I am super excited to have a guest post to share with you today!!! And yes, there are multiple exclamation posts, because a guest post is just what I and this blog need. I am feeling a little stretched on time and energy these days, but wanted some fresh and interesting content to share with my readers. Enter Jacoba, a long-time friend of mine, who recently undertook a month long journey of super clean eating Paleo inspired plan by Whole9 Life. If you are looking for a great way to kick start your healthy eating lifestyle, you may want to consider trying a program like this!
I am thrilled that Jacoba has agreed to share her experience with us. I know that lots of people are looking forward to reading this and hearing how Jacoba survived the month! Feel free to leave any questions in the comments, and check back for Jacoba’s responses.
Our Whole30 ‘Adventure’ – April 2013, by Jacoba Leyenhorst
The Background Story
While checking out the Simple Mom blog this past March, I noticed a reference to the “Whole30” plan. I clicked on over to the Whole9 site where a couple named Dallas and Melissa Hartwig have lots of information, not just on the Whole30 program, but on the Paleo lifestyle in general. Before I knew it, I was trying to talk my two sisters into signing on to this plan for the month of April – seeing as April, with its convenient length of 30 days, seemed tailor-made for the plan. Amazingly enough, they agreed to try it with me. Good thing, because once I read the plan in more depth, I realized that there was no way I was going to get through this without a support group!
So, what is the “Whole30”? It is described as a “nutritional reset” – basically a 30-day intensified version of the Paleo way of eating, based on the book It Starts With Food by Dallas and Melissa Hartwig. How intense? Well, the short version is: No grains (this includes rice, quinoa, corn), no dairy, no legumes (including peanuts), no soy, no sugar or sweeteners of any kind (even natural ones like honey), no alcohol/tobacco, no MSG, sulphites (preservatives) or carrageenan, no white potatoes, and no Paleo-ifying dessert or junk food choices (such as coconut-flour pancakes, almond-flour muffins, etc.). Or, as my husband would say, “No Fun”!
Yikes. When I would give people this rundown, the next question they would invariably ask (after giving me that sidelong ‘you’re a bit of a weirdo’ look) was, “What CAN you eat???” It is a pretty daunting list, that’s for sure. So why sign on to a plan like this anyways? Well, I like a challenge. Just kidding – I don’t, really. The main thing for me was my love affair with sugar. I have major sugar/carb cravings that I can’t seem to control. I’m not a person who can say ‘no thanks’ to dessert, or have just one Oreo from the bag in the cupboard. I also was experiencing a distinct lack of energy most days. Plus, I had been having a lot of unexplained stomach aches – often after breakfast…that is, if I even ate breakfast. I was generally not hungry in the morning at all, delaying breakfast until 10am or so, or skipping it altogether. According to most of the info I was reading, this was not a sign of good health! And so I thought that a month long focus on healthy eating, a ‘cleanse’ from all the junk I had been eating, would be a good thing for me. Other reasons for trying this plan might be to jump-start weight loss, or to try and figure out what foods you might be sensitive to.
Preparing for The Adventure
And so we stocked up on ‘approved foods’ and tried to menu plan as best as we could. My sisters and I shared our weekly food plans (breakfast, lunch, dinner), which was great for ideas. The Paleo way of eating wasn’t too new to me, as my husband has been eating this way for some time. However, even a lot of those recipes had to be tweaked to include the new, stricter guidelines. The Hartwigs’ book has a lot of recipe ideas, and most libraries have a lot of Paleo/gluten-free books to test out Some of the ones I found helpful were: Everyday Paleo by Sarah Fragoso, Practical Paleo by Diane Sanfilippo, and Eat Like a Dinosaur by the Paleo Parents. There is also a great blog called Nom Nom Paleo by Michelle Tam – great because she’s very funny and her food photography is crazily good with lots of step-by-step photos. The best part is that she’s done the Whole30 twice now, and so has a ton of recipes that work for the program.
