If you know me, you know I’m a sucker for a plan.
I love having things laid out in a way that I could only mess up if I don’t follow the rules. I love specifics that take all of the guesswork out of what I want to do, which is why I actually kind of enjoyed Whole30.
Despite the fact that I’m lacking in the self-discipline department, adhering to the restrictions of Whole30 wasn’t the hardest thing I’ve ever done. I found it easier to follow than keto and felt like I could easily integrate it into my lifestyle after the thirty days. Nonetheless, it didn’t exactly work the way I thought it would.
I was introduced to Whole30 by a friend who had done it and constantly sang its praises. She said it was easier than it seemed and that she had gained a ton of energy from cutting out sugar and lost a good amount of weight. I was hesitant at first, seeing as I like to enjoy a tiny square of Hershey’s chocolate every. Single. Day. I couldn’t imagine legitimately not eating sugar for a whole month. But as the beginning of the year turned into the middle of the year and I hadn’t lost any weight despite my “best” efforts, I thought one month of solidly restrictive eating couldn’t break my heart too much.
Whole30 started in 2009 when its founder, Melissa Hartwig, and her then-husband decided to go a month without eating any of a number of foods that research suggested could cause health issues. This experiment resulted in dramatic changes for the two, Hartwig said in conversation with Daniel Neman, a food writer for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. After sharing her results on her blog and getting hundreds of responses from people who also experienced changes, she created Whole30, which has amassed at least two million online followers.
Hartwig considers Whole30 to be a way to think about food and its place in your life as opposed to a diet. During the thirty days, you can’t have any added sugar, grains, legumes or dairy products. There are very few exceptions to these hard and fast rules, which is just the way I like my rules.
You are also to refrain from weighing yourself or re-configuring non-Whole30 meals with Whole30 compliant ingredients. This strategy is all to reset your health and your relationship with food, claims that aren’t backed up by science but that are attested to by thousands of testimonials. Weight loss isn’t the goal, but it more often than not is a result.
I went into Whole30 with these high hopes for change.I went into Whole30 with these high hopes for change. From what my friend said, I expected to have boundless energy — something I’ve been craving since I’ve been inexplicably tired for months — and to lose just enough weight to flatten my protruding midsection.
Every day I successfully stuck to the rules felt like an incredible win. The odds seemed impossible to me, but as weeks went by and I didn’t crack, I really started to believe in myself. I started to believe that you really and truly could do anything you put your mind to.
Every day wasn’t a bunch of roses, though, as outlined by the Whole30 timeline, a calendar that estimates periods of intense cravings, fatigue, weight gain and energy as you follow the rules.
My journey didn’t reflect the timeline at all.
My journey didn’t reflect the timeline at all.
As simple as I had made the Whole30 for myself through a regimented food schedule that was easy to follow, I was still deeply disappointed in how this supposed reset made me feel. I was still tired. All. The. Time.
I barely had enough energy to workout, which made me feel like I wasn’t giving 100% to my health and fitness goals, which in turn made me feel like I was actively gaining weight. I wasn’t eating sugar or grains, sure, but somehow without even weighing myself, I could feel a shift in my body that was not in the direction I wanted it to go.
According to the timeline, about halfway through the month people were to experience this thing they have dubbed “Tiger Blood.” This effect happens when you’re body has become accustomed to the diet, so your energy is either regulated, or it has increased and your cravings have all but stopped. Tiger Blood isn’t the same for everyone, but its underlying symptom is increased energy.
After having actually done everything I was supposed to do for two and a half weeks, I was expecting this boost in energy — it’s one of the main things that drew me to Whole30 — but it never came. Days went by, and I continued to find it difficult to get out of bed in the morning. I started going to the gym less, opting instead for more sleep in the morning or going to bed earlier.
It was like I couldn’t get enough sleep. I always felt like I needed more.
Although I was only eating what was allowed, I felt like I had messed up somehow, but I had no idea what more I could do to adhere to the plan.
Needless to say, Whole30 didn’t work for me the way I thought it would. The energy that I craved never came, and I ended up gaining three pounds when all was said and done. One thing I did get from Whole30 is the knowledge that I can restrict myself, at least for a certain period of time.
Despite what felt like a failure, I entered the next month knowing that just about any diet was possible for at least a month. I could have a free plate of cookies in front of me and choose to eat apple slices dipped in almond butter instead. My mind no longer feels consumed by my cravings in a way that often made what I eat and how much I ate feel out of my control. It seems that Melissa Hartwig had it right all along: Whole30 isn’t about losing weight; it’s about gaining control.
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