I Did Whole30* in January and Here’s How It Went
*If you read nothing else besides this sentence and then immediately jump to the weight-loss part, remember that I am not a doctor and to “Consult your physician before beginning any diet, nutrition, or fitness plan.” Thanks, Google.
This was my third or fourth annual attempt at the Whole30 plan, which millions of people have found success with in a variety of ways. The primary one is weight loss, of course, or else it likely wouldn’t have the intense following it does.
And while weight loss is on my mind pretty much every day, I do try to think about it more in terms of how I’ll feel: attacking workouts more easily (including trekking San Francisco hills); indulging in rich foods sometimes, but not all the time; and exploring my relationship with food on a deeper level than “this is bad” or “that wasn’t worth the calories.”
There are a few cornerstones of the Whole30 program, which I inevitably break annually. So while I won’t get a gold star for doing it 100 percent, I do show myself some grace for doing better than the weeks or year that led up to my restart:
Don’t weigh or measure yourself in any way until after Day 30. I usually weigh myself daily – but I couldn’t bring myself to do that in the depths of 2020 when I knew I was gaining weight at an alarming rate and not doing anything to change it. I began 2021 by weighing myself weekly, just to log in my WW (AKA Weight Watchers) app, and tried my very hardest to not get overly excited about big losses or defeated from smaller changes.
Don’t even consider the possibility of a “slip.” This is entirely logical and completely doable, but I’ve previously allowed one slip for my annual Gasparilla Invades SF party at the end of January. While this didn’t happen in 2021 – and I thought I’d get through without temptation to drink – I did allow myself to slip with a taco salad on day 17. And, I felt like crap the next day so I more than made up for it in post-taco shell indulgence. I also indulged in one piece of buttered toast… but more on that later.
Eat when you’re hungry. Again, entirely logical. I was reading Bringing Up Bébé: One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting, which is fascinating on so many levels but also unpacks the French approach to mealtimes. In broad strokes, they eat at 8am (breakfast), 12pm (lunch), 4pm (snack), and 8pm (dinner), and don’t eat outside of those designations. I wanted to try this out for myself, so I ended up eating a snack at 4pm when I wasn’t always hungry or I was hungry before 8pm but made myself wait as close to the target mealtime as possible.
Now, there are a million different ways to approach this program and each person should absolutely examine their individual relationship with food, understand that an elimination/restrictive program is not a sustainable lifestyle, and everyone has different definitions of what healthy looks like for them. My experience is one of litchrlly millions and has looked different each year I’ve done it.
So, what did I eat?
Before I give you all the answers to unlocking the universe,** it’s important to note I had to change my approach to food. I had to meal plan. I had to meal prep. I knew, without a shadow of a doubt, I wouldn’t succeed if I left things to chance and hoped for the best in the moment.
I’d seen the all-too-quick temptation of ordering pizza and eating it over the next four meals, thinking that was OK for portion control. I’d fallen all too easily in the working remotely trap of going straight from 8am until 3pm, only to look up and realize I hadn’t eaten lunch. I’d grab a snack and then have two dinners (or one American-sized plate) to make up for my missed lunch.
I thought emotional eating meant you cried into your ice cream or only smiled with a carb in hand. I rationalized away all of these things because I’ve never been thin, never had a flat stomach, never known what it meant to be slender. And I didn’t start – have never started – an approach to lifestyle change expecting those kinds of results.
But damn, did I want to feel in control of myself again.
I first referenced my spreadsheet with recipes and meal plans I’ve used before. I knew the temptation to eat or drink socially would be gone – San Francisco was under only takeout/delivery orders for the foreseeable future. (Even with this lifted, on Jan. 28, I was so close to the end I made myself stick to the plan, including this Saturday while sitting outside, masked, at bars and sipping sparkling water.)
I opened endless browser tabs with recipes. I looked for common ingredients to minimize a bottle of this or giant bag of that and have it go to waste. I invested in a meal-planning pad because writing (in case you’ve noticed) helps me commit to and be energized about an idea.
My mom agreed to try Whole30 for her first time, and we were in constant contact about recipes and ingredients. My sister-in-law has had incredible success following WW, so we three texted regularly with ideas and motivation. My girlfriends from high school and a good friend in Chicago were recommitting to WW as well, so I had plenty of humans to turn to in times of desperation or creative drought.
My meal plan each week consisted of:
- 2 breakfast options: a quick/premade one for weekdays and more exciting one for weekends
- 3 lunch and dinner options: three W30-approved recipes with four servings each, plus one takeout meal split into two portions
- 3 snack options: W30-approved nuts or plantain chips, plus some protein bars – which vary in W30 approvals and can actually make you crave sugar more
Breakfast: I thought baked egg cups were a revelation until I grew very tired of reheating already-cooked eggs. I often ended up with two cups of hot coffee or one cup of cold brew, plus a Tbsp. of Silk Coconut creamer and eating a couple of eggs scrambled in the microwave (45sec, check, 45sec). Weekends with sliced avocado, air-fried bacon, or bowls of sliced fruit were worth the delicious wait.
