I’ve always been one to start challenges and NEVER finish them… ViSalus 90 Day Challenge (stopped that because it gave me elevated liver enzymes, made me depressed and moody, and I was going through an extreme bout of fatigue), Insanity 60 Day Challenge (made it through the first 30 days, but at the start of month 2 I went on vacation, then I had a week left before school started back up, and I just don’t have room in my own house to jump around like a crazy fool), silly squat and abs challenges you find on Pinterest… need I go on?
However, after being diagnosed by my doctor as having a gluten sensitivity and lactose intolerant, I decided to change my eating ways for good. This was simple because I knew the consequences of cheating. But I was still eating soy, sugar, legumes (I LOVE peanut butter & jelly on caramel rice cakes!), corn, and candy. I was feeling better than before, but I knew I could feel even better. After my friend, Zanab, completed her first Whole30 program (not only did she lose 22.5 pounds in 30 days she looks and feels amazing!), I talked to her about it. I went out and purchased my own copy of It Starts With Food and decided to read up on it before I made any decisions. I have to say it was the best decision I had ever made.
While I had been eating relatively clean since July 1, I still had sugar-free vanilla soy lattes with 3 Splendas from Starbucks 3-4 times a week in the morning. I was still eating potato chips, Swedish fish, popcorn, gluten-free cookies, almond, soy, and coconut ice cream (all separately), and all sorts of non-healthy items. At this point in the summer (and even though I was exercising 5-6 days a week EVERY week), I was at my heaviest weight I’d ever been. Now, I have just turned 30 and I hear things tend to slow down when you hit 30, but I refused to believe that was the cause. My friends told me it was just muscle since I had been doing Crossfit (but that was back in January…) and lifting more so I was just more muscular. However, pictures told me otherwise. My friends didn’t think I looked any different, but I could feel it. My clothes were just a little more snug than last summer, some dresses that I purchased in December I couldn’t even zip up by June (and I don’t think it was because my lats all of a sudden became huge). Something had to give.
Week 1 was surprisingly simple. The key to week 1’s success was planning, planning, planning. First, I purged everything that didn’t need to be in my pantry. I didn’t have the heart to throw it all away, so I found a friend who was willing to take them in. Goodbye: 2 bags of egg noodles, 2 boxes of lasagna noodles, a box of whole wheat penne, a bottle of vegetable oil, and I’m not exactly sure what else went into the bag. In order to properly prep my pantry, I had to stop at 3 different grocery stores to find everything (Earth Fare, Walmart, Kroger) and even then I had some help from my friends who had already started their own Whole30 program. But I prepped my pantry with the following: Arrowroot Powder (for a thickening agent), Coconut Aminos (a soy sauce replacement), Red Boat Fish Sauce (to replace my current fish sauce that has sugar in it), Lawhorne’s All-Purpose Seasoning, Coconut Oil, Extra Virgin Olive Oil, and Sea Salt. After I stocked my pantry with the necessary items, I headed out to get some food: 1 head of red cabbage, 1 cauliflower, green onions, 1 spaghetti squash, 1 cucumber, 3 zucchini, 1 bag of yellow onions, 3 sweet potatoes, parsley, cilantro, 2 quarts strawberries, 2 lbs grapes, 1 6-pack unsweetened applesauce, 2 lbs ground sirloin, 2 lbs ground pork, dozen eggs, 1 container egg beaters, 2.5 pounds boneless skinless chicken thighs, 2 lbs chicken breast, and coconut milk.
With this bounty of goodies, I headed straight to my kitchen and began prepping veggies for the week. This meant steam-sauteeing the head of chopped cabbage for future use, chopping up the cauliflower in the food processor, roasting spaghetti squash, and browning 2 lbs of ground sirloin. This was all on Saturday. Sunday, I hard boiled the dozen eggs and peeled them for snacks throughout the week. That was it. I sat down Sunday afternoon and planned dinners for the week and decided lunch would simply be leftovers from the previous night’s dinner (this is strictly for simplicity and to keep food costs down). Breakfast consisted of eggs with veggies tossed in and some fruit on the side.
