Whole30, Goldilocks and evil carbses

Back to posting after long silence.

Things have been downright crazy here at primalmeded/Whole9SouthPacific HQ. Jamie and I have successfully held our first ever W9SP workshop in Cairns. I expect this to be the flashiest workshop we will ever have since it was conducted in the Shangri-La rather than in a Crossfit gym surrounded by pull up bars, chalked up weights and breathing in the sweat the smell of victory. But hey, we can talk to people about nutrition anywhere as long as nobody decided to punch out 20 burpees when they get bored of our ramblings. The Paleo Cafe in Cairns were awesome organisers and they will be conducting a Whole30 in February and we will get to judge the winner. Our next stop is Crossfit Toowoomba which is getting close to being booked out!

Jamie dropping some knowledge bombs to a full house in Cairns

Jamie dropping some knowledge bombs to a full house in Cairns

Me, with my "d'er" slide

Me, with my “d’er” slide

The obligatory glam shot: me and Julianne Taylor from Paleo Zone Nutrition who was our special guest. Post workshop dinner at Cairns marina

The obligatory glam shot: me and Julianne Taylor from Paleo Zone Nutrition who was our special guest. Post workshop dinner at Cairns marina

This post is mostly about Whole30 and random thoughts on troubleshooting. This is my 4th whole30 and yes, I’m getting pretty good at this. Plus I have the benefit of being intimately familiar with the book, knowing the references and also presenting that material. Not to blow my own trumpet but I think it’s fair to say it gives me a little bit of an insight. But in spite of all this, I found myself wide-eyed and amazed at how much I learnt this time around.

A little bit of personal background to put this into perspective. I have been eating low carb/primal/Paleo for over 2.5 years now. I don’t have any medical conditions or an overt food intolerance. Junk food (sugar, grains, processed food) gives me pimples, makes me bloated and pushes me to the sarcastic bitch end of the spectrum. When I eat well I contain my natural impatience with stupidity a lot better. I never thought I had problems with dairy but I have been having less and less of it in the last few months and my skin which was already pretty good improved more. Plus I don’t really miss it. I put on some weight this year mostly due to stress, irregular hours and meals, and sleep deprivation. I have made it my priority to improve those areas in the last few months and was already getting good results. We decided to do the January Whole30 to “walk the talk” (so nobody could tell us “eating THIS way is soooo hard”) and see what results we can achieve with perfect focus.

First the results:

  1. My satiety levels are the best they have EVER been. I used to snack occasionally (i.e. daily) and felt no hunger in the morning, then was practically starving by lunch, and again before bedtime. Now I have 3 full meals spaced out at around 6hrs with some gentle hunger around hour 5.
  2. My energy levels improved dramatically. We go to the gym 3 days a week doing basic strength. On the days that we don’t train we go for beach walks, sprints and short hikes. Instead of wanting to collapse into the couch when I come home and play dead, I actually look forward to getting out of the house and dissipating some pent-up energy.
  3. Strength gains. This year my training has been really inconsistent. I remember thinking at my surgical rotation that the only exercise I get is holding the retractors in OT. Last few months I introduced more gymnastics-style training which I hugely enjoyed. I sustained a minor injury in late December and somehow found myself coerced convinced to take a month off gymnastics and do a strength block instead. Never thought I’d say it but I actually do enjoy it and will introduce some deadlifts (gasp!) into my regular program. Ok, ok, I’m loving it. I have no doubt that having extra energy and good recovery contributed to that.
  4. Body composition. If you are expecting the Before and After photos you are out of luck. It ain’t happening. The water weight and some extra insulation (he he) that I picked up over winter started to shift in the last few months. But in the last few weeks I felt like somebody just pushed the right button. I am leaner with the biggest differences in my stomach and waist. I probably could say more but I am going to stop there. Let’s just say I am very happy with the change.

So what did I do differently???

  • More food. Seriously. I have always considered that I eat a lot “for a girl”. I thought I was tired and apathetic because of work, stress, “I am just lazy”. It is practically ingrained in women that they should eat less than a man. Dishing out dinner I would go with the Goldilocks principles: papa bear meal, mama bear meal and a baby bear. And of course, somehow accurately estimating with a trained eye that my portion should be about 30% less than Jamie’s. This time we decided to run an experiment and fill my plate. So now we plate out a portion of protein about 150-200g each and fill the white gaps on the plate with veggies and fruit. Occasionally it’s too much and I don’t finish it. More often than not, I do.

