I did it!!! I successfully completed my first Whole30! In the words of Melissa Harwig, I AM WHOLE30. A quick background for those of you who don’t know what Whole30 is, it’s a 30-day body reset where you can’t eat added sugar and sugar substitutes, grains, dairy, legumes, and alcohol. So what can you eat, you ask? Protein (eggs and meat), vegetables, fruit, coffee, and nuts. Now I’ll dive into my experience.
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Why Did I Want To Do It?
I’ll start from the beginning and why I wanted to do a Whole30. I truly can’t remember the first time I heard about the Whole30, but my friend did a similar 21-day program and I remember her saying she was “sleeping better, felt amazing, and was generally more happy”, but I just replied with a simple “good for you” and pushed the idea out of my head; no sugar, grains or dairy for weeks? No thanks.
Six more months went by and I got into an awesome workout routine, I was exercising six days a week and feeling like I was truly getting back in shape. After about a month of regularly working out I just wasn’t seeing results and the scale wouldn’t budge. One night there wasn’t much on TV so I decided to check out the premiere of Klohe Kardashian’s Revenge Body show. In that particular episode, trainers and dietitians were helping a girl come up with a 12-week game plan for losing weight and a trainer said “Everything starts in the kitchen. You can’t out-train a bad diet.” Something clicked. Now I know I’ve heard the quote “you can’t out train a bad diet”, so I don’t necessarily want to credit Klohe Kardashian for my ah-ha moment, but to be truly honest that was the moment that I felt it really applied to me. I also should mention that I didn’t necessarily think I had the world’s worst diet, I wasn’t getting fast food everyday but I knew that I could be doing better. Especially during the weekends; man, the weekends wrecked my diet goals with constant grazing and lots of sweets.
So after watching that episode I contacted my friend about her diet elimination and asked her what my next step would be, and she recommended the book It Starts With Food. I ordered the book and immediately started reading. While I was reading this book my goals for Whole30 went from wanting to see results and weight loss, to truly wanting to reset my body. The book does such an amazing job telling you how sugar and other foods are affecting you, I found it pretty fascinating. All of a sudden I started wondering if my 3 pm energy slump or skin breakouts in my 30s were all related to food. I started to get curious what it would feel like to fuel my body with the best possible food for 30 days.
How to Prepare for Whole30
Read The Book
The first thing I did, and something I would recommend is reading the book It Starts With Food. The book gets a little “science-y” but it also gives you the knowledge of how different foods affect your body. For me, that knowledge helped motivate me to want to complete the program. Plus, they give you a lot of tips and advice on doing Whole30. However, if you are looking for a step-by-step guide on exactly how to do Whole30 with more recipes and you don’t care as much about the science behind the food I would recommend The Whole30 Book.
Evaluate Your Current Habits
Something else I did during my month of mentally preparing was really start paying attention to what I was eating and how I felt during the day. I did this so that comparing results during the 30 day program would be easier. That is when I noticed a pattern of feeling tired in the afternoon, sugar cravings at night, and skin breakouts. It’s easier to notice how good you feel on Whole30 when you truly took time to think about what you were feeling before.
Learn the Rules and Search for Recipes
So by now I was feeling motivated and excited to get going with my first Whole30, but I still had the question of “what am I going to eat?”. Enter Pinterest. I started pinning ideas like crazy, but here is where you have to be careful, just because someone posts a “Whole30 dinner” doesn’t mean it is compliant, this is why you really need to read up on the rules. In my experience preparing for the first week or two of Whole30 is pretty stressful and overwhelming: ghee, making my own mayo, coconut oil, everything seemed so foreign to me. And sometimes I found Pinterest overwhelming with too many options. The best resource I found online to get started was on the Well Fed blog, this Week 1 Meal Plan. I didn’t follow it exactly, but I found it helpful to look at a week of recipes, shopping list, and meal prep steps.
Create a Whole30 Vision Board
I created a Whole30 Vision Board that I printed and hung on my fridge and put a second copy in my desk drawer at work. If I ever had a weak moment it was a nice visual reminder of why I was are doing it.
