Happy New Year! Chris and I decided over the holidays that 2019 was going to be the year where we really prioritize our health, fitness and overall wellness. We decided to kickstart this resolution in January by doing the Whole30 Program from Jan 1-30. We just finished and (spoiler alert) we feel amazing! However, that was not the case from Day 1 of the program. (Not gonna lie – those first 2 weeks were pretty rough.) But, having now come out the other side, we both can unequivocally state that it was all worth it and we feel better today than we have felt in YEARS. I documented my experience below, and included a Q&A from both Chris and my perspectives along with some helpful tips that I wish I had known beforehand. Feel free to ask me any other questions below in the comments!
WHAT IS WHOLE30? – Before I get into our experience, you might be asking yourself “What IS this Whole30 Program of which she speaks?” Here is their official site and program rules, and the basic dos/don’ts are summarized by the pic below. In a nutshell, this is an elimination diet, where (as the name implies) you eliminate what the program calls “the most common craving-inducing, blood sugar disrupting, gut-damaging, inflammatory food groups for a full 30 days. Let your body heal and recover from whatever effects those foods may be causing. Push the reset button with your health, habits, and relationship with food, and the downstream physical and psychological effects of the food choices you’ve been making. Learn how the foods you’ve been eating are actually affecting your day-to-day life, long term health, body composition, and feelings around food.” The eliminated groups are listed below in the NO category. At the end of the 30 days you separately reintroduce each category and assess how it makes you feel, so you can identify any culprits that had been making you feel lousy and keep them eliminated (or not – it’s your choice but at least you’ll know how different foods affect you).
BEFORE YOU START – One thing I wish I had done differently at the start was to better prepare for the program.
First, buy The Whole30 book, as it really lays out the program in a lot more detail, what to expect day by day, includes tons of fantastic recipes, etc. I didn’t get this until a couple days into the program and I wish I had bought it and at least skimmed through it before I started. I referred to it almost every day of the program for one reason or another. I also loved this Whole30 Fast & Easy for more amazing recipes. I used both of these books a lot.
Second, stock up your fridge and kitchen with Whole30 approved foods and ingredients/spices you’ll need to make a bunch of the recipes in the book. Most of what you’ll be eating will be fresh veggies, lean proteins, eggs, fruit, nuts, etc. But in addition to wanting to have those foods on hand so you’re not rushing to the grocery store late one evening, hangry and miz after a long day of work, there are all kinds of additional things that will make cooking the Whole30 way easier and more delicious (olive oil, ghee, coconut aminos, fish sauce, rice vinegar, avocado oil mayo, etc.). Some online shops now curate specifically for diets like this, and Thrive Market has a Whole30 Starter Kit that was pretty good.
Also, meal prep is your friend. I am terrible about doing this, but on the days when I did it helped a lot. One of the struggles you’ll face with this diet is “food boredom” if you don’t get out of your shell and really try cooking some of their cool recipes for variety. Otherwise, you’ll just eat salads and grilled fish/chicken for a month and go bonkers (at least, that’s what started to happen with us). I’m so glad we branched out with the recipes we tried though because we discovered some DELICIOUS dishes, sauces, etc. that were so healthy and packed with flavor we will definitely be making them again. I think it makes what you learn on the program more sustainable if you learn how to branch out and cook a lot of different options in this healthy style. So my advice would be to embrace it – read the books, pick a ton of recipes you want to try, stock up on the ingredients you need for those recipes, and then jump in!
MY DAY-TO-DAY ACCOUNT
DAY 1 – Fine, whatever.
DAYS 2-3 – Hangover city. Headaches. Brain fog. Give me my bed and some Advil. Apparently, this is what some people refer to as the “carb flu” – when your body is basically in sugar detox. It’s not fun! It was also somewhat surprising to me as I never thought of myself as someone who ate a lot of sugar, so I wasn’t expecting to have this kind of reaction to cutting it out. Turns out, I was eating a lot more than I realized – both as mindless snacking (always treats in my office kitchen, candy from kids birthday parties, my beloved chocolate almonds, a late afternoon little sweet treat pick me up) and also just as an additive found in basically anything processed. The fact that my body missed it so much showed me it was a bigger problem in my diet than I realized. Takeaway: I feel lousy which means it’s a good thing I’m doing this because clearly I needed it.
