Those of you who follow me on Instagram and Twitter will have seen me talking about the Whole30 program recently, and will have also seen that I’m on Day 8 of 30! I’ve had lots of questions online and in real life about it – more than anything else health-related I have tried – so I thought I’d write a post to update you on my progress and the reasons why I am doing this. I’ll also post when I complete my Whole30 and let you know how I got on and what benefits I’ve seen.
About a month ago, I realised that I just wasn’t feeling great. I’ve been under a fair bit of stress, and it was really starting to affect me physically with a return of my IBS, heartburn, eczema flare ups and random skin conditions. I’d also been tracking my food for several months as I’ve been on a calorie controlled diet – I have managed to lose about half a stone, painfully slow progress, but more importantly I could see that I wasn’t eating well. My old nemesis dairy had crept back into my diet in increasing amounts, I was drinking alcohol more regularly and was really reliant on caffeine and sweet treats to get me over the 3pm energy slump. I had no energy to exercise and my sleep was terrible, making everything else feel worse.
I began to look for something I could do to help myself. Sadly some of the stresses in my life are not going to resolve themselves quickly, but I could see that the way I was eating wasn’t helping me and was possibly causing more physical stress on top of the life stress! I stumbled across the Whole30 and thought it sounded like it could help, then had positive feedback from a few friends who had tried it so I bought the book to find out more about the plan. The scientific explanation convinced me and several other parts of the book really resonated – for example, this bit about weighing yourself:
So many times in my life I’ve started a “health kick” with the real, deep down motivation to lose weight and when I haven’t seen progress on the scales I’ve become really disheartened and given up – even if I was feeling better in other ways. A plan that claims to help with a lot of my symptoms by reducing the stress my body is under, and that also helps build a better relationship with my body and with food? I’m in.
I won’t go into the details of the Whole30 as there’s loads of information on the website, but essentially for 30 days you eat unprocessed foods, made from scratch where possible and free of grains (including rice, quinoa), legumes, alcohol, added sugar, soy, dairy, and some additives and oils detailed in the plan. The idea is that you perform a bit of a reset for your brain and body, regulating your energy levels and psychological dependency on sweets and highly processed foods so you can reintroduce only the things that are really special and truly enjoyable, not the things that provide minimum goodness and take a toll on the body. The plan is medium-high protein but not as often portrayed super-low carb; fruit like bananas are allowed along with sweet potatoes and white potatoes and you are encouraged to add more starchy veggies in if you are struggling with energy or are very active.
My first shopping trip was pretty epic as I realised many of my cupboard staples like peanut butter, Kind bars and sriracha were no longer ok and I bought “compliant” replacements to make my month easier. I was also truly shocked at how sugar gets into everything; sundried tomatoes, stock cubes, cured meats of all kinds….it really is everywhere in our diets. Lidl was my surprise saviour with loads of fresh veggies along with an amazing sugar free smoked salmon – yum!
I bought the Whole30 book (I read “It starts with food” on my Kindle) as I wanted the recipes and guidance, though I must admit so far I’ve been winging it or adapting recipes we already use for our evening meals. The book is a brilliant reference guide but the recipes do seem to be aimed more at people who aren’t super fond of cooking or are nervous about changing their diet. I’m also keen that D and Little M don’t end up having to make drastic changes to their meals, and that I don’t appear to be eating “special food” all the time! Breakfasts have included poached eggs with chard and mushrooms cooked in ghee, salad veggies with avocado and prosciutto and apples and berries with this amazing almond butter. Lunches have been either salads or leftovers from supper, and I’ve only been snacking when my supper is going to be 8pm or later, choosing unsalted nuts or a Naked bar. Suppers have been things like spaghetti bolognese with shredded veg instead of pasta, grilled chicken and salad with sweet potato wedges, roasted salmon with steamed veg and stuffed peppers with grated sweet potato added to the meat rather than rice or couscous. D commented that he really hasn’t found supper any different. I think eating this way is a bit easier in the summer in the UK – I’m all about salads like these at the moment:
I’m only on Day 8 and so far I’ve been finding the food OK. Breakfast has involved more prep time than I am used to – without granola, bread or smoothies I’ve been a bit stumped and I haven’t been able to find a sugar-free bacon. I’ve been enjoying my lunches and suppers and have found that if I include the recommended amount of healthy fats I really am staying pretty full. I’ve also reduced my caffeine intake as recommended down to one black coffee a day plus a green tea in the afternoon and after the first few days I haven’t needed my afternoon coffee hit. I’m not missing sweets as much as I thought I would, although I have been having fruit after meals so maybe that’s why?
I have managed to go out for the day (packed a picnic and some coconut water) and eat out twice (once I had grilled chicken with roast sweet potato wedges and an undressed salad, once I had steak with new potatoes and salad, hardly a hardship) and take Little M out for a drink and cake (I had fresh fruit and an espresso) without breaking the plan. Meal planning and having the right kinds of foods to hand is a necessity for success though, without that you’ll find yourself without anything easy to hand that fits the plan and it would be easy to give up.
So how am I feeling? Well, the plan’s authors tell you that you may well feel worse before you feel better and there’s even a timeline with idea of what to expect. I started the plan after a nasty sickness bug, and I’m not sure how that affected me, but I had a splitting headache on Day 1 although I didn’t have any of the other “hangover” symptoms except feeling super exhausted. Days 2-6 I couldn’t wait to crawl into bed, I was done by 9pm! I also found that my digestion was a bit unhappy during the first four days – I’m guessing from the big dietary change alongside the bug – but now it has settled. I’ve seen an improvement to my eczema and my energy levels, even on early start days the afternoon slump is so much less pronounced and I’m not getting as hungry, I was always starving by 4pm even if I’d consumed my bodyweight in sweets. I’ve not noticed any other improvements yet though, I think it’s too early. I would also probably bite your arm off for bread if I thought it was plan compliant 😉
Weirdly having a time limit on this way of eating helps me mentally – when I have been tempted by cake or am dying for a gin and tonic, I remind myself I will be able to have them fairly soon and it doesn’t seem so bad. Having a clearly defined list of foods also helps as there’s no “well if I have that cake maybe I’ll eat a smaller dinner” juggling – it’s either on the list, or not, and so the decision is simple. It’s been so refreshing not to be weighing out foods or writing down everything I eat, too – I’ve realised how much mental energy I spend on that and it’s depressing.
This has turned into a bit of an essay so I’ll leave it here but feel free to ask me any questions here or on social media – I’d also love to hear your Whole30 experiences! Thanks for reading.