My Whole30 experience

This is going to be a pretty personal post so if you are after something scienc-y call back next week or go and geek out on the amazing series on time from New Scientist (free rego required but worth it).

Most readers here would have figured out by now that I follow a traditional primal/Paleo-ish diet based on high quality animal products, vegetables, nuts, berries and some high fat dairy. Being a part of this Paleo Internet community is amazing but I think sometimes we lose touch with the nutritional reality out there. Let’s face it: the majority of our population still believe that low fat yoghurt plus a cereal bar is a healthy afternoon snack (my rant on the big picture here). I think it’s preposterous and hilarious that my diet is viewed as extreme by those who regularly ingest food-in-a-box with ingredients that you need a degree in biochemistry to pronounce. Yeah, and I’m the weird one.

A few people who in my view do a fantastic job of bridging the gap between the real world and the real food world are Whole9Life, Diane from Balanced Bites, the original caveman Robb Wolf and Mark Sisson. What I like about them is that they recognise that most people need a simple and practical approach to changing their diet and lifestyle. I chose to do a trial run of a 30 day program The Whole30 by Melissa and Dallas Hartwig of Whole9life.

My goals for my Whole30

Weight loss was not a priority for me. I’m pretty petite and in a normal weight range but definitely not skinny. Some days I wish I looked the way I did a few years back in ‘teen % body fat (yes, I was vain enough to get it measured) but then I remember that I was running myself to the ground by training, teaching in the gym, studying and looking after my family. I ended up with some serious overuse injuries which took me out of action for more than a year. Perspective.

Although I’m Russian I am not a big drinker (despite constant references to alcohol on Twitter!) I enjoy my glass of red wine with dinner and it is about all I can normally manage before getting a bit giggly. However since our trip to Italy earlier this year I have noticed myself having wine most nights and also ordering a bottle for 2 at restaurants. Not that I was concerned but I was curious how I would go without alcohol for a month.

The only other tweak that I had to make on my Whole30 was to say au revoir to high fat dairy. I’m a bit of an artisan cheese fiend, sour cream fan, Greek yoghurt addict, you get the picture. I was interested to self-test the theory that dairy has insulinogenic properties exceeding its carbohydrate content and to see if it affects my overall wellbeing.

Impressions

The Whole30 Guide which Melissa and Dallas kindly sent me was easy-to-understand but comprehensive. It would be suitable for both rookies with little nutritional knowledge and hardcore jaded cynics like me. The science was solid but not overwhelming. I like the good cop-bad cop approach: they encourage people to try new foods, listen to own bodies (a skill many forget they possess!) and forgive indiscretions but at the same time tell you to harden the f#%^ up for 30 days. The Facebook page is great to get perspective from other peeps on Whole30 or to ask a direct question. And in case you wondering at this point, no, I’m not getting paid for this.

I was surprised how easy it was to give up alcohol. I just seamlessly replaced my glass of red with a glass of sparkling San Pellegrino and I didn’t miss the wine one bit. In the whole month I had a glass on two celebratory occasions but I checked with Dallas on Twitter and he gave me a-ok 🙂 Now that Whole30 is over I re-introduced red wine but I feel like it has reclaimed its place as a special occasion drink a couple of nights a week rather than a staple.

I wasn’t so lucky with dairy. I hadn’t realised how much I relied on my sour cream, yoghurt and cheese for my fat sources. My downfall at the end of the first week was probably due to my failure to plan other fat sources like coconut oil/milk, avocado and fattier cuts of meat. 5 days into this lowER fat state my brain cells went into meltdown. My mood started zigzagging in step with my food intake (my partner had the lucky foresight to go overseas for that week), I had a couple of spectacular afternoon crashes requiring a nap and the old friend hunger reared his ugly head. Oh, hello, I remember all this. That is what I used to feel like every day when I conscientiously adhered to the Heart Foundation diet high in whole grains and low in fat. Anyway a few rescue tweets and Facebook messages later, I was back on track armed with cans of coconut milk, a few avocados, casserole beef cuts and nuts.

