Have a seat because this is going to be a long one. You might want to grab a cup or coffee or tea or green juice, (if you’re one of those people). I’m going to give you my best tips for successfully completing your own Whole 30 and I’m going to tell you what I learned through this long and unpleasant process. Really, it wasn’t all that bad. As I sit now, almost a week post-Whole 30 completion, my fondness for the program is growing.
In case you need a little refresher on the Whole 30 program, please refer to their website here. If 21 days is more your speed, consider the 21 Day Sugar Detox. Details on that program can be found here.
I officially began my Whole 30 on January 18th. And I officially ended on May 8th. If you’re counting, that’s 112 days. I did take a break of about a week around Easter (remember all those chocolates I had to stuff into eggs for the church egg hunt?). I faltered here and there due to recipe testing, sickness and plain old human weakness.
If the Whole 30 bosses were evaluating my experience, they would surely say that what I did was not a Whole 30 at all because I did not follow the rules to the letter for 30 straight days.
If you ask me to evaluate my experience, I would probably make a bunch of (reasonable) excuses, but ultimately would have to agree that I did not complete a Whole 30 as the program is designed.
Nonetheless, I did follow the rules pretty well for most of the time. And I learned a lot along the way.
Who am I to be giving this advice, you may ask, considering that I didn’t do it particularly well? That’s a good question. I guess the bottom line is that I understand the program, I understand what it is supposed to do and I understand how you are to carry it out. I just chose not to do it exactly according to the rules laid out by the creators of the program.
Here are my best tips for success should you try the Whole 30 for yourself:
1. You have to plan
There is no way to be successful with this diet if you do not plan each and every meal and snack. The Whole 30 discourages snacking, but sometimes you get hungry between meals. If you don’t have a plan for an appropriate snack, you will choose poorly. Don’t think you can just wing it. You really can’t. Trust me. If you are not currently someone who plans all your meals, this may be the one positive change that comes out of your Whole 30! I can’t think of a single person who would not benefit from planning meals on a regular basis.
2. Try your very best to pick 4 weeks where you do not have a birthday, a major holiday, or a vacation.
You may need to travel for work, but having done that myself, I know work travel does not qualify as anything close to a holiday or vacation so you should feel no need to treat yourself during that time. Yes, eating this way while away from home is harder, but not impossible.
3. Don’t binge right before starting.
The more junk you are putting in prior to the start of the diet, the worse your initial withdrawal symptoms are likely to be and the more likely you will be to throw in the towel.
4. Give yourself something to look forward to.
You will likely learn to love Granny Smith apples. If you currently eat a lot of sugar, that green apple will taste sour to you now, but a week into your detox and it will be a treat direct from heaven.
5. Clean out the cupboards!
If you have read all my earlier posts, you know I had my kids join in at the beginning because I simply could not walk past their stash of Christmas candy every day and not be tempted. I thought I was strong enough, but I wasn’t. A couple re-starts later, I realized those goodies had to be out of sight to be out of mind.
6. Don’t think about what you can’t have. Think about what you can have.
Every time I dwelled on the delicious dark chocolate chips in the cupboard, I found myself craving them and sometimes eating them, resulting in yet another re-start.
7. Set clear goals.
Be honest with yourself about why you are trying to eliminate sugar. Do you feel that your sugar cravings are out of control? Do you want to lose 5 pounds? Do you want to take a closer look at what you’re consuming? Paleo is great in a lot of ways, one of which is that it discourages calorie counting and general scrutinizing of fat grams, carbs, etc. BUT that doesn’t mean we don’t all need to take a closer look at our diet on occasion and make sure we’re in check.
8. Know whether you are going to allow yourself to ease up on the rules at all.
I think if I had told myself that I could have one sweet treat per week, I would not have felt compelled to keep starting over. For my situation, I am recipe testing on a constant basis and sweets are a part of that. Not being able to sample a new recipe is just not realistic for my job. Yes, I’ve read about the professional bakers doing a Whole 30 who simply chew a bite and then spit it out. Well, that just seems silly to me.
9. Enlist help!
If you live alone, then you are accountable to only you and that makes this whole venture much simpler. But if you have a spouse, kids or even a roommate, eliminating “banned” foods will be so much easier if the other people in your house aren’t constantly eating what you can’t eat or keeping big bowls of candy and chips lying around. Don’t set yourself up for failure. The fact is, EVERYONE can benefit from this sort of diet clean out. Beg and bribe if you have to, but get your peeps in on the action.
10. Read your labels!
There is, in fact, sugar in just about every single packaged food. If you read carefully, you will notice that one product might contain four different kinds of sugars. You need to know these sneaky names. Become a sugar detective. Believe it or not, the following list is just some of the code names for sugar.
11. Find good recipes.
There are many blogs (this one included), Pinterest boards, Instagram accounts, and the Whole 30 website offering oodles of compliant recipes.
If you need lots of variety in your diet, start your Whole 30 with at least 30 different recipes at your disposal that sound appetizing to you.
If, like me, you don’t need tons of variety, but prefer easy and routine, choose about 15 recipes you think you will love, and plan to make those over and over again.
Since my recipes are at least gluten free and almost all are fully paleo, just about everything on this site is appropriate for the Whole 30. You may need to leave out the teaspoon of honey, but the recipe will work just fine. Obviously, you need to skip the dessert section, but anything else is fare game. Just look at this amazing chicken…totally Whole 30 compliant.
There ends the tip section. When I’m ready to do this again sometime in the future, I will certainly refer to this list for some reminders.
