What is the Whole30?
The Whole30 is a thirty day program that encourages you to eat as much whole food as possible. That means no processed foods and a lot of home cooked meals. More specifically, you eat a lot of vegetables, fruit, protein and fats, while you cut out all grains, dairy, legumes, and added sugars.
To learn more about the specifics and rules of the program, you can check out the Whole30 website. If you have any specific questions, please post them in the comments at the end of this article 🙂
I have now completed two Whole30’s and this time around, I knew that I wanted to share my experience with you all, to help answer any questions you may have about the Whole30 and to provide an example of what a Whole30 could look like. That being said, I feel that it is necessary to explain a little bit of my personal back story with food and health, since each individual person is so unique and each person’s experience with the Whole30 is heavily influenced by one’s personal history (if you’re not interested in this, you can scroll down to My June Whole30 Experience).
Growing up I had a pretty normal relationship with food. I’ve always enjoyed eating, cooking and trying new things. In high school, I didn’t worry at all about what I ate. I would go to fast food places with friends, eat really whatever I wanted without worrying about how “healthy” I was being. I never really had a problem with my body or weight. I was average, on the thinner side, but also not strikingly thin. I didn’t worry about my body much though.
Then college came around, and my body started to change. I noticed myself gaining weight like I never had before. Between the stressors of living away from home for the first time and other hormonal changes, the pounds seemed to creep on. I developed an unhealthy relationship with late night snacking. Having a snack before I went to bed became something that I looked forward to to help me get through the day. My day started to be more centered around food, with consuming treats acting as a coping mechanism for any type of stress or unhappiness. By the summer after my freshman year of college, I noticed that I had really put on weight, probably about 15 pounds. I was terribly unhappy and didn’t know how to deal with this unfamiliar weight gain.
After weeks of moping about it to my mother, I finally decided to say enough’s enough, and make a change. I began to eat healthier in the best way I knew how at the time and running consistently. This went on for about 2 months, and I was starting to feel better and more in control of my health. However, I had an ongoing problem with constipation, amenorrhea (an abnormal absence of menstruation), and irregular thyroid levels (hypothyroidism), which led me to see a naturopathic doctor, because I was desperate for an explanation and resolution to my physical problems.
When I saw the naturopathic doctor, I had a blood test done to see if I had any food sensitivities that could potentially be causing inflammation in my body, causing health problems. As it turns out, I had a lot of food sensitivities: gluten, dairy, rice, oats, corn, peanuts, lentils, and more. The doctor agreed that I had more food sensitivities and higher ones than a lot of patients he had seen previously. He recommended I remove all of these foods from my diet, to see how I would feel. (Additionally he recommended a number of supplements to help heal me).
Removing all of these foods from my diet was very difficult at first, and I struggled just to find things I could eat daily. I didn’t know what I was doing, and I didn’t really know how to cook. Thankfully, my doctor recommended a few food blogs to me, which helped me realize my sensitivities aligned really well with the paleo diet. I would scour paleo food blogs for dinner ideas, as well as dessert recipes to help keep me sane.
After a few months of eating essentially paleo, I was feel better, had a lot more energy, had better digestion, and to my surprise, lost a lot of weight. In probably about 3 months I went from weighing 150 lb to 125 lb. In large part, I felt like I lost all of that weight without even trying. The weight stayed off, and I continued eating paleo and regularly working out for a year and a half.
However, even though I ate very healthy, I still carried around these past negative beliefs about myself and eating. I thought that I never ate healthy enough and that I cared about eating too much. Often times I would binge eat nut butters and feel terrible about myself afterwards. I had such a negative relationship with myself and with food, it became an obsession. I evaluated how well my day went based on how well I ate that day. If I ate well, it was a good day, if I ate poorly it was a terrible day. As you may be able to imagine, during this time I followed a very rigid schedule, which made it difficult for me to prioritize relationships or hanging out with friends, because at the end of the day, what I valued most was being able to eat “healthy” and exercise. I was terribly unhappy and had few things in my life that brought me genuine joy.
Then I left the United States for 6 months to study abroad in France. Going into studying abroad, I had every intention of following my diet. Unsurprising, considering that eating healthy was what I valued most. However, while I was in France, I have this distinct memory of me walking down the street to one of my classes and thinking you are literally living your dream. You’re in France, you’re in the best shape you could hope to be, yet you are so unhappy.
