I've been doing something a little crazy for the past 18 days. I decided that I wanted to try the Whole30. It's a strict 30-day Paleo elimination diet. No dairy. No soy. No legumes. No grains. No white potatoes. (Update: Since I first wrote this post, the rules have changed and potatoes are now allowed! More info here.) No added sugar (real or artificial). No carrageenen, msg or sulfites. No alcohol (even in cooking). No "paleo" friendly treats like banana "soft serve." And, finally, no fun.
Kidding on that last one!
So why on earth would I want to do that? Well, frankly, I vainly wanted to see if I could clear up my skin. That's not the only reason, though. I injured my SI joint deadlifting a few months ago and it has been stubborn healing. I wanted to see if it would help with the inflammation. Other than that, I'm curious to see if any of those foods actually affect me negatively.
I'm pretty wary about extreme eating and diets. I like to think I take really moderate, sane approach to eating. Food should and can be both pleasurable and nutritious. So I did a lot of research beforehand, which meant reading as many blogs and experiences as possible. Thankfully, one of my friends was near the end of her first and steered me to some of the resources that helped her. She gave me an honest take on the whole thing: It's not easy but it's worth it.
I figured putting my experience out there might help someone else out, especially since I've just started the downhill slide. I'm on day 18 now and I will do a follow-up post at the end of the 30 days.
My energy has improved dramatically
It took over a week of "detoxing" to get here, but I'm definitely feeling more alert and I don't have the same afternoon slump. Apparently I'm in the Tiger Blood phase, which means:
You’ve hit the downhill slope of your Whole30 and life is beautiful—which means different things for different people. For some (generally people who came to the program eating well, exercising regularly, and feeling pretty good to begin with), Tiger Blood means someone flipped a switch and turned on the awesome. Energy is through the roof, cravings are under control, clothes are fitting better, workouts are stronger.
For others, this Tiger Blood stage feels more like a real sense of self-efficacy. It doesn’t mean things are perfect (or even easy), but you’re proving to yourself that you can do this, things are getting better, and you’re seeing improvements (small or large) almost daily. Your energy is steadier, you’ve got a firmer handle on the cravings, and you’re experimenting with new, delicious foods. You may notice that your ability to focus is keener, your body composition is changing, your moods are more stable, you’re stepping up your exercise, or you’re just plain happier these days.- See more at: http://whole30.com/2013/08/revised-timeline/#sthash.qs0Zvio5.dpuf
My sleep is improving
Life's a little stressful right now, so I'm not always sleeping well, but I do feel like my sleep is deeper and more restful than it was before I started. It's also easier to get up in the morning. I don't feel that same sense of grogginess for 2 hours (yes, it usually takes me 2 hours to fully wake up), which amazes me.
My skin looks better
It's not perfect, but it looks more clear and even toned. I've actually stopped wearing foundation for past few days. So far, so good. I'm reserving my final judgement on this one until the end, though.
My SI Joint feels better
I was already slowly but surely starting to feel better after months of recovery, so I'm not sure I can give the Whole30 credit. But I've noticed the last few days have been great. My big indicator is whether or not it hurts when I stand up after sitting at my computer for a long period of time. Last week was the first week I was completely pain-free for multiple days. When I did have pain, it was minimal. Again, it's not perfect but it's better.
I feel great after I eat
I don't get that lethargic or heavy feeling after I eat meals anymore. I also don't have the same crazy energy peaks and valleys throughout the day. I can go longer between meals without becoming the usual hangry mess.
Homemade mayo is delicious
I don't know if I can ever go back to store-bought. Recipe here. Mmmm. End of story.
No stepping on the scale
I love that one of the rules of the program is no stepping on the scale or taking measurements. I'm happy at my current weight anyway, but I like that the focus is on how you feel, not on numbers.
I was eating way more sugar than I ever imagined
I quickly learned that I wasn't just having a small treat at night like I thought. I was starting my day with a fruity protein smoothie, then I'd sneak a bit of candy or chocolate in the day (a couple of chocolate chips can't hurt, right?!), then I'd have a handful of raisins here and there and, then have that after-dinner treat.
