I’ve survived my Whole45. Now what?
I set out on this little nutritional adventure, hoping to improve and to learn. I would say that I have achieved both of these goals in some measure, in multiple respects… but not everything on this program went to plan, and there were definitely some unexpected outcomes as well.
This has been a long time coming, but what’s say we take a look back, and delve a little deeper into the what and the why of my Whole45. I’ll start by answering some of the FAQ:
What Is The Whole30?
I covered this waaaaaay back in the beginning, but for those of you who are new readers – or who could use a little refresher – here’s another quick overview. The Whole30 is a lifestyle program – a set of dietary, fitness and other health guidelines – creed by two wonderful folks, Dallas & Melissa Hartwig. They provide the details of the program and a tonne of additional content at their website (http://whole9life.com/), as well as some extra details and guidance in their book It Starts With Food. The program is built around the fundamental principles of Paleolithic nutrition. First and foremost, the focus is on the elimination of Neolithic foods (grains, legumes, dairy, vegetable oils, anything created in a laboratory). Also, we look to cut out foods that are *technically* quote-unquote Paleo, but are damaging or less-than-ideal in other respects (for instance, honey, or dried fruit). I could digress for hours about the ins and outs of the Whole30, but you’re probably best off getting it from the horse’s mouth, on the Hartwig’s website or from their book.
Here’s the bottom line: the Whole30 is 30 days of very strict Paleo eating, and other lifestyle modifications aimed at improving your physical and mental health and wellbeing.
How Did I Hear About It?
The Whole30 is quite popular in the Paleo-sphere. Virtually every Paleo blogger I follow has completed one (or more); if not, they at least have an opinion on the program and its principles. I’d heard quite a bit about it, via others’ thoughts and experiences, and always thought it sounded a bit too “out there” for me. However, I don’t think I fully understood the program and its philosophies until I read “It Starts With Food”. The online resources are amazing and very helpful, but it was the book that really solidified it for me.
Why Did I Do It?
Well, there’s the Edmund Hillary reason…
Seriously, though, there were a variety of motivating factors. Our move across the country, and several other simultaneous lifestyle upheavals, had left me bloated, tired, hungry, grumpy, and out of balance. The Whole30 seemed like a potential solution to all of those problems. Deeper than that, though: I was curious. I wanted to learn, in two key areas. First, I wanted to peek behind the Whole30 curtain, and find out what all the fuss was about. Second, I wanted to learn more about myself, physically and emotionally. Do I feel better with more or less protein? How do different foods affect me? How am I using food as an emotional crutch? Can I really survive a whole month without cheese? I approached the program as an experiment, that would produce data for me to evaluate. Whatever the outcome, it would not be good or bad – I could learn from anything and everything.
Kind of a nice philosophy for life, too, eh? :)
Was It Hard?
There were some aspects that were easier than I expected. There were some parts that were really fun. There were some things that became mere habit, and I”ll probably continue to do them without thinking about it.
But I’m not going to lie: it was H.A.R.D.
Did I Cheat?
Nope! I am proud to say that I remained entirely grain-, legume-, and dairy-free for the entire 45 days. There were days where I suppose I wasn’t entirely in the spirit of the Whole30: hard as it is to imagine, even a program as strict as the Whole30 has grey areas. There were days when I definitely had too much fruit, too many nuts, ate for reasons other than physical hunger, ate too much… Still, I don’t really consider any of those to be “slips”, per se. They were more like stretching a little, figuring out how far I could go.
So, yes, in sum: 100% compliance, for 45 whole days. Pat on my back, right?!?!
Did I Lose Weight?
I don’t want to go into too much detail about this just yet, as I would like to devote a whole post to it sometime soon. Suffice to say, no, I did not lose weight – I actually put on a couple of kilos.
Were There Any Benefits?
That said, I don’t feel that the benefits *I* gained from this experience were necessarily typical. Specifically, I feel as though the gains and improvements I got out of my Whole30 were more mental than physical.
