I am obsessed with something called the Whole30 program (as those of you who talked to me for more than 5 minutes in 2016 already know). For those of you not familiar with it, the program seemingly makes you give up every food on the planet for 30 days to adjust your eating habits and kickstart your metabolism. It also requires some discipline. OK, maybe a lot of discipline. But I can’t recommend it enough. And since it’s the start of the New Year (and almost everyone has a resolution to get healthier in some way), now is the time to get started! I’ll talk more about the specific details of the program in a bit but first, a little background about how I discovered the Whole30.
What Were You Thinking?
I first heard about the program through a friend of mine on Facebook who was doing it with his wife. Since I wasn’t sure what it was, I decided to check out the Whole30 website. I’ve got to tell you, at first glance the dietary restrictions seemed overwhelming. Both my husband and I were like “no way, not us, not in a million years.” But I have to admit, I was intrigued by what I read. You see, I had been struggling with feelings of blahness for months. I hated how I couldn’t lose any weight, no matter how hard I tried. I wasn’t sleeping well, I felt old and tired and I was starting to look that way too. I was desperate for a change and willing to give up just about anything if it meant I felt better. Now, I’ve never been a food saint, but I’ve never considered myself that bad of an eater either. However, my mind was blown away when I read the book “It Starts With Food” by Dallas and Melissa Hartwig. The book was funny, thoughtful, well-written and it showed me how everything I thought I knew about food was wrong.
The book forced me to face some challenging truths about the way I eat. And then they promised me they could help me find the answers to these questions (taken directly from the book):
- Why can’t I lose weight, even when I eat less?
- Why do I get that 3 o’clock slump every afternoon?
- Why do I get so cranky if I don’t eat every two hours?
- Where did this spare tire come from — I eat so healthy!
I had struggled with all of these issues for years. Sprinkle in regular bouts of sadness that nothing in my life was changing (even when I thought I was making better choices) and you could see why I was willing to try any solution that promised to make all these bad things go away. I figured I could do anything for a month and that if it didn’t work, I hadn’t lost anything by eating more broccoli.
I decided my start date would be January 18, 2016. My husband did not do it with me (although he was much more supportive than I anticipated). It was just me heading off into the wilderness of good eating all by my lonesome with no clue what I was in for.
Thirty days better I felt better than I had in decades. And that’s not an exaggeration. This program saved my life.
Wait, What Can’t You Eat?
OK, let’s get the hard stuff out of the way first. There are a lot of foods you can’t eat on this program. Probably most of the food in your pantry. All of your favorite foods at restaurants. That glass of wine you like to enjoy after a long day at the office. The latte you drink on your way to work. In fact, you are going to be spending a lot of time reading ingredients on food labels and Googling things while standing in the grocery store aisle. What you learn is going to amaze you. Trust me, all those healthy and organic items you’re buying at Trader Joe’s? Most of it is just crap when you start looking at the particulars that go into it.
Here are all the food no-no’s (when you get to the end, take a deep breath and keep reading; it gets better, I promise!):
- No sugar (that includes maple syrup, honey, agave, Splenda, Equal, stevia or any other form of sweetener that you can imagine)
- No booze (not even to cook with)
- No grains (or even pseudo-grains, like quinoa)
- No legumes
- No dairy
- No carrageenan, MSG or sulfates
Yep, that pretty much leaves you with protein, veggies, fruits and eggs. You won’t starve, but it’s going to take a lot of work. And yes, this program is similar to the Paleo diet but this program isn’t a diet. It’s forcing you to change your lifestyle for 30 days but not asking much more beyond that unless you want to continue to eat this way. When you read the book, you’ll understand why.
Buy the Cookbook – And Then Buy a Couple More
To survive on this program, you need to buy the cookbook, “Whole30: The 30-Day Guide to TOTAL HEALTH and FOOD FREEDOM.” First off, the recipes in them are really good (I’ve made most of them). Even my husband enjoys them (and he is a pretty picky eater who thinks bread and pasta are the greatest inventions of mankind). Who knew that protein and veggies could be so darn tasty? And for those of you who want even more spice and adventure in your meals, I’ve got some additional recommendations for you. I highly recommend picking up two more cookbooks before you start the program: “Well Fed” and “Well Fed 2“. Between these three cookbooks, you’ll never lack for things to eat. Just make sure you plan your week in advance (this is super important; none of these recipes are quick to make and you need to be prepared for when hunger strikes). Also be prepared for the increased number of dishes. So. Many. Dishes.
Click on any of the below images to learn more about these books on Amazon.
It Sounds Crazy, but You Should Try This
Hopefully you haven’t closed your browser in complete frustration by now. Reading all these rules and recommendations the first time can feel a little overwhelming. But let me tell you why it’s worth it. Two words: tiger blood. Yes, it’s a real thing and yes, you will experience it if you follow this program faithfully. The authors describe tiger blood as when you wake up and feel “like someone flipped a switch and turned on the awesome. Your energy is through the roof, cravings are under control, clothes are fitting better, workouts are strong — you feel unstoppable!” It is like being struck by a lightening bolt and the lingering energy powers you through your days. It’s takes a couple of days to experience, but once it hits you, the feeling is addictive.
Now, you might be wondering if this is all so wonderful, why don’t I just stay on the Whole30 program forever? Well, the truth is that there are all kinds of fun foods out there that I don’t want to avoid. I like a drink or two after work. A bacon cheeseburger with a side of fries? Yes, please! I have to admit, after the 30 days is up, I usually keep eating within the program guidelines for a couple of weeks. But then I start to cheat, a little bit here and a little bit there. And eventually all those cheats mean my old eating habits have taken over. Before I know it, I feel bloated, tired and gross.
But I know that if I just go back on the program, my energy will swing back up and the extra pounds will start to drop off. I’ll sleep better, feel happier about most everything in life, and be more productive. Which is why I’m starting the New Year on a strong note and doing the program again. Who wants to join me?