The Whole30 Diet: After Action Review
Last month my husband and I started a 30-day diet plan called the Whole30. The basic idea is to “reboot” your system by excluding foods from your diet that you might be intolerant of without knowing it. You stick to a simplified, clean diet and let your body cleanse itself. After 30 days, you gradually reintroduce foods and note any reactions.
Whole30 is a fairly extreme diet, since it restricts, sugar, alcohol, grains, legumes, fast food, and dairy. You are forbidden to stand on a scale. I followed the rules strictly for 30 days, and in the 10 days that followed, added back bread, alcohol, beans, and dairy products, and occasional sweets, in that order.
So what happened?
I’ll summarize our discoveries in this article. You will have more information and can decide for yourself whether you want to give the program a shot. For the record, my husband did not take the program seriously. He cheated a lot (hopefully just with food) and didn’t stay off the scale. But his experience still taught us some valuable lessons.
Many dieters are focused on losing weight. Even though weight isn’t the primary focus on Whole30 (it's really health), I’ll start with that. In short, the pounds melted off my body. I didn't know exactly what I lost during the 30 days, since I never weighed myself, but my clothes fit more loosely and I could see a difference in the mirror. This encouraged me and gave me the willpower to keep the diet up.
After I relaxed the diet, the pounds began to creep back on, but remained well below my starting weight. This is partly because of the greater awareness of the impact of food on my body: I eat everything again, but much, much less of the food and drinks that contribute most to weight gain, like alcohol, bread, pasta, and sweets.
The table below summarizes the impact at the beginning, the end, and 10 days after I got off the diet:
189 lbs (81 kg)
167 lbs (77 kg)
171 lbs (78 kg)
42" (107 cm)
167 lbs (77 kg)
40.5" (103 cm)
My appearance definitely improved, mostly because I looked less puffy and bloated. My clothes fit better and my face thinned out. People noticed and made favorable comments...definitely something a girl enjoys.
But many other benefits that Whole30 advocates talk about did not happen in my case. I noticed no changes in skin, nails, or hair. I didn't glow and my eyes didn't twinkle. But even so, I was happy enough with the lightness of step and overall perkier look that came with the diet.
Mood & Sex
My mood was good throughout the entire 30 days. Having suffered from PMS for decades, and now that I am in the throes of menopause, my husband has never known which version of me to expect. But even he noticed that I was on an even keel most of the time. We got along marvelously during the diet; that alone was worth the deprivation.
Unfortunately, this did not translate into an increased libido. I'm rarely am in the mood under any circumstances, and Whole30 didn't change that. My husband didn’t perk up either in any sense of the word.
Aches & Pains
I have never suffered much from aches and pains, but as I get older, my knees, elbows, and hands sometimes feel stiff and a little painful. This often happens when it’s overcast or raining, so I never thought to make a food connection. But one night, as I lay in bed, I did a mental “body scan” and noticed something interesting: I didn’t have a single ache. I felt no pain at all. And for a 50+ gal, that's quite a revelation.
After the Whole30, I felt some of the aches return, particularly after eating bread and pizza. But we also had a lot of rainy weather, so I cannot say with certainty that the aches were food related. I need to experiment more to determine if achy joints ahve some connection to food.
Poll on Whole30
You've read this far...are you considering the Whole30 challenge?
I don’t have a lot of trouble falling asleep, so there wasn’t much room for improvement on that score. My biggest sleep issue is waking up early in the morning. Most mornings, my bladder wakes me up after about five hours of sleep and I rarely manage to sleep a wink more. The diet did not have any noticeable impact on the length of my sleep. My husband slept a little better, but overall, we can't record a sleep impact from the diet.
I suffer from headaches a lot. They aren’t usually full-blown migraines, but they’re unpleasant and disruptive and happen almost every day. I experienced fewer headaches during the 30-day period. After I reintroduced foods, my headaches picked up a little, but I was not able to clearly link any specific food to the headaches. I have never taken so few headache pills in any 30-day period, so I consider this a big win of the Whole30 experience.
Gas and Bowel Movements
My husband and I are champion farting machines. We both noticed that the volume of gas decreased significantly during the diet. So did the frequency of our bowl movements (yes, I’ve reached the age where I pay attention to that). The only downside was that my patterns were disrupted: my body is used to the regular passing of matter through my system. This threw me off. But overall, I welcomed this development. Especially in the case of my husband, whose nighttime gas under the covers are a lot like underground nuclear tests.
I have high blood pressure, mostly in the pre-hypertension range when I’m not on medication. I was hoping I could reduce my dose. But throughout the 30-day period I did not notice any changes in blood pressure. For one day I stopped the medication and my blood pressure shot right up.
Mental Clarity & Energy
I felt sharper than usual during the 30-day period. I believe this mostly resulted from not drinking alcohol. Often my husband and I drink an entire bottle of wine at night. I don’t experience a full hangover, but I usually feel crusty in the morning. This slows me down in everything I do, especially work. After reintroducing alcohol the crustiness came back, so I’m limiting my intake.
I also felt more energized during the 30 days and wanted to go to the gym more often. Sometimes I’d feel a burst of energy on the treadmill and would run at top speed for a few minutes. I could literally feel surging power that needed to be burned off. The energy levels also went down after the 30 days, but remain higher than they were before.
The best thing was that the "mid-afternoon dip" stopped in its tracks. Most of us get super tired a couple hours after lunch. Not during the Whole30. My energy levels stayed high all day long, and into the evening. This is a tremendous benefit, especially if you are paid by how much you work.
Impact on Social Life
My social life took a big hit during the 30-days. Spontaneity was lost. Fun became a chore. I could still meet friends, but it was much less enjoyable when I couldn’t join them for a drink. It was difficult to find acceptable foods on restaurant menus, and in some cases, I wasn’t completely sure whether a particular dish fully met the Whole30 requirements or not.
Friends and family were understanding and cut me some slack. I was not embarrassed by the Whole30 experiment; I just told everyone up front what I was doing so they would understand why I wasn't living it up. The one plus was seeing how a few drinks affected other people while I stayed completely sober, sipping my herbal tea while they downed beer or wine. I never realized how goofy alcohol can make you.
Many people stop cold after the 30-day period of over. But reintroduction of major food groups is an important part of the whole process.
Every few days I added back a new food item, though in the case of dairy, grains, sugar and alcohol I limited consumption. I did not notice any major or dramatic impact from any of the reintroduced food. But I do feel, even now, more achiness and less energy.
I feel noticeably worse when I eat bread, pizza, alcohol (especially beer) or dairy products.
I feel fine when I eat rice, beans, corn, and whole grain pasta.
My husband, however, made a major discovery: he is lactose intolerant. After two weeks he cheated: he had yoghurt and buttered toast. Within minutes, he felt sick to his stomach and had strong joint pain. When he cut the dairy out, the discomfort went away. A few days later he put milk in his coffee and got a splitting headache again. Now he’s off dairy and plans to get tested the next time he gets a physical.
Wrapping Up the Whole30
I found the Whole30 experience positive. I know much more about my body and how the things I put into it affect me. That said, I am willing to consume less optimal food and drink so that I can socialize with friends and family. The huge downside is the hit on your social life.
But overall, I expect to make permanent changes to my diet. I am already eating mostly vegetables and lean protein, and some fruit. I will enjoy the occasional slice of pizza or piece of chocolate cake, but those will be exceptions to the rule.
I hope you’ll give the Whole30 a shot and share your experiences in the comments section. Let us know what you discover about yourself.