In a fit of ambition, I even signed up for one of the many forums on the Whole9 website – one that was started for anyone beginning the Whole30 on April 1. The more support the better, right? Especially after spotting this photo on the site:
An overview of our month
Day 1: I wish I could say that I wisely planned ahead, eating sensibly the weekend before April 1 (a Monday) and weaning myself off my beloved lattes. However, the weekend before happened to be the Easter weekend, which, as usual, involved lots of family get-togethers and bucket loads of candy. And so April 1 came around all too quickly for my taste. Let’s just say that it was not a good day for all of the kids to be home from school (Easter Monday holiday)! Coffee is allowed on the Whole30, as long as you drink it black. Since I only like ‘fancy’ coffee drinks, or, as my sister wisely pointed out, ‘vehicles for milk and sugar intake’ (ouch!), coffee was now out for me. Black tea is also okay on the program…but just doesn’t do it for me. So there I was, one cranky sugar/caffeine/carb-withdrawing mommy. My poor children. I must say that I absolutely crashed, with a massive headache and a brain fog lethargy that glued me to the couch (hey! I thought that was for Day 2!). Even my husband was a little bit worried for me…or maybe he was just scared of me. I did read at some point that the more junk you ate right before the program, the worse you would feel when you started…and I am the living proof of that!
By the second day I wasn’t feeling much better, but made my own mayonnaise. Seriously! I didn’t even know you could do that. I got the recipe from It Starts With Food, and even watched a tutorial online. This is also mentioned in the Nom Nom Paleo blog along with links to video tutorials for using a regular or an immersion blender. No one was more amazed than I was when it actually worked (apparently, it often doesn’t)! I must say that I didn’t absolutely love the taste, but it did open up some new food possibilities, including things like tuna salad, coleslaw and dip for veggies. Plus it just felt cool to say that I made my own mayonnaise.
At this point I was ready to sell my youngest child (okay, maybe the second-youngest) for some coffee…when I noticed some comments on Paleo sites about drinking coffee with coconut milk. Hmm…I had a sudden vision of a latte made with coconut milk (no sugar)! (Yes, I was very excited.) I made the mistake of mentioning this to my rule-following, hardcore black-coffee-drinking hubby who expressed some concern about my willingness to “cheat”. Yes, he said “cheat”! I thought I was being quite creative with this “loophole” – anyways, the long and short of it is that we had to bring in a neutral third party (hi sis!) to make the call. Sadly, she was not near her computer to answer my desperate plea…and so, as Chief Whole30 Food Purchaser/Manager/Chef, I made the executive decision that coconut milk lattes were now on the menu. And it was so very good. And I was so very much easier to live with! Did it count as a ‘paleofied’ junk food? Not sure! Didn’t care!
Meals, meal planning and snacks
To keep things simple, I ended up eating basically the same breakfast every day – a recipe my sister found for sweet potato hashbrowns that I ate with a fried egg, some avocado, and of course my beloved latte. Eating a substantial breakfast every single day was a pretty new thing for me, and something I ended up really enjoying. Plus it was nice to genuinely not feel hungry until lunch time. I did get a little annoyed when I was pressed for time, but some pre-planning really helped (like grating the sweet potato ahead of time)…and waiting until after the big boys got on the school bus so that I didn’t burn everything when I got distracted with helping them to get ready for school!
Lunch varied according to what I had in the house – my husband usually snagged the dinner leftovers so I had to come up with something else. After wallowing in self-pity and boiled eggs for a few days, I got a little more motivated and branched out into home-made soup, salmon cakes in lettuce wraps, and tuna-egg salad (please excuse my less-than-stellar photos!). Much like breakfast, I had really not been good about actually sitting down and having a ‘proper’ lunch – I would grab something quick, eat a yogurt, and wonder why I was so hungry at 3pm. So taking the time for a good lunch was also a new thing – it actually really felt like a treat.
