(UPDATE: Since I wrote this post back in 2014, the Whole30 has become much more mainstream, with the media seeming to understand it can be a healthy way to reset/find a nutrition plan that works for you…yay!! Just wanted to clarify. I originally wrote this to share my story, in defense of the Whole30 when the media was not as positive as it is now!)
The Whole30 program has attracted a lot of attention in the mainstream media recently. I am happy that it is being featured, but most of the pieces are getting it totally wrong. It has been presented as a quick-fix for weight loss, a crash diet, etc. SO not true, and totally missing the whole point of Whole30.
In a nutshell, it is a nutritional reset designed to help you discover if the foods you are eating are making you more or less healthy, and how they are impacting your life overall. Through the 30 days, you gain insight on your body and relationship with food. Weight loss usually happens, but is just an added bonus to the program. It is not the focus, and in fact, you are not even supposed to weigh yourself for 30 days! If you stick to it, it can literally be life-changing! (For the complete description of the program, I encourage you to browse whole30.com and read “It Starts with Food.”)
While on my Whole30 journey, I’ve experienced major improvements in all aspects of my health…
I’ve shared my experience here, as I have gone along, each time I’ve done a Whole30. However, now I want to give you a bigger, overall picture of what “My Whole30 Story” is, because I think real testimonials do it better justice than a 2 minute sound bite. The best way to do this is to tell you what I have gained and lost on Whole3o, and it has little to do with the number on the scale! I’m going to get more personal than I have before, so here it goes…I was reluctant to share these details, but they play a major role in how I got to where I am now.
During my teen years, I struggled with disordered eating and body image issues.
It was a difficult, scary time, but through the grace of God and my parents seeking out help/therapy for me, I have been in recovery ever since. I’ve been very fortunate to have a strong support system in my husband and my family for all these years. Recovery has not always been an easy road. Even though the destructive behaviors associated with eating disorders are no longer a part of my life, it is at times a battle of the mind to stay positive and on the right track. I realized early on that healthy eating and exercise help me avoid relapse and prevent me from falling into old patterns.
“Healthy eating” is a complicated thing to define, especially for someone in recovery from eating disorders…
For many years I was focused on eating to be healthy, but also being careful not to gain weight. My eating patterns were not destructive, but now looking back on them, they were not the healthiest either. I was eating plenty of whole, minimally processed foods, but in addition to those, I ate too many “diet” or “sugar free” foods with loads of artificial junk in them. I did this to avoid consuming extra calories and to satisfy my sweet tooth. Despite my best efforts, I didn’t feel that I had found a good balance of eating clean and allowing myself to indulge occasionally. In fact, I often would feel guilty after indulging in special treats. Despite being in recovery, I did not feel at ease about food.
Fast forward to March 2013, when I first discovered the Whole30:
I had no interest in trying it when I first heard about it! I thought it was strange and I didn’t want to give up sandwiches. But, I kept hearing people rave about it, and finally got curious enough to read “It Starts with Food.” I am not kidding when I say that I read the book, something clicked, and it all started to make sense. I got it. It isn’t about deprivation. It is about feeding your body real, nourishing food, and when you do this it thrives!
It’s not an extreme idea, really, but to me at the time, it was! I was sort of skeptical about it because the plan discourages counting calories (and that is something I always have done to keep myself on track), but I decided to try it and give it 100% effort. I was secretly afraid of gaining weight on a plan that includes many fat sources, even though they are healthy fats. I decided from the beginning that I was going to do it, no cheats, no slip-ups! I wanted to see if this thing that sounded too good to be true, really worked!
For my first Whole30, the first week was very difficult.
I missed bread, frozen yogurt, and chewing gum the most! And, I was questioning my motives for doing this in the first place. I mean I thought I was already eating clean and healthy, why restrict even more? But, I started to feel better with each passing week and more comfortable with the plan. After a few weeks, I felt there was so much I could choose from to eat, and it was not as restrictive as I had initially thought. Honestly, I realized I had been restricting some of the most nutrient-dense foods I could possibly eat! For example, cooking with real coconut oil, olive oil, and ghee was totally new to me. I tossed my non-stick spray in the trash can where it belongs and haven’t looked back. The food I was preparing this way was so much more satiating and flavorful. I started to actually enjoy cooking.
