It’s that time of year again, when all of your friends and family members are making resolutions to be healthier in 2020. Expect to see lots of the following on Instagram in the next month: #NewYearsResolution, #NewYearNewYou, #Whole30. And for anyone looking to try the latter, I applaud you — and I encourage you to do it. I decided to give the much-buzzed-about Whole30 diet a try last November.
I was in a bit of a life funk, in between jobs, living in Philadelphia yet trying to move to New York City. I had a lot of free time, yet somehow I felt bloated, low-energy, and had issues sleeping. Basically, I was in need of a physical and mental reset. (Does this resonate with anyone?)
Then I had my “aha!” moment. This was the perfect time to attempt Whole30, which I had always been interested in trying. My sister-in-law, Lisa, tried it a few years ago and she claims it changed her life. She ended up going off of the strict diet after 30 days, but stayed on the Paleo Diet. I asked her to be my “Whole30 advisor” throughout the entire process. (Side note: If you know someone who has done Whole30 before, ask them if they can be your guide!) Lisa was so helpful, I feel like I probably should have paid her.
But let’s back up for a moment.
What exactly is Whole30?
Whole30 is a nutritional program designed to change the way you feel and eat in 30 days. Basically, you have to remove all of the potentially inflammatory foods and beverages in your diet (think: added sugar and sweeteners, alcohol, grains, legumes, dairy, processed foods and beverages, baked goods, and junk foods) and eat three “clean” meals a day, made with Whole30-approved ingredients (think: meats, seafood, veggies, and eggs).
It should be noted that U.S. News & World Report released its annual ranking of diets, and Whole30 ranked dead last. Why? Essentially, the expert panel of over 20 registered dietitians, academics, and medical doctors found the program unsustainable and potentially unhealthy, since, among other issues, it restricts certain food groups and is high in sodium and cholesterol.
“To me, it’s not a ‘whole’ diet if it doesn’t include some of those really important food groups such as legumes, even though ‘whole’ is in the name,” Bonnie Taub-Dix, RDN and author of Read it Before You Eat It – Taking You from Label to Table, tells Woman’s Day. Taub-Dix also takes issue with the timeline of the diet. “Unless you only plan on living for 30 days, your diet should not last for 30 days,” she says. “”The word ‘diet’ means way of life, and you’re not supposed to be changing your life for your diet for whatever period, you’re supposed to change your diet for your life.” Although extreme food restrictions can lead to weight loss and other temporary benefits for those looking to change their eating habits, they can be harmful in the long run, especially when the 30 days are up and you’re forced to figure out how you’re going to eat moving forward; it can be unsustainable.
But, Whole30’s co-creator Melissa Hartwig stands behind the program, telling Cosmopolitan.com that its animal protein recommendations are in line with government recommendations, and that there are no nutrients in temporarily restricted foods, like grains and legumes, that you can’t find in fruits and vegetables.
So, with my sister-in-law as my Whole30 guide, I successfully followed the program for the entire month of November. The beginning was really bumpy for me — I am truly an emotional eater and I am absolutely addicted to sugar. But once it was done, it was clear to me that the benefits outweighed the challenges. I now have a whole new understanding and respect for my body and a newfound control over the food I put in my mouth. Full disclosure that the Whole30 diet affects everyone differently, but here are the seven biggest changes I saw in myself after 30 days:
1. Flawless skin.
You know that “no-makeup” makeup trend that requires TONS of makeup to make you look natural? Expect the same effect, but with no makeup whatsoever required, during and after Whole30. My skin was glowing the entire time I was on it. Strangers commented on my skin. While I still did have a hormonal breakout on my chin, it wasn’t the spotty blemished mess it usually is. I feel like the tone, texture, and overall look of my skin was tip top.
2. Whiter eyes.
As I’ve gotten older, you can see if I am tired or stressed by just looking at my eyes, which will be bloodshot and red. In fact, I constantly have eye drops with me because of this. But a few days into Whole30, the whites of my eyes were bright and shiny — and they stayed that way throughout the 30 days.
3. Boundless energy.
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Before I went on Whole30 I was sleeping 8 to 10 hours a night (yes, I love my sleep), yet come 2 p.m. I’d hit an energy slump. I’d feel high right after I ate (looking back on it, probably because I was eating so much added sugar) but my energy would significantly fluctuate through the day. During the beginning of Whole30 — specifically the first three days — I really struggled. Again, I was a sugar addict and I think detoxing from that really affected my energy levels. But after that slump, my energy was constant — I really had never felt better. Even when things didn’t go the way I wanted, I felt energetic and up for any challenge.
4. Better sleep.
Oh sleep, it’s one of my favorite things in the world, yet it has always been a real challenge for me. I have been on and off of sleep medication for seven years. For me, the hardest part is actually falling asleep. Well on Whole30 I fell asleep naturally. The first few days, I would be so exhausted by bedtime that I would fall asleep as soon as my head hit the pillow, and that continued the whole month. This was probably the most drastic and exciting change that I experienced on Whole30.
5. A better understanding of how food affects me.
One of the most interesting experiments comes after you finish Whole30 and slowly start adding foods back into your diet. You get to test how foods you stopped eating during the month affected you after you added them back in. The most shocking for me? Legumes make me feel bloated (they just do!). When I added gluten back, the next day I broke out in a rash. And now that I’ve curbed my “sugar dragon” (that’s what they call sugar cravings on Whole30), I try to avoid sugar as much as humanly possible. In fact, December came after my Whole30 experience, so of course I indulged in a few glasses of wine at a holiday party, and BOOM — my skin broke out. Now I have a better idea of what to avoid altogether, and what to watch if I do decide to indulge.
6. A more balanced mind.
Between interviewing for jobs, traveling, looking for an apartment and scheduling a move, November was a stressful month. But throughout the entire 30 days, I felt level-headed and not so all over the place. This may sound far-fetched, but I truly think what I was putting in my body was responsible for giving me that balanced feeling.
7. Feeling deflated and debloated.
I often get caught up in focusing on numbers and scales, so I decided not to officially weigh myself before or after Whole30. But I can attest that everything about my body just felt better. I know saying something like “I lost eleven pounds” would sound much more convincing, but I could see that my stomach was slimmer, as was my face (which is awkwardly the first place I gain weight).
So what does one do after completing Whole30? Honestly, I felt a little lost. I was scared to start adding food categories back into my diet for fear of gaining back inches and feeling meh again.
This isn’t unlike what Taub-Dix said from the get-go. “”The title is catchy, but some people who want to lose weight think isn’t it wonderful only have to go on a diet for 30 days like it has a beginning and and end, but thats not what your life is like,” she says. “You don’t want your diet to end, your diet should sustain you throughout your life. Which is why it’s important to choose a diet that includes all foods including foods that are rich and indulgent that you can have on occasion.”
READ MORE: How can I get enough sleep?
Eventually — probably on day 33 — I started to experiment. First came eating ketchup … no side effect. Next, I had some red wine … a slight hangover the next day, but nothing like I used to experience when indulging in sugary cocktails. Then, I added gluten … and my body officially freaked out. I broke out in a rash and hives all over my scalp, neck, and legs which lasted for a few days. I decided to try eating gluten again after the rashes went away to make sure, and sure enough, I woke up the next day to … more rashes.
In that sense, Whole30 has been so helpful in understanding my body. So how am I eating now? I would say that I’m eating pretty “paleo” these days. I definitely still indulge once in a while, with some red wine or french fries, but I haven’t been tempted to binge in the slightest. I would definitely do Whole30 again, but I need a bit of a break from it at the moment. Instead, I’m ready for a mindful and moderate approach to my new chapter of life, back in New York City.