I Survived Whole30 for the First Time
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before.
On January 2nd, 2020, my fiancé and I (along with every other hungover millennial in the country) made the excruciating decision to try Whole30 for the first time.
As someone who has dealt with tummy issues and “irregularities in the BM department” for a while, Whole30 was specifically made for someone like me: people with food sensitivities who are too stubborn to narrow down the culinary culprits on their own.
For the few readers who have no idea what I’m talking about, Whole30 is like yoga, CrossFit, or veganism — it’s a fad diet that remains mysterious unless you know someone who’s doing it. In that case, you’ve probably become an expert by proxy thanks to their uncanny ability to sneak it into any and every conversation.
What started as a 30-day dietary experiment by food blogger Melissa Hartwig Urban exploded into a movement for people who wanted to change the way they think about food. It’s a 30-day diet that restricts added sugar (real or artificial), alcohol in any form, grains, legumes, dairy, certain additives (carrageenan, MSG, or sulfites), baked goods, junk foods, or treats with “approved” ingredients, and stepping on a scale or taking body measurements.
Because I’m a masochist, I thought, “Why not cut out caffeine, too?!” My (misguided) logic was that if I was going to reset my body, why not do a hard reboot? This was (by far) the worst idea I’ve ever had (and that’s saying something).
Before committing, we sat down and skimmed through the supposed benefits of this dietary deluge:
- Eliminating cravings
- Improving energy and sleep
- Improvement in allergies, anxiety, chronic pain, digestive issues, skin conditions
- Losing weight healthfully and sustainably.
Personally, I’ve never had an issue with losing weight — quite the opposite. Like many other slim guys, my personal fitness goal has been to put on healthy weight (i.e. muscle). However, after perusing through the rest, I realized every other benefit could definitely make my life easier.
In true fashion, we planned “just enough” to get us through the first week and assumed we could figure out the rest as we went.
Exactly one month later (and after a celebratory cup of coffee, a donut, and a few glasses of whiskey), I’m excited to announce we made it through!
Sure, there are much harder things in life — losing a loved one, running a marathon for the first time, not turning into our parents — but this was something I wasn’t entirely sure I would have the willpower to complete.
After a month of clean eating (and reintroducing exercise back into my weekly schedule), I’ve noticed a few areas in which my life has drastically changed:
For as long as I can remember, I’ve been an avid snacker. We’re not talking about a little light grazing every day — my snacking habits were more similar to a starving hyena who wasn’t sure where and when they would have their next meal.
Like countless other Americans, my relationship with food was more than just a little wonky. I would constantly mistake my appetite for hunger no matter what time it happened to be, snacking all throughout the day and into the evening, even after eating three full meals.
Sure, Whole30 helped regulate my tummy and bowel issues, but more than anything, it rewired my relationship with food by giving me something I haven’t been able to find anywhere else:
That’s right. Nothing slows you down quicker and makes you more aware of what and how much you eat than being forced to check every single label for ingredients.
Throughout the day, I would get up to grab a snack, check various labels for something I could actually eat, and then realize, “I’m not even hungry. I’m bored.” (Who hasn’t stumbled across this thought at some point while watching Netflix or mindlessly opening emails at work).
It’s amazing how much a difference a few seconds can make in creating healthy resistance to overeating. What started as inconvenient moments of frustration eventually morphed into moments of extreme clarity and bodily awareness.
I began to notice the difference between my appetite (seeing a donut and wanting it) and hunger (seeing a donut and wanting it after not eating for four hours).
For all of the health and fitness aficionados out there, this is old news. However, if you’re a Joe Schmo or Plain Jane like me, then this is far from normal thanks to nature and nurture.
Okay, so if you’re a twenty/thirty-something who also lives in St. Louis, Missouri then you’re well aware this city is built on a culture of drinking.
From pre/post-gaming baseball games to day-drinking your brunch on patios all over the city to taking part in the second largest Mardi Gras celebration in the country, it’s hard not to find yourself around booze. Hell, if we’re basing it on revenue, St. Louis is home to the largest brewery in the world.
One month may seem like nothing when it comes to giving up alcohol, but when you find yourself at work happy hours, birthday parties, and even the occasional karaoke bar, it’s harder than you think.
As someone who is fairly extroverted, I’ve always considered myself a social butterfly — someone who enjoys talking to others and can (usually) strike up a conversation with anyone.
While on Whole30, I found myself less engaged, distant, and at an occasional loss for words (this also may have been thanks to the lack of caffeine flowing through my body). I started to wonder, “Do I rely on alcohol more than I think?”
Like most people, the answer is probably, “Yes,” but more than anything, this became a mental barrier — whether or not it was true, it started to affect my nights out with friends.
Another realization most of us have come to is that the older you get, the worse you hangovers get. Gone are the days when you can stay up all night drinking, catch a few hours of sleep, and still operate as a functional human being the next day.
Before Whole30, there’s a good chance most of my Sunday mornings were spent sleeping in, trying my best to recall what type of shenanigans took place the night before.
Throughout this past month, I’ve woken up with more mental clarity than I’ve ever had (at least, since before college).
As you can probably tell by now, being an extrovert in a city usually means you spend your time going out with people. As fun as this can be, I’ve also been searching for other ways to create deeper connections with people.
Thanks to the previously mentioned mental clarity over weekends, I’ve been able to reach out and schedule tea in the mornings. This has allowed me to have some of the most meaningful conversations I’ve had in a long time with friends, both old and new.
I’ve had conversations around creativity, success, music, art, design, travel, therapy, marriage, having kids, and so many other topics that make my relationships even richer than they already are.
This was definitely one of the Whole30 side effects that I anticipated the least but ended up appreciating the most.
Now that I’ve redefined what my “normal” diet and reintroduced certain things that I desperately missed (*cough* coffee, donuts, and booze *cough), here are a few lessons I plan on taking with me:
- Steer away from added sugar as much as possible
- Continue to cut out most dairy and gluten (when possible)
- Try new recipes and bring them into the rotation when they hit the spot
- Focus on cooking more at home
- Above anything else, aim for moderation