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I'm sure by now you know someone who has taken on the challenge of The Whole30, what is said to be 30 days to total health and food freedom. That is a big STATEMENT! I personally have completed it 3 times, my first 30 days being more than 5 years ago and I wanted to share with you the basics, what I really like about the program, and ultimately why I don't feel like I would do it again. It's been about 2 years since I last completed my last 30 days and there are absolutely benefits in which I will share, but in my opinion you have to be committed to the whole process which includes the reintroduction phase to better understand which foods impact your overall health and well being. When done with the right mindset, it can be beneficial to your long term health. A Whole30 diet is not achievable for the long term, so it is more of a journey to better understand which food groups may be problematic for your well being. Contrary, when it comes to long term change, a 30 day approach is not going to solve all of your problems. Healthy habits are formed over a lifetime and this is simply a tool that can be beneficial to better understand your relationship to food and how certain food groups impacts your overall well being, at least that is the way I look at it. I do feel that I am more sensitive to certain types of food and have had issues, so this is ultimately why I decided to take on the program.
In the preface of the book Melissa Hartwig (the author) writes, "Our relationship to food is our comfort, our reward, a trusted friend, a mother's love. You've got food habits, traditions, and associations that go back to childhood." Because of this, it makes breaking food habits hard. Food is something we have to do and ENJOY doing. We have to eat, so when it comes to creating healthier habits with eating it can be challenging. Melissa mentions that this isn't supposed to be a willpower test for 30 days, it's designed to change how you think about food and your body and in return improve energy levels, mood, self-confidence, and much more. This program did not change my life as I was already a healthy person, but there were things it did help with and that I can advocate for. In addition, it's important to note that the goal is not to lose weight, it's to better understand how your body responds to certain food groups, by first eliminating them and then slowly reintroducing them after the 30 days. If they still work for you, keeping eating them ma! If you find a food group is not working for you, then it's your choice to eliminate it for good or to enjoy it when it's worth it.
What is the The Whole30?
For those of you that haven't heard of it, it's 30 days designed to revamp your eating habits by removing foods that are typically very hard to give up. We are talking sugar, dairy, legumes, and any processed food. If you ever decide to complete the program, I would highly recommend reading The Whole30 book, as it will help you plan out your meals and understand the science behind what the author and program creator, Melissa Hartwig suggests. It most closely aligns with a paleo diet, but the key difference is that you can't have "fake treats"... AKA paleo pancakes my friends. The reason is to build a healthier relationship with food, not sure if I'm completely on board with this one but from my personal experience it did help me eliminate sugar cravings and change my taste buds to better understand when something tasted "too sweet". Once your body has eliminated added sugar, it may actually crave natural sugars over a sugar filled dessert. Sounds crazy, right? The other key benefit is achieving "Tiger Blood". I don't know if it was in my head, but I did feel pretty incredible. Something drinking lots of water, eating healthy, and getting a full 7-8 hours of sleep can also achieve. A full calendar of what to expect when on Whole30 is below.
What can't you eat on The Whole30:
What you can eat on The Whole30-- this list seems small, but there are lots of options and it forces you to get creative.
What I liked about it:
I loved the experience the first 2 rounds. After the 3rd, I quickly realized I understood my body and what foods made me feel good and not so good. This is not to say that I never eat the foods that don't make me feel my best (alcohol, dairy, and even some beans). I certainly try, but we are all human and we live in an imperfect world and a busy one at that, so I don't think it's healthy to expect perfection from your diet. Mental health is just as important. I do think that what you eat impacts your mental health, but fixating on every ingredient is not healthy. Having an all or nothing mindset is not the goal. It's understanding what eating real food means and also, which foods make you feel your best. With that said, enjoying pizza and a margarita on a Friday night with my husband and/or friends, brings so much joy that cannot be equated or compared to having a perfect body composition or following rules that are said to be "healthy". Health to me is having the ability to be present and not over-analyzing the food you put into your body. Enjoying your life and sweet fleeting moments is health. In ways looking back, it does have the opportunity to become an unhealthy obsession and could potentially feed into diet culture if you let it. As mentioned, health is a journey and this is a simply a tool.
As far as how I felt when doing the program (see above calendar). In addition, after the 30 days I had more energy and noticed clearer skin! After the reintroduction phase, I attribute this to giving up alcohol and dairy, plus drinking more water. I have since realized, my body can handle certain types of dairy, including greek yogurt and soft cheeses such as goat and feta. My body also does fine with legumes... peanut butter and chickpeas specifically. Certain types of beans, not so much. In addition, before I completed the program the first round, I wasn't eating much meat, especially red meat. I realized after, how well my body reacted and needed meat (free range and organic typically) and I haven't gone back. I still eat lots of veggies and fruit, but having animal protein, over beans/legumes in my diet has proven to make me feel better.
To sum it up, such an intense program may not be the healthiest route to take unless you really do plan to incorporate the reintroduction phase and are committed to change the way you eat in a balanced way after the program... AKA on day 31 you don't order a large pizza, day drink, eat a pint of ice cream, and smash Doritos. Seriously... no shame if you enjoy these types of food (we all have our vices) but I wouldn't recommend the Whole30 unless you have the appropriate mindset towards it. On the other end of the spectrum, if you think this could lead to obsessing over the foods you eat in an unhealthy way, this may not be the program for you. There are other ways to build healthy habits over time that will stick. They say it takes 66 days to form a habit and although this approach may take longer, eliminating a food group for 66 days and evaluating how you feel can create longer lasting habits. There are no shortcuts to living a healthy life, the key is to educate yourself and implement one healthy habit at a time.
Where I have landed is that the way you eat should never be an all or nothing approach. I choose to eat foods that make me feel good so that I can thrive, but I also think that our relationship to food goes deeper than any 30 day reset program can address. However, since I do believe in eating REAL food, there were absolutely pieces of this program that I found super useful and are a good framework for how to navigate eating real food, most of which I mentioned above. If you are interested in learning more, everything you need to know can be found directly on their site including how Melissa describes the program, how it was created, meal plans, recipes, and life after Whole30. I'm all for taking control of your health and if you feel like a program like Whole30 is right for you, do your own research and go from there.