By Elizabeth McClendon*
Be sure to read Part One first.
This January, I completed my first Whole30.
Technically, so did my roommate Grace. This would be mean if we weren’t practically sisters. But instead, it’s funny since it’s the truth, and I also take complete ownership of derailing her first attempt.
What I learned: read your labels.
While Whole30’ing, you will, at the very least, learn to read labels. Apparently, for some (myself), this skill is more agonizingly developed than it is for others.
I make this showstopper butternut squash soup that we were delighted (and relieved) to realize could easily be adapted for compliance. (Hello, coconut cream as a substitute for heavy cream.) Roughly two-thirds of the way through January, we decided to make it for the second time during the program.
I’d bought a box of vegetable broth earlier in the week, thinking that I’d make this batch vegetarian/vegan just for kicks, and, on my way home Friday night, I collected cubed squash from Costco and (bonus!) a case of compliant chicken broth.
Picture me happily puttering around the kitchen—apron donned, spoon in hand—having just gotten everything in the pot to simmer and generally relishing in a calm finale to my weekend. Grace emerges from her room for the first time in a few hours (How many people want to bet her reading challenge was somehow involved?), pokes around the kitchen as I’m washing the dishes, and drops the following bomb:
“This vegetable broth has sugar in it.”
An entire batch of liquid gold soup, ruined [weeping emoji]. I swear I checked the label in Kroger… but somehow missed the [insert expletive] cane sugar! WHAT IS SUGAR DOING IN YOUR SO-CALLED “SIMPLE TRUTH” ORGANIC VEGETABLE BROTH, KROGER?! #Betrayal #BurnBook
Yes, we put it in the freezer and ate it in February, but I’d really been looking forward to this for dinner and counting on the leftovers. If I’d only used the stupid Costco chicken broth… writing this makes it hurt all over again, but it’s worth sharing.
What I missed: let them eat cake.
I thought I’d just generally crave sugar, but it was specifically cake that I fantasized about. We’d gotten into a rather shameful dessert habit, so I can’t count how many times we’d be sitting together after dinner, and one of us would sigh, “I just want cake.”
Food dreams apparently are common for many Whole30’ers. The one I remember most distinctly:
We were celebrating someone’s birthday with cupcakes, and I had my first bite in my mouth before I realized it was off-plan. I literally spat out the cake, scraping it off my tongue with my fingers, trying to convince myself that if I didn’t swallow it, it didn’t count. The most outrageously upsetting part was that it was a basic, [insert expletive] grocery store cupcake! Something from Pearl’s or Frosting’s at least would have been worth it.
Even still, it was kind of hard to laugh about it the following morning.
Fortunately, Grace’s birthday fell after our Whole30, and WPA Bakery came through like a champion, as always, with a beautiful and scrumptious gluten-free chocolate cake with vanilla buttercream frosting that lived up to our astronomical anticipation. #WorthIt
One of the most quoted lines from Whole30 literature is:
It is not hard. Don’t you dare tell us this is hard. Beating cancer is hard. Birthing a baby is hard. Losing a parent is hard. Drinking your coffee black. Is. Not. Hard. You’ve done harder things than this, and you have no excuse not to complete the program as written. It’s only thirty days, and it’s for the most important health cause on earth: the only physical body you will ever have in this lifetime.
Here they do acknowledge that, yes, this is hard, but the above does a great job at putting things in perspective. They’re known for their tough love.
Whole30’ing requires considerable effort. Food is such a ritualistic part of our culture that suddenly and drastically changing your diet can wreak some physical as well as emotional havoc, especially during times of stress. But it is doable, and so, so worth it.
But it was also easy.
All of that preparation we did on the front end really paid off. It made things infinitely more manageable. So, if you’re considering doing a Whole30, I can’t emphasize enough that preparation is the key to success.
