Love-Hate Relationship with Whole30 Diet

I’m just wrapping up the Whole30, a diet/elimination/paleo/lifestyle plan. I’d apparently been under a rock for the past couple of years and missed this one. Probably because I don’t do diet plans any more.  I’ve done them, namely Weight Watchers. But all that counting, etc., just taught me a lot of bad habits, like trying to eat food that isn’t food – bread made with wood pulp, cream cheese that could do double duty as spackling, and other products that aren’t really food.

But the Whole30 caught my eye because it eliminates foods that are troubling to your gut. You go clean for 30 days. Then you reintroduce foods – one category at a time – and see how you feel. You do eat real foods. You eat vegetables, fruits and lean protein. Fats include olive oil, avocado oil, coconut oil, and some canola oil. What you don’t eat are: soy, of any kind; dairy, of any kind and that includes cheese; grains, of any kind; sugar, of any kind, real or artificial; legumes (which include peanuts); or alcohol.

If you cheat, you start over at Day 1, which is a powerful incentive not to cheat. It’s like AA that way. You don’t get to pick up on Day 16 if you had a bad Day 15.

So why did I want to do this?

The main reason is I needed to slay the “Sugar Dragon.” I’d quit drinking alcohol nearly 6 years ago. Gradually sugar had been creeping into my diet as a substitution. My doctor had warned me. Alcohol is processed as sugar in the body (which is what leads to fatty liver disease). The alcohol cravings passed, but he said the sugar would be a hard one to defeat. And sugar substitutes (see below) aren’t the answer.

If you have food sensitivities, which I do, you can manage by feeling a little bit crappy all the time. I know, for example, dairy and soy are triggers for me. But I never knew just how much they contributed to my malaise until I spent a month without them. I will probably risk the issues with dairy here and there because I adore cheese and ice cream. But it eating it will have to be for something special. As for soy. I’m happy to eliminate it, minus the occasional dip for sushi. I think having both of these things out of my day-to-day diet has been very helpful.

I started the program at the beginning of August. I’m glad I did it when produce season is in high swing. Here are a few things you can expect:

  1. You are going to be gassy. Yep. Unless you are used to eating a lot of fruits, veggies, and meats, your digestive tract is going to take some time to adjust. Take walks. Alone. Or with a dog, who can take a lot of blame on this one.  And this means your pants are going to be tight for a bit as the bloat works itself out, literally. My favorite trick, roasting vegetables. It adds to their sweetness. Roast tomatoes and then puree for a delicious sauce with sausage.IMG_4402
  2. You are going to have to read labels. I was surprised at how much sugar is used in items that aren’t sweet, like Wegmans Italian sausage or Hellman’s mayonnaise or many hot sauces. The same goes for soybean oil (your plain vegetable oil is soybean oil). Farm stands and your butcher are your friends here. Urbaniak Bros. does not use sugar in its sausage, except for those labeled with maple and one smoked variety.
  3. Eating out is a nightmare due to the sugar and soy issue. This is when I had to start over. I realized after taking a bite of an absolutely delicious mussel dish that the sauce had sugar in it. Since I had to start over, I had dessert too. If you eat out, stick to grilled meats and roasted vegetables potatoes (ideally with canola or olive oil). Stay away from sautéed, which typically involves butter. Oil and vinegar are best bets for salad.
  4. You are going to be a bit cranky. Lots of people report feeling like a million bucks – Tiger Blood – at some point after 2 weeks. Can’t say that I experienced that. What I did experience was a steady level of energy throughout the day. I was no longer crashing at 3 p.m. after the first two weeks.
  5. Sugar substitutes seem to be as bad as sugar. I read numerous studies, independent of the Whole30 literature, about how sugar substitutes alter your gut health the same way as sugar, eliminating some healthy bacteria, which results in metabolic changes. The science is pretty clear on sucralose, saccharine and aspartame, but not so much about stevia.
  6. This isn’t about losing weight. Some people do. My pants fit better, probably because I haven’t had bread or any sweets for 30 days.IMG_4403
  7. Beverages. This has been a tough one. I usually start my day with a cuppa Joe with cream and sweetener, or my fave, Italian Sweet Cream (sugar free), which has so many bad ingredients I couldn’t even look at it.  Or a Diet Coke. Neither was going to work on this plan. So far my best cup of coffee has been a Starbuck’s Cold Brew with coconut milk. Starting my day off relying on an occasional Starbucks may have contributed to cranky. Water gets boring. So does sparking water. My fave concoction is V8 VFusion juice mixed with kombucha and La Croix sparking water. Not exactly something you can order out.
  8. On day 29 I found a chocolate and sea salt RX bar at Wegmans on Peach Street. The ingredient list is nuts, dates, cacao and egg whites. This was my first chocolate in 29 days. You are allowed cacao powder, but you must be a genius to make it taste like chocolate. I dropped it in the parking lot. And, yes, I applied the 5-second rule. I picked it up, dusted it off, and ate it. I was THAT DESPERATE. I am not proud. I would do it again in a heartbeat.
  9.  Halfway through, I bought bananas. I hate bananas except in banana bread. But some blogger told me to make a slit in the middle, stuff it with a tablespoon of almond butter, top it with some raisins and baked it for 15 minutes. I would like to say it tasted good. I did in a pinch.
  10. This is sort of like paleo, but you can’t eat paleo things like honey. Nor are you supposed to make things like pancakes and muffins by using coconut flour (allowed) because this is basically a cheater version of giving in. I liked this part of the diet because it had principles, unlike that nonfat cream cheese and “lite” bread that some diets encourage you to eat.

Since diet is 80 percent of what contributes to our body (the rest is exercise, rest, water, etc), I think this is a valuable exercise to go through and I will continue parts of it as I reintroduce foods back. Bread is going to return to being a rare item on my plate. I think I just eat it because it is on the table. I like the emphasis on three meals, which you will find very important because you return to being hungry. I realize I was snacking a lot during the day, which will stop.

Yours in veggie delight



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Mom, blogger, former magazine editor in who loves family, friends, good food, and adventure. She is the owner of Meadballs, LLC, which delivers farm-fresh meals she has cooked in her northwestern Pennsylvania kitchen.

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