For the past thirty days, I actively participated in consuming a strict Paleo diet called Whole30, which focuses on whole foods (non-processed), humanely raised and grass-fed meats, organic produce and healthy fats. Whole30 does NOT allow for sugars, grains, dairy, legumes or alcohol.. The thought behind this is that these foods may have a negative impact on our health and fitness, could be causing some of the aches and pains or inflammation we feel, etc… The goal of the program is to see if NOT consuming these foods has an impact on your body, and to reset your food habits and tastebuds. I won’t take up too much time describing what the Whole30 plan is or how it works, because they have already outlined it very well over at the Whole30 website. I recommend clicking through and reading more about it if this post gets you interested.
I decided to do Whole30 for a variety of reasons.
- A couple of my friends were going to be doing it so we could support each other (I ended up being the only one, but I still had a group of friends motivating me)
- I hadn’t been making the greatest food choices lately (read: eating out a LOT)
- I hadn’t been making it into the gym on my normal schedule for a couple of months
I did have some reservations going into the plan. I was uncertain about eating such “fatty” things as ghee, coconut oil, full-fat coconut milk, nuts and bacon – foods the I would typically keep to a minimum or avoid altogether. I was also worried about the costs associated with going out of my way to locate and purchase grass-fed meats. The reality though, was that three different brands of grass-fed meats were readily available at my local Super Target for not much more than the regular stuff, and everything I have cooked has tasted a million times better than it ever has by using the healthy fats. I used to cook strictly with extra virgin olive oil, use Brummel & Brown margarine on my potatoes and buy the lowest fat cuts of everything. I have been amazed at how much better food tastes and how satisfied I am after a meal. Not to mention, I have felt pretty darn good; I haven’t woken up with any stomach woes, haven’t felt bloated, and I have noticeably lost some weight (more on that later).
To clarify a few things, the Whole30 Program Rules do state that “you don’t need to stress about organic, grass-fed, pastured or free range”. Obviously those choices are better for you, but there is a hierarchy of food quality you can follow to meet your budget and what is available to you. On my Whole30, after I discovered that Target and Sprouts had a pretty wide variety of grass-fed, pastured chicken, turkey and beef, I tried to purchase only those items. There were a few times when I couldn’t find exactly what I needed and opted for conventionally raised meats, but I have done a fairly good job of sticking to what’s recommended for protein. Organic vegetables were another story as I couldn’t justify paying twice as much for something to get organic. For example, a carton of fresh ripe strawberries would be $1.99 for non-organic, and $4.99 for Organic. Rather than paying $3 extra, I just made sure I rinsed everything well. This video where Dr. Aaron Carroll discusses a large number of organic food study results which point to organic being no more nutritious than non-organic also influenced my decision. Of course, it is my decision and you may feel differently. I did however categorize all of the produce on the “dirty dozen” list in my phone app for my grocery list so that they will automatically separate from the reset of the list as organic when I add them. That way if I want to price compare and try to grab organic vs. conventional I have a handy reference.
Once you’ve got the basic tenets of the diet down (Paleo sans sweeteners, alcohol of any kind, and being creative with ingredients to mimic non-Paleo foods) there are LOTS of great resources out there with yummy recipes for you to try. The most prep work any of them need is chopping up and/or measuring the ingredients. I found myself spending about three hours every Sunday prepping most of what we’d eat that week. Because I procrastinate and prefer my veggies fairly fresh, I would prepare my lunch veggies while I got ready for work each morning.
Some sites I frequented often (as well as signed up for their newsletters and liked on Facebook so I’d get their latest posts) include:
There is also a high likelihood that you won’t always have time to prepare fresh food, or might be someplace you wouldn’t be able to keep them fresh. In these instances, there are actually a number of great snacks and minimally processed products you can turn to. Just a few things I kept on hand included almonds, clementines, and blueberry Larabars. Here is a great resource for some snacks that are Whole30 approved.
