The Whole30 Program: What Is This Witchcraft?

October 20, 2016

17 days ago I took the plunge into a program called Whole30. In case you have not heard of this witchery before, The Whole30 program is a nutritional program that is designed to help change the way you look at food in 30 days. A "short-term reset" they call it. It is designed to put an end to unhealthy cravings (read: all the sugar), and restore many components of that fabulous bod of yours. See ALL the benefits here.

The decision to take on such a project came after a summer spent eating a lot of ice cream and drinking a lot of wine. I was feeling hung over emotionally and physically from the amount of sugar and, honestly just crap, that I was putting into my body. A reset sounded like the perfect way to start my 30s.

The basics of the program: you only eat whole foods. Fruits, vegetables, meats, healthy fats. No dairy, no legumes, no grains, no alcohol, no sugar (these things can be hard on your digestive system which can then be hard on your entire body). The no sugar rule can be hard because sugar is added to virtually everything, so you have to check your nutritional labels for the sneaky sneakersons. 

WHAT?! I know. If you would have told me a year and a half ago that I would be doing a Whole30 I would have hardy-har-har'd in your face. Never in my wildest dreams did I think I'd try something like this.

There are tons of different types of "reset" programs out there, and they all work differently for different people. The reason I chose Whole30 versus other programs out there because, for me, it is really the simplest thing I can do (and I like simple). Eat real, whole foods. This is what works best for ME (I have friends that love Advocare and Beach Body and that is what works best for THEM, and hey they look and feel awesome, too!). But for me - no pills, no powders, no shake mixes, no counting calories or juicing your way through the day. You just eat food! This is a successful setup for ME. I know exactly what I'm putting in my body. Just food. It's actually so simple when you boil it down. It just takes a little more work and preparation than popping those magical frozen pizzas into the oven.

While a part of me definitely had the vision of slimming up a little bit by doing this program, I knew that there were so many other benefits to be had as well. I wanted to feel better overall, have more energy, and sleep better. I wanted to feel less bloated and more comfortable in my clothes. I wanted to be fueling my body properly for my workouts.

I have a pretty all-or-nothing personality type so this type of program has been good and easier for me than it may be for some. I operate well within structure and boundaries. I like rules and I often follow them without questioning. (This explains why Dave Ramsey's guidelines work so well for me also). So, once I commit to 30 days of clean eating, I can sit at the same table with queso, cookie cake, and pizza and not even attempt to touch them. (This is real life, people. This happened!) The rules are simple -- you can eat can't eat that. So I see something like chocolate chip cookies (my favorite thing on the planet) and know that I can't have them and I walk away and let it go. I had no idea I was capable of this. When I have the choice of eating a chocolate chip cookie I won't eat just one...I'll eat eight. (Hi, that's why we're doing a Whole30 right now).

Instead of focusing on the foods I can't have, I focus on all of the delicious food I can. Chicken, sweet potatoes, strawberries, carrots, bell peppers, burgers, apples, almonds, cashews, eggs, pot roast, red potatoes, bacon (gotta check that label though and find bacon that has no added sugar), sausage, arugula, vegetable stew, grapes, turkey, blueberries, black coffee (I know...but luckily I was already drinking it this way so nothing lost here; however, if you need something more in your coffee, coconut milk is a real fun alternative) etc etc etc etc. Look at all this goodness. 

The changes I have noticed the most since starting Whole30 is that I am sleeping like an absolute champion. I do not get that 2:00-3:00 post-lunch tiredness that I've known for, I don't know, MY ENTIRE LIFE. I stay steadily energized all day long and when 9-10 pm rolls around I fall asleep without a problem. And I pretty much STAY asleep all night long. That is rarity in my world. It has been this way since probably the 3rd night in. It's magic. I'm also finally seeing small changes in my body and how my clothes fit. You would think after even three days of eating clean foods you'd see an immediate change, but aha! On the contrary things can look quite different. Many of your first days are full of bloating and weirdness that you can read all about here (in case you're considering doing this). Your body goes into shock, like - hey, where's all my ice cream, fool? - and reacts like a toddler for the first several days.

