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    I Did The Whole30 Food Challenge And Lived To Tell The Tale

    And you can too, PROBABLY!

    Hi and hello! My name is Lara, and although I generally try to eat pretty healthy, I definitely have a weakness for chocolate, Trader Joe's burritos, and Flamin' Hot Cheetos.

    Lara Parker

    Like many of you with a Facebook account, I’ve been seeing my friends participate in this #Whole30 lifestyle-change thing for MONTHS now, and have always thought about what it would be like to do it on my own.

    @slssantos / Via

    In case you don't know all about it, Whole30 is kind of like the biggest elimination diet short of just eating lettuce every day. The idea is that your body will stop craving the "bad" stuff like sugar, etc. It will change your taste entirely, and could change your relationship to food altogether. The rules of Whole30 are as follows:

    Houghton Mifflin Harcourt / Via

    * No dairy.

    * No alcohol!!! (Not even for cooking, you sneaky humans.)

    * No grains.

    * No legumes aka beans, and definitely not any peanuts.

    * No carrageenan, MSG, or sulfites. (I didn't know either, but basically start learning to read your labels.)

    * NO added sugar of any kind (besides, like, fruit lol)

    * No re-creating guilty pleasures, like cupcakes, etc. Sorry. I was pissed about this, too. But I didn't make these rules.

    * And absolutely no stepping on the scale!

    There's a book you can buy that can help you with all of this, which I did buy, but have yet to open TBQFH because the internet exists.

    Because I suffer from chronic pain, I was really curious whether completely changing my diet to this extreme for a full 30 days would actually help me feel better.

    Lara Parker

    Or should I just continue to eat chocolate and bread 4ever because I've already suffered enough? Plus, god knows I've been through enough elimination diets.

    So, more than 30 days ago, after giving it a lot of thought, I decided to say FUCK IT and just do it. My chronic pain in the past couple of months had become, well, more chronic and more painful. I was feeling helpless. I'd tried just about everything there was to try, but I'd never done a diet-like program that was this extreme. So, being at the end of my rope, I figured, what the hell?

    Lara Parker

    The creators of Whole30 like to say that it isn't hard. In fact, they go on a little rant about how there are hard things in life but this isn't one of them, to which I say...please shut up. Because quite honestly...completely changing your lifestyle in 30 days? It is hard. And don't let anyone tell you differently. But that doesn't mean it isn't possible. It doesn't mean there aren't harder things in life. It just means that it IS hard, and it will definitely take some work on your part.

    Things I recommend doing before starting:

    # Eat all the groceries/food you have in your house so that you don't waste money/food.

    # Convince someone to do it with you. It makes it SO much easier, especially if that person lives with you.

    # Look at your calendar and make sure you don't have any friends/family coming into town or some sort of vacation because you will absolutely not be able to stick with it.

    # Start researching recipes that sound OK to you — maybe even go as far as finding some that sound GOOD!

    # Then MEAL-PLAN YOUR ASS OFF. I created a spreadsheet for each week with recipes for each meal and snacks listed for each day, which truly saved my life.

    Days 1–10

    Lara Parker

    I truly do not know how I did not quit before Day 10. For the first seven days of this experiment I felt like absolute TRASH. According to the ~official~ timeline, feeling less than great is semi-normal. But what I was feeling was not normal. I was so bloated I couldn't even wear yoga pants. I was miserable. It took me a while to figure out that I have an egg and almond butter intolerance. I was eating eggs every morning because I didn't really know what the hell else to eat and I was tired as hell and eggs were easy and delicious. And of course I was eating almond butter because I was dying for something even resembling sweetness. WHO KNEW that seemingly healthy things could still upset my body? Not me.

    So after Day 7, I completely removed eggs and almond butter from my diet and by Day 10 I was finally able to breathe without wanting to cry. But it felt like starting completely over with even more restrictions. So while my boyfriend enjoyed his fluffy eggs every morning, I ate my turkey bacon and pouted.

    Days 10-15

    Twitter: @laraeparker

    Because the first couple of days were such a disaster, getting through Days 10–15 was a battle to get myself to continue. I kept telling myself, If you don't start feeling better soon, you can stop. You don't have to do this. But I didn't stop. I knew that if I stopped I would have to tell my boyfriend and my parents and friends. And to me, it felt like losing. So even though I felt like a 16-day-old hot pile of garbage, I kept going. I had headaches, I was exhausted, I was bloated, I wanted chocolate. But I wanted to stick it out just to see. During Days 10–15, I discovered cashew butter and truly it changed my life. (Since almond butter had practically ruined it.)

