This past December, I decided to try the Whole30 plan. I had first heard of the program years ago, but never seriously considered trying it. I’ve always cared about health and fitness and since my late teens, I’ve worked out consistently five to six days per week (with occasional mandatory hiatuses like during my twin pregnancy and after a car accident in my twenties). Along with regular exercise, I’ve always tried to maintain a healthy diet. Admittedly, that part has been harder at times!
Why I Decided to do The Whole30.
I’m a big believer in moderation. Because of this, I don’t go on diets. Generally, when I have a fitness goal, I cut back where I need to, but I never fully eliminate foods and I don’t declare anything off-limits. That has always worked for me. However, after having three kids, including twins last year, I acknowledged that some of my eating habits were holding me back from accomplishing my post-baby fitness goals. I was relying too heavily on my vices, and I wanted a reset that would help me rein in some bad habits and reinforce good ones. That’s when I decided to give the Whole30 a shot.
What is The Whole30?
The Whole30 is a nutrition program that focuses on eating real, whole foods. The duration of the program is thirty days hence the name “Whole30.” The plan encourages participants to eat “moderate portions of meat, seafood, and eggs; lots of vegetables; some fruit; plenty of natural fats; and herbs, spices, and seasonings. It also asks followers to limit themselves to foods with very few ingredients (all of them pronounceable) or better yet, no ingredients listed at all because they’re whole and unprocessed.” Source.
The Whole30 plan does not allow added sugar (real or artificial); alcohol; grains; legumes; dairy; carrageenan; MSG; or sulfites. That takes just about all packaged or processed foods off the table. It also requires followers to eliminate bread, cheese, and chocolate – as in, all of my favorite things! And you can’t recreate off-limits foods with approved ingredients. That means no paleo baked goods, no cauliflower pizzas, no frozen bananas (“nice cream”) – essentially nothing that would make it harder to kick your bad habits. The final rule is that you can’t even entertain the idea of having any off-program foods, and if you do, you must start over from Day 1. That’s a big incentive to stay on plan!
You can read the full rules here and here.
The Whole30 doesn’t call itself a diet program or even a weight-loss plan (though most people do lose weight on the program). The goal instead is to permanently shift less than desirable eating habits. It is a lifestyle change. For many, it is the catalyst toward a healthier lifestyle. For others, it is a virtuous pitstop on the way back to bad habits.
So, what did I learn by doing The Whole30?
While the program may sound strict, I did not feel deprived. The program discourages calorie-counting, and though I was generally aware of my intake based on years of eyeballing measurements, I also did not actively try to restrict calories. I stuck by the rules. I didn’t recreate off-limits foods. I didn’t take a sip or bite of any non-compliant food.
My husband did the program with me, and his support helped on the rare days I felt like throwing in the towel. At various points, I contemplated eating Whole30ish long-term. I even thought about going full on paleo when the program was over.
However, when the 30 days ended and some time passed, I decided I wanted to reintroduce most foods in moderation. For example, pita bread, hummus, peanut butter, and feta cheese have been staples in my diet for years. The Whole30 made them off-limits, and I decided I wanted them back in my life. I also reintroduced sweets on special occasions, as well as small treats in my daily life.
The Whole30 helped me reclaim control over my dietary habits so that the foods I intend to eat in moderation really are eaten in moderation. The plan also helped me kick my daily diet soda habit – something I have struggled with for years.
I learned that I call the shots.
In sum, I learned that I call the shots when it comes to my health and nutrition habits—something I had always known but had forgotten.
I am stronger than a piece of cake. I’m stronger than a can of Diet Coke. It was also a reminder that I do believe in the importance of moderation. I love to run and lift weights and eat chocolate and make kale salads, and all of that is OK.
The power to say yes is within me—and so is the power to say no.
Have you tried The Whole30? What was your experience?