I successfully completed the Whole30 challenge and I’m here to tell you how you can do the same (if you’re so inclined). If you don’t know what I’m talking about, Whole30 is an elimination diet designed to remove certain food groups and then reintroduce them after a period to identify possible food sensitivities.
What’s eliminated you ask? Well, a whole host of things, including: sugar, alcohol, grains, legumes, dairy, certain additives, and desserts. In essence, the goal is to focus on whole foods – meat, fish, fruits, vegetables, and nuts – and steer clear of the heavily processed foods that compel us to keep eating, without satiating our hunger.
Doesn’t sound easy, does it? Well, I’m going to be honest with you, it’s not.
The upside: by the end of the Whole30 challenge I was sleeping better, more energetic (no mid-afternoon slump), less anxious, happier, my stomach was never upset, my skin was clear, my eyes were bright, and I also happened to lose seven pounds. In short, I felt optimized.
There are a few things you can do to set yourself up for success and some key takeaways that really make the short-term suffering worthwhile.
Before I began Whole30, I did a lot of research. I scoured my cookbooks, blogs, and Pinterest for Whole30 recipes that I would actually be excited to eat throughout the month. I compiled a comprehensive list of breakfast, lunch, snack, and dinner recipes to keep me from going hungry or giving into a craving.
I divided the comprehensive list of recipes into weekly meal plans before I started the challenge so I wouldn’t have to do that mental labour each week. Here is the comprehensive meal plan that I created to get me through the journey.
Hot tip: I wouldn’t recommend attempting this diet if you hate cooking or are not a capable home cook. You could subsist on steamed broccoli and flavourless chicken breasts but getting through this process is so much more achievable if the food you’re making actually tastes good. If you aren’t a good or enthusiastic cook, you could always seek out Whole30 meal options from your preferred meal kit or prepared meal service.
One of the biggest challenges of doing Whole30 is maintaining a social life. Aside from all the time you’re going to be spending making your own home-cooked meals eating into your You’ll very quickly come to realize that almost all of your social gatherings revolve around food or drink or a combination of the two. When eating out becomes a near impossibility and being hosted at someone else’s house becomes an imposition, you need to either become the host with the most or find social opportunities that are best done on an empty stomach.
In the course of Whole30 I spent a total of $711.99 on groceries and dining out. My only dining out experiences were two trips to Pure Kitchen where I had their take on a kale caesar without the corn tortilla croutons and a couple stops to the lunch buffet near my office where I had baked chicken thighs and salad.
Over the same time period in 2019, I spent $1,136.90 on groceries and dining out. It’s amazing what a huge difference it can make when you’re making nearly all your meals at home, foregoing $6 chai tea lattes on a biweekly basis, and cutting out $15 cocktails at swanky bars.
On the surface this might seem like an absurd amount of money to spend on food in a month but keep in mind that a) food and drink is one of the most important things in my life, b) I entertain often – both at home and at restaurants.
I embraced the savings and played host at least once a week over the course of the 30 day challenge. I primed my friends by telling them I wouldn’t be serving alcohol (for a change) and asked them to BYOB if they were planning to imbibe. Luckily, a lot of people take January off the booze or as an opportunity hit the reset button on the diet front after an indulgent holiday season.
I will tell you, all the meal planning paid off, my friends and guests all left my dinner table well-sated.
One of the most remarkable changes that I experienced during Whole30 was the sharp decline in anxiety. I feel pretty confident in attributing this shift to cutting out alcohol. Now that I’m past the ripe old age of 30, alcohol has a major impact on my quality of sleep.
If I have more than two drinks, I’ll wake up at 3 or 4 in the morning swimming in a pool of lava, or at least that’s what it feels like. I’m so HOT. And then I toss and turn for hours until I finally fall asleep just before my alarm is going to go off and then I spend the rest of the day groggy with a crippling case of the booze blues.
After an initial adjustment period of 4-5 days, acclimating to my new diet, I started sleeping like a baby. Dreaming vividly, often about chocolate cake, and waking up feeling rested and full of pep.
My stress levels were down, I was more productive, and felt more content. If I had to pick one thing, this shift in my mood was my favourite part of doing the Whole30 challenge and a great motivator to cut back on my alcohol consumption moving forward.
Aside from the reality check about how what I put in my body has a real impact on how I feel both physically and mentally, it was a great opportunity to get back into healthy habits. I love to cook, I find it restorative, and it makes me happy. But, not unlike going to the gym, sometimes I dread the thought of cooking after a long day of work. I take the easy way out and order food or pick something up on the way home.
By being forced to prepare almost all of my meals at home, I got back in the habit of cooking every day and was reminded of how much joy it brings to my life.
I still hate doing the dishes though – one of the major downsides of cooking on a daily basis.
By not drinking or going out, I was also able to get into a routine of going to bed at the same time, waking up at the same time, ready to attack the day. It’s amazing what a little structure can do for your wellbeing.
After cutting out a wide range of food groups, the Whole30 program recommends you take it slow when your 30 days is up and you’re ready to bring things back into the fold. Start with one food group, wait 2-3 days, see how you feel. If all goes well, introduce another food group.
That being said, I never managed to tame the “sugar dragon” as they call in and had a ferocious hankering for sweet treats for the better part of the diet. Of course, my cravings dissipated the longer I went without and I kept my fridge well-stocked with fresh fruit to keep the dragon at bay, but I still had fantasies about dessert. So, when I finished the diet, the first think I stuffed in my face was a dreamy lemon curd and blueberry croissant from Bread & Sons (a grain and sugar double whammy).
So far, the reintroduction has been pretty smooth but I certainly know what my limit is in terms of alcohol if I want to have a good night’s rest and am steering clear of milk because I’m pretty certain I have a lactose sensitivity.
In sum, Whole30 is not a diet I would want to sustain long term because I rely on legumes and whole grains to keep things fresh in the kitchen and for fuel during my workouts.
Is it something I would do again? Yes. It’s also great to prove to yourself that you have the willpower and discipline to prioritize your health – whatever that looks like for you.