The Whole 30: Is It Really Worth The Anxiety?

Have you thought about trying the Whole 30? I gave it a try. Here’s why I quit after 10 days but didn’t feel like I failed. 

If you’ve heard of the Whole 30 or read anything about it, I suspect you’ve read a host of rave reviews about the life changing magic of cleaning up our eating habits. People rave about this fairly strict, 30 day meal plan, claiming it has drastic impacts on their life. I’m not suggesting any of those claims are false. Quite the contrary, in fact. But…

This is not that story.

On January 1, I started the Whole 30. I’ve read about it for three years (both personal stories and the founders’ series of three books: It Starts With Food, The Whole 30 Guidebook and The Whole 30 Cookbook). I marked up pages of recipes I liked and wanted to try, made a meal plan for the first two weeks and did all the requisite grocery shopping.

I’ve been looking forward to trying it and waiting for (what I thought) was the right time. I awaited the insights I would gain about my own eating habits and the changes I would feel in my body and my health about which everyone raved.

I knew it would be hard. But I really felt like I was prepared and knew what to expect. For the most part, I was right.

I Didn’t Finish But Don’t Write Me Off

Before the naysayers chime in, anyone who has completed the Whole 30 will likely discount my perspective because I didn’t finish. In part, that’s fair. But many of us try the Whole 30 for various reasons. I feel like I got out of it what I wanted in just the ten days that I tried it.

My digestion felt better, and I am fairly sure I know which foods to eliminate to continue that benefit. I garnered helpful insights about my relationship with chocolate (which was one of the main reasons I wanted to try it). I explored healthier alternatives to everyday ingredients like ghee, almond flour, and coconut milk. And I learned that serious healthy meal planning, for 21 meals a week, is a major time commitment.

I May Not Have Been the Best Whole 30 Candidate

With or without Whole 30, I don’t drink coffee. I rarely drink alcohol. I don’t eat much bread, pasta, or heavy grains. I eat healthy amounts of cheese but rarely drink milk and only occasionally eat yogurt or ice cream. I eat heavy-protein, grain-free breakfast (like eggs, Paleo bacon, and sausage) most mornings. I don’t have any serious health concerns, allergies, or circumstances that would likely be addressed by food. And my physical health is generally good.

All that being said, many others probably have more to gain from “cleaning up” their eating habits than me. I already had incorporated maybe 75% of the Whole 30 principles into my everyday eating habits. I had less to change and expected to experience fewer shifts in my health and wellness than some others. I thought that might make my 30 days easier.

In the end, I think it was one of the reasons I quit.

My Relationship With Chocolate

I had, or so I thought, a pretty serious addiction to chocolate. I ate it in some form every day, almost always before 2 or 3 in the afternoon. If not, I’d get a headache. On Day 1 of my Whole 30 experiment, that headache kicked in just as I expected. I indulged in some raisins instead of my normal chocolate fix, the headache passed in less than 20 minutes, and I never got another headache again.

One day. Done.

I realized my “addiction” to chocolate wasn’t as strong as I thought, and that actually provided me a lot of confidence to move forward knowing that a little bit of chocolate wouldn’t set me over the edge. Also, if I really wanted to kick my chocolate snacking habit, the headache wouldn’t last that long, so I could live with it for a bit and then move on.

Eight days after quitting my Whole 30 experiment, chocolate has re-entered my life. But I don’t crave it the way I used to. And a handful of raisins curbs my ‘chocolate craving’ quickly.

My Snacking Habit

It turns out I seem to have more of a snacking habit than a chocolate habit. The Whole 30 manifesto doesn’t really approve of snacking, but I did it anyway and chose healthier whole food snacks.

I also learned that some of my chocolate/snacking habits are triggered by frustration. I often found a challenging moment at my desk or an annoying email arriving in my inbox sparked a desire to head to my kitchen (I work from home) and eat something. I wasn’t hungry, but I wanted a distraction from the discontent.

This was particularly insightful, and it now makes me think twice about why I’m eating every time I wander from my desk to the kitchen. Am I really hungry? Or might a walk around my house, a minute to fold laundry, or doing a few dishes provide the same reprieve from the stress that stuffing my face would satisfy?

It Doesn’t Take Long To Feel How Wholesome Foods Feels Better

I didn’t need 30 days to prove to myself that eating wholesome, healthy foods (particularly excluding heavy but empty grains and voracious sugars) made me feel so much more satiated and full without feeling stuffed. In just a handful of days, this became quite evident.