    But I also started experiencing PMS symptoms. I was supposed to start my period during this time, but it was so, so late. It seemed like my PMS food cravings were the absolute worst they had ever been. And since my periods are generally so bad, I genuinely didn't know if I was going to make it. I felt like if I didn't have something sweet and salty, I might actually die. I'm dramatic, who cares. But hey, guess what? I didn't die. And I made it.

    Days 15-20 (MY PERIOD)

    I was absolutely terrified to get my period, as I always am, because for me, period = not being able to leave bed. The first thing I noticed about my period this month after changing my diet was that my PMS symptoms came in about five days early and stayed foreveerrrrrr. My period was six days late, which is unusual to say the least. And once it came? I can barely type it or believe it, but it was the easiest period I've had in about two years. Not that it was easy — I still stayed home, lying in bed all day. But I was able to sit up, I was able to eat. I wasn't vomiting or hoping I would pass out soon to avoid the pain. I was able to be a half-functioning human, and that is absolutely incredible. I obviously don't have proof or a study to back up the fact that this helped my endometriosis pain, I only have what I experienced.

    The lessened pain this month made the bloating and headaches from before worth it — mostly. The hardest part was saying no to my cravings. I would've killed for some chocolate or a piece of bread. Being on your period while trying to avoid bread and sugar is the ultimate test. BUT I DID IT, and felt better because of it. I'm pretty convinced that I could improve my symptoms every month by keeping with this lifestyle change, which is part of the reason I kept going!

    Days 20–25

    PSA: DO NOT GO ON A WEEKEND TRIP WHILE TRYING TO PARTICIPATE IN WHOLE30. Learn from my mistakes. During Days 21–24, my family was vacationing in northern Minnesota and I hadn't been on a family vacation in years, so I bought last-minute tickets and packed a shit ton of LaraBars. But, like with many family vacations, we ate almost every meal out, and my god it was hard. Harder than I ever thought it would be. Do you know how hard it is to order a plain old grilled meat and veggies at restaurants in northern Minnesota? It's hard. Do you know what's harder? GOING TO A DAMN RESTAURANT FAMOUS FOR THEIR PIES AND NOT ORDERING A PIECE OF PIE.

    I don't even like pie. At least, I thought I didn't. But all of sudden on Day 24, I felt like if I didn't taste a bite of turtle coconut pie, I might cease to exist. Also, shout-out to my family for ordering pie anyway and eating it in front of me. I'll never forgive you. Just kidding, it's fine. I made it through!! I DIDN'T CHEAT! But I sure as hell wanted to. Making it through this family vacation without intentionally breaking Whole30 by eating candy or junk food or pie was like the most rewarding moment in my life. Forget college graduation, give me Day 24 of Whole30 and not eating pie when everyone around you is.

    The END: Days 25–30

    Somehow, I thought these would be the easiest days. And while it was definitely easier than the first five because I was accustomed to the lifestyle, I was just so damn tired of it. I kept thinking, Wow I really wish I could just go out for a glass of wine right now. I would've given anything to just get a small cup of Pinkberry frozen yogurt. It wasn't so much that I missed the food — though I did, especially Flamin' Hot Cheetos — it was that I missed being social. It was nearly impossible to go to a restaurant and order something off the menu short of steamed veggies or chicken, and even that was a gamble. I was basically stuck in my apartment for an entire month and that was the part I could NOT wait to be done with.

    This is also the only time I found myself not constantly feeling hungry. I am a HUGE snacker, but there are only so many LaraBars a girl can eat in a day. During the last six days or so, I found that I mainly only wanted to eat when it was a mealtime. And when Day 30 finally came and I realized that in a few short hours I was free to eat whatever I wanted, I felt lost. Like, I had no idea what to eat for breakfast or lunch, so I just ate what I had been eating the past 30 days, and it felt fine. And after Day 30, I kept making the recipes and following the rules like I had been all along. It felt too weird to stop after all of that. So while I allowed myself to have freedom, I didn't really take it.

    I cooked every day for 30 days, and I really enjoyed cooking for the first time in my life. Here are some of my favorite recipes:

    Mexican Chicken Stir Fry

    Sweet C Designs
    Lara Parker

    This recipe is so, so great because you can take the base and change a little detail here and there to make it completely your own. I mixed up the seasoning and the veggies constantly, and still enjoyed eating it every time. Also? It takes like 10 minutes to make. What's not to love?

