Just Google "Whole30 results" and you will find thousands of amazing stories and side by side photos of people who have seen huge success in just 30 days. Can you lose 20 pounds, get off medications, eliminate pain/acne/fatigue/digestive issues/whatever else in just 30 days? Hell yes. Will it happen for everyone? No way. And I'm not being a Debbie Downer, because I have never ever talked to anyone who has done a Whole30 and hasn't benefited from it. But when it comes to your health, you must remember:
(Whole30's view on this is similar to my own--- I suggest you read it if you are doing, have completed, or are thinking about doing a Whole30!)
That being said, I am excited to share what changes I've noticed from the Whole30, but most importantly, what I've learned about myself and my body-- for a number of reasons. For one, maybe it can inspire someone to tackle a Whole30 who has had similar issues (or maybe completely different ones). Maybe sharing my results can be a lightbulb for those who have done the Whole30 and felt they didn't get anything out of it-- maybe they will see how I measure success, and see that they too have had success. Thirdly, I want to share my results because I know how deeply and intensely food affects our health. I preach it all the time, and have even chosen to make a career out of it as a Nutritional Therapy Practitioner. But I must practice what I preach, and what better way to do that then to do an experiment on myself, and show proof of the results?
You won't see side by side pictures here. I know those are pleasing to the eye but 1) They can be misleading-- lighting, positioning, time of day, clothing-- all of these things can skew a before and after picture comparison, 2) My results have been probably less outwardly noticeable than many people, and 3) I forgot to take before pictures. Oops :) I doubt I would have shared them anyway! Instead, I'm going to get pretty candid here, in hopes that maybe I can prove to you that nutritional therapy (using food to support the body's optimal functioning) works. And it works well.
The only picture I do have (and to me, it tells more than a picture of me standing in a sports bra looking like an idiot) is the following one:
What the hell is it? It's a Symptom Burden Analysis, plotted from the Nutritional Assessment Questionnaire (NAQ)-- a tool I use as a Nutritional Therapy Practitioner (in training) to gauge dysfunction and imbalance in clients, and also to measure progress. The NAQ is a detailed 300+ question survey, which aims to evaluate a person's health by evaluating the presence and severity of symptoms that point to certain dysfunctions, imbalances, and deficiencies. From a NAQ, I then can prioritize where we need to focus our nutritional therapy efforts. I can focus on particular symptoms, but also tally up sections and then chart the results, for a great visual interpretation of a client's health.
I took the NAQ at the end of November, right around when I reached the "I'm fed up" point for the last time. As you can see from the red line, I was all over the place. Knowing what I know about nutritional therapy, I chose to make digestion and blood sugar handling a main focus of my Whole30-- these two things essentially affect everything else. I have also been under a lot of stress-- for the past few years really-- and I knew my adrenals were playing a big role in how I felt all the time (they directly affect digestion, thyroid, and blood sugar handling among many other things).
I re-took my NAQ on day 30 of my Whole30 journey. I didn't look at the November NAQ survey or results since the last time I needed to for school, in the first week of December. I didn't want anything to skew my results. Judging off how I felt, I knew there would be some big changes, but I didn't expect how drastic they would be.
The blue points and line represents post Whole30. I think the graph speaks for itself (minus the mistake I made by not even connecting the red cardiovascular point-- oops!) but there are some things I'd like to point out:
But I didn't really need this NAQ/chart to prove to me that the Whole30 has made a big difference for me. It's a wonderful visual, but throughout the 30 days, I've noticed some big differences in how I feel and perform. I'm sleeping better than ever and am beginning to wake up feeling more refreshed. I don't bonk during my workouts like I used to. My hair and nails are strong and vibrant, and my skin has never been so clear-- I actually haven't had even one blemish the entire Whole30. My energy levels are stable throughout the day-- I don't feel I need coffee to get me through the day or crave sugar. Lastly (and there's a reason why this is mentioned last), I lost 6 pounds-- which may not seem like a huge loss, but to me, it is. Since my thyroid started slowing down, I've put on weight and have been working to lose it for a while. But I never could lose even 1 pound-- so 6? That's big. In total since the beginning of December, it's actually more around a total of 9, which I'm pretty pleased with. The number on the scale doesn't matter so much to me, but it's a good gauge of my health (particular hormonal), so I like seeing a positive change-- it means things are functioning better. Would I like to lose more? I don't really care. In fact, I would like to put more muscle on, which may mean some weight gain. But my aesthetic goals take a back seat to my health, and I know that once my health is optimal, those goals will be easier to achieve, so I'm being patient now.