For a few months I had been wrestling with why I even followed my diet, and if it was really even making a difference. I watched as my friends indulged in croissants, baguettes, and patisseries, feeling a deep sense of disconnection with the culture. I felt different, like I wasn’t normal. I wanted to be able to experience the culture like everyone else was. So in the midst of personal turmoil and a desire to explore French cuisine, I made the choice to stop following my diet after a year and a half of following a very strict paleo diet.
Now this wasn’t like a, “oh, I’m going to reintroduce a few grains here and there in moderation or I’m going to eat some yogurt and see how I feel”. This was a full-fledged, “I haven’t had gluten or dairy in a year and a half, I want to try it all, give me your best pastries, cause I’m all in” kind of reintroduction. I wanted to re-try every food I had missed- pizza, sandwiches, popcorn, oatmeal, cookies, baguettes, ice cream, crepes, croissants, cakes, you name it, and I probably tried it. There was not really a sense of balance or peace to my eating because it was grounded in shame and a literal need to let go of the suffocatingly strict lifestyle I had created for myself. I felt terribly guilty about eating all of these things, but not enough to stop.
The first week after I had introduced these new foods into my diet, I remember waking up in the middle of the night extremely hot and sweaty, but I just ignored it. I started to get congested and have terrible headaches all the time, but I just ignored it. I was exhausted, but I just ignored it. The pounds started to creep on, and I didn’t recognize myself, but I still kept on eating. I knew that eating this way wasn’t good for me, but it was like I couldn’t stop. I had committed to it, and now I was sticking with it.
By the end of my 6 months in France, though, I was beginning to feel pretty crumby. I could only continue on for so long. I recognized that I needed to go back to my diet when I got back to the US in order to start feeling better.
Surprisingly, following my old diet was relatively easy. In many ways, it was like I had never stopped. I was used to not eating grains and dairy when I was at home. However, I carried around this guilt for how I had eaten in France as well as a sense of shame that I was not good enough. I worried that my friends would notice how much weight I had gained and not see me in the same light. I thought people would not view me as attractive. I went into my senior year of college feeling invisible. I thought that I didn’t really matter to people now that I was bigger.
Yet, at the same time, I was weirdly grateful for my experience in France. I realized that there was more to life than following a strict diet. That there was more to life than being skinny. That there were other things that I could value, that would actually make me happy. I began to value relationships more, putting time into hanging out with friends, and doing things outside of my rigid schedule, since I no longer had a rigid schedule to keep. I began to value other parts of myself, other than my physical appearance. I loved to learn. I loved to speak french. I loved to create things. I learned that there was more to me, and more to life, than how I had previously been living.
Additionally, straying from my diet helped me realize that there actually was good reason to be avoiding certain foods. I was feeling terrible- digestive problems, congestion, exhaustion, difficulty sleeping, headaches, weight gain, and a major increase in inflammation. Foods such as gluten and dairy really did have a significant impact on my physical health and now that I knew that, it was easier for me to avoid eating them, knowing the consequences I would experience.
Thus, I was thankful for the experience, however at the same time, I continued to hold out hope that my body would return to it’s previous weight if I kept on following my diet. I felt that if I could return to that weight, then I would be worthy. So for a year, I tried various things, in an effort to lose weight.
In January of 2017, I completed my first Whole30 and probably lost about 10 pounds. I was happy with the results, but also disappointed that I didn’t magically revert back to my old weight. Additionally, I was still carrying around feelings of guilt surrounding food. I still felt like I was a very unhealthy eater, even though I ate very well. I also struggled with late night snacking. The program recommended eating 3 satisfying meals a day, with minimal snacking inbetween. I really struggled with this. I felt that I needed to have snacks to get through the day. So I continued to eat a handful of almonds in the afternoon and before bed, because I felt I needed these little “treats” to get me through the day.
After my first Whole30, I continued to eat a pretty much paleo diet, while always holding out hope that I would lose weight, but never really did. At least not as much as I wanted to. Though something pretty amazing happened about a month after completing my first Whole30- I received my period naturally for the first time in more than 3 years. I was ecstatic. As each new month came, I continued to get my period and every time, I was filled with joy and gratitude. It’s now been more than a full year where I have gotten my period regularly and I am so grateful. Now I can’t say for sure it was only because of the Whole30, but I think that it helped.
