Keeping it Wholesome: The Finish Line!

I made it—I officially completed Whole30. I spent a month cooking for myself, staying away from dairy, grains, legumes, added sugar, alcohol, etc., and trying to become more regular in my eating habits and schedule. While it’s been an admittedly long 30 days, I am actually pretty proud of myself for undertaking this, and it has had an overall positive impact on me.

How do I feel?

The program promises a lot of things—more energy, less pain and other health problems, clearing of mental fog, less cravings, etc.—and a lot of it seemed too good to be true. But, in all honesty, I do feel more energetic and focused. I feel more excited about the foods that I make for myself to eat, and I feel like I have picked up some good habits (ex. avoiding excessive midnight snacks—which used to be like a second dinner to me). I have started working out again after months, and while I’m still struggling with some mental health concerns that are weighing me down emotionally, I do feel more focused in class and while working. Also, I had ZERO (0) cramps this month, which rarely happens to me, so that was a big plus. While losing weight was something I did not solely want to focus on, I did have it in mind. My clothes are fitting better, I feel more confident, and I don’t need a “weight goal” to be happy. I still am following the rule of not weighing myself because I’m realizing that the number on a plastic scale cannot fully convey how I feel, and I feel great!

Tips and tricks

These are ways that I modified my Whole30 to make it work for me and how I utilized the resources I had:

  1. Do lots of research if you plan on undertaking this! Figure out recipes, strategies and options that work for you. Learn the jargon! There are lots of materials online from the official website to forums to articles, and, if you have time, you can read the official book. Make sure you are getting your info from reliable sources—there’s a LOT of misinformation in the food and health world!

  2. Instead of buying a bunch of vegetables, which can be expensive, I would fill up a to-go container at the dining hall with raw veggies and use those later in my cooking. I also stocked up on fruit and other things that I could easily take back.

  3. In the dining hall, I reached for foods that were minimally processed like salad, vegetables (raw and cooked), oil and vinegar instead of salad dressing, etc., and grilled or steamed meats (sometimes I was not 100 percent sure whether the chicken or tuna or whatever they had that day was 100 percent compliant, but they were at least the closest thing there).

  4. I built time in my schedule to grocery shop and cook for myself. Time management is essential when doing Whole30, especially in college!

  5. To help with time management, I tried to stay consistent in my meals: Breakfast at 8:30 a.m. or a breakfast/brunch type meal at 10 a.m. depending on my schedule, lunch between noon and 2 p.m., dinner around 7:30 p.m.

  6. I kept compliant snacks around for on-the-run days: Nick’s Beef Sticks, Lara Bars, nuts, fruit, pre-cut veggies, etc. (I hear Rx Bars are good too.)

  7. I could not always buy organic or grass-fed—I usually buy the cheapest items I can find at the grocery store, but I looked at labels and made sure everything fit. My favorite place to go is Trader Joe’s because their food is affordable and they have a ton of cool compliant options (like their cauliflower gnocchi, which I still have to try!).

  8. Keeping a food diary has been really helpful!  

Full disclosure…

I want to be as honest as possible, and I DID slip a few times. Some Whole30 purists would say that this completely disqualifies me, but most of my slips were not because I was unable to control myself. In my journal, I marked in orange food items that I either was not sure if they were 100 percent compliant due to lack of ingredient information (e.g., I ate some chicken in a restaurant that tasted like it was cooked in butter) or if I found after eating that the items were one ingredient shy (e.g., I had some dijon mustard forgetting it had white wine in it). Usually the “slips” were items that only had one ingredient that was off, and I never reached for things like candy, pizza, a nice Moscow Mule, etc. for the full 30 days.

I had ONE cheat meal, a thai basil stir fry at Uncle Boon’s Sister on my 20th day. The stir fry came with rice and was definitely cooked with soy and peanuts, so it was a big Whole30 no-no. The menu there was pretty limited in terms of Whole30 options, and if I were to go back I probably would have asked the person I ate with if we could go somewhere else, but we were both starving—simple as that. I feel like I can’t really justify my decision because it was a slip, but I am acknowledging it. If I do this another time, I definitely don’t want to make any excuses and would want to follow the rules 100 percent of the time.

