Hi everyone! I’ve got a very special post for you today… I hope you’re as excited about it as I am! RM has finally decided to share his thoughts on the Whole30 program he did back in January. Just a warning: it’s probably a little different than the normal reviews you’re used to seeing… I’ll just leave it at that! I know it’s long, but it’s worth a read as he’s got some really great information and some funny lines… Take it away, RM!
For some time now, Monique has been asking me to write a post about my experience with the Whole30 Progam, which, if you’re unfamiliar with, is essentially a 30 day uber-strict version of Paleo. In other words, it’s a diet that’s comprised of a theoretical ancestrial diet. I say “theoretical” because I don’t think anyone for certain can say what ancestors ate a million years ago. The Whole30 is a program that claims is “designed to change your life in 30 days”.
In general, it restricts the consumption of sugar, grains, dairy and legumes (beans, peanuts, etc), and obviously alcohol. So think about that for a minute… think about what you are eating right now, what you ate yesterday, the day before. Imagine what your diet might look like without most of those things in it. Pretty restrictive, right? While I think that the general premise behind any sort of diet/lifestyle/program/etc. that emphasizes ditching processed crap and eating foods from natural food sources with a focus on quality protein, lots of vegetables, fruits, nuts and good quality fats is a great thing, I do take issue with any diet/lifestyle/program that “restricts” entire food groups like all legumes and whole grains, for example. The Mediterranean diet has long been heralded as one of the best eating plans one can follow, and it has heavy emphasis on whole grains and legumes and limited consumption of meat.
So, which one is right? I suppose you need to cut it all out and see what works for you and what doesn’t. Beyond the food restrictions, the Whole30 does come with some other program rules. You can check out their site for the full list. And, while I think any program should have guidelines, I do feel like the Whole30 is a little militaristic in delivering its message. (i.e. “no slips”, “no excuses”, “it’s only 30 days”, “you’re a grown up”, “this isn’t hard”, etc.- which you’ll see listed under the program rules). I will say that I do agree with some of the rules, but the one that really irked me right from the start, was their requirement to “not try to recreate baked goods, junk foods, or treats with approved ingredients” (cited from their site- linked above). I do understand the thought process behind it….part of the Whole30 isn’t just about restricting certain potentially inflammatory foods that may be having a negative impact on your health, but also to change the way you think about food. Personally, I like to think (and maybe this is just me), that if you wanted to try something like the Whole30, chances are you probably already lead a moderately healthy lifestyle and just want to test yourself by cleaning things up a bit more and taking it up a notch.
To get an idea of what I’m talking about, consider this: Bananas are allowed. Eggs are a staple. Almond butter is ok. Mix them in a bowl together, fry them in a pan and now it’s an “unapproved” pancake? I could eat each one individually at the same meal and be perfectly within the guidelines, but once they’re mixed together I’ve essentially failed the program…..seems unnecessarily restrictive to me. Yet more annoying still, is if you go to the Whole30 website, they endorse a couple of products that are exactly what I just described above: a series of approved ingredients (figs, dates, egg whites, etc.) that are mixed together to create a product (a protein bar) – much like my homemade Whole30 ingredient-legal pancakes. Mine are made fresh at home with all quality organic ingredients and are not approved. Theirs is likely made in an industrial kitchen, comes in a wrapper, but is “Whole30 Approved”. Seems a little hypocritical to me.
(minus the syrup- that’s a big no-no… Monique just wanted to add in a picture…)
Again, I get the idea that they are trying to change your relationship with food, but let’s be honest here, if you’re indulging in the rooty-tootie fresh and fruity unlimited pancake breakfast at iHop to get your pancake fix, chances are you’re likely not somebody that is going to embark on the Whole30 to begin with. The goal is really to remove toxic and other potentially inflammatory foods from your diet for 30 days and see how you do when you systematically reintroduce them later. The program could give you some leeway to still keep the cooking and eating interesting as long as you keep to the allowed ingredients. But, that said, I suppose people with much worse habits could benefit from a tighter leash.
Anyway, the purpose of this post is really to talk about my experience on the Whole30, not to judge it. Because in the end, any lifestyle or program that guides you towards eating better, natural, real food is a good thing, no matter what. I set out to do this thing as a way to start out the New Year. With the amount of eating and drinking that we are all doing (or at least I was doing) between November and December, I figured January was a perfect time to clean up my act and try out the Whole30. I bought the book (“It Starts with Food”), cleared out my kitchen and was ready to go for January 1.
Getting started wasn’t really that hard. With the exception of my superbly gluttonous holiday pig fest, I generally eat pretty well to begin with. Giving up grains for me meant pretty much gluten-free oatmeal and quinoa, not bagels and PB&J on Wonder Bread. And while I love cheese, peanuts, beans and CHOCOLATE, I’ve got reasonable willpower and I’m generally pretty capable of sticking to something when I set my intentions.