Whole30 final thoughts and my plans for going forward:
I hope you all enjoyed reading my Whole30 journey and perhaps learned something or were motivated to change your lifestyle or start a Whole30 of your own! If anyone ever has questions, needs direction or motivation, wants to see me one-on-one, or simply wants to talk anything health and nutrition related, I am always available via e-mail!
Day 30-- the day everyone who has ever done the Whole 30 waits for. The end is here! But the funny thing about the Whole30, is that you think day 30 will come and it will all be over, but you start to realize pretty soon that there really isn't going to be an "end." The habits you've adopted (or re-connected with) have become sort of engrained-- maybe it took a week for you to realize, and maybe it took the whole 4 weeks-- maybe you didn't even realize it until a post-Whole30 binge on crappy food made you feel so terrible that you now see what this entire month was supposed to teach you. Whatever your personal situation, it's pretty rare to finish the Whole30 and find yourself in the same position as before, feeling as if all your time and efforts were a waste.
So for me, day 30 wasn't anything special or monumental. Of course I was excited to start to reintroduce some healthy foods that I missed, and have a treat here and there (balance is certainly key), but I knew weeks ago that getting back into this rhythm was just what I needed, and I wasn't planning on messing it up.
Day 30 meals (below):
Breakfast: Scramble made with leftover sweet potatoes, cauliflower, steamed zucchini, & 2 eggs topped with jalapeno mango sauce, decaf coffee (not pictured) with 1t each of butter and coconut oil
Lunch: Leftover smoked chicken, sweet potato, and steamed green beans
Dinner: Leftover smoked chicken (yes, again... I don't get bored of it!), boiled yucca, coconut kale, and salad with green olives, lime/avocado oil dressing, and dried herbs
So what now? Well, everyone is going to have a different post-Whole30 plan. The smartest plan, in my opinion (and I'm not alone), is a controlled reintroduction phase. Why isn't continuing to eat this way forever the smartest plan? For some people, it is the best plan, but speaking generally, I would say as your next phase, reintroduction trumps extending the Whole30 for 45, 60, or even 90 days. If you work to reintroduce foods and realize your body functions best without them, you can always choose to go back to the Whole30... or you also may be able to reintroduce foods, find some that your body is fine with, and then continue on with an adapted, personalized Whole30. For most people, I think trying to eat according to Whole30 guidelines forever is unnecessarily restrictive. Having food "rules" to follow just takes away from the innate intelligence of the body to decipher what foods it prefers and which it does not. And mentally, it's not the best course of action. Food always will have social and emotional components, and we can't ignore that. We just need to find our own balance, choose our own battles, and create an eating style that works best for our own unique physiology. So do I think that it's fine to have sugary, processed, gluten-containing foods on a daily basis? No. Way. But hopefully, the Whole30 taught you that!
So why should you go through a reintroduction phase when you finish the Whole30? There are many reasons, and I could dedicate a whole blog series to them, but I will list the most important. Firstly, and most simply, why waste the last 30 days? You just changed your whole outlook on food, and food behaviors, for a month. You probably feel better-- more vibrant, less moody. You likely are sleeping better, performing better at work or in school, and feeling stronger in the gym. You may have even lost a few inches or pounds along the way. You also made a dramatic impact on your health, which you may or may not realize. Why throw that all away?
Secondly, the Whole30 is an experiment-- a way to figure out exactly which foods your body does not tolerate. It is essentially a classic elimination diet. While food allergy testing has become fairly popular, it's not very accurate. Especially since allergies have their roots in digestive dysfunction, we really can develop new allergies without even realizing it. Also, a sensitivity, or intolerance, to a food can be just as problematic as an allergy. Food allergies are created in response to protein-based substances (called antigens) that the body recognizes as foreign, and therefore creates antibodies to attack the antigen whenever it's present in the body. We know the top allergen foods/proteins, so these are what gets tested. But food intolerance cannot be tested, because they are not caused by protein-based substances. Yet food intolerances cause the same allergic-type, immune reactions in the body as allergies would. We must treat them as one in the same.
Again, since food allergies and intolerances have their roots in digestive dysfunction, it actually is possible to get rid of them. The Whole30 is a great start because it helps us remove the inflammatory, gut-irritating foods and therefore, allow the digestive system to get back to working order---- but sometimes (and usually), 30 days is not enough. So by reintroducing foods and weeding out allergies and sensitivities, we can allow the gut to continue to heal, as we venture on with our lives post-Whole30.
