Every year Michelle and I have tried to do some sort of food fast, and this year we decided to try the Whole 30 challenge. You can read about why we decided to do this challenge here.
We really like this practice of doing challenges as it helps us learn how to be more intentional, disciplined, and most importantly, become more aware of our own behaviors that we typically wouldn’t think much about. For this specific challenge we are focusing on what we eat.
Whole Foods for 30 Whole Days
We did it. Mission accomplished.
For 30 days, we intentionally avoided eating sugar, dairy, beans, rice, grains, gluten and other food that could potentially cause inflammation. We followed all of the Whole 30 rules. By doing so, we turned down offers of pizza and dessert, as well as many of our other favorite things to eat. Overall, it wasn’t that bad.
In fact…we both learned a lot*.
*a future post on tips and tricks to completing Whole 30 is coming soon.
What we liked:
Clear, easy to understand program
The Whole 30 program is great about being clear from the beginning what it’s all about and how to do this challenge. It’s not a “lose weight” diet. This is an elimination diet challenge and an opportunity to learn about what is in the food that we are eating and how it effects our bodies. The rules are clearly laid out, and though challenging, is not impossible to complete.
Tons of resources
Tons. Looking for recipes, shopping lists, etc.? They’ve got it. They also have forums and oh, if you Google “Whole 30 reviews, tips, sauces, etc.” you’ll find people like us who have completed this challenge and have posted their experience, tips, and tricks.
We’ve done a couple of intentional eating challenges now and this was by far the best one in which we learned a lot from the process (see the “what we’ve learned section” below).
We felt pretty good during and after
I (Jedd) felt great. I lost about 5 lbs and Michelle said I slept better (I wasn’t as restless as I normally am). Michelle felt ok for the most part, but unfortunately the challenge didn’t provide the relief to some of her joint pains and other issues like she thought it would. She did determine, in the “re-introduction” phase after the challenge, that consuming dairy is a slight issue for her. This is something she didn’t realize before Whole 30.
What we didn’t like:
The financial cost of eating healthy
It’s such a strange thing to say. Something is wrong in this world that it’s cheaper and easier to eat unhealthy food.Two things made our food expenses go up during the Whole 30 challenge.
First, eating meat and produce that is organic/all-natural is more expensive than its counterpart. Again, this is really sad that this is the case.
Second, having to make a lot of the food you normally buy pre-made or packaged means you are paying more for individual ingredients. Again, it sounds counter-intuitive but I made a couple of things from scratch like soups, sauces, dressings and the collective cost of the individual ingredients to make these things cost more than if I were to just get it pre-made from store shelves.
Additional time and organization commitment
Though I enjoyed what we were eating and how it made me feel during Whole 30, it took up more time in my life and required me to be more of a planner than I usually am. This might be fine for those that have flexible schedules or more time in our lives in general. But we know this isn’t the case for many (again, another sad realization). So being that Michelle and I do have pretty good flexibility and time, you can understand that when I say it was time consuming for us, it’s probably even more time consuming for someone with a full-time job, family, pets, etc. to do this challenge. It’s understandable.
Additionally, because we were avoiding so many things, we cooked and ate our own food regardless of the situation. If we were meeting friends to hang out, we would usually eat ahead. I had to make my lunches for work each day instead of going out and buying food from restaurants (not knowing if they used Whole 30 compliant ingredients).
So you have to think about when you are going out, when you need to eat, and the time to make your food. Making things from scratch also requires more time in general than say, popping a ready-to-go meal in the microwave or oven. We learned that to eat healthy and still keep diversity in your diet, you need time. Again, another thing that is frustrating and shouldn’t be the case in our world.
Oh, and the Whole 30 plan should probably be called Whole 30 + a couple of extra days/weeks, thanks to the “reintroduction phase.”
What’s the reintroduction phase? After you complete your 30 days, you start to reintroduce certain food groups (one at a time) to see if they have any negative effects on your body. For example, once we finished our 30 days, we introduced dairy for one day and then you are suppose eat using the Whole 30 program again for the next two days.
This does two things. First, you’re suppose to see if the reintroduction of something like dairy has any effects. Second, the two days after is suppose to cleanse/rid your body of it so that way you can test something new afterwards.
