So. I am on Day 11 of the Vegetarian Whole 30 (well, technically, Day 4 of my restart but more on that below). I was inspired to try this 30-day whole eating plan after reading the two Whole 30 books.
It Starts With Food (the reason this hasn’t been a Book a Week yet is I’m halfway through – it’s sciencey and slow reading).
WHAT IS WHOLE 30?
The Whole 30 website is really great, so I suggest you check it out for the details. But the original version of the plan is pretty much what most people think of when they think of a paleo diet. Here’s a detailed description of what the Whole 30 is. On Whole 30, you eat “real food” and (like paleo) avoid stuff like added sugar (real or artificial), alcohol, grains, dairy, soy, legumes, carrageenan, MSG, and sulfites. You are also not allowed to re-create junk food or baked goods with Whole 30 approved ingredients. And last, but not least, you’re not allowed to weigh yourself during the Whole 30. Some differences between paleo and Whole 30 is you can eat potatoes on Whole 30, and there’s a larger emotional component to Whole 30 (hence, the no creation of approved junk food or weighing yourself). There are other differences, too.
THAT DOESN’T SOUND LIKE YOU, CAITLIN!
I know it doesn’t! First – I’m not really into structured eating plans in general. In the past, I found them restrictive and, well, not very fun. I strive to eat mostly real food but eat my fair share of processed food or sugary treats, too. Second (and the biggest, really) – I’m a vegetarian. So a plan that cuts out stuff like dairy, legumes, and tofu is a huge flip would be a huge flip from my normal diet. (But spoiler… the vegetarian version of Whole 30 DOESN’T eliminate these vegetarian staples).
SO WHY ARE YOU DOING IT?
I originally heard about Whole 30 when browsing hashtags on Instagram (try #whole30beforeandafter). Because of the big emotional component to Whole 30, there’s a large focus on the non-weight loss benefits of the eating plan. People claim health improvements like mental clarity and better sleep. People crush their sugar cravings, get more creative in the kitchen, stop reaching for junky carbs when they’re tired, etc. I was intrigued by all these endorsements of Instagram users, which is why I picked up the books, especially once I noticed there was also a #vegetarianwhole30 hashtag, too.
Side note – many people see improvements such as the elimination of skin and digestive issues, etc. That’s because many of the items that people eliminate from their diet on Whole 30 are thought to be “hormone-unbalancing, gut-disrupting, inflammatory” – foods (not for everyone, of course, but for some – and the only way to figure it out is to cut those foods out for 30 days, according to Whole 30). It Starts With Food does a good job of describing this.
Anyway – so I read the books. I read the website. And I was definitely intrigued. You see, after several years of being really great at balanced and intuitive eating, I’ve noticed a few “habits” develop…
I eat way more junk food than I used to.
I mindlessly eat, especially when I’m tired or stressed.
I crave sugar all the time. And I eat it all the time.
A large part of these habits, I think, was having children. Parenting is challenging and stressful with odd hours. I was no longer able to sit down to thoughtfully prepared meals. I ate a lot of my meals on the go. I randomly grabbed things from the pantry. Lunches were sometimes three granola bars from the bottom of my purse (seriously). I would put a lot of effort into preparing healthy meals for Henry and then I’d cook a frozen pizza for myself. The sugar stuff is definitely related to sleep deprivation and breastfeeding (breastfeeding makes you crave sugar!); also, there is a huge “vicious cycle” with my sugar consumption… the more I eat, the more I want.
I had HUGE energy crashes constantly. I was drinking a lot of coffee. I knew that some of this up-and-down was situational (hello, small children), but I also was positive that a great deal of it was related to my diet.
I kept trying to change my habits with an ‘everything in moderation’ approach, which had worked for me in the past. But I wasn’t finding that technique successful in the slightest. When I realized there was a vegetarian version of Whole 30, I thought – “Hmmm, this could be the food reset that I’ve been looking for!” That’s kind of how I see it – a food reset. Get back to the basics, eliminate processed stuff, and focus on real food.
ISN’T VEGETARIAN WHOLE 30 NOT REALLY WHOLE 30? I’M CONFUSED.
