I’ve never really needed to worry about my weight, and have always eaten whatever I want. Which was usually an extremely large bowl of pasta at least once a day. I justified this habit by telling myself that I don’t eat sweets or junk food, so it was completely fine.
But then I wasn’t feeling so great. The all-pasta diet that worked for me when I was 20 wasn’t making me feel so hot anymore.
I have been hearing people talk about doing the Whole30 for quite a while now. Most often on Facebook, where they would complain for the first 4 days, then quit. So I thought it must be some kind of fad diet and didn’t give it a second thought. But finally I decided to read The Whole30: The 30-Day Guide to Total Health and Food Freedom for myself and see what it was all about.
The benefits of the Whole30 discussed in the book were enough to convince me to give it a try. I wasn’t interested in weight loss, but the idea of more energy, better sleep, clearer skin, less bloating and being happier sounded good to me!
If you haven’t heard of the Whole30, it is basically a program where you eat only real, whole foods for 30 days. No alcohol, sugar, grains or dairy. For an overview of the Whole30 program, go here. And if you are serious about doing it, I definitely recommend reading the book first.
What I Ate
So what did I actually eat?
In the book, they repeatedly tell you to focus on what you can have, instead of what you can’t. I wholeheartedly agree with this. But after the initial excitement about the program wears off, it is really hard to come up with ideas of what to eat. I found myself thinking of only the prohibited foods. So I made a list of our favorite go-to meals to help when I was losing motivation.
Breakfast wasn’t hard at all, because I like to eat eggs most days anyway. And adding an avocado to whatever I was eating helped keep me full until lunch.
My go-to breakfasts:
- scrambled eggs with avocado and berries
- a green smoothie (my current favorite combo is coconut milk, spinach, banana, peach and strawberry)
- fried eggs with sautéed spinach and avocado
- soft boiled eggs with a bowl of fruit
- frittatas with vegetables and herbs
- omelettes with vegetables and herbs
- potato avocado “toast” with poached eggs (our new favorite breakfast!)
I tried to make big enough dinners so that I could just eat leftovers for lunch. This way I didn’t have to think of an extra meal every day. On the days that there wasn’t quite enough leftover dinner, I would add some extra cut up raw fruits or veggies and call it a day.
I am not a snacker at all. But I realized that snacks were the key to success on the Whole30. Because the only times I started having intense carb-cravings was when I let myself get too hungry. So in the afternoon, usually when the kids were having their afternoon snack, I would have a little something to hold me over.
My go-to snacks:
- cherry tomatoes, halved, with sliced mini cucumbers and a little bit of sea salt
- prosciutto wrapped around honeydew melon
- pistachios and red grapes
I was happy that it was still pretty warm out while we were doing the Whole30, so that we could grill most nights. Our favorite (and easiest) Whole30 meal was any type of grilled meat (or fish). On the side, we would have a mix of zucchini, bell peppers and red onions, cooked right on the grill in this grill pan. It is quick, easy, and delicious!
My (other) go-to dinners:
- pulled pork with pineapple guacamole (our favorite!)
- steak, roasted broccoli and mashed potatoes (made with coconut milk)
- baby back ribs with roasted broccoli and cauliflower and a side salad
- flat roasted chicken with tiny potatoes and roasted veggies (from The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook)
- pineapple fried cauliflower rice
- 20-minute shrimp & sausage skillet
- almond crusted chicken with lemon zucchini noodles
- salmon with lemon herb cauliflower rice and asparagus (or green beans)
- zucchini noodles with pesto and roasted tomatoes
Doing the Whole30 Abroad
I mistakenly thought that it would be pretty easy to do the Whole30 here in Austria. After all, this is the land of pork and potatoes, which are both Whole30 approved.
I was wrong.
Doing the Whole30 outside of the United States is no joke.
In the book, it says to read the ingredients on every box to look for hidden soy, sugar or other non-approved ingredients. But they are assuming that you have a firm enough grasp of the language to do so. And lets just say my German isn’t stellar. There is also no such thing as Whole30 approved here in Austria. So all of those recommended condiments, packaged foods, and even meal deliveries aren’t an option. And we don’t have Trader Joes or Whole Foods, where you can grab a bag of already riced cauliflower, or nicely cut vegetables ready to eat. Most people here have never even heard of Whole30.
This means that nothing that I ate for an entire 30 days came from a box or a package. Everything was made completely from scratch. Which is just a little time consuming.
And I believe that this is actually the best way to do the Whole30. The idea is to eat whole, real foods, and develop a healthier relationship with food. Eating nothing from a package at all is a great way to do this.
Not everything about doing the Whole30 abroad is more challenging, however. Meat and eggs here are generally of a much higher quality than in the United States. And since you eat so much meat and eggs on the Whole30, it is comforting to know that it is high quality. There is also not much in the way of packaged, convenience food. So we are already accustomed to making things from scratch.
Doing Whole30 While Traveling
The key to sticking to the Whole30 while traveling is preparation. Not by packing Whole30 approved food and snacks, as they suggest in both the book and on the website. This would work if you are on quick work trip or somewhere close to home. But if you are abroad, or in a new place, you want to experience the local specialties!