Sunday – Grilled chicken breast & Cucumber salad
Monday – Grilled chicken thighs with Fried Cauliflower “Rice”
Tuesday – Girls Night pitch-in! Paleo Meatballs with Spice Market Kale and Cumin Roasted Carrots
Wednesday – Hot Plate: Spaghetti squash, red cabbage, onion, zucchini, and ground beef and mixed together
Thursday – Left over Grilled chicken thighs, Sauteed Zucchini, and Roasted Sweet Potatoes
Friday – Meatza Pie
Saturday – Grilled Chicken legs & Fruit Salad
How to Deal with Family Functions/Going to Cook Outs on Whole30
Simple: Bring your own food that you know you can eat. Don’t assume there will be anything you can eat there. Plan ahead and bring what you want to eat. During my first week, we had a mini family reunion on my husband’s side of the family. Corn bread casserole, chili, pre-mixed salad with dressing and cheese all tossed together, chick pea salad, macaroni and cheese, chips & salsa… you get the point. I couldn’t eat anything. Solution? I came prepared armed with chicken legs and fruit salad. Was this the ideal meal for Whole30? No. But sometimes you just got to do what you got to do. I also brought freeze-dried fruit and a Larabar for snack. Snacking is frowned upon during your Whole30, but when you eat breakfast at 9:00 AM and dinner isn’t served until 6:30 PM and you get there at 1 PM? You make do. The key to sticking to the program without cheating is always being prepared!
I found Week 2 to be a bit more challenging than Week 1. For the first time I was experiencing some cravings. I don’t think it was because I was actually craving sugar, I think it was because it was 95 degrees outside and I just wanted some ice cream. But I held strong to the program and the cravings subsided. I branched out this week in recipes and tried making my own mayonnaise, salad dressing, and zucchini noodles all with success. Mayo is surprisingly easy to make and I’m not sure why I never made it before. I have found that even though I’m not eating sandwiches for the mayo, the mayo makes a great base for sauces and dressings to add some flare to my weeknight meals. I highly suggest you try it out yourself! I also discovered that Classico makes 2 types of spaghetti sauce: Roasted Garlic and Traditional Basil (not spicy or sweet) which are Whole 30 compliant. This was awesome as I ate “spaghetti” and meat sauce twice for lunch and once for dinner this week. I love meals that last a couple of days throughout the week. It saves me time in the kitchen!
Sunday – Paleo taco salad
Monday – Grilled chicken salad with Creamy Balsamic Dressing
Tuesday – Grilled chicken thighs with roasted sweet potatoes, sauteed zucchini, raw yellow squash with cream balsamic dressing drizzle
Wednesday – Roasted chicken tenders, roasted acorn squash, and fresh berries
Thursday – Spaghetti squash and meat sauce
Friday – Sashimi with coconut aminos
Saturday – Pan seared scallops and shrimp with zucchini and squash noodles
Week 3 posed my first major challenge: Dining out. Yes, up until this point I had eaten all of my meals at home (except for the sashimi). I was venturing out into new territory and I was a bit nervous. My mother-in-law wanted to spend the evening with us catching up and getting a bite to eat. Being the good daughter-in-law that I am, I let her choose the restaurant, so I had to go with whatever what was picked. Italian… awesome. What in the world can I find at an Italian restaurant?! I knew my safest bet at Bravo was the chicken salad. I left off the cheese and croutons, but then I also left off the red onions and tomatoes (mainly because I strongly dislike both of those) and added some fresh avocado. Before I had left for dinner I had whipped up a small batch of my creamy balsamic dressing and brought it with me to the restaurant. This way I knew that as long as my salad was compliant, I could put my own compliant dressing on top. It actually worked out pretty well. If that wasn’t a stressful event in itself, we had to meet our realtor out the next day at Chili’s. I came geared with my dressing just in case, but to my surprise Chili’s has a lighter fare menu. I was able to get a 5 oz. sirloin and steamed broccoli. I made sure that they left everything plain, no parmesan cheese, no butter, no anything. I dipped my broccoli in my dressing and I was a happy camper. Dining out experience = success!
