I have literally started writing this post about 3 times, and then I step away from it and get busy and forget what I was doing and, well, here we are!
I didn’t mean to drop the mic on sharing about our Whole 30 experience. I was actually really excited to do it, but then time just started rolling on and before I knew it we were through the month and I kind of felt like I was standing there thinking, “Huh. That happened.” Exciting and anti-climactic at the same time, but I’ll explain that later.
First, I know the question that most of you will have, if you even actually care about this at all, is whether we finished the whole thing. I am very happy to report that we did! We finished really well. In the whole month there weren’t any cheats, and the only slips were because we didn’t have the labels on things like a pack of bacon, so we didn’t know it had small amounts of sugar in it until I went to the store the next time and read the label. If that happened, we just stopped using that item until it was done. I think there were only a few things like that and nothing that we were eating in major quantity.
I know the big thing that most people want to know about Whole 30 is if after finishing it the person doing it thinks it was a “worth it” experience. Did it make a difference? Did we feel better? Did we learn from it? Did we lose weight?
The answer to all of those questions for both Chris and I is a resounding YES!
It did make a difference for us, we feel way better, we learned a ton, and we both lost some weight.
I know that most people are curious about the weight thing, so we’ll just get that out of the way first. I lost about 6 pounds and Chris lost 2. Not a huge amount, but I was intentionally not exercising because I wanted to see how just changing my diet would affect things, and I learned a TON.
When I think of how I felt when even considering any kind of elimination diet where you stop eating things to see the affects they have on you, I always thought it was impossible, not worth it, too hard – every excuse you could imagine. I know I’ve mentioned the value of reading It Starts With Food, and in all honesty, that was a huge thing for me in getting to the point where I was willing to try this. Understanding what my body was doing with the food I was putting into it was needed. And that knowledge pushed me through and is still pushing me now.
Going through the process and being more mindful of what I was eating, how I was eating it, and how I was feeling about food in general was eye opening. I’ve struggled with my relationship with food for my entire life. I’ve used it for comfort and for reward. I’ve had very little self-control, and I’ve even used food to lash out or “mis-behave”. I’ve always looked at some foods as good and some as bad and then tied emotional responses like guilt and shame to those foods. I desperately needed an overhaul in my perceptions about food – period – and doing Whole 30 was a huge help with that.
I’ve gained self-control not only over how much I eat at meals, but over cravings. I can eat a meal and pay attention to when I’m full and stop eating, feeling completely satisfied. Before I would take another helping, knowing I was stuffed already, but tell myself that it just tasted so good. I would use the excuse of not knowing when I might get to eat it again (answer – when I eat the left overs or the next time I cook it…). I can be hungry now and not mindlessly eat whatever sounds good in that moment, then feel cruddy later. I can let myself stay hungry for a little while if I know we’re close to a meal. I have eliminated foods from my diet that I know are big trigger foods for me, and haven’t reintroduced them yet because I realized I haven’t really missed them.
Can we just stop right there for a second, because this is huge for me. People, I haven’t eaten a noodle, piece of bread, or any kind of refined sugar since January 5th. And I’m not dying.
So once you finish your Whole 30, which is typically 30 days though some will choose to go longer, you’re supposed to go through a reintroduction phase where you bring back those eliminated foods individually so you can see how they work for you. Whole 30 has two forms of reintroduction that they recommend, the 10 day plan, where you reintroduce things over ten days, and what they like to call the “slow roll” where you just keep eating Whole 30 and reintroduce when you get to a point where you’re presented with a food that was eliminated and you’re ready to see what it does.
We went into things with the plan to do the 10 day reintroduction, and that’s what we started with. First day was legumes, so I had peanut butter, and we had chili with beans in it for supper. Both were fine for the most part. Peanut butter used to give me heartburn and funnily enough, I noticed a huge reduction in that after doing W30. The beans made me bloat a bit, but not too bad.
