Whole30 Survival Guide: Recap

If you’re just getting caught up, read part one and part two of my Whole30 survival guide. 

Whole30 Survival Guide Recap - my thoughts on the month!

I am officially done with Whole30! Thirty days of cutting out all forms of added sugar, corn, soy, legumes, grains, and alcohol. Since it has been exactly one week since I finished, I wanted to share some of my thoughts on the entire experience, as well as a short Q&A with some questions people have asked along the way.

First, thank you so much for following along (and for providing suggestions and words of encouragement!) this past month. It made a huge difference and I so appreciate it!

Since my last update was during the two week mark, I’ll start with a brief summary of the last two weeks on Whole30! Overall, the last two weeks (particularly, the final week!) were significantly easier than those first two weeks. I felt great during the final week. Some of this was mental (only a few days left!) but at that point, brainstorming and creating meals had gotten significantly easier. This was my new normal. At this point, I also felt that my reasons for doing Whole30 (reset habits, etc.) had been accomplished. This sort of makes sense, because habits tend to get significantly easier and more engrained with time.

As much as I was looking forward to having that first cup of coffee with dairy or that first slice of bread, as those last few days came to an end, I didn’t really feel like I needed them. In other words, not eating certain foods (eg. pasta, etc.) for thirty days didn’t have the opposite and negative effect of making me want to face plant into a bowl of them. That’s just my own personal experience.

I never experienced ‘tiger blood’ or any other super dramatic changes during the thirty days, but I would say that my overall energy, mood, and sense of wellbeing improved throughout the thirty days. It was gradual, but real. Now that I’m finished (and have introduced a few foods), this has actually become more apparent. I’ll get to that in a bit. If you’re interested in the nitty gritty, you can find that at the bottom of the post.

Would I do it all over again?

Believe it or not, I would! I do think it’s worth following the ‘rules’ the first time (and I understand most of the reasoning behind most, but not all, of them) around. By definition, an elimination diet – and that is what this is – requires that you give up certain foods for a certain time period. A program like this, by default, is going to be restrictive and anal.

Word of warning: there is going to be some point in the program, where certain rules are going to seem really stupid. Really? I can’t have vanilla extract due to alcohol content? Yep. If I hadn’t read It Starts with FoodI would have probably dismissed half of them.

I think if you’re even a bit curious about trying Whole30, it’s worth going all in. If you’re going to cut out certain foods for thirty days, you might as well figure out how they affect you. I think this is particularly true if you have really bad eating habits or eat a lot of processed food. On the other hand, if you already eat relatively healthily and you’re simply looking to improve your habits and challenge yourself, it is my opinion that you could do some version of the program and still get most of the benefits.

Most Challenging Part of Whole30:

The rules are very restrictive. I definitely understand the purpose of removing certain foods or avoiding fake, yet *technically* compliant forms of your favorite foods, but I purposely ignored several of them.

For example, while I didn’t regularly drink smoothies (technically frowned upon), I did make vegetable-heavy smoothies, full of healthy fats and proteins, on occasion. They kept me full, were convenient, and added much-needed variety to my breakfast routine. Leftover dinner and eggs can only get you so far, you know?

Whole30 also requires a lot of meal planning and prep, especially if you have a normal office job. Working from home made it significantly easier for me to accomplish (I don’t take this for granted!). If you travel a lot for work, it would be very hard. Not impossible, but very, very challenging. You have to have a plan, and be mentally prepared.

Best Part of Whole30:

I got really creative with my meals! That egg breakfast above is an example of this. It took just minutes to prepare, but I literally never would have thought to make something like for an average breakfast before Whole30. Heck, I opened up a can of sardines out of desperation one day and realized I really like canned sardines (and I felt really good, full, and satisfied!).

I also ate more vegetables- and was very mindful of adding healthy fats – at breakfast and lunch – than I normally might. You don’t really have a choice. It is easy to make good choices when you’re following the main principles. I realized that I didn’t need to have an accompanying grain to make certain meals feel complete (I had this mental habit before!).

