10 Steps for Whole30 Success

I’ve had a lot of people ask me about the Whole30 I find I am giving very consistent advice. Coincidentally, it’s 10 pieces of consistent advice…

  1. Do not decide to do this without reading the books. “It Starts with Food” and “The Whole 30” are both must-reads before committing to this. For me, if I don’t know exactly why the rules are in place, I find them much harder to follow (I’m also a Type A, perfectionist, strict rule abider, so that could be a factor). Some people have commented that it seems arbitrary that you can’t eat lentils or beans, since they’re really quite healthy. It’s true, they aren’t in the same category as mozzarella sticks, but by understanding the specific digestive reactions they have in the body, you get a better sense for why you can’t have them for 30 days. They’re readable in a day; you can skim the science-y parts of the books, but don’t skip them.
  1. You cannot pick and choose parts of this plan. There may be elements of this eating plan that you decide to pick up in your life, however you will not be doing the Whole30. You can’t do a modified Whole30 (save the exceptions listed in the book). Again, when you read the books, you understand why you have to do it the way you have to do it, and why if you don’t do it that way, you won’t be doing it at all. You can’t do it all except give up alcohol, or chickpeas.
  1. I do not recommend doing this as a vegetarian. A former 15-year vegetarian myself, I think it’s important to understand the reasons why you choose not to eat meat. If it’s ethical, then that’s one thing. However, if you’re doing it for health reasons, then I think (again, reading the book), you understand the reasons why meat is not as bad as people make it out to be, particuarly when you can find ethically raised and locally sourced meat (the meat I eat is questionable, but my ethics abandoned me 6+ years ago). There is a section on the book that addresses this, so please read that and make your own decision. It may be that a different eating plan is better for you.
  1. Only do this if you are 100% committed. Don’t try to talk yourself or someone else into it. If you haven’t come to the decision that this is something you are willing to commit to for 30 days, you will not succeed. This is particularly true if you have a busy job, if you travel a lot or if you don’t know much about cooking. The first 2 weeks are overwhelming. I was trying to make all these recipes from the book in a small kitchen without some of the key ingredients (because I couldn’t find them here). I ended up with a lot of food waste the first week, as I ended up with a lot of leftovers and couldn’t get through all the food I had planned to make. I did made a week one meal chart which outlined every meal I’d make for 7 days, but after day 2 I abandoned it. I think it depends on your personal style, but I felt better shopping for 2-3 meals every 2-3 days. It took more time but was more manageable. By weeks 3 and 4, I had a pretty good routine going, but again, I spent one full day food prepping each weekend. During the week was arriving home from the gym at 6 (early by most people’s standards given the 7:30am-3pm working hours here), making dinner, then lunch for the next day, washing dishes and prepping everything for the morning which took until 8/8:30pm. Given that I am in bed by 9/9:30, it really took my entire evening. Fortunately I lead the life of an 80 year old grandmother during the week, so didn’t feel as if I was missing any social engagements [Though, now that I think about it, that metaphore holds no water, as when my grandmothers were 80, they were both still volunteering and had a twice weekly standing bingo date].
  1. Don’t do this to lose weight. This is a huge recommendation of mine. That was one of my major reasons for embarking upon the Whole30. However, after reading 100 times in the books that “if you’re doing this to lose weight, you’re doing it for the wrong reasons,” it finally sunk in. It didn’t stop me from being discouraged when I wasn’t seeing any change in how my clothes fit or any noticeable change in my body in the mirror. I was one of the people that it took until Day 28-30 and beyond to finally start to see the changes. Had I only cared about how I looked and how my clothes fit, I probably would have stopped much sooner.
  1. Don’t not do this because you’re scared of losing weight. I know that everyone’s goal is not to lose weight (lucky bitches). I think that unless you’re already 80% compliant to this eating plan, you will lose at least a bit of weight. However this is because your body is ridding itself of fat. You will become leaner and more toned as your body becomes healthier. As there is no calorie counting or portion restriction, you can eat all you want, and I think the book even encourages bigger portions. Because it’s all whole, unprocessed foods, you really can’t eat too much of them. Your body will become full naturally, and that’s when you stop eating.
  1. The Whole30 book is your bible. I brought this with me everywhere the entire month. Their timeline on how you should be feeling throughout the 30 days is scarily accurate (as I reflected during my daily posts). It will help you understand if you’re “doing it right” and reassure you when you feel off. Keep it with you, especially when you’re grocery shopping and aren’t sue which additives you can and cannot have. If you’re going to spend $30 on something, spend it on this book.
  1. Embrace breakfast. I have had to give myself a full 20 minutes extra in the morning for breakfast (which just means I’m going into work 20 minutes late rather than waking up early!). It’s not an important meal for a lot of people, but for me, breakfast was my biggest meal of the day. It set me up to stay full through 1-2pm, which I really think affected how I ate for the rest of the day. I cannot emphasize enough how the focus should be on breakfast. I still eat eggs, but now I incorporate last night’s dinner – chicken, beef, roasted veggies, potatoes, etc.. I make the “diner breakfast” regularly – the beef patties can be made in advance and reheated on the stove which is an easy breakfast during weekdays.
  1. If you cheat, don’t start over. Instead, add days to the end. When you’re at day 1 or 7 or 10 and still not convinced you like this diet, and you realize you’ve cheated – accidentally or otherwise – the thought of starting back from day 1 is enough to make you want to quit. That’s how I felt after eating my peanuts. However, by the time I got to day 25/30, the thought of adding an extra week was nothing. It seems silly, but it makes a real mental difference.
  2. It doesn’t have to break the bank. Yeah, it will cost money. But for me, the money I spent on groceries was offset by the money I saved not going out to eat and drink on the weekends. There are a few expensive items you need to have – olive oil, almond flour, salmon, etc.. but overall, I didn’t spend more than I used to on groceries. I can buy cheap fruits and veggies in my neighborhood, which means I spend the most of my money on meat and fish. People freak out that this is going to cost them an arm and a leg, but I think that once you get into a routine, you know what to buy and what you don’t need as much of, and it balances out.

