I’ll just come right out and say it: I try to make smart food choices, but I don’t always get it right. I’m lazy about preparing healthy meals and I never turn down free (read: carb-overloaded) office food. In fact, I’ll pretty much always justify eating a cheeseburger because—you never know—it could be my last day on Earth! In short, self-control isn’t my strong suit.
On any given day, I usually whip up a protein shake or cereal for breakfast, pick up a salad for lunch, and scramble some eggs for dinner. Not too bad, right? But it’s the in-between snacks that are the problem. I’ll often nosh on the half-bagel leftover from a morning meeting or some late-night cheese.
On top of my not-always-so-hot eating habits, my weight has yo-yo-ed for the past five years or so. In fact, bloating and irregularity have been my ‘normal’ for far too long. I also recently learned that I have an autoimmune condition called Hashimoto’s disease, which may sound like some sort of ninja move—but isn’t. Basically, my body attacks its own thyroid gland, messing with its ability to make the hormones that my metabolism and cardiovascular system need. No wonder my weight has been trouble.
Finding out about my Hashimoto’s diagnosis has, however, made me more motivated about taking care of my health. So, when a friend of mine said she’d finished a 30-day eating plan called Whole30, I decided to check it out. She looked great, and said she felt even better. It was time to take my health into my own hands!
So, what is the Whole30, exactly? It’s 30 days without processed foods, ingredients you can’t pronounce, dairy, grains, legumes, alcohol, or sweeteners (natural or artificial). The goal is to give your body a month-long break from foods that might be causing health issues. Afterwards, you reintroduce foods one by one to see how your body reacts.
Some Whole30ers say they’ve lost weight, gained regularity, seen clearer skin, experienced less bloat, or developed a healthier relationship with food after completing the program. Intriguing, right? There’s one very important rule, though: Slip up just once and you have to start your 30 days all over again. Intense.
Okay, 30 days, I thought. I got this!
So I committed. Unfortunately, that meant saying ‘goodbye for now’ to my buddies Cheese, Chewing Gum, and Mom’s Pancakes. I was worried that my inability to turn down pizza would do me in—but a line from the book Whole30 by Melissa Hartwig convinced me I could do it: “Don’t you dare tell us this is hard. Beating cancer is hard. Birthing a baby is hard. Drinking your coffee black is not.”
Excited to feel (and see) results, I charged into my first few days on Whole30. There are a gazillion Whole30 recipes out there, but given my busy schedule, I decided to take the simple route. Still, I knew I had to do some meal prepping, so I made ground turkey with peppers and onions for my lunches and a giant fruit salad with grapefruit, blueberries, and strawberries to keep around as a snack. I made an easy egg-spinach scramble for breakfast each morning and stocked my work desk with nuts to squash sneak-attack snack cravings. (What did I do before cashews came into my life?!) For dinner, I scrambled up more eggs and spinach with some diced chicken and onions, and called it a day.
Not gonna lie, I felt extremely tired. (Whole30 warned me this might happen.) Without the usual bread, excessive amount of gummy vitamins, and protein bars, I had drastically cut back on carbs and sugar. Despite the tiredness, though, I still finished the week strong. I felt lighter and more optimistic because I managed to survive a whole week!
Related: Is Sugar Really All That Bad For You?
That week brought some perks: My toilet time became more regular and I started drinking more water. Before Whole30, I was lucky if I drank a small bottle of water throughout the day before my nightly glass of wine. I think it was that extra H2O that really helped me ‘go.’
With a family birthday party filling my house with non-Whole30-approved foods, week two got off to a rocky start. I was surrounded by temptation—and I felt a little annoyed about it. Luckily, my family was pretty happy for me for sticking it out, and even seemed interested in trying Whole30 themselves—until the cake came out, of course. Determined, I kept my eyes on the prize and got some kudos for my self-control. Take that, cake! As much as I love chowing down with my family at birthdays and parties, it was nice to go to bed not feeling bloated that night.
The rest of the week was a challenge. I continued to feel like a zombie (and not in the mood to think up new meals), so I had kept my daily menu pretty much the same as week one—a decision I started to regret by Wednesday. I switched to a combo of canned salmon and hard-boiled eggs for lunch. While that got me through the rest of the week, I was pretty over this Whole30 thing. I wanted wine and cheese, and I wanted it now.
At this point, I was straight-up crabby, but I knew I was halfway there. My stomach felt flatter, my face looked slimmer, I was going to the bathroom without a problem, and my skin was blemish-free, so I begrudgingly chugged along.
And then things went south. On Tuesday, I got home really late from work and didn’t have dinner prepped. I was totally exhausted—and not in the mood to cook. Suddenly I was reaching for the cheese. (Palm-to-face.) I knew what this little oopsie meant: I had to start Whole30 all over again. I felt like I had let myself down, just for a stinking piece of cheese. So, back to day one, I went…
Starting From Scratch
Luckily, starting over wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. If anything, I was more focused, prepared, and determined—I couldn’t fail twice! I knew I had to switch up my meals to keep my taste buds in the game.
I cleared my usual temptations from the fridge and pantry (goodbye, cheese!), and prepped mixed berries and grilled chicken with spinach and a sweet potato for work. I also made cauliflower mash and a bunch of different veggies to give my spinach habit a bit of a break. By the end of the week, I felt energized.
With the third week of my reboot came my birthday—and the fear that I’d slip up again. My mom came to the rescue, though, and made a Whole30-approved birthday dinner. We all noshed on grilled chicken, potatoes, and mixed vegetables for dinner—and even munched on fruit salad for dessert! While many birthdays past ended with a stomach ache, this time I went to bed feeling great. I didn’t even miss the cake.
After nailing my birthday, I practically danced into my final week of Whole30. By this point, I felt well-rested and alert all day long. It amazed me how much the foods I ate (or didn’t!) affected my mood, energy, and focus. I didn’t even think about sugar or bread as I sailed through the last few days. Even cheese didn’t taunt me much.
I Did It! Uh, Now What?
Reaching day 30 was a great feeling. I was free of bloat and toilet struggles, my jeans definitely felt looser, and everyone kept telling me how great I looked. All this just from eating well!
But then came a feeling that reminded me of a weird breakup: I wanted Whole30 to end so badly, but once it was over I almost felt a little lost. Like, okay, fine, you’re free to go eat your gut-inflaming foods now.
The next day, I was out to dinner with my family and had myself a good ol’ hunk of restaurant bread with butter. (I’ll admit that my eyes might have closed in slow-mo as I chewed.) But my bread-y nirvana was cut short pretty quickly when my stomach started cramping up halfway through the meal. Did my body have an issue with bread? Reintroducing cheese a few days later didn’t go so well either—hello, bloat.
Related: 8 Possible Reasons Why You’re So Tired All The Time
Now that I’m acutely aware of how bread and dairy make me feel, I try not to eat them too often. In fact, none of my old guilty pleasures have much power over me these days. Free office food? Maybe I’ll grab a piece of fruit, but you’ll see none of my former cubicle grub-hoarding habits here. I’m also a lot better at reading food labels and I really think about what I put in my body. Other perks? A lot of the snack bars and sugary cocktails I used to enjoy taste funky to me now. Artificial sweeteners and piña coladas actually make me feel sick.
Though I’m not about to go full-on Whole30 all the time—I still love my protein shakes and a good happy hour from time to time—I’m so glad I did it.
Related: Cleaning up your diet? Find a natural protein supplement to fit your lifestyle.