A couple days later we did gluten free grains. Had oatmeal for breakfast, which was fine other than feeling ravenous by 9 am. Lesson learned is that we both need a lot of protein in the morning. That night we had brown rice for supper, and this is where things get complicated…
Earlier in the day I had been out doing a bunch of work around the yard for the first time in a long time. I know I wasn’t drinking enough water, and in hindsight I think I did something weird to my neck. I ended up with a headache that honestly did not go away until this Monday – 6 days! Because we reintroduced rice that day too, and I already had a headache, I wasn’t able to really see what the full effects of the rice were. I also had rice a couple days later, and still had my headache, so things were all muddled.
And that’s pretty much where we stopped. I did have two slices of cheese one day and my tummy felt a bit garbled for a bit, but then was fine.
Because I was feeling so bad from my headache, and in turn my neck being out of whack, we decided to just stop worrying about the reintro and switch over to the slow roll method of taking our time and doing things as I felt better. Chris has reintroduced beer, which he’s SO happy about, but is limiting it much more than he was before. I’ve used a bit of honey in some things and am so thankful to have some sweetness back in my life, but don’t feel a need to do sugar yet.
Overall I just don’t feel pressure to bring everything back right now. I am going to be traveling to the Dominican Republic in April on my annual girls week away with a friend, and I know that there are things that I need to reintroduce before we go so I know what my food options are while we’re away. I definitely don’t want to wait to reintroduce gluten or sugar until then, and then risk feeling awful while we’re there, or struggle with ordering food when we’re out. If I know beforehand what my reactions will be, it’ll be easier to make food choices while we’re gone. I am excited that we ended up doing an AirBnB rather than hotel this year because we’ll be able to save money and make our own meals when we want, which will give me better control over what I’m eating.
Changing How We Do Life
So, after going through this experience, another question that we’ve been asked a lot by friends here is if this is going to mean long term changes for us. Again, the thought of not eating certain things for the indefinite future used to terrify me. Like make me want to cry. Now? Not so much.
After doing Whole 30 Chris and I know that we want our family to eat differently. Within the first couple of weeks we both started feeling so much better and were able to step back and see where we needed to make changes. We already know that we want to really cut back on how much sugar we consume, and we know there are some things we just really don’t want to reintroduce, and instead find alternatives for them. The biggest challenge right now is the kids, because they didn’t do Whole 30 with us. They eat lunch at school, which the school cooks, so there was no way to do it fully with them, and we’re okay with that. We did it loosely with them as much as possible, but also gave them the freedom to eat things they were familiar with. Breakfast, for example, would often include toast or oatmeal for them, even though Chris and I weren’t eating those things. Olivia doesn’t like most eggs, so breakfast is more challenging in some ways and I value my sanity.
One of the things they talk about frequently all over Whole 30 is to look at what you can do/eat, not what you can’t. When I was looking at doing Whole 30 the first time it was all about the can’t eat list. Doing it now though was all about the can eat list, and that became a fun adventure for our family. One of my particular challenges here in Haiti was that we can’t get everything that many who do Whole 30 or a special diet can get in stores. We don’t have all the convenience foods, like condiments that don’t have sugar. Rather than looking at it as a blockade to doing this, I took it on as a challenge to see what we could do with what we had available. For anything to be sustainable long term, you need to be able to use what you have.
This was so great for me! It meant being more intentional about what we were buying at the market and making sure we had enough on hand. It meant doing some food prep each week to make sure we had veggies cut up and ready to go in the fridge, and eggs boiled and ready for snacks (which our kids LOVE and are cheap). It meant finding new recipes and challenging myself to step away from the things that had been a crutch for me, like pasta. And you know what happened? I fell in love with cooking again.
Do you know what else happened? My family started eating things that I thought they would never eat. This has been huge. Not because we have really picky eaters, but because it’s broadened what we eat. For example, Chris normally hates cooked veggies. But, there were times where I had cooked things like roasted carrots, that just looked good to him, so he tried them and found he like them. Just this morning Chris and I had breakfast together and he ate sautéed kale with his eggs. For the fourth time. And he likes it. I went to the grocery store the other day and was so excited because it’s the one store that we shop at that sells kale – something I never thought I would have craved. Seriously, who am I? :)
I was reminded that we don’t ever have to stay where we are with what we eat and the tastes that we have. We’ve enjoyed so many delicious meals this past month and a half, and they have been absent of all the things that we thought we couldn’t live without.