DAYS 4-7 – Still feeling shitty. Also hate everyone. Also I think I’m getting sick.
DAY 8 – Yep, def sick. Laryngitis turned into bronchitis and I was up all night coughing. But it’s not the sickest I’ve ever been so I’m trying to power through it with tons of water, ginger tea, healthy food, and sleep. I’ve even avoided cough syrup because there is so much added sugar in it which I know makes me a psycho but I am COMMITTED TO THE PROGRAM and TRUSTING THE PROCESS even though right now I hate it.
DAYS 9-10 – see above. But maybe my skin is a little glowy and my pants are a little looser? Also, food boredom. Consulting Whole30 cookbooks for inspiration. Really need to mix it up – research, planning, and meal prep are key. You can’t suddenly decide to get creative when you’re trying to rush out the door for work or after you get home from work after a long day and are already hungry, but realize you are missing key ingredients to make something. This is the part I struggled with the most because I was so used to ordering in, which required me to just think “Hmm, what do I feel like eating rightthissecond – Italian? Thai? Sushi? whatever and then in 20-40 minutes it appears at my door like magic. That is NYC living. And I liked that perceived spontaneity in my life which, since having kids, has become increasingly scheduled and less spontaneous. But holding onto takeout as my last bastion of pre-kids spontaneity was not healthy for my body or our bank account OR the environment with the obscene amount of single-use plastic that comes with every single order. It’s gross, and we needed to make a change. Which means some form of meal planning, and branching out to learn how to cook new things. I’m trying to convince myself this will be fun and useful as well as good for me and the whole fam. Right now it’s just annoying.
DAYS 12-13 – Emotions. Might be a mood swing as my body is still adjusting to no sugar or might be a hormonal swing as I’m starting to wean/my milk supply is decreasing, or both. But this weekend I was in a MOOD. I was short on patience and long on negative feelings/thoughts (and occasional spontaneous tears for no good reason other than my 3 yr old being mean to me.) Also just feeling a little discouraged because while my husband has been cheating and weighing himself every day (and he’s lost 13 lbs so far!) I have been following the rules and avoiding the scale. But I don’t feel like I’ve lost much weight – maybe ~2 lbs or so. Which is fine, especially since I’m not calorie restricting because I’m still nursing, this is about overall health and wellness and energy blah blah blah but let’s be honest, for all the effort this diet is taking I want to shed some lbs too. Luckily, I read in the book that a lot of that doesn’t come till later in the program (and/or the other positive changes you will see will make it all worthwhile even without meaningful weight loss which is why they tell you not to weigh yourself) so I’m trying not to focus on that. But these days I was just feeling sort of discouraged and negative in general.
Day 14 – Woke up feeling much better. The last 3 days I have woken up at 6am without an alarm, and have been functional without my morning coffee. I still drink one (with my homemade almond milk – oh yeah, I went full Brooklyn hippie and have been making fresh almond milk for our coffee every couple days and it’s great) but it’s more because I like it and not because I need it which is a good thing I think. (I also still have a single espresso at work during the day, so am not off caffeine yet and am not trying to be, though I would like to cut back to just 1 in the morning. Eventually.) I’m finally getting over this awful upper respiratory cold but still spent part of the night coughing. My mood is much improved as well. I am even thinking once I’m all better I *might* even try adding a morning workout a day or two a week now that waking up early doesn’t feel like torture. Look at that – planning to drop a coffee and add a workout – I guess I am starting to feel some positive effects (even if they are still just thoughts and not actions – it’s a start people!). Also, my digestion is much improved, which is making my stomach feel (and look!) flatter.
