Why I quit Whole30 early (and why it’s probably not for everyone)
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I woke up this morning feeling pretty great about myself.
The sun was shining, my skin looked good and my stomach was feeling pretty happy with me. The only problem? It’s what should have been the start of Day 22 of my Whole30 adventures and I was feeling GREAT – after having officially quit the night before.
The last full day of my Whole30 was technically a few days before, on Day 18. You see, although it was not at all intentional earlier in the week, I realized that I just couldn’t do it anymore.
About halfway through the afternoon on Day 19, I absolutely positively snapped. No amount of encouraging texts from my boyfriend (who I dragged into doing this with me) were helping. I was writing a freelance piece on July 4th desserts and DESPERATE FOR A BROWNIE.
But that’s not what made me give up.
The reason why I quit that day wasn’t because the Sugar Dragon was calling or because I couldn’t take a deep breath and wait out my craving. It was because I had started to realize that the frustrations I felt with being a food writer and doing Whole30 at the same time were no longer worth it. It wasn’t fair to myself, my body or my mental health that I was launching into a full-on rage right around 3 or 4pm every day for the past week. I refused to do that to myself.
That wasn’t the only reason, however.
I also realized that I was starting to enter into some seriously disordered eating habits (NO, THANKS!) and that, at the end of the day, I wasn’t really seeing many benefits from Whole30.
I was sleeping fine, but I always slept fine. My skin was clear, but my skin was always clear. My stomach didn’t hurt or feel awkward, but that never happened anyway.
I realized that my reasons for trying Whole30 were kind of flimsy in the first place. I wasn’t someone who suffered from unhealthy eating habits or was a subscriber to the SAD diet (that’s Standard American Diet for those not in the know). I ate pretty well and I felt pretty good and I was very happy with my body and my weight.
So what exactly was my reason for doing Whole30 in the first place?
Well, I was snacking a bit too much before. And I was most definitely drinking too much soda and eating too much candy.
But like… that’s it? These things could have been easily fixed by a low sugar diet for a couple of weeks. Instead, I opted to push through for a Whole30 to figure out if I had any sensitivities to foods that the plan asks you to give up – namely, legumes, grains and dairy.
I already knew I was consuming too much sugar, so no problem there. And I no longer drink alcohol, so not really something I had to give up in the first place. But part of me wanted to say I DID IT just to say I did it and the other part of me was genuinely curious.
Yet as me and boyfriend got into the third week of our mostly pescatarian Whole30 (he’s a vegetarian who I convinced to eat fish just for this experiment, and MAYBE later if he wanted to), neither of us were really feeling any benefits because the truth was we didn’t really NEED them.
Neither of us had ever suffered from the kind of stomach ailments that often hurt those who are lactose intolerant or suffer from gluten sensitivities. The truth is neither of us really suffered from any real side effects, diseases or ailments to speak of – just your basic sugar crash when we knew we had too much.
We both knew how to eat healthy, and almost always did. He had been consuming a bit too much soy and definitely too many processed foods since becoming a vegetarian a year ago, but didn’t really need to go to the extreme of a Paleo-like diet to do away with that.
Did we learn? ABSOLUTELY.
I learned that making frittatas is the BEST THING EVER. It’s an easy brunch dish on lazy Saturday mornings, a quick lunch when the boyfriend comes home during the week and a simple dinner for when I’m too tired or lazy to make anything else.
I learned that snacking is still essential for me, someone who lost weight through a gastric bypass and therefore I can’t eat normal people portions ANYWAY. If I stuck to a “three meals a day” rule, I’d starve. And the boyfriend had to snack too due to needing extra fat and calories from non-animal proteins (namely, guacamole and nuts) to not lose all of the muscle mass he’d been building the past couple of years.
I learned that knowing how to make a baked fish with roasted veggies was my favorite weeknight dinner that takes almost no effort. I would splash some olive or coconut oil on my sheet tray, lay salmon or sea bass or mahi mahi in the middle and then spread chopped veggies all around. Sometimes it was green beans, sometimes it was broccoli, sometimes it was potatoes or (my favorite) a mix of different veggies. I’d top it all with salt and pepper, as well as whatever other spice I was in the mood for that day. And then I would stick it all in a 350F-heated oven for roughly 20 minutes. Voila! Easy peasy yummy dinner.
I learned that there’s sugar in EVERYTHING you can buy in a store, ever. Well, let me rephrase that: I reminded myself of that and also taught the boyfriend that. Yes, it was difficult to buy spices, condiments, dressings, sauces, etc, because almost everything has added sugar. But, at the same time, it’s also easy to avoid. You just read the label and put the jar/can/bottle back if it mentions any kind of sugar or other not-natural sounding ingredient. So, really, we ate hella healthy the whole time.
And ultimately, I learned that Whole30 just isn’t for me.
I know that some devotees (many of whom I am friends with) will argue that I just didn’t do it right. That by doing a pescatarian version, I was dooming myself from the start. That by quitting early, I never got to the point at the end when I’d feel that Tiger Blood or whatever. That I cheated myself by not finishing. That I don’t really GET IT anyway.
But I feel good about my decision. I know what my body was telling me, and it was telling me that none of this was really all that necessary. And luckily, the boyfriend’s body was saying the same.
Do you know how I know? Because last night, after already testing to see if we had any sensitivities to legumes, we had pizza.
We had a full-gluten pizza with tons of dairy cheese after not having either for three weeks. And we felt TOTALLY FINE.
Neither of us got sick or overly tired. Neither of us is exhausted or has pain this morning. Neither of us is irritable or suffering from any of the other emotional or physical side-effects we could be.
Instead, we enjoyed our pizza. And we lay on the couch watching a movie, seeing if anything would happen. If either of us had a sensitivity to dairy OR to gluten, we’d have known it. TRUST ME.
I know I’m right there, because I remember the tales I’ve heard from friends who DO have a sensitivity to either of these. And even giving them up for three weeks should have put us over the edge when reintroducing them. But there was no edge to be had. Instead, our stomachs were fine and our brains did a big YIPPEE.
Sure, sugar can still be a major craving but we avoided ordering soda last night too, something that I have NEVER been able to do before when ordering pizza. That’s about it, though.
We don’t plan to go back to eating sugar all the time. In fact, we agreed to only allow ourselves soda when we go to the movies (and a small one at that!). I’m not sure when I’ll want to try eating candy again, but I do know that I’d like a real and really nice so-totally-worth-it decadent dessert. Perhaps a creme brûlée. Because if you’re going to do dessert post-Whole30, then you better do it right.
Overall, Whole30 did EXACTLY what I wanted it to: it kicked my butt back into eating even healthier than I already have been. But it wasn’t and never would have been sustainable for me.
Instead, I am going to focus on what I already know: my body feels best with a Greek yogurt for breakfast (hold the honey, though), a high-protein lunch, fruit and baby carrots and guacamole and hummus and nuts for snacks… and a healthy dinner. I know that I really enjoy a cup of black tea with a little bit of sugar at the end of the day, or sometimes at the start of the day too. And I know that I also enjoy the mental clarity of NOT STRESSING over having a few indulgent meals throughout the week.
And if those indulgent meals include pizza or French Toast once a week… Well, so be it! After all, as I always remind even myself, eating 80% as healthy as possible is what works for me. And the other 20%? Well, I just don’t worry about it – and that’s good for my body AND my mental health.