What Was Hard
I don’t want you thinking this was all sunshine and rainbows, because it definitely wasn’t! It was dang hard some days. Thankfully I took the time to do a bunch of reading and try and prepare mentally and emotionally as much as possible. The Whole 30 website has a ton of stuff on it that’s helpful, including what to expect at certain times based on the experiences of people that have done it. There were some days where it felt like it would have been better to just go back to bed and wake up and start all over the next day. Some days the cravings were bad. Other days I just felt cranky. I got lucky and ended up having a cough at the beginning, and at the end, and that sucked.
Some days, closer to the end, I felt amazing. By the time we finished I felt so energized. I still get out of bed and rather than feeling groggy for the next few hours, after about 10 minutes I’m fully functioning and ready for the day.
What was crazy to me though, is that emotionally I think I crashed a bit when it was all done. And I can’t even really fully explain why. Some people talk about feeling burned out with all the cooking and having to think about everything by the end of the month, and I definitely think there was something to that.
I do also know that when I stepped on the scale I was happy to have lost 6 pounds, but I had this weird emotional reaction that told me it should have been more. Logically it was a very healthy amount to have lost. Chris and I have realized that we’ve both had an unhealthy relationship with our scale so it got put up on the shelf and we’ll weigh in periodically, but not let that be the only thing that we use to gauge where we’re at.
So, all that to say, in the past two weeks, while I’ve still been eating “on plan” and making great choices and feeling like this is becoming normal, emotionally I’ve been having a harder time. I know that part of that is that I let my routines go by the wayside (food prep, etc) and this weekend I need to get back on track with that because I feel so much better and on it when I’m doing those things. I’ve also been sitting at my desk a lot more, rather than taking time for myself to do things that feed me and to do things around the house that care for our family. It’s such a hard balance to find. My goal for this week is to feel more okay with taking the time to do those things to be healthier overall.
Going forward we know that we’ll definitely be eating a “clean” diet with very little gluten and sugar, and what will probably look more paleo than anything, but probably about 80/20 since paleo doesn’t do any grains period. Paleo, like Whole 30, focuses on protein from meat, eggs, and seafood and lots of veggies of all kinds, fruit, nuts and healthy oils (coconut, olive, clarified butter, avocado).
With the situation we live in I feel like this is a realistic approach to how we can eat well and be healthy here. We know now we don’t need a lot of grains because we can get that nutrition from other things. We don’t need dairy for the same reason. We might like those things, so we might do them on occasion if they don’t give us problems, but we just don’t miss them that much. The advantage is that we’re saving money in some ways, like not buying cheese. It’s about $8/lb here! We’ve also found a place where we can buy certain things in bulk and save some money.
We’re going to work at swapping things out, like sugar with honey. Chris and Olivia are going to the US soon and I’ve ordered some fun stuff for them to bring back, like a spiralizer to make veggie noodles with, and a mandolin to slice veggies way faster than I can do on my own. Eating this way means cooking everything from scratch here, so where I can make that a bit easier I’m all game. I also ordered some new cookbooks, which I haven’t done in forever, to give me some fresh ideas and I’m excited about that.
One big challenge is there are some things that are limiting, like having access to nuts and different kinds of gluten free flours such as almond flour, coconut flour, etc. I can make coconut flour, and will, it’s just really labor intensive here. But I can do it. I had big plans to buy almonds in bulk this week, but the distributor didn’t have them at a reasonable price. I wanted to make almond butter, almond milk, and almond flour. Hopefully they’ll have them next time.
So that was our Whole 30 experience. I’ve had several people ask me what we ate while we were doing it, and for recipe ideas, so I want to do a post separately for that. One thing that I’ve realized with a lot of the recipes that I would cook is that with swapping out a few simple things much of what we were eating before would be Whole 30 compliant, which is encouraging. I’ve actually read that in several places from food bloggers. Don’t feel like you have to completely over-haul your life, just look at what you’re already doing and see where it can be tweaked. This definitely makes things more sustainable.