Have you been struggling to stick to a healthy eating & exercising regime in the wake of the pandemic? I know I have. It’s been hard to admit because yes, I know these things, and I’m a health expert. In the middle of such uncertainty though, it happened to many of us that we lost the supports and structure for our normal health routines.
Enter the Whole30.
I’ve known about the Whole30 for years; recommended to it many of my patients. I even tried one in June of 2018 that didn’t quite work out (I was doing it for weight loss, not health). Fast forward to this year and an email that inspired me to give it a go to kick off the new year.
It’s not a D-I-E-T.
One of my favorite things about the Whole30 protocol is that it’s not a diet. There’s no counting of calories allowed. There’s no tracking what you ate and didn’t eat and you’re not even allowed to weigh or measure yourself for the 30 days. This combined with the focus on only eating real, whole foods helps shift the focus to mindful eating- am I really hungry? Hungry enough to eat a can of tuna from the pantry with some avocado mayo? Or am I snacky- craving sugar or salty treats? Many processed foods are designed to be hyperpalatable- that means its so much easier to override your body’s satiety signaling that’s saying ‘thanks I’ve had enough’ and plow headlong into a dopamine-induced stupor of ‘holy cow is that the bottom of this pint of Ben & Jerry’s already????’ Developing this mindfulness is hard, but it’s key to any long term changes in dietary habits. If you can’t stay in touch with whether you are actually hungry or thirsty or just craving something sweet to deal with stress, it can be very easy to over consume calories trying to ‘figure it out.’ This is why the results for willpower-based crash diets can be so poor. You’re starving, and all you can think about is what you can’t eat. Cravings can be hard enough to deal with, but when you add real hunger from caloric restriction on top of it- that’s why its so hard to have enough willpower to stay on the diet. Your brain is starving for calories so it will grasp at any justification to give up, give in and just eat the thing you aren’t supposed to eat and have been fixated on. Again, since the Whole30 is not about starving yourself or calorie counting or focusing on a scale, you shouldn’t ever get to the point of having to try and white-knuckle it through hardcore hunger. You might be feeling snacky for sugary or crunchy/salty items, but without the calorie restriction on top of it, I found these cravings much easier to resist and they took far less willpower than so-called diets of the past. Without the calorie restriction or focus on metrics like calorie-restriction or weight loss, I never felt overly hungry. Part of this did involve preparation & planning. There were very few places I could eat out or just pick up a snack if I was hungry. I had to plan ahead my lunches and make sure that I had healthy snacks in my purse if I was going to be out for awhile. EPIC bars, plain almond butter packets, the occasional Larabar and chicken salad bowls with guac from Chipotle were my best friends for the month. As a healthcare practitioner, I think this a huge win in helping folks form long-lasting healthy eating habits for the long-haul. Focus on filling your plate with healthy, nutritious food. Indulge in a favorite treat every once in awhile- once you’ve checked in with yourself about why you want it and what you are expecting to do with it. From that mindful place, it’s easier to make a better choice about whether or not said treat is ‘worth it.’ With that mindful pause before eating you can much more easily asses if its worth it both in the moment and to your future self, who is trying to stay healthy for the long-term.
Elimination Diets: The gold standard for food allergy testing
Another thing I appreciate about the Whole30 program is the clear elimination diet it sets up. Removing grains, dairy, legumes, alcohol, sugar and processed food additives like MSG will work as an introductory elimination diet for the vast majority of people. Following the Reintroduction phase after the 30 days follows the same protocol as a medical elimination diet- reintroducing one food group at time, observing the reaction and then trying another. Once you follow the Whole30 and do the Reintroduction, you should have a solid understanding of what foods help you feel great and which ones- well, not so much. Understanding the possible consequences of a certain food for you gives you more objective data to compute for the question of ‘is it worth it?’ when confronted with the choice to eat that food again. It’s a lot easier to say no to a food that you know will make you feel bloated, foggy, crumby or otherwise less than your best. I came down with a sinus infection just as I was finishing my Whole30 and moving into Reintroduction. This made it difficult to determine which foods made me feel ‘less than my best’, so I will definitely be doing another Whole30 again in the future to reset and try the Reintroduction phase again with hopefully a clearer result. In the meantime, I am practicing flexing my new-found mindful eating muscle with lots water drinking during the day and grateful “no thank yous, I’m actually full and satisfied and don’t need to eat more.”
Have you tried a Whole30 before? If so, what did you experience or think of it? Feel free to let me know in the comments below.