Days 15 – 16 – Energy levels are better. Feeling lighter, skin is . . . well kinda glowing. I think I see a *hint* of cheekbones that I haven’t seen in what feels like years at this point. But I’m also feeling . . . kinda annoyed? I feel like I should be losing more weight (though having read the book I know this is why they tell you to not weigh yourself till the end, because you will do yourself a disservice by focusing on the numbers instead of the amazing health benefits that come with the program.) OK, fine.
Days 17-18 – I must have eaten something weird by accident as I just feel a bit bloated. And . . . bored. Thursday we went out for dinner with friends and it was so annoying to try to eat something Whole30 approved at Indochine (Asian restaurants are hard because there is so much soy, as well as other sauces that have added sugar that are not program compliant). But we made it work and had fun with our friends even with annoying dietary restrictions and no booze (hopefully they thought we were still fun too haha). As I write this though, it’s Friday night and I am exhausted and I wish I could just order in and pour myself a big glass of red wine after the kids are asleep and watch a movie. One of the interesting parts of this diet is seeing what your patterns are, and examining what emotions are attached to those behaviors. Obviously, with what I just said I wanted to do, there is an ease and relaxation element to it. I can still go home and make something really easy (no new recipe experimenting tonight) and make myself a hot cup of tea after the kids are asleep and still watch a movie. And probably wake up in the morning feeling better. Trying to focus on the positives here because I’m definitely in a bit of a slump. Not helped by the fact that I really don’t feel like I’ve lost weight yet – maybe a couple pounds but I’m going by the book and not weighing myself. Meanwhile, Chris continues to cheat and weigh himself every morning and he had lost 17 lbs through day 17!!! Unreal. I realize that I’ve been complaining about this for the last 4 days so I will stop now. Hoping the whole “tiger blood” feeling of awesomeness and other great effects really start to kick in soon.
DAYS 19-21 – Feeling pretty good, and I gotta say my skin is looking great. I didn’t have problem skin when I started (aside from, you know, being 38), but it’s looking a lot more even, glowy and hydrated. Also, the bags under my eyes are noticeably smaller. I was starting to think that I was just getting to an age (+ 5.5 yrs of chronic sleep deprivation) where they had become permanent. They aren’t gone, but they really are a lot better! These days fell over MLK weekend and we were out at our country house in freezing weather. I was not as incentivized to run back and forth to the grocery store, so we kept it pretty simple. One night I made oven baked salmon with roasted veggies (Japanese yams, parsnips, butternut squash) and that was tasty. The next night we just grilled chicken and sauteed some broccoli with garlic and shallots, and had the rest of the leftover roasted veggies. Breakfast every day was eggs. I’ve saved a bunch of my recipes/meals in my Instagram story highlights under “recipes” if you’re interested. Definitely feeling a little bored in the food department and, given that it’s the dead of winter, the produce selection is not the most awesome right now (how I dream of the day when once again I will get to eat perfectly ripe and delicious avocados). But it’s fine. Boring, but fine. And the boring part is largely on me for not trying more recipes and mixing it up more. Am going to research more recipes in the Whole30 cookbooks I got to try to add a little variety.
DAY 22 -Feeling fine but also still frustrated that I don’t feel awesome (where is the Tiger Blood I was promised?!), and truthfully I still feel like I’m kind of bloated? I wasn’t sure if it was just from all the raw veggies I’m eating, but honestly, I have always eaten a lot of salads and stuff so that really wasn’t a big change for me. In my frustration I have to admit that I have noticed a trend – it seemed to get worse after I ate almond butter or drank a lot of almond milk. And I was consuming a LOT of almond products – almond milk in coffee, almond butter on celery, carrots, apples as a snack, raw almonds as a snack, in salads, etc. I realized that lately, after I consumed almond products, I would get these stabbing pains in my stomach, which was then generally followed by feeling bloated, tired, foggy brain, etc. So, I decided to cut out almonds and see if that made a difference.
