That was the usual reaction I got when I told people I gave up processed foods, dairy, grains, beans, legumes, sugar, and booze for 30 days. Then they’d ask the million-dollar question: “But why?” The simple answer: Why not? Whole30 is an elimination diet that promises nothing short of changing your life. The idea is that by omitting the above potentially gut-disrupting, inflammation-causing foods and eating a diet focused on real food, preferably organic (think: grass-fed beef, wild-caught salmon, nuts, seeds, greens), your system will get a much-needed reboot for restored health and vitality.
1. Skip the cauliflower crust pizza and stick to easy recipes.
I started my Whole30 odyssey by searching all the drool-worthy recipes online: Turkey and pumpkin chili, Brussels sprout salads, sweet potatoes every which way. I landed on a cauliflower hummus that looked even creamier and more delicious than the traditional garbanzo bean version (no beans allowed on Whole30), so I decided to give it a go. And it was a total flop. But the chunky hummus taught me a valuable lesson: Playing to foods’ strengths is way more palette-pleasing than trying to morph them into something they’re not. So that’s what I did: Broccoli sautéed with garlic, beef short ribs slow cooked to perfection, acorn squash oven-roasted until caramelized, eggs topped with sautéed veggies. All were delicious and easy to whip up.
2. Instead of dwelling on what I couldn’t have, I learned to celebrate what I could have.
If a food is forbidden, I tend to fixate on it. Like one New Year’s I gave up chocolate and all I could think about was bathing in the stuff. Same thing happened when I did a juice cleanse. But no so on Whole30. Maybe because there was no cap on calories, or because there were simply too many foods on the farewell list to mourn them all. Sure, I missed my usual morning bowl of Greek yogurt, but then I fell in love with chia pudding. Ditto for peanut butter, but I found a new appreciation for almond butter. In all, the bounty of filling and flavorful meat and veggies was more than enough to keep my taste buds engaged.
3. Planning really is the key to healthy eating.
I know my food faults. If there’s a tub of ice cream in the freezer, I’ll kill it. Eat now, regret later! But because Whole30 encourages meal planning and omits trigger foods (you do a pantry overhaul before you even start), it takes default eating out of the equation. I also made a mental note of my favorite Whole30 approved no-cook meals, so if hunger did hit, I wouldn’t hit the drive thru.
My go-tos: Green apple with almond butter, raw nuts and dried figs, chia pudding with cashew milk, rotisserie chicken from the supermarket. Armed with a fridge full of healthy eats and a plan of attack, pigging out on processed crap wasn’t even a temptation.
4. Dieting is way more fun with a friend.
Some things are better done with friends: Burpees, drinking wine, juice cleanses, and I’ll add Whole30 to that list. Giving up grains, sugar,alcohol, and processed foods is tough enough as it is, so not having a partner in crime to celebrate the ups and downs with was difficult. Not that you can’t do it solo (I did) or join a support group on Facebook if you’re into that kind of thing (I’m not), but I missed having a close friend to commiserate with me.
5. Crazy diet brain isn’t worth any amount of weight loss.
I don’t own a scale. When my pants start to fit a little snug, I turn down the treats and turn up the yoga. In other words, I’m not one to get down on myself for gaining a pound or two. But Whole30 threw my healthy relationship with my body into a bit of a tailspin. Granted, the “diet” doesn’t want you to weigh in—one of the tenants is to skip the scale and instead focus on overall health—but since the website brags about weight loss, stating that more than 95% of participants lose weight and improve their body composition, my expectations spiked.
6. Just because you cheat, doesn’t mean you failed.
Full disclosure: I cheated. It wasn’t a big cheat—it’s not like my face fell into a brownie sundae or I polished off a bag of chips—but it was a cheat all the same. And Whole30 makes it pretty clear how they feel about cheaters. They’re immediately voted off the island. Do not pass go; do not collect $200 dollars.
Okay, I’m exaggerating, but cheating on Whole30 isn’t a bump in the road, it’s considered a full on fail. At first I got down on myself, and the thoughts started to swirl—you broke a promise to yourself, you let yourself down, you failed. But in reality, I didn’t fail. I added new healthy recipes to my arsenal, I mastered meal planning and prepping, and I learned that I don’t need ice cream to have a good time. So there!