Lunch/Dinner: I wanted so badly to be into the same meal a fourth time around but sometimes abandoned it for a quick salad or anything at all besides the same meat and veggies I’d had the past three days. I optimized my laziness for meals made on sheet pans or in slow cookers – because signing an apartment lease in February 2020 meant living without a dishwasher would be fine 🙄 I finally bought an Instant Pot last year but it’s still in the box… so I looked for recipes to crisp up veggies in my mini air fryer while meat roasted in the oven.
Each week, I ordered one takeout meal of grilled, non-breaded wings with two side salads; and I split the entire meal into two portions. I got fancy and took advantage of a brisket add-on one week, then drooled while thinking about the brisket the whole following week. When I ordered it a second time (with a free piece of buttered toast!), I got food poisoning and promptly swore off brisket for a long time to come.
Snacks: Plantain chips and 5lb bags of Halos are my BFFs when it comes to W30-approved snacks. I also found my way to Lara Bars and RXBars, trying different approved flavors each week. These are high on my WW Points Plan (7-9 on Blue) so I felt a little pang of guilt each time (also see above re: craving sugars more).
All of this takes time. And while I don’t have anyone but myself to worry about, I also don’t have anyone but myself to count on for grocery shopping, prepping, cooking, and cleaning. I live within walking distance of a Trader Joe’s, Target, and some local markets – but with the dining restrictions in place, lines cropped up again and I’m not a fan of standing in the rain to schlep groceries from multiple places (without a car, mind you). I will absolutely throw money at the problem and am in a privileged position to be able to afford fresh food, selected by a third-party shopper, who delivers it to my apartment within a 2-hour window I select.
Of all the recipes I tried, there are quite a few I’ll keep in my regular rotation:
- Whole30 Smoky Sweet Potato Chili
- Whole30 Garlic Shrimp with Sweet Potato Noodles: I bought premade sweet potato noodles, instead of spiralizing myself and I’d halve this next time because reheating shrimp for days grossed me out
- Easy Lemon Garlic Chicken Thighs
- Whole30 Spicy Pork & Pesto Zoodles: I bought premade zucchini noodles, instead of spiralizing myself
- Whole30 Instant Pot Sesame Chicken: As my IP sits unopened, and I couldn’t get arrowroot powder, I made the chicken on the stove top in a skillet
- Whole30 Loaded Baked Potato Soup
So, how did I feel?
Overall, as with years past, I’ve felt more clear-headed, more focused, and more energized. This is without keeping up with daily workouts, mind you. And I wasn’t boozing *that* much in 2020 considering bars were closed so much and I really don’t enjoy drinking at home alone. I slept much better on the days I got longer walks in, but even a 20-minute walk felt invigorating instead of like a thing I had to do. Turns out there’s a lot of time to fill if I stop working before 7pm and don’t eat dinner until 8.
Fruits tasted sweeter, because they were my main source of sugar. I got pops of flavor from roasted veggies and marinated meat, instead of the hollow (though delicious) taste of french fries or heavy (though delicious) taste of cream, cheese, and all of the dairy I could get my hands on.
My stomach didn’t feel distended, I didn’t wake up groggy from a restless night, and I was thinking about food constantly – but in a more balanced and mindful way. Instead of “What will I eat next?,” I was excited to try a new recipe or grateful to have leftovers and not spend $30 on delivery. ← This wasn’t how I felt every single day, mind you, but it was more often than not.
Now, the first day back from “break,” I learned about a change in my role at work. The next day, the attempted coup at the U.S. Capitol stirred up a million emotions, from anger to disbelief. Inauguration Day brought me to happy tears with every historic second of Kamala’s oath and mention of “Second Gentleman” – and then I was told promptly after the ceremony that my role was changing even more, including a change to my manager and fundamental projects.
Emotional eating had new meaning, the one that is largely agreed upon and I hadn’t considered because I wasn’t crying into a pint of Ben & Jerry’s: it’s a way to suppress or soothe negative emotions.
Well, shit. Ice cream does make me feel better. But isn’t that true for everyone (besides lactose-intolerant or vegan peeps)? It probably sounds super elementary, but I hadn’t explored my emotional relationship with food because I knew “bad” foods tasted good and that was that. With my adjusted eating times, I told myself during tough work days that I could have my snack at 4pm or wait until breakfast if I’d already had my 8pm dinner and was in a glass case of emotion.
So, how much weight did I lose?
This might be the only other sentence you read, so I won’t make you wait any longer… In the course of 31 days, I lost 13 lbs. Remember: This is my singular experience, and my BMI was considered Obese so I will very likely lose weight at a faster pace than someone with, say, 5% weight loss as a goal.
I was quite stubborn about not taking before and after pictures, because I don’t want there to be a fixed “after” (and yes, without a haircut in months and feeling my absolute grossest, I didn’t want it documented on the interweb forever).
But I can say, going into February, I’ll take away the following key changes:
- Fixed mealtimes: as close to 8am, 12pm, 4pm, and 8pm as possible
- Recipe exploration: Even with SF slowly reopening, it feels good to create for myself more often than not
- Understanding emotional eating: reaching for fruit or healthy snacks, instead of cookies or chips – and if I really want those, I’ll have to walk myself to the store, instead of keeping them at arm’s reach
Phew! This felt like a therapy session in itself. I’m curious if you’ve tried Whole30 or similar reset plans, and what your experience was. Do you have favorite recipes or “hacks” to make it feel less stressy?
**Nope, not gonna find that here either.