Some of you may know that for the month of June I decided to commit to Whole30.
For those who haven’t heard about it, basically Whole30 is a program where you commit to very clean eating for 30 days. The basic idea is that you eat three, satisfying meals a day that focus on a solid protein source, a side of vegetables and a little fruit, with compliant snacks only when necessary for physical hunger, such as post workout. For the 30 days, you eat no sugar, sweeteners, foods with added sugar, sweeteners, or preservatives (like sulfites), soy, dairy, grains, legumes, or alcohol.
It is pretty restrictive, especially if you eat out a lot, you really have to take the time to commit, prep and plan your meals in advance if you want to do well. For a long time I have been pretty good at prepping and meal planning, but snacking is my biggest downfall – I absolutely love to snack. I knew that much of my snacking was out of habit, because I always have something sweet with my tea like a little low calorie muffin or cookie, or was related to emotional eating and I wanted to tame the sugar dragon that I think fueled my cravings and was slowing my progress and keeping me from ultimately reaching my goal.
As someone who has struggled for years with emotional eating, and has worked hard to confront it, I thought Whole30 would be a great challenge and potential learning experience – after 30 days, I learned more than I expected. A few days before June 1, I read up on the Whole30 program website about the basic rules, food lists and shopping tips, I did some shopping and prepared veggies and fruits and stocked up on plenty lean meats and compliant spices and seasonings. I purchased ghee (clarified butter for high heat cooking) and coconut oil, and some Larabars, which are fruit and nuts bars (only some of them are Whole30 compliant) for emergency and post workout snacks. The morning of June 1, I weighed in, took my measurements and had my body fat calculated at the gym.
I was prepped. I was ready.
The first week was hard. Very hard. The first day or two I felt pretty positive and upbeat and had that determined feeling about a new challenge. By the third and fourth days, I felt tired, had a permanent headache and was cranky. This is likely due to my body detoxing from sugar. One of the biggest challenges was giving up my sweet and milky morning coffee. I love a good, sweet and creamy coffee to perk me up first thing. Having my coffee with no sugar or sweetener and a little bit of coconut milk was drinkable (barely at first), but not fun. It absolutely took the joy out of it for me. I got used to it, and eventually started to feel less like I even needed it at all. Don’t get me wrong, I still enjoy the caffeine boost, but relying on a sweet fix first thing in the a.m. was setting me up to look for those little sweet moments, not for physical nourishment but for emotional companionship – in food! It felt good not to need it that way as the days went on.
At first, I snacked more than the program recommends on compliant foods, again out of habit more than physical hunger. After a week or so of eating clean, I started to lose the desire to snack quite as much, and really felt satisfied with my meals every 4-5 hours. I tried to increase water intake, so I wouldn’t confuse thirst for hunger and also decided to workout 3 times a week at the gym. These changes had a huge impact on my results.
After the second week, I started to notice a difference in how some of my clothes fit. The bum in my jeans was beginning to sag and my shirts felt looser around my upper arms. I resisted the urge to weigh myself until the very end and actually removed the scale from my house (I put it in the trunk of my sister’s car!) so I wouldn’t be tempted to hop on and check along the way.
Eating wise, around week two it began to feel almost second nature. As long as I was eating at home it was not challenging to put meals together that were compliant, filling and delicious. There are so many resources online and on platforms like Instagram, that I didn’t feel there was a lack of variety or choice, however eating out was difficult and created a few bumps along the way. The first one happened during the third week, when I went out to dinner with my husband. I asked all the questions about what oil they used, etc. but couldn’t get a 100% answer on some of the ingredients in the lamb seasoning they used, even from the chef. I ate a seasoning and grilled lamb skewer, as that seemed the smartest choice, unsure of whether it was 100% compliant. The second occurred when I was out shopping longer than planned and felt really hungry and was unprepared with a snack. Stuck over an hour from home, I went for what I thought was a compliant choice. I had seen other Whole30’ers on Instagram post Chipotle salads as compliant meals, and I thought I was safe if I went with chicken, salad, veggies, meat and guacamole but apparently, the only compliant protein source is carnitas (pork) as all of the other meats are cooked in soybean oil. I was a little bummed to have a couple moments that weren’t compliant, but as someone who has struggled with disordered eating and obsessive dieting, I had promised myself that I would not revert to obsessive and destructive behaviors when it came to food, even if I wasn’t “perfect”. I didn’t restart or beat myself up, I knew I had tried my best and made choices that were compliant with my best intentions – that was enough for me!
The last week was absolute smooth sailing. After 30 days, my energy was much higher, my sugar cravings literally disappeared and my clothes were noticeably looser. I felt like the routine of eating this way was pretty well established and lots of the meals I enjoyed on plan, I will definitely enjoy as part of my regular eating after Whole30.
