The Whole30 program is based on the premise that many of the foods we eat every day are killing us, and by the fact that everyone is affected differently by these foods. On this program, you eliminate these these foods for at least 30 days, and then reintroduce one potentially harmful food type at a time to determine how these foods affect your mind and body. For details about the program and the science behind the food choices, see whole30.com.
The following sections detail the steps of my Whole30 experience:
- Personal Motivation
- Step One: Research the Whole30
- Step Two: Discuss Whole30 With Your Doctor
- Step Three: Commit to 30-60 Days
- Step Four: Prepare
- Step Five: Do the Whole30
- Step Six: Reintroduce Foods
- Step Seven: Share the Results
- Step Eight: Change Your Life
My Whole30 journey began at work. My employer brings in guest speakers for TED-like employee events. Recently Melissa Hartwig presented information about learning how certain foods affect your health. Melissa is the co-author of It Starts With Food (published 07/29/2014) and The Whole30 (published 04/21/2015). My takeaway from her talk was that processed foods, poorly-sourced meat and produce, and basically any non-paleo food can make you sick. In particular, sugar, grains, legumes, and dairy products can adversely affect the body.
Eating only clean meat, fresh local fruits and vegetables, and healthy fats is expensive and time-consuming. Finding these raw foods has never been easier, but you might have to drive across town or schedule your grocery shopping around farmer’s market hours. These foods are more expensive. You have to plan your meals, and cook food according to the schedule, costing you time, convenience, as well as money, and therefore testing your willpower.
Several years ago, a friend of mine went on the Paleo diet. This diet included eating clean meat, healthy fat, and veggies. She was doing it under the care of a doctor to determine whether she was gluten intolerant. I remember thinking at the time, “That would SUCK. There’s no way I could go for months without eating bread, cheese, or dessert. And really – organic, locally-sourced, non-GMO, grass-fed, and free-range foods are just marketing strategies to raise grocery prices.” At that time, nobody could interest me in this type of “fad diet”.
Over years of reading news articles, watching documentaries (such as Supersize Me and Food Inc.), and through increased visibility in the grocery stores, my viewpoint slowly shifted. As my health declined and my family began aging, I looked to medical journals and national studies for information. After a major surgery, my health stabilized, but there are several medications and supplements that I must take for the rest of my life. When I moved to a new city a few months ago and had to look for new doctors and specialists, I looked for doctors that would work with me to reduce the 40+ pills that I took every day.
The information about the Whole30 program came to me at exactly the right time. I am as healthy as I can be for someone that purchases quality ingredients and eats very little processed food, but that eats a lot of sugar and grains and lives a sedentary lifestyle. I don’t drink my calories. I know the ingredients in all of my food. I have lost all of the weight that I gained throughout my illness. I’m a bit overweight but I am not motivated to lose weight. Rather, I want to find out what in my diet causes my hormones and systems to fluctuate. And ultimately, I just want to feel consistently better. I want to be stronger and have more energy. Every point in the book resonated with me. The described results made me want to try a different way of living. The time was right.
Step One: Research the Whole30
Before you can decide whether the Whole30 program is right for you, You need to understand it. Read It Starts With Food, and review the Whole30 website. Investigate the studies mentioned and competing studies. Determine whether it is something you can do that is worthwhile for your life and your health. Get your spouse or partner on board. If you live with other adults, you need to agree or you will fail.
After reading and digging, I decided that I was ready to change my life. In typical Stephenie fashion, I was ready to go – full steam ahead!
Step Two: Discuss Whole30 With Your Doctor
Before you make any significant changes that can affect your body, ALWAYS consult your doctor.
After researching the Whole30 program, I spoke with my Primary Care Physician (PCP). When I moved to a new city, I chose my PCP based on her chosen focus on improving her patients’ overall health and getting them off unnecessary medications. I asked her what she thought about me eliminating all but clean healthy meat, fruit, veggies, and fats for 30 days and then reintroducing them individually to see how they affect my body. My doctor gave her scribe a pointed look and asked me if I was talking about the Whole30 program. It turns out that she HIGHLY recommends it and has for over a year. She has seen fantastic results in her patients. We discussed some details and she agreed with my planned schedule and recommended some tweaks like a 4-week evaluation before starting the reintroduction, and to introduce one food type per week instead of every few days.
