Today marks the completion of my first ever Whole30 challenge! I say first challenge because I suspect I’ll probably do another challenge in the future at some point. After completing this experiment, I thought I’d post my findings here in case it’s helpful to anyone out there. Here is my experience with it!
If you’re unfamiliar with Whole30, it’s basically a thirty-day commitment to eating nothing but clean, unprocessed whole foods, and eliminating the usual suspects (like sugar, grains, dairy, and legumes) that typically cause digestive distress, poor energy, restless nights, hormonal imbalance, and other ailments. The book, It Starts With Food, walks you through the science-y bits of how certain foods affect our digestive systems in a way that is fairly easy to understand. I specifically decided to try the Whole30 for a couple of reasons. 1.) I wanted to see if I could identify any other food allergies or intolerance by way of a pretty strict elimination diet, 2.) I thought it would be interesting to give up all forms of added sugar to see what happens, and 3.) I also just wanted to see if I could complete the challenge!
The answer to my first question is still very unclear, but I did figure out that even after eliminating everything down to just lean meat, vegetables, fruits, and some nuts, there is a food that is definitely still bothering me in addition to my already knowns. I have some digging to do in order to narrow it down even further, probably with another Whole30 and the process of elimination. Please oh please do not let it be fruit. Or nuts. Or chocolate (although I haven’t had even the tiniest chocolate morsel for four weeks, so hopefully that’s not one of my things).
Giving up sugar was indeed interesting. Before the Whole30, I didn’t realize how much added sugar was sneaking into my day. I didn’t think about my morning oatmeal as being high in sugar, for example, but reviewing the nutrition label revealed that it’s about half my day’s worth! Yikes. The first week of no sugar was hard because I had a headache non-stop for over four days that I was nearly tempted to self-medicate by putting my entire head into a bag of candy. Thankfully I knew to expect this and I pushed through it. Once I made it past the almost-never-ending headache, I was able to notice that I wasn’t craving sweets as much, and I wasn’t as hungry as usual. In general, I slept better throughout the challenge most likely due to the sugar reduction, but I didn’t notice a huge boost in energy like other people report. I suspect that an unidentified allergy/intolerance the culprit, so it’s worth another experiment soon.
And the answer to my last question is a resounding yes! I absolutely could do it. I made it through the full thirty days without a speck of added sugar or artificial sugar, not one sip of my beloved Diet Coke, and not a nibble of grains, legumes, or dairy. Nothing I ate had preservatives or chemicals in it and every single thing was clean, clean clean. I even made it through Halloween without a single treat. I completed the challenge without cheating once! Well, okay – I did have two quick pieces of sugar-free Orbit gum in those thirty days (a Whole30 no-no). I’m still calling it good though. And the month-long stretch was actually easier than I expected, maybe because I had already (mostly) eliminated some of the more difficult things to give up. I’m lactose-intolerant for sure so I don’t eat a lot of dairy anyway, and after my GI doctor recently suspected a gluten-intolerance I’ve been trying to avoid breads, processed foods, and baked goods.
While I didn’t discover the information I’d hoped in the allergy/intolerance department, I did learn a few great new habits in the past four weeks. I retrained myself to think of breakfast as just another meal and that it doesn’t have to be in the typical American breakfast fashion. I can’t regularly eat breakfast things like eggs, cereal, toast, milk, etc., so breakfast has been tough for me recently. On the Whole30 challenge I mostly just ate leftovers from dinner the night before – baked chicken, slow-cooker pork, chili, beef stew, and lots of veggies. That said, I also got into the habit of cooking a lot more often! I tried some new recipes, some successful some not as much, but it was fun to experiment and use my kitchen more. I put all of my still-fairly-new cookware to good use. We ended up saving money for the month because we ate at home and packed lunches for nearly every single meal.
The thing I missed the most? Hands-down: Diet Coke. Darn that chemical-laiden, artificially sweet bubbly goodness! I’m fully aware of how awful it is for my body, but man it has a hold on me. Before the Whole30, I had at least gotten to the point where I was only drinking 2-3 per week at most and only when we eat out (I never buy it to drink at home anymore), but I still missed it.
So what now? At the end of the thirty days, the Whole30 idea is to reintroduce certain foods back into your diet to see how well you tolerate them and to see how you feel. There isn’t much point in me doing that since something in the Whole30 baseline food groups is making me feel icky already. I’ll eventually try this again and remove some additional suspects (onions? garlic? almonds? FODMAPS?) and see what I can find out. You’re on the edge of your seat, aren’t you? Me, too! But I’m glad I gave the Whole30 a shot – it was a valuable eye-opening experience. If you’re thinking about giving it a try, go for it! It might be easier than you think. Except that first week of headaches – good luck with that. 😉