Last month, I participated in a September Whole30, my second go-round with this (now very trendy) food and lifestyle experiment. If you aren’t already familiar with it, Whole30 is an elimination challenge. The point is to learn more about how the foods we eat affect our bodies/body functions, by taking out 5 key categories from our diets for 30 days:
Added sugars (including natural sugars like honey, maple syrup, agave, etc.)
Legumes (including peanuts)
Grains (including corn and gluten-free pseudo-grains, like quinoa)
At the end of the 30 days, you slowly bring these things back into your diet, one at a time, as part of your “reintroduction” phase. For me, this is where the magic really happens! By this time, your body is basically a blank slate, so if you have some sensitivity to, say, chickpeas (a legume), that’ll reveal itself loud and clear. Then it’s up to you what to do with that information. Maybe you stop eating chickpeas. Or maybe you really, really love hummus, so you decide to eat it at home in sweatpants, where your bloated lil belly can live comfortably within a stretchy waistband. You do you, boo.
Right now, you might be asking “But what can you eat?!”
SO much! Vegetables to your heart’s content, fruit, meat and fish, nuts, nut butters (allllll the nut butters, except peanut, of course), sweet potatoes, avocados, olive oil, avocado oil, coconut oil, coconut milk, coconut flakes, coffee…I can honestly say that I was never hungry during Whole30. (In fact, after seeing my stories on Instagram featuring each of my meals, my brother texted me, “It looks like you’re actually eating MORE food with Whole30 than you previously were.”) Thanks to Whole 30, I am eating more, the quality of food on my plate is more, my energy levels are more, and my sense of well-being is more.
Why did you decide to do a SECOND Whole30?
Look, life is crazy and everything is changing all the time and sometimes you need to take a pause to reset. Last year, my two big takeaways were:
1. Amazement that I could even do a 30 day food challenge
2. I have some gluten sensitivity
But I rushed through that first reintroduction phase in a giddy frenzy. This time, I really wanted to honor this phase better. Also, so much can happen in a year, and it’s really easy during times of transition to move away from making the more thoughtful food choice that you know will serve you in the long run and instead just grab the doughnut/muffin/bag of chips/deli sandwich/Seamless order—because it’s easier. (I am SO guilty of this. No judgment here.) Once we make it through the initial craziness of any new situation— I’m here on the other side gently encouraging us all to choose the nutrient-dense meal that doesn’t include a ton of added sugar and additives and isn’t fried.
In my case, I started my first desk job in an office a year ago, and it wasn’t long before I was eating chips and sugary granola bars every day, simply because they were there. (And don’t even get started on the office culture of The Birthday Cake…that’s for a different time.) This second round of Whole30 helped me recalibrate where those things fit into my life, by challenging myself to not eat them for one month and THEN giving me the freedom to choose my plan of action. I was finally able to break free from the ironclad grasp those free office snacks had over me. Hallelujah!
Actually, with Whole30 Round 2, I had PLENTY of big takeaways. In no particular order, they are:
1. I didn’t know how good I could feel.
After you’ve been on this earth for a while, you know a thing or two. You may think you’ve set a decent standard for what feeling “good” is, but then you discover just how high you can raise that bar. What you accepted as the norm suddenly reveals itself as “just good enough.”
Now I find myself wanting to live by this new normal. Sleepy still feels, well, sleepy, but it’s not foggy. My body is still a little sore, but that soreness can be sourced back to its origin and isn’t some full-body mystery ache. My stomach still gets a little bloated, but when it does, it feels like something that will pass and not just the way my body is.
2. Speaking of bloating, chickpeas!
On my legume reintroduction day, I very proudly put my food processer to work and whipped up my first homemade batch of hummus. Living primarily as a vegetarian, which I’ve only recently stepped away from after 10 years, hummus was lyfe and my #1 go-to. So imagine my big time disappointment when, after eating a nice little serving of my freshly-made snack, I then watched my little belly balloon right up in a way it really hadn’t in about, say, 30 days. Um, what? Honestly, I’m still a little crushed, but I’m also kind of delighted. I didn’t know this before, and now I do. Having that information is empowering—it’s a new a tool in my arsenal.
3. Animal protein is what I need right now.
Like I said, I’ve been living life as a vegetarian/pescatarian for the past 10 years, with varying degrees of strictness. Last year, when I went through my first Whole30, I mostly ate fish and shrimp, which was a very expensive. This time around, I wanted to experiment with chicken and beef, both in an attempt to save a little money, and also because I’ve been feeling for a while now that my dietary needs are changing. Any food we eat is a highly personal choice, especially when it comes to animal products, and I respect everyone’s right to choose what works best for them. For me, right now, eating a mostly plant-based diet (sans legumes and limited grains) with a small side serving of animal protein is what’s working. This transition has been really natural, in big part thanks to the Whole30 structure, and it’s a huge takeaway from this past month.
Other small victories from doing Whole30:
Clear and glowing skin.
An abundant and healthy menstrual cycle (#sorrynotsorry) for the first time in a year—a clear indication that my hormones are starting to balance out again.
Shorter-lasting sugar cravings, if any at all.
Less swelling in my joints and overall less body inflammation. This really shows itself in dance rehearsals and yoga class—my body flows so much easier now.
A sharper brain. Truly. Which I credit to a significant reduction of added sugar in my diet. I can tell now if I’ve had too much because my brain gets a little foggy and I’m easily distracted. (Like right now. Because I treated myself to a delicious gluten-free muffin at the café where I wrote this post and I can feel my focus waning with every word I type. I don’t regret the muffin, but that’s the trade-off.)
Finally, a quick thought about alcohol.
I’ve been reflecting a lot on the role of alcohol in my life: social drinking, happy hour, “just one drink” at an event, a few beers at home to take the edge off a long day, special occasion drinking, drinking for avoidance, drinking for confidence…the opportunities to consume alcohol are endless and abundant. I have Whole30 to thank for helping me realize that I was drinking even when I didn’t really want to— because it was around, and sometimes it’s easier to just say “yes” than to stop and assess my own needs in that moment. (Plus, I love a good drink!)
But after 30 days of alcohol being off-limits, I got to really ask myself: When and why do I choose to enjoy it? Just because there’s free champagne available at an event, does that mean I have to drink it? Could creating a ritual of having tea and painting my nails at home after a long day help me unwind just as much as the beer I would’ve normally consumed? Don’t get me wrong—I’m still interested in enjoying the occasional glass of wine or cocktail, but I want to make sure I’m choosing these things mindfully and having them when I want them. It feels really good to make this distinction for myself—like a huge weight is lifted off my shoulders. Because I’ve given myself permission to say “no thanks.”
Have you ever done a Whole30? Do you have any thoughts or questions about the logistics of food prep, strategy, or building a community? Let me know in the comments below!