I first heard about the Whole30 on one of my all-time favorite blogs, A Beautiful Mess. Elsie’s post about her experience is well worth the read and a lot of things she said really resonated with me. At the start of her post, she talked about how frustrated she was that exercise never led to weight loss for her. She said:
One of the biggest things I have learned is that fitness and weight loss aren’t the same thing, and they don’t necessarily come hand in hand…[When I was training for a marathon] I was definitely feeling stronger and more disciplined than ever before in my life. I was running long distances leading up to the race (five miles, then six, then eight, then ten….), and it was a great experience! But I did this at my highest weight ever. And I’m not going to lie…it was frustrating in some ways because, even though I felt accomplished and fit, I was a little disappointed that I didn’t lose any weight. —Elsie, A Beautiful Mess
That. Is. So. Me. I could not put it better. I had recently been feeling really betrayed by my body. I had felt as though I was doing the things you are supposed to do: being mindful of what I eat, pushing myself to exercise more and better, but with little to no result on the scale. Over the past two years I made it a goal to up the amount of exercise in my life. I woke up an hour earlier every day and went to the gym four to five times a week before work. I was running faster and longer and my flexibility and strength were better than they had ever been in my life thanks to yoga and Pilates. I could feel muscles forming, I knew I was getting stronger, I had more energy—but I was not losing weight. Far from it—if anything, I gained weight. Now don’t get my wrong, focusing on increasing exercise to my life was NOT a mistake. This routine has become an integral part of my life and I’m 100% grateful for this. Moving your body every day is a good thing, no question about it. But the fact that I was putting in all this time and work and my clothes were fitting WORSE, not better, was very, very discouraging. Why was I waking up early every day, trudging through the rain and snow to the gym, if the result was just that I needed to size up in my pants?!
I also ate what I felt was a pretty healthy diet, mostly by cutting out grains and legumes during the week and limiting when I added dairy like cheese or milk to a dish. I rarely indulged in sweets. But I definitely made exceptions; my rules weren’t hard and fast. I looooove cheese. I regularly indulged in wine or my favorite drink, gin and seltzer with lime (seltzer! it’s healthy, right?!). I felt that indulging in a fancy cheese plate once every two weeks and a glass of wine or two (or more) a night was what I deserved for all the hard work I was putting in. I was willing to restrict things, but I wanted to live a little too, right?! But “living a little” often turned into total derailment on the weekends: let’s have bagels in the park this morning, football time, I’ll just munch on a few of those fries at the bar while we drink a few beers and watch the game, whew, what a day, I’m tired, should we order a pizza?? Drinking led to bad eating decisions as well—hello, cheese drawer, my old friend—and I’d wake up the next morning feeling disgusted with myself. I’d throw myself back into my restrictive eating to try to make up for my misbehavior.
Once I started reading about Whole30, I liked what I saw. You can read all the details for yourself here. I liked that the program was very clear. Some people might be put off by how restrictive it is, but to me this is one of the benefits. Plans that allow you to save up “points” for “treats” just do not work for me. Cheat days do not work for me. I think this is because it’s really psychologically confusing for the body. One day you may have saved up enough calories to have that slice of lasagna. The next day, you can’t. I don’t think your body and mind truly understand that difference. It’s also a very negative loop. Either you’ve “been good,” so you deserve the treat, or you’ve “been bad,” so you can’t have the thing you want. Whole30 has none of that. Foods are approved or they are not. There’s no “this week you can’t have dairy but next week you can have a little bit.” For the 30-day program, you either can eat it or you can’t.
I also liked that Whole30 involves no math. There is no calorie counting. There is a meal template that shows you basically how much protein, vegetables, fat and fruit should be incorporated into a meal, but it’s a rough guideline. As long as you are eating approved foods, you are following the program. You are doing it right! You are also not starving yourself on Whole30. Because you are eating nutrient-dense foods and filling up on them, you not only have more energy, but you don’t get hungry as quickly. One of my mantras while dieting used to be “if you feel hungry, that’s good, it means it’s working.” NOOOOO. No, that was so bad.
Whole30 is also psychologically healing and supportive in a way that most diets are not (they claim to be, but they are not). It sets you up to eliminate guilt. The program is strict for 30 days, but after that, your choices are your own. You can choose to reintroduce the foods you missed—or discover you don’t miss them as much as you thought. The goal is to break bad food habits and addictions you’ve developed, develop new clean eating habits and then give you a baseline health to which you can incorporate the things you love. I know I’m not going to live a life without cheese. That’s just not going to happen because cheese is heaven. But Whole30 gives you a way to eat cheese AND NOT FEEL GUITLY. It helps you get to a place where you don’t need cheese. And this applies to whatever your dragon is: sugar dragon, pasta dragon, pancake dragon, pizza dragon, cheese dragon. Continue reading