I was in a rut. I was eating meals based purely on convenience and cost and I knew I had let my eating habits slip, although I didn’t quite realise how much.
That was when I stepped on the scales and realised I was the heaviest I have ever been. I realised that without really thinking too much about it, I had started wearing looser fitting clothes and was more often reaching for flowing maxi skirts rather than shorts. Slowly I was becoming more uncomfortable. I was tired all the time and my tummy felt constantly unhappy. I realised I needed to make some changes. I needed to do something that would actually force me to take a look at my bad habits and help me create some new healthier ones.
It was reading a post from Lauren at Never Ending Footsteps that inspired me to give the Whole30 a try. A self confessed skeptic regarding extreme diets, she experienced real results and even claimed that it was one of the best things she has ever done for herself. That was enough of a sales pitch for me to decide it was worth a try.
It was November when I made this decision, and I knew if I actually wanted to give myself the opportunity to succeed I couldn’t do it until the holidays were over. February was a pretty quiet month so it was decided – I would make that commitment to my health and spend 30 days overhauling my diet. Thankfully my husband Jarryd agreed to join me as I know it would have been a thousand times harder without his support and encouragement, especially through the cranky days.
What is the Whole30?
In simple terms it is a stricter version of the Paleo diet. For the 30 days you are asked to eliminate gluten, dairy, grains, legumes, sugar, sweeteners, additives and alcohol from your diet. I am not going to go into the science of why these foods (if you are interested you can read the book that started it all) but basically they are foods which may cause inflammation and by eliminating them you are giving your body a chance to essentially reset itself. I liked the sound of that.
Now to be honest with you, I didn’t actually read the book. For me, the most important thing I wanted to achieve was the change in my habits. I wanted to train myself to actually meal prep each week, to have meals set out for each day so I didn’t get home from work with zero idea what was for dinner and just decide to make or buy whatever was easiest.
I can be really lazy in the kitchen, and I wanted to change that. I also knew that I wasn’t buying very much fresh food each week, and often the fresh food I did buy would go to waste because I didn’t have a plan of what to use it for.
These are the habits I wanted to change, because I knew if I didn’t do it now then potentially I could continue on this downward spiral. I had vowed to prioritise my health in 2017 and the Whole30 seemed like a good place to start.
I have always been skeptical about diets, especially those that eliminate whole food groups. That being said, it was only for 30 days and I never had any intention of eating like this forever – it was just a kick-start.
I also decided to go to the doctor about 3 days into my Whole30 for blood tests just to confirm everything was ok and there wasn’t a medical reason I had been feeling so tired. The results told me I was low in zinc, B12, vitamin D and that I had high cholesterol. Nothing too serious but enough for the doctor to look at me and say, “you need to change your diet”. This was another wake up call for me, and anytime it got hard during the 30 days I just remembered that I was doing this for my health.
I also realised that I now had the motivation to continue my new found healthy habits after the 30 days had finished.
What did I actually eat?
The biggest question I was asked when explaining all the foods I had eliminated was what was I actually eating. My diet consisted of a lot of potatoes, eggs, steak, salmon and as much fruit and veg as I could sneak into each meal. I ate when I was hungry, and I ate well. My portions were larger as they didn’t contain carbs like rice and pasta, rather I would pile my plate high with salad or vegetables.
We experimented a lot in the kitchen over the 4 weeks. I wanted to find recipes I would continue making after the 30 days was over. For this reason we very rarely ate the same thing twice. There became a lot of variation in my diet and that was exciting.
For me the easiest thing to give up was alcohol, and the hardest thing was bread. The bread thing was always going to happen. Probably the thing I am looking forward to eating now that it is over is some poached eggs on toast.
The Whole30 is known for its harsh stance on keeping true to the program for the 30 days. A famous quote from the guide says: “Don’t you dare tell us this is hard. Beating cancer is hard. Birthing a baby is hard. Losing a parent is hard. Drinking your coffee black. Is. Not. Hard”. Puts it in perspective I guess?