Let's just say that the first week of the Whole30 without all of that sugar, even in pasta sauce or dressings, was really eye-opening and tough. It still is tough. I may have asked S if I could smell his Dunkeroos the other night. I don't even like Dunkaroos.
Food can get boring if I'm not careful
The backbone of this diet is veggies, meat, healthy fats, and some fruit. That can either be incredibly tasty or incredibly boring. Thankfully, there are some really, really great resources out there. I highly recommend Nom Nom Paleo for inspiration. In fact, there's a 30 day rundown of Whole30-friendly meals there. So great!
Restaurants can be really difficult
I found out pretty quickly that when you think something is totally safe, like a homemade angus burger and garden salad, it might be full of other stuff, like panko. Blech.
As someone who usually eats anything and prides herself on not being picky, it's been very hard to be "difficult" and require grain-free, sugar-free, dairy-free everything all of the time.
I had to start over once
Just a couple of days into it, I made pasta for S. I planned to eat sauce over sautéed zucchini that night, but somewhere in the cooking process I forgot what I was doing and tested the spaghetti to see if it was done. I was not a happy camper when I realized that single strand of spaghetti meant I needed to start back at Day 1. Strict? Yep. Silly? Maybe. But them's the rules and I want to do this right.
The beginning is not fun
The first day was a breeze. Life was great. I thought, "This thing's going to be so easy." Then, I woke up the next day and I was miserable. The misery continued for over a week. My stomach freaked out one day. Headaches and grumpiness arrived in full force. I was really tired all of the time. I went to bed at 8:30 one night. I craved everything I couldn't have. I hated it, but I was determined. I'm glad I stuck it out because I started noticing all of the good stuff soon after.
I don't have any ugly to report. Hooray!
My allergies seem to be better in general
Over the past 10 years or so I've had so many new allergies develop. Dogs, cats, trees, grass, horses. The list goes on. I simply don't seem to be reacting nearly as much now. I visited the horses the other day and didn't get itchy, watery eyes, or any of my usual symptoms. It'll be interesting to see if it continues.
I don't need to use lip balm
I'm guessing it's because I'm eating more fats, but it's a noticeable difference. I usually have lip balm on me at all times, but now I just put it on before bed.
I don't miss cream in my coffee at all
I had already started to switch to putting coconut oil in my coffee before going Whole30, but I would still use cream when we were on the road because I didn't like black coffee. I don't know what flip switched, but I can happily drink it black now.
Club soda tastes sweet
The first time it happened, I had to check to make sure I hadn't picked up a Pepsi by accident. Just. . .odd.
The Whole30 timeline is shockingly accurate
From the "hangover" phase in days 2-3 to the hyper-realistic food dreams in days 12-15, I've found that the timeline has been a really good guideline for my experiences so far. It also makes it easier to go through something rough, like the super-moody "kill all the things" phase in day 4 and 5, when you realize it's normal and "boundless energy" is coming around day 12.
If you're interested and want to learn more, there are tons of resources but here are the three that I started with:
Everything you need to know to get started and plan a successful Whole30 can be found on the website. Dallas and Melissa Hartwig have put together a ton of information, downloads (from shopping lists to an eating out guide), a forum, and more. I'd also recommend checking out their book, It Starts with Food. I'm still waiting for my copy to come in at the library, but I've heard that it goes into more depth about the whys and hows of the program.
One of my favorite food podcasts that featured two episodes about the Whole30. The first episode includes an interview with Melissa Hartwig right before one of the hosts, Molly, starts her Whole30. The second is a follow-up after Molly's Whole30 is over.
A paleo food blog that focuses on delicious recipes. There are tons of great Whole30 and regular paleo meal ideas there.
I'm not sure what the last 12 days will bring. I feel really great right now. I don't want to eat this way forever, but that's not really what the Whole30 is about. It's about eliminating foods that commonly cause problems for people so you can get a good read on your body and make informed decisions.
I'll come back after the 30 days are over and post my thoughts about how it all went and what my plans are when I start reintroducing foods.
Updated: August 4, 2014 to add new rules for potatoes.