Life Lessons from the Whole30

some Whole30 meals: clockwise salmon, guacamole & egg; carrot & cassava soup; veggie stir-fry; bratwurst and mustard mash

some Whole30 meals: clockwise salmon, guacamole & egg; carrot & cassava soup; veggie stir-fry; bratwurst and mustard mash

I approached the Whole30 like a soldier going into battle, expecting the worst, trying to prepare for the unexpected and predicting that I’d come out the other side  profoundly changed.

Turns out not so much.

In contrast to the glowing testimonials that can be found all over the net, my Whole30 wasn’t that transformative.

Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s an amazing tool and I believe all those wonderful stories of healing but I was a teeny bit disappointed.

While there were some benefits and lessons to be learned (see below), I didn’t experience the life-changing ah-ha moment that other people seem to have had. Perhaps that’s because my diet was already fairly clean (I imagine if you came to the Whole30 from the standard American diet, you’d be blown away), perhaps I just didn’t give it long enough.

Whatever the reason, I’m still glad I did this. It was a test of my willpower, an insight into my attitudes toward food, a challenge to get more creative with my cooking and the nudge I needed to get back on track. I’m sharing some of the things that arose during the month, if you’ve done or are thinking about doing the Whole30, give it a read and let me know what you think in the comments.

1. I’m an emotional eater.

Ok, so I kinda knew this one already but I was in denial. Deep, deep denial. There’s nothing like being on a strict diet to make you examine your food choices and it turns out I don’t eat when I’m hungry. I eat when I’m bored, angry, tired, sad, frustrated and disappointed.

Basically any time a negative emotion floats to the surface of my brain, food goes in my mouth. Terrible, right?!

It’s something I’ve struggled with since I was a moody teenager and it was honestly the hardest part of the Whole30 for me. No processed snacks meant there was nothing to hand when I needed to feed my feelings (other than fruit and nuts which I did over-indulge in at the start). This was terrifying and liberating all at once. Now that I’m almost at the end, I’m happy to say that I’ve become a lot better at recognising real hunger and knowing when I don’t need the food. Progress y’all!

2. Avocados are awesome.

I used to think avocados were slimy, unwholesome things. That’s before I stopped eating dairy. Almost overnight my attitude changed and I started eating them with everything just to get that creamy hit.

I mashed them into sweet potato, put them in chicken salad, churned them into soups, had them with cottage pie. If you’re contemplating your own Whole30, stock up on avos, you’ll thank me for it.

3. Ditto for eggs.

Eggs are a lifeline for any Whole30-er. Quick, versatile and healthy, they are the snack of champions and the breakfast of kings. I ate so many I’m amazed chickens aren’t now extinct.

I love you guys!

I love you guys!

4. Eat when hungry, not just because you should.

This would be what the kids call a ‘no-brainer’ right?! Wrong. Much like my emotional eating issues, I hit a psychological wall when meal times are not adhered to. Three meals a day is practically a religion for me.

So imagine my surprise when, on Day 11 of my Whole30, I forgot to eat lunch. I. Forgot. To. Eat. Lunch.

Turns out I don’t have to rely on three square meals a day anymore because I’m eating real food that’s keeping me satiated for long periods. (I should stress that I’m eating enough calories, I’m just filling up on the right stuff so not burning out quickly. The morning of the infamous forgetting lunch incident, I’d had eggs, avocado and bone broth. Good, nourishing food with plenty of healthy fats. Real food for the win!)

 5. You might think you know what real food tastes like, you don’t.

Imagine biting into a grape. It’s sweet, right? But can you taste all the subtle layers of sweet, the sharpness, the slight acidity, the tang? Sugary processed foods confuse our tastebuds. We learn to crave unnatural flavours like high fructose corn syrup, and forget that food in its natural form has flavour enough.

When you abandon those crappy foods completely your tastebuds slowly begin to adjust. Take that grape for instance. I was eating a lot of fruit at the start of my Whole30 as I struggled to cut out snacks and sweet stuff. Grapes were my go-to. By the mid-way point, I could only eat about 3 grapes in one sitting. Why? Because I was truly tasting them and how sweet they really are. Too sweet for my newly puritanical tastebuds.

And it’s not just the sugary foods, I started to really notice the flavours in everything (creamy avocados, juicy meats etc). It was quite the trip.

 6. There are no quick fixes.

What’s wrong with me (endometriosis) was never going to be cured in 30 days. In fact, the medical establishment seems to think I’m stuck with this for life (or at least til the menopause).

I knew that going in and yet I was still disappointed when those 30 hard-fought days brought little relief from my symptoms. Yes, there was a slight decrease in the usual bloating and pain but it definitely remains an issue. Perhaps it always will.

