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OLW 2014 | Creating Space with the Whole30 Program

At the beginning of this year I outlined areas of focus for my journey with the word space. There was one area noticeably absent in this survey, though I did touch on it in my February progress report: my weight.

It was the dead of winter, one of the worst in years, and I just wasn’t quite ready to deal with it. I put space in my body on the agenda, knowing that eventually I would have to start addressing the elephant (ha, perhaps literally) in the room.

It turned out to be the right choice. When this summer rolled around, I was ready and without excuses. My efforts to create space in other areas of my life resulted in a lightbulb moment. Yes, I did have time to cook and to exercise.

I also knew I wanted to jumpstart this lifestyle shift with a Whole30, thirty days without sugar, dairy, legumes, and grains.

Click here to read the Whole30 program details.

I first heard of the Whole30 program two years ago when Stacy Julian shared her daily meals on Instagram. Even then I was attracted to the colorful plates of fresh, real food. Already knowing that my body prefers fewer carbs, I was incredibly curious to find out how food affects me physically and emotionally.

I am excited to share my Whole30 story.

OLW 2014 | Creating Space with Whole30

Photo details (from top-left) : 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8

As my members know, I love to begin with the victories. Over the past thirty days I have:

  • Lost 11 pounds
  • Stopped drinking pop*
  • Started exercising

* Funny story. When I told my dentist that “I gave up pop 18 days ago,” I’m pretty sure she thought I said pot.

Of course, there’s more to the story than these results! This month-long adventure was at times easy and at others, impossibly difficult. The first week was the hardest, but not just because of the food.

Surviving the First Week

I had consumed 4-5 cans of diet pop a day for 20+ years. Sometimes I’d even open one in the middle of the night and drink the whole thing. On most days all of my hydration came from pop.

Having given up caffeine during my pregnancy, I knew my addiction was actually to the bubbles. Pop has a unique mouthfeel and it took me two weeks to not crave it constantly.

Today I drink a combination of sparkling water (Faygo brand is my favorite, but La Croix is also good.) and iced tap water, plus a cup of coffee most mornings. To me, this victory was even bigger than the 11 pounds.

My beverage challenges compounded withdrawal from the convenience carbs that had slipped into my diet. For most of the first week I craved pizza and specifically, the Jet 10. I held steady but there was crying involved.

I recall one night around Day 7 where I went through a two-hour mental battle with myself over ordering that pizza before finally cooking our compliant meal. I think I went through all the stages of grief that night.

The first week taught me that I had a serious and seriously unhealthy emotional relationship with food. Eating out was how I relaxed. Now there was no escape from my feelings.

Searching for Tiger’s Blood

The second week of Whole30 was the easiest. I wasn’t missing anything and enjoyed crafting meals that filled half my plate with veggies. I had the “I can do this!” feeling on most days, even though challenging social situations.

My biggest realization during this time was that each meal left me satisfied. While I had battled emotional deprivation, this way of eating never left me feeling quantity-deprived. This was a stark contrast to any other approach I’ve taken towards better health.

Around Day 13 for the first time in my life I wanted to exercise. This has never ever happened before. Within 48 hours I had a gym membership, new shoes, and a new outfit. (I’ll save my whining about finding plus size workout clothes for another time!)

That weekend was the only time I felt “tiger’s blood”, a Whole30 term for feeling full of boundless energy.

Holding it All Together

After the halfway point, it got a little harder again. Looking back, I see a clear linkage between my hormones and energy level. In the past I’ve described this as the lightbulb being on for half the month and off for the other. (I am hopeful this will improve over time.)

With my lightbulb dimmer, the second half of my Whole30 was imperfect but good enough. We ate out a little bit more, where I had sugar in commercial salad dressing a few times and likely a little hidden butter on my food. I continued to feel good overall, though my energy was lower.

There was also a really bad day that involved a few Pringles and several attempts at creating technically compliant desserts. I didn’t enjoy any of it and recognized that my emotional food monkey was still clinging.

While adding 15-30 days would have likely been a good choice, I needed to get the point of answers. Setting my sights on the education of reintroduction helped me to make it through. I wanted to be armed with solid information about what my body prefers, in order to craft a sustainable “life after Whole30” eating plan.

Takeaways from Whole30

I am so glad that I invested in myself and this experiment. I don’t want to say that Whole30 changed my life, because I sincerely believe in personal responsibility. I am changing my life and Whole30 was an effective tool to help me get started. Here are my top takeaways from the experience:

1. Vegetables keep me full. There’s a bit of carb cult here in the Midwest and I feel like I’ve had to battle my way out over the past 6 years of living here. Now my husband will even eat zucchini, asparagus, and kale!