Having said that, I understand that my transition might have been easier than for others. I will admit, though, that the first several days are the hardest, and not just the fact that you can’t mindlessly go grab a drink with your friends, but rather the withdrawal and die-off symptoms that come along with what is essentially a detox. I had minor headaches, heightened irritability (which is saying something because I’m always irritated about something….), and an overall general feeling of malaise. That stuff only lasted a couple of days – it really wasn’t a big deal. Truthfully, the bigger battle came with the cravings, and not just for something sweet. At times the thought of even a plain old rice cake with a smear of almond butter seemed like heaven, just for the very mere sense of crunching down on something. But again, that stuff passed in time too. If I had a craving for a treat after dinner, I would eat a spoonful of coconut oil or almond butter – I’m sure you’re thinking what I was thinking at the time….what a f#%&king treat! But I made it work.
Heading into to the second half of the month I was waiting for signs of the miracle to start occurring. I generally have always slept well, don’t have issues with energy, I’m fit and I don’t have skin issues, so there was not much to be gained on those fronts. However, I did notice a distinct change in my taste buds. The flavor of foods seemed more pronounced, which wasn’t entirely surprising after having not had any form of sugar for a couple of weeks. Though I joked above about almond butter as a lame treat, it did actually have a sweetness to it that satisfied my cravings. In-fact after my Whole30 was over I remember eating a piece of chocolate and thinking that it was almost too unbearably sweet – hard to imagine ever saying that, but it was pretty interesting to see how sugar can have such an effect on our bodies.
What I was really hoping for were changes to my mood (I can be sort of a prick sometimes – just ask Monique), and my overall digestion, which were the primary motivators to trying the program. Well I got changes on both fronts – I got constipated and then moody because I couldn’t “go”! It wasn’t like I had a feeling of being bloated or backed up or anything, I just literally never felt the urge (I know, TMI). It was like a bodily function that my body seemed to shut off. Now does that mean that the Whole 30 is full of shit? No, but I sure was! That’s what frustrated me the most. Here I am eating a very clean and allegedly perfect natural diet that is supposed to improve your life so dramatically, especially your digestive health, and I’m popping magnesium supplements like they’re M&M’s just so I can use the bathroom…..not quite what I thought I was getting into. But I never wavered, never cheated, never slipped. I went the “whole” 30 days.
So did it change my life? Um, no. But I wasn’t necessarily expecting it to. I did discover some interesting recipes, found ways to make certain dinner favorites healthier (i.e. Fish Tacos with lettuce wraps instead of corn tortillas, Coconut Shrimp and Veggie Curry, etc.) and I enjoyed the overall challenge, but I’m sorry to say it wasn’t life altering. Would I do it again? Not sure. I think the next go around for me would involve a limited version for a shorter period that focuses more on restricting sugar and alcohol for a few weeks. I don’t think grains and legumes are issues for me. Dairy is questionable, but I think a lot of people feel that way. Personally, the worst offender is sugar – that’s one thing we can all do with a lot less of. So… should you do Whole 30? Sure, why not! You have nothing to lose by trying it, and depending on your situation, you might have plenty to gain. Just make sure to keep some magnesium citrate around…..
All joking aside, I’m sure the thousands of people that have posted their stories on the site have truly benefited and even changed their lives dramatically. So I don’t want to discount the benefit of the program. There’s no doubt that you can lose weight, change your relationship with food, if necessary, and reverse certain chronic illnesses through diet. I whole heartedly believe in that old adage of “all disease begins in the gut”, and science is discovering more every day the role that food plays in our overall health. But if I had to give your average, reasonably health conscious person advice on diet I would say this: Stop eating processed crap, and just eat real food more often than not. You shouldn’t have to worry about reading lists of ingredients if the food you eat is the ingredient (i.e. an apple). The easiest way to do that is to do 90% of your food shopping on the perimeter of the store. Other than some grains, spices and oils, the middle aisles are filled with garbage (yeah, even the ones that say gluten free, whole grains, or organic). But don’t take that as me preaching. While I do mostly eat a very healthy diet full of vegetables, I’m thoroughly looking forward to my one man hot dog eating contest scheduled for this July 4th….and following it up with a scoop of coconut oil for desert……
Questions for you: What do you think of RM’s review of the Whole30? Have you every tried it? Have you every tried another type of restrictive diet? What’s your philosophy with food?
A HUGE thank you to my wonderful boyfriend for sharing his experience with the Whole30. I was so proud of him for finishing it strong, although I can’t say I didn’t try to get him to quit early when he was irritated about not being able to “go” 😉 All in all, I think we both learned a lot from the program and although I have no intentions of doing it, it does make me more mindful when I eat *most* of the time. I’m big on ‘everything in moderation’, but I’m so thankful that RM is similar to me in that we enjoy quinoa, veggies, lean proteins, etc…. it makes it so much easier to eat well when your partner isn’t tempting you to go out and get a burger or pizza all the time!