Keeping it Wholesome: Whole30 as a College Student

This past summer, I was on Facetime with one of my closest friends who was telling me about this new body “reset” she had tried, called Whole30. For 30 days, she cut out what I would later come to know as “trigger” foods: dairy, grains, legumes, added sugar, processed foods and alcohol. Other members of her family also took part in it, supporting each other and sharing results. She spoke really positively about it, and I wondered to myself, would I be able to say no to grilled cheeses for a full month?

Flash forward a couple of weeks, and I am now on Day 10 of my Whole30 journey. I decided the best time to start for me would be when I was settled into the new semester and had had my fill of welcome-back libations (so I wouldn’t have to say no to first-weekend tequila shots). In the weeks leading up to my start date, September 10th, I did my own research online and used many of the Whole30 resources available on their website. Basically, all the foods that are to be avoided for 30 days are associated with many ills: inflammation, allergies, intolerance, addiction, etc. While I have had to put in a lot of effort to eat well and to make time to cook for myself, overall I have been having a surprisingly smooth time. I’m rediscovering how much I love being active and intentional in the foods I eat and in the processes it takes to make them tasty.

The first few days were probably the hardest. I began by sorting out my pantry for foods that were not “compliant” with the rules: cereals, crackers, my chocolate stash, etc., and putting them away. I spent the first day really hungry, which was mainly because of bad preparation on my part and the lack of compliant food I had left to eat. I could tell my body was confused: Wait, why aren’t we having our normal 8 p.m. chocolate fix? Why aren’t we ordering mozzarella sticks at midnight or headed to JJ’s for some chicken wings? Why are we eating so much green? Yeah, I didn’t have the best habits going into the program, and it was hard getting out of them, but it was also one of the main things I wanted to change.

After the initial wooziness and cravings, I finally bounced back on my third day of eating hard-boiled eggs with raw veggies for breakfast and salad with grilled chicken for dinner, and I found myself with loads of energy for my 10 a.m. ballet class. From then on, I got more excited about the journey I was undertaking. I put together some easy go-to recipes for meals between classes (eggs with sautéed kale and potatoes is a personal favorite) and began meal prepping by making bigger portions of my dinners to eat over the week. After years of living mainly off the meal plan, it was so nice finally getting to cook for myself, and I was really excited that all the food I made was not only delicious but also good for me.

The trickiest part for me has been maintaining Whole30 while I go out. As someone who has never had any dietary issues besides mild lactose intolerance, I have never had to ask the waiter if “x” was in a certain dish. The best strategy is to read the menu, stick to grilled and steamed foods with plenty of vegetables, and not being afraid to ask questions (e.g., Does this have soy in it? Can I please have this without dairy?). However, doing Whole30 has definitely curbed my dependence on Seamless and eating out in general because I am spending more time making food for myself. Another tough spot for me has been following all of the program “recommendations”: eating three square meals a day, avoiding snacking, eating mostly organic, etc. With the fluctuations of my college schedule and a limited budget, these things are not always possible, but many others who have completed Whole30 are doing so on their own terms and sticking to the rules while making the program fit their lifestyle.

I’m not going to lie, I was a little skeptical at first. I have always been a wary of the idea of “diets,” especially after seeing many people close to me become ill or really hurt themselves after trying whatever food fad was popular at the time. I wondered if it was really possible to have a balanced diet when many of these diets are based on cutting foods out. I also felt cautious about the big claims Whole30 was making—their tagline on the website is literally “let us change your life.” However, what I liked about this program compared to other “diets” is that the focus is not on losing weight—in fact, one of the program rules is to not weigh yourself for the 30 days—but on health and on understanding how food affects your body. I spoke with several people who did Whole30 before I began, and they all had nothing but good things to say and gave me some great recommendations (e.g., when I’m willing to splurge and feeling a busy night, going to Sweetgreen and getting a Guacamole Greens bowl with no tortilla chips is an easy meal). As someone who has had some food sensitivities in the past, and someone who is very interested in how food and eating affects demeanor and mental health, I wanted to give my body a “reset” after months of not eating well and using food to cope with stress.

I am entering Day 10 kind of sick (not because of the program but due to this weird cold floating around my dorm), but I am happy I have made it here—especially since Days 10 and 11 are known as the “hardest days.” For now, I will be sipping tea and compliant vegetable soup, but after I get better I want to start being more active and take advantage of the perfect running days of fall.

Follow my Instagram @juliatachewhole30 for more updates!

DISCLAIMER: I am NOT a doctor or nutritionist, and 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, and check in with yourself, too!