A Taste of Whole 30: Why I Quit After 5 Days

With the huge emphasis on health and fitness these days, especially on blogs and on social media (hello, #Fitspiration?), it's no wonder that even I found myself contemplating which bandwagon I would jump on to kickstart a healthier lifestyle. I have been pretty decent about working out these days and have taken some yoga classes, but I have been thinking a lot about my eating habits recently. If you're being really honest with yourself, how much of what you eat is actually doing something good for your body? When I asked myself this question, I was embarrassed by my answer. If I had to guess, I would say that 85% of what I eat does not add any sort of nutritional value beyond giving me energy and essential calories. It was this realization partnered with the desire to motivate my entire family that I settled on trying Whole 30.

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What is Whole 30?

There are some variations to the program, but essentially, Whole 30 is a dietary challenge that will help your body detox and reset. Here's how the official Whole 30 program describes it:

Certain food groups (like sugar, grains, dairy and legumes) could be having a negative impact on your health and fitness without you even realizing it . . . Cut out all the psychologically unhealthy, hormone-unbalancing, gut-disrupting, inflammatory food groups for a full 30 days. Let your body heal and recover from whatever effects those foods may be causing. Push the “reset” button with your metabolism, systemic inflammation, and the downstream effects of the food choices you’ve been making. Learn once and for all how the foods you’ve been eating are actually affecting your day to day life, and your long term health.

In an effort to start your dietary habits all over, you have to start with the most basic of foods. Basically, you can eat vegetables, fruit, and meat. That's it.

Yep, that means no cheese, no sugar, no artificial sweeteners, no ketchup, no bread, nada. (For a complete list of no-nos, visit the official site here.) I mean, really, what is the point of living without cheese?! I asked myself that every day leading up to and during my experience with Whole 30.

But the benefits are incredible. If you can last the full 30 days, you can:

  • Clear up acne
  • Sleep more soundly and gain energy
  • Reduce cravings
  • Break free from food patterns
  • Eliminate inflammation

There's plenty of other benefits to a clean eating lifestyle. Even trying out the clean lifestyle for a few days can make a huge difference. More on that below.

Research, Preparation, and a Generous Food Budget are Key

It's nearly impossible to successfully carry out a day of Whole 30, much less an entire month, without a lot of planning ahead. My "research" consisted of blog stalking and pinning recipes, but I give full credit to my parents for actually planning out, shopping for, and preparing most of our meals. I cooked here and there, but I know without a doubt that I would not have been ready to carry out this challenge on my own with what I had on my plate (ha! punny.) at the time. If you're intrigued by Whole 30, you'll need to read up on the details so you know what types of meat to shop for, what oils you're allowed to use, and which recipes might appeal to you.

To have a successful Whole 30 experience, you'll need to:

  • Research and plan out your menu in advance
  • Purchase your ingredients at the beginning of each week
  • Prep your food before the week starts (i.e. washing and chopping vegetables, making dressings and sauces, preparing on-to-go snacks, pre-cooking meats, etc.)
  • Set aside a healthy budget

Eating healthy is, unfortunately, not always easy on a strict budget. Good quality food comes at a price, but if you factor in the benefits, often times this investment pays for itself.

An Open Mind

Deciding to try Whole 30 was surprising, even to myself, because I have such a strong relationship with food. To give up the things I really love the most was going to be very hard. I know there are numerous experiences that are way more difficult than eating clean, but it is both a mind and body detox that takes awhile to adjust to. What I was looking forward to, however, was learning about and trying new foods. While on Whole 30, be open to making new dishes, trying an array of exotic fruits and vegetables, and substituting new ingredients for your old favorites.

I read somewhere that everyone can learn to like vegetables (all types!), it just takes the right recipe. I think that's so true. With the right combination of seasonings, any vegetable can be really tasty.

The Whole 30 Experience

I tried really hard to document my Whole 30 experience on Evernote and by taking a quick picture of each meal on my phone. I even tried to track it through MyFitnessPal, but I can never keep up with it!