 

I don’t have “clothes on” before and afters, but I think some of the below pictures show the difference – particularly in my face, which I feel is always the last place I lose weight. The picture with my friend’s baby was taking around Christmas 2015, while the photo on the right was taken in March 2016, about a month after I completed my Whole30. My face reverts back to its original heart shape, and my cheeks and dimples become more prominent!

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Rapelling down a waterfall in April 2016- 3 months post Whole30. Feeling strong and looking fit!! 🙂 

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I personally think the difference is my face is incredibly obvious from the left (November) to the right (March). Incidentally this picture was taken with the amazing health team in Gaza.

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The problem is that now my sports bras are too big!!!

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Beyond Day 30

14 – 17 February – Day 29 – Day 32

I technically finished the Whole30 on Monday. I decided not to go for a full extra week because of the peanuts, but I sort of am, by default. I had been working for weeks to plan and lead a crazy stressful meeting on Monday and Tuesday (day 30 and 31), and had settled myself to a celebratory drink on Tuesday evening. However, I have remained Whole30 compliant other than my three gin and sodas (which were as compliant as they could be, minus the gin) on Tuesday.

I do feel as if I have had a ton of NSV, but I also feel as if my clothes are finally fitting better, and I can see a difference in the mirror. I wore a dress that I had gotten around Christmas time to my meeting on Monday, and while it’s a stretch fabric, I felt much less comfortable in it when I tried it on in December. I looked super hot in it on Monday! At the conference, I brought my own chicken salad, because it’s hard to know what the buffet food is made with, so to be on the safe side, I brought my own food.

However, I think a true testament to the success of this program was my ability to bypass the hotel’s buffet and coffee break snacks. Usually that’s the highlight of an offsite conference, so the fact that I was able to not just resist, but not even crave, these treats was a real success. I also didn’t get the 2pm slump that I saw all of my coworkers getting after lunch. There were many closed/closing eyes, and I felt nice and chipper.

I did have three gin and sodas on Tuesday night, and felt absolutely awful on Wednesday morning. It has really reminded me that it’s just not worth it, especially on a week night. I totally understood, in theory, that you don’t just (for example) miss the gym on Tuesday night, and perhaps not eat well on Tuesday night, but you miss out on being productive on Wednesday, you eat like crap during the day, and then just want to have a nap after work, rather than go to the gym. In theory, I knew this was what happened, but after a hangover-free month, it really hit home to me, that I would have had just as much fun with my friends drinking soda water, or having one drink. I’m going to try to do that this weekend, too. A good friend is going away, so I will have to go out, but want to try to be good so that I don’t miss out on being super productive this weekend.