Week 1 is when most Whole30’ers encounter the potentially ugly struggle of transitioning to using fat versus sugar as fuel (e.g. cravings, fatigue, crankiness, headaches, etc.), but, to be honest, this part really wasn’t that bad for us. Neither Grace nor I generally eat a lot of processed foods, and both of us know our way around a kitchen due to our shared passion for cooking. We were also already in the habit of packing our lunches every day for work. Not everyone embarking on a Whole30 comes with this degree of a leg up, so I suppose that’s why the literature spends so much time building up the first days of the program.
Most importantly, however, I had a cohort. Doing a Whole30 with Grace meant that I wasn’t solely responsible for every. single. thing I put in my mouth for 30 days straight, so the shared workload really paid off. Not to mention, it was much more meaningful to have someone doing this with me versus simply observing… sympathy versus empathy and all that.
Would I do it again?
Here’s the entry from my food journal on Day 31:
Can’t believe we’ve made it to the end. Physically, I feel really great, and my skin is significantly clearer. I’m sleeping like a baby and am completely off my allergy meds. My energy levels are more stable throughout the day. “Hanger,” au revoir!
Emotionally, there’s been an amazing change in my mood consistency. My general outlook on life and where I’m at right now is brighter, and I’m not experiencing the low-lows of my depression/anxiety/stress as often or as severely.
This is really the most remarkable thing about my first Whole30 because I can’t remember being genuinely happy on a regular, reliable basis for what seems like forever. I didn’t expect what a huge deal feeling just consistently, psychologically well on all fronts would be, and I’ve felt that way for an entire month (in January no less!). Not just fine. Good.
If that’s not enough to convince you to try Whole30’ing yourself, check out some other success stories.
I’m much more cognizant of what I’m eating now, so another goal is to maintain that level of awareness. By eating Whole30-ish most of the time, I want to see if I can keep my allergies under control as we head into spring. I want to do another Whole30, probably this summer, so that we can develop a more robust, seasonally adaptable recipe repertoire.
As a first-timer, I felt that dining out would be too difficult and wound up only eating out once in January (huge compliments to The Daily Kitchen & Bar for having a friendly menu and being impressively supportive with modifications and answering my annoying questions). I’m a textbook introvert and naturally have a tendency to be a bit of a shut-in, and my first approach to the Whole30 enabled that. Next time I want to challenge myself a bit more in this area. True, going without alcohol and navigating menus is tricky, but let’s not isolate ourselves from the few friends we have, eh?
If you're considering a Whole30: you can do it. Check out below for some recommended resources, many of which are local. And to everyone, all the very best in health!
AmazonSmile – for coconut aminos, coconut chips, dried shitake mushrooms, and to-go packs of almond butter; thank you for giving back to organizations like the Richmond SPCA and Ronald McDonald House Charities
†Belmont Butchery – for being wonderful and also coaching me through making breakfast sausage from scratch for the first time
Costco – for butternut squash (that’s organic, doesn’t cost an arm and a leg, and is already peeled and cubed in appropriately-sized packages), single-serving guacamole packs, olive oil, chicken broth/stock, chicken sausages, and other quality produce, all sold in the mass quantities a Whole30’er requires
†Ellwood Thompson’s – for compliant apple cider, BACON, and I’m sure many other goodies I haven’t discovered yet; I still feel like I’m not cool enough for you
†Ninja Kombucha – for helping me cope without wine for a month; THANK YOU
†Sausage Craft – for not adding sugar belligerently; you guys are the. bomb.
†South of the James Farmers Market – I love you
Tessemae’s – for all of your compliant dressings and condiments (but especially THE KETCHUP)
Trader Joe’s – for ghee** (that doesn’t cost $14 – looking at you, Kroger… seriously I should just break up with you), apple cider, chicken sausages, dried fruit, nuts, and so much more; I’ve spent too much of my life living in places where you don’t exist – nevermore
*Elizabeth is a technical support specialist at a large financial institution, but, if she didn’t have to pay bills, she’d figure out some way to read books, bake, or work with horses for a living. She moved to Richmond, VA in 2014, plans on staying forever, and is in an abusive relationship with her cat.
**Editor's Note: Ghee is a type of butter from India. Cazey looked it up.