I survived Whole30 (and you can, too).

natural foods

On March 1, I began a food experiment.

I don't like to call the Whole30 program a "diet" because, at least for me, that word conjures up images of calorie restriction, short-term effects but no lasting change, and a focus solely on food instead of on health.

As the name suggests, Whole30 is an endeavor to consume whole, natural foods for 30 days.  Basically, I ate protein (meats without additives, fish, and eggs), healthy fats (nuts, avocados, and seeds), vegetables of all kinds, and fruit.  Coffee is also permissible.  (Hallelujah!)

There is an entire list of foods that aren't allowed, including added sugar of any sort, legumes, dairy, grains, and alcohol.  If you're thinking, "Um, that's half of my diet," yes.  I understand.  That's why I listed all of the things that you can have first.  Hang with me.

I'm writing this post on March 30, and I did it.  I wasn't sure that I could live without PB&J sandwiches or ice cream for a month, but it's entirely possible.  

I have been a generally healthy person for most of my adult life.  As a family, we don't eat out much, and I cook from scratch several nights each week.  I maintain a normal body weight and exercise daily.  Several months ago, I eliminated gluten from my diet, which relieved joint pain and helped my skin.  (You can read about that here.)  Admittedly, I have a major sweet tooth, but I still did not see the purpose of Whole30 in my life.  I decided to give it a try anyway, and I'm glad that I did.

The authors of Whole30 stress the importance of "non-scale victories."  They urge you to notice benefits in your overall health as you complete the program, as opposed to obsessing over numbers on a scale (though there's this statistic which says that 96% of people who complete the program lose weight).  Here are some of my personal #NSVs:

  • My skin is completely clear.  This is the biggest change that I have noticed.  Eliminating gluten last November definitely helped my skin, but I was still taking a strong prescription for hormonal acne.  I'm down to only half of my prescription, and I'm hoping to wean myself off of it completely in another month.  My skin is bright, and I'm more confident than I have been since my pregnancy in 2014.
  • I'm sleeping great.  
  • My teeth are whiter.  
  • My ring fits looser.
  • I have not felt guilty once for anything that I have eaten within the last month.  You know how, sometimes, you really want a bowl of ice cream, and you're trying to convince yourself that you shouldn't have it, but you just want it so bad, so you eat it anyway, and then you feel sick, and you wish you hadn't?  Not once for 30 days.  One great thing about Whole30 is that you're allowed to eat as much as you want of any compliant foods, within reason.  (The authors don't recommend eating an entire package of dates or half of a jar of almond butter at once, but it is nearly impossible to overeat on this diet.)  It just feels good to eat good, nutritious food.
  • I pay attention to labels on the food products that I buy.  This was never important to me before, but now I notice additives and unnecessary ingredients in everything.  Let's face it: If you put junk into your body, you're going to feel like junk.  Stick with the good stuff.
  • I'm not getting all of my energy from sugar and then crashing later.  Also, I'm not craving chocolate.
  • My abs are solid, despite probably working them out less.
  • I cooked amazing recipes, and my whole family ate them.  This is no small feat in our house.  Surprisingly, my little girls and husband enjoyed some of my Whole30 recipes more than the ones with pounds of butter and sugar that I had been making previously.
  • I haven't been obsessive about running.  This is also huge for me.  Because I knew that I was putting good things into my body, I didn't need to go run in order to get the bad things out.  I still ran and exercised frequently while on Whole30, but I didn't feel a compulsion to do so.

Now, a few things that you should know before you get started:

  • Buy this book.  It was a lifesaver for me, and I referred back to it many times throughout the month.  The book outlines every detail of the Whole30 program (including a timeline of expected feelings/symptoms for each day), tells some of the reasoning behind the diet, and gives recipes in the back.  I wish that I would have gotten this book, too.  It goes into specifics about how certain food groups affect people, and if you're on the fence about whether or not to give the program a try, it's a great resource.
  • Whole30 is hard.  I got a little annoyed when I read Melissa Hartwig's quote that the Whole30 "is not hard."  It is!  But, you've done harder.  For sure.  Getting into med school, having a baby, dealing with a breakup, losing a loved one, moving ... those are all harder.  Still, giving up your favorite snacks and attempting to change your relationship with food is challenging.
  • Your level of difficulty with the program will likely depend greatly on your present health status.  Since I had already given up gluten in the past, I did not deal with "the carb flu" that may people complain about at the beginning of Whole30.  
  • The amount of victories that you experience is also relative to your health status prior to beginning the program.  Whole30 was not radically life-altering for me, but I had already been making generally healthy choices.   
  • Participating in the Whole30 program is an expense.  Our grocery bill skyrocketed this past month.  Some of my friends have said that their monthly food expenses decreased while doing Whole30, but this was because they had been accustomed to dining in restaurants, which we rarely did.  Whole foods can be pricey.  There is also a time expense involved, too.  I planned a lot of meals and did a lot of dishes in the month of March.  In another post, I'll probably write about what I did to lessen the monetary and time expenses.  But you should be prepared for those two things up front.    
  • Use technology, specifically Pinterest and Instagram.  Many of my best recipes and inspiration came from these sources.
  • You need to build a support system, but it is possible to complete the program successfully, even if no one else in your household is participating with you.  My family ate the dinners that I made throughout the month, but they stayed with their typical meals for breakfast and lunch.  I am a "stick-to-it-at-all-costs" type of person, so I did not have a problem with this, but if you know that you're going to be tempted to cheat, find a friend to keep you accountable or even to complete the program with you. 
  • Follow the rules exactly.  I am sure that there are many arenas in your life in which you are an expert, but I'm guessing that Whole30 is not one of them.  Even though some of the rules seems ridiculous, the authors know what they're doing, and their program works.
  • Plan to reintroduce food groups strategically and implement appropriate lifestyle changes.  You will have wasted your time if you choose a Whole30 lifestyle for a month and then go back to eating exactly as you did beforehand.  The Whole30 book gives a modifiable outline for reintroducing foods, and I'm planning to follow it.  I'll report back about this part, but the basic idea is that if a certain food group affects you negatively following reintroduction, it may not be worthwhile to keep that particular group as part of your long-term diet.