18 February – Day 33

I took my after pictures and measurements this morning. To be honest, I’m so glad that I’m feeling better and have so many NSV, because my measurements are shockingly the same, as is my weight (though that’s less surprising given the weight training/muscle building I’ve been doing). In the before and after pictures, I can see a difference, but it also just shows how much farther I want to go. However, I think I can achieve more, by maintaining the motivation I’ve had to work out, and to eat healthy.  One fear I do have relates to adding back in some of the things I’ve been missing, while also continuing to eat relatively compliant. During Whole30, we’re encouraged and allowed to have fats (clarified butter, nuts, olives, etc…), and you can eat until you’re full, because you’re eating totally good food. However, if I eat until I’m full, continue to eat healthy fats, and ALSO eat pizza, drink beer and wine, etc… then I can see that adding up quickly. So I really need to be careful. I am so happy and it’s so easy eating this way, that I can see myself remaining relatively compliant 90% of the time. However, when I travel I may be more lenient, and also when going out every now and again.

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Have a long way to go before I’d be comfortable sharing either before and afters from another angle

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I told a friend at the gym last fall, as I stared in the mirror at a body I was really unhappy with, that my goal was to look in the mirror wearing this outfit and not be able to see my fat rolls and love handles. I’ve definitely come a long way! I think this was around Day 28

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A little snug in the thighs still, but I haven’t comfortably worn these jeans in 3 years! Why I brought them to Jordan with me where I’ve only been living for 2 years must have been wishful thinking.

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But now the problem is that a lot of my pants look like this…

10 March – Day 54

It’s been nearly 60 days as I finally get around to wrapping this journal up so I can share it with everyone who has been waiting on it!! After nearly a moth of reflection, I have to say, the Whole30 has actually changed my life. It has changed my relationship with food, it has made me more careful about what I decide to eat and when. It has made me stop and think before eating something that is off plan, just because it is there, and it has made it EFFORTLESS to look at some foods and not even desire them. I’ve had several conferences at hotels this past month; the buffets have always been a point of weakness for me with the specially made pasta bars, the creamy chicken and meat dishes and the soups and bread. However, I have gotten into an effortless habit of bringing my own protein salad – chicken or tuna, usually, and just making myself a salad from the salad bar. I have sampled the meat dishes, but because I don’t know – or do know – that they are cooked or marinated in non-compliant ingredients, I often stay away. It’s not because I’m trying to stay 100% compliant forever, but more because I still don’t know how some of these foods affect me, and I don’t particularly want to find out in the middle of an important conference or workshop.

I have been drinking lightly on the weekends – so far only gin and sodas and some wine. I had a couple of beers and pizza one gloriously sunny Saturday afternoon, but woke up on Tuesday with marks on my wrist from my hair elastic and tight rings. I could feel the bloating and my pants were tighter… I am inclined to say it was from the pizza, as it was my first time having bread or cheese, and I read in the book that some people get bloating 3 days after bread.

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Not nearly as satisfying as it used to be

I find that I’m just so happy with how I’m feeling, and how I’m looking that I don’t want to go too far off the compliant track, because I’m worried I’ll fall off (I’ve also continued with my weight training routine, which I know is contributing to all of this). However, I am off to Berlin for the weekend, which means 5 days of not exercising, as well as plenty of beer and meals out… I’m just going to have to be ok with falling off the wagon as long as I can get right back on it next week! I have a work trip to Gaza the week after I return, and while I think I will try to prepare the way I did last time, I will be a bit more lenient about what I eat from room service and the cafeteria at the office. Now that the weather is getting nicer and I have some personal and work trips coming up, I know I will have less time to spend inside food prepping and I will be more tempted to sit outside eating and drinking, but I think I can be smarter about the decisions I made. I went out for dinner with some girlfriends the other night and had a couple glasses of wine, as well as a salad with bacon and parmesan shavings on top. I considered removing them, but figured I could manage a few bites without hurting anything.

