A Bit of Background
The Whole30 is something that’s been on my radar for a couple years. If you would have asked me two years ago what I thought of the challenge, I would have remarked with some snotty comment about it being this dumb restriction diet Crossfitters do. Now look at me, both a Whole30-er and a Crossfitter! 😉
I tried CrossFit for the first time in November of 2016. Now, I don’t want you to get confused and think that CrossFit and The Whole30 have to go hand-in-hand, but this is about my experience with The Whole30, and they do in fact go hand-in-hand, for me. Anyway, the first CrossFit gym I ever went to encouraged following a Paleo lifestyle and suggested trying The Whole30. Being the know-it-all I was, I internally rolled my eyes and dismissed the coach’s words. Giving up cheese or wine for a month?! This fool had to be crazy. Clearly, this gym was not the one for me.
Fast forward to May 2017. I had been solidly practicing CrossFit (at a different gym) since January. I loved (still do) my gym community, and never once had any of them tried to push anything Paleo or Whole30 on me. In fact, it’s not uncommon for the crew to enjoy some brews together. I was feeling the strength gains from five months of a consistent workout regimen, but I was still experiencing some things that I thought may have subsided after this dedicated of a routine:
- low energy
- poor sleep quality
- lack of joy
- mental fogginess
- low motivation
- no (like zero) desire to be in the kitchen (who was I?!) <— anybody who has known me for 3+ years knows that the kitchen is one of my happiest places
I started throwing around the idea of doing this Whole30 challenge in my head, thinking my less-than-desirable symptoms could likely be eliminated from a reset. Heaven forbid I say anything out loud to anybody, though. I certainly didn’t want to commit, and then not do it. Plus, I had so many things coming up. My friends were visiting in June and we were going to take a road trip; I had plans to visit friends and family in July and road trip; August was one of my sister’s birthday’s, which we were celebrating at a fancy hotel with a pool, so obviously, August was out because #cocktails.
It didn’t take long for me to realize that I was sabotaging myself by creating all of these excuses and reasons why I couldn’t do something I obviously wanted to do (hello, couldn’t stop thinking about it!). In August, I seriously considered a September Whole30. I knew both of my sisters would be coming to my house for a weekend to celebrate the Timi’s birthday, but felt confident that I could make clean decisions and still have fun since I’d be in my own space.
About five days before the end of August, I asked Anthony if he’d be willing to participate in the challenge with me. You guys have to understand that our nightly activities used to be trying a new bottle of wine, heading to the local brewery or making cocktails at home to compliment our dinner (margs + tacos, anybody?). I knew I could do this without him, but I wanted him to be my partner in crime. To my surprise, he agreed! I casually mentioned that I was going to start the challenge to a few of my gym buddies, and they encouraged me, saying it was challenging, but doable.
What is The Whole30?
Okay, so maybe you’re this far into my story and you’re like, “Seriously, Jess? WTF? WTF is The Whole30?”
Technically, The Whole30 is a book authored by Melissa and Dallas Hartwig. Within their book, and on the official website, The Whole30 is commonly referred to as a reset.
When choosing to do a Whole30 challenge, participants eat the following:
- nuts and seeds
Participants avoid anything containing:
Also worth mentioning, “sex with your pants on” (SWYPO) is not allowed. For example, I couldn’t make a coffee syrup (though I wanted to!) using hot water and dates, because that’s missing one of the main goals of the program: habit change.
You can read about the specifics by clicking on these links, or by purchasing the book on Amazon. I could try to rephrase everything so you don’t have to click to open another tab, but seriously, just go there and read for yourself. You’ll have a clear idea. #dontfixthingsthatarentbroken
In a Nutshell …
In a nutshell, The Whole30 focuses on getting back into healthier habits via your kitchen. The program suggests purchasing high quality food options, and being aware of where the food has been sourced from. You will be forced to read anything with a label, as even the most seemingly benign things might have sugar, soy or gluten lurking within their packages. You’ll develop a satisfaction for creating and preparing all of your meals for 30 days (unless you go out and do your best to order compliant options from a menu), and may start to feel superior.
My guess is you’ll go through no fewer than five dozen eggs, two jars of almond butter and eat more vegetables than you ever have in your life. You might buy a second vegetable peeler because your’s is constantly dirty, consider getting another of your favorite cast iron pans and run the dishwasher at least once a day. You might feel like you’re only ever in the kitchen if you neglect to meal prep at the top of the week. (<— That totes doesn’t bother me, but if you know you don’t have time for that, you will have to set aside a couple hours each week to prep.) You might dream of chocolate covered pecans, and start referring to La Croix as beer because it’s more fun that way.
However, in the midst of all of this, you will feel freaking awesome!
Instantly, you’ll notice a clearer mind. You will be fueling your body with awesome, wholesome, real food! This will have a snowball effect on your entire life. It looks something like this:
better food —> feel better —> higher self-esteem —> more motivation —> better at doing life
Have I convinced you yet? I’m totally trying to, you see, because I can’t remember the last time I felt so alive!