Step Three: Commit to 30-60 Days
This is not a program for the half-hearted. You can’t begin by saying “I’ll try…”. This program will be hard. You have to COMMIT to completing 30 days without cheating once. And then you need several weeks to slowly reintroduce the foods. You have to be motivated and stay motivated. Share your commitment with friends and family. Try to get them to experience it with you, particularly if you live with someone. Brace yourself to defend your choices. Set a start date (today if you can). And go public.
After getting my doctor’s approval, I committed to the plan. I needed around 60 days to complete the reintroduction. I had a vacation planned for Feburary, and then I had company arriving in March. I was sick in April. I went to visit family in May. I had company at the end of June. I started as soon as my visitor left, on July 1. I announced it on Facebook. I created a blog post. I recruited friends. I wanted a support system to keep me going, and wanted accountability to stop me from making mistakes or quitting.
Step Four: Prepare
Before your start date, remove as many temptations as possible. Get snacks out of your desk at work, remove them from the car, and empty your kitchen. This can be difficult if you live with someone, so try to recruit them – it’s easier together. Plan your meals. Record your measurements and take “before” photos. Be ready for day one!
I pulled frozen meals, frozen biscuits, bread, and desserts out of my big freezer. (Ok, let’s get real – I had some time, so I ate most of it.) The rest of the items went into the work freezer with a “Free to a good home” note. I did the same with chips and cookies in the pantry. For long-term pantry items like peanut butter and whole wheat pasta, I placed them in a box and took them down to my storage unit for the month. I packed up the snacks in my office and took the Life Savers out of my backpack.
I started planning my meals. I wanted to review recipes and get ideas for flavor combinations. I wanted to try new vegetables. I wanted to cook all my fruits and veggies so that my sensitive stomach wouldn’t revolt. I knew that the first week or two might not go well and I needed to be completely ready. The sugar withdrawal alone could leave my energy levels too low to cook after work, so I wanted to cook a little ahead so that I could defrost and go.
I took my starting measurements and photos.
Step Five: Do the Whole30
Ready? Set? Go!
You can see my meals and notes about how I felt along the journey. Keep in mind that this is the meal-planned menu for a single person. You can use my linked personal recipes, and double or quadruple the recipes for a couple or family. This is good food – most of which you can feed a child. Just substitute macaroni and cheese or the veggie of your child’s choice for the ones they don’t like.
For my fifth week of food plus the beginning of my reintroduction, see Whole30: Week Five
For my sixth week of food, plus the second week of my reintroduction, see Whole30: Week Six
For my seventh week of food, plus the third week of my reintroduction, see Whole30: Week Seven
Step Six: Reintroduce Foods
After completing the Whole30, you can begin introducing the limited foods. The Whole30 book provides the option to do a minimum 10-day reintroduction, or a slow-roll reintroduction. Regardless of how quick you go, they recommend that you reintroduce things in a specific order, from items least likely to cause a bad reaction (soy and legumes) to the item most likely to cause trouble (gluten-containing grains). Whole30 doesn’t really recommend adding large quantities of sugar back at all, but if that’s your vice, you can add it first to see exactly what problems it causes.
When you reintroduce foods, you should pay attention to how your body reacts in the following ways:
- Digestion – Are things moving too fast or too slow? Do you have gas, bloating, pain, or cramping? Has your heartburn or GERD returned?
- Energy – Are you back to a 3 p.m. slump, dragging yourself out of bed in the morning, or just feeling lethargic? Are your workouts suffering, or have you lost motivation to exercise?
- Sleep – Are you sleeping more restlessly? Do you have a hard time falling asleep? Are you waking up in the middle of the night, or too early in the morning?