Here are quick instructions for creating a Whole30 vision board. Start by asking the question why you want to complete the program. Next use Pinterest or Google Image to search for images pertaining to why you are doing Whole30. Maybe you will want to include inspiring quotes, fitness pictures, or a picture of your kids if you are doing it for the health of your family. Save the images somewhere on your computer and then use a program such as Microsoft Word to insert the pictures and arrange them how you would like. Here is what my vision board looked like.
What I Ate
Here is the big one and the number one question from people, “what did you eat?”. Now I do have to mention that I’m a creature of habit, so I’m sure some people will read this section and think I completed the most boring Whole30 ever. I think that I ate eggs every morning for 30 days and ate a salad for 80% of my lunches, and I was completely ok with that. You really have to do what works for you, if you easily get bored with food you’ll want to mix it up more than I did.
Meal 1 (aka Breakfast)
Whole30 refers to breakfast, lunch, and dinner as Meal 1, Meal 2, and Meal 3 so that you don’t feel like you have to have eggs and bacon in the morning, if you want to have a strawberry salad at 7am, go for it. For me, Meal 1 always involved eggs and felt “breakfast-y”. Egg bakes were my saving grace. I could make an egg bake on Sunday and just heat it up during the week for a quick and hearty breakfast. Plus I found it’s easy to sneak a lot of veggies in egg bakes.
Here are few quick snapshots of my breakfasts:
- Turkey & Egg Breakfast Casserole
- Fried Eggs and Breakfast Potatoes
- Spinach & Mushroom Frittata and Breakfast Potatoes
- Sausage & Veggie Egg Bake
Meal 2 (aka Lunch)
Just like I didn’t have a lot of time to make breakfast in the morning, lunch had to be quick and simple as well. For that reason lunch was sometimes leftovers from the night before or often I made a salad. I developed a true love of salads during my Whole30 because it is so easy to get in a lot of veggies, and you can make a salad so versatile just be using different meat protein and dressings. While I was meal prepping on Sundays I always made sure to have protein cut up and ready to go for salads; I also would recommend chopping up the lettuce and veggies to have that ready as well. As far as dressing, I was brave and made homemade mayo and used that as a base for ranch dressing; but if that is too scary I would recommend Primal Kitchen salad dressings and mayo…they are completely Whole30 approved. I tried both the Primal Kitchen Greek and Ranch dressings and they were good!
Here are few quick snapshots of my lunches:
- Blackened Chicken Salad (Sweet Peppers, Cherry Tomatoes, Onion, Mushroom, Hard Boiled Egg)
- Chicken Salad (Sweet Peppers, Cherry Tomatoes, Onion, Mushroom, Hard Boiled Egg)
- Pork Tenderloin Strawberry Salad
- Burger, Baked Fries and Side Salad
- Chili over Baked Potato and Sweet Peppers
- Chili topped with Avocado and Side Salad
Meal 3 (aka Dinner)
Dinner is where I tried to get a little more creative and think outside the [egg and salad] box. My crock-pot got used a lot for meat, I think I made a roast at least once a week and it was awesome having leftovers. I cooked Spaghetti Squash in a Crockpot with Meatballs for the first time ever and it was amazing how much I didn’t miss the pasta. In fact, it made me realize I eat pasta mostly for the sauce and not the pasta itself. That is when I discovered the need for a vegetable spiralizer. I ordered this Mueller 4-Blade Spiralizer from Amazon and it is amazing! Spiralized zucchini (aka zoodles) are just as satisfying as regular noodles and don’t leave you with that heavy feeling of pasta.
I roasted and steam cooked a ton of vegetables during my 30 days. I will openly admit that before Whole30 I wasn’t very good at eating veggies and I don’t think I’d ever tried a brussel sprout, so I’m proud of myself for trying new things and learning to enjoy vegetables.