I had a few people ask me recently on Twitter and at the workshop whether it was 200g per day or per meal which caused me a lot of merriment. Get you calculators ready, doubters!
3 eggs at 11g protein each = 33g (breakfast)
Smoked salmon 150g = 32g (lunch)
Lamb chop = 33g (dinner)
Total around 100g protein a day. I weigh 60kg. Which makes it ~1.6g of protein per kilo. Hardly a huge amount for a young active female. Don’t forget, you have eliminated snacks with “healthy” sources of useless protein, a.k.a. gluten, like Nutrigrain cereal bars. 3 meals of between 25 and 40g each does not add up to a whole lot.


Very typical dinner: lamb chop (of course!), sweet potato+orange+pecans in olive and ginger marinade, braised cabbage with garlic

Very typical dinner: lamb chop (of course!), sweet potato+orange+pecans in olive and ginger marinade, braised cabbage with garlic

Just in case you think I used an entree plate. Palm size is a minimum, ladies!

Just in case you think I used an entree plate. Palm size is a minimum, ladies!

So yeah, I lost MORE body fat eating MORE food. Still think calories count?

  • More vegetables. When Dallas and Melissa said “Fill the rest of your plate with veggies” they weren’t joking. When I talk to people about vegetables I normally get this slightly guilty shifty look: “Yeah yeah I know they are good for me…” and the voice trails into the distance. Yes, they are bloody good for you. Eat them. I don’t go into throws of ecstasy over broccoli and bok choy. But I eat it. I am a grown up, FFS. I love how people who dislike them find all sort of reasons to avoid them. I know there are many with autoimmune conditions etc. who genuinely need to avoid nightshades or FODMAPs. But something tells me that it’s all too easy to use that excuse to avoid “boring” veggies. Which actually undermines the distress of those who actually cannot tolerate these veggies. Needless to say, all our veggies are cooked in fat (I don’t just want to chew fibre, I actually want to absorb some micronutrients here). And try not to spot diagnose yourself with intolerance to <coconut, onions,=”” radishes=””> after 1 week just because your gut is not used to that amount of fibre and you feel a little bloated. Don’t blame the food. Give it some time to adjust then reassess.
  • Whole30 Meal Template. One of the mistakes that I see often in the newcomers (and sometimes old-timer paleos) is focusing on Whole30/Paleo-approved ingredients. People tend to forget about the fact that these ingredients still need to add up to a MEAL. So yes, almonds, blueberries and cocoa are technically all Whole30-approved but it is still not a meal. Swapping your protein+veggie lunch for a “light” soup with some nuts may sound like a good idea but you are shortchanging yourself on nutrition and will likely crumble like an almond meal cookie in a day or two. The Whole30 Meal Template does not just apply for dinner (most of us are down with that) but also to your Meal1 and Meal2. We successfully melted a few brains at our Cairns workshop suggesting slow cooked lamb and stir-fried veggies for breakfast. For us every single meal but 2 (caught out at Brisbane airport)  followed the protein and veg (and some fruit) format.
Breakfast: 3 eggs, slow cooked lamb and random veggies. Oh and an apple

Breakfast: 3 eggs, slow cooked lamb and random veggies. Oh and an apple

Work lunch sitting on my lap

Work lunch sitting on my lap

  • More starchy vegetables. Oh boy. I am in the process of actively opening a Pandora’s box and I know it. Let’s get one thing straight: “starches” are vegetables. I am not talking about tucking into potato starch with a tablespoon or sprinkling flour over steak. They are VEGETABLES. Since when are vegetables bad for us? News flash: they have more than strings of glucose held together by glycosidic bonds: vitamins, minerals, nutrients. They are cellular carbohydrate sources (if you haven’t yet read this paper you must!)

For those concerned about their glucose tolerance. The glycaemic effect of a meal hugely depends on its fat content. And if you were a diabetic who decided to tuck in a bowl of plain white potato on its own on an empty stomach your BSL may indeed shoot up. But why would you do that unless you were getting paid by a sugar company keen to sell their low GI sugar? If you incorporate the same potato into a normal size meal containing meat/fish and a decent source of fat to slow the stomach emptying I betcha you will see some different numbers.

