If you’ve been anywhere on social media I know you’ve seen posts about the Whole 30 diet along with slogans like, “Find your food freedom”. If you know someone who has completed or is in the process of completing this diet, then I’m pretty sure that your news feed has BLOWN UP with their posts about food and cravings, and “tiger blood”. What the hell is tiger blood? We’ll get to that later. (and my apologies to everyone who follows me)
I’m sure you’re thinking, UGH! Another friggin’ diet fad! Believe me, I’m with you! I’ve never been one to push for one specific diet or nutritional methodology. In fact I usually laugh at the futile efforts of those following any diet that is highly restrictive, I would adamantly proclaim, “You’ll never catch me doing one of those crazy diets!!!” Sure they may work for you in the short term, but there is a reason the term yo-yo dieting exists.
It seems like every few months a new AMAZING diet is advertising that it is THE GREATEST diet ever created and will help you lose weight FAST!
You think, “Awesome!”
“This is just what I need.”
You give it a try. You may get great results. But then you realize that a restrictive diet is impossible to sustain. You get frustrated. You say, “I’m just going to splurge on this one meal because ‘I earned it’.” One meal becomes two meals. Two becomes an entire weekend. Suddenly it’s a year later and you can’t remember the last time you ate a green thing. You’ve gained back all the weight and then some. You start to look for the next, new, best diet ever!
At some point we have to get off this ride. We have to realize the answer is not another diet. We have to figure out the mental and emotional reasons we struggle with food. To break the bad habits and the preconceived ideas we have about how and what we eat. It’s not easy. If we don’t have a solid “why” behind our attempts to change our habits, we won’t be successful. We will come up with a million reasons and excuses as to why we’re forever doomed to a life of bad choices.
That is exactly was where I was… dietary rock bottom, sick of feeling like crap, ready to kick my excuses and bad habits to the curb. Last year was a struggle for me. I have a history of depression. In the past I’ve been able to manage with exercise, cognitive therapy, and lifestyle changes. This time more drastic measures needed to be taken. Since October I’ve been working with a doctor to find the right anti-depressants and best lifestyle changes to help manage my symptoms and live a happy, productive life. Don’t have experience with depression? Let me tell you it’s shocking the physical effects it can have on you; exhaustion, apathy, dark thoughts, feelings of hopelessness; all while being pretty content and happy with your place in life. Sound confusing?
In my exhausted, apathetic, confused state I let my diet go to holy hell. There’s only so much you can deal with at a time, and for me diet wasn’t a priority.
As my new medication kicked in, I began to emerge from my depressive fog and finally had more energy. I also found myself 15 lbs. heavier, still not feeling amazing, and struggling with my eating habits. Something had to change. I needed to approach things differently.
Do you ever notice when you start giving something more thought things start to present themselves? This is exactly what happened. Whole 30 started popping up into my social media news feed, clients of mine started talking about how they were doing the Whole 30 and they loved it, even my massage therapist mentioned that she had great results and was ready to do it again. Initially after hearing some of the rules I scoffed and said, “Eff that! I will NEVER participate in something that restrictive.” Then I started to look into the diet a bit more and learned the purpose behind the restrictions.
In recent years it seems more of the population has developed food allergies and sensitivities. Whether it’s due to how we grow, genetically modify, or manufacture our food, the way food affects our bodies has changed. Many of the symptoms that we experience such as gas, bloating, fatigue, rashes, congestion, inflammation and more can be linked to the foods that we eat. Allergy screenings can help pin point foods that may be a trigger, however these screening are not always an option. This is one of the reasons that elimination diets such as the Whole 30 were created. By removing foods that may trigger negative physical reactions for an extended period of time, followed by a strategic reintroduction phase, you are able to get a clearer idea on what foods you may want to avoid or eliminate from your diet in the future.
Along with discovering how your body reacts, the Whole 30 is also designed to break bad habits, disrupt cravings, and repair your relationship with food. They claim it can “change your life” and change how you eat for the rest of your life.
I’m always skeptical of claims like this. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. But, lord knows I was sick and tired of feeling sick and tired. So I decided to suck it up and give it everything I had.
On the Whole 30 you eliminate the following:
Along with this list Whole 30 prohibits:
The purpose being to gain control over the obsessive and impulsive behaviors of your snacking habits as well as the anxiety the surrounds tracking progress.
I can best describe the last month and a half of my life as moving through the five stages of grief. I mourned my old, convenient, emotional security blanket of a diet. It was an emotional roller coaster and I can assure you that I hit every single stage.