So what exactly what my personal experience, you might be wondering. I was pretty disappointed, to be honest. I kept waiting for the “tiger blood” that Whole 30 promises will happen about two thirds of the way into the program. If you don’t know what I mean, use your imagination and I bet you can figure it out.
There was one afternoon very early on, probably during my first attempt at the program in January when I noticed a dramatic increase in my energy level. It lasted one afternoon. One.
All was not lost however. I came away from the
month four months, with some important realizations.
1. I am an abstainer, not a moderator.
What on earth does that mean? Suppose I’m going to a party where there is not likely to be much in the way of food I will be able to eat. It is easier for me to eat before I go and eat nothing at the party than allow myself one “treat” and as many raw vegetables as I can handle. I would be perfectly content to sip a glass of water or tea and ignore the food altogether. I am not that person who can eat half of a candy bar. Abstaining is easier than moderating.
The simple fact that I cannot have certain foods makes them altogether more attractive. I think I can all of a sudden become a moderator and have just one (chocolate, potato chip, fill in the blank treat) and move on. But I can’t. “No one can eat just one,” as those brilliant potato chip people taught us.
2. I need a certain amount of a certain type of carbohydrates to properly fuel my body.
The Whole 30 doesn’t make you limit your fruit, but it does advise that you eat it judiciously and be aware if you are using it as a crutch for sweets. I don’t really love fruit so this one rule was pretty easy for me.
I learned that I need a certain amount of carbohydrates to keep me feeling energized and healthy. After a workout, I need some carbs – stat. As soon as I come home from a workout, I eat an apple or banana. Sometimes I choose a different fruit, but we always have those two around so 99% of the time, that’s what I choose. Bananas are at the bottom of the list of foods I enjoy. But my body seems to love them. This is not something I did pre-Whole 30.
White rice works for me as well. I only had rice during my Whole 30 when I was sick because, you know, I really did try to follow the rules. But I know that rice is the one grain I can eat on a regular basis and feel well. Really well as a matter of fact. I don’t love sweet potatoes, sometimes they even make me feel a little nauseous. I don’t care that the paleo police tell you to eat them every day. If something makes me nauseous, I would be wise to choose something else.
3. I need to plan each and every meal and snack
Planning all food is my #1 tip for success and I am speaking from experience here. As the saying goes, a failure to plan is a plan to fail. As full disclosure, I am a planner in real life too. If you are more a fly by the seat of your pants guy or gal, then you may fare just fine without this level of planning, but it’s my blog and we’re talking about me here. 🙂
This goes for eating out and special events as well. Know what food is going to be available and plan ahead. Take what you can eat. Or eat beforehand. Or direct the choice of restaurant. Someone has to choose the restaurant. It might as well be you.
4. My body just loves it’s current size and shape
In my opinion, my ideal weight would be 10-15 pounds less than it is right now. I had hoped that through the Whole 30, I could knock off 3-5 of those and get a good jump on the rest. But alas, all those pounds decided to stick with me. When I turned 38 (two years too early according to popular wisdom) 10 extra pounds hitched a ride and I haven’t been able to shake them no matter what. My job now is to learn to accept and (gasp) love this reality.
Weight lost on Whole 30 = 0 pounds
5. I don’t need sugar
There is no doubt that sugar is inflammatory. All the experts tell us so. The proof is in the pudding as they say and this experiment confirmed that fact. I feel inflamed, I even look inflamed when I’m eating too much sugar. I don’t need it to feel well. It is Y-U-M-M-Y and a fantastic way to celebrate birthdays and vacations. I don’t know about you, but I don’t have a birthday everyday, nor do I go on vacation every day (wouldn’t that be nice), which means I don’t need dessert every day. I can live with that.
The tiger blood never materialized for me, but I am ending this experience with fewer sugar cravings. That was one of my goals. If you had asked me mid-way through if I thought I was going to kick these craving, I would have said no way. I wanted something sweet every day through this whole process. Now that it’s over…not so much. Which leads me to my final point.
6. I want what I can’t have. Tell me I can have it and it loses it appeal.
My Whole 30 is over and there is a box of chocolate truffles on my kitchen counter. I brought them out of hiding the day after I finished my Whole 30 and had one. Just one. I didn’t want any more. All week they have been on the counter and I haven’t wanted even one. Now that I can have as many as I want, I don’t want any. Maybe I can be a moderator after all.
Just like the Bible teaches regarding sin, bring it into the light and it suddenly loses it’s power over you. These foods are no longer off limits and so they have lost their power over me. Pretty impactful realization.
I would love to wrap this experience up in a neat, little package, but it’s pretty complex. The internet abounds with stories and pictures of lives changed by Whole 30. Many pounds were lost, much energy was gained, a new, sunny outlook on life was achieved. None of those experiences were mine. But this was not a waste of time. Remember that I was going into this already following a paleo diet 99.9% of the time. Most people who embark on a Whole 30 for the first time are coming from the standard American diet. I would expect that person to have more noticeable changes than me.
The fact that I reduced my sugar cravings, realized I really don’t need dairy, became an even better planner and figured out which foods best fuel my body, I’d call that a success!
One comment I have read over and over when reviewing others’ Whole 30 experiences is that they didn’t realize how bad they felt until they dropped all the junk food and realized how good they could feel. Just like I mentioned in my health journey article, when you’re feeling less than great every day, that becomes your normal. But it shouldn’t be. We should not be walking around with bloat and constipation and heartburn and headaches and sinus infections. That is not normal.
I hope you give the Whole 30 or 21 Day Sugar Detox a try sometime. It is most definitely a worthwhile experience. Everyone should do it at least once. You will learn something!