Today on July 1, I weighed in, measured, and had my body fat calculated at the gym, here are my results:
Body fat lost:
- -12% from my total body fat percentage of 38.8% (June 1) to 34.2% (July 1) – to me this was the biggest success! 🙂
- Waist: -2
- Hips: -4
- Thighs: -2
- Upper Arms: -1
I am definitely happy with the results and I have learned a few important things that I will sum up about my experience:
- Treats should be treats, not everyday eats | One of the biggest lessons was breaking the emotional connection to food, particular sweets. I am a sweet addict to the core and I love chocolate, pancakes, muffins, cakes, cookies, pies, pudding – just everything and anything sweet! While you can absolutely lose weight making low calorie/fat versions of cookies, cakes, pies, and pancakes if you do this all the time, you are not addressing the emotional connection you might have with them, you’re just making them have less impact on your weight. As a short term strategy, these replacements will work with your plan, but long term if you don’t dig deep and make lasting changes to the relationship that drives you to eat to certain things in certain ways, you will likely revert back to old comfort foods, or at very least, get more lax with , tracking portion control. From past experience, this is how I very often gained back weight after losing it and I don’t want to do that again. I am not saying this as a judgement call on anyone’s eating, cooking, or journey, everyone should do what works for them, but this is something I think was essential for me to learn. I am going to reserve treats for the weekend, a treat meal or special occasions, but I am not going to make treats every day. Instead, I will focus on balanced, nutritious and healthy eating 80% of the time and 20% of the time, I will relax a bit and enjoy a cocktail, dessert, local cuisine, or new restaurant completely and fully without any guilt or regret.
- Fat is not the enemy | I ate more fat during my Whole30 than I have in years. I still watched my portions and tracked most of the time using the Weight Watchers PointsPlus system, because that control and accountability works for me, but I ate things that I would normally avoid, such as avocado, olive oil, butter (ghee), fattier cuts of meat (chicken thighs instead of breast), larger portions of nuts and nut butter, etc. Doing this, I still LOST more fat than I have and in fact, lost weight at a faster rate than I have in the last several months. I averaged a loss of 1.85 pounds a week eating the Whole30 way. For a few months, I was averaging just under a pound or so a week. So basically, the rate of weight loss was about double my recent average loss.
- You must move | One of the things that probably had an impact on my loss along with eating clean was that I started working out with weights. I have been pretty active for a while but for the last month I started to go to the gym at least 3 days a week and put in 1 hour sessions each time. Each session includes a 20-30 minute cardio warm up and then focused training, 1 day legs, 1 day chest and back, 1 day arms/shoulders. Each session includes about 10 minutes of ab work. The strength and energy I feel from this is unbelievable. At night, I actually go to bed physically tired and wake up refreshed – for years I struggled with unsatisfying sleep and felt tired all day – clean eating and working out has really changed that and it feels so good!
- Mindful eating works, but it takes practice, a lot of practice and before you can do it you might need support | A lot of people have asked me whether I will continue eating clean and following Weight Watchers, and the answer to both is yes. While the general idea of whole eating is that if you do it properly, there is no need to track or count, this assumes a person has conquered the demons that led them to overeat, binge eat or eat emotionally. The truth is that undoing those behaviors takes a lot of practice and I don’t feel ready to do that on my own quite yet. You can binge eat raw almonds and reach for cashew butter to feed an emotion. For now, I love the accountability, camaraderie and control that Weight Watchers offers and I will continue to follow the PointsPlus program, but I will definitely be cleaning up my diet. Mainly, I will not be consuming white sugar or artificial sweeteners anymore. In addition, I am going to restrict consumption of gluten containing foods. The research is clear on the impact of simple carbohydrates (sugar, fruit drinks, candy, etc.) on the body – they make you want more of them and they are in many cases nutritionally vacant. I want to get off the sugar carousel and reach my goals, so simple carbs (unless they are involved in treats/treat meals) are out.
- A word on obsessing | This is a topic I know all too well. For years I cycled between binge eating and starving myself. I was either completely off the wagon or I was pulling the empty wagon on my back on an empty stomach, with some ankle weights and plastic sweat suit. You get me? I think any kind of obessive behavior, whether you are obsessed with eating fast food or obsessed with eating only clean ingredients, is emotionally and physically harmful. Life is about balance and so is health, every system in our body seeks balance to work at it’s optimum level of performance. It doesn’t work properly at 0% body fat, just as it doesn’t work at 50% body fat. Balance. If you have struggled with an eating disorder, especially in the recent past, and are thinking about trying Whole30 I would caution against it. Instead, challenge yourself to trying one of the amazing recipes each day for 30 days or eliminate one of the list of items to see how it might impact you. Obsessing over each and every ingredient might cause a reversion to old habits and could be trigger, so keep that in mind.
So would I recommend Whole30? Totally! It has really helped me think closely about my eating, my habits, and the food that I purchase and consume. From here on out, I am going to be more thoughtful about all of these things as I continue on my journey towards goal.