Could you feel better?
If you’re not feeling like your best, healthiest, most energetic self – or, if you are having a lot of joint pain, as I was – you might want to try Whole30. Having recently discovered that I have some new digestive/gut issues and food sensitivities – which my new, naturopathic physician explains is not at all unusual in women of peri-menopausal age (who knew?!) – I embarked on the Whole30 program to see if it could help reset my health. There were 25 things I hoped to see happen out of it…and I realized 24 of them. Plus some other wonderful, unexpected victories.
Food can be sneaky.
Whole30 wisely asserts that the food you eat either makes you MORE healthy…or LESS healthy. There is no food neutral. Food is sneaky, affecting you in subtle ways you would never connect to your diet. TRUE TRUE T-R-U-E. All too often, we forget to even really think about what we’re putting in our bodies and the effects it may be having, silently, without us noticing yet. It’s quite easy, over time, to lose touch with what we are supposed to feel like. To live in a state of denial. Maybe we can get away with this for a while, but eventually it catches up with us and bites us in the ass.
What are you putting in your body? Is it really as good for you as you think?
For quite a few years, I’ve been a very “healthy” eater by most standards, eating my fruits and veggies, along with plenty of whole grains, some beans, dairy “for calcium,” a little meat, and, like most Americans, way. too. much. SUGAR.
- I’m not generally a huge meat fan; in fact, I was a vegan for several years before my son was born a decade ago. Not so much for ethical reasons – though I certainly respect that choice - but just because I don’t really like it. Now, however, after this Whole30 experiment, I do find that eating the right, healthy meats and fish (wild-caught fish, grass-fed beef, etc.) does improve my health.
- Unfortunately, while we’re taught that grains and legumes and dairy are good for us, they can, for some of us, at some point, become major contributors to systemic inflammation, joint pain (HUGE for me for the past year), and a whole host of health issues. I’m not saying that’s the case for everyone. I’m not going to get into or debate the science behind it. I’m no expert, by any stretch. All I can tell you is that in my personal experience it’s very true. Read It Starts With Food. It is so good that I read it on vacation and loved every minute of it.
What you eat: A variety of healthy, whole foods, in ample quantities, three times a day, with 4-5 hours between meals.
Whole30 is similar to a strict Paleo – but please don’t let that scare you off. I’ve learned that there are a LOT of misconceptions about Paleo as “the caveman diet” being piles and piles of meat and bacon. You do eat animal protein at every meal, but contrary to popular belief your plate typically has more vegetables on it than anything else!
There are many “rules” of Whole30, and the gist of it is you eat ONLY a lot of healthy whole foods – eggs, meats, vegetables and little fruit, and plenty of healthy fats like avocado, olive and coconut (as oils and in their solid forms). Sounds TERRIBLE, huh? Eating MORE healthy fat was one of the most revolutionary changes to me. They say “do not fear the fat” and it’s true. Many of us are still fat-phobic from the 80s/90s low-fat/fat-free BS, and I really believe eating more of these healthy fats is one big reason my joints are super happy, among other things. You avoid all processed sugar, dairy, grains of any kind (including corn), and soy. You read EVERY label, because there are sneaky ingredients and sugars and chemical crap even in places you would not expect them, like bacon. (I had NO idea that most bacon, even the good nitrate-free kind, has added sugar.)
There are myriad “science-y” reasons why this is better (disclaimer redux: I am not an expert. Read the book). Perhaps the simplest, most memorable one is simple opportunity cost. If we’re filling our plates with grains and beans and other things in which the nutrients really aren’t that plentiful or bioavailable, we’re missing out on having room in our bellies for the foods richest in both macronutrients and micronutrients. Makes total sense, right? Yet it’s not how we usually eat. We fill ourselves up on fluff that puts us in a state of chronic inflammation.
My results…24 out of 25 NSVs!!! Plus some more that I hadn’t even thought about.
While this Whole30 started as a bit of a roller coaster…my body is now REJOICING, in so many ways. Whole30 is about the “non-scale victory” or “NSV”. When I started, I identified 25 of them from their long list of possibilities that I was hoping to see as a result of this program. And…no joke…24 OF THEM HAVE HAPPENED.
They are: flatter stomach – less joint swelling – less stiff joints – less painful joints (SO MUCH LESS PAINFUL) – less stomach pain – fewer seasonal allergies – reduction in food allergies – less chronic pain (DID I MENTION…SO MUCH LESS PAIN) – less back pain, too – improved body image – less reliance on the scale (more about this later) – higher productivity – higher energy levels – more energy at work – recover from exercise more effectively (HUGE. I’ve had a TON of trouble recovering for the past year and felt like I could NOT build muscle. No longer a problem.) – healthier relationship with food – practicing mindful eating – listening to my body – don’t use food as stress management – no more food guilt or shame – when I do indulge, I savor it – meal prep is organized and efficient (still room for improvement here). Granted, some of those are quite similar to each other, but STILL. It’s pretty remarkable. I feel RADICALLY better than I did just 30 days ago.
Additional NSVs I had not even THOUGHT about beforehand: Softer, healthier skin and hair – check. Sleeping better – check. Drinking less coffee – spending way less on coffee drinks – check. Feeling more energetically stable – check. Fitting back into my favorite shorts before the end of summer – check! More knowledge to teach my son about healthy eating and more conviction to do it – check and check. And that *might* just be the best one of all.
The ONE on my starting list that I didn’t see happen? Elimination of under-eye circles. They are lighter, but still there. I’m not sure Whole30 can be held entirely responsible for that at my age of almost-47…
At last, it’s not about the scale.
Whole30 is not ABOUT weight loss, but it is usually a fringe benefit. In my case, I lost a few pounds and my clothes fit much better. More importantly, I feel like I can quickly and effectively build MUSCLE again in a way that I haven’t been able to in over a year. This Winter I felt like I was trying and trying to strengthen, to no avail. Turns out, my body probably wasn’t effectively absorbing the nutrients it was getting, nor was it getting enough of them.
After Whole30 or whenever you’re ready you reintroduce the foods that you miss, one group at a time, and see clearly how they make you feel. But as much as I miss ice cream, I feel that I’ve got more to learn. I just learned some things from my new naturopath this week and on the Whole30 forums that I think will further affect my progress. So, I’m going to stay the course a bit longer.
For example, I’ve started eating fruit at the start of a meal instead of at the end, when I eat it (2-3 servings a day TOPS), because it’s better for digestion, according to the naturopath. And I just started making sure that I eat a meal within an hour of waking up in the morning. Apparently that’s pretty key for fixing screwed up digestive hormones. It’s also quite tricky some days, and different when you train in the morning. There’s a whole extra set of recommendations for training and the Whole30. In short, you eat a little fat and protein before your workout, a mini “bonus” meal immediately afterwards and/or your regular meal shortly thereafter depending on timing.
I have to say, I’ve learned a lot these past couple of weeks on the Whole30 forum. The moderators are incredibly responsive and helpful and it’s an all-around great experience. I’m looking forward to digging more into the forum on Whole30 for athletes.
Bottom line, I am SO GRATEFUL to Melissa and Dallas Hartwig who started this program, and highly recommend it. Do you feel like Whole30 might be helpful for you? Can I try to answer any questions?