Why I Quit the Whole 30 - But Still Recommend It!

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For the month of January, I decided to take on the popular paleo food challenge, Whole 30 created by Dallas and Melissa Hartwig. If you’re not familiar with the program, check out this simple introduction.

Essentially this program follows strict paleo guidelines including elimination of all grains, dairy, legumes, sugar (fruit is allowed) and alcohol. This program also emphasizes changing your relationship with food; thinking about what we are putting in our bodies, how foods influence our moods and decisions and how we establish and can eliminate certain emotional connections with food.

I decided on the Whole 30 program for a few different reasons:

Firstly, I had done it before and had an overall positive experience! Secondly, because I wanted to clean up my shifting “paleo” diet. When I first completed this program I was almost 100 percent compliant to the basic paleo principles, so it was a fairly simple change over 30 days. Dairy, grains, legumes and processed sugars were things I wasn’t normally eating. But, as time went on, over the past few years I noticed my diet becoming less and less paleo. This in itself is not a bad thing; I am in no way proposing anyone adhere to a paleo diet 100% of the time. You must find what works for you, keeps you happy and enjoying your food choices overall. And this food template will be different for everyone! However, I wanted to experiment and see how my body liked being 100 percent paleo again. Would my skin be more even toned and clear? Would I experience less sugar cravings? Would I suddenly have more energy? Thirdly, because I wanted a program with strict guidelines and YES and NO foods laid out clear and simple. I didn’t want any ambiguity in what I could or could not eat on this program. And let me tell you, if you’re looking for clear cut rules, the Whole 30 offers this, without a doubt. I figured that January 1st was a perfect time to start and see what happened over 30 days!

I will be upfront, I did not complete the entire 30 days of this program, and I feel completely fine about this. I made it 22 days. Here are some of the main takeaways I learned from completing the (almost) Whole 30 this time around and why I decided to not finish the entire 30 days.

1. That much protein (meat, specifically) doesn’t work for me.

By the end of the 22 days, I was very tired of eating all kinds of meat. I was also tired of eating eggs, which is not something that happens often! I love eggs! I ate multiple dozen eggs in the past three weeks, and now I am slightly put off by them. (The horror!) I don’t believe that there’s any health implications to eating a high protein diet for a generally health person, my body just didn’t seem to need as much, given that I was not exercising heavily or looking to build muscle.

2. What I was eating before was working quite well.

My moderately paleo diet that I had been experimenting with and evolving over the past few years was a great place for me, mentally and physically. And trust me when I say, finding this balance of foods that work and don’t is not always easy. I got reinforcement on the three weeks of this program that moderate paleo works best for me with the addition of some non-paleo foods in my normal diet. I feel like my typical diet allows for effective nutrient intake, absorption and assimilation. I don’t experience any severe health issues, my immune system is strong, my energy levels are good and my skin is clear… I must be doing something right, right?!

3. Variety in the foods you eat is a great thing.

It’s true that variety is the spice of life! I got so tired of eating the same things over and over in the past three weeks. While I’m sure this predicament can easily be mitigated by including different foods, cooking more, discovering new ingredients and recipes to try, this is not always possible. I spent a fair amount of time cooking and preparing food, but I was not willing to dedicate all of my free time doing this for 30 days. This is a downfall on my part, but still something I must account for when realizing that real-life will still happen in the 30 days of this program. And plus I really, really missed yogurt.

4. I was eating too many calories (mostly from fat) than I needed.

I stopped weighing myself regularly many years ago (I don’t even own a scale!), and I don’t consider body weight an accurate representation of health or happiness, but I know I gained weight on this program. I can tell by the way my clothes fit, and how I look in the mirror, without even considering how much I “weigh”. Excess body fat is simply an overabundance of caloric energy no matter where those calories come from. When fat is a primary staple of this diet and there’s no moderation when it comes to nuts, avocados or cooking oils (whoops), it’s really easy to get in more calories than you need. Especially when I wasn’t exercising regularly and expending those excess calories. While I don’t count calories (you shouldn’t either!) or macros, I know my diet before was less energy-dense given that I was eating more carbohydrates (4 calories per gram) vs. fat (9 calories per gram).

5. Restriction is not always the best way to approach a diet, meal-plan or way of eating.

I learned I thoroughly like the freedom that comes with knowing I can eat whatever I want, whenever I want it. I make the decision to eat healthy or unhealthy foods and don’t feel bad or guilty about it, either way. I’ve been up and down on the restriction and indulge rollercoaster and it’s not a healthy place to be. By the end of the second week of the Whole 30 I felt like some of these unwanted feelings of restriction and control followed by overindulgence and excess may have been sneaking their way back in. I will not travel down that road again, and this was a huge warning sign for me to stop and weigh the benefits of what I was doing on this program. For some people, “all-or-nothing” works great for them and they can tackle the Whole 30 with huge success! For others, a strict restriction based program like this may not be the best way to go based on their personality.

I’m still very glad I completed the 22 days of this Whole 30 program, I learned a lot of things about where I am at this point in my life in terms of my diet and what my body likes to be nourished with. I think it’s very important to realize when attempting to change your diet or take on a challenge like this, that what has worked for you in the past may not be the same thing that works for you now. Your body is undergoing constant change, whether it be biochemically and hormonally or structurally and physically. Not to mention the changes that happen in our lives like relationships, jobs, family, friends…everyday life! My life and body is at an entirely different place than it was three years ago when I completed the Whole 30 with great success.

So, do I still recommend the Whole 30 to someone? Absolutely! I still believe whole heartedly in this program and what the team at Whole 30 has done to bring to light this whole-food, nutrient dense way of eating without the traditional diet mentality of negativity and uselessness. This program drives the paleo movement in a positive way and has gained a huge amount of media attention that has brought greater health to thousands of people. I think for someone that is fairly new to paleo, has the determination and knows they do best with an “all-or-nothing” approach, Whole 30 is great! This program’s emphasis on more than just reducing weight and more on “non-scale victories” is what paleo is about, really. Improving digestion, reducing inflammation, balancing hormones and eliminating food cravings. The Whole 30 does all those things.

If you'd like more information about the Whole 30, visit the Whole 30 Website and check out the book It Starts With Food, which gives an in-depth look at the science behind paleo and Whole 30.

Now I’m gonna go eat some yogurt and chocolate…