I might be the only middle class white woman who hadn’t heard of the Whole30 eating program until I read this column by Nestor Ramos of The Boston Globe. Whole30 is a challenge to eliminate sugar (real or artificial), alcohol, dairy, grains, soy, and legumes from your diet for 30 days because they may be contributing to your health problems. Or to your happiness.
After 30 days, you reintroduce the foods. Does cheese give you a tummy ache? You’re probably lactose intolerant. Do you feel awful after eating pasta? Get tested for Coeliac disease. Does a glass of red wine make you euphoric? You might be a soccer mom.
Zac hadn’t heard of Whole30 either, which is not surprising for a man who once nearly gave up on eating an orange because it took too long to peel. Zac read Nestor’s column and was, surprisingly, ALL IN. This prompted the following Twitter exchange.
I didn’t have time to worry about Nestor’s ominous pre-apology. I was too busy trying new recipes and reading the label of every condiment and salad dressing jar in the grocery story.
On January 2, 2018, we began our Whole30 “journey”. I’m using the word journey ironically because technically a journey refers to travelling from place to place, not to the pursuit of self-improvement. Also, this is a travel blog, so I need to connect this story to travel somehow.
If you’re thinking of trying the Whole30 program, here are my top five tips for success.
1. Start a pre-Whole30 savings account.
Buying enough lean meat and produce to keep one or two people satiated for 30 days is expensive. Add the cost of the nuts, seeds, vinegars, oils, and herbs you’ll need to make stuff taste good, and your grocery bill will skyrocket. On the plus side, Whole30 doesn’t require eating organic, and you won’t spend money on alcohol or restaurant meals (see tip #4).
2. Learn how to cook.
A coworker told me a friend of hers with few cooking skills successfully completed the Whole30 program. I can’t imagine how. Sure, you could throw every meal into a juicer or eat only a head of cauliflower for dinner, but who wants to live like that for 30 days? If you can cook and are up for trying new recipes, you’ll be fine. Just read tip #3 first.
3. Expand your free time.
Between grocery shopping and cooking for two people for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, I spent two to five hours every day on food procurement, preparation, and clean up. Luckily, three long weekends plus a cold snap meant I had plenty of time to devote to wholesome food preparation.
4. Stay home.
Eating out during the Whole30 program is impossible unless you want to be one of those people who makes life hell for waitstaff and chefs. Don’t be one of those people. I heard Wood’s Hill Table restaurant in Concord, Massachusetts had a Whole30 menu in January, which sounded perfect for our 15th anniversary dinner. Plus, by week three, all I wanted for my anniversary was for someone else to cook. I couldn’t get reservations, so Zac took over our kitchen for a day.
5. Read every single label.
Most prepared food contains sugar, high fructose corn syrup, or corn syrup solids (whatever the hell that is – sounds gross). Every single mayonnaise in my local grocery story contains sugar or high fructose corn syrup, which is weird because mayonnaise recipes don’t call for sugar. Mustard is fairly safe, but you should still read the label. Because apparently the sugar industry is trying to kill all Americans.
Whole30 Changed My Life!
Despite the claim that the Whole30 program will change your life, it did not change mine. My skin and hair looked better and I had a bit more energy, but not at life-changing levels. And I saw very little difference in the one area I was most hopeful about – my rheumatoid arthritis symptoms.
Whole30 is also supposed to change your relationship with food for the better. The only change for me was a near-constant anxiety over when, what, and how much I would cook each day. On the plus side, I added a few recipes to my repertoire.
By day 21, I felt duped. I supposed I should have know better. We’ve previously gone months without eating dairy, I once went gluten free for two weeks, and we eat much less sugar than most Americans. In hindsight, the odds were low that we’d experience life changing effects.
It’s the Sugar, Stupid.
On day 22, I added sugar-free whole grains to my diet. I felt great, which got me theorizing about the real reason Whole30 works for many people: The standard American Diet is abundant in added sugar, leading to cycle of highs and crashes. Cutting sugar cold turkey breaks the cycle and resets our tastebuds.
Unless you have undiagnosed Coeliac disease or gout, I bet you can get the same benefits by cutting out sugar, alcohol, and refined carbohydrates for a few weeks. And when you finally allow yourself that first cupcake or glass of wine, you will appreciate it so much more. I know I did!