    Cauliflower Fried Rice

    Kelsey Preciado / Little Bits Of
    Lara Parker

    If you consider doing Whole30, BUY COCONUT AMINOS! It's a fake soy sauce that has nothing not Whole30 compliant in it but still somehow tastes good. It saved my life, probably. I made this fried "rice" at least twice a week and I'm still not sick of it. I used to cut the cauliflower by hand until I realized that life was too short to be miserable and bought this affordable food processor. It changed my damn life, I swear. Obviously since eggs are the devil incarnate, I left them out, but if your stomach can handle eggs, throw them in and you'll think you're at your favorite restaurant.

    In Sonnet's Kitchen
    Lara Parker

    All right, first of all, I am very sorry that my food picture is so ugly. I don't understand how anyone makes spaghetti squash look good. It really never looks good, but it TASTES good, which is pretty much all that matters to me. I wouldn't make this all the time simply because it takes me so damn long to cut open a spaghetti squash and about 45-50 minutes to actually bake the damn thing, but it's perfect for a night when you have time and want some comfort food. It was surprisingly easy to find a tomato sauce that was Whole30 approved. I wasn't sure how I felt about the texture of the squash "noodles" at first, but honestly, they grow on you, and I barely even miss pasta now. (That's a lie.)

    Curry Thai Meatballs

    Lara Parker

    It's really, really hard to believe that these are Whole30 approved. I mean, they're really freaking good??!! And they taste like you're doing something wrong...BUT YOU AREN'T! They are also supppppeeer easy to make and took me about 30 minutes in total. Anything that takes less than 45 minutes is a win for me. And the cleanup was so easy. I'm probably making these again tonight, and you should too.

    Blueberry Muffin Energy Bars

    The Healthy Maven
    Lara Parker

    Oh my GOD, these are so good. They are literally just mini LaraBars, and I love making them. I made them several times using different dehydrated fruits...cherries, apples, you name it. The blueberry is definitely my favorite, but — hot tip! — unless you find vanilla extract with no alcohol added, you have to use a vanilla bean to remain #Whole30.

    Banana Ice Cream

    The Coconut Mama
    Lara Parker

    OK, by far my favorite recipe, even though it's barely a recipe since all you do is process frozen bananas and a nut butter of your choice together. I make this all the time. I'm not sure if that's frowned upon, but I also could not care less. This was my saving grace in the last 10 days. I felt like I needed something sweet and creamy, and this tastes exactly like ice cream. I still can't fully believe that it doesn't have any dairy in it. Sometimes if I'm feeling naughty I'll add in frozen cherries or blueberries and my god. I'm salivating. It's very good, that's it. Make it. Or don't. But make it.

    Things I learned:

    Lara Parker

    1. Even when I was done with my 30 days, I didn't want to stop eating the way I had been. I never thought that would happen. But on day 31, we had my FAVORITE pizza place in the office for lunch and I ate half a piece of gluten-free and then got a salad instead?!?!?!?

    2. Guilt follows you. Even though I know a cookie isn't going to kill me, knowing how much better I felt WITHOUT sugar makes it nearly impossible to even consider eating a bite-size candy. I don't know who I am anymore.

    3. Do not go hard for a "cheat meal" after you're done. You WILL get sick. Take it slow and for god's sake, pace yourself. I'm talking VOMIT.

    4. Some people can't digest eggs. I am one of those people.

    5. I ate a cupcake five days post-Whole30 and woke up the next day with four new pimples. SUGAR AND STUFF = PIMPLES.

    6. Everything in the world has sugar in it. EVEN SOME OF MY VITAMINS.

    7. Eating this way made me a better person, in the sense that I was in a better mood (after Day 15) and woke up most mornings without feeling completely exhausted.

    8. Changing my diet made my period cramps lighter.

    9. It takes a long time to quit sugar. I still haven't. I still crave it.

    10. BUT, after not eating sugar for 30 days, trying to eat a cupcake tastes like you're drinking a gallon of sugar with icing on top. I mean it's so goddamn sweet.

    11. The hardest part about Whole30 is honestly missing out on social activities. The rest is hard at first, but gets easier when you realize you feel better than you ever have before.

    12. Eating clean is not cheap. Meat is not cheap. Organic things with no additives and preservatives are not cheap. But since I wasn't eating out AT ALL, my spending actually went down a little bit in the 30 days.

    13. You can do anything you set your mind to.

    And, like with everything, if you are considering trying out Whole30 or a similar diet, check with your doctor! This is just my experience and it could vary drastically for everyone.

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