6 Reasons to do Whole30 (that aren’t weight-related)
(If you have no idea what Whole30 is, just scroll down to the bottom of this post for some handy links and references.)
I’ve mentioned Whole30 a lot since the beginning of the year, and I’ve been mentally writing this post for about two months now. Since I find myself answering questions and talking a lot about the reasons to do Whole30, I thought I’d lay it all out here.
And, if I’m being honest, sometimes it takes me a couple of months to write posts in general because, life.
My first round of Whole30 was two months after I had my last baby (about 2 years ago). Honestly, my biggest motivation at that point was shedding some baby weight. Also, I desperately needed a detox. Every time I get pregnant I think, “This time I’m going to rock at healthy eating and be active!” And then that first trimester nausea and fatigue knocks me flat, and I’m back to eating “whatev” and not working out regularly.
It is what it is. I needed to get my cravings back under control and figured Whole30 would help me with that.
I felt like my first round was more like an exercise in survival. My cravings were under control, and I shed a few pounds, but I was really focused on just getting through the 30 days so I could get on with my life and hopefully back into a couple pairs of pants. I felt like I learned a few things during this round, though, and identified some bad habits.
I wanted to do another round a few months after that first one, but I started working on my cookbook for the next year or so. When my schedule cleared up, Halloween was the next week and then the holidays came quickly after. By Christmas I was DONE with all the sugar and rich holiday food and brain fog and still not fitting into my favorite clothes almost 2 years after having Sterling. And I had actually gained 10 pounds during the holidays, too, so that was fun.
In January my schedule was was free, clear, and I was feeling very puffy, so I decided to go for it. During a moment of insanity I decided to do a 60-day round, and I’m glad that I did.
In case you’re curious (I always am) I lost 8 pounds my first round of Whole30 and 15 pounds during my round of Whole60. Whole30 is really more about improving your relationship with food, but getting back into your favorite pants is pretty great, too.
Non-Scale Whole30 Victories
1. Physical Awesomeness
There are so many physical benefits of Whole30 besides losing weight, yet that’s what most people have as their top priority. We’ve been conditioned for so long to focus on our weight and becoming healthier gets pushed further down on the list. Yes, losing weight can improve your health in some cases, but it shouldn’t be the primary focus. Fortunately, though, as you improve your health, weight loss may be a pleasant side effect.
One of the first things I notice when I start a round is that I have more energy. And if the period of time immediately prior to starting a round was extra indulgent (ie. pregnancy, Christmas…) then my brain fog is lifted. I can think more clearly, and I don’t have that heavy “cloudy” feeling in my brain and body. It’s hard to explain what that feels like, but I know it’s brought on (in my case) by too much sugar and/or wheat.
Another thing I notice quickly is my abdomen shrinking. I tend to get a “food baby” really quickly when I’m off track. You know, that bloated stomach that looks like a 2nd trimester pregnancy?
Here’s a little before and after for you — because everyone likes before and afters, right?
On the left was 18 months post-baby, post-cookbook, post-one of the busiest and most stressful years of my life and topped off by an amazing Thanksgiving dinner. I look pregnant in this picture. I assure you, I wasn’t. The photo on the right was during my last week of Whole60.
A few days into my round of Whole30, my waistline shrunk by three inches. Just getting all of that high-inflammation food out of my diet made an immediate impact!
A couple other physical benefits I experienced were a clear complexion and drastically reduced PMS symptoms. That last one surprised me quite a bit. Because I was on a 60-day round this last time I went through two menstrual cycles.
My typical PMS symptoms include mild cramps/achiness, headaches, lower back pain, extra moodiness, and increased appetite. The first cycle was about 3 weeks into my round, and, honestly, the only symptoms I had was a few hours of grumpiness one morning for no particular reason and my usual snackiness. I almost forgot my period was coming. Amazing, right?
2. Recognize Food Triggers
There are foods that the Whole30 community refers to as “no brakes” foods. You know, the foods you have a hard time putting down after you take a bite or two and before you know it you’ve eaten almost the whole container/bag/plate. Everyone’s “no brakes” foods are a little different, but I’m guessing there’s quite a bit of overlap.