The most accurate way to pinpoint food allergies and sensitivities-- what foods your body likes and doesn't like-- _is an elimination diet. You reintroduce foods systematically, one by one, and take note of symptoms that may or may not arise. It is important that you isolate the foods you reintroduce, to be able to determine exactly which may be causing negative symptoms. With the Whole30, you have cut out most of the top-allergens (gluten, casein, peanuts, and soy), and foods that often cause sensitivities (all grains, corn, and legumes), so now it's up to the individual to decide which to reintroduce, and how. (Here is the Whole30's example reintroduction schedule).
My plan for post-Whole30 was to start with some dairy, since one of the things I missed most was cream in my coffee. But knowing what I know about the processing of dairy, I choose to have only grass-fed and/or organic full-fat sources. (Again, this could be its own blog post!). On day 1 post-Whole30, I woke up and had a Whole30 compliant breakfast, but added some grass-fed heavy cream to my coffee. I prepared myself for some expected digestive distress, but luckily, I had none! I went through the rest of my day is if it were still the Whole30, and did the same on day 2. Still no digestive issues... so I'm in the clear, right?
Not really. One thing I really noticed was that Thursday (day 2), I felt exhausted. My limbs felt heavy, and I felt very weak during my workout, despite eating the same foods/amount I had eaten for over a month now. The only difference was that small amount of dairy. Could that really make me feel so drastically different, so quickly? I had my doubts, of course. The day before was a very long, stressful day, so I knew that could definitely impact me. So I took note of it, but didn't make any decisions just yet. Day 3-- same feeling during my workout. So I planned to take a rest day the following day, and see what happened.
That evening, I went out to eat with some friends. I had what I thought was a pretty Whole30-compliant meal (smoked ribs without sauce, collard greens, and mashed potatoes). That's the nice thing about not being officially "on" the Whole30-- not having to be super specific or picky at restaurants, but having good faith that what you order is pretty much junk free. I'm sure some bad oil or dairy snuck in there because I woke up in the middle of the night feeling absolutely horrible. I wondered if it was just the fact that I ate so late and didn't properly digest, but I am sure it was food quality/ingredients affecting me as well.
Day 4, we decided to get out of the house, despite the cold, and go to Edgewater, NJ to shop and have lunch at one of our favorite restaurants- Bareburger. We know the food is high quality and organic, the menu is unique and extensive, and the food is delicious. Gluten-free items are all labeled and they also make all of their sauces, which are all gluten-free. I chose a wild boar burger with uncured duck bacon, pickled red onions, pineapple relish, and local gouda cheese, wrapped in collard greens. We also split sweet potato fries and a tray of homemade pickles and coleslaws. Everything was amazing, as usual, and I was excited to enjoy a relaxed, yet still healthy meal, without paying for it. But again, about 30 minutes after we finished, that overwhelming veil of exhaustion fell over me. Since the cheese was really the only non-Whole30 part of the meal, I assumed again it was the dairy!
Fortunately, that tired feeling went away soon and I could enjoy the rest of the day-- but now with a watchful eye. As we were shopping, we found some Caveman Cookies (at HomeGoods of all places, which actually has really great paleo-friendly foods and condiments!), which we bought to have as a treat that night. We stopped at Whole Foods before we headed home to pick up some essentials we can't get near home-- Swiss-water processed decaf coffee, raw sauerkraut, and even some Steve's Paleo Bars. We grabbed a coffee before we left, and were pleasantly surprised to see "Mammoth Coffee" listed as a new menu item. Coffee blended with grass-fed butter and coconut oil. Thank you Whole Foods! Now if only some more popular coffee shops would catch on!
The following day, day 5, I had a Carob Chip Perfect Bar, which would introduce some legumes (in the form of peanuts) and non-gluten grains (in the form of rice powder) back into my diet. Perfect Bars were something that prior to Whole30, I had gotten into a pretty dependent habit with-- eating one every single morning for breakfast. It was actually one of the habits that were my top priority to break, mostly due to the fact that I was so reliant on them, but also due to the blood sugar effects. In the grand scheme of things, these bars are far from unhealthy. They actually are one of the best meal-replacement bars out there with very healthy ingredients! But, to have one for breakfast every day isn't ideal. They still are high in sugar, and even though it's mostly unprocessed, it's still sugar. I wanted to see how I would react to them, especially just before a workout, and thankfully, I felt much better during and after than I did the past few days! I will likely only have 1 a week, on Sundays, the days when I do train longer.