In October of 2017, I left for France again, this time to teach English abroad. Initially I was a bit apprehensive about following my diet while I was there. I was worried that I would be tempted to indulge in all of the delicious gluten-filled desserts that had tempted me the last time. However, surprisingly, I had really no problems following my diet. I knew how eating those foods made me feel, and that was enough for me to not even dare eating them. I also had my own apartment where I cooked all of my own meals, and baked my own paleo treats, which helped me feel satisfied and not deprived. From my experience indulging in all of those foods the last time, I learned to be more flexible with my diet. If there was a circumstance that I was in where I had to, for example eat corn or rice, I would do it, knowing that it wasn’t the best for me, but also that it was only something I did on occasion. There were no feelings of shame tied to it, which in turn, meant I felt okay about my food decision, and wouldn’t be sent on a binge eating spree of eating foods I knew would make me sick.
I found a balance between avoiding foods that made me feel sick and being flexible when necessary. There was great joy in this balance, because it allowed me to be in harmony in my relationships with others since my diet was no longer so rigid that it caused feelings of discord. When my mother came to visit me in France the month of May, I was able to truly enjoy our trip, and indulge on occasion. When we visited our Swedish relatives, they went out of their way to buy me gluten-free products. Normally, I never eat gluten-free products that have rice or corn in them (which most gluten-free products contain) but in this situation, I felt that it was okay. They bought and sometimes even baked, special foods for me, so of course I was going to eat them. And the amazing thing is, afterwards, I didn’t feel bad about it, whereas 3 years ago, I would have been overridden with feelings of guilt and shame like you wouldn’t believe. My whole day would have been ruined. But it wasn’t, and I got to experience delicious food, with people I love, and to me, that holds much more value than eating the perfect diet.
So, yes, I have had my fair amount of struggles with my diet and body image. There are still days where I feel bad about myself, and frustrated with the way my body is. But there are also so many moments, where I am infinitely grateful for all that I have learned, and for all that my body does for me. My life has so much more value and joy now than it did 3 years ago, when I was at least 30 pounds lighter and obsessed with being healthy. I’ve learned how to be flexible and part from my rigid schedule, so that I can put my energy into my relationships and my passions. Thus, this last Whole30 that I embarked on, I entered into with a much healthier mindset and better relationship with myself, and food.
My June Whole30
I decided to do the June Whole30 with my mom as a “reset” after our month of traveling and indulging (no regrets) in a lot of grains that I normally avoid because they cause inflammation in my body. I was a little nervous to start the Whole30 because I felt that I had become very dependent on sugar and sweets. However, that was all the more reason it was a good idea.
The first day was difficult, but after that, I quickly got into the routine of life without sweets and snacks. A typical day for me would be a breakfast comprised of sweet potato toast slathered with almond butter, maybe an egg and some sort of stir-fried veggies. For lunch, I liked to have salads with lots of vegetables, some sort of protein, and a starchier vegetable, such as white potatoes or sweet potatoes, and a piece of fruit. For dinner, I would normally cook a more complete meal, such as the ones found in the Whole30 cookbook. This ranged from tacos with lettuce wraps, my whole30 buffalo chicken wings, or vegetable-noodle based dishes.
In my previous Whole30, the main thing I struggled with was snacking. For at least the last four years, night time snacks have been an almost ritualistic habit for me. Every single night, I would have some sort of snack, not always unhealthy, sometimes a banana with almond butter or a handful of almonds, but it was a deeply ingrained habit that has been tough for me to break. This past year while living in France, I did stray from this habit on occasion, because I lived such satisfying days, it no longer felt necessary to have a snack to look forward to at the end of the day. However, I still would have a snack fairly often, out of habit, not out of a real need. As a result of the personal growth I did while in France, I think it was easier for me to break this habit when doing this round of the Whole30. Most days of this Whole30, I really did just have the 3 recommended meals with no snacks and I was really proud of myself for being able to do this, because a year ago, I never thought I would have been able to.
Nonetheless, this Whole30 was not perfect, and I still dealt with problems. One of my biggest challenges was with nut butters, as silly as that may sound. I absolutely love almond and cashew butters, and I found myself over-indulging in them quite frequently. Nut butters are okay on the Whole30, but in moderation. I would say that some days I enjoyed them in moderation, but other days I ate more of them than I would have liked to. For example, maybe I had some on my sweet potato toast in the morning, then on a banana as part of my lunch and another slice of sweet potato as part of dinner. It wasn’t the worst thing ever, but mentally, I felt a little too dependent on it.