Yeah – it is confusing. I suspect they made a vegetarian version (here is the shopping list, which you can compare to the regular shopping list) because they knew vegetarians may want to participate but they wouldn’t be able to convince many vegetarian to eat a ton of meat for 30 days (and that is what they try to do in the books, actually – many foods you eat on the vegetarian version are known to cause health issues with some individuals [soy, legumes, dairy] so if you want the most health benefits, they say to go regular, not vegetarian, for the month). However, I am a pretty firm vegetarian and could not imagine eating meat for an entire month, so I didn’t consider the regular version at all.
Here’s what you can have on the vegetarian version that you cannot on the regular version: organic yogurt and kefir, whey protein; organic tempeh, natto, edamame, and tofu; lentils, beans, and hemp or pea protein powder. So it’s pretty different than the regular version.
SO WAIT. WHAT DAY ARE YOU ON?
Whole 30 is very strict. If you eat a food that is not on the Whole 30 plan, you are supposed to start all over – regardless of whether you intentionally or accidentally ate the food <— that’s a good explanation of why. On Day 7, I ate pizza for dinner. I was hungry and had nothing Whole 30-friendly that I could easily prepare. That puts me on Day 11 or Day 4, depending on how you look at it. If you’re strictly following “the rules,” yeah – I’m on Day 4. But I only intend to do this for 30 days, whether or not I choose to eat non-Whole 30 foods during that time period (and I’m trying really hard not to and haven’t since those three glorious slices of cheesy pizza!).
WHAT DO YOUR MEALS LOOK LIKE?
My meals include a protein (eggs, tofu, legumes, edamame, or lentils), a vegetable or two (broccoli, asparagus, peppers, tomatoes are my favorites), fruit, and a starchy veggie (potatoes or squash). I cook everything in coconut oil or ghee. I also eat nuts (cashews, macadamia nuts, almonds, and pistachios). I have some organic, full-fat yogurt every day, and I’ve discovered the awesomeness that are coconut flakes, which are an awesome sub-in for cereal or granola with yogurt.
IS THIS AS LIFE-CHANGING AS PROMISED?
Actually… yes. I’m not going to lie – the first few days were hard, especially as I went through a sugar detox. I had a killer headache and was grumpy. But then, around Day 5, it was like the fog lifted. So far, I’ve noticed several benefits:
The food is really yummy, satisfying whole foods. I feel so well-nourished.
More even energy levels – I haven’t been having that 3 PM slump, no matter how tired I am (I have seen a slight improvement in nighttime sleep but not much yet).
I don’t get super sleepy right after I eat a big meal.
I feel like I recover from workouts faster.
I haven’t had junk food cravings (except that pizza, I guess!).
I am eating WAYYYYYYYYY more vegetables and fruits than before. Like – three times as much.
I am much more thoughtful in what I eat and why. I have been forced to stop the mindless munching. Everything that goes into my mouth tastes good AND is quality fuel.
So much food prep. And a lot of grocery shopping because I’m tearing through perishables like veggies and fruits. Thank goodness for a Costco membership (my grocery bill hasn’t gone up much because I’m not buying as many expensive packaged foods). If you don’t food prep on Whole 30, you get stuck without something to eat (and then you eat pizza!).
It took a few days for me to figure out HOW to eat on Whole 30, too. I felt like I was eating a lot but would end up hungry before bed. I upped the volume and added in more fat, and now I’m in a good place. Also, you aren’t supposed to snack on Whole 30 (three big meals a day is preferred over constantly grazing, and meals should be big enough to get you through to the next without a snack). However, with breastfeeding and my exercise, that didn’t work for me no matter how big I made my meals, so I’m still snacking.
Eating out sucks, of course. But a benefit of that is that we’re saving money by not going to Chipotle every three days. Wahoo.
I’m really glad I’m doing this challenge. As mentioned, structured eating plans aren’t typically my thing, but I see this as sort of an emotional and nutritional food reset. I tried several times since Claire was born to kick my sugar addiction on my own, but for once, the philosophy of “everything in moderation!” wasn’t working for me. I kind of needed all-or-nothing to really do it. Here’s to another few weeks of Whole 30!
Have you done Whole 30? What did you think about it?