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.
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.
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:
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.
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?
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 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!
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:
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?
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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:
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.