I realized what my main triggers were during my first round and a couple more popped up during the second round. A few of mine are…. chips/dip, cheese/crackers, pizza, from-scratch baked goodies, and starchy things like potatoes, rice, and pasta.
Since I tend to be an all-or-nothing kind of person it’s much easier for me to abstain from things like this than to try to moderate. Some people can easily do moderation and that’s great! I am not one of those people, so I try to keep my biggest triggers out of the house most of the time. (Looking at you, baked goodies.)
Realizing this about myself has helped immensely when I’m off-round. If I’m at a potluck or a social gathering and there’s a table full of chips and dip or 40 plates of cookies and brownies I can take a step back and remember that I have a hard time just eating one. So I’ll choose one thing that looks particularly good and grab one piece as we’re heading out the door to go home.
3. Identify Bad Habits
Speaking of social gatherings, I am a total social eater which makes sense because I really love talking about food, sharing recipes, and feeding people — both online and offline. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it can cause my brain to shut off and eat things for no particular reason other than everyone else is eating and eating with other people is fun.
Whole30 has helped me to realize other bad eating habits that I have. Mindless social eating is one. Mindless boredom eating, late night snacking, and emotional eating are others. Whole30 forces me to consider why I’m about to eat and if there’s something else I could do instead that would be more helpful to my situation and my health. If I could just channel my mindless eating into mindless exercising, that would be amazing.
Another habit I’ve picked up over the years was one born out of necessity. I’ve either been pregnant or nursing for the better part of the last decade. When I was pregnant I ate all day long in order to avoid being nauseous. I also gained 40-60 pounds during each pregnancy, but I felt good for the most part. So, worth it.
When the babies came I started breastfeeding, and I breastfed mine for 12-16 months each. I mentioned earlier that my milk supply was always temperamental, and I needed to keep myself constantly hydrated and fed to produce enough milk. Again…. snacking all day and eating large meals for another year or so.
Now that my caboose child has been weaned, I still find myself in that same eating mindset and, out of habit, getting nervous when I get a little hungry. I don’t need bigger portions to keep my lactating self satisfied because…. no more lactating. No more pregnancy. Plus, I’m over 35 now, and I’ve realized my metabolism is no longer 21 years old, so smaller portions would probably do me some good.
4. Create Good Habits
After realizing what my bad habits were, Whole30 helped me to create better habits. Being more intentional about what I’m eating and why I’m eating helps me make better choices. And those choices begin to form habits. One of the benefits of doing an extra long round is that those habits became more solidified.
Want to know a secret? I’m kind of lazy. Well… maybe lazy isn’t the best term for it. I’m choosy about how I expend my energy. I don’t like wasting energy on things that aren’t productive or enjoyable, and I like to use my energy in the most efficient way possible. (I now know why I’m like this, and I’ll explain it in another post.)
And when I’m hungry, I don’t want to spend a lot of time prepping food. I want food in my face. Now.
Knowing these things about myself has made me want to meal prep. Or at the very least keep a bowl of hard cooked eggs and a jar of Paleo Ranch on hand so I’m more likely to eat a salad for lunch instead of grabbing cheese and crackers. (See: Trigger foods)
5. Realize What Foods are Worth It
Not eating certain foods for a period of time can be hard. It’s also very eye-opening, to be honest. Before my first round I thought I’d have some serious chocolate withdrawals. I did miss it a little, but it was nothing compared to how much I missed cheese.
Knowing the difference between things I really love and things that sorta love made it easier to decide what would be worth eating after my round is over.
Cheese, yes. Sushi rice, yes. (Cauliflower rice got REALLY old.)
Homemade macarons? Yes. Whole Foods macarons? Meh.
Store-bought cupcakes at a potluck? Nope.
Another way to tell if something is worth it is to focus on how I will feel AFTER I eat something BEFORE I eat it.