Sunday – Bravo Grilled Chicken Salad with sliced olives, cucumbers, avocado and my homemade Creamy Balsamic Dressing
Monday – Grilled Ribeye, roasted Asparagus, and creamy kale
Tuesday – Grilled chicken thighs, zucchini and squash noodles, and roasted sweet potatoes
Wednesday – Meatloaf with homemade au jus, roasted sweet potatoes, and steamed broccoli
Thursday – Leftover meatloaf, roasted sweet potatoes, zucchini and squash noodles, and green beans
Friday – Grilled chicken salad with homemade Creamy Balsamic Dressing
Saturday – Grilled sirloin, grilled shrimp skewers, green beans, and steamed broccoli and carrots
The biggest challenges I faced this week was work lunches. I eat with some pretty amazing ladies (and a couple awesome guys as well). They are my team, my rock, and my sounding board at school. I LOVE eating with them every day. But here’s the hard part. When it is someone’s birthday, we order out for lunch and a teammate brings in a birthday treat. Well this week we had a birthday and I did the ordering for everyone. We ordered from Jimmy Johns. And while I love an unwich from Jimmy Johns, I didn’t know what kind of preservatives were in the lunch meat or if it had sodium nitrates, sugar, or carageenan in it. So I opted to bring my lunch from home. Then came the birthday treat. Rich chocolate brownies topped with a gooey peanut butter layer, and finished with a chocolate ganache. It looked amazing and from the comments from my teammates who were eating it, I’m pretty sure it tasted incredible. Fast forward to lunch on Thursday. I also eat lunch with a woman who is the most talented baker I’ve ever met (who is not a professional baker). She brought in apple crisp, one of my all-time favorite desserts. Plus there were leftover peanut butter brownies as well. But I stuck to my guns, ate my packed lunch, and ended it with some unsweetened applesauce and grapes. It definitely wasn’t easy, but I know how I would feel afterwards had I ate something. In the end, throwing 25 days down the drain for a piece of apple crisp or a brownie just wasn’t worth it.
Sunday – Paleo Pot Roast
Monday – Grass-Fed Strip Steak, carmelized onions, sauteed zucchini, and a side salad with lettuce, baby spinach, 1/2 avocado, hard boiled egg, and homemade dressing
Tuesday – Leftover pot roast & Strawberry & Almond Butter in a Coconut Wrap
Wednesday – Grilled Chicken salad
Thursday – Roasted Chicken breast, steamed broccoli, and zucchini
Friday – Whole Roasted Chicken, zucchini, roasted sweet potatoes
Saturday – Grilled Ribeye, baked sweet potato, green beans
Last 3 days
The last 3 days of the Whole30 program were like habit. I didn’t really have to think about anything because I had gotten used to packing my lunch the night before (prepping the lunch tupperware while prepping the dinner dishes), getting up earlier to make breakfast (for me and the hubby), and making sure I had the weekly meals planned out ahead of time. I can honestly say for the first time in my life, I can actually enjoy drinking black coffee. I don’t miss sugar, although with pumpkin season in full swing, I do miss all the pumpkin goodies that go along with it. Being permanently gluten free has taken all those away from me (pumpkin scones, pumpkin donuts, pumpkin pop-tarts…) not Whole30. But I’m sure it’s for the best, at 480 calories per scone I’m sure my body and waistline won’t miss that.