When I travel, one of my favorite things to do is eat. So sitting in my room with a can of tuna, hard boiled eggs and some fruit would be miserable.
The way to succeed on the Whole30 while traveling is by researching great restaurants that have Whole30 approved meals.
The only time that we had a hard time on the Whole30 was when we were in Graz for the weekend. Even after I had spent a ton of time researching places to eat that would have Whole30 approved meals.
The first few meals went great. I had everything all planned out before we even sat down. We ate at some great places, asked for the necessary substitutions, and all was good. But then on Sunday, we decided to change our plan a little bit and ended up on the other side of town from the restaurant that I had planned. We went to another place that I knew would be good, but I hadn’t already picked what I would eat. They didn’t have an English menu, so it was taking me a while to read it in German. They were super busy and the waitress was getting impatient with me. So I ordered a steak salad, which seemed like it was a safe bet.
Well, it wasn’t. It was more of a wrap, completely not what I was expecting. And at this point I was already super hungry. Or hangry actually. We were also tired from having walked around all morning, and my 3 year old had just thrown an epic tantrum. The waitress disappeared, and I knew that ordering another dish would have taken ages. And remember what I said about the 3 year old and the tantrum? Well, another hour waiting for food wasn’t going to happen.
Long story short, I ate it. While silently fuming. I mean, if I was going to “cheat” I would have rather had something delicious like a cheeseburger and fries or a bowl of pasta. Not a fake steak salad wrap. Ugh.
So the moral of the story is to plan ahead. And then when things go wrong, as they surely will, just plan to get back on track as soon as possible.
Doing the Whole30 with Kids
I put a lot of thought into how we would handle doing the Whole30 with our daughters.
They both eat super healthy to begin with. Very heavy on the fruits and vegetables and hardly anything packaged. So we didn’t think they needed to change much of anything. If they were eating a lot of chips, cookies, sugary drinks or other junk foods like this, then likely we would have made a different decision.
So they ended up eating Whole30 breakfasts and dinners with us (cooking 3 meals a day is hard enough – I wasn’t about to prepare separate meals for them!) but their lunches and snacks were completely normal and included grains and dairy.
I looked at the Whole30 as a teaching opportunity for the kids more than anything else. Before we started, we explained the Whole30 program to them. We told them why we were changing the foods that we eat. We talked about the health benefits of eating healthy foods, and consequences of eating not-so-healthy foods. My 7 year old, who loves rules, wanted a full run-down on what was and wasn’t approved. Then throughout the month she would double check that everything we were eating was Whole30 approved.
My Whole30 Results
I didn’t weigh myself or take any measurements before or after the Whole30. My goal in this wasn’t to lose weight, so I took that out of the equation completely.
But I did feel a difference. I felt less bloating in the evenings. I had more energy in the afternoons. And I lost my intense carb-cravings!
The only negative side effect I experienced was extreme fatigue for the first 2 weeks. I remember reading the day-by-day timeline of what to expect, hoping that the tiredness would end soon. It finally did, and from then on things were good.
The part of the Whole30 that I was most interested in was the reintroduction phase. How were my favorite foods affecting me? Here are my takeaways:
- Pasta is still my favorite, but it actually isn’t as good as I remembered. I have only eaten it a few times since the Whole30 ended.
- White rice and soy sauce is still my fave, and doesn’t affect me in the slightest. This is our go-to dinner side dish with meat and vegetables.
- Alcohol makes me feel like crap and sleep like crap. But I will still enjoy a glass of wine with my friends on occasion.
- Cheese is good, but I can live without most other dairy.
- I hate ghee. And butter doesn’t bother me. So I will happily use butter.
Since the Whole30 has ended, we have still been eating a ton of fruits and veggies, and protein from meat, fish and eggs. But we aren’t being strict about eliminating other foods from our diet. We just try to keep the majority of our meals Whole30-ish.
And when we are traveling, we eat what we want!
Advice for Doing the Whole30
My advice for anyone who is thinking of doing the Whole30 is to have a plan and have a partner. And just know you will be spending A LOT of time in the kitchen.
Planning is key! Plan your meals down to the very last detail. I planned out every breakfast, lunch, dinner and snack at the beginning of each week so that I could ensure that we had what we needed to succeed. We cleared everything else out so that there would be no temptations.
I would have given up many times if it weren’t for my husband doing it with me. We could hold each other accountable, talk about our weird cravings and how we were feeling. And I knew that even if I quit, I would still be making Whole30 approved meals for him, so I might as well just continue.
There is no getting around it. The Whole30 is extremely time consuming! Reading the book is the easy part. Then comes the time spent planning meals, grocery shopping, and preparing meals. Cutting and peeling all those veggies takes forever! That is not even counting in the time you spend obsessing over if your skin is clearer. Or if your runny nose is related to the Whole30.
And finally, if you slip-up and cheat, either on purpose or by accident, don’t stress. Just get back on track as soon as you can. I spent so long stressing about my unapproved meal until I realized I am doing this for me. Not for a grade. I did the best I could and that was enough.
Have you ever done the Whole30? What did you think?