Most who know me are aware that I’ve been doing the Whole30 for the month of August. Today is day 30! I wanted to write about my experience for two reasons: because I learned a lot during the process, and for others who may be interested in giving the Whole30 a try!
First of all, I am very anti-diet. Diets don’t work. Most people know this. The second important thing to know is that I LOVE FOOD. There is pretty much nothing I do not like. As a baby, my mom used to take food away from me to force me to slow down…you get the picture. That being said, I’ve always eaten fairly healthy – my parents did a great job of offering us well-balanced meals and we hardly ever had soda in the house.
I know quite a few people who have done this 30 day challenge and they have experienced a variety of amazing results – clearer skin, more energy, fewer headaches and pains, better sleep, and weight loss. The main reason I chose to do the Whole30 was because I wanted to break my sugar addiction. And that’s not an exaggeration, sugar excites the same parts of the brain that cocaine does – it truly is addictive and naturally makes us want more of it. The problem is, our bodies were never designed to process sugar, and many other “food” substances that we have readily available to us.
One thing I learned recently is that we are biologically wired so that when things taste sweet, salty or fatty, this sends a signal to our brain to say, “This food is good!” This signal protected humans as hunter/gatherers from eating things that were not safe to eat (a bitter taste). However, the fatty, salty, and sweet tastes we have now are quite a ramped-up version of what our bodies were designed to handle. Thus, the addictive nature that leaves us wanting more, and also tricks our brain into thinking we are full, when our cells are actually nutritionally starved. (Read It Starts With Food for more on this subject.)
The same way that social media gives us a false sense of connection that leads us to want more, sugar gives our bodies a false sense of satisfaction yet fuels our brain’s desire for more sugar. The truth is, we don’t need sugar at all to function, and we consume it in such excess (because it is in EVERYTHING) that it turns to fat in our bodies. I wanted to learn enough about this to change my mindset, not just change what I was eating. Because let’s be honest, that’s not gonna last – you can’t change your behavior without first changing your mind.
To me, it’s not about depriving myself or cutting out so called “bad” foods. It’s about making choices to eat things that make me healthier, to allow my body to function in the best ways it can. I’m still learning a lot, and I’ll continue to experiment with what makes me feel the best, but for now, here’s what I learned and experienced the last 30 days:
1. Planning is EVERYTHING.
In order to execute this 30 day challenge, I knew I needed to plan very thoroughly. I could not be tempted with stuff in the cabinet, so I was careful to eat up what I had before I started, and then planned out specific meals with a detailed grocery list week by week. Pinterest is a game-changer for stuff like this, and it really didn’t take long. Putting in the work to plan ahead made everything else incredibly easy. There was no guesswork, I went shopping on Sundays, and had recipes printed a ready to go for the week.
2. I can actually cook…
I know how to cook a handful of things, and I can follow pretty much any recipe if it isn’t too complicated, but I’ve never been super ambitious with cooking. However, I have cooked more in these last 30 days that in my entire life. I cooked things I’ve never made before, invested in a food processor, and learned to appreciate flavors and spices WAY more. And the kicker – I enjoyed it way more than I thought I would! Sure, sometimes I was in the kitchen for what felt like hours doing prep work for later in the week, and there were nights that I was tired from work and didn’t really feel like cooking. But I did it! Not everything turned out great, but a lot of things we had were so delicious!
3. So much energy!!
This was something I wasn’t really anticipating. Around the 7th or 8th day of this endeavor, I realized I wasn’t feeling that late afternoon slump anymore. As a matter of fact, I got home from work several days in a row feeling like I could run a marathon! Normally, around 4 or 5pm I feel like I could fall asleep standing up. I had no idea how much eating sugar (and probably other things) was affecting my energy levels. I should also add that I was getting up at 5am for prayer at church every morning during that whole week – so I should have been tired. It was like all of a sudden I was running on premium fuel and my body was thanking me for it!
4. Eating food or feelings?
My biggest take away from these 30 days is what I’ve learned about my relationship with food. A lot of people joke about “eating their feelings” if they are feeling sad, or stressed out. This is actually quite true – food is highly connected to our emotions. We often eat with other people, and we eat to celebrate – it’s a social activity, and there can be a lot of meaning behind it. Unfortunately, I had gotten into the habit of eating on the go all the time (thanks, grad school…) and it was really affecting my mood. I wasn’t ever able to enjoy eating because I was barely paying attention to it. That, plus feeling sluggish but also craving sugar was a bad combination. Because any time I felt stressed or lonely or worn out – I turned to “comfort food.” Now I don’t think that is always bad…eat what you want to eat. I have just realized for me, that doesn’t actually make me feel any better. I may still make the choice to order pizza or eat some ice cream, but I also know I could find many other things to meet that emotional need in a better way (like call a friend and eat ice cream WITH them ;)
Doing the Whole30 taught me that I am capable. I often doubt my ability to be self-controlled or disciplined, so completing 30 days with no mistakes or “cheats” makes me feel incredibly proud. That may not seem like a big accomplishment, but I worked really hard, and I feel really good. In addition to what I’ve already mentioned, I noticed a decrease in allergy symptoms and fewer headaches. It’s amazing that simply changing the food I eat can have such a big impact! Now if I could just work on compensating for sitting at a desk all day…
Choosing to do something like this isn’t for everyone, and I’m not suggesting that everyone should. If you’re interested in trying it, or want to know how what you eat impacts your body – my advice is to do some research! Find books to read, and do some experimenting yourself. Everyone’s body chemistry is different – there are some things that are fairly universal, but some people are just more sensitive to certain things than others. As for me, I’m now a fan of the Whole30 and I’ll probably do it again in the future! Knowing how it affects my body and what it can do as far as reducing allergies and headaches – periodically taking 30 days to “reset” is probably going to become a regular thing for me. And I plan to continue some of these habits for good, such as eating way more vegetables and way less sugar. But you better believe I’m getting a peach milkshake from Chick-fil-a this weekend :)