This was challenging, sure! I helped both of my sisters move into my house to escape domestic violence, only to have the one of them move back, right in the middle of my Whole30 experience. That was f*cking hard! All I wanted to do was have a bit (read: bottle) of wine to drown my worries, exhaustion and other emotions, but ya know what? I DIDN’T! And, to be honest, I think having something totally unrelated to focus on was helpful for me during that stressful time. My point with sharing that very personal tidbit is this: Eating real food isn’t impossible, or even hard compared to other things in life. Once you’re in the habit of doing it, it becomes second nature, and if you’re anything like me, you’ll crave the process of preparing yourself a meal that you know will make you feel nourished and satisfied. #keepingitreal
My Whole30 journey was a gigantic success! Here’s what I took away:
- Incredible energy! I kid you not, I’m now able to wake up at 5am (if necessary) and stay awake until 10pm, without a nap! Who in the hell am I? Don’t get me wrong on any of this—I don’t wake up at 5am everyday day (more like 6:30) and I do enjoy the occasional afternoon snooze—but, the fact that I can wake up at five and don’t have to take a nap is freaking amazing for me.
- Solid sleep! I still wake up at least once a night to pee. #annoying However, I’ve accepted that that’s a thing that comes with being hydrated and getting ‘older’. My sleep is more solid and restful than it used to be.
- Joy! Since I’m eating better, I feel better. That means my confidence has increased. I have more motivation to get out and do things that bring me joy. It’s just freaking awesome how all that works together.
- Mental clarity! This is so huge, and something I noticed by Day 3. I don’t think that I noticed just how foggy I was until I did this reset. I feel like I can think better. Does that even make sense? I make better decisions overall and I’m able to critically think faster than in the past.
- Motivation! Since I have more energy, I feel more motivated to do life. I can’t say enough times how all these things are intricately related.
- I’m cooking again! This is probably my personal favorite success. I absolutely love being in the kitchen and doing my own thing. I get a lot of pleasure from throwing things together and plating them and then enjoying the [generally] delicious creations.
- I’m wearing real clothes. Read: I’m not in workout clothes 100% of the time. It’s true that I still wear my fair share of leggings because my job requires such, and I exercise quite a bit. However, on the weekends or off/rest days, I’ve found myself slipping into jeans. I feel more put together in jeans. I’m so happy I feel comfortable in them again!
- I’ve realized certain triggers make me want to drink alcohol. I’m not an alcoholic. Obviously. I just went 30 days off the booze and didn’t suffer from any tremors or shakes. However, admittedly, I did drink too often. A couple drinks every night is excessive. And why? Just for something to do? There were times over the course of the 30 days when I thought to myself, “Damn, I really just want a bourbon right now to take the edge off!”, and each time I had a thought process like that, it was an emotional response. So, there you have it. I definitely participated in emotional drinking in the past. I’m not saying that’s never going to happen again, but now I’m aware of certain triggers that will make me feel that way, and I’m hopeful I’ll be able to recognize the situation for what it is, and get real with my emotional self before masking it with a cocktail.
- My skin is better! I’m no dermatologist, but I’d guess that this is a “duh” side effect from ditching the booze and cleaning up the eats. By better, I mean less dry. I have combination skin, so often times my skin will be dry in the morning but oily at night, or vise versa, and I’ve noticed it’s consistently less dry than it has been in the past. Calling it a win, folks.
- I lost 15 pounds! This is the least important success marker to me, but I’m still gunna take it! To be honest with you, the last time I weighed myself was probably almost a year ago. Based on that number, I shed 15 pounds by simply fueling myself with fresh, healthy, nourishing foods. I didn’t weight anything out. It wasn’t complicated. I just ate enough to satisfy my hunger, and then stopped.
What I Ate
I have always loved breakfast. It’s my favorite meal of the day. It was so super simple for me to eat eggs every day. In fact, my breakfasts didn’t really change except for the fact that I now use ghee rather than butter and sugar-free bacon. There were a few days we ate leftovers for breakfast, but most days was an egg scramble or omelette, loaded with veggies, along with roasted potatoes of some variety and a piece of fresh fruit.
Speaking of fruit, we ate it every single day. The book kind of suggests that fruit should be limited, and I just can’t get behind that 100%. Our favorite fruits are berries, which are also the best fruit options in terms of antioxidants and lowest sugar content. We also ate bananas, mangos, a few apples (weren’t quite in season, yet), grapes and kiwi. Fruit is such a natural, wholesome food. We also bought some dried fruit about half way through when we were desperate for chocolate. We ate that in moderation, and only when we had a real hankering for something sweet.
Lunches were quite a mix of things. Sometimes leftovers, sometimes salads, and other times randoms things like sliced turkey + nuts + broccoli. Economically speaking, our dinners tend to be a little more indulgent (100% grass-fed and grass-finished meat is spendy, as is sustainably wild-caught seafood), so I like lunch to be a bit more affordable, and they were typically whatever I could throw together.
