (no flavoring or additives)
- Ginger and turmeric root
- A variety of spices
- Sweet potatoes
- Coconut aminos
- Tessemae’s ketchup
- Grass-fed beef
- Bacon without preservatives
- A colorful selection of produce
- Unsalted butter (to make Ghee)
- La Croix sparkling water (my favorite is blueberry-cucumber or lemon; the coconut is awful)
Where Do I Find Recipes?
Pinterest is your best friend. You can follow my Paleo and Whole30 Pinterest board here for more specific recipes and favorites, but I also love these healthy living resources—many of which are Paleo-specific but can be adapted ever so slightly to make them W30-compliant—for inspiration:
I also found what works best is to set aside a prep afternoon each weekend to do batch cooking for the week. For me, this would include making my juices, ghee, condiments like Whole30 mayo and coconut milk. My sister also turned me onto Tessemae’s this second round, and it has been a GAME. CHANGER. They have everything from W30-approved ketchup to BBQ sauce, so you don’t have to be totally miserable for 30 days. Do yourself a favor and go ahead and order the entire Whole30 pack, particularly if you are doing W30 or Paleo cold turkey for the first time.
Now, your turn. Have you ever—or would you ever—do(ne) Whole30? Let me know your experience (or questions) in the comments below!
Note: Obviously, I’m no licensed dietitian or nutritionist. These are simply my personal experiences, and you should consult your own doctor before making any huge life changes like Whole30.