In January, I hosted an office Whole30 challenge. It was the 3rd Whole30 we’ve done as a group, and – as we’ve come to learn – we were each presented with our own unique set of challenges throughout the month.
For those who are unfamiliar with Whole30, it is not some crazy diet; it is a nutritional reset. Grains, sugars, dairy, legumes, and alcohol are eliminated for 30 days because they have been shown to cause inflammation in the body. After the 30 days are over, each food group is slowly re-introduced so that you can note your body’s reactions. For example, you may find that dairy causes break-outs or bread gives you a wicked stomach ache, but rice and beans are no issue. Each person has a different experience. Armed with new information, you can adjust your diet to keep those problematic food groups out, and only bring them back in when it’s really worth it to you.
When I heard about Whole30, I started my research by reading, “It Starts With Food” by co-creators Melissa Hartwig and Dallas Hartwig, and everything made sense. The book summarized the science behind the program and showed how certain foods, like sugar and grains, can have a negative effect on your body. As I read through it, I thought, “I get it! This is why no other diets have ever worked for me!” I did my first round by myself and, in addition to the clearer skin, deeper sleep and less achy joints, I lost 12lbs. I was floored! But let’s be clear, Whole30 does not tout itself as a weight loss program; it just happens to be a nice side effect for some people.
After doing my first round, I became a Whole30 fangirl. I introduced it to family, friends and colleagues. There were even people at the office who wanted to try it, so we went through our first office Whole30 in January 2016. My group has had such success over the past two years that we have made it a tradition. Five of us started on Wednesday, January 3, 2018. I created a private Facebook group and posted daily encouragement and recipes. We all had fairly similar reasons to go on this journey, and going through it together is a lot easier than going it alone.
Before you begin this process, you have to ask yourself why you want to do it and what you hope to gain. The main component (and the hardest part) of doing a Whole30 is meal planning and preparation. When I started this round, I’ll admit I was not fully prepared. My heart wasn’t in it and my pantry was not prepped. I figured that I had done this enough times, I could just wing it. I have meat, fruit and vegetables, it’ll be fine. Unfortunately, winging it doesn’t work. To be successful, you must not only plan out your meals for the week but also plan for unexpected situations, like when you have to stay late at the office and you need something compliant to get you through until dinner. But there I was, getting ready to lead a group through a Whole30 with very little enthusiasm. Then I told myself, “Suck it up, Buttercup!” I knew I had to put my big girl pants on and persevere.
After the holidays, I felt awful, both physically and mentally. I was at the heaviest I’d ever been, my knees hurt, and I had stomach cramps after almost every meal. Knowing a Whole30 was coming up, I took it upon myself to eat all the Christmas chocolates, just to “get them out of the house”. I told myself I was getting my pantry ready when, in actuality, I was placating my Sugar Dragon. I have a major sweet tooth, and my eating habits had really deteriorated over the several preceding months. I had trained myself to need a sweet treat after every meal. The thing with sugar is that it never satiates you; I was literally always hungry, but couldn’t figure out why. I wanted to achieve “Food Freedom”, that place where you have control over the food you eat and it doesn’t control you.
As we went through the first two weeks, which are the hardest, we experienced the common Whole30 phases – the hangover, the hunger, the anger, the exhaustion, and the despair. Unfortunately, it broke some of the group, and they were not able to continue being 100% compliant. One person was in the process of moving and had to tap out. I couldn’t blame her; trying to do a Whole30 during a major life event is too stressful. Another person was out for a week with bronchitis. A third person decided that she would prefer to do a Whole30 80/20 split. That worked better for her lifestyle and family. The last person continued to eliminate bread from her diet because she knew it was a trigger.
I knew I would be traveling twice during the 30 days and I was a little apprehensive about staying compliant. I went to Las Vegas, and while there may have been a little cream in the coffee or some cheese in the salad, I stayed as compliant as I possibly could. I did not have any desserts, bread, beer, or wine (I know, right?!). I stayed strong, because I wanted to set a good example and prove to myself that I could travel and still make good food choices. The trip to Atlanta was little tougher because it was at the end of the Whole30 and I was over it. Even through the celebratory dinner that included an open bar and chocolate mousse dessert, I stuck to my guns. I had to prove to myself that I could get through this and defeat my Sugar Dragon.
What did I achieve for all of my efforts? I lost 9 lbs, but the non-scale victories are more important. My skin cleared up (and it’s so soft!), my knees don’t hurt as much, and no more stomach cramps or cravings! But most importantly, I can open my pantry and look that chocolate Santa in the face and say, “I don’t need you!” It takes practice and discipline, but it’s amazing what 30 days can do for you.
After past rounds of Whole30, I have gone straight back to eating pizza, ice cream and beer. This time around something actually clicked and I thought, I don’t want any more digestive troubles, it’s not worth it. At some point along the way, it will become worth it and I’ll eat the pizza, but with the discipline to say, “you don’t need the whole pizza.”
Melissa Hartwig is the co-creator of the Whole30, and she has provided all the information you need to know about Whole30 is on the website at http://www.whole30.com for free. If you would like more in-depth information, Melissa has written a total of 6 books that are all fantastic Whole30 resources for recipes, tips, tricks, and moral support.
Before embarking on any health, fitness or medication regimen, it is always a good idea to consult your healthcare professional.