It’s not all doom and gloom though – I know I’m on the right track. I want to feed my body the fuel it needs to heal and I’m now more motivated than ever to do so.

7. When your body’s working as it should, weight is not a factor

In all those rave reviews about the Whole30 programme there is usually one common thread – weight loss.

Almost everyone on the plan finds that they get a little lighter (I should stress here that the creators of the Whole30 expressly discourage weighing yourself during the month as it’s not a weight-loss plan). I don’t even own a scale so can’t tell you for certain, but I’m fairly sure I didn’t lose anything. Not a single lb.

True, I ate fruit and nuts and that’s probably what did it but I also think that my body has found a happy equilibrium with my weight. It doesn’t fluctuate simply because this is the weight I’m supposed to be.

(Btw, I’m not going to share my weight here because I believe that encourages comparison and we all know where that road leads…to crazy town with a stop in insecurity-ville)

When I was a self-conscious teenager and twentysomething, I thought it was all about weight and I did the low-fat, no-carb, no-calories routine until my body didn’t know which end was up. During those unstable years I was up and down by about 20lbs. For the last five years my weight has never varied. Not once. No matter whether I’m piling ice cream into my face on a weekly basis or doing the Whole30.  It would appear I’ve finally got my damaged metabolism back on track.

I did it!


Final thoughts

It’s with some trepidation that I approach the end of my Whole30. Now that the whole, wide world of food is open to me again, I’m a little scared that Saturday will find me with my head in a value-sized tub of Haagen Daaz.

It’s tempting to continue the diet but unrealistic. This month has been an informative one, but it’s also been tough. I seem to have spent most of it in the kitchen and my social life (such as it is!) has definitely suffered. For me, the best way to eat is the most sustainable so, while I’ll hopefully not forget the above lessons, it’s back to ‘normal’ ways for me.

I’ll spend the next week gradually re-introducing foods and seeing how my body copes. It might throw up some interesting discoveries…wish me luck!

Weigh in: Have you done the Whole30? What were your results? What would you add to my list?

This post was also shared at Party Wave Wednesday


10 thoughts on “Life Lessons from the Whole30

  1. I’m on Day 19 myself… this is my second — no, third… wait, fourth — attempt, but in all previous attempts I had given up before now. This time I’m committed.

    I know I’m not supposed to weigh myself, but I do anyway, because I have a lot of weight to lose, and I’m curious to see how it’s going. Sadly, it’s not going anywhere. (But, at least that means it’s not going UP, either.) Disappointing? Yes, a bit, seeing as how I’m 2/3 of the way through, and working out 6 days/week (alternating strength training with interval cardio training).

    I’d been *trying* to eat along Paleo guidelines before this, but summertime was hard, especially with travel. I hadn’t exercised in a while, either — so going Whole30 and adding in 6 days/wk of exercise was a huge change for me. And I’ve been consistent and I’ve followed the plan exactly… and I’ve not lost inches or weight. (Yet.) So, yeah, a tiny bit bummed.

    One other thing — I would suffer occasional IBS-like symptoms before this. Unfortunately, I’m realizing that too many veggies ALSO brings on the IBS… so, while I was hoping that would just go away with the Whole30, I’m — again — a little bummed to realize it hasn’t.

    Still, this has been good for me, for many of the reasons you stated above. Also, I plan to keep gluten out of my diet as much as possible even after my Whole30. I know I feel better without it.

    Interestingly, the time spent in the kitchen has been one of the positives for me… because it’s been time spent with my hubby. We enjoy cooking together, and so finding and creating beautiful and tasty Paleo (and Whole30-approved) meals has become our new “thing” — and it’s something I hope to continue.

    I still have 10 days to go… so one other positive change I’m hoping to realize before it’s all over is an increase in energy. So far, I’m still struggling with serious energy dips in the afternoon.

    One last observation: I have to second your comment that you taste food differently after Whole30 — in that, you now really TASTE those foods. You really do. I find myself enjoying meals so much more now, because 1) I made them, and 2) I am tasting these foods in a whole new way.

  2. I have not done this, but like you , we already eat pretty clean and it definitely makes all the difference. Love avocado and egg? Combine them! Halve an avocado, season well and crack an egg into it. Bake and enjoy!

  3. Ok…not terrible! lol I’m just as bad so it’s fine 🙂 …. if chickens go extinct so will I because I live on beautiful nourishing and delicious chicken!! Eggs aren’t bad either! As to my taste buds…I scalded them on the last piece of ridiculously too hot chicken and now I can’t taste anything properly 😀 I do know it’s painful though and if they don’t stop catching on my wolfie fangs I’m going to have them all pulled out! lol 🙂

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