But of course, everything is a spectrum. And as much as this applies to the middle of the bell curve there are always outliers. I have seen people get a BSL of 18 after a piece of fish and 10 after a bowl of pasta, making me swallow the pill of humility and bite my tongue. If your glucose tolerance is indeed shot to pieces you may have to watch your sweet potato “allowance”. AND you need to look at your activity level and building some good muscle where you can sink some glucose. If you are bed/couch-ridden you will tolerate less. If you get yourself a decent muscle sink and empty it regularly you will tolerate more.

What I find infinitely more frustrating is not the glucose intolerant individuals who have to have a little less sweet potato because they are sick, unable to exercise, their pancreas is on its last legs and they are trying to minimise the damage. It is those who claim that a piece of pumpkin with dinner sends them into hyperglycaemic coma and goes straight to their thighs but pumpkin gluten-free pancakes/cookies/muffins on the other hand are totally “Paleo”. I’m sorry, what? Sure, I like to let my hair down from time to time, I am not some boring Paleo prune who never has fun, I want to give some treats to my child and help her grow up well adjusted. So I will bake her some nut flour/maple syrup/honey/cocoa concoction but will vilify half a sweet potato? Holding onto paleofied sugar methadone with a death grip will prevent you from assessing your real starchy vegetable tolerance. Those evil carbses might actually work for you if you let go of the dessert addiction.

Argh. Ok. This is turning a little more ranty than I intended. I’ll get off my soap box and stop my preaching. Take from it what you want. There is no need to send me BSL measurements to prove that beetroot gets you higher than cocaine. This may not be you. But I sure do see this a lot from people who then go: “This Paleo thing doesn’t work for me!!!!!! I tried it, was tired all the time, couldn’t lose weight, got weak in the gym. It’s a fad people, get over it”.


Good luck with your Whole30.


23 thoughts on “Whole30, Goldilocks and evil carbses

  1. Can’t wait till toowoomba. Love hearing you rant 😉 thanks for the post and the food pics.

  2. “So yeah, I lost MORE body fat eating MORE food. Still think calories count?”
    a) Vegetables & fresh fruit have a lower energy density than refined carbs. You also no longer snack between meals due to better satiety. How many calories/day do you eat now compared to then?
    b) Your energy expenditure has increased. You wrote:-
    “My energy levels improved dramatically. We go to the gym 3 days a week doing basic strength. On the days that we don’t train we go for beach walks, sprints and short hikes. Instead of wanting to collapse into the couch when I come home and play dead, I actually look forward to getting out of the house and dissipating some pent-up energy.”
    So yeah, the low carb/primal/Paleo diet is a pretty effective way to shift the Energy Balance Equation in your favour.

    • Hi Nigel, I was not going to count calories or get into the calorie debate but to answer your specific questions. a) I actually haven’t eaten “refined carbs” for over 3 years. Meat, veggies and fruit is my standard fare, not a new introduction. This time around I specifically included more meat (hence the calculations) – a very energy dense food. b) The only difference that I’ve made to my training is swap gymnastics for strength. In fact, the duration of my training session is a little less. The intensity is about the same. We have been busier this month and have done less of our usual sprinting and hiking. The increased food intake allowed me to train harder. So my energy levels have increased. I am always intrigued how people try to measure our energy levels in calories. We don’t actually “burn” anything in our bodies. For our thoughts of calories which I will not reiterate here please see Jamie’s Posts: http://thatpaleoguy.com/2012/12/19/calorie-rants-and-ketosis-part-1/ and http://thatpaleoguy.com/2012/12/24/calorie-rants-and-ketosis-part-2/

    • Nigel,
      Rest assured as the nutritionist and cook of the house, and the guy driving the training programme, if you want to reduce everything down to calories, we are eating more calories and expending less calories than we have historically done. Yet both of us have leaned out significantly.

      It all highlights, on a day to day practical basis, that you cannot reduce a biological system to the sum of heat balance equations.