Cooking comes naturally to me – and I do think that is partially why this challenging was easier than it might be for some –  but I have a feeling it would be good for anyone looking to get more creative and self-sufficient in the kitchen. Despite meal planning, I did a lot more spontaneous cooking with whatever I had on hand too.

Least Favorite Part of Whole30:

It requires that you eat a lot of meat. I was eating more vegetables on Whole30 than I normally do (and I eat a lot of them in general!), but I was consuming some type of meat every single day. My body didn’t have a problem with this – this actually kept me very satiated between meals – but this was new for me. At one point, I couldn’t stand the idea of eating another piece of meat.

I like how the program encourages people to buy pasture-raised, humanely raised animal products, but by design it eliminates tons of sustainable, more environmentally-friendly forms of plant-based protein, such as legumes and grains. This bothers me.

We didn’t eat out at all during the duration of the program (aside from one breakfast), but we definitely spent more on groceries last month. While I do believe that health is an investment, it does make the program cost-prohibitive for a lot of people. I live in a large metropolitan city, and it is worth noting that some of the items I turned to (ie. coconut aminos, high-quality almond milk, etc.) aren’t available in most grocery stores.

On that note, eating out is nearly impossible, which is a huge bummer! In fact, socializing in general is a lot harder, especially if it revolves around food. I have a newfound appreciation for people with major food allergies or dietary restrictions. Yikes.

Whole30 Survival Guide Recap - my thoughts on the month!

What was the hardest thing to give up?

Dairy! Dairy! Dairy! I was expecting the hardest thing to be grains (specifically, pasta and bread), but dairy was part of my normal routine more than I realized. I was used to milk in my coffee, yogurt at breakfast, and a sprinkling of cheese on my pasta (even if it was zucchini pasta). I wasn’t having crazy cravings, I just truly missed it.

Grains were the second hardest. I missed them for variety and texture’s sake, rather than necessarily for the flavor. I could no longer rely on them to create meals (pasta, oatmeal, etc.), and that definitely was a big adjustment for me.

What was the easiest thing to give up?

Sugar. Apparently I am not addicted to sugar (or not noticeably addicted), because this was easy for me. I think this is why I didn’t have a difficult time during the first week of this. I didn’t experience headaches or anything like that. Despite this, giving up sugar was much easier than I expected it to be! I fully believe – and have believed this for a while – that sugar is addictive. Sugar isn’t evil (I don’t believe any food is – as some might suggest), but it is far more addictive than probably any other food group. I also believe that cutting it out for any length of time can have a huge impact on your taste buds.

After hearing from a bunch of you, I think this is probably what scares people the most about starting Whole30! I totally get it. I think a lot of people are used to having that piece of chocolate at the end of the day, that tiny bit of sugar in their morning coffee, or they love their baked goods.

In my opinion, I think eliminating added sugar, for the average person, it’s probably the biggest argument for doing Whole30. I’ve experienced this first hand over the years. Luckily, sugar is not my biggest trigger food. Whenever I get into bad habits and eat a lot of added sugar (honestly, any variety), my taste buds get accustomed to it. I tend to crave it and my taste buds become less sensitive to it. Whenever I eat less added sugar, I tend to care or think about it less (and don’t have cravings) and my tastebuds become much more sensitive to it. The same thing happens with salt.

If I was used to adding sugar to my coffee every morning, you can bet it would be hard for me to drink coffee without it. Thankfully, I don’t add sugar to many things on a regular basis, so I didn’t have to kick those habits. That being said, I did miss sugar on occasion for flavor. I’m not going to lie, homemade chia seed pudding could definitely benefit from a light drizzle of maple syrup!

Alcohol. I really didn’t even think about it during the duration of the program. I think I had way too many other things that I missed more that distracted me from thinking about that glass of wine or bottle of beer.

What was the hardest stage of Whole30?

