As part of my new year newness, I decided to challenge myself to the Whole30. I didn't buy the book, because honestly, the program creators kind of sound like dicks. So I've read their website, reviewed the downloads, read wrap-ups and advice and interpreted guidelines from others who have completed the challenge, and sat down to plan my meal and make my shopping list.
Something that comes up in every review is addressing the question "is it hard?" and the same answer, along the lines of It's not really hard, it just takes a lot of planning.
So, here's my experience in the first week - no canned answers.
It took me awhile to get myself mentally focused enough to commit to this. I want to eat what I want to eat. Mostly, I don't eat terrible food. But if I want those cheese fries, don't you dare get in my way. I also have the kind of personality that likes to freak out when restrictions are placed. All that said, I decided I'd commit to the first week. See how it goes, and if it was going well, plan for another. I'm battling two mindsets here, because while I don't like to be restricted, I also don't like to give up on a challenge.
So you make the decision to do Whole30. Then what? I printed out a few of the downloads available on the Whole30 website: Program Rules, Shopping List, Meal Planning Template and Guide to Grocery Shopping. I sat down with these and began planning out a week's worth of meals. Planning a week of dinners is nothing new to me, but I don't usually plan out breakfast and lunch. And with restrictions on grain, dairy and sugar intake, you have to get a little more creative. Soy is also a no-no, and that shit shows up in everything. Watch out.
Planning these 21 meals and creating the shopping list afterward took me about 2 hours. Compared to my "normal" eating life, most of the extra thought went into varying my typical side dishes for dinners and coming up with ideas for complete lunches, as well as having a list of acceptable snack foods. I found it helpful to keep a food journal and write down all of my meals and snacks for each day, which serves as a good reference for future planning.
Also, if you don't already compost, you might want to start. You'll have so many fruit and vegetable scraps that it'd be a shame for them to go to waste.
For as massive of a grocery list as you'll have, shopping will surprisingly not take as long as you might expect. You've probably heard about shopping the perimeter of the store for healthier foods, and that's pretty much what you end up doing for Whole30 meal ingredients. Fruit, vegetables, meat and eggs just about cover it. You might venture into the danger zone for a few items like cooking oils, nuts and spices. Put your blinders on and walk fast. The big kicker to shopping is that your total at the check-out line might be more - maybe a lot more - than you're used to spending. I think it partially depends on what kind of food you normally eat. If you're really sticking to the nitty gritty details of Whole30 and getting all the free range meats, definitely expect a higher bill. And with all the produce you'll be buying, if much of it is not in season, you'll be paying extra. That was probably the biggest increase in my spending. I'm usually fine with apples and bananas and maybe even some berries if they're on sale during the winter, but knowing how much I'd have to load up my meals with fruits and veggies, I wanted more variety and in February, that variety has a price.
You will be helping yourself out immensely if you take the time to do small tasks like washing and cutting produce in advance. When you're hungry, you want to eat. Most of your Whole30 foods will be in the fridge, so there's no opening the snack cabinet to grab a salty, crunchy something when you want a quick bite. When you come home from work tired and grumpy, you'll be happy to remember that you've already advanced yourself a couple of steps in the process of making dinner. This step has certainly helped me stay on track. I try to have fruit and vegetables for the next day ready the night before. That means breakfast and lunch all or nearly made and in the fridge ready to go the next morning. There's no running to the deli to grab a sandwich for lunch if you didn't have enough time to make lunch that morning. Keeping yourself successful isn't going to cost you big chunks of time. Plan for maybe 30 minutes of prep work at night, and that should have you ready to go, maybe even including time for prepping the coffee pot (and hallelujah you can drink coffee! I've been taking mine with coconut almond milk, no complaints). If you weren't much of an at-home chef before Whole30, put your apron on because it's going to get messy. I love to cook (obviously), so I love that I'm cooking every single night. There's a satisfaction that comes with planning and preparing a meal, which brings me to...
So, apparently these Whole30 dictators advise to only eat 3 meals a day, except if you work out. After exercise you're allowed a "bonus" meal to help your body recover. Well, This is a rule that I am breaking. The whole (haha) point in doing this is to be successful, right? That said, I eat when I need to. Maybe they've crafted some reason as to why eating just three times a day is best, but I'm not worried about it. If you know what foods you should and shouldn't eat, and understand the proper portioning of those foods, eat them whenever you need to. I've never been super hungry early in the morning, so that combined with time restrictions have me eating a smaller breakfast. I also don't have a lengthy lunch break, so a gigantic lunch isn't really an option either. Instead, I eat 3 meals a day and 2-3 snacks a day. Overall I've been eating a much larger quantity of raw foods than usual, thanks to all the fruits and veggies. Since raw foods aren't loaded down with grease and fat, I think our stomachs don't feel as full from them, so you eat more of them to accomplish fullness. My non-expert opinion says that's okay. Half a pint of strawberries for a morning snack? Bring it on.
Measuring progress in the first week is...different. You weigh yourself and take body measurements when you begin the Whole30, and are encouraged not to do either of those until you've completed your 30 days. If you read up on Whole30, especially other people's accounts of their experience, you might be eager to see your loss of pounds and inches. Don't get fixated on that so soon. The first week is probably a lot of adjustment on your body (more or less depending on how you regularly eat). You can measure this by thinking about a few things. Consider digestions, energy level, how well you're planning and eating meals, how your body feels overall with the dietary change, the way you're sleeping, etc. Are you tasting flavors differently than you did with your previous eating habits? You're making big changes, and Whole30 rules are strict. The overall change in eating habits and feeding yourself healthier food is the big picture. So that package of organic bacon you bought has a little bit of sugar? Don't beat yourself up over it. I think the progress bar is full on the first week just by making it to the end.
Planning for Week 2 (you haven't gotten the best of me yet, cheese fries), I'm starting with looking at what foods I have left over from my first week of grocery shopping. Best to use those up early in Week 2 so nothing goes to waste. Being familiar with the good foods and the no-nos, I'm comfortable with spending a little time looking up new recipes and maybe trying a few. I also had some recipe ideas I didn't use during the first week, so those are in my arsenal as well. Finally, I can fill in remaining meals with some of my first week favorites, which I know thanks to my food journal. I experienced headaches during the first week, and I'm not sure what to attribute them to. Maybe it's a sign of my body detoxing. It could have been that I wasn't getting portions right or wasn't eating frequently enough. And maybe it was just weather - we did have several rainy days. Whatever the cause, it's something I want to pay attention to in the coming week. I'm hoping that during week two, I'll be less focused on the foods I'm not eating. Let me provide some clarity for the "is it hard?" question. Is eating good and healthy food hard? No, it is not. Is letting go of all the unhealthy but stupidly satisfying foods you used to eat hard? Ohmygodyes. Every day I thought of foods I wanted to eat, whether it was an egg bagel smeared with butter, the red velvet whoopie pies I wanted to make, my favorite Valentine candies I walked by at Target...every day there was some forbidden food on my mind or that I saw or that I smelled and I absolutely wanted to devour it. But I knew I had a goal, and I wanted to stick to it. I hope those thoughts start to go away in the remaining weeks. I will say, if the headaches do not subside, I'm going to have to make some adjustments.