      • Hello Anastasia and Jamie. I read both of your blogs as they are in my blog list.
        “Instead of wanting to collapse into the couch when I come home…” implied that NEAT had increased a lot when the diet went low-carb. Changes in NEAT can’t easily be measured (except with expensive equipment like respiratory gas analysers, metabolic chambers etc). I certainly move around a lot more when I’m not in a hyperinsulinaemic “coma” (which I used to get regularly on my old diet).

        The problem that I have with “calories don’t count” is that it can set people up for failure as they think that they can stuff their faces with low/zero-carb foods and still lose weight.

        Anyway, good night from the UK.

        • Nigel,

          I suspect we are trying to convince you that the Earth is not flat here, and your comment is filled with assumptions and just flatout incorrect information. The joys of the interweb I suppose – people will read want they want to see.

          The line “wanting to collapse on the couch” is quite different from “I collapsed on the couch”. One represents more of an emotional statement with regard to how Anastasia felt. The other is a statement of what she might have actually done had we not made sure we got out to do something prior to inertia setting in. Prior to this Whole30 test, and upon getting home, we would either head to the gym or head out for a walk or sprint session. To do any of those took a bit of convincing for Anastasia, but we always consistently did something. However, during the course of this experiment, factors have dictated that we haven’t been able to get out and do much at all, compared to our usual routines. And even at weekends when we would make sure we would get out for at least a 2 hour hike, we haven’t been able to. We have had 6 hour road trips, airports, planes, and so on to contend with. So aside from the gym (and even there we missed a couple of sessions), our activity (including incidental activity and everything else that would contribute to NEAT) has REDUCED.

          Re: Your comment about the diet going “low-carb”… where did you derive that piece of information from? We don’t profess to be “low-carb” by any stretch of the imagination, at the best of times (of course we are lower carb compared to SAD fare, but not compared to real “low-carbers”). On the Whole30, glucose intake has INCREASED just by the shear volume of plant food we eat. There are lots of vegetables on our plates, we eat starches at most dinner meals, and we usually include fruit as part of every meal. Compared to our previous habits, carbohydrate has increased.

          Protein, particularly for Anastasia has increased. By thetime you add in a few nuts here and there (also part of the meal – not as snacks), and the breakfasts I make which include both meat and eggs, I actually think Anastasia is closer to 2g/kg of body weight – a good number I think for an active woman not eating a very high carbohydrate diet.

          As we treat vegetables as a vehicle for fat delivery, Anastasia’s fat intake has most definitely increased. Our primary fat sources are ghee, coconut oil, avocado oil, and there is always plenty of fat on the meat we eat – particularly the lamb and salmon.

          So add up the increase in carbohydrate, protein, and fat, assign your caloric values to them, and you most certainly have an increase in calorie intake. And you have this matched against a relative decrease in caloric expenditure. Yet body fat has decreased. Go figure.

          I have no doubt in my mind that her progress (far more dramatic than mine as the changes haven’t been as great for me on both the eating and training side), is hormonally driven. I have suspected her thyroid is a bit on the low end of the output spectrum, but her increased substrate intake has corrected this. There is a stimulus from heavier resistance work… growth hormone and sex hormones would be up. Leptin sensitivity has likely increased. Three meals without snacking has likely seen a small drop in insulin output, especially given the mixed macronutrient status of the meals. None of this has anything to do with a biologically non-existent concept called calorie balance.

          The problem that I have with “calories count” is that it can set people up for failure as they think that they can stuff their faces with low/zero-calorie foods, remain leptin and insulin resistant, and still lose weight.


          • Hi Jamie.

            I admit that I interpreted “wanting to collapse on the couch” as “I collapsed on the couch” as that was my experience.

            Re: The diet going “low-carb”: I got that from “I have been eating low carb/primal/Paleo for over 2.5 years now.”

            If people focus on calories and ignore food quality, I agree that they are likely to fail. I believe that everything counts.

            Cheers, Nige

          • Nigel, just to add to our discussion (which I think is actually very helpful). What I think we all agree on is the food QUANTITY counts. You (and many others) refer to that as “calories”. We will continue to argue with this statement because we believe that it’s a physical concept which has no applicability in a biological system. Can you overeat while eating Paleo-approved ingredients? Absolutely. Food quantity to us is regulated by approaching your meal as a MEAL. As I have alluded to in my post, people run into Quantity problems when they overeat nuts as snacks, or nut flour based products, or any other dessert/snack options which are technically still Paleo. Following the Whole30 Meal Template largely eliminates these problem: good piece of meat/fish, veggies and some fruit 3 times a day – and your quantity is taken care of. We also don’t think that Quantity trumps Quality due to the fact that everything we put in our mouths elicits some kind of hormonal response. Even a small amount of some foods can create an unfavorable metabolic milieu together with chronic inflammation. No amount of exercise or reducing your intake will undo that. Sounds like you also agree with that. Thank you for your comments.