My reintroduction conclusions? You may notice that I didn't reintroduce most of what I cut out-- gluten, most non-gluten grains and legumes, artificial sweeteners, etc. That's because I really don't plan to have them in my diet, for the most part. Artificial sweeteners are always out for me-- I went through a bad period of terrible migraines due to putting sucralose in my coffee, and never touched the stuff again. Plus, it's fake. It's crap. No need for it! Since I've done the Whole30 before, and since Celiac disease runs in my family, I choose to avoid gluten 99.9% of the time (I still have yet to reintroduce beer, and that will be interesting since I love IPAs, but I plan to hold off as long as possible!). I know how my body reacts to high carbs and sugar-- particularly the adrenal and hormonal consequences, so non-gluten grains and added sugars will continue to be minimal for me. I will likely have some sushi with white rice, and some "paleo" treats on occasion. Legumes are also not an issue for me, since they haven't really been a part of my diet in a long time. I just don't find myself wanting them... I don't really know anyone who just can't live without beans. The most intriguing thing for me was the dairy, and I think for now, it's safe to assume my body isn't a fan. I admit, I'm a bit disheartened, but I know that as I work to heal my digestion, high-quality milk products will likely not be an issue for me anymore.
So on day 6, I am going back to my routine-- a mostly Whole30 eating style, with an occasional grain/gluten/dairy-free treat here and there-- when I determine its worth it, of course. I am extremely pleased with my Whole30 experience, and have made some huge changes in my life that have paid off in big ways. In my next post, I will recap my results, and go over my ultimate takeaways from this 30+ day journey!
Day 23- some "historical blizzard" we got. I woke up around 4AM and checked outside to see no snow. When I finally woke up around 7:30AM, I thought it was a dream. But nope, we got maybe 4 inches of the forecasted 1-2 feet. Being prepared to be snowed in and get tons done, and then waking up to the reality that you actually may have to go about a regular work day isn't fun!
Luckily, I ended up not having to go to work. My boyfriend did, which was a bummer since I figured we would lounge all day and watch movies. He did get to go in late though, so we made a late brunch and ate together. I spent the rest of the day doing schoolwork, and then went to the gym (which at least was a good thing I wasn't expecting to get to do!)
Day 23 meals (above):
Breakfast: 2 egg scramble with shredded carrots and zucchini, 2 slices of uncured bacon, 1/4 pan-fried plantain, 1/4 avocado, and decaf coffee with butter and coconut oil (pictured before I blended it!)
Lunch: The Clothes Make the Girl's Favorite Chili with leftover rainbow salad, seltzer
Dinner: "Minestrone" soup (start with uncured bacon and onions, then add broth and tomatoes and a ton of vegetables-- this one has cabbage, green and yellow squash, potatoes, Swiss chard, and green beans), steak, caramelized onions
Day 24 was a big day for me. I finally left a job I had been working for over a year that I didn't love. I won't get into details, because it was a great job working with some wonderful people, but I wasn't inspired and became less motivated as time went on. Fortunately-- almost as if it were miracle--I was presented with an amazing job opportunity working with Kettlebell Kitchen as a nutritionist. A dream job for me-- blending my love of teaching, real food, and Crossfit-- there was no way I could ever pass it up! Also fortunately, my supervisor and coworkers took my news very well, as they truly do wish the best for me!
Day 24 meals (below):
Breakfast: 2 veggie/chicken sausage "quiche," decaf coffee with butter, coconut oil, and collagen
Lunch (not pictured): Leftover chili over mashed baked sweet potato and steamed zucchini
Post-workout snack: Leftover baked chicken thigh
Dinner: Burger topped with sauerkraut and mustard, caramelized onions, boiled yucca, 1/4 avocado, homemade dill pickle, and salad with tomatoes, green olives, and homemade lime dressing
Day 25 was a busy day-- a brand new start. I resigned from my job one day, and began the new one the next. Since my last position was a per diem one, two weeks notice was not needed, so I began the new job right away! This meant a long commute to go into the new office for a meeting, so I prepped most of my meals the night before. I did get stuck in traffic on the way home, and went much longer than I expected to without food-- this is where stashing emergency snacks in your purse comes in handy: sitting in bumper to bumper traffic over an hour away from home!
Day 25 meals (below):
Breakfast (not pictured): 1 "quiche" and French press decaf coffee with 1T each of butter and coconut oil
Lunch: Kettlebell Kitchen's Walnut Arugula Pesto Chicken
Snack: 100 calorie pack raw almonds
Dinner: Smoky baked chicken, baked potato, roasted cauliflower, and salad with homemade dressing
Day 26- I took a little "mental health day" for my sanity, but ended up working the whole day. I simultaneously caught up on schoolwork, while making face scrubs (I also have my own business with my cousin!) in between lectures! Honestly, my cousin did most of the work, but I was there for mutual support and an extra hand in jarring and labeling! And I did make us coffee and heat up lunch though :) Because it was such a busy day, and I was home alone for dinner, having a Kettebell Kitchen meal was a Godsend (I really despise cooking on Friday nights!)