2. I need to watch my starchy vegetable and fat portions. In the beginning of Whole30 I used sweet potatoes and mashed avocado as grain and dairy surrogates, respectively. Long-term weight loss will require some moderation of these items.

3. Dairy will be a rare treat. My dairy reintroduction had mixed results, with some items causing some digestive issues and others not. However, I did feel that it affected my allergy symptoms (post-nasal drip, itchy eyes) and increased my joint pain.

4. Sugar isn’t a big problem for me. For a long time I’ve avoided overly sweet foods because I don’t like how they taste or make me feel. Whole30 actually helped me broaden my range of breakfast foods to healthy, sweeter items.

5. I care about food quality. As I scanned ingredients lists this month, I was a bit shocked by how much artificial junk had been going in my body. Whole30 reminded me that real food tastes and makes me feel best.

Note: I wanted to get this post written while the thoughts were fresh, but I still have gluten and non-gluten grains to try. If I have any additional takeaways from that experience, I will update this post.

I’d love to answer any questions you have about Whole30 in the comments.

16 Responses to OLW 2014 | Creating Space with the Whole30 Program

  1. Jennifer Chapin July 25, 2014 at 1:47 pm #

    Thanks so much for writing about this and how awesome that you completed the entire 30 days! Big props!!

    I chatted with you on IG a little bit, but I tried whole30 a few weeks ago and unfortunately failed miserably. I have control issues as well as food issues and when someone tells me I can’t eat cheese or drink wine for 30 days….well…..

    Anyway I feel like we are probably in the same boat. I would love to lose about 50 lbs but I just haven’t found the willpower to do that lately. Combined with the fact that I am starting grad school in January…..I should probably get on something soon. I struggle with “diets”. I like using My Fitness Pal and I agree with you that I feel so much better when I’m not eating refined carbs. I just wish I could find a happy medium between extreme dieting and extreme overeating!

    Congrats to you for losing 11 lbs! That is awesome. Are your clothes fitting better too?

    • Jennifer Wilson July 25, 2014 at 2:20 pm #

      Thanks. My clothes do fit better, which is a great feeling! I also chose to get fairly form fitting workout clothes, deciding I’m no longer going to hide from where I’m at.

      I approached Whole30 with a lot of curiosity about understanding my body, so that I can react to information about why you should/shouldn’t eat certain things with personal knowledge. That part really kept me going and helped me feel in control.

      Also, focusing on following the meal plan template as a healthy way to eat helped me not think about what wasn’t on the plate or the fact that I wasn’t tracking macros/calories. This week I did add up a couple of days and saw places to tweak, but also that the template helps you feel empowered without being controlled.

      Good luck on your journey!

  2. Audrey V July 25, 2014 at 3:54 pm #

    I eat paleo all the time, it works really well for me. I have the same reaction to dairy, it causes me joint pain, and causes swelling in my fingers and toes, and bags under my eyes and sometimes a belly ache. Did you have a reaction when you reintroduced gluten? I agree with the starchy vegetables, they are wonderful, but you might have to limit them for fat loss. Have you seen Jason Seib’s FB page? He has great fat loss tips. And I really agree with your comments about the whole mental issues with food, it’s crazy how emotionally tied we are to foods, I’m still dealing with that. It’s a journey for sure, sounds like you’ve taken some great first steps on the journey!

    • Jennifer Wilson July 25, 2014 at 3:57 pm #

      I’m doing non-gluten grains on Sunday and then gluten this coming Wednesday, so I will report back!

  3. Lisa J July 25, 2014 at 5:30 pm #

    Good on you, Jennifer. What a great way to look at your health. I think it’s a great way to help the brain understand that the changes are a healthy and filling option rather than a “diet”. That word evokes feelings of hunger and loss. Whereas words like “healthy” and “filling” make us feel happy and content.

    I heard a great quote recently –
    If you focus on results you will never change but if you focus on change you will get results.

    Thanks for the inspiration. Enjoy the journey!

  4. Audrey V July 25, 2014 at 5:57 pm #

    I think it is great that you are doing the reintroductions methodically, it is very important to reintroduce the foods in the suggested manner so that you can really see if they affect you. After I removed the common food allergens suggested in the Whole 30 (grains, dairy, legumes, sugar), I was still having some joint pain. So I moved on the the paleo auto-immune diet, where you remove other common irritants, specifically eggs, coffee, nuts, seeds, chocolate and nightshades. I had to do the reintroductions really carefully to find out that almonds bother me and cause joint pain. Good to know because I was eating almonds and almond flour regularly. Thank goodness I can still drink coffee and eat chocolate!!! LOL

    • Jennifer Wilson July 25, 2014 at 10:08 pm #

      Thanks for sharing. I may try an AIP Whole14 later this fall to see if it offers more joint pain relief. I am hoping that weight loss with be a big help too!

