This January, I indulged in the Whole 30 Challenge. My goal was to to only eat whole foods. No added sugar, no grains, no legumes, no alcohol. And it was the best month of my life… A lot of you have been asking about my experience with the Whole 30 and I’m excited to share the results. I’ll share my favorite meals, the benefits and challenges I experienced, answers to your FAQs and my before and after photos and results. It’s a long post, so grab a fresh glass of water and let’s jump in!
Before discussing the Whole30, I want to give you a little bit of my personal history as it relates to health and wellness. Before I go into ANY of this, please remember this is my personal experience during my 30 day experiment and I’m not a doctor, nutritionist or trainer. As with any diet or exercise routine, it’s wise to check in with a doctor before you begin.
BACKGROUND: I come from a line of long, tall, athletic people. As a kid, teenager and young adult my metabolism allowed me to eat pretty much whatever I wanted and stay in the same size or two (thanks youth and genetics!). I ran 8 years of varsity cross country and track and my runner’s diet was super heavy on carbs like pasta and potatoes… and lots of them!
In my mid-twenties I experimented with 15 months of veganism (no animal products or bi-products). During that time I was really into yoga, pilates and running and was still eating lots of simple carbs like pasta. rice and potatoes… and yet, I still never saw definition in my abs. I was at my lowest adult weight at this time and I have no goals of going that low again, because it was just too skinny and not healthy for my height. As my trainer Matt says, STRONG is the new skinny - and that’s my goal! And for those of you wondering why I stopped eating vegan - I met and married a really good cook!
When I rounded the corner of my late twenties, my body really started to change. I moved from a fast paced New York City and lots of walking to a slower pace of life in Indiana. I got married and in the honeymoon stages of love, I got soft. I didn’t work out regularly other than walking or biking to a mile to work when the weather was nice - yet it didn’t add up to the amount of time I was on my feet in the City or at the gym. Moving to Indiana also dropped our cost of living, so eating out became more affordable and a regular part of our routine.
Long story short, I put on between 8-10 pounds a year in the last three years. And yes, I’m a taller person, so it can be a little easier to hide, but I didn’t want to make it a yearly thing to jump up that much on the scale. In August 2012 I got serious about my exercise habits and signed up for a year’s worth of bootcamp at Force Fitness, three times a week. I’ve been feeling stronger ever since and lost about 5 pounds (but gained a lot of muscle!) in 2012.
THE WHOLE 30: Then came the Whole 30 - a month long experiment to clean up my eating habits. I ordered It Starts With Food by Dallas and Melissa Hartwig got reading and got excited. Adam agreed to do the thirty days with me, which was vital to our success. On December 31st, I cleaned out my fridge and got rid of everything that contained sugar, dairy, grains/gluten and legumes. I hid our stash of craft beer by putting it on the bottom shelf of our fridge and covered it up with brown paper bags (outta sight, outta mind, baby!)
Next, I made a meal plan using the guide in It Starts With Food and went to the grocery. The idea is to eat what our distant ancestors could hunt or gather, as our bodies have evolved to this kind of eating. My first priority was to buy high quality meats - grass fed beef and free range chicken. Then I filled my cart with a rainbow of veggies and added in new cooking oils (coconut oil is my FAVORITE). I also love eating half an avocado each day or sprinkling coconut flakes over almond butter and fruit.
When January 1st rolled around and we made a commitment to do this right. We eat three large meals a day at home and take turns cooking. We allow ourselves one or two meals at a restaurant each week where we can stay on track (burgers with pickles, lettuce, mustard and sweet potato fries, make your own omlettes).
We grocery shop every 5 days and now buy all of our meat from the butcher or farmer’s market. Our average meal cost is $5 each. We eat breakfast around 8:30am, lunch at 1:30pm and dinner at 7. We eat palm size portions of meat and HUGE servings of vegetables (between 3-6 cups a day each). I also eat a lot of eggs (usually 4 a day).
Turkey Meatballs with homemade tomato sauce over Spaghetti Squash
Lamb Burgers with Broccoli and Sweet Potatoes
Winter hash (sweet potatoes, parsnips, brussel sprouts) with Fried Eggs on top
Scrambled Eggs with ½ Avocado and ½ cup of berries
Chicken stir fry using coconut oil with Bell Peppers, Mushrooms, Green Beans, Onions and an Egg
Pork Benedict (homemade Hollandaise sauce made with clarified butter over a boneless pork chop instead of an English muffin) with asparagus
1. CLEAR SKIN I’ve had acne since I was around 12 years old and I’ve tried everything. For the first time in my adult life my skin is pretty clear! I still get a few spots around that time of the month, but nothing like it used to be. It makes me feel so much more confident about myself and I’m wearing a lot less makeup these days. I asked my dermatologist about this and he think it’s likely because I omitted dairy.
