It's working in at least one of the ways it's supposed to work.
Now let's unpack that.
I decided to try Whole30 after reading the full intro to The Whole30 on my sister's suggestion. I'd always said that I didn't want to know if I could feel better by changing my diet; I felt well enough and didn't want to sacrifice anything in the quest for feeling my best. But, in the last few months, I'd been having trouble maintaining my weight (which was already 60 pounds higher than it should be) despite my eating/exercise habits not worsening, and I was feeling generally pretty yucky. I actually had a meltdown about it to my mom in the lingerie section of Nordstrom a few weeks before my birthday. She shook her head really sadly and said, "Oh, Betsy. This is what happens when you turn 30. I am so sorry."
So when I read the below in the Whole30 manifesto, I decided it was worth a try:
Certain food groups (like sugar, grains, dairy and legumes) could be having a negative impact on your health and fitness without you even realizing it.
Strip them from your diet completely... Let your body heal and recover from whatever effects those foods may be causing. Push the “reset” button with your metabolism, systemic inflammation, and the downstream effects of the food choices you’ve been making. Learn once and for all how the foods you’ve been eating are actually affecting your day to day life, and your long term health.
That makes a lot of sense to me. (I imagine it makes a lot of sense to a lot of people, which is why so many have jumped on the bandwagon!) I know what a nutritionist would tell me about what's healthy and productive to eat, but everyone's body is different and, as I was discovering, what had worked for my body clearly wasn't anymore. I thought Whole30 could help me figure out how it felt to cut out sugar, grains, dairy, and legumes, and then how I'd feel once I added each back in again.
Long story short - well, no, it's already pretty long; sorry about that - I feel great. After the first few days, during which I felt almost hungover, I started sleeping better, feeling less bloated, and staying clearer through the day. I've also noticed I'm not as hungry as often as I had been outside of mealtimes.
When I've heard people talk about having a hard time with their Whole30, it seems like it's often because they didn't really mealplan or do a lot of homecooking before starting the program. Jon and I do both regularly, so there wasn't really a lifestyle adjustment there. Also, I drink my coffee black anyway, so I didn't have to suffer through mornings the way people who add milk do, and I've never liked soda.
I did feel at the beginning like I was eating a lot of fat, but I think some of that worry was an emotional hold-over from when I did Weight Watchers. (A quarter of an avocado is 4 Smartpoints; I've been eating half an avocado a day almost every day.) I also felt like I was eating way too much protein and meat - but, again, it was my mind having that feeling, not my body.
The biggest change for me has been that I'm snacking much less. The ideal for Whole30 is that you eat three meals a day at normal times and that's it, which just isn't always possible with my schedule, but I haven't grazed at all since I started the program. There's really nothing you can graze on - roasted almonds or fruit salad, I guess, but it's hard to eat them mindlessly in the way that I would eat chips or sweets. Plus, because I have to pack almost everything I'm going to eat during the day before I leave my apartment in the morning, I can't be tempted to just run out and grab something from somewhere near my office.
On the website, Melissa Hartwig talks about the "hungry or craving" test:
Ask yourself, “Am I hungry enough to eat steamed fish and broccoli?” (Or hard-boiled eggs, or a grilled chicken breast…) If the answer is yes, go eat! If it’s, “No, but I’d eat an apple with Sunbutter or an RxBar” then you’re just having a craving—time for distraction.
Being on Whole30 enforces that test in a way that I wasn't able to by myself beforehand, not even when I was on Weight Watchers. (Laurel commented, "I think the benefits are both physical and mental. I learned a lot about myself and my willpower.") But it also gets us to the part of the program that I didn't sign on for - the part that hopes to "change the way you think about food... [and] change the emotional relationship you have with food and with your body."
My Instagram friend Tania pointed out that Whole30 can "amplify disordered eating patterns," and I totally agree. It would be really easy for someone who has struggled with managing food restrictions, compulsions, and/or obsessions to slip back into severely unhealthy habits through this program. And while Melissa does counsel "Follow the rules, but don’t self-impose perfection," the Whole30 manifesto instructs us to:
Cut out all the psychologically unhealthy, hormone-unbalancing, gut-disrupting, inflammatory food groups for a full 30 days.
There are very few foods that can absolutely be called "psychologically unhealthy," and the fact that this phrase is being applied without qualification to sugar, grains, dairy, and legumes makes me really uncomfortable. Milk is not psychologically unhealthy. A bagel is not psychologically unhealthy. Lentils are not psychologically unhealthy. Hell, even wine and chocolate aren't unequivocally psychologically unhealthy. If they are for you, you need more help (and, in my untrained opinion, possibly actual medical help) than Whole30 can provide.
This mindset really turns me off the program. It's partially why I haven't gotten into Whole30-friendly blogs or social media accounts - the ones I've seen are a little too dogmatic on the psychological side for me. It's also why I shake my head when people say they're eating a "mostly" Whole30 diet. As far as I understand it, if you choose a food that isn't Whole30 compliant over one that is, you're not doing Whole30. So if you usually-but-not-always make Whole30 compliant choices, it just means you're just eating conscientiously. And that should be good enough.
Basically, halfway through, I look at Whole30 like I look at therapy: if it works, you won't need to do it regularly after the program is over; you just might need to go back in for tune-ups if you start to forget what you'd learned or you need another reset.
But ask me again how I feel in two more weeks, once I've made it to 30!
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Comments are open on this post.