Lessons learned from a second Whole30

Sarah Parsons
5 min readMar 5, 2017

After my first Whole30, I not only completely fell off the bandwagon in terms of what I was eating, but I followed it up with the world’s worst Costco trip. That trip included a Costco-box of microwave popcorn, among many other non-healthy foods, and which sums up that experience all too well. After two years, I finally threw away the last of the uneaten popcorn. Gross.

I was determined to make this round different.

What I did differently during my second Whole30

I completed my second Whole30 in January and early February this year. My first round of Whole30 was almost three years ago, when I had a 9 month old and a 2 year old.

What worked for me the first round of Whole30:

  • I followed the plan perfectly the entirety of the 30 days.

What didn’t work for me the first round of Whole30:

  • Everything else.
  • I’ve never liked coconut, but felt like I needed to include quite a bit because it was in so many Whole30 recipes. I tried to learn to like it, but that didn’t go so well.
  • I ate way too many sweet potatoes, and didn’t want to see one again for many many months. (Note: this was before regular potatoes were approved, which was a game changer the second time around).

Other than the fact that I accomplished my goal, it was a fairly miserable experience, and I couldn’t wait to get back to my regular-eating ways, which were 100% Standard American Diet. And then some. (Cue the infamous Costco trip.)

This round my goal was to stick to the Whole30 plan 99%, not 100%.

What 99% means:

  • I found a Costco almond milk that doesn’t have carrageenan, so I called that good even though there are a few gums in there I wasn’t sure about.
  • I ate very little coconut.
  • I focused on portion control.
  • I’m viewing this as a start to a changed way of eating (and cooking!)

What’s the point of a Whole30?

The Whole30 crew says it much more elegantly on their site, but essentially, it’s a 30-day challenge to cut out anything that has potential for inflammation, allergies, etc. to give the body a chance to reset. You know, eat only whole foods for 30 days.

The official program rules are very strict and make a large statement that even a single minor slip-up compromises the whole program. For my Type A personality with a tendency toward legalism, this is cause for major stress. Major stress is not the point of the program.

The first time I did the Whole30 three years ago, I stuck to it perfectly. I also stressed myself out and did a major binge when I finished the 30 days. This is exactly the opposite of the point.

This time around, my goals is to still stick to the plan, but without the same level of stress. If I ingest a piece of bacon that has nitrites, I’m not going to beat myself up. I’m going to make and eat my next Whole30 meal.

My goal is healthy habits and weight loss, not to be perfect on an extreme diet.

My “word of the year” for 2017 is RENEW, and a big part of that is letting go of stress and my stress-induced responses.

What does this mean practically? It means that when the neighbors invite us over for dinner after I’ve been solo parenting for five days (three of which we’ve been snowed in!), I’m going to eat the chicken that was slow-cooked in beer all day, but skip the BBQ sauce. I’m also going to load up on asparagus and roasted sweet potato, and skip the rice.

Resources that made my Whole30 successful

How it went

That stretch of solo-parenting and snow? Well, it was 10 days of solo parenting, and almost as many snowed in. At the time, I desperately wished that I could eat junk food. And I would have eaten plenty of it. In hindsight, it forced me to get creative in what I could eat, and I lost weight during that time frame. Knowing myself, I would have easily gained 3–5 pounds during that time frame if I wasn’t doing Whole30.

The single thing that I missed the most was milk in my coffee. I typically do coffee with a splash of whole milk during the week, and splurge on a few lattes here and there. Most of my journal entries from during the Whole30 say something along the lines of “I want a latte.”

By the end of this round of Whole30, I felt pretty darn good, and was actively researching ways to continue eating healthy, but in a more sustainable way for our family.

Strategically, my birthday was just a few days after I finished the Whole30. When I planned out dates, I wasn’t thinking about the recommended reintroduction schedule following a Whole30, but I was thinking about making sure I could have a sweet treat on my birthday. 🙂

However, once I started, I realized that I couldn’t do that and still test out the effects of specific food groups. Based on past experience, I was pretty sure that dairy does not affect me. But I wanted to test that out. I know that sugar does. I was less concerned about grains and legumes.

So I modified a bit. (And for my extreme Type A self, seeing Mandi post about her modified Whole30 right about the same time gave me even more internal “permission” to do it my way than I would have otherwise — thanks Mandi!).

I reintroduced dairy slowly my last week on the Whole30 with a splash of milk in my coffee (rather than almond milk). Nothing has ever tasted better. And I didn’t have any reactions to it. #win

(Un)Expected Benefits of the Whole30

  • The Whole30 made me appreciate quality food and the way my body felt.
    I did not expect the Whole30 to almost eliminate my lingering post-car accident back pain.
  • The scale went down 9 lbs, which I have kept off the full month since I finished the Whole30.
  • I progressively wanted to continue eating better. I read In Defense of Food, and trolled the 100 Days of Real Food blog, along with other various healthy eating websites. I began to think about what permanent (semi-permanent?) lifestyle changes I wanted to make as a family.

Moving Forward
Moving forward, we’re focusing on real/whole foods, but not excluding any food groups. This means that we’re adding in whole grains, full-fat dairy and natural sugars like honey and maple syrup, but still focusing on a whole lot fewer processed foods.

Have you tried a Whole30? What additional advice or questions do you have?

Originally published at strategysarah.com on March 5, 2017.