DAYS 23-25 – 24-72 hours off of almonds and WOW, what a difference! Which I really hate to admit because I LOVE almonds (clearly). But I feel so much better – more energy, more focus, flatter tummy. I feel like I am finally feeling the amazing effects of this program and like I have actually lost weight. It was just hard to see it before because I was so bloated, maybe because I was overdosing on almonds? Clearly, I don’t have a serious nut allergy as I was eating almond products by the gallon, but I am now thinking I should get tested to see if I have a food sensitivity (though I kind of feel like I just discovered I do?). I have read that sometimes those can develop as you get older, after a pregnancy, if you really overdo it eating too much of something for a long time, etc. So I definitely plan to chat with my doctor about it and see if they have a recommendation for how long to abstain from a food where you have discovered a sensitivity, and when/how you should go about reintroducing that food back into your diet (if at all). On a separate note, we made some really delicious meals this week. One of my favorites was spaghetti squash with homemade marinara. We had a bunch of leftovers (spaghetti squash pasta or “spasta” as I’ve seen it called), and I used it for breakfast in the morning – browning it in a pan with a little olive oil to make a “nest” for our eggs. One morning scrambled eggs, another morning fried eggs (I saved the pic of the fried eggs in my insta stories), that we just piled on top of the browned spasta. It was so delicious and honestly was like eating them over hash browns! Very satisfying and super healthy all in one. I will definitely be making that dish again.
DAYS 26-27 – UM, have I become a morning person?! I am really enjoying the mornings now – I like cooking breakfast for Chris and me and the kids and all sitting at the table eating it together, which I think is a great thing for us to do as a family since we rarely get to eat dinner together during the week. I still love my coffee but I am not a complete zombie without it. I even took Bella to school one morning last week and realized as we were walking out the door that I hadn’t had any yet. That NEVER would have happened a few weeks ago. I still haven’t stepped on a scale, but my clothes are fitting better, my boots are a little looser around my calves, and I just feel a little lighter and less swollen in general. So, something good is happening. People keep telling me my skin looks great (woohoo!). I’m officially on board with Whole30 and have to say I am feeling healthier and happier now than I have in a while. Also, Chris continues to cheat with the scale and has now lost nearly 20 lbs. So amazing!
DAY 28 – Woke up feeling great – pretty consistently waking up at 6am before my alarm. Questioning whether I really have an issue with almonds or if it was just in my head. So I put a tiny bit of almond milk in my coffee this morning, and it didn’t seem to bother me. But then I had about a teaspoon of almond butter on some baby carrots as a snack this afternoon and, ~30 min later, I started not feeling great – some sharp stomach pains and wave of crazy fatigue, which is an energy dip I hadn’t been feeling at all for the last 5 days. So going to go back off them again – I feel dumb for reintroducing so soon I just really missed them! Lesson learned.
DAYS 29-30 – Much better again without the almonds. And my coworker told me today I was looking svelte and my skin is glowing! Had more eggs over spaghetti squash for breakfast and am loving this recipe so much – it feels so hearty and almost indulgent but it’s so healthy! I love all the new recipes I’ve learned and am so excited to keep working my way through the cookbook. Reflecting on the last month, both Chris and I are so happy we did this. Aside from just feeling better, having more sustained energy, losing weight, etc., it has really changed our relationship with food in a positive way that I know we will carry with us even after the diet is over. I care about the actual ingredients and preservatives in things a lot more (what the heck is carrageenan and why was it in my store-bought almond milk to begin with?!) and I have noticed a big change in my body/digestion just from getting back to simple, healthy, whole foods. Also, cutting out sugar has not only been good for me, but it’s changed my taste buds as well. Now when I eat fruit it tastes SO AMAZING and flavorful and sweet. It honestly feels like a real treat. I’m sure some of you are rolling your eyes at that and I’m not saying you should give up sweets forever after this is done, but I think when we bombard our tastebuds and bodies with so much sweet and salt etc. you get rather desensitized and require stronger sweet/salt flavors to satisfy cravings. This diet was a really good reset in that regard. I feel like I am actually tasting and enjoying my food more. It will be interesting to see what happens during the reintroduction phase, and if there are other foods/groups (like almonds) that my body reacts negatively to when I reintroduce them. I think I will do a post about my experience with reintroduction as well if that would be of interest? Anyway, I finally get to step on the scale tomorrow morning and see what the final result is!
