Was our January Whole30 challenge worth the extra work, sacrifice of favorite foods, revamped eating habits, and changes in social eating? Yes, yes, yes, and yes.
Starting Saturday, January 5, my husband and I began the Whole30 program. The plan excludes grains, dairy, legumes, soy, sugars, desserts, juices, smoothies, and alcohol. It encourages whole, unprocessed foods, lots of vegetables, and high-quality and grassfed animal protein, along with exercise and plenty of water and sleep. It prohibits counting calories, taking body measurements, and weighing yourself during the program. The emphasis is on health and gut healing rather than numbers, and on transitioning from burning sugar to burning fat.
My chief goal was to have more energy. I also wanted to walk a mile in my husband’s shoes. He’s gluten-intolerant, and I wanted to experience firsthand what he feels and faces. In addition, I was hoping to lose my holidays/December vacation pounds.
What were the outcomes?
While I don’t have the get-up-and-go I was hoping for, I definitely have better reserves to keep going. On Friday evenings I found that I wanted to go out to dinner (salad bar) and a movie (no popcorn!), when before I was always too tired and just wanted to hibernate at home. My husband has told me my attitude and mood are better. And I found it’s not horrible to turn down breads and sweets or a glass of wine. There’s a whole world of food out there to be enjoyed, and I never felt deprived.
What else did I take away? First, a great feeling of accomplishment that I stayed on the plan and didn’t cheat once, even at the movies, a wedding reception, and an appreciation dinner put on by a business I do work for. Staying on-plan wasn’t hard because you’re allowed such delicious food and generous amounts.
Second, I discovered and increased my appreciation for wholesome food. I would get excited in the produce department when I saw treasures like green and orange cauliflower, pink and golden beets, and celery root. I savored grilled bison or lamb patties (no bun needed) topped with a little homemade mayonnaise. Kombucha, a fizzy cultured drink made from tea, was a revelation.
Third, I’ve found new creativity and proficiency with foods. I’ve started to devise more of my own recipes, which as a food writer, I’ve been striving for. I created a recipe for Thai shrimp and coconut soup and just recently a salad of roasted beets, figs, and pistachios that I absolutely loved. I’ve learned to whip cauliflower with oil and garlic (amazing) and roast sweet potato cubes to a perfect caramelized finish. I’ve also discovered wonderful new recipe websites like The Clothes Make The Girl and Nom Nom Paleo.
The challenge was made possible with the help of enthusiastic members on the Whole30 forum. I’m thankful for the support of and lively discussion with several who I came to think of as friends. They and responsive moderators kept me on the path. One member read my food log and told me early on to “eat more veggies.” I needed that!
Were there drawbacks? Yes, a few. It’s a lot of extra work. Besides mayonnaise we made our own almond milk and coconut milk, plus we had to prep good breakfasts, take-along lunches, and healthy snacks. Kitchen work got tiring and we had huge piles of dishes. However, I do tend to go all-out to make really appetizing meals, so a person could do the plan more simply.
Social situations were daunting to anticipate. But we found that at the wedding reception, sipping coffee was just fine and no one cared that we didn’t drink wine or nibble hors d’oeuvres. At the business dinner we brought our own grilled salmon and added it to the allowable items from the taco salad bar, and we poured Kombucha into our wine glasses. Again, no one seemed to care and some were interested.
In the early days we had times of crabbiness and being out of sorts, most likely from sugar withdrawal. I had times of feeling hungry but knowing I really wasn’t.
Where to go from here? We plan on extending another seven days and then reevaluating. We might keep eating this way at home but ease up on what we allow for social occasions. I feel so good eating this way that I’m hesitant to introduce foods that might drain my energy. Either way, I’ll have the opportunity to re-introduce foods one by one so I can observe what they do to my energy level.
What the Scale Said
Were you wondering whether I lost weight? I wasn’t sure whether I had because I only worked out twice during my 30 days, ate perhaps more than the recommended amounts of food so as not to go off-plan because of hunger, and didn’t always get the recommended eight to nine hours per night of sleep. Also, I was still aware of fatty areas around my middle.
Well, I broke down and stepped on the scale today because I wanted to include that statistic in my write-up. I’m happy to report that I lost all six pounds of holiday weight, without feeling terribly deprived.
And, I made a discovery with regard to that number on the scale. In the past, when I got to this weight I figured I was finished losing because I reached a “healthy” body mass index of 25. Becoming aware of my body composition is teaching me that it’s more relevant than what the numbers say. I believe continuing to eat this way will help me burn the fat that’s unhealthy and an energy drain to carry around.
Do I recommend Whole30? Of course everyone’s needs are different and it might not be right for some, but for us it has truly been an excellent adventure, and you might just love it too.