I am not a dieter. In reality, I’m the farthest thing from it – I’m an eater. I love food. I love exploring with new flavors, cooking up a storm, trying unique restaurants, and embracing different eating experiences. In that same arena, I love healthy foods. I love the idea of fueling my body with nutrient-dense ingredients that will help me power through when I challenge myself to run faster or hike harder than ever before.
I also find immense value in “doing things yourself”. Yes, my beliefs about nutrition are founded in science, but I also believe in listening to your body. As a registered dietitian, I think it’s important to stay knowledgable of the latest and greatest trends in the nutrition world. So when Whole30 started gaining more and more traction, I knew it was time I give it a whirl for myself and see if it lived up to the hype.
So I bought the book and did my homework. I picked a start date, told my family (and convinced my dad to experiment with me), planned out some meals, made a massive grocery haul and hit the ground running. Here’s what I learned.
(P.S.– this article will not help you learn about the details of the Whole30 program. In a nutshell, the focus is no dairy, no legumes, no grains, no alcohol, and no added sugars. It focuses on whole meals, three times per day, cooked at home. If you intend to try Whole30, I recommend purchasing the book and learning all the details there first.)
I re-learned to read nutrition facts labels.
Even as a dietitian, I don’t always read labels every time. I grab a fruit and nut bar based on packaging or taste preference without taking a second glance at the ingredient statement and noticing that ‘honey’ or ‘agave’ is one of the first three ingredients. Spoiler Alert – that’s just a sneaky way to say ‘added sugar’. In particular, I found it especially hard to find brands of dried fruit that did not include added sugar, which I had never noticed prior to starting Whole30.
I kicked my sugar cravings.
In addition to all the sneaky added sugars, I hadn’t realized how much intentional added sugars I was having everyday. From snack bars that had chocolate in them to the my afternoon sweet tooth attack that was only satiated with a piece of dark chocolate, it was safe to say I was craving sugar frequently. Since I stopped Whole30 almost two months ago, I haven’t once craved chocolate. This is wildly unheard of for me and probably my #1 takeaway from the entire experience.
I started cooking at home more.
The best way to control your diet is by making your food yourself. Personally, my biggest learning curve was adjusting to cooking breakfast at home as opposed to my usual oatmeal at my desk or granola bar on the way to work. Neither of these were options anymore due to the grains/sugars, so I started making things like egg and veggie scrambles and sweet potato hash for breakfast everyday. It messed with my schedule a bit at first, but once I worked it into my daily routine, it became second nature and now I genuinely look forward to my new morning routine at home before heading into work.
I slept like a rock.
Most likely a positive side effect of cutting out so much sugar from my diet, I slept like a rock during Whole30. Normally I toss and turn at night but during those 30 days, I got the most restful night sleeps that I’ve had in a very long time.
I lost weight.
Similar to how I am not a dieter, I am also not a constant weigher. I don’t even own a scale, but luckily my roommate does. The program clearly states not to weigh yourself throughout, but to take a pre-Whole30 weight and a post-Whole30 weight. I don’t live and breathe by this number, but I did drop 8 pounds in a month.
I felt better.
I typically eat very healthy in general, so to be honest, the Whole30 wasn’t a huge adjustment for me as I’m sure it was for some people. But regardless, at the end of the month, I did feel better than usual. I felt less sluggish, I was feeling confident from dropping a few pounds and my clothes were fitting better, and I felt like my digestion had improved and my stomach was rarely upset.
I got charlie horses.
Usually charlie horses are a result of a fluid-electrolyte imbalance. I drink a ton of water and eat bananas regularly (a source of potassium, which can help prevent muscle cramps). I continued these practices during Whole30, but the overall change in fluid and electrolytes in my body caused my muscles to cramp up more frequently. MAN those muscle cramps are brutal!
I was running on empty.
Literally. I usually wake up at 5am to exercise before work. Often times, I eat a quick snack bar or wafer before running 3-5 miles. I keep it pretty light, just something to get me through a 60-minute workout. On Whole30, all of my usual grab-and-go options were off limits. I opted for a quick few nuts some mornings, but it didn’t work to fuel me as well and even that isn’t technically within the dietary rules of eating a complete meal first thing in the morning. This isn’t a con as much as it was just a general inconvenience. Now I’m ramping up for marathon training, and slowly working healthful grains back into my diet so my body has more carbohydrates to use as fuel.
I had a hard time transitioning off Whole30.
There’s a transition approach included in the book. They have laid out the framework for you clear as day. However, by the end of 30 days, every time I dabbled in an “off-limits” item, I didn’t feel well or I got nervous so I just stuck with the Whole30 approach. It made social events hard and took me quite a while to figure out my next steps. Plus I work in food daily, so part of my job includes eating foods that may not be part of the program, which was a challenge.
Grains, Dairy, and Legumes have important nutrients.
I’ve always been hesitant of cutting out entire food groups, and this diet cuts out grains, dairy, and legumes. At a basic level, here is my argument about why these foods should remain in your diet:
Grains provide complex carbohydrates which is your brain’s primary source of energy, as well as dietary fiber to help keep you fuller, longer. Whole30 does allow sweet potatoes which is probably the closest you can get to a grain, so I made an effort to incorporate them into the diet regularly to consistently provide my body with complex carbohydrates.
Dairy has important bone-building matter like calcium and vitamin D. These are ESPECIALLY important to women in their 20’s to build bone tissue before they reach peak bone mass at age 30. This helps to prevent osteoporosis down the road, and avoiding dairy could put them at greater risk of osteoporosis. Non-dairy alternatives, like almond milk instead of dairy milk, is often significantly lower in nutrients like protein. One 8-oz glass of almond milk has 1 gram of protein compared to one 8-oz glass of dairy milk that has 8 grams of protein. It’s important to understand that this substitute is not a nutritional parody.
Legumes add fiber and protein to your diet and are a really great option for a plant-forward meal. They are especially important for people practicing a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle, as that lifestyle is already limited in protein sources.
BOTTOM LINE: Know the science. Understand what you’re doing to your body and what nutrients you are (or aren’t) providing as fuel for your body to function. But also listen to your body and be cognizant of what makes you feel good or bad. This program was never intended to be sustained long-term, and for good reason. However, it definitely has substantial benefits (such as kicking sugar cravings) if approached as a 30-day reset, as it was intended, and can help set balanced intentions and practices when it comes to your relationship with food.