Cooking has become second nature and I find I can whip something compliant up without planning it. There are a few “musts” that I make sure I have at all times, and from there I can make something work on the fly:

  • Clarified butter
  • Eggs
  • Frozen meat: chicken, fish, ground beef. I also have IKEA meat and chicken balls that work well in a pinch
  • Cans of tuna
  • Smoked salmon (the kind you buy at IKEA)
  • All veggies including garlic
  • Lemons
  • White or sweet potatoes
  • All spices
  • Nuts, particularly almonds

I found I did NOT use a few things as much as the book said I would, including almond milk and cream. I made mayo a few times, and really love the ranch dressing. However the book made it sound like you were going to have “coconut cream emergencies” which I did not have. I have taken to using coconut milk in my coffee, which I enjoy. I also enjoy it black!

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Clarified Butter For. The. Win.

Week Two: The Struggle is Real

24 January, 2016: Day 8

Getting out of bed was a serious struggle today. I hit the snooze button for 45 minutes (went to bed at 11 – much later than usual, because food prep and snoozed from 6:30-7:15). I never bound out of bed, but this is almost feeling worse than usual. Now that I’m up and halfway through the day, I feel fine, but my eyes had a lot of trouble staying open that first hour. I don’t have almost any sweet tooth, but of course we had two sweet treats available during this morning’s staff meeting. I have never been much of a fan of either of them (local Arabic pastry named Knafe, which is basically sugar and cheese, and a big chocolate cake), but for some reason today, my mouth was watering. It must be that I was getting my sugar from unknown places, and now my body is craving it in any form… I was able to resist temptation, but have felt hungrier than usual today!

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Not something that would have ever appealed to me before Whole30, but my sugar dragon woke up from a 30 year slumber this week!

25 January, 2016: Day 9

I think I’ve accidentally cheated several times!! I didn’t realize that I couldn’t eat peanuts.. I saw that nuts were allowed, and encouraged, so I bought different mixed nuts to have as snacks. However, I was rereading the first few pages of the book today (I got grilled yet again in a department breakfast that I abstained from) and realized that peanuts are out?? Crap!!! I’m not restarting from Day 1 for accidental cheating!!! Hopefully this doesn’t throw me off too much. I’ll stop eating them from today.

Otherwise, I used my SleepCycle app on my phone for the first time in over a year last night, and forgot how great the app is. I’ve been really anxious in my apartment since the attempted break in, and while I know that the new security measures (including two heavy duty deadbolts inside my door) will prevent someone from succeeding in breaking in, I am still antsy about it, and I think it prevents me from falling asleep well, as I jump at every noise. I used the ambient noise “light rain” to fall asleep, and the natural alarm in the morning gently woke me up, which is a nice change from the jolt of my iPhone alarm. I felt more rested this morning, and it might be because of that, or because things are starting to work.

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Have discovered a newfound love of Green Apples

26 January, 2016: Day 10

It’s scary how accurate the daily “how you’re probably feeling” calendar is. I’m definitely in that phase where I’m not bored of food prep, per say –  but it’s a lot of work, and I don’t feel like I’ve seen any results. My clothes don’t feel like they fit any better, my sleep is sound, as always, but not satisfying, and I hit snooze for an HOUR this morning! I am flying to Lebanon tonight for 2 nights, and packed some extra food to get me through dinner tonight and lunch tomorrow, if I don’t have the chance to pick up some groceries before heading to work tomorrow morning. I’m not feeling any tiger blood, and I understand why some people give up at this point. I don’t want to, I’m committed (as much as I can be, with my week in Gaza looming), but a bit frustrated.

Overall, I still find that my “meetings” are not as frequent as they used to be. I’m not sure if this is a good thing or bad thing? When I do have them, they are more solid. I used to think that I was metabolizing things fast if I was “taking a meeting” within a few minutes after eating a big green salad (loaded with beans), but now  I eat that same salad (sans beans) and I’m not necessarily going straight away. I think I used to have as many as 4-5 meetings a day and now it’s 1-2 times, tops..

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More food than clothing!!!