Surprisingly enough, I still found myself a little hungrier than usual for the rest of the month. I attribute my dairy tolerance (some would say dependence) to my Eastern European genes (epigenetics counts, people!).  I didn’t get any digestive upsets when I re-introduced some natural yoghurt back into my diet and it completely solved any niggling hunger issues. However I feel a lot more confidence in controlling my soft cheese cravings and also haven’t felt the need for more high fat dairy since.

An unexpected benefit of focusing more on what I eat and how I feel daily was an appetite for more vegetables. I’m not a big veggie eater. I allow that they might be good for us and generally eat them drowned in butter but I resent the ad nauseum push for 2+5 as if the lack of fruit and veg is the sole source of all our heath problems. That said, on the Whole30 I found myself looking for new varieties at the grocer and doing some veg experimentation in the kitchen.

So at the end I reckon even a pretty good diet can do with a few tweaks. It’s easy to get into a rut with your food choices and the Whole30 allowed me to bring a little more focus and awareness to my food choices.

Anyone who is still on the fence about giving up grains, sugar and industrial food should seriously consider a 30 day program like this. I really believe that cold turkey is the best approach when comes to diet for most people: better struggle for a couple of weeks than drag it out for months and fight the recurrent cravings.

Feel free to share your experiences with Whole30 or your own story of lifestyle change. How did you do it? What mistakes did you make along the way and how did you deal with them?

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19 thoughts on “My Whole30 experience

  1. I think the Whole30 was a very valuable experiment for me. It made me realize that my very frequent fasting was stressing me out, and that casein is not my friend. I’ve added back in red wine, white potatoes, and white rice with no ill effects, but I am careful to keep my dairy cheats to once a week or less, and I keep (slowly) getting leaner as I continue to crossfit and days go on. I do use ghee without problems – but I am switching it out with coconut oil and olive oil more often, and using up my pasture butter on the kids.

    • Emily, your blog post on your whole30 made me first think about giving it a go. White rice gives me postprandial hypoglycemia faster than you can say “sushi”. I tolerate a small amount of potatoes fried in a lot of duck fat. Sorry to hear dairy doesn’t agree with you but you gotta do what works for your body. I also wonder whether the US dairy is different: I had for the first time had issues with it when I was over there.

  2. I’m on day 9 of my Whole30 and your experience tracks mine exactly so far. I think it was the removal of high fat dairy that allowed the hunger demon to come roaring back.
    I also think there are good reasons to examine our dietary intake, and it has been useful for checking in with myself. I never would have gone without dairy otherwise. I’m still not sure how it will fit in when I’m done, but I believe it will be making cameo appearances.
    So did you lose weight (I’m not really looking to lose weight either)? Regain some of the physique you mentioned? Any other tangible benefits for you?

    • In terms of tangible benefits: I have recently started riding my road bike again and have been gradually leaning out anyway. It’s a bit hard to split hairs but I’m sure diet has contributed. I think I’ve lost a couple of kilos over the last few months and my abs are slowly making a reappearance 🙂 I’ve received the most benefits out of my diet after going grain-free primal low carb. Awareness is an awesome benefit that I do not take lightly. I can now say that I know what works for my body at this time and place. Enjoy your whole30, whatever you find out about yourself will come useful 🙂

  3. Anastasia:

    Good of you to share your experience with Whole30. I think it explains the paleo basics and how to get started better than any source out there.

    My experience was very similar to yours. So much better to give it all up at once than drag it out. The most surprising thing for me was how fast I stopped wanting the things I gave up (dairy, grains, sweets, etc.) – it took all of 7 (seven!) days for me to stop wanting those things. I felt so good without them that the idea of adding them back in was out of the question.

    I did give up wine at first, then added it back in, then found it becoming a staple again, so I gave it up forever and for good. That was my own 30 day challenge that came separately and later. The result was the same as I experienced with the foods I’d stopped eating – I completely stopped wanting it. It lost its appeal. I found that I sleep better without it and have much more mental clarity. I like those things so much that I wouldn’t trade them in for anything.

    There have been times when I’ve let chocolate back in. Eating it results in a temporary, almost narcotic rush, which goes away and leaves me wanting more. It totally upsets my equilibrium. Unlike the other things, I can’t say I don’t want chocolate anymore. But I am very clear on the ill result it’s sure to bring, and most of the time, knowing that leads to the decision not to have any.

    Love this post – great to see Whole30 in the limelight.