Here are a few quick snapshots of my dinners:
- Pork Roast and Roasted Vegetables (Brussel Sprouts, Cherry Tomatoes, Sweet Potatoes, Broccoli)
- Pork Roast, Steamed Broccoli, and Garlic Mashed Potatoes
- Taco Salad (homemade taco seasoning), Roasted Vegetables (Brussel Sprouts, Cherry Tomatoes, Sweet Potatoes, Broccoli)
- Pork Chop, Roasted Asparagus, Clementine
- Baked Salmon and Roasted Vegetables (Asparagus, Broccoli, Carrots, Zucchini)
- Pork Roast and Roasted Vegetables (Asparagus, Broccoli, Carrots, Zucchini) and Side Salad
- Crock-Pot Spaghetti Squash with Meatballs and Side Salad
- Spaghetti Sauce with Meatballs over Zoodles (Spiralized Zucchini)
- Chicken Stir Fry over Cauliflower Rice
- Burger, Baked Sweet Potato Fries, and Roasted Asparagus
- Pork Roast, Roasted Potatoes and Asparagus
- Baby Back Ribs with Homemade BBQ Sauce, Sweet Potatoes Fries, Steamed Green Beans
- Pork Tenderloin, Zoodles with Spinach Pesto, Spinach & Strawberry Salad
- Rump Roast with Homemade BBQ Sauce, Roasted Broccoli and Brussel Sprouts
The Whole30 program encourages you not to snack, but I think that having emergency snacks is one of the keys to success. The main thing I tried not to do when I was hungry for a snack is always grab fruit, because Whole30 explained that would be “feeding the sugar dragon”. Because I really wanted to work on controlling my sugar cravings I tried my best to reach for something such as pistachios or cashews as a snack. But here are a few of the snacks I had on hand during Whole30: raisins, dried apples, nuts, hard boiled eggs, Lara Bars, and Rx Protein Bars. I used the Lara Bars and Rx Bars mostly when my schedule pushed my lunch or dinner back and I knew I would be hungry, or when I was traveling.
For anyone that is still with me, hi, thanks for hanging with me during my
long thorough overview of my Whole30 experience, but now we are getting to the fun part, the results! All I can say about Days 1-7 is “blah”, I had headaches, was tired, and on day 3 felt like I had a brain fog. I assume I had these side effects as my body was detoxing from all the crappy food I’d been eating.
The creators of Whole30 said that days 10-11 are typically the hardest days but I cruised right past those days, and then Day 16 came and stopped me dead in my tracks. Day 16 was the hardest day for me, it was a Sunday and I had sugar cravings all. day. long. I could only think of the food I was no longer able to eat: cinnamon rolls, bread, candy…oh the candy. The Oscars were on that night and I just wanted a bowl of popcorn; once I got through that craving Jimmy Kimmel started talking about candy and as part of a comedy bit they had candy float down in tiny parachutes. It was complete and absolute torture, my mouth was watering just looking at the floating candy. I know that as you read this I sound a little nuts, but maybe fellow Whole30ers know the feeling I’m talking about, it really was an eye-opening experience to see how strong cravings can be. But the even cooler experience is to power through and not give in to those cravings, when you look back it really is a powerful feeling.
Day 17 was a much better day with significant less sugar cravings. On Day 18 I woke up feeling pretty darn great, and I’d say that from Day 19-30 I experienced “tiger blood”; for those of you unfamiliar with Whole30 “tiger blood” is the point in the program where “energy is through the roof, cravings are under control, clothes are fitting better, workouts are stronger”. I didn’t have tiger blood all day everyday, but I was experiencing small changes in myself that I knew 100% had to do with Whole30.
Everyone’s Whole30 experience is different, but I’ll tell you about the “tiger blood” I experienced.
Without sugar in my diet I no longer have spikes and dips in my blood sugar, as a result I completely noticed a change in my energy levels. I wasn’t bouncing off the walls with extra energy, I just was at an even keel all day long. And I believe that having stable energy gives you a more stable mood. Think about it, have you ever snapped at your kids or spouse? Gotten frustrated dealing with an afternoon work crisis? I sure have. And most of time I think to myself “ugh, I shouldn’t have reacted that way…I’m just tired and cranky right now”. While during Whole30 I honestly think I was in a better mood and generally more happy because I wasn’t fighting to keep my eyes open or longing for a nap, I felt more awake and alert.