With 13 days ahead I am excited to see what other changes take place. And don't get me wrong -- this program isn't a walk in the food truck park. It gets hard and cravings are real and sugar addiction is an actual thing. I do believe that the fact that I was eating a pretty paleo diet before (paleo diet + a bunch of other junk, but I was already used to this type of clean food) has been helpful in the transition to this stricter food plan; BUT I know plenty of people that weren't eating that way when they took the plunge, and they have also enjoyed it. If this is something you've ever thought about doing and just haven't been sure, I would encourage you to continue to research it and give it a try. 

But a word of knowledge - this is not a weight loss program. Weight loss can be a benefit that comes from it, but you should not embark on this journey for only that reason. Embark on it because you are ready to take control of the things you are putting in your body and because you are ready to feel seriously awesome.

And one final insight and piece of encouragement from one of the co-founders of Whole30, as she addresses weight loss goals in her newest book:

Dear Melissa, 

I know the Whole30 and food freedom is about more than just weight loss... but I DO have long-term weight loss goals, and it feels like you don't address those at all in Food Freedom Forever. How can you leave out such an important factor in MY health and happiness? I need the Food Freedom plan to get me to my goal weight. -Love, Everyone
Dear So Many of You Who Have Asked This Question Already,

The short answer: I didn't leave weight loss out of your Food Freedom plan. It just looks different than what you're used to.

The longer answer: You've all dieted before, in an effort to lose weight. You all know exactly what that cycle looks like: restriction, deprivation, hunger, tuning out the signals your body is sending you, expending willpower like crazy, feeling a slave to the scale, and ultimately, losing weight.


Oh, but then immediately rewarding yourself with less healthy food (feeling like you've "earned it" or "have some wiggle room"), watching your willpower abandon you right before your eyes, seeing your sluggish metabolism coping poorly with the extra calories you're consuming now, and regaining all the weight back (and then some). And the worst part: feeling like a failure, wondering what's wrong with you, beating yourself up, and punishing/comforting yourself by eating more less-healthy food.

So I get your question about Food Freedom and weight loss, I really do, but I'll answer your question with a question: If that's what you get with a diet that focuses on weight loss, DO YOU REALLY WANT MORE OF THAT?

Here's what I write in Food Freedom Forever: 

You don’t want quick-fixes that won’t last. You don’t want to lose the same ten pounds over and over again. You don’t want to be a slave to the scale, allowing it to dictate your self-esteem or self-worth. And you’re tired of feeling like a failure when yet another diet doesn’t stick (leading you to eat even more junk food to make yourself feel better).

You want more.

You want to use a new diet as a springboard; a jump-start to healthy habits that will last a lifetime. You want more energy, more restful sleep, fewer cravings, better digestion, resolution of aches and pains, and happier check-ups with your doctor. Would you be psyched if you also dropped a pant size or three? Absolutely. But that’s not all you want.

Ultimately, you want to end the program feeling in control of your food, able to use the tools you’ve learned to maintain that control long after the “diet” part is technically over. If you could only achieve that one thing—lasting food freedom—wouldn’t your other goals (improved health, better self-confidence, and yes, a trimmer waistline) be that much easier to achieve?

Focus on that last line: if you attain true food freedom (healthy habits that stick, a new relationship with food, and feeling in control while still actively pursuing and making progress with all of your health and fitness goals), wouldn't sustainable weight loss naturally follow?

See, I could give you yet another short-term quick-fix diet. I could cut your calories, replace real food with pills or powders, and restrict your food choices until, in a relatively short period of time, you temporarily lost weight. But that's not going to make you healthier, it won't change your habits, and it can't lead to the true food freedom I describe in my book. (And you already know that weight won't stay off.)

So despite what it sounds like you're asking me to do in your Dear Melissa letters, you don't really want that. What you actually want me to do is take you down a slower, more time consuming, more conscientious path requiring effort and dedication. A path that forces you to identify unhealthy habits and dysfunctional relationships with food, because that's the only way those habits and relationships will change. A path that teaches you how to make yourself healthier from the inside-out, supporting your new tastes, reducing cravings, and improving your metabolism, digestion, and immune system. A path that leaves you feeling self-confident, in control, and with more energy to tackle new health and fitness goals.

All of which will help you achieve lasting weight loss; the kind that your body and metabolism can actually maintain, because it's built on a foundation of health, not deprivation and restriction.

That's what you really want, and that's what I want to give you with Food Freedom Forever. And if I may interject a little tough love here: what you've been doing hasn't been working... so maybe it's time to try something new. Trust me. Trust the Whole30. Trust the Food Freedom plan. It will work if you work it.

Best in health,