27 January – 28 January: Day 11 & 12

I was in Lebanon for work from Tuesday night through Thursday night [writing this retroactively on Sunday 31 January). I packed a LOT of food in advance to get me through the 2 working days and flight home on Thursday. I had a piece of salmon and a salad for lunch on Wednesday, and got by with fruit, veggies and hardboiled eggs for breakfast. Wednesday night, I went on the hunt for some compliant meat, and think I found it, but can’t be fully certain. I walked by a shwarma shop with chicken and lamb spinning around on a stick and figured that some chicken without the bread or toppings might serve me well for the coming meals. My guess is that there are a variety of seasonings on the chicken, but the only non-compliant thing could be the oil it’s marinated in. However, my Arabic failed me when it came to the words “butter” and “seasonings,” and I ended up with a ½ kg of chicken, which was DELICIOUS, and makes me worry that there was something bad in it. But, it could also be the bits of skin that were still on the chicken, and the way in which it’s cooked which keeps it juicy. I had also ordered a chicken burger, intended for dinner, but saw immediately that it was one of those frozen patties that was thrown on the grill, so I gave it to a Syrian woman who was begging with her children outside my hotel. Makes me think twice about the luxury of being able to do a diet like this.

I had that with some nuts and fruits for dinner, and made myself a little makeshift salad with chicken and raisins the following day during my workshop (this was made easier to manage by the unappetizing looking mini sandwiches that awaited us for lunch. I will find this more of an exercise in self-control when we are at a hotel buffet/coffee break).

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People were jealous of my healthy lunch at the Lebanon office

As mentioned before, alcohol is wildly taxed in Jordan, so I always take advantage of traveling for duty free purchases. While I’m enjoying the alcohol-less month, I know I won’t be giving it up permanently, and stocked up on whiskey and white wine (whoops).  I treated myself to some ridiculously overpriced sashimi at the airport on the way home, soy-sauce-less, but with the wasabi and ginger. It was only the next day at the supermarket when I went to buy some sushi ginger to snack on that I realized it has sugar. Sooooo, accidental cheat #2 (and possibly 3, if that chicken wasn’t compliant) for the books.

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Oh the irony of reading “It Starts with Food” while eating somethign non-compliant!!

To note, my exhaustion levels are much higher than their baseline (which is already quite high), and I worry that somehow this diet is making it worse, though I know that if I’m doing it right, it should be making it better. I have a Pavlovian-like reaction to any method of transportation, in that I pass out for the duration almost immediately before pulling out of the station/taking off, so I did sleep heavily through the flight (1.5 hours), and then got in bed within 15 minutes of checking into my hotel (around 8:30pm). On Wednesday afternoon, I got back to my hotel at 3pm and fell face-first, jacket still on, into my bed for a 2.5 hour nap. I don’t often nap back in Amman because I tend to work out in the evenings, which I don’t do as frequently when I travel, but this exhaustion was above and beyond.

29 January – Day 13

So, maybe I’ve cheated, maybe I haven’t. It’s hard to know, and it makes it even harder to know if I should still be feeling the way the book says I should, or if I should have restarted 3 times already. I spent much of today taking care of things around town and cleaning up my apartment, however I went grocery shopping in the evening in preparation for my trip to Gaza tomorrow. I’m at that awkward stage where I need to finish the perishables in my fridge to the best of my ability, knowing that by the time I get back in a week, anything left will have gone bad. I made some kitchen sink scrambled eggs to get rid of some swiss chard and spinach, and roasted some sweet potatoes for dinner (oh my gosh, I had finished them before the rest of my food was done… they taste like candy to me and make me think they may be my “no brakes” food. I should be careful of those in the future!!).

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Prepped to get me through the first few days at least

I bought a few cans of tuna, some olives, canned beets, canned salmon and some baby food. I also boiled a dozen eggs, and packed almonds and cashews, raisins, a cutting board, veggie peeler and paring knife. I cut and washed two heads of romaine lettuce, and plan to stock up on veggies in Jerusalem and Gaza. Hopefully I can make some salads to get me through lunches/dinners. The week’s menu will likely be boring, but if I can get through this week, I’m pretty confident I will be able to finish this month out strong!! (and probably try to add on another 10-15 days to make up for the infamous peanut incident, and the possible ginger slip.. though maybe I won’t count that as a full cheat).