    Susan

    • Thanks Susan. I agree, people who can gradually “cut down” are few and far in between. It’s absolutely amazing how the cravings disappear and you lose any reason to exercise willpower. I keep telling my friends: willpower doesn’t come into this (they believe I’m some sort of obsessive freak with super-human power of self-denial). I enjoy feeling full of energy, mental clarity, easy digestion, great skin and even mood waaaay more than I would enjoy a brownie.
      Regarding chocolate: after introducing 85% chocolate I have finally conquered my chocolate demon. I used to use it as a bit of a cheat but now even that has lost its appeal. Who knew I could have one bite and put it down? Thank you for sharing your experience 🙂

  4. Thanks for sharing your results with your readers (and taking on our program!) Sounds like you nailed the “awareness” piece, which is exactly the point of a program like the Whole30. What you ultimately go back to eating isn’t our concern – it’s that you now know how those foods affect you, and can make an educated decision about including (or not including) them back into your diet. Well done! Melissa & Dallas

    • Thank you M&D! Yes, that’s exactly how I saw your program. It’s not about a detox or self-denial but more about self-exploration and making an informed decision about how food makes you feel. And it’s way easier to make that decision when you are working with a clean slate. It has definitely re-shaped the way I eat without making me feel obsessive. Keep up the great job, guys!

  5. I have been waiting for this post! We’ve been free of ‘crap in a box’ for about 5 weeks. I wouldn’t say we’re strictly Paleo but eliminating packaged food took us most of the way there in avoiding grains, seed oils, soy and refined sugar. We are still eating full fat dairy, though for me it’s mainly milk in my tea and coffee, whereas the kids and husband eat greek yoghurt most days.
    The best thing about this has been the change in my kids. They are 3 and 6. My 6 yo insists that bread is healthy – that’s what he learns at school, but he knows that we just don’t eat that any more. They complain occasionally, but much less than I though they would. I did expect breaking the 3 yo biscuit ‘habit’ to be harder but it wasn’t so. I just told her that we weren’t buying any more so now she asks for a healthy snack! They are much more willing to try different things and most importantly, they don’t spend the whole afternoon demanding food! They were pretty good kids before (I might be slighty biased) but I would say they have less tantrums and they get over them quickly now.
    My husband is finding it harder to understand that he is not hungry and still eats out of habit in the evenings (nuts, 85% dark choc). Last weekend he decided that he wanted to ‘cheat’ and bought some junk for us to eat. My stomach bloated so much he was calling me Santa Claus, and I felt terrible. I can’t say I’ll never eat some of those things again, but I know that it wont ever be a regular part of our diet.
    I would definitely think about doing Whole30 at some point in the future, I think it’s important to continue tweaking to see what works for you.
    Thanks for sharing your experience Anastasia, I absolutely love your blog and look forward to each new post 🙂

    • Hey Kristy! Congrats on making a change! If it makes it any easier it took us over a year to get to the comfortable easy place where we are today. We have made our slip-ups (some more than others, yes I’m looking at you, Lee) and had our share of temptations and awkward social situations. I can honestly say that it is now practically a breeze for all of us. Like you, I mostly enjoy seeing this change in my daughter Michelle. She is happier, less moody, more educated, more confident, healthier (no eczema) and no more after-school naps!
      I reckon there is nothing like a junk food binge to make you realize how much you don’t want to go back to that way of eating! Feeling bloated, constipated, getting a skin breakout or just feeling gross reinforces your good choices. So don’t beat yourself up, it’s all good :).
      I wouldn’t worry too much about 85% chocolate, unless you polish off a block every night. Thank you for your kind words and good luck.

  6. Hi Anastasia! I’ve been following and enjoying your blog for several months now, and I figured this was a good post to de-lurk on. 😉
    Congrats on your Whole30 experience, it really sounds like it did you a lot of good and really helped you get perspective on a lot of things — and I certainly agree that even if one eats healthy/Paleo/primal/whatever and is comfortable with it already, things like this are still great to keep challenging ourselves and keep learning new things about our bodies. I love hearing about people’s personal experiences with these sort of things – it’s different for each of us, but that’s what makes it so fascinating!
    I’m interested in trying the Whole30 or a similar type of 30 day challenge myself — I’m just going through some chronic illness at the moment so I’m waiting to feel a bit better first.

