the Whole30: my thoughts + why it didn’t work for me

In a nutshell: it simply wasn’t the right time, the right solution or the right fit for me.

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the reason why

So I decided to complete the Whole30 because the lovely Kate, my nutritional therapist, advised I remove dairy and gluten from my diet to regulate my digestion, and the September Whole30 was about to start, and I thought it would be a good excuse for me to combine the two. So I did, and it took a great deal out of me at the beginning. My digestion took a hard hit. It is very fragile on my regular diet (mostly vegetarian, occasional animal products, lots of grains), and I didn’t give it enough time to adjust to the changes of a paleo-style diet (lots more meat, no grains).

 

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apple cinnamon pork loin from Paleo Leap

 

You may or may not know that the paleo diet includes moderate amounts of meat, fish, nuts and dairy-free animal products, as well as an abundance of vegetables. No grains, no pulses, no peanuts and no soy. You are expected to eat a moderate amount of animal and plant fat to keep you satiated. The paleo community has become renowned for recreating pancakes, cakes and tortillas employing tricks using cashews, cauliflower and avocado. Now, the Whole30 encourages the paleo part, but not the recreating part. You can read more about it here.

my general feelings

One thing is sure at this point; paleo isn’t for me. I love the concept, the ethics and the enthusiasm with which the paleo community recreates pizzas and cheese and bread. And in fact, I enjoyed searching for better produce and eating a higher quality of animal and vegetable produce than I would normally buy. I learned plenty of things, and I’m grateful for the experience.

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I know there’s a comment in the FAQs of the Whole30 book which states ‘That’s a lot of meat.’, to which the answer is ‘not really’. In my experience, I did feel like it was too much meat. And I know there is no need to have a meaty breakfast, lunch and dinner every day, but when you’re eating this way, your creativity is seriously restricted to essentially having ‘meat + 2 veg’ (plus an additional fat source) all of the time. I don’t know about you, but that really put me off. Meat is generally reserved for special occasions in my household. A delicious cut of aged meat on a restaurant menu, a slice of turkey at Christmas, or a piece of ultra-crispy bacon at Sunday brunch. Not every day. I’m sorry to say, I can’t stomach it.

my experience

 

I think it all hit me at week 3. The first couple of weeks were enjoyable, although slightly hard at times, because of the novelty of the programme. I experimented with lots of different recipes and was very liberal with my fats. And you should be; don’t fear the fats, they will fill you up. But I always felt overly full, for some reason. And not because I overate, but because I wasn’t digesting anything that well. The avocado in my salad slipped in my mouth, and the mackerel left an icky feeling in my throat. And I’m not even going to talk about ghee. I started dreading eating fats, because of the feeling they gave me. I also dreaded the washing up every night of the week. Sticky frying pans, greasy baking sheets and an oven speckled with meat juices.

Eating out was surprisingly easy. I didn’t feel restricted (burgers! grilled chicken! salad!), although I had to be picky about where to eat. I did end up eating chips a couple of times, which you really shouldn’t do, but my priority being no gluten/dairy, I rationalised and did what I could to avoid them. I felt no guilt about any of my choices, but I was envious of some of the vegetarian options on offers.
Interestingly, 75% of Whole30 finishers report not craving the foods they thought they would on Day 31. Not for me. I was so relieved it was over I almost cried.
I missed every single item that I had to cross of my diet. I have no idea why, but I missed my oats and rye bread and chickpeas more and more as the programme went on.

A day’s eating generally includes the following:

A bowl of delicious oats with peanut butter or rye bread + eggs for breakfast

A salad bowl with an ancient grain, kale, avocado, with a pulse/bean, for lunch. And lots of hummus.

A warming plate of vegetarian sausages/curry/stir fry/burrito bowl, lots of vegetables and a grain. Or a bowl of pasta for extra lazy evenings.

Maybe a bowl of yoghurt with berries for dessert, or a salt and vinegar rice cake!

On the Whole30, my diet included:

A plate of eggs, some bacon or avocado, and some vegetables, all cooked in coconut oil for breakfast

A higher fat burger pattie, more vegetables cooked in coconut oil, an oil-based sauce for lunch

A skin-on chicken breast, mashed potatoes with ghee and some greens

So you see, a lot had to be cut out and changed. In fact, everything apart from vegetables and eggs. I’m not a big potato fan, or a meat fan. And I ate meat + potatoes almost every day.

I normlly (and have resumed to) eat a very balanced diet, one that makes me feel good and makes me proud. It occurred to me that I wasn’t proud of eating so much meat. I know the dangers associated with its over-consumption, and felt like a complete hypocrite. I felt confused, especially after reading How Not To Die by Dr Greger, who actively encourages a plant-based diet. That is not to say I will never eat it again, but at this point in my life, I don’t want animal products in large quantities (= every day.) My tastebuds naturally veer towards vegetables, pulses and grains; I can’t help it, it’s what I love. And not in an unhealthy way whatsoever!