The Whole30 is a learning experience, and through it, I learned that I need to be more cautious of my consumption of nuts, in general, because for me, when I start eating them, I have a hard time stopping. Going forward, I would like to be more mindful of this and to feel less dependent on almond/ cashew butter to be satisfied at the end of a meal.
Major Benefits I Experienced
During this round of the Whole30, I experienced a number of physical benefits. Nothing necessarily out of the ordinary, per say, but still a noticeable difference.
As do most people who complete a Whole30, I felt that I had a lot more energy, especially in the last 10 days. I no longer felt that post-lunch crash where I wanted more than anything to crawl in bed and take a nap. I had full days, filled with lots of activity, and I was able to maintain a high level of energy throughout.
After only a few days of the Whole30, I noticed significantly less bloating. Looking at myself in the mirror from the side, I could see a noticeable difference in my stomach, it no longer stuck out as much as it did before and felt much flatter. I think this may be do to inflammation caused by eating certain foods.
Congestion has been something I’ve struggled with for the past 2 years and it feels like it is highly related to my diet. After eating certain foods, such as dairy and gluten, I notice a significant increase in congestion, and sometimes it can be very uncomfortable. Going into the Whole30, I was still experiencing congestion even though I wasn’t consuming dairy or gluten. After about day 15 of the Whole30, I noticed that my congestion had significantly decreased. I’m still not entirely sure of the culprit, but I plan on monitoring my congestion as I reintroduce foods, in hopes of identifying the cause.
I’ve never been someone who has had a lot of blemishes on my face, but the past year, when I had been eating small amounts of dairy, I noticed that my skin was more oily, and that I was having more blemishes than normal. However, while on the Whole30, my skin completely cleared up, and was hardly at all oily. I had a number of people compliment me on my complexion as well. I think this was due to two things. Number one being the removal of dairy from my diet. And number two being the addition of collagen peptides to my diet. I found that my hair felt healthier, and my skin has been literally glowing.
Overall, I feel like I think much more clearly when I do the Whole30, and I take on a much calmer demeanor. Perhaps it is the reduction in sugar that keeps me more even keel. The exact cause, I can only speculate, but I am happy to be thinking clearly and feeling less stressed.
Clothes Fitting Better
I noticed my most dramatic physical changes in my body composition within the first 13 days. My stomach was flatter, some of the fattier areas of my back were slimmer, and my upper thighs seemed to slim down as well. I tried on clothes that didn’t fit just weeks before and now fit very well, mostly tighter fitting shirts or dresses that were more fitted on the stomach. My jeans and shorts were baggier, but not to the point where I needed to buy a different size. Overall I am pleased with the results and feel like I am at a healthier weight for my body.
I cannot tell you if I lost or gained any weight, because I made the decision not to weigh myself. I haven’t weighed myself since this past January, and it’s been one of the best decisions of my life. I no longer obsess about numbers or going up or down a few pounds. Instead, I’m just me, whole and worthy, regardless of a number on a scale or changes in my body. I wouldn’t say that this is what everyone should do, but for me, it has been a wonderful decision.
Lastly, one of the best parts about doing the Whole30 for me was feeling free of my need for sweets. It felt so good to not be thinking about sweets throughout the day, or using them as a reward after meals or at the end of the day. At first, giving up chocolate was hard, and I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to do it. But after only a few days of the Whole30, it became normal to not have chocolate. It became part of my routine.
Now that I’m done with the Whole30, I want to be very mindful and intentional about the amounts of sugar I am consuming, because I know that it is very easy for me to slide back into old habits. However, even in the few days since I have finished, I find myself not having as much of a sweet tooth, and things that I used to enjoy now taste too sweet.
Tips for Success
I know the Whole30 can be a very daunting challenge, but trust me, you can do it! That being said, here are a few tips that I practiced to help make my Whole30 more enjoyable.
Sweet Potato Toast
If you’ve never done a Whole30, you may be wondering, what the heck is sweet potato toast? Well, I’ll clue you in. It’s not real toast. It’s just sweet potatoes, thinly cut and cooked, to sort of resemble toast. To be honest, sweet potatoes do not really taste anything like actual toast, but they’re nice in that they’re a starchier vegetable, and that you can use them as toast by stacking/slathering things on them.