    When I first started this sort of lifestyle change, it was because a good friend sent me a copy of the Atkins book and told me it was helping her lose weight. I read it that morning, liked what it said/implied, and went shopping that afternoon, after first throwing all the pre-packaged foods out of my cupboard (which felt very uplifting). I basically went cold turkey on a grain-free/sugar-free/low-carb eating plan, and it seriously is the best thing I’ve ever done for myself. It took about 3 days to kick the worst of the sugar cravings, and after that, the hardest thing to learn was how to be able to politely say “no” when someone tried to give me chocolate at work or whatever.
    I think I was previously such a sugar/grain/carb addict that my body basically went “hallelujah!!” when I gave it all up. 😉 In the following month I watched so many health problems just vanish, from the serious eczema and dandruff that had plagued me all my life, to my constant gastro and abdominal complaints, to the spider veins all over my legs, to even the pulsatile tinnitus that had seriously affected my enjoyment of everyday life for six years prior to that. (The tinnitus left in a WEEK. Seriously. And it only comes back if I eat stuff with sugar. Talk about incentive to avoid it!)
    I’d initially tried the Atkins with the idea of losing weight — and I did lose quite a bit of weight, about 10kgs in the first 3-4 months — but ultimately it was all the other amazing health benefits I got from it that made me sit up and take notice. I wanted to know WHY it was doing such good things for me, so I started researching like crazy, and that’s how I eventually found all these online communities, blogs, and websites.
    Nowadays the diet I follow is more Paelo/primal, because that makes the most sense to me, and I just tweak it for my system.I tolerate dairy pretty fine (I cut it for awhile to test, but didn’t notice any real difference) so I get to indulge my love of cheese, but I can’t even go NEAR anything with gluten in it any more (it tears through my system like crazy). Not that I mind, I don’t miss grains at all!
    Anyway, I’m rambling on, but I just wanted to share my experience in return to thank you for sharing yours. 🙂 I love the openness and sharing and positivity that I constantly come across in this community of us “health freaks”, coupled neatly with the cynicism and jaded attitudes. 😉 I look forward to lots more posts on your blog — keep fighting the good fight!

    • Hi Cassiel.
      What a great story, thank you for sharing that. The improvement in tinnitus is certainly new and intriguing. Your story is another confirmation to be that people feel more in control when they go cold turkey. Yeah sure, it sucks for a few days but the benefits show pretty quickly. I’m very aware that this approach doesn’t work with everyone, especially people with serious digestive issues/blood sugar dysregulation. I also keep reminding people that the benefits of this lifestyle go way beyond weight loss. We are taught that some things are just part of life: indigestion, heartburn, eczema, acne, depression, middle age spread. It’s amazing to see them improve and sometimes disappear altogether.
      I’m sure there will be people who will be inspired by your story. Keep up the great work and never stop questioning. None of us have all the answers.

  7. Ghee and heavy cream have virtually no casein (protein) or carbohydrates. I’m not sure why the need to avoid these when avoiding dairy?

    Yogurt of course has casein. But the proteins in yogurt are denatured by heat and lactic acid. This could account for a different reaction by some individuals to yogurt as opposed to milk or cheese. Although, depending on the process, the proteins in cheeses are somewhat modified as well. In addition, at least here in the US, the carbohydrate content listed on the yoghurt package is the carb content of the source dairy itself. The actual sugar content of the yoghurt is significantly lower as the milk sugars are converted to lactic acid by the bacteria. Now, I believe that lactic acid can be used as fuel for the body but its metabolism is certainly different than sugar metabolism. The net effect is that many individuals will have a different reaction to (real full fat no additives) yogurt than to other dairy products.

    Personally, I am extremely hypoglycemic but I have no problem with straight high fat, no additives yogurt like this product: http://www.sevenstarsfarm.com/yogurt.htm

    I enjoy your blog very much – thank you for posting!

    Phil

    • Late reply, sorry Philip. I think the rationale for avoiding heavy cream (not ghee) is to reduce the possibility of casein to zero in case you are very sensitive and allow the gut to heal. I’m a fan of a properly prepared cultured yoghurt but some people still find the CHO and casein level unacceptable. Also as a directive it’s just easy to say “no dairy for 30 days” and then work out what is acceptable later. I also agree that once people have eliminated grains and sugar, they may find that adding such dairy back in may be benign.