I sometimes get frustrated with my husband because he literally falls asleep before his head hits the pillow. And then I’m left tossing and turning thinking about work, appointments, life, and other random things that pop in my head. I used to get annoyed trying to have a conversation with him before bed because he would fall asleep in the middle of my sentences, or sometimes his own! But much to my surprise, I turned into my husband during Whole30. As soon as I laid my head on my pillow, I was out. When I was too tired to put a sentence together my husband even asked, “is this what it is like talking to me when I’m laying in bed? No wonder you think it’s annoying!”. I fell asleep fast and I slept hard during Whole30. Before Whole30 I would stay up until 11:00 some nights and I would use a clock to tell my body “it’s time for bed”. While doing Whole30 I didn’t even have to look at a clock, at 9:30 my body naturally started feeling tired and by 10:00 I felt purely exhausted.
The first time I noticed a stronger workout was on Day 19 in yoga class. We were holding a crescent pose for what felt like a good 10 minutes, so our arms were straight up in the air while doing different lunge moves; my arms were BURNING when finally the teacher said “if you need to modify you can drop your arms”, I saw in the mirrors that the entire class collectively dropped their arms that exact instant…but I kept mine raised. I really don’t think that Whole30 made my arms stronger, but it made me mentally stronger. Before Whole30 I know I would have dropped my arms with everyone else thinking “ooph, thank goodness”, but because I was doing this challenging program and my body was fueled with the best possible food I knew I could stand in my shaky crescent pose a minute longer. I found that during Whole30 I regularly started pushing my body to more extreme limits during workouts, because if I’m strong enough to make so many healthy food choices I am probably strong enough to workout a little harder.
Cravings and Hunger
I didn’t lose 100% of my sugar cravings, but I for sure had fewer cravings and more importantly I learned how to not give in to them. I learned that drinking a glass of water and waiting 10 minutes does wonders for avoiding cravings. And something else that was a wonderful surprise during Whole30 was that I really was never hungry in between meals. I thought that I would be starving the entire time, but with all the protein and vegetables I was eating I always felt full. And it is difficult to over-eat meat and vegetables so for 30 days I never felt that yucky feeling of over-indulging.
I’m writing about weight loss last, because losing weight ended up taking a back seat to all the other benefits I was noticing. A rule of the program is that you can’t step on the scale the entire 30 days, and a few times when my jeans were fitting great I was anxious to step on the scale, but I held strong. If you are a slave to the bathroom scale I would encourage you to read this article about scale-related tough love, I love it and I’m going to try not let a scale dictate how good I feel. On Day 30 I filled out this Whole30 Non-Scale Victories and I checked of FIFTY THREE things! Pretty amazing. On Day 31 I finally stepped on the scale and I lost 5 pounds, and to be completely honest my heart dropped in a bit of disappointment. But I quickly reminded myself of my 53 non-scale victories, my awesome new energy levels, and that 5 pounds is still over a pound a week. So I’m considering my 5 pounds icing on the Whole30 cake.
Would I Do It Again?
In a perfect world I would avoid sugar for the foreseeable future, but I’m realistic and I know that it will start creeping back into my diet. So if and when I start feeling my energy levels slump or not feel as great as I should, I can easily do a Whole3 or Whole7 to get back on track. And I know a lot of people do Whole30 every January which might be great way to kick off a New Year. So I’d say that answer is yes, I would do another Whole30. I feel like this is one of the first “diets” I’ve done that feels really sustainable. In the past I’ve been an extreme calorie counter, I once logged every single piece of food I ate for an entire year. So what I loved about Whole30 is that I didn’t have to think about calories, I just had to think about eating whole, healthy food. Now that I’ve completed Whole30 it feels a little weird to be able to eat whatever I want, and I’ve already eaten a few cookies and a DQ blizzard; but I have the knowledge of what it takes to treat food as the best fuel possible for my body, so I’m excited to incorporate several of my Whole30 habits into my everyday life.