You can totally do this.  The greatest battle of the whole thing may be convincing yourself that you can.

Just take the first step.  

You are Whole30. 

Giving Up Gluten

In October 2016, I wrote a post on Blogger about my struggles with plantar fasciitis and how that injury sidelined me from running for several weeks.  While I was dealing with plantar fasciitis, I dreaded putting my feet on our hardwood floors in the morning because I knew that the pain in my heel would send excruciating stabs all the way up my leg.  Resting helped to heal my injury, but I began to notice that my dread of our hardwood floors was not solely related to my heel.  Every morning when I woke up, my joints were swollen and achy.  My ring wouldn't fit over my knuckle for days at a time.  

I felt like an old woman in an active, 28-year-old's body.

Knowing that these feelings were not normal for me, I got tested for rheumatoid arthritis, which runs in my family.  

CC Image courtesy of Librarian by Day on  Flickr

CC Image courtesy of Librarian by Day on Flickr

Negative.

Lupus.  

Negative.

Thyroid problems.  

Negative.

Scleroderma.  

Negative.

All of the lab results, thankfully, showed no major issues.  However, these negative results left one major problem:

I was a perfectly healthy woman with severe joint pain and swelling for no explainable reason.

I began to accept that all of this would just be my life for the next however many years that God gives me.

Enter my friend, Gretchen Clark.

"Have you ever thought that you might have a gluten sensitivity?  Your symptoms seem kind of similar to those of this other gal I know..."

A gluten intolerance had not once crossed my mind.

 But, concluding that the experiment could at least be worth a try, I decided to eliminate gluten from my diet for two weeks, not expecting to discover a solution to the weird health issues I was facing.

Wrong.

Okay, I have to be honest.  The first few days were horrible.  I was having gluten withdrawals!  Headaches plagued me, and I was constantly nauseated.  I had to fight the urge to eat all the bread and all the pasta all the time.  My skin looked worse than a teenager's.

If I am anything, though, I am stubborn, so I stuck with the plan, and then ... day 7-ish ...

This is a case of wishing that I would have taken before and after photos or kept a log of my symptoms or something because the changes have been so dramatic.  Not only do my joints feel normal again with no more swelling, but some pleasant unexpected changes occurred, as well.

I feel like a fog lifted out of my brain.  {This is impossible to explain really.}  I wake up rested every morning, and I am able to concentrate better throughout the day.  I didn't even know that I was living in a fog until one day when I wasn't anymore.

My skin looks the best that it has looked in years.  This has been the greatest surprise of my new diet.  After my daughter was born, I tried almost every kind of topical medication and face washing regimen that existed, all to no avail.  Even a maximum strength oral prescription didn't work to treat my hormonal acne.  However, giving up gluten did.  

I hadn't intended to lose weight, but I've lost four pounds in the last eight weeks.  (Mom, I know you're reading this, and I can hear you freaking out from Texas.  I'm not wasting away; it's okay.)  I've weighed the same amount for several years, not including pregnancy (obviously), so this was unexpected.  

I am not bloated.  Again, I got used to feeling a certain way and assumed that was normal.

A couple of things I should mention...

1.  This is not a fad diet.

Did you know that no one possesses the enzyme needed to process gluten naturally in the body?  Some people are completely unaffected by this fact, while others with Celiac disease have severe reactions when consuming even the tiniest amount of gluten.  I'm somewhere in between.  You might hear my success story and decide to go gluten-free and not notice any difference at all, because your body is not my body, and this is not a diet where everyone loses weight who follows it correctly.  

Or, you may be living in a bloated, achy, fog that you've believed to be typical, and eliminating gluten will rock your world.

2.  Giving up gluten is a lifestyle change, but it is not impossible.  

I love pasta.  And cake.  And bread.  Muffins.  Bagels.  Pie.  2017 is a beautiful year to be alive and gluten-free because there are affordable, tasty options for people like me who are choosing this lifestyle.  I've made gluten-free pasta three times in the last couple of weeks, and my whole family of picky eaters gobbled it up and never even knew that they were eating brown rice noodles instead of flour ones.  Also, my neighbor brought me a pan of gluten-free brownies, and guys, I ate that whole pan because they were good.  Pizza is definitely a big loss; that is one food that is not the same.  But, now that I see how much differently I feel without gluten in my life, I'll never go back to my old diet.

I know that there is a wealth of research about gluten and how it affects people and blah blah blah, but I also know that it sometimes helps to hear a real person's experience.  So, there's mine for you to take or leave.

Happy eating!