“You cannot “out-exercise” poor food choices and the resulting hormonal disruption.” — Melissa Hartwig
Two years ago my doctor told me if I didn’t change my health regimen, I wouldn’t live very long. What followed the drastic wake-up call was a long journey towards finding a healthier diet, losing weight, and getting more exercise. A key part of my recovery from that crisis was to experiment with different diets.
Until then I had consumed what has been referred to as the “Standard American Diet.” A diet that was rich is red meat, dairy, sugar, and processed food. I knew that this was not a healthy way to eat, but I didn’t know how to change it, or what to change it to. In lack of a good go-to option, I just started to test several popular diets, trying to find a healthy long-term solution.
One of my first experiments was the Whole 30 Program. I experimented with the Whole 30 Program during the month of July 2017. By the end of the month, I had lost 12 pounds, 2 inches around my waist, and felt much better than I did at the beginning of the month.
Today, I am sharing my experience with this program to help you make a more informed decision as to whether or not this might be the right program for you.
Note: I am not a nutritionist or a healthcare professional. The information that I am about to share is based on my own experience and results during my month on the program.What Is The Whole 30 Program?
The Whole 30 is not a diet or even a weight-loss plan. Yes, plenty of people lose weight on Whole 30, but that is not the purpose of the program. From The Whole 30: The 30 Day Guide to Total Health and Food Freedom:
“The Whole 30 is not a diet. It’s not a quick fix. It’s not even a weight loss program. The Whole 30 is designed to change your life and your relationship with food. It’s a monumental transformation in how you think about food, your body, your life, and what you want out of the time you have left on earth.”
The real purpose of the Whole 30 Program is to give your body a chance to heal from the foods that have been proven to cause inflammation and other digestive-related health issues. It’s more about transforming your eating habits than losing weight. One of the things that attracted me to the Whole 30 Program was the promise that I could change the way I think about food.
The Whole 30 Program is a strict elimination program. It bans all dairy, grains, legumes, soy, alcohol, sugar, and any processed foods from your diet. It is so strict that if you cheat just once, you must start the program over from day one.
After the initial 30 days, you slowly reintroduce the foods that were banned by the program. This allows you to discover any food sensitivities and learn how your body reacts to certain foods during the reintroduction phase.
Why The Whole 30?
I first heard about the program in May or June of 2017, when I noticed several friends discussing their results on Facebook. I found the concept to be really interesting at a time when I had to do something drastic to improve my health.
The thought of eating a diet consisting of only fruit, veggies, meat, eggs, nuts and seeds for a month didn’t really excite me, but I was curious to see how my body would respond to only eating healthy food for a month.
I had also read that over 70% of your immune system resides in your gut. If your gut is out of balance, and you’re fighting a chronic illness, it makes sense to try and restore gut health in order to create a better immune system. Or would it? With the promise of a healthier life and a stronger immune system, I dove right into the Whole 30 Program.
It was only for 30-days, right? However, my wife and I had decided to take a 1-week vacation during this time, which made it harder to stick to the diet than I initially thought. I quickly learned that it’s not easy to maintain the Whole30 Program when you are eating out for every meal. She quickly became annoyed by my restaurant choices; Outback for steak and vegetables, Five Guy’s for burgers without a bun, Boston Market for roasted chicken.
Needless to say, she wasn’t a happy camper and it wasn’t much of a vacation for her but we made it work.
What Can You Eat On The Whole 30 Program?
The general guidelines are no dairy, grains, legumes, soy, alcohol, sugar, or any processed foods. But here are some of the specifics that worked for me:
- Breakfast: My favorite breakfast was a 3 egg omelette with baby spinach and whatever other vegetables that were leftover from the night before. It was easy to beat a couple of eggs, throw them in a pan, and add some veggies. Some of you may argue that I was eating a lot of eggs, but they are a good source of protein and it was only for 30-days.
- Lunch: At the time, I worked in a major hospital with an awesome cafeteria. It was easy to get a grilled chicken breast and some grilled veggies, which is what I ate most days. They also had a large salad bar, which allowed me to break up the monotony of the chicken and veggies.
- Dinner: For dinner we ate a lot of tilapia, salmon, steak and chicken with roasted or steamed vegetables. It wasn’t exciting but it met my dietary needs and I didn’t get a lot of complaints from my wife and daughter.
- Snacks: Snacks were a problem for me. One of favorite snacks is cheese, but dairy was not allowed in the program. One of the most recommended snacks is nuts, but I can’t have them because I have diverticulosis. My fall back was celery with almond butter. It seem to fill me up while meeting the requirements of the Whole 30 plan but it was pretty boring.
- Drinks: I gave up coffee, one of my favorite drinks, for the month because I didn’t enjoy it without cream and sugar. I drank a ton of water, sparkling water, and tea.
My diet wasn’t very exciting, but it fueled my body and met the requirements of the program.
What Was My Experience Like?
I started the first week of the program feeling very optimistic. How hard could it be to eat only healthy foods? Turns out very hard. The first day was great, but by the second day I was experiencing severe sugar withdrawal. This combined with a lack of carbohydrates was causing symptoms similar to the Keto Flu.
If you have ever tried the Keto diet, you can relate to what I was experiencing: a severe headache, mental fogginess, dizziness, and aggravation. The things that you experience while adjusting to the diet during the first few days of the Keto program. This is sometimes referred to as the Keto Flu.
These symptoms caused the first week to be the hardest week of the entire program. One thing that I learned during the first week was how many of the foods that we eat contain sugar. It forced me to look at every single ingredient in the food label to make sure that there wasn’t any sugar in my food.
By the beginning of the second week, I was feeling much better, all of my symptoms were gone and I wasn’t craving sugary snacks. I was feeling better and actually sleeping better. Unfortunately, I was eating pretty much the same foods every day which was already getting boring.
The second week came and went, and the third week was pretty much the same. I was sleeping better, feeling better, and my clothes were looser. I was even getting used to eating the same old boring foods.
That all changed when I reached the fourth week. The closer I got to the finish line, the more I craved the foods I loved. The ones that were the worst for my body. All I could think of was a deep dish pepperoni pizza.
Regardless, I made it through the 30 days and finished the program. During the 30-day program, I had lost a total of 12 pounds and a couple of inches around my waist. I felt better and I was sleeping much better.
Is The Whole 30 Diet Right For You?
The Whole 30 is not for everyone. In fact, US News & World Reports ranked the Whole 30 Program number 37 out of 39 diets that it evaluated, criticizing it for a lack of substantial scientific research backing it up:
“No independent research. Nonsensical claims. Extreme. Restrictive. The slams against Whole 30 came in strong from our panelists, and it tied with the Raw Food Diet as the worst of the worst for healthy eating.”
Many nutritionists believe that the Whole 30 is not a healthy long-term diet. It is something that you will have to think about if you decide to try the program.
My thinking was, “It’s only for 30 days, I can do pretty much anything for 30 days.” Living without grains, dairy, and sugar for 30 days wasn’t going to kill me. For me, it was more of a psychological battle, and I don’t believe that it is as harmful as some opponents want us to believe.
Ultimately, only you can decide if the Whole 30 Program is for you. But for me it was worth a shot and helped me on my journey towards finding a diet that’s right for me.