Our Paleo Family

Pre-Holiday Whole 30 Wrap-up: the Good, the Bad and the Cheating

In early September, my family spends a week at the beach. It’s the only relaxing vacation we ever take. Because I was so relaxed and had the opportunity to take long walks all by myself, I actually had time to think! One of the things I thought about was trying another Whole 30 sometime this fall. Then one morning, while walking on the beach, I was listening to Jen Hatmaker’s “For the Love” podcast and she just so happened to be interviewing Melissa Hartwig, the co-creator of the Whole 30 program. After listening to their conversation, I was more motivated than ever to give the Whole 30 the old college try. I have done Whole 30s before, but never 100% according to the program guidelines.

You can read more about my motivation for doing this Whole 30 in my Let’s do a Pre-Holiday Whole 30 Post. Now that it’s officially over, I wanted to share with you all my thoughts, feelings and results from this month of super duper clean eating.

First, the good (and there IS a lot of good):

  • Food: The food was awesome – I never felt like I was being deprived. Well, I should clarify. I did not feel deprived with my meals because they were all tasty and satisfying. When my family broke out the box of chocolates from my hometown, specially delivered to us, I did feel like I was missing out a bit. When we had something big to celebrate and didn’t go out for ice cream (our normal celebratory treat), I did feel like I was missing out a bit. But overall, I did not feel deprived. Here are a few tips regarding food:
    • I planned 30 dinners before I even embarked on day one and that turned out to be the best decision I made. As I planned each week’s meals, I did have to scrounge through my brain matter a bit to come up with breakfast and lunch ideas that were not 100% the same thing every single day, but I had a unique and tasty dinner on tap for each and every night, which gave me something to look forward to during the day – especially in the early evening when I was getting hungry and it wasn’t yet dinner time. Knowing a delicious dinner was coming kept me from snacking.
    • I worried a bit about showing you meal plans where two out of three meals a day are pretty much the same thing every single day. As it turned out, keeping breakfasts and lunches pretty mundane was helpful. Otherwise, I would have been cooking all day, everyday, and even a food blogger has other things to do!
    • Occasionally, I did not eat enough at my meals and needed a snack or woke up ravenous. I learned that I needed to make sure there was enough fat in each meal in order to make it through to the next meal.
    • A little snack before bed helped me sleep better. Carbohydrates cause a release of dopamine, which has a calming effect. Plus, I woke up very hungry most days, yet I felt like I really couldn’t eat more at dinner. I don’t want to stuff myself because that doesn’t feel good. A small snack of nuts and some apple slices an hour or so before bed was helpful.

For your future Whole 30 motivation, here are some of the amazing meals we enjoyed…

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  • Pain: About two thirds of the way through the month, the arthritis pain in my feet was noticeably better. I am limping much less. I even feel like I could break into a jog now and then. For the past few months, I have been experiencing an unexplainable cramping/sharp pain in one of my feet that comes on only when I’m in bed. Around day 24, that quit happening. Or else, I was sleeping deeply enough that it didn’t wake me up. Either way, that was a blessed occurrence.
  • Energy: The “tiger blood” lasted for all of one day, but my energy level was steady throughout my days so I have no complaints in the energy department. In the past, one of the positive results I’ve felt from even a half-hearted Whole 30 was really great, satisfying sleep. This time around, I’m actually sleeping fewer hours. I kept expecting to crash at some point during the day, but my energy level has been sustained. Maybe there’s something about this way of eating that makes me actually need less sleep.
  • Weight: I’ve lost 3.5 pounds, which was definitely needed. And I need to lose more, but it was nice to see the scale move in the right direction finally. Especially, since I was eating enough to feel satisfied and really enjoying my meals.
  • Skin: No breakouts whatsoever.
  • Allergies: Right about the time I started the Whole 30 was exactly when my fall seasonal allergies typically surface. I have had zero issues with allergies so far.

Now, the bad:

  • I didn’t finish the full 30 days. This is entirely my fault. As well as I had done the whole time, I really thought I could survive a vacation at the tail end of the thirty days and resist all the goodies. In fact, I did resist the cookies I baked for my family to eat on the trip. I did resist the ice cream they enjoyed one afternoon. I did resist the chips and the gluten free bread. Honestly, those things didn’t hold that much appeal anyway, but they are something I would have indulged in pre-Whole 30. But when it came to the gluten free pizza at the end of day 28, I could not resist. And then top that off with gluten free key lime pie. I was just done. Those were special foods. Well, the pizza wasn’t special in that I can get that lots of places, but this particular pizza was extraordinarily good. The pie, however, was unique. I’ve never seen gluten free pie in a restaurant. Yes, I make a really good, low sugar, primal key lime cheesecake/pie that is pretty darn tasty, but this was different. I was on a high from our exciting biking adventures and I wanted to share in the treat with my family. I wish I would have finished the 30 days. Even as I write this a few days removed from the experience, I can’t tell you for sure what I would do if I had the choice to make again: cheat and essentially call it over or don’t cheat and make it the full 30 days. I just don’t know. There are viable arguments for both decisions.
  • Making all the cooking videos and writing up all the posts has taken an inordinate amount of time. And the editing of the videos has taken a lot of my husband’s time, therefore our time together has been somewhat limited. That, I did not enjoy. The flip side of this is that I believe all this work is helping others make it through their own Whole 30. And more selfishly, it will help me with future Whole 30s. I know that I will do this again and I already have a full slate of meals planned, which will make it much easier the next time around.