Seeing the immediate effects of good food choices also works in the reverse. If you dive back into the chip bag/ice cream container/pizza box as soon as your round is over you’ll feel it. Oh, you’ll feel it. It might be a good exercise in learning to feel how certain foods affect your body.
And they don’t necessarily have to be junk foods either. I’ve learned over the past couple of years that oatmeal doesn’t agree with me. Or eating too much nut butter. Not necessarily “junk” foods, but ones I need to be cautious about.
Your experience may be different, though, but I’m willing to bet Whole30 will help you create good habits.
6. Boost Confidence
I’m not gonna lie — making it through a round of Whole30 or Whole60 makes me feel like a rockstar. Not only do I feel great physically and have an improved relationship with food, I feel super confident.
The confidence you feel when you’re done can spill over into other areas of your life. I have a really bad habit of staying up too late Netflixing, playing around on my phone, sewing, etc. Because I spend the majority of my day taking care of small children, I need time to myself or else I’d go insane. Watching 5 episodes of Lost might be excessive, though. (I know we’re, like, 10 years late to that party. But we’ve arrived.)
Knowing I can make it a whole month without eating cheese or sugar makes me feel confident that I can put myself to bed on time. Or be better about exercising regularly. Or making sure I make time for meditation/scripture study. Or learning when to say no and not overscheduling myself.
While I’m on the subject of confidence, I also have this goal of making it through every major holiday while eating Whole30 compliant. Holiday indulgence is another weakness I have. Indulging around the holidays isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but I find myself starting a week or two before said holiday, ON said holiday and then for several days after the holiday there’s always stuff sitting around. That I eat. Because it’s sitting there. Treating myself for a holiday very easily turns into a whole month of being derailed.
My first round was during Independence Day, which was an easy one to start with — grilled meals and watermelon galore. This last round included Valentine’s Day — a little harder, but not too bad. There were also social gatherings, several mornings when my kids made crepes, Sunday evening popcorn, and a few plates of goodies left on my porch from sweet friends who had no idea I was doing this crazy Whole30 thing.
Thinking back through all of the things I chose not to eat, there wasn’t anything I wished I had eaten. Realizing this helps immensely when faced with making holiday-related food choices. (See: trigger foods, creating good habits, “worth it” foods, boosting confidence — it’s all related!)
Now that I’ve spilled my guts about Whole30, I’ll point you to a few resources in case it’s something that you’d like to look into.
Quick & Dirty
If you just want to skim the rules and get going, here are the The Official Whole30 Rules and a little about SWYPO. SWYPO is basically recreating off-limit or common trigger foods with Whole30 compliant ingredients (i.e. pancakes, pizza, any kind of paleo baked goodie).
SWYPO is a little controversial, but it has more to do with the psychological effects of what you’re eating and not the food itself. It annoyed me at first, but now I get it. And it’s just 30 days, so it’s doable.
There have been some updates and clarifications to the rules, so if you are unsure about something, a quick Google search will help. Or perusing the Whole30 Website.
When you begin meal planning and searching for ideas, check out the Whole30 section of my index. Also be sure to sign up for my newsletter! Every month I send out my collection of Whole30/Paleo meal plans and add new meal plans or subscriber-only recipes. You’ll want to get in on that.
May do some shameless self-promoting and mention my cookbook? It’s applicable, I swear. About 2/3 of the recipes in the book are Whole30 compliant, so roughly 166 out of 200. And they’re ALL slow cooker recipes (and most are easily adaptable for an Instant Pot — working on that now!) It comes out July 1st and available for pre-order right here: The Big Book of Paleo Slow Cooking.
If you want to dive deeper into the Whole30 rabbit hole, here are a few books you can pick up. (Click on the photos to find them on Amazon.)
I’d love to hear if you decide to give Whole30 a shot and what your experience was like! And if you have any questions about my experience, leave a comment or shoot me an email using the contact form.
Disclosure: This post contains Amazon affiliate links. Using these links doesn’t cost you any extra and provides Perry’s Plate with a few pennies to keep the lights on.