Physically, I don’t feel like I made a tonne of progress. I did manage to get my sleep a bit more dialled in, which is fantastic; while I don’t think it was necessarily the nutritional changes that made the difference, the heightened body awareness and mindfulness that comes with a W30 was definitely the pivotal factor. In terms of fitness, while I took more rest days (which is more attributable to crazy life events than the W30 itself), when I did work out, I seemed to make more performance gains more quickly. More generally, I feel like I was fuelling my body better, in the sense that I was eating until satiated and staying satiated between meals, without snacking. This would also suggest that my blood sugar stabilised, without the crazy swings that I would otherwise have been experiencing.
Mentally, it was a whole different ballgame. This is where I feel the value of my W45 really lies. I learnt a lot about my relationship with food, and my relationship with my body. The Whole30 protocol forced me to be brave (see: blueberry liver), it forced me to be creative (see: any number of meals thrown together using a mishmash of leftovers), it forced me to listen to my body and figure out what it needed, even if that was a royal pain in the behind (see: FODMAPs elimination). I learned that nuts (specifically cashews) are dangerous territory for me psychologically. I learned that I don’t need to have fruit everyday. I learned to live without a dessert or treat every night. Instead, I rewarded myself by writing this blog (which I love), making notes on the things I am grateful for, reading, and talking to loved ones. I feel like I’ve at least partially overcome my reliance on Paleo-ified treats, like I’ve gained some perspective on what a “sometimes” food actually is.
Were There Any Negatives?
Well, duh! Any type of elimination protocol is going to have sucky parts. I missed cheese. I missed honey. I delayed the start of every meal to take photographs of it, specially for you all :)
But aside from those minor inconveniences, there were a few more substantial downsides too. I didn’t achieve what I set out to achieve as quickly as I expected – thus, my extension from 30 days to 45. It took me a while to “find my balance” – indeed, I would argue that I still hadn’t got myself 100% dialled in even after 45 days. It was a lot harder to eat “on the go” (in the sense of finding easily portable sources of protein that wouldn’t go gnarly in my handbag). It was frustrating at times to explain why I was eating this way, why I wasn’t crazy for doing so, why I didn’t just “live a little”. I didn’t eat a single meal that I didn’t prepare myself, with my own hands and my own ingredients, for the entire 45 days. I had many a meltdown in supermarket aisles, trying to find olives that were actually stored in olive oil or deli meats that only contained actual meat. I experienced bouts of guilt over seemingly innocuous foods – nuts and fruit being the key culprits; I guess the Whole30 alerted me to an orthorexic-type mentality I wasn’t aware I had. I also had some physical side-effects that were a little odd, and a little disheartening (given that the Whole30 is supposed to catapult you to a state of perfect physical health and all); these led to the temporary elimination of FODMAPs, and caused quite a bit of stress. I’ll admit, I spent a good deal of time feeling “defective”, panicked that I wasn’t “doing it right”, that this would all be for nothing.
That seems like quite the list of negatives, now that I look over it; I do hope I’m not painting too bleak a picture. To be fair, I also underwent a few more life upheavals and existential crises above and beyond nutrition and fitness during this time, so that definitely contributed to the emotional highs and lows I experienced. In sum, I feel that the experience was positive. Besides, each of these “negatives” entailed important lessons, which in themselves added great value to my Whole30 experience. So, it wasn’t that bad, in the end :)
I think that might do for Part I of this recap – I don’t want to put you all to sleep! I do have a lot of thoughts and ideas floating around in the ol’ noggin, so I’ll be sure to start jotting them down and bring you Part II a.s.a.p. Meanwhile, if you have any questions, or any stones you think I’ve left unturned, please do let me know!
Had you heard about the Whole30 prior to reading my blog? Have you ever completed one? What were your positives/negatives? Did you get what you set out to get from the experience?