Updated: Jul 30, 2020
I completed my second Whole30 programme last month. Some people may consider the Whole30 a fad diet, but given millions have tried the programme since 2009, I felt I could give this a second chance as I was keen to eat more whole and unprocessed food anyway.
My first attempt at Whole30 was about two years ago, I would say it was a partial success because I managed to eat clean for 30 days, but I didn't manage to complete the reintroduction phase. This time I am particularly keen to sort out my snacking habits as I felt I was probably eating too much refined carbs or imitation desserts. I would also like to find out if I had any sensitivity to rice and soy, because these staples are really hard to avoid when you live in Asia. As a runner, I still think rice may not be bad to fuel longer distances and marathon races.
What is the Whole30? The Whole30 is basically an elimination diet (see below). When most of us go on a diet, we tend to focus what to cut out and how much weight to lose. I can't emphasize enough that it is super important for anyone to eat enough calories and nutrients when following the Whole30 protocol. It's not meant to be a calorie restriction diet, the key is to 1) remove crappy and calorific junk food and 2) to replace them with whole and nutritious food. You will likely find yourself eating more because real food (e.g. a fresh apple) usually have lower calorie density than processed food (e.g. a low-fat granola bar). I like the programme because it encourages me to eat more, especially well-prepared, properly grown fresh vegetables, humanely raised meat and animal products.
Elimination Diet The point about elimination diet is to remove foods that cause intolerance or sensitivity for a period of time, typically for 2 weeks to 3 months, to give the body time to rest and recover. At the end of the elimination diet, you can reintroduce the suspicious food, such as grains, beans, nuts, dairy, one at a time to observe if each causes a particular symptom or discomfort. In between each reintroduction, you need to return to the elimination protocol for a few days for the body to heal and clean up, before you can reintroduce the next food group. For example, if you get an upset stomach after eating pizzas, unless you knew from your past experiences or have done a food intolerance test, you cannot necessarily tell whether it is the cheese, the tomatoes, the dough or the meat that causes the discomfort. An elimination diet can help you figure out which and how each one gives you a particular symptom.
Once you know how a particular food or food group causes your body to react, you can avoid the symptoms by avoiding the food, or if you decide to eat that food, you would know what to expect and manage the symptoms.
The Whole 30 rules The following are the most common foods in causing intolerances and sensitivities. Except for the last one is mostly tackling our psychological association with food.
No added sugar, real or artificial including stevia and xylitol which means no chewing gum
No alcohol - not even for cooking
No grains such as bread, rice, noodles, pizza, tortilla, cereals, whole grains like wheat, rye, barley, oats, quinoa, corn, maize, buckwheat and amaranth.
No legumes or beans such as kidney, red, green, black beans, chickpeas, lentils, peanuts, peanut butter, soybean, soy sauce, miso, tofu, tempeh, soy milk, soy lecithin.
No dairy - cow, goat or sheep's milk, cream, cheese, yoghurt, sour cream, ice cream.
No preservatives, carrageenan, MSG or sulfites.
No baked goods, junk or treats - not even imitation dessert.
Other than relieving your body and gut from potential food intolerances, the W30 is a great opportunity for anyone who wants to better manage any psychological dependencies on sugar, junk food or unwanted habits such as emotional snacking.
The avoid list is long and restrictive, you might think you will have to starve for 30 days. However hunger was not a problem for me and you can definitely thrive on W30 with proper planning and preparation, and intentionally eat to satiation. Some people can get horrible withdrawal symptoms like headache, brain fog, dizziness from sugar addiction during the first week. Quitting sugar or junk food is hard work, but if you really want to rid yourself of sugar addition, 30 days is absolutely worth the investment.
You can thrive on Whole30
But please hear me out, you can totally thrive on Whole30. Don't think of deprivation, focus instead on the broad variety of nutritious and delicious Whole30 compliant foods out there. I am sharing a few pictures of what I ate back then and even this past week, they are all yummy and nutrient dense.
Read the next paragraph and see if you are missing some of these tasty nutrition in your current diet.
What to eat during the W30? Organic eggs, responsibly raised beef, pork, chicken, wild-caught fish and seafood, fresh vegetables such as leafy greens, salads, spinach, broccoli, