Our Almost Whole30 Diet is complete! So far, we’ve started eating corn and rice again, and we’ll continue to introduce other foods as we feel ready.
We’ve had a lot of questions from friends and family about our Whole30 experience, and our answers to most of them are below.
But first, a “Muffin Disclaimer.”
If you’ve read our previous post, you know that we broke one of the Whole30 diet rules: we made muffins. (The ingredients were all Whole30 approved; it was the act of creating a “baked good” that’s frowned upon.) Apparently, we aren’t the first. We won’t go into the details here, but we wanted to make it clear we “almost” completed the Whole30. We also have not read any of the Whole30 books—we’ve simply studied their website. Now, on the Q&A!
Q. Why did you need an elimination diet?
Heidi: After giving up gluten, my health improved dramatically. However, I never felt that I made a complete recovery. Since food intolerances and sensitivities can piggy-back on each other, I wanted to find out if a simplified diet would help my body to heal.
Taft: I didn’t necessarily need one, but I wanted to support Heidi, and I knew that learning some more about my gut wouldn’t hurt.
Q. Why the Whole30?
Heidi: I knew that I couldn’t cut everything out of my diet, so I needed to prioritize foods that seemed to be likely problem areas. The Whole30 cuts out sugar, grains, dairy, and legumes. For me, cutting out sugar (not including fruit) made sense because sugar definitely isn’t doing anything to help my body. Grains were also a good choice, since some celiacs can’t tolerate oats, including certified gluten-free oats, and a smaller percentage of celiacs simply do better with a grain-free diet. Dairy was also a good choice, since most dairy products have casein, a protein with a similar shape to gluten. Some celiacs improve when they reduce the dairy in their diet or eliminate it completely. I figured that cutting out legumes wouldn’t hurt, since legumes can be difficult for your body to process. As I looked over the Whole30, I felt like there was pretty compelling evidence that it worked well for some people. I hoped it would help me discover any foods that I need to limit or remove from my diet—but I sure hoped I could continue to eat most of them!
Taft: What Heidi said. 🙂 If we hadn’t chosen the Whole30 program, we probably would have just eaten a Paleo diet for a month.
Q. Was it hard?
Heidi: Yes! I was SO close to calling it quits at breakfast on day 2, and it took over two weeks before I felt any improvement. In fact, for the first several days I felt worse. Extra tired. Extra irritable. Extra unhappy about my food. If I hadn’t had a legitimate health motivation for completing the program, I wouldn’t have finished (and that’s even after we “broke” the rules and included ingredient-compliant paleo muffins to make the diet more tolerable).
Taft: YES. The Whole30 website states that compared to giving birth or having cancer, it isn’t hard. (This is “tough love” talk.) Of course, by that standard, having the flu is easy, and quitting smoking should be a walk in the park. In one of their Whole30 101 posts, they address the fact that the program is, in fact, hard.
Frankly, if I ever hear someone say the Whole30 diet is “easy,” I’ll be watching for their pants to catch fire with the fury of a thousand sunrises. The Whole30 experience can involve dreams about food, cravings, a fear of eating more eggs, and a major overhaul of your relationship with your bathroom. It’s not cancer, not by a long shot, but to call it “easy” is just silly. It’s a lifestyle change, not just a fad diet.
Q. Did it work? (Or, “what were the effects?”)
Heidi: Yes—but it wasn’t what I expected. My sweet tooth has definitely been tamed, at least for the time being. I also feel less concerned about my weight. I’ve had plenty of discussions with doctors about my weight—why aren’t you gaining more weight? What’s wrong? Having a month where I promised myself that I wouldn’t step on the scale has been a relief. Did I gain weight on the Whole30? Actually, no. But I’m not convinced that’s a problem anymore. I feel so much better! I don’t wake up tired every morning right now, and I don’t struggle to get through the day without a nap. I actually enjoy being busy again. I can also tell that my gut is happier. Is my health profile suddenly perfect? No, but I feel like it’s moved in a really good direction.
Taft: I wasn’t expecting anything beyond helping Heidi, but I did lose a small amount of extra weight, and learned a thing or two about my gut. I’ve also taught my stomach that dessert is not mandatory, and learned about some new, healthy recipes that are easy on the digestive tract. So, yes, I think it worked for me. That said, I never experienced the “tiger blood” energy-full days the program mentions. Instead, my last week was like a repeat of days 2-4. (This was not helped by a son who caught a stomach bug, or being in the middle of a graduate school semester.)
Q. What was the easiest part? The hardest?
Heidi: For me, day 2 was definitely the hardest part physically. Talk about a food hangover. But the hardest part emotionally was saying good-bye to all my favorite foods. I didn’t know—and still don’t know for sure—which ones I’ll be able to eat again. Learning to eat more meat was also tough for me, but it got easier over the course of the program. Paleo muffins and chia pudding cups definitely helped me face new things like waking up to breakfast sausage.
Taft: Honestly, the easiest part for me was giving up sugar. I’d already cut back on my sugar intake before, so giving up all refined sugar for 30 days wasn’t any harder than I expected. The hardest part was probably the psychological aspect; I don’t know why, but for the last week of the diet, I felt angrier. If the Whole30 staff had been around for it, I probably would have cheerfully blackened an eye or two! (Normally I’m pretty chill.) By the end of day 30, I was so done with the program. The hardest days were day 2, and day 29.
Q. What would you do differently?
Heidi: Having more meals planned out would definitely be a plus. As we got going, we often doubled recipes and froze extra meals in pyrex containers. When we reached the point that we were making new meals, freezing new leftovers, and reheating old leftovers from the freezer, we finally hit our stride. I wish I’d frozen some extra meals before we started!
Taft: Have more meal ideas before starting. The first week we were looking for Whole30 approved meal plans like there was no tomorrow. (Hopefully future recipes on Red Checkered Tablecloth can help with that!)
Q. Will you do it again someday?
Heidi: Please no. I really hope I can figure out my food life by doing it just once. In the future, I’d love to simply target individual foods if I need to modify my diet.
Taft: I hope not! If I ever do the Whole30 again, it will be in a supportive role for someone else, but I am NOT putting myself through that again without a darn good reason!
Q. Who would you recommend try the Whole30 program?
Heidi: I think it could be helpful for people, like me, who clearly react to some types of food (anything with gluten, in my case) and are trying to pinpoint other possible food problems. For those who like trying new diets—I’m not a fad dieter at heart—it could be an interesting, and potentially a very healthy, challenge. It definitely helps reduce sugar cravings, so if you’re trying to conquer your sweet tooth, it might be for you. Fundamentally, I’m not recommending this diet to anyone right now, especially since I’m still in the reintroduction stage, but I want to support people who might benefit and want to give it their best go.
Taft: There’s a good chance it could help anyone, but it’s most likely to help those with some sort of food issue. (Anything from diabetes to irritable bowel syndrome.) I would not recommend this, or any other diet, just on a whim. Do your research before trying it. That said, if you’re addicted to sugar or baked goods, then this will probably help. Again, though, don’t take our word for it, research it for yourself. (And of course, talk to your doctor.)
Q. Can I do it alone?
Heidi: Definitely, but it will be hard! Having a support person or group is pretty fantastic, especially if you’re able to share meals. This might sound silly, but when my appetite for Whole30 foods is flagging, sitting down at the table and seeing Taft eat dinner makes it easier for me to eat too. Plus, it’s more efficient to cook for a group. Taft has been a huge help in the kitchen!
Taft: Of course, but it’s definitely easier to have someone supporting you. A friend, a parent, or your spouse.
Q. What was your favorite Whole30 recipe?
Heidi: Definitely chicken curry!
Taft: chicken curry (we hope to post this recipe soon).
Q. How quickly are you reintroducing foods?
Heidi: I’m taking things a little slowly, since I’m searching for problem foods. With corn and rice, I’ve felt comfortable reintroducing them in close succession because I think I do well with them and they really help me expand my diet. I’ll probably take oatmeal, for example, very slowly though, making sure I haven’t had a new food for a couple of days before and then waiting several days to reintroduce a new food afterwards. I may wait weeks, or even months, to reintroduce dairy, and that will definitely be a gradual process.
Taft: I’m reintroducing foods more quickly than Heidi, but not all at once. This is another area that’s a little different for us than some Whole30 dieters: we’re not doing the Whole30 for psychological reasons, but to pinpoint what foods are affecting Heidi. I’ll probably reintroduce dairy back before Heidi will, but not by very long. Really, it comes down to this: while the strict Whole30 diet is only meant to last 30 days, the principles of the diet continue indefinitely. In our case, that means we’ll probably be eating a mostly Whole30 diet until we know what, if any, foods cause a celiac-like reaction in Heidi. Like Heidi said, with some foods that could take weeks or months.
Q. What did you buy for the diet?
Heidi: Lots of produce! Coming home from the farmers’ market and spending time in the kitchen together cleaning and slicing fruits and veggies became a weekly ritual. We’ve never gone through bags of potatoes so quickly before! We also found ourselves buying LOTS of eggs, breakfast sausage (although that took some searching), and quite a bit of meat. We did restock our pantry some, mostly canned tomato products and bottled fruit juice, and we did pick up coconut milk, chia seeds, and coconut aminos.
Taft: Eggs, eggs, eggs. And chicken. I like avocados on my eggs, so we frequently had them as well.
Q. How will your Whole30 experience change the way you eat in the future?
Heidi: I’m pretty sure that we’ll keep eating more eggs. We’ll probably eat fewer grains, now that we know how to mix things up with potatoes and sweet potatoes. We definitely have a couple of new healthy recipes to add to our meal rotation, and we hope to keep our sugar intake within more reasonable limits.
Taft: I’ll be eating less refined sugar, and more vegetables. Super sweet things, like soda, don’t even sound good anymore. We’ll probably continue to eat lots of eggs.