While we were home for the holidays one of my best friends convinced me over beers to try the Whole30, a restrictive, paleo-esque 30-day diet that might “change your life” but will at least give you a month of clean eating. Basically: no dairy, no gluten, no sugar, no alcohol.
The Whole30 is not for everyone, but there were a few reasons why I decided it was for me: 1) I respond to rules and timelines. 2) I don’t require a ton of food variety. 3) I eat a lot of eggs and avocado already!
Finally, the expected results were appealing: not only weight loss but a “reset” to your digestive system and possibly a way to narrow down any food sensitivities you have.
So I rounded up Alyssa as my Whole30 buddy, and—spoiler alert—we did it! Here’s how:
Have a Whole30 Buddy.
Knowing it was a huge ask of others, I was prepared to embark on this journey alone—but I’m glad I didn’t. A restrictive diet can pull you out of regular life. While you can certainly go out and have a soda water with a lime at the bar, at a certain point you’re just not invited to drinking affairs. And eating out is allowed but a minefield, so you’re not going to engage in those social engagements as much either. That’s why it’s better to have a partner in this, so you don’t feel like an island.
The Whole30 should not be your first cooking rodeo.
The Whole30 is kind of like a cooking show where you have to make something out of limited items. Because you’ll have to get creative and use substitutions, you have to know the basics. This month brought to light for me how bad I am at cooking. My two long-term boyfriends were both excellent cooks—the second one a professional chef—and now I have Alyssa babysitting my cooking so the reality is I’ve always had a crutch. The upside: I have excellent knife skills as the perpetual sous-chef. Alyssa and I ate most of our meals together, but when I was alone, the difference in my my food and hers was overwhelming.
Make sure you have the time.
That time you’re not spending at the bar with your friends? It’s going to meal prep. If you have a life without free time, this diet is not for you. The first week took the most time because we didn’t have as firm of a grasp on the kinds of meals we were making so there was a lot of Googling / Pinterest board making. And then you make the grocery list. Once we were weeks deep we could run through the store and get the basics as well as imagine spins on meals we liked and go from there. Finally, since most pantry items are off-limits, more trips to the store are required, taking more time. This experience made me feel very fortunate that it was even an option to me.
Choose a month where you can realistically do it.
You have to pick a month where you don’t have a wedding/birthday/important drinking affair. January worked well because some of our friends were doing Dry January so that helped us socialize without alcohol. It’s tough to find a perfect month; my birthday was in January so we did a Whole30 dinner at home. I think there are pros and cons to certain times of year, for example the drinking part could be harder in summer, but with grilling and famers markets I think eating would be a breeze.
Figure out what is going to save you and stock up.
When I first started researching Whole30 recipes, this one for “Emergency Meatballs” kept coming up, and while I didn’t actually make this recipe, the concept of “emergency” food stuck. I knew that I would slip up if I got caught without compliant food. For this reason I tried to be sure I always had eggs, avocados (purchased at varying levels of ripeness), apples, sweet potatoes, almond butter, and almonds. I almost always kept a sweet potato baked, so in a pinch I could quickly make a “baked” apple on the stove with cinnamon, pop it on a sweet potato and drizzle with almond butter.
Alyssa is a designer, and in her work she does a lot of food styling and food photography. Sometimes when I’m starving and she’s still sprinkling scallions on our chili like she’s Salt Bae, I feel like it’s unnecessary, but ultimately she’s correct. Putting in a little extra effort going into the presentation can make a potentially sad egg and zoodle dinner something you really want to eat.
Ensure that you can soft boil an egg.
The movie Julie and Julia pretty much convinced me not to bother trying to poach an egg, but the soft-boil is super easy way to level up and is the same idea, TBH. While you should be comfortable preparing eggs in at least three ways, I highly recommend the soft boil. One of our repeat meals was a potato pancake (regular or sweet potato!) topped with lox, avocado, and a soft-boiled egg. Another stand-out was zoodles with pesto topped with a soft-boiled egg.
Spiralizer is Bae.
I’m not a kitchen-gadget gal, but the Whole30 convinced me that a spiralizer is a kitchen must-have. Zoodles are incredibly easy and can be a healthy base for several meals: tomato sauce and meatballs, pesto and soft-boiled egg, etc. Additionally you can spiralize regular and sweet potatoes to create a curly roasted potato. I’d never used a spiralizer before this diet and now I can’t live without it!
But do you save money?
I saved money because I was not regularly eating out or buying alcohol. While I don’t think the Whole30 itself is a money saver, if you make a commitment to not drink, and only eat out once a week or so you’ll save about the same amount of cash.
My previous habits weren’t bad enough to make this a dramatic “ah-ha” moment for me. I was disappointed that I never found more energy. I was slightly less bloated but still had my usual regular stomachaches. I lost 4.5 pounds, which is not dramatic. Though it felt good to know that I could lose weight if I worked at it—and it was useful to know exactly how hard I have to work. The two other improvements I noticed were my skin and my mood. Of course lots of factors influence how you feel, but I only counted four or so days during the Whole30 where I felt like I had anxiety (as opposed to at least half of the month usually) and I never had any breakouts or dryness where I’d say I usually have some kind of skin thing maybe once a month, especially breakouts this time of year.
The Whole30 makes you think about why you eat the food you eat. There are factors influencing your choices such as cravings, cost, and convenience. For me, convenience was a big factor in the choices I was making. I don’t have a car, so I’d typically maintain dry goods such as pasta, a jar of tomato sauce, beans, and packaged couscous. On this diet, I realized I can get myself to the grocery store to re-up on produce, and I’ll get a little bit of exercise in if I walk. As for cravings, I learned that healthy substitutes work for 90% of them. For example, I crave pasta all the time, and I used to curb that craving with pasta and jar sauce (which is not even good!). Now, I know that the same pasta craving can be assuaged with Zoodles or Spagnetti Squash and avocado pesto. Another switch I’ve made is the baked apple with almond butter in lieu of cereal.
I would recommend the Whole30. I imagine the benefits vary quite a bit from person to person, but no one emerges worse off. The main point is to ensure you are prepared for it and are setting yourself up for success timing and mindset wise.
When it’s all over… #TreatYoSelf