One doctor’s take on Whole30: when the Magic doesn’t happen

I can’t take any credit for today’s post. Pam, a general practitioner from Wellington, NZ, has shared her recent Whole30 experience with Jamie and myself, and then kindly allowed me to make it public. We first got in contact with Pam via Twitter a few months ago. A New Zealand based doctor who is vocal about being anti-grain, anti-sugar and pro-real food? Yes, please, we are very interested! I don’t even know how she went from being from a voiceless Twitter handle to a huge part of our “kiwi Paleo gang” (not entirely sure how a Russian-born Australian got invited there either but they tell me it’s a privilege). Pam is 47 years young and her voice is loud and uncompromising. I have been greatly entertained and awestruck watching her take on conventional nutritionists, media and medical authorities, all in a 140 character format. When Jamie and I announced Whole9 South Pacific she became one of our most staunch supporters. It was only a matter of time before we convinced/coerced her into doing a Whole30. I found her insights particularly compelling because it was not all fireworks and champagne. Her motivation is to improve health, prevent becoming hypertensive and diabetic (yes, believe it or not, doctors worry about this too!). Here is her story.

My Whole30 roundup – When the Magic doesn’t happen

I am learning.  Learning to be patient. Learning to have realistic expectations. And learning to appreciate the value of small changes. I have learned that it’s ok not to experience the ‘magic’ that many other people do when they make purposeful changes to their lifestyles. It is hard not to feel disappointed or that you have been rather unsuccessful when you constantly read of these ‘magic’ stories and personal epiphanies. That is the nature of the beast. People crow unashamedly about their great achievements. And so they should. They have done the work. They should be proud of their achievements and we should share in their success. They inspire others to give change a go. I am happy for them. Really I am.

But what of those who put their very best efforts in and don’t experience that ‘magic’. I am sure there are as many or more who land up in this place. But they are not shouting from the ‘comments’ or ‘discussions’.  What happens to them?  I suspect many give up and slink quietly back to their old habits feeling as if they have failed yet again. I’ve been there. Many times.  Not any more. Part of the reason is that I have accepted reality. There is no ‘magic’ for most people. So, what would have been the ‘magic’ for me? Despite trying to convince myself otherwise, a dramatic weight loss would have been my magic. I didn’t start with health problems that others have had to suffer with. Gluten and dairy didn’t mess with me. I had no autoimmune issues. Just too much body fat. So I guess I could say I had /have hormonal issues! What I did learn was that even if there is no magic, there is hope. And there is certainty that you can become healthier.

My ‘aha’ moment occurred about 9 months ago. A chance comment at a random moment piqued my curiosity. With the world of information at my finger tips I could Google, follow links and find any information I wanted. I could formulate questions and find answers. I found the pathway to the truth about dieting, health and weight loss. I found amazing people and I also found out about the lies, politics, egos and money which have ruled the information about diet and health on which the average person relies on for better health. Information gives you knowledge. Knowledge is power.

So what the heck has all this got to do with Whole30? You may be wondering. It has everything to do with my Whole30. You own your own Whole30. I owned my Whole30 and because of this I got through the 30 days (and continuing on).

Whole30 was one of many plans/programs/guides that I came across. When Whole9SouthPacific put out the challenge and fronted the charge to lead by example, I made the decision to take up the challenge too. The time was right and the challenge was right. I had been eating pretty clean for 8 months. Too clean to bother with Whole30? Maybe, maybe not. In my head I decided to commit. Although the challenge was for January I made the decision to delay starting until after our holiday when I could be fully in control of my environment. We were going to stay with friends and I felt it would not be right to be too picky about everything I could and couldn’t eat ‘because it’s not Whole30’. That didn’t mean that I didn’t come pretty close to adhering most of the time.

Holiday over, time to start. My weight had not changed much for 2-3 months. Maybe up a kilo over Christmas/ New Year and holiday. I wasn’t expecting miracles but I was hoping for at least a small change in direction and getting off the stalled weight loss. In order to become totally Whole30 I needed to quit dairy (had already reduced a lot), no alcohol – not too difficult, no coke zero (a bit more challenging). I had already quit bread and wheat as well as other grains many months before. So that was the ‘leave out’ bit.

Whole30 was also about ‘adding in’ – more food and more meals. I was eating very low carb, not eating even starchy vegetables. I started adding in some pumpkin and sweet potato. I also added in occasional fruit as I had not been eating any for months. And it was berry season. I had to put more effort into having 3 meals a day. I was used to skipping breakfast at times. Sometimes because I just wasn’t hungry and other times just because I didn’t have time. My egg intake soared. Spinach became my ‘go to vegetable’ – I added it to everything where I needed more on my plate.

I didn’t find it particularly difficult to complete the Whole30. I made sure I wasn’t hungry. I also made sure I always had some compliant foods to grab if I was hungry coming home at meal times. A stash of ready boiled eggs, homemade mayo and salad greens made sure I had no excuse to eat the wrong things.

So what did I get from Whole30?

  • I lost about 3kg. I am sure that had I gone from SAD to Whole 30 directly I would have lost double that (the double bit being water loss). I think my clothes loosened fractionally.
  • I don’t miss my wine. I seldom really feel like my latte coffees. Black is fine (as long as it’s not too strong).
  • I am absolutely fine eating more vegetable sourced carbohydrates – very low carb is not necessary for me.
  • Bread does not have a hook out for me. The trick is not to be hungry – making sure I eat enough.
  • I think about sweet things less often and they are less tempting.

Perhaps a lot of this resilience to reverting to SAD food is pure willpower because I feel so strongly that I have to avoid unhealthy food to prevent future health problems. But maybe there is a biochemical change that has occurred and that I really have a true lessening of desire for those foods. Probably a bit of both.

