Thirty-one days ago, I came stumbling in to 2018 with the intent to spend the first month of the new year free of grains, dairy, alcohol, soy, legumes, and added sugar, aka beholden to the Whole30 plan. (I also may have come stumbling in with a teeny champagne hangover, but nothing was going to stop me). Having spent nearly the past two years in a relative state of “uprootedness,” I sought to use January 2018 as a physical and mental reset of sorts, grounding myself in my new day-to-day life and reflecting on my intentions for the year ahead!
As I am not always the best about following through on the goals I set in my personal life, I must say that I am pleasantly surprised to have made it through the past 30 days unscathed, with militant focus and zero slip-ups! Throughout it all, I also demonstrated a surprising and uncharacteristic commitment to documenting the process in the hopes that it might prove useful to anyone in my social network considering trying a Whole30 out for themselves.
While I had originally attempted to blog my experience of the program in day-by-day format, I made it to around Day 15 before the wheels fell off on that approach. (Plus, let’s be real, neither the program, nor yours truly, is all that interesting day in and day out). What follows are my top ten takeaways from the past 30 days for your enjoyment. I hope they provide you with some food for thought should you be considering (or ever consider) embarking on a similar journey!
- Warning: Your social life will suck.
There were seven significant social activities I declined throughout the course of the month (I know this, because I kept track of them to distract me from moping about them. It didn’t work). However, as mentioned above, I was looking for an intentional break/reset on my social life, so I was okay in committing to this from the outset. However, it proved to be a bummer on more than one occasion, as fun times with fun people passed me by. I’d also note that it really brought to light the true extent of the role food and drink play in the modern world of socializing (or at least, in my modern world of socializing). While I suppose some people may have attempted to attend the social events I passed up while adhering to the tenets of the program, I preferred to sit these occasions out. I had no interest in testing my willpower, being high-maintenance, and ultimately drawing unwanted attention to myself. But to each their own!
- Being boring doesn’t mean you have to be bored.
It may have been the fact that it was January, aka the month that is 74 days long, but I found that time seemed to expand significantly while undertaking the program. As such, I sought to fill my days with activities to keep myself entertained and engaged with the world in a non-food -and-drink-centered way. 🙂 For instance:
– I read 4.5 books.
– I saw both a play and a musical.
– I saw 2 movies.
– I attended 5 classes, including yoga and meditation workshops.
– I watched 8 hours worth of home videos my sister had burned on to DVDs for me for Christmas. (I learned I was an adorable child, obviously).
– I did 2 large puzzles. (New nerdy hobby alert).
– I took a trip back to the sensory deprivation tank. (Swear by this).
– I participated in an athletic event for charity.
– I scheduled nail appointments.
– I hit the gym a whole bunch of times.
– I hosted dinner parties at my apartment.
You get the idea. Only you know what floats your boat. Find opportunities to incorporate such activities into your month, especially those that you may have been neglecting or find yourself unable to integrate into your busy schedule. I assure you, you will feel like you have the time!! I also found it fairly reassuring to get some post-Whole30 activities with friends on the books to remind myself that my sad social situation was temporary and I have much fun on the horizon!
- Get ready to blow all your hard-earned money on groceries.
Somehow, I was not prepared for this. (And the timing was certainly not ideal, coming straight off the season of giving). In sum, I’d estimate that I spent $800 on groceries during these 30 days, which is about twice the usual budget I set for myself. WOOF CITY. I’ll say, the first two weeks were the most expensive, as I stocked up on things like spices (I recently moved, and cleared out my spice collection in the process), ghee, almond butter, arrowroot powder, primal mayonnaise, special compliant dressings, weird nut-based coffee creamers, and other expensive pantry staples I am unlikely to ever buy again. I had found my rhythm by the third week, and the latter two weeks were noticeably less expensive. I am hopeful that while $800 seems insane to me, not eating out, not buying Starbucks, not taking Ubers home from bars and restaurants, and not buying credits on TouchTunes must have helped balance things out….! (RIGHT?!)
- Planning is key.
And planning takes time! I scanned Pinterest for recipes, wrote down my meal plans in detail for each week ahead, and then tracked my progress towards every meal. I spent a sizeable portion of my day each Sunday preparing food for the week ahead. When I had to leave town for a few days, I planned ahead and packed up my own food to bring with me. Was this a pain? Yes. Did I feel high-maintenance and/or like the mother of a two-year-old? Yes. But I survived the time away with my program in tact.
- Holy hell, the dishes.
Oh my God, there were so many dishes. So.many.dishes. Even with a dishwasher, I felt like I was constantly doing dishes. As you essentially have to cook some part of every meal, you’re always dirtying something. What a pain!
