I MADE IT. ALL THIRTY DAYS.
Here’s the official Whole30 timeline of what to loosely expect along the way. Here’s what actually happened to me:
Days with low-carb flu: 7.5
Days with a headache: 16
Days with diarrhea: 3*
Days constipated: 8
Days with no weird effects: 4
*I think there were more of these in the beginning; at least, I recall having loose stools often and going at least once per day. I unfortunately didn’t start keeping a symptoms calendar until I started that wretched, wretched 4-day stretch of constipation, and by that point, I could only recall back a few days.
BROAD SUMMARY (MENTALLY [because the physical should be self-explanatory based on my calendar image])
Days feeling meh/normal/pretty much fine: 16 (1 – 16)
Days feeling fucking terrible: 5 (17 – 21)
Days feeling fucking awesome: 9 (22 – 30)
Did you ever get your tiger blood? YES.
Was it worth doing this shockingly expensive, drawn-out, often infuriating dietary experiment to feel awesome for less than a third of the time? YES.
HUH? WHY?! There is no TL;DR way to answer this question. Trust me blindly or keep reading, champ.
First of all, let me say up front that I’m proud of myself for doing this. At no point did I falter, or even consider abandoning ship. I stuck with it the whole time and I owned this process, and it wasn’t without its challenges or massive frustrations. If I could high five myself without looking like a total dork who never learned to clap right, I would do it.
Sticking to Whole30 truly did help me tame my “sugar dragon,” challenged me to face the way I’ve been using food to punish or reward myself instead of to nourish myself, and gave me the feeling of power and control over what I put into my body (ironically enough, on such a restrictive diet). It got me back into the gym on a routine basis. It (eventually) made me feel great physically and like totally baller mentally. I learned to love almond butter. I reached rain-man levels of label-reading expertise. What I thought was already great skin, became even greater. I got something I really wanted out of this, which was improved sleep. It forced me to become comfortable with discussing my dietary habits with people, out loud. And ya know, it just feels great to have set out to do something for 30 days, and to have inarguably risen to the challenge. Above all, it punted me out of my I-don’t-wanna stupor, and gave me results along the way: my final weight-loss number from Whole30 is 17.2 pounds (most of which was knocked off in the first 2 weeks). I still have a long way to go, but holy hell, y’all. That’s a big-ass number, especially considering that low-carb flu sidelined me for a full week and I didn’t really start working out in earnest until the final third of the program.
And yet, I don’t think I would ever do this again. The main reason is that it was astronomically expensive for me. I’m not exaggerating when I say my weekly grocery bills doubled. To give an example of the runaway costs I had on Whole30, I site breakfast. Typically, I eat a bowl of passably healthy cereal (Cheerios) that I buy on sale at CVS for $2.50/box, and it lasts me over a week, along with milk from the grocery store that also lasts me over a week, for which I pay under $4.00. Assuming each lasts me 10 days, that means one day of breakfast costs me roughly $0.65. SIXTY-FIVE CENTS. It’s practically free. On Whole30, however, grains and dairy are no-nos, so I had to seek out compliant options — quite the quest within itself — and then I had to properly balance my plate. For breakfast alone, I had to have starch (let’s say breakfast potatoes, which cost me about $6 to make last for the week), protein (let’s say Aidell’s chicken-apple sausage, $6.00/package, which lasts two days), and fat (usually avocado, which I can make last 4 days — thanks, refrigeration! — for $1/each). I would also usually add in a fruit to help inject some fiber into the meal (let’s say raspberries, $4.00/package, which lasts two days, according to serving size). Are you seeing how this adds up insanely fast? Pricing this out per food item and factoring in staying power gives me a breakfast that costs $6.10 every morning. SIX DOLLARS AND TEN CENTS. It’s almost ten times more expensive every day! And that’s just ONE MEAL! Extrapolated across the full month, if I had had this meal for breakfast every day (which I did not, but I’m doing this just to drive home the point), it’s a total cost difference of $163.50!!!! UNAFFORDABLE.
Beyond that, the amount of time it takes to plan (i.e. find compliant, balanced recipes that I liked) and prepare (i.e. cook and portion out) all the meals and snacks is something you should be provided a time machine for. And I don’t mean a gizmo that lets you travel through time; I mean one that lets you add hours to your day. Honestly, I thought this would be a very minor adjustment heading into Whole30 because I already put in so much thought and time into my menu planning and prepping efforts, but this knocked my socks off. I’m used to sacrificing my entire Sunday to the kitchen altar of the nutrition gods, but even cooking morning to night did NOT give me enough time, especially if I had any hopes of getting a workout in. I repeat: cooking morning to night for an entire day was not enough time to get ready for the week! Taking the example of breakfast again, something I never had to do any kind of prep for when I was simply eating a bowl of cereal, I was now having to fully prep an entire additional meal in addition to lunches and dinners for the week, increasing my kitchen work time by 50% right off the bat. I had to sacrifice more and more of my weekend to Whole30 prep time, and it got a little dicey pretty often.
Finally, doing Whole30 can be a bit of a lonely experience. I’m fortunate that I had a co-worker roped in with me, and I’m very glad I was vocal about my decision to take on the program ahead of time so that people I see regularly would already be in the know and implicitly give me support and accountability, but social situations could be very trying. It’s basically impossible to find something at a work function that’s likely to be compliant, aside from an undressed pile of lettuce and perhaps some raw fruit or veggies. There is sugar in everything. EVERYTHING. It’s also an isolating feeling to be at a celebratory event and be the wet blanket who’s not raising a glass of fizz to the guest of honor, or digging into the cake alongside the rest of the guests. I’m only grateful I didn’t have to do any traveling during those 30 days; that would have been straight-up painful.
All that being said, I *am* glad I did it this once. I learned a lot, and I think differently about food now. On day 21, when I was up to my ears in frustration with stalled progress and feeling stymied by the whole thing, I would have said it was a pure waste of time and money. On day 22, the Whole30 gods mercifully gave me my tiger blood, and there was no turning back.
I’ve done one day of reintroduction (sugar), and just those 12 waking hours were enough to show me the effects of sugar on me: it makes me feel guilty, and it immediately exhausts me. After a few days on Whole30, I had no more energy crashes and maintained a pretty consistent level throughout the day pretty much every day. One day back on sugar, and the spikes and crashes set back in immediately. Mind you, it wasn’t even an unusually high amount of sugar; it was a bit that was a casualty of preparation from each meal (except the cupcakes — yeah, plural. I was at a bridal shower and I baked those bad boys blind on day 30. You really think I didn’t deserve both of them?! 😉 ) I hate sugar now. I mean, I still like the taste, but I hate the concept of it. It has wrecked many a person’s relationship with food, myself included. Taste wise, I do now detect a chemically/artificial taste in sugary foods that I didn’t previously. It’s interesting… and unnerving.
This week, I’m actually back on the program. There was one last recipe I wanted to test out, and I figured that while I’m at it, I might as well just keep on the program full-time the rest of the week. I’ll continue reintroduction at the end of that. I’m curious to see what I’ll discover.
If you’re considering doing Whole30, my best piece of advice to you is to economize your money and time. You should save money for a few weeks before you start, and you should plan out all your meals before you even begin the program so that you save yourself that time once you get started. Search for and build your little Whole30-friendly library of recipes well in advance, and write out your grocery lists by week so they’re ready to go when you get there. Believe me, you’ll be grateful for that little gift of time you give to yourself. Oh, and if you can, definitely get a friend to do it with you. The support will help keep you going when it feels like the tiger blood fairy has forgotten you.
Just don’t ask me to be that friend. I’m taking a hard pass on doing Whole30 again.