One of these strict rules is that if you eat a ‘non-compliant’ food, you have to start your 30 days again! I’m not going to lie. On day 5 I ate corn, which is a grain and therefore on the do not eat list. I frantically started Googling if eating corn constituted a restart. Apparently it does. I decided though that I wasn’t going to beat myself up about a few kernels of corn in a delicious cottage pie. It was not like I had a cheeseburger! So I put it out of my mind and kept going!
The biggest challenges
Without meal prep, you will fail. It’s very simple. Eating this way is not easy, it requires you to check every label, question every ingredient and plan every single meal.
The reason I chose February was because we had no plans set. It was an uneventful month. I didn’t want to have to go through awkward “ah I can’t eat that” at restaurants and I didn’t want to hang around places with too much temptation. I love food too much, it is hard to say no!
The first few days, the detox days, came with a pretty big headache and a giant serve of cranky. We had had a pretty big blow out in the lead up, spending a few days at the Gold Coast over Australia Day indulging in some beverages and eating our way around Byron Bay. Once the headache subsided, the good feels started to flow in!
Day 11 was the hardest. I had the most emotionally challenging day at work. I felt completely drained. All I wanted was the comforts of red wine and bread. I am an emotional eater, I feel joy and comfort in food and I struggled not being able to medicate the way I usually would. Jarryd picked me up, encouraged me to go outside for a run and then cooked me a healthy dinner. I took it easy for the rest of the night. Sometimes we just need to take care of ourselves when we need it, and sometimes the healthy alternative is enough.
On day 14 we nearly quit. It was a Sunday, a day we usually love to spend going out and enjoying a nice breakfast or lunch. The cravings were high, we both really just wanted to head to our local sushi place before grocery shopping. I was getting tired of meal planning and searching for Whole30 recipes. Instead of quitting, we spent the afternoon learning how to make mayo and almond butter from scratch.
Our final week felt more like a routine. I began to see the end. Not the day when I could eat whatever I wanted, but the day I didn’t have to feel stressed because the snack I bought actually contains 10% oats and I can’t have oats.
What were the results?
I’ll just get straight to it. I lost 4.7kgs over the 30 days and Jarryd lost 6.6kgs. While this was was never about weight loss it feels great to have shifted those extra kilos that were making us feel blah. I do want to note that at the start of the year we started exercising regularly so during the 30 days we were doing around 45-60 minutes of moderate cardio on average 4 times a week.
Overall, I do feel much healthier. My clothes are fitting better, I don’t get that 3 pm crash, my skin is clear, my stomach is flat not bloated when I go to bed and my tummy doesn’t trouble me as much. However, I don’t think the Whole30 was life changing for me. I didn’t get the boost in energy I was hoping for and my sleep didn’t really improve which were two of the things I was really hoping for.
I said at the start of this post that what I really wanted to achieve was the habit of eating healthy, fresh food, and getting into a routine for preparing food. In the 4 weeks I bought lunch out once. That is some kind of record! I usually take my lunch to work, but on weekends we always end up eating out. So now I know that it can be done, I can make healthier choices and it doesn’t make a huge difference to my life.
We learn’t as well that fresh food is more expensive. Don’t let anyone tell you it isn’t. My grocery bill went to new heights and I started having to use the big trolley at the supermarket to be able to fit everything in! But by meal planning, I was purchasing less food out and eating everything that was in my fridge each week because I knew exactly what I needed. Maybe it wasn’t that much more costly in the long run…
I think the big question is, will I continue down the path of healthy eating or will I be tempted to indulge in all the foods I have restricted myself from in the past 30 days? I cannot say for sure obviously, but I have some great motivators to keep me accountable. I am still committed to making this year my healthiest yet, and I have another round of blood tests in two months where I hope to see that cholesterol level back to normal.
Some of my favourite Whole30 recipes:
*The photos in this post are from Unsplash as my camera is currently undergoing repair 🙁