I began to sleep better at night, wake up rested, and felt more clear-headed and able to focus. I had plenty of energy and didn’t get the afternoon crash that had previously caused me to reach for sugar or caffeine for a pick-me-up. The sugar cravings I had battled with forever completely subsided. I became totally content with the natural sweetness of fruit. I started to experience “food freedom!” Weight loss was not my goal, but I felt much leaner and my stomach did not feel bloated as it did sometimes after eating certain foods. I reduced my body fat, but not the number on the scale! Very important to know the difference…My clothes felt looser, but the number on the scale had not dropped at the end of the four weeks. I finished the 30 days and felt amazing!
You’re probably thinking, “This all sounds great, but what happens after 30 days?”
Here is the best part of the entire thing: You can easily maintain the results and continue to improve your health by staying close to the plan most of the time, and “off-roading“ occasionally, as they call it in “It Starts with Food.” It is the best of both worlds! Each time I complete a Whole30, I learn and refine more with each one. In between, I stay pretty close to the plan and off-road when I choose to. I choose to do this because I feel great when I eat this way, and why mess with that?
For me, there is no turning back! I can treat myself to non-Whole30 favorites occasionally, and then go back to the plan and be completely fine. If I ever feel like I have fallen off the wagon or had too many days of less healthy choices I can do another Whole30 (or Whole 7, 15, whatever!) to rein it back in. I can see and feel the changes in my body when I eat less healthy foods, and its enough to make me switch back to Whole30 ways. I can’t imagine reverting back to the way I used to eat. Now, I feel more in control and I decide if it is worth it or not to indulge. And, if I do, I savor it and then move on. No guilt!
It’s become a lifestyle change…
A change I am so thrilled with, I’ve shared the information with many family members and friends, helping them get started as well. I feel completely confident in recommending this plan to others, because it’s based on eating real food. Your body can heal itself in many ways, just by changing what you put on your plate. There are no pills, shakes, or anything you have to commit to buy. You just have to change what you’re putting in your grocery cart! It is not the hard-core, crazy diet that the media has sometimes made it out to be. Eating real food shouldn’t be considered a radical choice!
I’ve gained and lost so much through the Whole30!
I gained a sense of peace when it comes to food. I no longer label foods as “good” and “bad.” Now, I think of foods in terms or “more healthy” or “less healthy.” I have lost the guilt and stress I sometimes felt about food. I have a much healthier relationship with it.
It has been the final piece in my recovery puzzle. I used to be a strict calorie counter, and I don’t feel the need to do that anymore. I gauge my eating on how my body feels, and what I need to give it to fuel my activities and nourish it. I had ignored my body’s signals for many years. Through Whole30 I re-learned how to listen to my body, paying attention to giving it what it needs to thrive. For a series of Whole 30 resources concerning eating disorders, click here.
It’s been positive for my family, too…
Ryan has completed the Whole 30 along with me a couple times. He’s had great results and even broke through his sweet coffee drink habit. Our kids’ eating habits have benefited tremendously as well. They are not completely compliant, but their diet is much cleaner, they eat more vegetables than ever before, and have become more willing to try new foods. Plus, my relationship with my body and food directly influences them, and I want to help them cultivate a healthy relationship at a young age.
This is my Whole 30 story, the reason I can declare “I Am Whole 30!” If you have any questions, or want to share your story with me, please leave a comment below or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org! Also, click here for an A-Z index of Whole 30 testimonials from people who have done the program and experienced wonderful results! Do the research, and see if it may be a good fit for you!
Disclaimer: I am not a medical professional. This post is based on my own personal Whole30 experience. It is very important to note that eating disorder recovery is tricky, and the Whole30 may not be right for everyone in recovery. It has been very positive and freeing for me!