Mid-January, my youngest daughter came to me and told me she wanted to do the Whole 30. Some people at school were doing it and she thought it would be good for her. I did some research and told her I would also do it so I could support her on this journey. There is nothing worse than trying to be healthier when you are surrounded by people who are NOT eating healthy. So, we picked a day and agreed to start together. My husband joined in as well. My oldest daughter said she would eat healthier, but she wasn’t following the program with us (but she did by default at home because we only had compliant foods in the house).

Many of you have asked me what the Whole 30 entails and how it is different from Paleo and Clean Eating. While on the Whole 30 program, you may not eat sugar of any kind (including honey and sugar substitutes like stevia and agave), have any alcohol whatsoever (you cannot even cook with it), no grains (bread, pancakes, pasta, etc), no legumes (beans, corn, peas, peanuts), no dairy at all, and nothing can be processed (no carrageenan, MSG, sulfites or sulfates). NO CHEATING. You cheat, you start over. It’s a pretty restrictive, but enlightening way to eat.

The program encourages you to focus on your relationship to food and understand how certain foods affect your body. Some are inflammatory, some are allergens, some make you feel like shit, etc. The ultimate goal is not weight loss, but an increased comprehension about nutrition, habits, and the body-mind-food connection.

I would be lying if I told you this was easy. It wasn’t. There was an inordinate amount of food planning and prep each week. I have never shopped, cooked, and cleaned as much as I did this past month. It felt like a part-time job, one that fell solely to me 96% of the time. I have also never spent as much money at the supermarket as I did this past month. It would be wonderful if eating healthy in this country was as affordable as eating like shit!

As a way to document the journey, I had a dedicated Whole 30 page in my Bullet Journal. It was kind of like a one sentence diary I kept each day to remember the good, the bad, and the cravings. Some of the entries read:

“So far, so good; no slip ups.”
“Would give my left nipple for a Starbucks.”
“Feeling kind of stabby this afternoon.”
“Literally want to stab someone in the eye.”
“OMG—my fucking skin. The breakouts!!”
“Zucchini noodles taste *nothing* like noodles.”
“Literally spent $300 on groceries today!”
“Lots of energy…snowshoed, felt great!”
“On my mind: pizza and beer, pizza and beer.”
“I think I am wearing pants that didn’t fit a few weeks ago.”
“Feel great, but soooo sick of cooking.”
“Bobby hasn’t snored in weeks!”

I don’t want to give you the impression that it was all negative, because it wasn’t. There were so many positives—enough to make me want to stick with it beyond the 30 days. Beginning day one, Bobby stopped snoring (food allergy much?), Shay said she felt so much more energetic and fit while playing basketball and generally felt more athletic. Aches and pains decreased. We all felt less stressed. We all had more energy. We were happier with less mood swings. We all had a healthier relationship to food with no binging or disordered eating. There were no limited portion sizes or measuring/weighing food into bird-sized containers…we ate until satiated and full at each meal. We felt more productive and focused. We slept more and better and felt more refreshed in the morning. Cravings decreased, but we all definitely craved certain things (Bobby craved dairy and ketchup, I mainly craved my Chai Tea Latte from Starbucks and the occasional beer, and Shay craved grains and ketchup). We worked together as a team to ensure each other’s success. It brought us closer and opened up a dialog about our bad habits and how we want to stick with these new habits.

We officially finished the program on February 20. On February 21, Bob had a singular cube of cheese and some rice with dinner. He didn’t react to any of that during the day, but snored again that night (I continue to make the plea that he go have some allergy testing done). On February 22, Shay got her favorite Starbucks drink (the “pink drink“) on the way to school and emailed me a couple hours later to tell me that her stomach was killing her and she thought she was going to die. Aside from a craft beer after work on Tuesday night, I haven’t eaten anything from the non-compliant list yet, so I still feel great.

At the end of our 30 days, we all filled out the Whole 30 “Non-Scale Victories” Checklist.

  • Shay’s biggest victories were: fewer blemishes, stronger nails and hair, leaner and clothes fitting better, happier and less stressed, fewer sugar and carb cravings, learned how to read a food label, no longer using food as reward/for comfort/as love, sleeping better, more athletic, recovering better after sports, and doesn’t get cranky if she doesn’t eat (she was the Queen of Hangry).
  • Bob felt that: his clothes fit better, he had less diarrhea, felt as though he had an improved relationship to food, less “unwanted side-effects” from food, slept more soundly with less snoring, more energy (including in the mornings), and he felt these habits brought our family closer.
  • My big takeaways were: less bloating, longer hair and nails, brighter skin/eyes/teeth, increased libido, happier/more patient, fewer carb and sugar cravings, much more mindful eating, feeling more productive/energetic, sleeping more/more soundly, higher energy levels, actual desire to exercise and feel good when I do, clothes fitting better, increased understanding of nutrition, and the knowledge that I can live without Starbucks.

Bob and I also had the added bonus of 10 and 14 pound weight differentials, respectively. He was frustrated he didn’t lose more weight. I was psyched that I could eat as much as I did and still lose 14 pounds. We have never talked to our girls about weight and weren’t about to start now, so Shay never officially weighed in at the end and we didn’t ask her to. We know she feels longer and stronger and the fact that she took the initiative to do this and is committed to listening to her body is good enough for us.

Whole 30 NSV checklistOne of the main things that I relearned the past 30 days (sometimes I have to relearn things over and over and over again until they stick for good) is that I do much better with a 100% commitment than I do with a 99% commitment. For example, I used to drink Coke but gave it up cold turkey in 2011 and haven’t had a Coke or any other kind of soda for six years. I simply told myself “I don’t drink soda anymore” and I haven’t looked back. I was 100% committed to giving up Coke. With 99% commitment, I give myself a window of ambiguity and that simply doesn’t work with my personality. That 1% cheat meal becomes a cheat day which becomes a cheat week which ultimately becomes 99% bad habits. I do so much better when I make something non-negotiable in my subconscious. So, in that regard, the Whole 30 was a perfect model of eating and nutrition for me, and it reinforced why I really dislike Weight Watchers and the other commercial programs…they allow for too much crappy, processed food in your diet and the 100% component is missing.

Moving forward, I will eventually begin to reintroduce certain whole foods back into my diet while avoiding chemicals and additives. In the meantime, I am incredibly grateful for my daughter’s initiative and introduction to this program—we likely would never have done it otherwise. She gave us all a gift by suggesting it and sticking with it.