Day 26 meals (above):
Breakfast: 2 sunny side up eggs, pan fried yucca with smoked paprika, "herbal coffee"
Post-workout: Decaf coffee with cocoa powder, collagen, butter, and 1/2 banana
Lunch: Leftover minestrone soup over boiled yucca, leftover smoked chicken
Dinner: Kettlebell Kitchen Beef Hot Pocket
On Day 27, I woke up early to go to Crossfit with my cousin and friend who were trying a class for the first time! I came home to an awesome brunch cooked by my boyfriend. We spent the day around the house, and that night I went to dinner with 3 of my oldest friends at one of my favorite restaurants and then hung out with them at 1 of their new apartments. I admit, I was tempted by the sangria they were drinking, but I was good, I promise!
Day 27 meals (below):
Breakfast/pre-workout (not pictured): Decaf coffee with cocoa powder, collagen, coconut oil, butter, and 1/2 banana
Brunch/post-workout: 2 sunny side up eggs, uncured bacon, mashed sweet potato pan fried in coconut oil, 1/4 avocado
Lunch: Leftover chili topped with fried egg, salad with vinegar and herbs
Dinner (not pictured): At UNoodles with friends: "Sink Salad" minus the corn and oil/vinegar instead of dressing (Mixed greens, cucumber, tomato, hardboiled egg, avocado) and Grilled strip steak with mushrooms and rosemary potatoes
Our Superbowl menu consisted of:
Twice baked stuffed sweet potatoes
Jalapeno mango sauce
Everything was delicious, and truly did not make you feel as if you were lacking anything. That's why Whole30 is so great-- if you put some effort into it, all your food tastes just as-- if not, more-- amazing than non-Whole30 food. Sure, a beer would have been nice... but we all stayed accountable-- we made it this far, why quit now?
Day 28 meals:
Breakfast/pre-workout (not pictured): Decaf coffee with strawberry banana baby food pouch (don't knock it till you try it!), butter and coconut oil
Brunch: Roasted potato wedges, egg scramble with shredded zucchini and leftover caramelized onions and mushrooms, 2 pieces of uncured bacon (not shown because I shoved them in my mouth as soon as I walked in the door!)
Snack (not pictured): Plantain chips with salsa and guacamole
Dinner(not pictured): Chicken drumstick, meatballs, buffalo cauliflower, 1/2 stuffed sweet potato
"Dessert" (not pictured): Coconut covered dates
Day 29-- another snow day. Ironically, my first "real" day working from home. So, my whole family was off work/school, and I was working. But I'm not complaining at all-- I actually had a really great, productive day. And being able to work in sweats, in the comfort of my own home, and actually have a hot breakfast and lunch, is amazing. I worked from mid-morning to early evening, and as I worked, my boyfriend cooked up a storm. We had a nice early dinner (for once) and then watched a movie and went to bed early. If only every day could be like this (plus the gym!). Whole30 is so much easier when you don't have to pack food to bring to work! Too bad it's day 29, but the good news is that my mostly-Whole30 way of eating will be super easy from here on out!
Day 29 meals (below):
Breakfast: 2 sunny side up eggs over steamed zucchini leftover stuffed sweet potato
Mid-morning (not pictured): Decaf coffee with 1/2T each of butter and coconut oil, about 1/4 banana
Lunch: Ground beef in tomato sauce topped with mashed plantains
Dinner: Paleo raisin meatballs (using egg and almond flour instead of bread/flour) and homemade sauce over zucchini "noodles" and green beans
All that's left is Day 30.. and of course, a methodically reintroduction phase! Sure, there are foods I want that I haven't had in the past month, but I don't really find myself craving anything particular unless someone mentions it. Plus, I really want to use this experience as an experiment on myself, and reintroduce only certain foods, one at a time, to see how my body reacts. Up first for me will be grass-fed dairy, since I really do miss being able to just brew coffee and use heavy cream instead of having to take out the blender each time! Then maybe some non-gluten grans in the form of rice (I do miss sushi!) I don't plan to add gluten-containing grains back in at all, or even non-gluten grains except for a once-in-a-while thing. I just think it will be interesting to see what happens when I go through reintroduction!
Kim Jordan, NTP - Nutritional Therapy Practitioner, health educator, CrossFitter, nature lover, student of life, once-aspiring writer. Owner of Root and Branch Nutrition.