Speaking of treats, the Whole30 programs encourages (okay, strongly suggests) that you do not snack at all. Yes, brutal, I know! My days generally go from snack time to snack time…so this was quite a change. Although I was not able to cut out snacks entirely, I did stock up on raw nuts and some dried fruit. I even got used to carrying a little bag of them in my purse for if I got too hungry. Raw nuts with nothing added to them can be a little tricky to find sometimes – most nuts are roasted and have various oils added to them. The dried fruit is actually kind of a ‘cheat’ item – the program recommends no sulphites (preservatives) and it is very hard to find any dried fruit without them. Plus, a lot of dried fruit has sugar added to it. Anyways, I compromised with buying some dried apricots (no sugar added) and some figs each week. This did become a bit of a problem for me in that I was trying to cut out sugar cravings, and yet when I craved something sweet, I would eat some dried fruit or some raisins. So if I do this program again in the future, I think I will leave the dried fruit out as it’s kind of a crutch for me! All in all, the rules about snacking did make me very aware of how much I eat without really thinking about it – like finishing off my kids’ bread, for example, or eating a bunch of Goldfish crackers as I make a snack ready for my youngest.
You might be wondering what our kids thought of all this. My husband and I decided that we would not expect the kids to follow this program, because, let’s face it, that would be even more work and fairly cruel (to us, not them!). We did always have a Whole30 compliant dinner, and so the kids had to eat what we were eating. But we would often substitute certain items in or out of the meal, depending on what we needed. For example, if we had fajitas, the kids would have ordinary wraps with sour cream and cheese if they wanted, while we would use Romaine lettuce leaves as our ‘wraps’ and stick to just salsa as a topping. For starches/carbohydrates, the kids would have pasta, rice, or potatoes, while we would have spaghetti squash, acorn squash, sweet potatoes, or none! I actually had to start making more acorn squash, as my oldest tried it and loved it. The kids were pretty game to try most things, although there was some complaining about why I didn’t make certain things (like pizza) any more I also loved that we ended up eating way more vegetables than usual – and we all got used to eating raw veggies without dip.
That being said, if you do follow this program, be prepared to spend a fair amount of time in the kitchen! Although a lot of the meals weren’t complicated, they often did take more preparation time because you can’t use a lot of convenience items (cream of chicken soup, anyone?). With all of the veggies involved, there is also a lot of cleaning and chopping to do. However, if you can plan and cook ahead, it makes sticking to the plan, especially for lunches, a lot easier. So if I had some extra time (ha!), I would make some extra soup or some salmon cakes so that my husband and I had something easy to grab for lunch. It also made it easier if I had to be at someone else’s place for lunch – I would just bring my own rather than worrying about finding something there that worked (and being a pain in the neck for the host!). I even made several batches of “breakfast sandwich” patties – made of ground pork and spices. These were great for breakfast with a boiled egg and some avocado.
Results of the Whole30
I have been asked a lot about how I felt while on the program – did I feel better? Worse? More energy? Less? Well, as I mentioned, I felt pretty terrible at first. Some might refer to that as a “carb-withdrawal” or detoxing – which may be the case, as I was coming off of a pretty lousy way of eating. After a week or so, I did start to feel pretty good. I wouldn’t say that I felt completely different, or suddenly had more energy, though. I will say that it felt good to figure out that it was possible to go without all of the junk food I had been consuming – for me it was so much easier to not be able to have any rather than to try just eat less of something. I didn’t have many social events during most of the month, which definitely made it easier. When we had some events near the end of the month, I was a lot more used to this style of eating, and so it wasn’t too hard to make it work. Plus, if everyone around you knows that you are on this program (hello Facebook!) you feel a lot more accountable!