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  9. I am new to this blog. I have been grain and sugar free for about 30 days now. Wine and cheese are hardest for me. I just lost my husband this year ,so I do rely on wine more than I should. I have noticed that I sleep better and my skin looks better. I am trying to loose about 15 pounds , I feed like maybe I have lose inches. I also have more energy , any advice?

  10. My whole30 experience was pretty good on the whole. I definitely missed dairy – I was eating quite a bit of cheese (organic cheddar) and yoghurt (organic live) and I prefer my coffee with milk. After whole30 I’m not so keen on the cheddar any more but have gone back to the live yoghurt. And milk is definitely better in coffee than coconut milk! I’m somewhat asthmatic and have been told this could improve if I cut out dairy. I think it did improve but I’m not so asthmatic that it’s a problem. My skin has definitely improved as a result of eating more fats. I was largely vegetarian for a couple of years although I did eat fish occasionally. I’m an overweight man in my early 60s and I noticed that my skin was getting very dry. I just put this down to age, but having switched from breakfast cereal to eggs in the morning (often a frittata with leftover veg) there has been a vast improvement. Two years ago I was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes – still diet controlled. Removing cereals/potatoes/rice/pasta/bread from my diet has led to much better blood sugar control and I have lost about 30 pounds in weight – the second 30 is on its way now thanks to whole30! Must do something about these loose trousers! By the way, my doctor is horrified that I’ve stopped taking statins and accuses me of being on the Atkins diet. Is there something wrong with eating meat, fish, eggs, yoghurt and lots of greenish vegetables (and occasional fruit)?

  11. Hello & Best Wishes to All: I just started on the Whole30 eight (8) days ago after finding out about it from a co-worker. He and his wife were not overweight but did carry extra body fat they wanted to lose. Like me, they also looked for better, healthier ways to nourish their bodies and stay away from allopathic medicine. The big thing for me is with all of the health care changes, intrusiveness, push to tell insurance companies your life history, including ‘take a pill’ for just about everything, I decided that I was going to drop my health insurance at open enrollment and take my health into my own hands naturally. Though I have paid for Medicare all my life, I don’t plan on taking it. I figure if I am not participating, I cannot be accused of being a ‘drain on the system’ or be told by someone else what to do with my own body. This process actually started a couple years ago when I tore up my kitchen, sold my stove, and replaced my cabinets with wrap-around natural birch shelving to hold my glass jars of nuts, seeds, and other essentials for a minimalist, healthy, alternative nutrition lifestyle. My friends thought I was crazy; I did the work myself and after they began to ‘get the picture’ they were impressed and admiring of my courage. So fast forward to 8 days ago when I began the Whole30. I was pretty much there but being an older female (57) with up/down weight issues most of my life, I was sure my metabolism had died but I refused to bury it. With a few modifications such as eliminating dairy (I too am a cheese artisan….or was); all forms of sugar, grains and legumes, I pushed the edge of the envelope and dived into the Whole30 experience. I went through the items in my kitchen and freezer, turning over the frozen turkey, fruit juice tapioca flour, and other items to my very grateful neighbor. I must tell you that after 3 days on the Whole30 I noticed a spike in energy, mental acuity, and excellent, restful sleep. I have to admit that I did cheat. I felt lighter and a difference in my waist – my curiosity got the best of me and on the 7th day, I weighed/measured myself. I had lost nearly 5 lbs and 1 inch off my waist. I feel great and where I used to be tired after work, I have plugged in my Wii again and enjoy playing active sports as well as low-impact aerobics. I have the energy to sustain me and further energize my body. I even walked 3 miles yesterday! I hope this will be an ecouragement to those on Whole30 or thinking about starting it. One of the biggest pieces of advice is: If you love yourself, realize that the majority of ‘food’ in the supermarket is not food, not good for you and offers you nothing but ill health. Love yourself enough to do Whole30!

    • Congrats on making a start, Jacqueline! Although I would highly encourage you not to weigh or measure for the rest of the month. Trust me, you don’t want these numbers messing with your head. I had a bit of a rant on numbers in my latest post. All the best!

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