If you’re like us and you are trying to test everything like dairy, gluten, rice, soy, etc. you are looking at an additional couple more weeks of Whole 30 eating and planning. So really, it’s like 30 days + X amount of days/week of reintroduction – something we didn’t really plan or think about before we started. (You’ve been warned). 🙂
What We Learned – the True Benefits of Doing Whole 30
Be mindful of what goes in your body
What’s in our food? Where does it come from? Why does one spaghetti sauce have a ton of ingredients in it, with things I’ve never heard of and another only has 5, all-natural ingredients? How was it prepared? How far was it shipped?
Whole 30 requires diligence when it comes to shopping for food. I’ve never spent so much time looking at labels and now I’m thankful for this. I think many people only think about what kind of food they want/need to buy (like pasta sauce or bread) and don’t even think twice to take a few minutes to read a label and really think about what they are purchasing.
A lot of things can be made from scratch
I didn’t realize how easy* it was to make my own soup, sauces, or condiments. I always thought these things were too difficult to make at home. Not only do I know the exact ingredients that go into my cooking, but a lot of these things taste better (or no different) than store-bought goods.
*The only caveat to this is that it does help to have the right equipment/tools at home and, of course, takes time. (More details coming soon in another post: Whole 30 Tips and Tricks).
Eating healthy doesn’t mean eating less or eating food that taste bland
One of my favorite comments during our Whole 30 challenge came from my father-in-law after we cooked dinner for him one night. He said, “You guys are eating really well. This food challenge thing you are doing doesn’t seem difficult enough.” We had roasted vegetables, salmon, and a homemade hollandaise sauce that night – all of which was Whole 30 compliant and really good.
During our challenge, we both felt like we were eating quite a bit and yet, we never felt stuffed or heavy after meals. If anything, we were a little bit hungry and snacked on fruits and nuts. Sure, you are withholding yourself from eating certain things, but there are still plenty of really tasty options. Eating healthy doesn’t have to taste or sound as bad as people make it out to be.
Eating should be intentional – not based on cravings or ease
I wrote in a previous post about the concept of “just because you can, does it mean you should,” and it holds true here. It’s natural in our world today to NOT think of food as fuel, but as entertainment. Something that is pleasure based vs. a necessity. In some cases, food becomes a coping tool (i.e. stress eating).
While these things aren’t inherently bad, it becomes a problem when we lose control over moderation (or aren’t even aware of our eating habits). Just because you have access to something, just because it tastes good, just because you want or desire something, doesn’t mean you should indulge yourself.
On Whole 30, there where many times I had to say no. I had to learn how to make tough decisions that went against comfort and ease. And by that, I mean: going against what I really wanted at the time.
Doing Whole 30, you have a great excuse to make these tough decisions. The first couple of times you are in these situations (like when someone offers you a slice of the almost perfect, decadent chocolate cake), it can be difficult. But you quickly learn how to be confident in making healthier choices. You teach yourself a new behavioral habit. As you make more and more of these tough choices, it actually becomes easier and easier. You become more in control.
You’ll never know if something is affecting you until you try intentionally avoiding it for awhile
This was the first major challenge that we both did to see if there was any negative effects from eating from certain types of food groups. As we slowly reintroduced things back into our diet, two things became pretty clear. For Michelle, she definitely felt negative effects from eating dairy. For me, I can tell that I don’t feel great with too much sugar.
This was the greatest thing we both have taken away from this experience. You’ll never know if what you are eating has a negative impact on your life unless you do something like this.
Maybe the toughest thing about this challenge is knowing the truth. What if you discover that you should be eating gluten-free but you LOVE bread and pasta? Is it worth eating things that have gluten in it, knowing that it can have a negative and far-reaching impact on your health?
Maybe it doesn’t have to be an all or nothing scenario. When Michelle found out that she was having issues with dairy, she had to make some changes in her life. She eats less dairy items than she used to, but hasn’t given up on it all together. She also now takes Lactaid pills before a meal with heavy dairy in it, which usually helps. Remember, she didn’t even know she had any issues with dairy until after Whole 30. This reminds me of the famous quote from the G.I. Joe show, “Now you know, and knowing is half the battle.” Thanks G.I Joe!
Have you done Whole 30? What did you learn? Have any questions about what we did? Let us know in the comments below.