  5. ARC July 25, 2014 at 9:09 pm #

    I did my first Whole30 in 2011 and have done a couple since then, most recently in June. I love eating that way, but I hate the cooking, so I’ve found prepping stuff on weekends and having compliant things handy is required so I don’t just snack on crappy carby things (which we buy a lot less of, but still have some around for the kids).

    I think once you find your “magic” list of things you CAN eat and feel good, it gets easier and opens up your options a bit. I gave up diet Coke at the end of May and I *still* crave it. Sigh.

    Good luck!

    • Jennifer Wilson July 25, 2014 at 10:06 pm #

      It is a lot of cooking; I can’t pretend it’s not. I think it’s worth it to train your tastebuds to make better choices after the 30 days.

      Tonight I had spaghetti squash, Aidell’s chicken meatballs and portabella marinara. The latter two would not be Whole30 compliant, but add a level of everyday convenience to a dairy- and grain-free diet.

      If/when I do a Whole30 again, I’ll definitely do even more advance prep. A mix of ground meat and veggies with favorite seasonings is a nice workhorse that can be used for a lot of different dishes.

  6. Francine aka Dragonslady July 26, 2014 at 7:14 am #

    Way to go, Jennifer! I hope you find your ‘sweet-spot’ (place where you have a few non whole30 during the month but stay with it mostly.)

    My DH and I are starting, slowly, the Paleo today – for dinners. I figure if I can get him to eat the fiber stuff he needs we can work on the other meals later. For myself, I’ll start a more Paleo breakfast routine as I use up some of the stuff in the house.

    In the last twenty-ish years I have given up cigarettes (after 26 years of smoking and when I was up to 3 packs a day) and sodas (only two or three a day at most) and lost almost 40 pounds (most of it gained when I quit smoking.) I have another 40-50 to go and am having a hard time right now; that’s why the Paleo diet.

    So keep up the good work. When you fall off the wagon (and you will), your body will let you know with aches and pains. Just climb back on where you are and take the baby steps to success. I know you can do it as you’re a DO-IT kind of gal!

    • Jennifer Wilson July 26, 2014 at 10:09 am #

      Thank you Francine! Congrats on taking your own baby steps towards paleo. It sounds like you have a lot of past victories to lean on in your own journey towards better health. Can’t wait to hear how it goes for you.

  7. Christine N July 26, 2014 at 11:10 am #

    This was really interesting. Thank you for sharing your journey.

  8. Tracy July 27, 2014 at 9:09 pm #

    Hi Jenn,

    If I can make a suggestion, have the blood test done for gluten sensitivity/intolerance. The test is quick and informative.

    Also, I’m not so sure that your Sunday-Wednesday “test” will tell you anything. it takes 6 months to clear your system of gluten and you’d be surprised how many things include it (think ice cream, soy sauce, and just about everything that is even semi-thickened).

    Congrats on your progress to date!

    Tracy

  9. Lorraine R July 28, 2014 at 3:21 am #

    Thanks for sharing with honesty, both you victories and your struggles.

    I have just started to go and see a homeopath / kiniesiologist who specialises in food. Have been going for two weeks now, just going for weightloss, I have several friends swearing by her for medical reasons. I wouldn’t say I was going through any cravings, but have had many more social withdrawals – e.g. not having a cup of tea when everyone else is having a hot Beveridge. At the start they take out what feels like about 3/4 of what you eat, and the slowly add back in what you body tells them it needs. Some of me is really freaked out by the ‘body telling’ bit – seems a bit hokus pokus to me – but I have a few friends going and they are loving it. I’m just feeling a bit bored with limited choice right now more than anything.

    I vow and declare right now I will never be able to have a plate of food that is half vegetables, there are so many reasons, texture, taste. I can’t put a vegetable (except maybe potato – which is something I’m currently not allowed to have), without a meat or carb as well. – I think I have sensory issues – and may even be ASD – my son is diagnosed, I am not!

    Thanks for letting me rave all, now I won’t have to go on with my life group tonight!

  10. Lynnette August 23, 2014 at 12:37 am #

    Ok, too funny that you did Whole30 since Adam and I have been doing it for the month of August. I’ve done paleo before and tried to stick with it as much as I could while pregnant, but since dairy & sugar were the two things I craved while pregnant I figured this would be a good way to break those habits. So far so good, I’m amazed by how much more energy I feel (despite the newborn sleep deprivation haha) and am also annoyed by just how much stuff includes sugar when it shouldn’t. Way to go on your progress!

    • Jennifer Wilson August 23, 2014 at 10:27 am #

      Thanks! I thought about you a lot during Whole30 since I knew you had eaten paleo for a long time. Couldn’t be that hard, right?

      The added sugar was definitely the hardest, because it makes things that much more limiting… and like you said, when they shouldn’t be.

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