The only Whole30 ‘rule’ I broke was the scales one. I make no apologies. This was MY Whole30 and I had to make it work for ME. I get why the rule is there but for me it wasn’t going to work. In the past when I have lost the scales it has started the slippery slope back to weight gain. I realised that I might not lose weight so I wasn’t too stressed about that. But there was no way I was going to contemplate gaining. I didn’t weigh myself every day. I weighed here and there, maybe 2-3 times a week and in a random fashion. It helped me knowing that despite eating well I was not creeping up the scales. After close tracking of weight for 8 months I can recognise the fact that weight loss is both slow and definitely not a straight-line graph. It is an alpine graph with lots of ups and downs but the overall gradient slopes downwards.

The direct and indirect support of the cyber-community has reinforced my awareness of why I need to stick to the plan. My own knowledge growth has made me realise that having knowledge is only part of the plan. It’s up to me to do the very best I can for my own health. Whole30 provides the rudder, its up to me to steer the ship. The pathway doesn’t have to be straight and narrow but if I lose the rudder, the ship will loose its way. The tighter I steer the more stable the ship.

My message: If you don’t feel the magic, don’t give up. Your health depends on following a real food template for the rest of your life. Give yourself years before you decide real food doesn’t make a difference. Your future health is not measured in days or months.

PS: there are no ‘before’ and ‘after’ photos. It’s not what you look like that tells you whether you are healthy or not. There is so much more to health than a picture. For me the pictures do not speak a thousand words.

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7 thoughts on “One doctor’s take on Whole30: when the Magic doesn’t happen

  1. Nice Pam, and probably reflects how most go through the whole30, the gushing stories become a bit tiresome, and its refreshing to read a rational reflection of how it was for you. And for the most part echoes my own experience last year. For what its worth, whether a result of whole30 or not, when we caught up the other day there wasn’t anything that didn’t radiate health about you.

  2. Great read, thank you for writing about your experience! I’ve been 80% ‘paleo’ for a few months now and when I started I did one month without grains, refined sugar and fruit. I lost 3.5kg which for me was a big deal (being 29, and finding it very hard to lose body fat). Since then I’ve eaten pretty clean (apart from a few days around Christmas/NY), did my version of the Whole30 (finished last Monday) and saw no major results. The only positive being that I’m now finally quite in tune with how food makes me feel (yay!). Which I think is hugely powerful. But what I’ve learnt, is that no matter how clean or carefully we eat, if there’s a lot of issues already going on with our overall health, and in particular our gut health, one month of eating cleanly isn’t going to fix all of our problems and make us feel amaaaazing. I have a history of parasites, food intolerences, etc. So, if I compare myself to another person undertaking a Whole30 (or similar) program, who doesn’t have the issues I have, our results may be very different. They may feel super sensational afterwards. I, may not.
    I’ve really learnt that it’s awesome to do a Whole30 or 21 Day Detox and start the cleaning process and to remove some key foods from the diet for overall better health but that it’s also crucial to look at your own individual current state of health, and to eat and move the way you need to for YOU. A Whole30 didn’t work for me, so I need to do something more specific.
    That’s where I’m at right now.
    I love that people are using programs like Whole30 and moving into cleaner eating and more awareness of food and the effect it has on their body. But if someone ‘fails’ a program like that, it shouldn’t deter them, but should spur them on to keep digging until they find the ultimate food combination for their own optimal health.
    Thanks for reading my ramblings!!! Aimee 🙂

  3. The Whole30 certainly produces a different result if you’re already most of the way there; eating low carb. Like you, Pam, I lose about 3kg over the month and I’m 62 so a lot older than you. I particularly like the rudder analogy – that’ll stick in my mind!
    For me the two main strengths of Whole30 are the habit changing ones of no snacking and no weighing.
    Thanks for sharing your Whole30. It’s the most important one I’ve read, because I think it reflects what most people experience and it focuses in on improved health as the important goal. The rest follows – slowly, as you say!

  4. I suspect that the ‘magic’ is similar to the same drama you see in TV shows. The only analogy I can think of is war movies. I hate them, but people love them because they are packed full of action and drama….the ‘magic’. The reality is that magic occurred in between weeks, if not months, of utter utter boredom and fear. Thus, when you write a blog post you are condensing all your findings into a short piece of writing, you are editing out the boring parts and making an action piece. I could talk about how the paleo diet cured my Thallasemia etc and for the first time in my life my iron count was not just normal but above average. When I read that it sounds amazing, but I still don’t feel that ‘magic’ as you say.

    Secondly, I would like to add I am a Kiwi myself. I am currently living in Newfoundland, Canada. I have lived in North America since I got my PhD in 2007 (with some time at home). I study behavioural ecology at a university here. In my work, I actually see a number of interesting insights in the way animals forage, and comparative physiology, and us humans and our whacky diets compared to our paleolithic past. Anyway, I originally had a blog back in 2009 on paleo called Darwins Table. I guess like you when the magic didn’t happen I gave up. I have subsequently come to an understanding on paleo, and how it fits with my life, and so I am losing weight again..although slowly, and documenting it on a new website but still Darwins Table (part II).

    • I’m so pleased you’re back blogging Dan. Wondered often what happened to you, so thanks for the up-date.

    • Hey Dan, welcome back. I remember having a look at your blog a few years ago, good to see you writing again. You are right, people see and crave dramatic results, we are all guilty of this to a certain extent. I also found that many of us got so invested in the science of it all that we lost the original premise of simple ancient food. Being able to access the latest papers, latest studies, get stuck in analyzing every little bit, a bit of biohacking – all this has the opportunity to derail by giving a way out, by seeding doubt. “Paralysis by analysis”, if you like. Would love to know how you go with your Whole30 and I will definitely keep an eye on Darwin’s Table.

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