- Cravings – Is your Sugar Dragon back in full effect? Are you having a hard time resisting the pull of sugar or carbs? Are you now eating foods just because they’re in front of you?
- Mood and psychology – Are you cranky, moody, or otherwise less happy than you’ve been? Has your anxiety, depression, attention deficit, or compulsive habits returned?
- Skin – Did you break out, get a rash or hives, or see a reappearance of eczema, psoriasis, or other skin conditions?
- Breathing – Are you congested or having sinus pain? Have your “seasonal allergies” reappeared? Are you experiencing shortness of breath or asthma?
- Pain and inflammation – Have you triggered a migraine or headache? Has your chronic pain fatigue, tendinitis, or arthritis returned? Are your joints more sore, stiff, or swollen? Do you have other tangible symptoms of inflammation?
- Medical conditions – Have your symptoms reappeared or gotten worse?
This list comes from The Whole30 (published 04/21/2015).
I did a modified “slow roll”. It took me 15 days to reintroduce all of the foods. You can see my results and notes about my reintroduction for each of the following food groups:
- Sugar – Sugar causes me to get headaches and cravings. My head gets hot, my muscles spasm, and I get antsy. This is a lot more intense while on Whole30.
- Legumes (like soy and peanut butter) – Regular Jif peanut butter caused a sugar reaction because of the high levels of sugar in it. I switched to a Whole Foods organic creamy peanut butter. The ingredients: dry roasted peanuts. It didn’t taste very good, but I had no reaction on that peanut butter. However, I seem to have a soy allergy. It caused swelling of joints, face, throat, and lymph nodes. It caused anaphylaxis that included wheezing, runny nose, breathing difficulty, rapid pulse, and terrible congestion. It also upset my stomach with abdominal pain, diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting. Additionally, soy isoflavones found in most soy products, are compounds that resemble estrogen called phytoestrogens. This is the most likely culprit that caused my hormones to be so messed up for weeks after going on this elimination diet.
- Non-gluten Grains (like corn and rice) – I tried these on different days to isloate troubles. the corn caused no issues at all. When I ate just rice, it gave me a mild sugar response.
- Dairy (like cheese, milk, cream, yogurt, ice cream, and sour cream) – I tried different kinds of dairy for different meals oveer 2 days. Extra creamy dairy like mozzarella cheese and whole cream caused a little mucus in my throat, but that’s all. After two full days of dairy, I had slight GI issues. So I can have dairy in moderation or as an ingredient in a recipe with no trouble.
- Gluten-containing Grains (like wheat) – Gluten made my bones and joints hurt. It made me grumpy. It made my joints swell. It affected my stomach a little. It caused me to crave carbs. It messed up my sleep. Gluten is not worth it for me.
When you’re done, share your results!
I was happy to learn that corn, rice, and dairy don’t seem to bother me as long as I don’t over-indulge.
Sugar without a meal causes bad headaches. Gluten (wheat) was really bad. It caused joint pain and inflammation, stomach problems, cravings, sleep issues, tiredness, grumpiness, and totally killed my ambition. Soy was the devil to my body, causing anaphylaxis, inflammation, stomach pain, and hormone fluctuations.
Too much dairy makes me phlegmy and messes up my stomach. Gluten (wheat) gave me soft, smelly stools. Soy gave me bad diarrhea and screws with my hormones.
Step Eight: Change Your Life
After you complete your reintroduction, you need to decide how you’re going to change your eating habits in the future. Some things might cause dramatic enough problems that you will almost completely cut them out of your life. Some you can enjoy in moderation.
Soy is the legume that is REALLY hard to avoid. It is in nearly all over. Pretty much, if comes in a package, it probably has soy in it. Almost all processed foods do. So that means that I will severely limit my processed foods.
Most of the time I will avoid gluten, which isn’t really that hard these days. Most restaurants have gluten-free options. I can cook gluten-free at home. I’ll eat a few bites of cake on a special occasion and plan to pay for it for days.