Here's what we ate and how I felt during the first five days of Whole 30:

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 Day 1:

Breakfast: Banana "pancake" (made with eggs, walnuts, vanilla, and cinnamon) Scrambled eggs with spinach, peppers, mushrooms, and bacon Lunch: Salad with tomato, onion, green pepper, pepperoccini, broccoli, carrots, walnuts, almonds, and tuna with an oil and vinegar dressing Dinner: Turkey, asparagus, and a side salad Snack: "Caramelized" apple slices with cinnamon

How I felt: I was hungry after lunch time and had cravings for desserts and grains.

Day 2:

Breakfast: Scrambled eggs with peppers, tomato, and spinach Sliced clementine and pear Lunch: Spaghetti squash and meat sauce Snack: Pistachios and raisins Dinner: Roasted chicken and side salad Snack: Sweet potato "chips"

How I felt: I was feeling hungry and unsatisfied, but the sweet potato chips really hit the spot.

Day 3:

Breakfast: Scrambled eggs with pepper, onion, tomato with compliant ham Sliced pear, clementine, and banana Lunch: Homemade tuna salad over a bed of greens Strawberries Dinner: Pork chops with red cabbage and asparagus Snack: Pistachios and raisins

How I felt: I wasn't agonizing over cravings, but I wasn't as full as I thought I would be.

Day 4:

Breakfast: Leftover tuna Banana Lunch: Vegetable soup (I forget what else) Dinner: Turkey, asparagus, and side salad Snack: Frozen banana as "ice cream"

How I felt: It seemed like we never had enough to eat around the house for on-the-go, but this could be remedied with more planning on my part ahead of time.

Day 5:

Breakfast: Scrambled eggs and compliant ham Lunch: Leftover Vegetable soup

How I felt: Cranky and unsatisfied so I caved and ate cheese and crackers

Why I Quit:

In all honesty, I think I was trying to accomplish too much at one time. I am on new medication, I've been doing a ton with my job search, I'm always networking, etc. etc. and I was just plain tired. My food was not giving me enough energy; I noticed that I was not feeling all that great, especially at work, and I was always hungry. (My brother's fiance Kate calls this the "carb flu" :P) I recognize that my body was going through a big detox and I needed to wait it out, but at around day five, I needed something to fill me up better. I also think that we would have been more successful if we had the time to plan and prepare more. Looking back at the meal plan, we probably could have filled up more on carbs like more sweet potatoes or squash.

I know it seems like we threw in the towel too soon, but I don't feel guilty for quitting. In reality, we learned so much from the experience and are moving forward with more intentional eating habits and a better understanding of food. While we won't be strictly following the "plan," we will be eating cleaner more frequently.

In five days alone, I learned I actually like:

  • Eggs (believe me, this was a HUGE accomplishment)
  • Oranges (it's a texture thing, but if I cube them--yum!)
  • Red cabbage
  • Oil and Vinegar dressing
  • Turnips

We also learned that Whole 30 has some unnecessary rules just for the sake of trying to "unteach" you to bake treats or choose something normally unhealthy (as though everyone has some sort of psychological response that must be eliminated); in reality, finding paleo substitutes for treats can be just as effective AND more realistic to maintain. Mellissa from I Breathe I'm Hungry outlines the ridiculous dogma behind Whole 30 better than I could ever explain and what she took away from her experience. As she states below, the focus should be on what you CAN eat, not what you can't:

Nobody should feel guilty about enjoying healthy foods, prepared in a delicious way, whether it’s in the form of a pancake or not.  Proving to yourself that you CAN find healthy and delicious alternatives to foods you love, and thought you could never give up, is the KEY to making long-term changes in my opinion.

In the end, I don't think we've fully "quit" Whole 30; in fact, we'll be eating cleaner more frequently from now on. But we won't feel bad about paleo-ifying our favorite treats either. (Follow @eating_whole on Instagram for FANTASTIC recipe ideas that don't restrict you for "psychological reasons!") I would've loved to have made it through the entire experience and I highly encourage those who want to try it to do so, but I think just putting myself (and my family) out there was rewarding in itself.

And besides, what IS life without cheese (or chocolate, or a cold beer, or whatever it is you love), anyway?