Typically at the beginning of the week I would make a large batch of sweet potato toasts (a how-to video is on my high-lights real on instagram) and then refrigerate the left-overs. Then in the morning, I would microwave 2 or 3 slices of sweet potato toasts and eat them with eggs, avocado, or almond butter and fruit. They were easy, tasty, and a fun breakfast!
RX Bars for going out with friends
During my Whole30, I still went out with my friends a few times on the weekend. Sometimes I would stay out pretty after with my friends on the weekends (until 1 or 2am) and by the end of the night, I would be pretty hungry (and tired haha). So to help me get through staying out late, I would pack a snack. RX bars were great for on the go, but if I didn’t have one, I would bring a mix of nuts. RX bars are also great for if you’re ever in a pinch and don’t have time to eat a real meal/ can’t find something Whole30 compliant. It’s not recommended that you eat them regularly or like a post-meal “dessert” but rather, use them when you really need them. My favorite flavors are the chocolate sea salt and the mint chocolate chip.
First off, drinking lots of water is very important. However, I also liked to spice up my days with different drinks. Typically in the morning I would have an almond milk latte with vital proteins collagen peptides. In the afternoon, I would have a second cup of coffee, sometimes black, sometimes with nut pods creamer added to it.
I also enjoyed ordering the Starbucks Passion Tango Tea, unsweetened and adding in about a tablespoon of the vanilla nut pods creamer. It’s a fun summer drink that I learned about from Melissa’s Food Freedom (you should check out her website and her instagram if you haven’t already). Occasionally I would also just order this drink by itself, no creamer added, and found it to be a lovely and refreshing summer treat.
Lastly, I really enjoyed drinking sparkling water. My favorites were the classic lemon LaCroix and the passion fruit LaCroix. However, I also really like spindrift’s raspberry lime sparkling water. It’s a sparkling water that is naturally sweetened with juice. It contains 6% juice and only 1 gram of sugar, so it is Whole30 compliant, but a little more flavorful than a regular sparkling water.
Obviously, if you can make time for meal prep, you’re always going to be happy that you did. Prepping meals prevents you from ever getting into that situation where you’re like I’m tired. I’m hungry. I want food now. But I have nothing Whole30 I can eat and I don’t want to cook.
To be honest, I’m not always the best at meal prep, but I do try and be smart about my leftovers. I always eat my leftovers and try to jazz them up in new fun ways. For example, adding leftover meat to a salad, or making a lettuce wrap. Or taking plain chicken and adding new seasonings, like turmeric and oregano.
My go-to salad during the whole30 was a lifesaver whenever I needed to bring food to work, if I was going out with friends, or eating lunch on the go. I simply cut up romaine lettuce, added chopped green bell pepper, celery, pepperoncini, and a handful of cashews. Then I would add canned tuna with olive oil (the olive oil acting as the dressing) and voilà, you have the perfect salad. If I had extra diced sweet potatoes or roasted white potatoes, I would add those too to make it a more substantial meal.
One very easy way to incorporate lots of vegetables into your diet with pretty minimal effort is roasting vegetables in the oven. To do this you can simply heat the oven to 400 F, and on a baking sheet, add an assortment of vegetables. It could be anything: bell peppers, onions, mushrooms, asparagus, green beans, zucchini, carrots, eggplant, tomatoes, broccoli… anything and add a bit of olive oil, salt, pepper, and 1 or 2 of your favorite seasonings (I like smoked paprika and cumin) and roast for 25-35 minutes depending on the density of the vegetables you’re roasting.
I like to make a large pan of vegetables, and then have them throughout the week to add to different meals, such as salads, wraps, or even for breakfast! It’s an easy way to cook vegetables that doesn’t require much effort.
My Favorite Meals
Crispy Spicy Turkey with Lemon and Herbs from The Whole30 Cookbook on page 135
Roasted Potatoes- thinly slice white potatoes, toss with olive oil, salt, and pepper, and roast in the oven at 400 F for 25 minutes
The Whole30 Program Rules for the specific rules of the program.
The Whole30 Timeline to get an idea of how you may feel each day of the Whole30.
My Whole30 Pinterest board for meal inspiration.