Days 10 through Day 14. For whatever reason, this was the stage of the program where I was over it. So over it! If I hadn’t told people on the internet I was doing this, I might have just quit. I think there is going to be some period in the program where everyone experiences similar emotions (it just might hit people at different stages). Your routine is upended, you’re just sick of cooking one night, or you just want some more variety.

I couldn’t stand the idea of eating another piece of meat and every single rule felt stupid and arbitrary. Why am I allowed to eat a potato, but can’t have some damn quinoa? This is dumb. My best advice for anyone doing it is to prepare for these types of thoughts. You’re going to experience them.

This Mediterranean chicken salad saved my life during those days. The good news? This was totally mental (despite me feeling otherwise) and after a day or two, I no longer felt annoyed at life. I was also really glad that I pushed through this, because in reality, I wanted to finish the challenge and prove to myself that I could do this. Word of advice? Push through it! You are stronger than you think.

Have you reintroduced any food groups yet? How did you feel?

YES! I fully intended on doing the 10-day fast track reintroduction (we leave for Japan on Friday, so I didn’t have time to complete a slow reintroduction) and switched up the schedule based on what food groups I missed most.

I reintroduced dairy (milk in my coffee, a tiny bit of cheese) on Day 31. I enjoyed it, but it was also sort of anti-climactic too (maybe I didn’t miss it as much as I thought I did?). In fact, I think I sort of got used to the flavor of almond milk, despite complaining about it for 30 days! Ha. According to the rules, I should have gone back to Whole30 rules on Day 32 and 33 and evaluated how I felt. Unfortunately, my resolve weakened the next day, and I decided to have my first gluten (pesto pasta for dinner). I also made my very first sourdough bread on Saturday. Oops.

So, in summary, I have introduced dairy and gluten effectively at the same time. I have also had a touch of added sugar and a sip of beer, but that’s about it.  I haven’t introduced any other food groups yet (legumes, corn, soy).

The bad news? I feel different. Not in a drastically bad way, but different and not quite as good. I’ve felt a touch of stomach tenderness here and there, and I feel slightly more bloated than I did during the program. Since I didn’t introduce them properly, I have no idea what the culprit is. Ugh.

Either way, it is not significant enough for me to cut out something altogether, but I’m going to be a lot more mindful of my consumption of both. Yes, it’s only been a week, but I do feel like doing the program has probably affected my eating habits for the long term.

Word of Advice: Be prepared for 40 days of Whole30, and have the resolve to do reintroduction properly. I already regret not doing that!

Did you lose any weight? Or experience any other major physical benefits?

Ok, ok. I know this is what most of you have been waiting to read about. While I definitely embarked on the challenge for a lot of different reasons (resetting habits, to challenge myself, etc.), I would be lying if I said the idea of losing a few pounds didn’t sound appealing to me. I didn’t really feel like I lost weight in the first week or so, I think most of it happened in the final two weeks.

So…the final drumroll. I weighed myself the morning of Day 1 of Whole30 and weighed myself the morning after Day 30 of Whole30. I lost 9 pounds. Woh. I think in reality, I lost closer to 7-8 pounds, but I was shocked – but not entirely surprised – by this number. Nine pounds is a lot!

To be clear, I didn’t exercise any more during Whole30 than I did before I started. I did that on purpose, because I really wanted to evaluate how I felt based purely on the program. I was never hungry and didn’t intentionally eat less. In fact, I felt like I ate a lot more…especially at breakfast and lunch. I was just eating different things. On a separate but somewhat related note, I felt more motivation to exercise on Whole30 than I did before I started.

Final Thoughts

Despite having a few days where I hated it (and doubted the validity of everything it stood for), I am very happy that I completed it! If for no other reason, than the fact that I feel somewhat accomplished that I was able to give up some of my favorite foods for thirty days. I do feel like overall, the rules of the program make healthy eating and healthy choices much easier.

I’ll probably share a few updates over the next few months, in terms of how it has impacted my food choices or eating habits over the long-term. Thanks again for following along with me!

Let me know if you have any questions and I’m happy to answer them in the comments below (or by email!).