- You’ll quickly figure out your must-haves.
Around Day 9 was when I first became fully confident that I would be able to finish out the program. I think this was due to the fact that by that time, I had identified my “must-haves” for the 30 days. Those must-haves were as follows:
– La Croix (So much La Croix. Highly recommend the new key lime flavor, by the way).
– Frank’s Red Hot Sauce (I missed sauces so much. I put this on everything).
– Lara Bars (Yes, I know they program frowns upon them; I said too bad, they’re technically compliant).
– Frozen grapes (This was a weird accident).
– Nuts (namely pistachios and cashews).
– Primal Kitchen mayonnaise (also delightful to mix with Frank’s for an “aioli” :)).
– An occasional trip to Chipotle (Carnitas are the only compliant meat, I am sorry to say).
– Potatoes (thank God these were added back to the program).
- There’s no reason to reinvent the wheel.
As novel as completing a Whole30 may feel personally, you are not a pioneer and you would do well to remember that. There are thousands and thousands of people who have faced obstacles similar to yours and successfully completed this program before you. Use your resources — they’re free! (Plus, as noted, you’ll need all your money for groceries). On a related note, there is no need to buy a Whole30 book. I did this, and I regret it. All of the resources you need are online (including helpful forums, Pinterest boards, and Instagram feeds full of new ideas and recipes). Save your money for important things like arrowroot powder. 😉
- The thing about weird dreams is real.
The “official” Whole30 timeline outlines a multi-day period where program participants have reported having vivid dreams about off-limits food. While I did not experience detailed dreams about food per se, I did have recurring dreams about making a decision to go off the program nearly every night for the first two weeks. Every time I woke up, I was so relieved I hadn’t screwed things up for myself! These seemed to go away some time in the third week. On the whole, the quality of my sleep seemed to improve tenfold (of course, my suspicion is that this stemmed more from a lack of alcohol than from a lack of any particular food group, but I suppose time will tell). Also, during the second-to-last night, I had a dream my sister had a baby and named her “Gum.” I attribute this to really missing gum.
- You can give yourself permission to do what works best for you.
Yeah, you’re not really supposed to snack between meals. Yeah, Lara Bars and RX bars are only supposed to be used in an “emergency.” Yeah, you’re not really supposed to use fruit as a dessert. But in reality, all of these things are technically compliant, so if I needed a hard-boiled egg in the afternoon or a few frozen grapes after dinner to make it through the day, I went for it. Eggs and fruit are a hell of a lot better than the things I was grabbing for before! Apart from that, I was militant about the rules and did not slip once. But I expect no two programs will look the same.
- The best part is deciding what lessons you are going to carry forward into the future (and getting to put cream in your coffee on Day 31).
There’s a reason this is not a “forever” approach to eating. I am exiting the program hoping to make more conscious decisions about what I elect to consume moving forward, recognizing the negative impact some of these food groups may have been having on my general well-being. I think the biggest eye-openers for me were 1) again, how much modern socializing revolves around food and drink and 2) how sugar is added to everything. I am not sure I ever achieved “Tiger Blood” status (which leads me to believe I may not be particularly sensitive to things like dairy or grains afterall), but I am walking away with added knowledge and bonus, a greater sense of self-efficacy.
I hope those top takeaways are helpful. Below, you’ll also see a smorgasbord of my meals from the past month (an artful photographer I am not), and the associated recipes they represent further below, where applicable.
In conclusion, I’d recommend the program to anyone seeking a conscious reset on their physical health. My energy improved, I lost weight, (though I’d reckon there are more “pleasant” ways to lose weight than this particular program), my skin looks great, I learned a lot about the evils of additives and sugar, and most importantly, I’ve been reminded that I can actually hold myself accountable when determined to meet a challenge. Yay agency! Yay self-efficacy!
Certainly feel free to direct any questions my way. I’d love to meet up and discuss the program over coffee with cream in it any day. 😉 Happy Whole30ing!
Paleo Chicken Salad (used Primal Kictchen mayo)
Chicken Tikka Masala (slow cooker version)
Slow Cooker Spaghetti Squash and Turkey Meatballs
World’s Saddest Popsicles (no sweetener)
Slow Cooker Gumbo
Slow Cooker White Chicken Chili
Breakfast Pumpkin Custard (best with an added banana :))
Cilantro Lime Cauliflower “Rice”
Cajun Shrimp and Grits
Turkey and Egg Breakfast Casserole
Sloppy Joe Baked Potato Bowl
Buffalo Chicken (I put it on a potato, rather than spaghetti squash because I do what I want).
Chicken Pot Pie Soup