2. BETTER MOODS The winter is hard for me and I have pretty intense mood swings (especially while PMSing) all year round. Both Adam and I noticed that I felt a lot more balanced this month!
3. BETTER SLEEP Unless the cats are screaming, I’m sleeping through the night, about 8-10 hours each night. I feel rested and energized every morning. We’ve also started sleeping on memory foam and I made blackout curtains for a pitch black room!
4. BETTER DIGESTION I’m not going to go all Jamie Lee Curtis on you with this one, but our digestive tracts are in gear. Enough said.
5. NO MORE SPIKES and CRASHES - Before the Whole 30, my blood sugar would drop and make me shaky if I hadn’t eaten enough. Now I stay full between meals with good energy levels.
6. MORE MUSCLE TONE. My body fat dropped 1% in 30 days and I’m finally able to see more of my hard work at the gym! I lost 2 inches at my waist and an inch and a half off my belly!
7. WEIGHT LOSS - I lost 7.2 pounds in 30 days, (for a total loss of 12 lbs since starting bootcamp in August). I also added in an additional day of weight training at the gym for a total of 4 workouts a week, so I’ve likely put on muscle weight. This wasn’t my top priority, but I am super proud of posting a number like that - while eating like a king and never being hungry!
UPDATE: Skip the scale! I didn’t weigh or measure myself for the entire 30 days of the Whole30 and gauged my progress on visual changes and strength!
8. CONFIDENCE - I’ll spare you the long sob story here and simply say I’ve never felt better about myself. Maybe it’s the new way of eating, maybe it’s the working out, maybe it’s how strong and toned I feel. Maybe it’s my clear complexion or how my husband says that I’m beautiful. This is going to sound hyper dramatic, but for the first time in my life, I really truly feel beautiful. I don’t see the flaws, I see the happy girl shining through. This is the way we were meant to feel about ourselves and I’m so grateful for all of the external support I’ve had through this experiment. It’s like a flip switched and I finally feel proud of myself. It’s a priceless feeling.
Some of the other key benefits have been sharing meals with my husband, practicing (and getting pretty good!) at cooking and feeling great overall. I can’t imagine going back to the way I used to eat,with appropriate exceptions- a glass of wine once a week on date night, a sweet treat on a special occasion, or homemade pizza with friends.
YOUR FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS:
1. Is it hard? I get this one more than any other question! In the scheme of life, eating vegetables instead of bread is not difficult. It takes willpower, but it’s not impossible. Another tip from my trainer - don’t try to make substitutions for junk food - just eat something better! My regular breakfast - four scrambled eggs, avocado and berries is a good example - I wouldn’t trade that for a bagel and cream cheese any day of the week!
2. Do you miss restricted foods? Not really. There are things I would like to eat or drink again in my life, but when it came to making a list of what I would “break” the Whole 30 with, I couldn’t come up with a lot. Maybe a little piece of chocolate. A glass of wine. Someday I want to have a waffle again. But with so many other delicious whole foods available, I’ve started to change what I crave.
3. What are your on the go foods? We like to hard boil eggs and cook a big batch of chicken on Sundays and then pack them into mini meals along with some nuts for when we’re in a rush. The key to our success was a LOT of planning. We also keep almonds in the car for a super easy pick me up. Generally though, you want to be eating enough at each meal that you don’t need snacks.
4. How do you socialize without drinking? This was one of the more challenging parts of the Whole30 for us because we love craft beers, cocktails and wine. At friend’s houses the best option is to bring something you CAN drink like sparkling water with a lemon or lime slice. Having a partner who’s not drinking is helpful as well. When we would go out, like to watch a ball game, we ordered ice tea or coffee.
5. How can you eat out? Do your research before selecting a restaurant and make sure there’s at least one dish that will work. It’s not uncommon for people to ask for exceptions like no gluten or dairy, so don’t feel shy asking your server. We found breakfast was the easiest meal to eat out (eggs, fruit and black coffee).
6. Where do you get recipes? I use a lot of the base recipes in It Starts with Food and also get ideas from Melissa Joulwan of Wed Fed and The Clothes Make the Girl.
If I’m missing something, please ask on my facebook page! I’d love to hear about your Whole30 experiences too! Please share!
When people say the Whole 30 will change your life - it’s true! To read my follow up post on the Whole 30, click here.