My stomach aches did clear up, aside from the time I bought a new kind of dried fruit than ended up not agreeing with anyone’s stomachs! I did catch a bad cold in the middle of everything, which made me realize just how hard it is to find throat lozenges without sugar/sweeteners in them. My energy level did not really improve, and when I attempted a run later in the month, I felt like I was just dragging along (“That’s because you need carbs,” a friend helpfully pointed out). I did finally get a chance to check out a new organic grocery store, Nature’s Fare, in Langley, where I was able to find quite a few items that I had only seen online (like coconut aminos to replace soy sauce). I still had to really carefully check (and reject!) most items to see if they were Whole30 compliant. My new addiction (and, if I’m honest, semi-cheat) has become Larabars, a fruit and nut energy bar. Although several varieties were okay for Whole30 ingredients, I think they most likely still rated as a ‘paleofied’ junk food, with a fair amount of fat, calories and carbs. But handy, especially if you were stuck…that’s my story, and I’m sticking to it!
So if you’d like to try this for yourself, I encourage you to do so! Many people have said to me, “I could never do that!” but I think that most people can. That being said, it does help to have a fellow group of sufferers, I mean supporters, to share ideas with and to talk you down off of that sugar ledge. As I mentioned, I did join a forum on the Whole9 site, but after checking it out a little, I left it alone. The group was way too large, and it involved a lot of bickering about what was or was not allowed. There were a lot of very hard-core people on there who felt that if you had so much as licked a bit of jam off of your finger (as you made a sandwich for your child, for example) you had failed and so had to start the program all over. Yes, really!
You can expect to lose some weight during the month – although you eat a lot of meat and healthy fats, you are also not eating any processed foods, sugar, or snacks. If you are someone who does not actually want to lose weight during the 30 days, you might have to be more careful about making sure that you are getting enough calories. If nothing else, this program will really get you thinking and evaluating what you eat, why you eat, and how you eat! It is also helpful for if you are trying to pinpoint some food sensitivities – It Starts With Food recommends slowly re-introducing food categories (i.e. dairy) after the 30 days in order to see how your body reacts.
So what happens after you complete the Whole30? Well, the authors of the book recommend maintaining the eating plan while you re-introduce one food group at a time. So, for example, keep everything the same but add in some dairy and see how you feel. Then, take dairy out again, and try add in wheat/grains and see how you feel. I decided to do this with dairy as I was wondering if that was the source of my stomachaches. So, as much as I wanted to be ‘done’ at that point, I just added in some dairy to begin with. I felt okay, until I ate some flavored yogurt – after which I had a significant amount of stomach pain! But that seemed to be the only dairy product that really bothered me. I would love to say that I was disciplined enough to try this with wheat (gluten)…but two big birthday celebrations happened right at the time and I *might* have gone a little crazy (one was my own birthday, so I had very little resistance!).
It was very strange to go back to ‘regular’ eating after doing this plan for 30 days. It felt like cheating to be able to eat anything I wanted – I actually felt like I didn’t really know what to eat, and so still stuck mainly to the same plan, especially with breakfast. Dinners are also largely the same, as my husband prefers to eat gluten-free if possible. However, I slowly began to go back to my old way of eating – with some modifications. For example, I now make sure to actually eat a substantial breakfast that includes a lot of protein, as opposed to grabbing something quickly as I leave the house, or just having a latte if I am staying at home. Lunch goes well if I have taken the time to make some lunch items ahead of time, such as soup or salmon cakes. However, I am still not doing too well on the lunch front, and often just kind of graze throughout that time of day. I find that there are a lot of things like BBQ’s this time of year, too, and it is usually just easier to eat what is there than to have to plan ahead all of the time.
One of the main reasons I wanted to try this plan was to see if I could gain some control over my cravings for sugar and sweets. I don’t feel like I have been very successful in this regard – as I mentioned, I would still turn to things like dried fruit if I was craving something sweet, which didn’t really help. With regard to things like cookies/snacks, it was much easier to have none than to try and limit what I consume – and I am definitely losing on this front! I did a little more reading on some of the Whole30 forums, and many people suggested that if your cravings had not decreased by the end of the 30 days, you most likely need to do a longer program, such as a Whole45 or a Whole60. I think there’s merit in that, and it is something I will consider the next time I try this.
Thanks for reading along about our food ‘adventure’ – feel free to ask me any other questions you might have about the Whole30. And let me know if you decide to try it yourself!