You all know what the Whole30 is, right?
I didn’t know, at least not the specifics. I kinda wish I still didn’t know.
The Whole30 is a 30-day program where you eliminate food groups that can be negatively affecting your well-being. Dairy, sugar, artificial sweeteners, grains, legumes, soy, alcohol, junk food are all off limits. For 30-days, you live on seafood, meat, eggs, vegetables, and fruits. It’s been around for a while and millions of people had tremendous results. The Whole30 can clear up acne, fix digestive issues, help you lose weight and tons of other real, tangible benefits. You can read more about it on the Whole30 official site.
And it does work. There are a lot of people who love the Whole30. They’re glowing and prancing and telling everyone how incredibly awesome they feel. Man, I wish I was one of those people. Instead, I desperately wanted to slap one of those people.
Why I Couldn’t Last More Than Nine Days
Whole30 made me miserable. Seriously miserable. I was on it for nine days, and by day two, I noticed a giant emotional shift. It wasn’t only that I was irritable and cranky, I was genuinely unhappy. The weight of my problems felt ten pounds heavier. I couldn’t focus on my work. It was crazy strange. I never had a diet affect me so drastically! The Whole30 creators say that this kind of reaction is totally normal, and your emotions balance out after the toxins leave your body. I couldn’t wait. By the end of day nine, I wanted to dive headfirst into a pot of spaghetti marinara.
Not only was I miserable, I had no energy to run. When I tried, I felt sluggish and slow. And because I was irritable, cranky, angry, I took it out on myself. I’d tell myself I was too slow, too out of shape, too weak to ever be a serious runner. I’d lace up my sneakers and head out the door, but I couldn’t decide on the route. And when I finally chose a direction, I was annoyed with my decision. My feet felt like they were tied to bricks, and my legs burned trying to pull the weight. My upbeat, high-energy soundtrack made me cry. I had a constant loop of shit-talking playing all day in my head.
And, I’m in the middle of a pretty stressful situation. Why I thought it was a good idea to start this nutty diet when my anxiety is already sky high, is beyond me. Not smart at all.
So I was done. I had enough. No diet, or “program” as they call it, was worth this. I started reading around the web, and turns out there are others. People like me! Katie, a runner and blogger agreed, as did Joseph Erbentraut, a writer at the Huffington Post. I’m not the only one who hated this thing!
Why I did it in the first place
Well, to see if I could (clearly, I couldn’t). And, I was getting so, so tired of my food. Have you ever just opened your fridge and felt bored? Like you’re cooking the exact same dinners every single night, filling your cart with the exact same groceries every single time you go to the store. Even the farmer’s market was feeling monotonous. I wanted something different. I wanted sparks flying in the kitchen. I needed to play around in the kitchen again, like I did before kids, like I did when I was writing a food blog.
So this was it. The Whole30 was going reignite my passion in the kitchen.
I was trading in parmesan cheese for roasted cashews, fettucini for zucchini noodles. I would eat more eggs, try out coconut milk in my coffee. I was looking forward to crackling rib eyes on the BBQ, sizzling salmon drizzled with chimichurri. I was going to experiment with bitter Asian vegetables and start my day with an almond milk, banana, strawberry smoothie (even though it’s frowned upon). It was gonna be gggreat!
But you know, I actually did enjoy that aspect of the Whole30. I cooked a lot in nine days. I tossed together an extra large salad with tomatoes, sunflower seeds, avocado and chopped bacon. I whisked the bacon fat into a bright, citrusy, salty salad dressing. I browned ground beef and mixed it with red hot chilis, garlic, ginger and baby boy choy. I grilled salt-and-pepper shrimp and served them with pan-roasted cauliflower rice, sundried tomatoes, and capers.
I was not starving. In fact, I was eating very, very well.
But besides the intense bouts of intermittent depression, I felt unhealthy. I was eating way more meat than I ever have, way more fat, way more volume of food. I constantly felt oily.
I constantly felt oily.
So Here’s What I Do Now (and what I’ve always done)
Let me first say that I’m not a nutritionist. I’m not an expert in the fields of health or fitness. I don’t want to give you advice or tips on how to eat. I want to tell you my story. How I eat to stay in relatively good shape while satisfying my addiction to good food. So don’t take this as instruction. Think of it as information-gathering.
I eat mainly foods I can pronounce, meaning I stay away from packaged foods with long ingredient lists. I eat a lot of vegetables. I use vegetables in place of meat for most dinners. Not only because I’m not a big meat-eater, but because I need to cook fast to get dinner on the table for hungry little boys. Vegetables are generally quicker than meats, so they win the place on the table. I eat (a lot of) bread. I eat (a lot of) cheese. I eat all kinds of beans, grains, nuts and seeds. I throw spinach into almost everything. I drink wine.
Here’s what I eat in a typical day:
coffee with half-and-half and brown sugar
breakfast: skip. I’m never hungry in the morning. I used to force myself to eat breakfast because it was the “healthier” way to eat, but I didn’t enjoy it. You should never feel forced to fit into someone else’s idea of healthy.
Lunch (around 11:30): fat slices of avocado toast with tomatoes, arugula, hot peppers and lots of fruity olive oil
Dinner (around 6:30): Spaghetti with loads of cannellini beans, spinach, garlic and parmesan cheese, with one or two glasses of red wine.
Because I run 4-5 days per week, I don’t control my portions. I eat until I’m not hungry anymore. Sometimes I eat slowly, savoring each bite. Other times I’m a ravenous beast and can’t shove it in fast enough. I eat what makes me feel good. Sometimes I have ice cream, waffles, popcorn at the movie theater, Cadbury eggs at Easter time. I love to eat. Love it. I did not love eating on the Whole30. I didn’t love anything on the Whole30.
I may have been able to get past the emotional roller coaster. Maybe if I stuck with it for just a few more days, I would have reaped all the benefits that millions of people rave about. But it wasn’t worth it to me. Twenty more days of misery just to “reset my system” when I don’t think it needs resetting. But maybe it’s worth it to you, maybe you feel refreshed, energized, focused. That’s great, for it! I’ll be waiting for you at the finish line with a Margherita pizza and a bottle of wine.