 

did the Whole30 restore my relationship with food?

Actually, yes. It did. I feel very liberated from food. I mean, I don’t now as much as I did when I was still on it, mainly because food became monotonous and very functional; I hardly thought about it because I knew what to expect. I couldn’t have my favourites snacks, so I didn’t even think about them, because I wasn’t going to snack on sauerkraut. But I understand the need for snacks was purely in my head, and that I am able to eat until I am full, and eat only when I am hungry if I set my mind to it. My hunger cues still exist, and I have reconnected with them. My goal is to apply these cues to my improved diet, and keep this feeling of freedom for as long as possible!

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what about reintroducing foods?

My reintroduction wasn’t what I had planned it to be, due to some serious adverse reactions in my digestion (I’ll skip the details. You’re welcome.) On day 27, the doctor’s diagnosis confirmed that my diet had essentially nothing to do with my digestive upset, and I was fed up. And tired and sick. And all I wanted was a bowl of something that wasn’t going to make me feel ill/bloated/in pain. So that night, I had rice. And day after day, I started having bread, pasta, oats, peanuts, yoghurt and pulses. And you know what? I’m fine. I didn’t obsessively observe every reaction in my body. 4 days later, I feel amazing. I have so much energy having had oats for breakfast and a hummus salad for lunch. My skin feels fine, my nails haven’t changed, and neither has my hair.

You can imagine the feeling of joy I experienced when I got to taste freshly baked bread again. And my fibre-rich morning oats. And the organic hummus I love. And yes, also the cheese and less healthy crunchy snacks. But like the Whole30 explains, life is about balance. That’s why returning to a super-clean programme for a month every so often is such a great way to press the ‘RESET’ button. And no doubt, I will be doing my own version of a whole30, with far less meat and fats. I’m thinking gluten and dairy free, only, the next time around.

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so.. it was a waste of time, then?

No. The Whole30 IS life changing. It will make you see behaviours that you hadn’t seen before. But that doesn’t mean it will necessarily completely change your life. You might notice a strong reaction towards milk, which you had maybe suspected anyways. So you embrace the consequences of having a latte every so often, or cut it out completely. I know my body pretty well, and I know what works and what doesn’t. Meat every day doesn’t work for me, frothed milk doesn’t work for me and brown lentils don’t work for me. I made no further discoveries on this occasion.

 

would I recommend the Whole30?

I always felt like the Whole30 was an incredibly intense programme, and one that mostly foodies/nutrition freaks/health nuts would attempt. The looks of horror I was faced with (parents, friends and family) when I explained I was not only off gluten, dairy, grains, pulses, peanuts and soy but also off anything that mimicked those foods confirmed those feelings. Unless you are sick and desperate, or deeply interested in nutrition (like the paleo community!), the Whole30 isn’t something you necessarily want to resort to. The average person could get away with ordering a food intolerance test and find out what they may be sensitive to, and then adjust their diet.

So, it depends. I’m sorry it’s not as clear-cut as it could be, but it really does depend on your state of health and mind. If you are curious about the experience, fairly healthy (by which I mean you are not on a SAD/processed/traditional developed world diet; see below), looking for a new challenge, feel like paleo might be for you and/or wish your hair/energy/nails/digestion would improve, then YES. Go ahead. If your relationship with food is slightly dysfunctional (slightly obsessive or emotionally attached), then YES. If you need a kick in the butt to get you back on the healthy track after having one too many gluten-free carob bars and/or have a couple of pounds to lose, then YES.

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However, if you are on a SAD/processed/traditional developed world diet and are only just realising its adverse effects, think carefully before embarking on a strict 30-day ‘cleanse’ of any sort. Your health will most definitely improve doing the Whole30, but coming off your processed diet gradually before undertaking a Whole30 may be a better option. The Whole30 doesn’t hide that feeling rubbish is fairly normal during the first week, but if you are chock-a-block full of preservatives/chemicals/additives/gluten/dairy from your diet, realise the purge can trigger some intense detox symptoms. Which may or may not encourage you to continue, and in the case of the latter, may make you feel rubbish about yourself for not being able to pull through. That’s not what the Whole30 is about! If you have a serious health condition and wish to cure yourself through your diet, and are envious of the testimonials on the website (‘it changed my life!’, ‘I cured my IBS!’, ‘I no longer have joint pain!’), the Whole30 could be the solution, but don’t despair if it’s not. There may be other factors to take into account, and a lifetime of illness/inappropriate diet can (and probably will) take more than 30 days to heal.

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All I truly care about is for each and everyone of you to find your own Food Freedom and comfort zone. What is the point of changing an already healthy eating habit for an equally healthy one that doesn’t fit your lifestyle and beliefs? That’s were the Whole30 didn’t do it for me. I never really believed in it!

Until next time,

Elise 💗

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