Whole30 Results & Going Forward
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:
Weight loss isn't the #1 indicator of health, and certainly is not the end-all-be-all of results. Everyone focuses on weight loss and obsesses over the scale, but it's actually pretty silly when we have hundreds of thousands of other ways to measure health (and results) Seriously. If you want to read some, go here. Achieving and maintaining a healthy body weight
Your unique situation and health status is ultimately going to determine how much just 30 days of no grains/sugar/dairy/legumes/etc. is going to help you. The more issues you have to fix, the longer you it's going to take (and possible the stricter you will need to be).
Food isn't the only thing that creates (or destroys) good health. We have to consider other factors, like stress and sleep.
So before we get into what my results were, I figured I'd quickly touch upon the fact that my results are my results. I have my own particular goals and my own particular struggles that I've been working to fix throughout the last 30+++ days. My body works differently than every other body in the world, so ultimately, my results from the Whole30 are a direct reflection of my physiology, my goals, and how I went about my Whole30.
(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:
Digestion- I knew it improved because I felt positive changes, but by eliminating (for good) gluten and dairy did a huge justice, particularly in my large intestine. That's no surprise, since a major determinant of large intestine health is good amounts of probiotic bacteria (and lack of bad bacteria). I mentioned in the beginning of my Whole30 blogging journey that I was focusing on taking soil-based probiotics to repopulate my gut flora-- it seems it worked. Also, my eliminating foods that irritate the gut, I also likely decreased the irritants that kill off the good bacteria. Secondly, my Upper GI (stomach) score improved although less dramatically, as I worked to restore my HCL (stomach acid) levels, which therefore positively affects the rest of the digestive cascade. (I didn't do as well as I wanted to with this, but more on that later).
Sugar handling- This one is simple. I stopped eating sugar. I made a point to avoid dried fruit and "Whole30-approved" bars made from dried fruit. I also ate way less fruit than the program suggests, aiming to get my carbs from vegetables. Lastly, focusing on 3 square meals a day helped greatly with this, as did having more healthy fat and less carbs--- I definitely switched myself back to being a fat burner from a sugar burner.
Vitamin/mineral need- This one I found interesting. I always eat a ton of vegetables, but I did start slacking off prior to Whole30 and relying on the same 3 or 4 vegetables-- and I was definitely getting bored. The Whole30, especially blogging, got my out of my comfort zone a bit and forced me to try new recipes and add variety-- and I think that has had a great influence on my intake of a multitude of vitamins and vitamins. I also have been eating a bigger variety meats, and including a grass-fed liver supplement, which I am sure played a huge role as well. Lastly, fixing some digestion issues has likely helped with absorption, so now my body is better extracting nutrients from my food!
Thyroid- This one was a huge win, because it's my #1 motivating factor. As I explained in my 1st Whole30 post, I've been struggling with an underactive thyroid (in the form of low T3) for a while, and haven't taken any meds-- simply because I know I can find the cause and ultimately support my thyroid in other ways. I think I've started to uncover the issues (I originally suspected digestion was my main culprit, but now am realizing my adrenals likely have just as, if not more, effect on my thyroid). But my score still dropped almost 50%, so I am looking forward to continuing to work on some things and see that number drop even more by spring!
Women only- The funny thing is, my score went slightly up (maybe because of the difference in hormonal levels between the two times I took the NAQ), but without sparing too many details, I will say this-- My periods have always been messed up-- irregular (sometimes to the point of sporadic) my whole life (doctors have gone back and forth between diagnosing PCOS since I was 13). They became more regular after I went "paleo," but were still very long cycles. Post Whole30 was the only time in my life that I had exactly a 4-week "normal" cycle-- so this is another huge win for me.
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'm not going back to the half-assed version of paleo I was following before. Real food wins, every time. I hate putting numbers on things, but a 90/10 is what works best for me, and I've certainly realized what that 10% should include and not include (through some trials with reintroduction as I discussed here). Before the Whole30, I also was relying a lot on "paleo" (but still processed and high in sugar- even if it is "natural") bars, which became a problem because a) I was attached to them and had made a routine and b) they were displacing what could be a really nutrient-dense meal. I think they're great for when I'm in a pinch, or for days when I train harder/longer, so I'll definitely still keep them, but likely more in that 10% range.
3 balanced, adequate meals a day the majority of the time works for me. My blood sugar levels are stable so I don't have intense cravings, and I feel less stuffed and just lighter when I am not eating throughout the day. And on those days I need a little something before a workout, a small snack is the way to go. I think before, eating even a small "meal" pre-workout was messing with me-- my body always felt sluggish during workouts.
In efforts to not get bored, and to keep my blog interesting, we tried a lot of new recipes and did tons and tons of meal prep. It benefited me probably more than anything else. I've added some new meals and spices to my routine, but also have branched out into saving and actually using new recipes. So I really want to continue doing that-- it does help to keep things interesting and fun! But now I'm looking forward to making some grain/dairy/sugar-free "non-Whole30" meals like pancakes, muffins, and pizzas.
Restoring healthy stomach acid is still a main priority of mine. I have decreased my dosage of Betaine HCL drastically, but still need way more than the average person (I know once I work on my adrenal health, this will also help to improve stomach acid). Taking raw apple cider vinegar helped, and I actually did it every single morning (keeping the bottle and small plastic cups on my dresser was definitely the reason why I stuck with it!), But I wasn't as diligent about taking my supplements with every meal during Whole30-- sometimes, I just didn't remember. So going forward, I'm making this a big priority and am carrying around that annoying bottle with me in my purse wherever I go.
I've realized (actually, I have known for a long time) that my adrenals are overworked and probably underactive. I am a perfectionist and stress over little things. I am also an overachiever, and will pile up my plate with tasks until I have no free time and am miserable. Especially now, with a new job and teaching more nutrition classes at night, some weeks I am working 50-55 hours. So I need to learn how to say no more and take more time for myself to relax and recharge. I've been working on it, and I'm getting better at it, but seeing how my adrenal health hasn't improved since November, I know it's going to be my main priority now. I'm also adding in some nutritional support targeted at my adrenals, including some adaptogenic herbs.
Part of me likes the structure and "rules" of Whole30 because it keeps me on track, but for a lifestyle, it's just too restrictive. Having the choice of whether or not I want to have a treat is a more healthy way of going about eating. Not feeling as if I am obligated to make changes to meals when I'm at a restaurant (I likely still will, but now I know what to let slip and what not to), or not eating something because "cane sugar" is listed as an ingredient (even though there's 1g of sugar in the actual serving size like the dark chocolate bar I've been wanting for weeks and finally indulged in yesterday) is so nice.
Lastly, blogging is tough. (And making food look nice for pictures is extremely tough!) Like I said before, I have a tendency to pile on responsibilities- especially when I'm already insanely busy. I don't know why I do it to myself. I admit, I did enjoy blogging, and I'm happy that sharing my experience has been a help to others. I also am happy that I have my journey documented, for the future-- not just for clients, but for myself as well. Ultimately, finding the time to blog every day was impossible, so I did blog a bit less than I would have like, but I plan to keep this blog and post every so often (more when I finish school in June)-- not just updates about my own journey, but also some other topics related to nutrition and health. Writing has always been a passion of mine, so having an outlet for it really is great.
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!