They say if you fail to plan, you plan to fail. Nowhere will this be more evident than when you embark on the Whole3o, where a slip-up means starting the 30 days all over again. Not that doing the Whole30 longer is harmful in any way, but I don’t think anyone wants to start from the beginning repeatedly.
I am always the most successful when I plan everything out in advance, taking into consideration any meals that will create leftovers, etc… It took some time to compile what I wanted to make for the week and ensure that I had all bases for meals and workouts covered with Whole30-approved foods. But what you might not know about me is that I take pleasure in planning out a menu – researching recipes, finding meals that share ingredients and compliment one another… I’m a total nerd about it. It’s actually been nice to get back into the swing of planning healthy meals in advance to ensure there are no slip-ups.
I referred to the sites above as well as Pinterest (check out this Whole30 board Jenn and I started) and each week I pinned what I would make for the week (making the recipes easy to locate when I was ready to make them) and created a shopping list. My three go-to stores were Whole Foods (for a minimal number of items that I could only find there, such as ghee), Sprouts (GREAT deals on produce), and Super Target. Lucky for me, Whole Foods and Sprouts are a block away from one another so that made most of the shopping pretty quick and easy.
As much as planning is important, you need to leave a little room for flexibility. I often plan out a week and find a certain recipe yielded more/less food than I had anticipated and I have to adjust accordingly. I also share food with my husband (obviously) so he is also taking leftovers to work some days which impacts what’s left over for me to take. Keeping canned chicken and diced tomatoes around is a great worst-case-scenario, because I can whip together one of the master recipes in just a few minutes and not have to worry at all about what to eat. I also had good luck throwing together “Garbage Stir Fry” with miscellaneous veggies and canned chicken, and spinach salads with veggies, chicken and Paleo Asian Dressing.
Before selecting a recipe for your menu, check out all the ingredients to confirm it is Whole30-compliant. Some things can be substituted (i.e. apple cider vinegar in place of cooking wine for deglazing, or vanilla bean paste in place of vanilla extract (it has alcohol in it)) and some things can be left out completely without negatively impacting a recipe. For example, the homemade turkey sausage I made for the sweet potato hash called for optional molasses, which I did not use, and it tasted just fine.
Results & Thoughts
Whole30 ended for me on March 11th. On my first day out, I let myself indulge just a tad in carbs (a sandwich roll, some mac’n’cheese…). What I found was that I wasn’t particularly craving it, and it didn’t taste SO good that I found myself having missed it while I was on Whole30. But most of all, so far, I feel that I have been exercising control and discretion about what I am eating. I walked past a tin of cannolis at work today. 3o days ago, that would not have happened. I enjoyed a tiny piece of chocolate today – I mean really, truly savored the flavor – and didn’t go back for more.
But best of all, I weighed in today and go to see the results of my diligence on paper. As of today, I am down 8lbs of fat, up 3.4lbs of muscle, and down 3.4% body fat. Not only are those good results, but they are HEALTHY results too (you know how they say you should lose 1-2lbs per week…).
TFG Tried & Trusted!
And now, for something that will be useful! The following are all of the delicious recipes that I tried and loved while on Whole30. The links will take you to my Pinterest Pins so that you can re-pin them for yourselves!
Crispy Almond & Herb Chicken (made with pecans in place of almonds because that’s what I had)
Skillet Sweet Potato, Sausage & Spinach Hash with Homemade Turkey Sausage (recipe coming soon!!)
Turkey Veggie Mini Meatloaf (modified with 1 real egg, 1/4 cup almond flour, organic ketchup)
Coconut Fried Chicken Nugget (substitute the the coconut with chopped almonds if needed – tastes great!)
So that’s it. I am by NO means, done with eating healthy. I can really, truly see myself sticking to a fairly Paleo diet for the foreseeable future. It’s not that expensive, I feel great, and the physical results speak for themselves. I am in the best shape I have been in in a few years now. I am wearing clothes I haven’t worn (let alone worn comfortably) in longer than I can remember. I literally have a pair of pants I bought several months ago that are falling off me unless I wear a tight belt.
I cannot wait to see what continuing down this path does for me!