Sunday – Roasted pork chops, baked sweet potato, yellow squash
Monday – Grilled chicken salad
Tuesday – Roasted chicken thighs, sauteed kale, fresh baby carrots with guacamole
What I’ve Learned
What I’ve learned from this is that eating healthy is not overly expensive. Sure, we ate out here and there but for the most part, my husband and I ate at home 3 meals a day, 7 days a week. I tallied up my grocery bills for the week (yes, I shop at more than 2 places) and averaged out the meals. For 2 people, 21 meals per person, and some snacks thrown in, I averaged about $3.80 a person per meal. You can’t eat a grilled chicken breast, steamed broccoli, and roasted sweet potatoes at a restaurant for $3.80! Seriously, dining-in SAVES you money and it is good for you. Now I’m not saying you should never eat out, but my husband and I were eating out 3-4 times a week and that was money just going down the drain.
What has Changed
ALL of my GI issues are gone (I’ll spare you the disgusting details). I am sleeping through the night. My night sweats are virtually gone. I am not bloated. My skin has cleared up. My mood is more calm and even. I am more patient with my students at school. I’m not getting as stressed as easily as before. And I’m just more pleasant to be around overall.
While I was not trying to do anything dramatic to my body, just treat it better. I had some added bonuses to my Whole30 experience. I lost 9 lbs, 1.5 inches of my waist, and 1 inch off of my thighs. The crazy part is that I had actually DECREASED my workouts because I was so busy with the new school year (Back-To-School Social, Meet the Teacher Night) and I’m in the process of moving (4 hour weeknight house showing anyone??). The saying, ABS are made in the kitchen is so true! (Of course I don’t have serious abs but I’m starting to see something rather than a pooch).
Completing the Whole30 program has been eye-opening to say the least. I used to justify drinking lattes almost every day every morning because I was going to work out later. I ate/baked gluten free cookies, pancakes, and all sorts of other baked goods and it was okay because I ran earlier that day. I ate popcorn, drank diet coke, and had candy at the movie theater but I wasn’t “overweight” so it was okay to splurge. And yes, while it is okay to splurge now and then, I was splurging EVERY DAY. These little splurges ended up with a 9 pound weight gain over the course of a school year/summer and me not fitting into my anniversary dress that was purchased months earlier (tears were shed), and just feeling like a stuffed sausage in my clothes once summer started (enter in loose fitting tanks to mask the muffin top).
I had never realized how addicted to sugar I actually was. I put Splenda in everything: coffee, lattes, and ice teas. I drank diet coke every day sometimes even more than once a day. When I wasn’t drinking sugar, I was eating it in forms of baked goods, gummy candies, and fruit snacks (but it was okay because it was gluten and dairy free). Word of wisdom: just because it is gluten free doesn’t make it healthy. Gluten free Bisquick, Bob’s Red Mill Gluten Free pancake mix or baking flour, Betty Crocker Gluten Free cake mix etc. are not healthy! These foods normal are not healthy and sometimes the gluten free option are less healthy and chock-full of more empty calories. Just stay away from it in general. Do you really need that pancake? Probably not. And trust me, the gluten free version (and I’ve tried many) tastes like crap. It’s not worth it. I also didn’t realize how many foods I was buying that had sugar already in it: rotisserie chicken, bacon, precooked frozen chicken, fish sauce, and some lunch meats! You think you are doing well by purchasing protein but if it is convenient chances are they’ve added a bunch of stuff to it. My advice: take the time to buy the raw stuff and cook it ahead of time and freeze it yourself if you have to.
Whole30 isn’t a 365 days a year program, in fact it says right in the book that this isn’t meant to be a complete overhaul for life. But it has taught me a lot about my own body and how I process/handle food. While I probably won’t be as strict as I was during the Whole30, I’ll probably adopt a lot of the eating habits I’ve gained during this time. Knowing what I know now, it doesn’t seem worth it to me to go back to eating the way I was. However – if I happen to fall off the wagon (which it can happen to all of us quite easily), I have the necessary tools to get myself back on track. If you haven’t read the book It Starts With Food, I suggest you at least get the to the library, buy your own copy, or borrow one from a friend and read it. Then form your own opinion, you won’t regret it!