Eating well feels good, not just as an accomplishment about which to be proud, but physically too. These feelings continue to influence the meals I choose to make and eat each day, even if I’m not rigidly sticking to all the Whole 30 rules.

Why I Quit the Whole 30

On my List of 100 Dreams, I wrote that I wanted to complete the Whole 30 and not each chocolate for one month. Even though I didn’t accomplish these tasks, I still feel like I achieved my ultimate goals. I wanted to learn the things I explained above about my eating habits, how my body reacts to certain foods, and my relationship with chocolate. Understanding that frustration is a snacking trigger for me was an unexpected and added bonus.

Others may not agree, but I don’t feel like I failed at all. For what it’s worth, I’m crossing these goals off my List of 100 Dreams. Whether “accomplished” or “no longer a priority”, they’re not goals anymore. I got out of the experiment what I expected and wanted.

I never planned to stick with strict Whole 30 rules forever. It’s not the intent of the founders’ strategy nor do I think it’s all that sustainable (especially with kids and without alienating family and friends). Because of the insight I gathered in the first ten days, I began to feel like I was restricting my eating just for the sake of restriction.

I’m sure I could have lost some weight or thinned out a bit more. I suspect some of the ‘non-scale victories’ the Whole 30 touts may have come to fruition for me. But none of it was worth the anxiety created by constant stress. I agonized over what I was going to eat. Getting to the grocery store yet again because we ran out of “Whole 30 compliant” options really bothered me. Throwing out the rest of my boys’ lunch because I ‘couldn’t eat it’ (which I normally include as part of my meal, because they’re so unpredictable about how much they eat from day to day) felt wasteful.

Taking My “Whole 10” With Me

Even though I didn’t love it, ten days proved enough to reinforce my expectation that eating more whole foods, and especially reducing sugar intake, makes me feel better and more satiated.

While the improvement, for me, didn’t warrant a drastic lifestyle change going forward, it definitely has continued to inform what I choose to eat. I eat more substantial and healthy lunches as opposed to relying on a collection of small snacks throughout the day to hold me over until dinner. I think more about including vegetables with each meal (which, admittedly, hasn’t ever been a strength of mine). And I generally eat less junk.

Food Really Does Make a Big Difference

In the end, I don’t think my Whole 30 project was more successful than anyone else who tries it (especially than those who finish all 30 days). That I noticed changes and learned so much for myself in just 10 days is a testament to how significant an impact eating habits can have on our lives. It speaks volumes about how much the Whole 30 really works, even if I don’t know the full extent of the success because I didn’t participate for a full month.

When we make a concerted effort to clean up our diets and pay more attention to how our bodies react, it’s pretty eye opening, even in just 10 days. While the trade-offs weren’t worth the benefits for me for an entire 30 days, I’m glad I tried it and learned what I did. Food really does make a big difference.

Cheers to better eating and more thoughtful meal selections, even if it’s not exactly Whole 30 compliant every single day.

Have you tried the Whole 30? Did you finish and how did it go? I’d love to hear about experiences from others.

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  1. I did try it! I started on 1/1/17. Today is 1/28/17. With two days to go here is what I have found. I stuck to the plan about 95%. I know I drank some Green Tea that may not have been “Whole 30” compliant. I am sure that the dried berries and some of the nuts that I put in the trail mix I made were not “Whole 30” compliant. But, I did stick to the plan for all meals.

    Here is what I found. Prior to doing the “Whole 30” my diet included a lot of dairy. I ate yogurt, cheese and crackers and drank a lot of milk. I did not eat a ton of chocolate but when I wanted just a little something sweet my go to was chocolate. I was not sure how I was going to make it through 30 days without drinking milk or having my “go to” chocolate snack.

    But, here I am 28 days later. No milk, yogurt or cheese for 28 days and I am still alive and feeling well. I even was out of town for 5 days with friends and resisted all the temptations…beignets’ from Café Du Monde in New Orleans and much more!

    Will I continue the “whole 30” diet after the 30 days…no. Will I change the way that I eat, yes but not completely. I will for sure reduce the amount of dairy that I eat on a daily basis. Reducing the amount of sugar in my diet has definitely made me feel better. I also noticed that prior to the “Whole 30” my protein intake was not the best. So, that will be one thing I will change.

    Another benefit of the “whole 30” was that I started using more coconut oil and EVOL to cook with. I am eating better breakfasts, am eating more balanced meals and am eating 3 healthy meals a day.

    So, in the end I would say it was worth the 30 day challenge and I have some great takeaways from my experience.

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