There’s really nothing else negative to say. I enjoyed the Whole 30. I ate well and I felt well. Emotionally, it felt so good to know I was doing something positive for myself. And for a rule follower such as I, to know that I was following the rules 100% made me feel so successful.

I also learned that the dairy that doesn’t affect my stomach, does in fact affect my arthritis. I used to always think in terms of my Crohn’s disease exclusively. If I eat a certain food, will it cause my Crohn’s to flare? If the answer is no, then is that food really a no-no for me? I thought not. But there is more to my body than my digestive tract. There is more that affects my quality of life. The pain in my feet is a huge one. This arthritis pain keeps me from enjoying things I’d really like to do. So if I can avoid dairy and sugar and all grains almost all of the time and thereby dramatically reduce the pain in my feet and get more joy out of life, then will I choose to do that? Yes, absolutely! Will I also choose to eat the gluten free key lime pies of life that come my way? Yes, yes, I will! They do not come by all that often when you think about it. If you look for treats and excuses for treats, then they’re around every corner, but if you really analyze and think critically, the true occasions for these treats are few and far between. Sometimes, most of the time really, enjoying the time with friends, glass of water in hand, is really just as satisfying as it would be if you had a glass of wine in your hand. Your friend didn’t change. The conversation didn’t change. The feelings didn’t change. Just your beverage changed. And that isn’t a big deal at all.

Bottom line: Do I recommend you do your own Whole 30 if you didn’t do this one along with me? YES! Absolutely, positively yes! But here are my caveats or warnings or maybe just words of wisdom:

  • PLAN. PLAN. PLAN. Use my meal plans (Week 1, Week 2, Week 3, Week 4, Week 5) or search Pinterest, or just use a search engine, but find some recipes that look good to you and write them down. Make grocery lists.
  • Make a list of a few different breakfasts and lunches that 1. you like and 2. have time to make. These will be on repeat throughout the entire 30 days.
  • Buy lots of vegetables that you know you will eat. And then buy some you have never tried. Try to eat at least one vegetable with every meal. They will help fill you up and provide tons of nutrients. A big pile of leafy greens is super easy to eat at any time. Even for breakfast! Make a couple compliant dressings you really enjoy and eat lots of salad!
  • Drink plenty of water. If you don’t enjoy water, try adding some fresh squeezed lemon. Trust me, it can be a game changer. Don’t like lemon? Add a slice of orange or lime.
  • If you used to drink lots of sweet drinks, find some herbal teas with flavors you enjoy. My favorite brands are Yogi and Tazo. Believe it or not, some teas contain sugar or stevia, so be sure to read labels. I drink Yogi Lemon Ginger most nights, but I sometimes mix that up with Peppermint tea or Cinnamon Spice.
  • For coffee, try a light roast (organic and fair trade if you can). It’s much easier to drink a light roast coffee black than a medium or dark roast. If you absolutely must have some sort of cream in your coffee, try NutPods. I drank my coffee black the entire 30 days, but I finally gave in and ordered some NutPods for my next Whole 30 (and beyond) and it has been life-changing! Maybe that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but there’s something about having a little flavor and creaminess in your coffee that makes it so much more enjoyable. The coffee becomes an experience rather than a vehicle for caffeine. Yes, I learned to drink my coffee black and I found a roast with a flavor I really enjoy, but even still, that hit of creamy flavor has changed my coffee drinking experience. I haven’t found NutPods locally at any store, but they are available from Amazon or Thrive Market (see my link in the sidebar). And here’s a tip: you can make your own Pumpkin Spice creamer by adding some pumpkin pie spice and vanilla extract to the plain NutPod and shaking well. Just experiment with the amount of spice to achieve the flavor you want (I like 3/4 tsp. per carton).
  • During the first few days of your detox, you will likely feel very tired and sluggish and experience some headaches. Drink plenty of water, take some headache medicine if you must (try to avoid NSAIDS as they are hard on your gut), allow yourself to nap or go to bed earlier. This too shall pass.

In my humble opinion, for which none of you asked, every single person should do a Whole 30. As I continue to study functional medicine, both with an eye toward my own health journey and as research for a future career, I become more and more convinced that grains, dairy and sugar are going to wreak havoc on everyone. Even if you’re that person who says, “Gluten doesn’t affect me.” In fact, it does. By nature, it’s so very inflammatory, it has to be affecting you in some way. And if you don’t experience any effects now, you will later.

I just finished listening to an arthritis summit, where many of the leaders in functional medicine came together to share their expertise on inflammation, autoimmune disease and realistic strategies to achieve better health and I loved this quote by Dr. Tom O’Bryan, “No one gets Alzheimers in their 70s and 80s. You get it in your 20s.” This is so true. Now, more than ever, experts are beginning to understand that the way we treat our bodies, including stress, sleep, food, and environmental factors, all throughout our lives are causing disastrous long-term consequences. If you’re already in your 70s, don’t let this deter you from making changes now. It will still make a difference.

If you could go for 30 days without grains, dairy, sugar or any other frankenfoods and possibly set yourself on a course for greater health, more enjoyment of your days here on earth, would you do it? I hope the answer is yes.