There’s nothing like the start of a new year to introduce new habits, right? I didn’t plan on my Whole30 coinciding with the New Year Resolutions crowd, but I was tired of feeling gross after holiday indulging and sugar cravings. I wrote about why I chose to do a Whole30 and now that it’s complete I wanted to share some of the lessons I learned. Of course, every body is different and results vary, but I found these types of posts encouraging when I started and when I wanted to quit (more on that below).
8 Things I Learned from My Whole30
There were many takeaways from this reset… some that I expected from my research and others that surprised me. Here they are:
01. Sunday and Wednesday meal preps are non-negotiable
Meal prepping became a staple last year when I wanted to up my gym gains and save money on dining out. I could write a lot on this topic, but it was great to have Neil participate. Midweek I browsed recipes and brainstormed groceries for the coming week. I went grocery shopping on Saturday or Sunday and shared a couple of hours batch cooking with Neil.
Sous vide salmon with roasted tomatoes, spinach, and spaghetti squash “alfredo”
Roasting vegetables or boiling eggs on one day and making proteins the next helped to break up the task and cut down on dish overflow (we have a small galley kitchen). Come Monday we had a variety of prepped proteins, vegetables, and complex carbs to choose from. Sunday meals usually got us to our Wednesday prep day. This leads me to my next lesson…
02. Don’t binge on junk food before your Whole30
The carb hangover is real. The Whole30 book warned of carb withdrawal and headaches 2-3 days in. I felt groggy and had headaches, but not as strong as I anticipated. I was thankful I didn’t all out binge on forbidden foods right before our start date, because that would have made the withdrawal difficult.
03. Major life changes may try to derail you
According to the Whole30 timeline, Days 10 and 11 are the hardest. People are most likely to quit on these days, and I almost did. I was laid off from my job on Day 10 and finding resolve to stay the course was really hard. It was unexpected and our wedding was just over a month away – wrangling final details and mentally preparing for that major life change was stressful on its own. All I wanted was chocolate and a glass of wine (or three). The morning of my layoff I contemplated throwing in the towel and hibernating with a sweet treat.
The prepped lunch that saved the day (and my Whole30): homemade apple sage pork sausage, pastured eggs with chimichurri, kale cooked in ghee, roasted sweet potatoes.
I pulled my shit together and went to have tea with a friend. I knew if I went home I would just wallow and reach for sugar in my vulnerability. I grabbed my prepped lunch and headed to an appointment – convenient comfort food avoided. Ultimately, I decided that if I couldn’t control my job situation I could at least nourish my body with good food. If I failed at this point right before getting the energy I’d heard so much about I would have been so disappointed and likely on a trash food spiral. The following days (hell, weeks) were still quite challenging, but I’m really proud of myself for seeing this through.
04. Active acne disappeared
Maybe it’s vain, but this might be my favorite result. I’ve always had sensitive, combination skin, but it was at its crankiest over the past year. Stress and dairy were my known triggers and I suspected that sugar was too. I tried everything from a cleaner diet, plenty of water and exercise, to clearing up my skincare and makeup products. I even had a deep chemical peel mid-December with results that probably carried into my Whole30. Still, by February my complexion was the clearest it had been in months. Active acne disappeared, redness faded, and the texture and clarity of my skin improved so much that I only wore a little concealer.
As much as I don’t want to admit it, sugar in excess is a strong culprit behind my breakouts and my body shows inflammation on my skin. It can still be frustrating at times, but I’m trying to see it as my body telling me something is amiss.
05. Sugar, refined oils, and soy are in everything
Avoiding these was tough business. I was a pretty diligent label reader before Whole30 when it came to searching for hidden sugars, but I wasn’t as discerning about oils and soy. I knew we’d be making most of our food, but even the most “basic” of packaged goods were often non-compliant. Salsas? Sugar. That “olive oil” mayo? A blend of sunflower oil and olive oil. Dressings? Nope. Syrups and refined, processed vegetable oils are great for manufacturers’ wallets, but not for our bodies. This lead me to finding some really good compliant tomato sauce in the imported Italian food section and forced us to try new things like making our own dressings and “alfredo sauce” (see salmon dish above).
06. Coffee can become a crutch
I wasn’t a regular coffee drinker before the Whole30. Sometimes I’d reach for a latte, but I decided to try coffee black or with a little compliant almond milk during our reset. I developed a taste for it during the Whole30 and it became a new morning ritual. I didn’t like how it made me start to feel dependent, so I stopped drinking it after few weeks. Now I don’t drink caffeine regularly, but if I have some it’s usually a matcha almond milk latte (that sounds so extra when I write it out) or black tea.
07. Nutrient dense food is energizing
Processed, refined carbs at lunch made me groggy in the afternoon. Swapping grains and bread for nutrient dense complex carbohydrates helped me feel more focused and alert, even on days without coffee. Don’t get me wrong, I love simple carbs like anyone else, but I don’t like when they totally hamper my productivity. Eating this way helped me feel more refreshed in the morning. More importantly, that energy was sustained throughout the day and I was actually tired at bedtime.
08. Real, good sleep is possible
I’ve always been a light sleeper, but stress and anxiety over the past year resulted in frequent insomnia. Sometimes it felt like sound sleep just wasn’t possible and it was maddening. After the first few days of my Whole30 I slept the best I had in months and was so happy to feel rested. Also, the book’s heads up on weird food dreams was totally true. I dreamt several times in the third week about chewing donuts and spitting them out or accidentally eating a whole pizza.
Would I recommend it?
Absolutely! Beyond the physical outcomes (less acne, better sleep, more energy) I am grateful for what I learned about processed, refined vegetable oils and how to whip up new meals or “cleaner” condiments. I thought my Food IQ was pretty good, but the Whole30 changed the way I look at “healthy” packaged foods and taught me how to be my food detective. Real, nutrient dense food and its capacity to heal consistently impresses me. I was happy to hear that my primary care doctor prescribes the Whole30 to patients who want to be more proactive in their care.
The main comment I heard when I told people that I was doing the Whloe30 was that they were interested in trying, but “…just couldn’t give up x”. Yes, you can – you just don’t want to. If you decide that you’re going to fail before you’ve even started you’re not giving yourself enough credit. Eating this way isn’t hard, it just requires more planning and shifting the way you think about food.
I took a couple of weeks to slowly reintroduce foods and find the balance that was right for me. I would totally do this again in the future or even an abbreviated reset when I feel off track. All in all this program empowered me to take charge of my own health instead of throwing more money and wasted time at skincare products that weren’t working or antibiotics to “heal my skin” (and wreak my gut flora). Lifestyle changes can be difficult, but they are so rewarding for my health.