Denial: The first few days, hell, the first week wasn’t that bad! I hardly noticed any major differences. The food was delicious, I didn’t have any major withdrawal symptoms, and I didn’t experience any cravings. This wasn’t so bad. I was a bit hungry, but that’s to be expected when you cut grains you’re accustomed to eating. I can handle this month with nooooo problem. What was the big deal about this anyway?
Anger: This stage crept in a couple times. I was angry about how much I had to shop. I was angry about how much I had to cook and food prep. And sweet baby Jesus I was PISSED about how many dishes I had to do. I’ve never been so jealous of people with dishwashers before. Following this friggin’ diet was a part time job. Forget doing anything else! Free time, what free time? My efforts to expand my business this month were non-existent. I didn’t do much aside from keep up with my current clients. Cravings started to kick in. I wanted bread. I wanted wine. I wanted to go out to eat and be able to order food that would actually fill me up! Have you ever been to a bachelorette party where you couldn’t eat or drink? Compliant tapas = Sadness. UGH! File that under “No Fun”. (Just kidding, it was still fun, but INSANELY challenging)
Bargaining: So technically, if we are being 100% strict and following the rules, I failed the Whole 30. I ate veggie chips. I failed to remember that chips and crackers were off limits even if the ingredients were “compliant”. I should have started over back at day 1 after my chip-tastrophe. I didn’t. It’s ok, you can be disappointed in me, Lord knows I was. I told myself that I would not eat them again and that I hadn’t eaten any ingredients that were off limits, so I would still be able to use the experience as an elimination diet.
Depression: Somewhere around the two and a half to three week mark the depression really set in. I was hangry all the time, I wasn’t seeing any NSV’s (non-scale victories), I wasn’t feeling any better, and I sure as shit wasn’t experiencing the blissful feeling of energy, power, and life force they refer to as “tiger blood”. When was I going to feel better? What was the point of this? I was so angry and depressed my therapist asked me why I was doing this to myself. MY THERAPIST!!!! If anyone is supposed to have your back and cheer you on to a more disciplined lifestyle, and emotional control over your eating habits it’s your therapist, right?!?! I was an epic wahhburger for about a week. Then the light at the end of the tunnel began to shine.
Acceptance: The last week of the diet I started to think about the reintroduction phase and the foods I was going to get to eat again. I was surprised to find I wasn’t really that excited. I was at this bizarre point where I just didn’t care if I could eat them again. Maybe this diet wasn’t so bad. I wasn’t as hungry, I felt pretty good (still not a drastic noticeable difference), and I have really enjoyed the food and was now starting to crave things I didn’t before like salad for breakfast, and burgers sans bun. I no longer felt deprived. Who the hell have I become? I adjusted my portions and could start to see a noticeable difference in my physique. In fact other people were starting to notice as well! Sweet! Maybe this diet would be a bigger part of my life post 30 days than I originally thought!
Once I worked my way through all 5 stages of grief, and I had completed my 30 days it was time to get through the reintroduction phase. You think it’s over after 30 days… but it’s not. The reintroduction phase is a 10 day process of reintroducing food groups one by one and observing how they affect your body. It looks a bit like this:
You also have the option to extend this another 3 days if you choose to reintroduce a non-gluten alcohol on Day 1. I had zero desire to extend this experience any longer than necessary.
Aside from dairy, I didn’t experience any majorly noticeable differences with any of the foods as I added them back in but I did notice a few minor things.
Despite my continuous bitching throughout the process, I have to say that I’m glad that I completed the Whole 30 (albeit in a flawed fashion). It was a major test of will power that I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to endure. Despite my skepticism I am happy to say that I have reaped the following benefits:
Will these results last? That’s up to me. I still don’t believe that constantly eating such a strict diet is sustainable or necessary unless you have an allergy, serious food sensitivity, or medical reason. The real test of this challenge will be whether I can continue to reintroduce these foods in moderation and maintain the good habits that I have developed in the last month and a half.
Would I recommend the Whole 30?
I think all diets are personal. If something this restrictive will cause you to swing heavily in the opposite direction upon completion; then, no, this is not the diet for you. If you aren’t going to commit yourself fully to the process and are going to make excuses, and bargain your way out of the responsibility and the self-control needed to follow the rules; then no, you’re not ready.
However, if you’re in a place similar to where I was and you’re ready to explore how food affects you mentally and physically, if you are ready to break bad habits, if you’re willing to be disciplined and hold yourself accountable for your choices, then yes, this challenge is worth the effort.
Repairing your relationship with food is not easy. You will screw up. You will melt down. You will feel like giving up. Just know that you are not alone, you are not broken, and you are not a lost cause. Finding your path to moderation, and healthy sustainable habits is not one that has a final destination. It’s an ongoing journey that presents new challenges every day. So take a deep breath and face them one at a time.
You got this!