This chart above that I found online is actually pretty accurate based on my experience.
FINAL RESULTS: I put together a Q&A from both Chris and my perspectives
Q: How much weight did you lose?
A: If the founder of Whole30 were to see this as the first question she’d be so pissed, because throughout the materials they are always saying this is NOT a weight loss diet, it’s a wellness program designed to completely change your relationship with food and improve your overall well-being yadda yadda. Which it did! But this is still the first question people ask (and truthfully one of the main reasons we did it in the first place) so here you go: Chris was the biggest winner here by far, losing a whopping 21 lbs in 30 days! I only lost 5 lbs, BUT that was without calorie restricting at all as I am still nursing Jack (though I did start the weaning process in mid-January after he turned 6 months old.) It always seems to be hard for me to lose those last 5 lbs of baby weight until I am done nursing for whatever reason, and that’s totally fine. Neither of us worked out once this month (whoops) so all of our results, weight and otherwise, were based solely on the changes in our diet.
Q: What were the biggest changes you noticed from doing the program?
CHRIS: 1) Sustained energy – I used to use caffeine and sugar to combat fatigue and that resulted in energy peaks and crashes throughout my day. I felt a much more consistent and sustained energy after the sugar detox was over. 2) Big boost in mental clarity – I felt mentally sharper and more focused. 3) Generally wanted to eat less – I used to stuff my face till I thought I was full, and this program helped me realize that I can feel “full” on much less food. 4) Much improved digestion. 5) A general feeling of being lighter on my feet. 6) Better quality sleep (Wife Note: he has basically completely stopped snoring, which has made my sleep quality exponentially better as well.) 7) The breaking of bad habits/food psychologies – I used to THINK I needed something sweet after meals for lord knows what reason – this helped me realize that I had absolutely no need for that in any way shape or form. The lack of added and/or artificial sugar totally readjusted my tastebuds as well, so that now fruit tastes like the sweetest treat ever. The diet also help stop mindless snacking, since there are not many Whole30 approved “snacks.”
MELISA: I totally agree with all the changes and benefits that Chris noted above, except for #3 – my appetite was unchanged (ie. I wanted to eat a lot at every meal and I did! Also, this is possibly why I didn’t lose much weight haha.). But the diet definitely did stop the mindless snacking that I realized I was doing a lot of in the afternoon at work when I was feeling bored or having an energy dip. I noted a bunch of positive changes in my day-by-day account above, but the main ones I would just reiterate were (much like Chris) sustained energy and greater mental clarity (including not feeling tired when I woke up in the morning),much-improved digestion and a flatter tummy, the breaking of bad habits/food psychologies (like the snacking). Als,o I noticed (as did many of my friends) a real change in my skin – it is positively glowing! My undereye bags are so much less noticeable, my face looks less puffy, my skin tone is more even, pores look smaller, skin looks more hydrated, fine lines are less noticeable . . . I just look younger and healthier and I’m loving it. I also noted a real improvement in my overall mood (after I got over the ups and downs in the first 2 weeks of the program) – I just feel happier!
Q: What was the hardest part of the program?
CHRIS: The sugar detox phase over the first week by far. After that it got much easier, though I did become bored of the breakfast options by the end (so. many. eggs.).
MELISA: The sugar detox phase definitely, and dealing with food boredom. The latter was largely on us as we really did not meal plan well. Also, it’s a bit antisocial. It’s hard to eat out with friends and be *that person* who asks the server a million questions about what’s in a sauce, wants everything on the side, isn’t drinking, etc. But it wasn’t *that* bad once you got used to it. Once you start feeling good and seeing positive effects from the program everything gets a lot easier.
Q: Do you have any favorite recipes?
A: Yes tons! The two books I linked above were fantastic resources. I also loved making those spaghetti squash “hash browns” with eggs on top for breakfast. Perhaps I should do another post of favorite recipes? This one is already getting too long I think!
Anyway, there you have it. 🙂 Any other questions please ask away in the comments. Here’s to a happy and healthy 2019 for everyone!