Some of my favorite dinners included beef stew, yellow chicken curry, burgers w/ oven roasted potatoes, chicken w/ veggies and “peanut” sauce, surf ’n turf fajita salads and grilled meat w/ veggies and mashed potatoes.
We snacked when we were hungry! We’re active peeps, so again, I wasn’t about to feel guilty about eating when I was hungry. The book suggested keeping snacking to a minimum. I’m like, hey book, I’m gunna eat when I wanna eat! We snacked on nuts, tuna, carrots and guacamole, olives, spoonfuls of almond butter and fruit. We tried to pair at least two macronutrients together for something more satisfying (fat, protein, carb are macros). For example, I may have eaten a few slices of turkey + some almonds to tide me over until dinner.
We drank a shit-ton of La Croix and Spindrift. I’m not even kidding. We started off by purchasing the cases from Costco. After we did that three times, we said ‘f it’, and went to Target so we could buy our favorite flavors. We never looked back! It’s fun to go to Target every week or every other week and load up the cart with carbonated water. And other random shit, because who can go to Target for a single item? #notus
Was It Expensive?
Here’s the thing, I don’t feel like I can answer that question for you. Prior to the month of September, we spent a fair amount of money on alcohol and eating out each month, and only a couple hundred dollars at the grocery store. During Whole30, we spent considerably more money at Costco and the grocery store, but zero money on alcohol and eating out. Was one more than the other? I don’t know. So, I feel like the word ‘expensive’ isn’t a fair descriptor. I’d say this: Plan on spending the money you might normally spend eating out or on alcohol at the grocery store. Don’t go in with a mindset that you’re going to save money from not eating out, because you’ll likely use that money on real food. You can get super budgety with Whole30, if you want. That’s not really my thing—I like to eat what I like to eat—but I’m positive you can make it fit into your grocery budget. Plus, it’s an investment in your health! So, if you do end up spending an extra $__ on pantry items to get started, consider it an investment for the long-term you.
If you have a warehouse membership like Costco, use it! Also, if you’re willing to try a free trial of an online warehouse for wholesome, organic food and beauty options, sign up for Thrive Market! This is where we order things like nuts, ghee, spices, condiments and all of our bathroom/beauty supplies. We’ve been thriving since 2016 (or was is 2015?) and we freaking love it. Do it. (Side note: if you use my link, I earn a commission. Your cost is the same no matter what. I appreciate you using my links!)
Below I’ve listed items that we bought each week on repeat. We always buy organic when it’s an option. That’s a choice we each made independently before we even met each other nearly four years ago. Assume that items listed here are organic (except La Croix).
We buy local when we can. There’s an open-air organic farm stand down the road from us that I visit a couple times a week.
We’re looking into options to purchase our meats from a local farmer. I can’t recommend this enough! In the meantime though, we get most of our meat from Costco.
- chicken breasts
- ground beef
- fish (salmon, shrimp, halibut—whatever they have that looks nice)
- beef polish sausages (the brand is Teton Waters Ranch)
- eggs (I can get local eggs from the farm stand, but the price is double, so I splurge 1-2x/month)
- frozen veggies
- La Croix
- almond butter
- pine nuts
- olive oil
- coconut oil
- canned tuna (Wild Planet brand)
- chicken stock
- Nuttzo butter
- nuts (cashews, macadamia, pecans, walnuts, pecans)
- condiments (roasted red peppers, olives, sun-dried tomatoes, fish sauce—think anything in a jar … )
- Primal Kitchen brand mayo & Greek salad dressing (ya, I know they’re condiments, but worth a shoutout!)
- The New Primal brand marinade
- coconut cream
- coconut milk
- coconut aminos
- salsa verde
- canned tomato sauce (for spaghetti sauce)
- dried fruit
- cauliflower rice (frozen)
- stew meat (they have some grass-finished meat!)
- Pederson’s brand bacon and kielbasa
- coconut water
You can do it! It’s all about your mindset. If you go into it thinking it’s going to be brutal and hard and impossible, it will be, and you’ll probably fail. If you go into it thinking it’s going to be a challenge, but manageable, and you know the reward will far outweigh and hard times you might encounter, you will be set up for success!
Browse Pinterest. Look at Instagram hashtags related to Whole30. Read the articles online. Join Facebook support groups. Buy the book (if you want). Write out a list of things you love to eat. Search ‘whole30 <inset thing you love to eat>. Don’t have sex with your pants on. Grocery shop on Saturday or Sunday (if you follow a calendar work week). Meal prep Saturday or Sunday. Be prepared for the hanger (<— when hunger becomes anger) with super simple options like compliant polish sausages and microwavable veggies so you can make a meal in five minutes. Stay hydrated. Treat yo’self to a coconut water every now and again. Buy the nice piece of fish. Sing to music while you’re cooking. Light candles for dinner. Enjoy nurturing yourself. Love knowing that you’re doing the best you can for yourself in this moment!