Did it work for me?

This is the real question… while I would love to write a glowing testimony about Whole30 and how much it changed my life in every possible way, there are some caveats. One is that there are a lot of variables that could explain why I am feeling better (sorry, stats is kind of taking over my life). I felt pretty crummy the last few weeks in comparison to now because I was suffering from a nasty cold, but now I feel super-healthy and recovered. I also have been pushing myself to get at least seven hours of sleep per night, which could explain why I feel better. Also, because I have been very cautious about what I eat, I have been more inclined to take care of my body in general: exercising regularly, doing more yoga, etc., which could also help explain positive effects.

HOWEVER, these variables are tied to my Whole30. If I had not done the program, I would probably not have had the motivation or the awareness to really make some active changes in my life. I liked having a structure, and, as I felt more and more of the “Tiger Blood” energy boost, I was more likely to do things that would make me feel better. I absolutely believe that eating better these past 30 days has contributed to how I feel today, and I hope to carry forth the habits that I have built.

Some things that have not really diminished by doing the program are my cravings. I still think a lot about sugary and rich foods, even though I am able to control myself a lot better. If I’m feeling really peckish, I can satisfy myself now with some almonds and dried fruit instead of going for a candy bar. The thing is, this would be one of my main concerns/criticisms with the program: it’s based on restriction, and I’m not sure if restriction is always the best way to go diet-wise, and I don’t think it works for everyone. There’s so much morality assigned to foods, especially when foods are set up in the binary of “good” or “bad.” I think it’s OK to find a balance, and what you eat does not make you a “bad” or “good” person (unless you’re eating an endangered species or something for the clout, but that’s an extreme case). The language of the original program used to be very harsh, and the moderators on the old 2009 forums were really willing to kick anyone out for a slip, even if it was purely accidental. The language and intent of the program has softened, but I don’t think it’s possible to work for everyone (for example, I cannot think of a way for vegetarians to do this program since grains, legumes, and soy are cut out). While I personally liked having rules (even though I could have been better about following them), I think I would take a more Alton Brown “Four Lists” approach to eating better, one where you focus on eating certain foods and saving certain treats for once a week. Moderation over restriction, IMO.

I also can’t deny that Whole30, like many diets and programs, can be pretty inaccessible. Financial and geographical barriers exist, and while I was working with a fairly limited budget, I was still able to afford a good variety of options. Some of the recipes they advertise look incredible, but I don’t always have the time or money to seek out organic, sugar-free kielbasa. I’m not trying to make excuses, but a lot of these foods are expensive and sometimes need to be sought out at specialty stores, which are not available to everyone. I appreciate that the Whole30 writers and bloggers are taking this more into consideration, but programs like this always make me very aware of the inequality of the food world, when health and wellness should be a human right.

What would I do differently next time?

If I decide to do Whole30 again, it probably will not be in college. I’d like to do it at a time when I have enough resources to buy fresh, wholesome ingredients on a regular basis, and when I have a lot of free time to really explore all the recipes I want to try (so… probably not until I’m retired, LOL). I also would not slip and stick to all of the rules AND recommendations. I’d also like to do it with family, friend or partner for extra support, even though it would probably be difficult getting my girlfriend on board (unless I’m doing all the cooking). Reading Melissa Hartwig’s entire book on Whole30, which I’ve only read excerpts from, and getting involved with the online community would also be something I would look into.

What’s next?

Although I am in the reintroduction period, I still plan on staying as close to Whole30 as possible because I really enjoyed it and the foods that I made! Today, for example, I made a bomb compliant chili with just a bit of cheese on top. Continuing to be more active and mindful are also things I want to do, and I want to keep making positive, wellness-oriented changes in my life and following through on my non-food-related goals. Finishing Whole30 was only the beginning, and it has set me on a great path.

Follow my Instagram @wholesomejules for more updates!

DISCLAIMER: I am NOT a doctor or nutritionist, I am not sponsored, nor am I in any way an expert. I am not advocating for anything but am merely sharing my own experiences and ways that I have been Whole30-ing on a limited budget with limited time with the hope that others interested find it helpful. Before beginning ANY big lifestyle change, consult with a doctor or specialist if possible, as well as check in with yourself!