  3. Thanks very much for the link to the “cellular carbohydrates” paper – very thought-provoking stuff. (And not just because I love sweet potatoes, although definitely *partly* because I love sweet potatoes…)

  4. Well done on your first W9SP workshop! I’m glad to see you’ve had another great experience with your Whole30! I have to say that I love that you are incorporating more strength training and adding in some deadlifts in your fitness regime! I started (competitive) powerlifting about 6-7 months ago and I love it! It’s pretty much the most awesome thing I’ve ever done (fitness-wise) and it has been the best way for me to stay focused and motivated at the gym.

    • Thanks Michelle! That sounds great, glad you are enjoying your training. I’ve always preferred body weight training to weights but now found great improvement in my overall strength that has transferred to gymnastics. Although of course, I am not even dreaming of being competitive 🙂 Hope to see you at our Melbourne gig.

  5. “3 eggs at 11g protein each = 33g (breakfast)”
    I thought that large eggs contained only about 6g of protein each (ie 11 or 12g per 100g); so perhaps you are eating slightly less protein than you think for breakfast?

    Anyway, the meals look delicious.

    • Valda, good pick up. I think I used the numbers per 100g instead of per egg. Although it actually doesn’t change the overall picture. As you see from the photo, I frequently eat meat with the eggs, sometimes add eggs to my lunch. 3 eggs only for breakfast is actually a rarity. I’ve plugged in a few different combinations of my usual daily food and consistently get between 1.5-1.8g protein per kg per day. As for deliciousness, I am lucky to have an amazing chef:)

      • And also amazing eggs, if the ones I had every morning for breakfast on a recent vacation in Australia were any indication. Maybe I was just eating in the right places, or maybe you folks treat your chickens way better than we in the US do, but since I’ve gotten back, I’ve only been able to buy the most ultra-organic eggs that Whole Foods sells, from pasture-raised bug-eating chickens, and it’s still not the same. Time to line up a more direct supply chain…

  6. I was jussssst saying the same thing “3 eggs at 11g protein each = 33g (breakfast)” …while they are very beautiful bright orange eggs, are they super eggs? I always thought eggs were 6-ish grams of protein each as well!

  7. Anastasia,
    I’m a bit confused now. In the post above you said:
    So now we plate out a portion of protein about 150-200g each and fill the white gaps on the plate with veggies and fruit. From which I take you are eating 150-200g protein x 3 meals (unless you are eating eggs).Then the section after talks about eating 100gms of protein a day.

    I work on (from a program I did in the past) that a palm serve of meat is about 100g. While I don’t weigh my food I do calculate how many meals I can get out from a trip to the butcher based on the 100gms per meal calculation. At around 100gms of meat in each meal am I eating way too much protein? I typically eat 3 eggs in a meal if that’s my protein but confused about meats now.

    Please help 🙂


    • Michelle, 100g of meat does NOT equate to a 100g of protein. For example, a 100g of fillet steak contains around 30g of protein. Other meats (chicken, fish, bacon) tend to contain less. My 150-200g portions contain between 30 and 40g of pure protein. 3 eggs (as I was corrected above) actually only adds up to 18g of pure protein. You either have the world’s smallest hands or you vastly underestimate your protein intake. 100g of protein-containing food (sorry, it gets a bit confusing here) is just enough if you are small in stature and not very active. Hope that clears it up.

  8. Hi Anastasia, you have a fan here in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. This was a very enjoyable post to read, love the “evil carbses” !
    Today is my birthday so I am willingly dropping strict paleo eating, and going out for BBq ribs washed down by my first beer in maybe a year, and followed by dessert at home…homemade truffles made with coconut milk and dark chocolate. I’ll get back in the saddle tommorrow.
    I love your sensible approach to diet, and your meals look incredible.

    Alll the best,

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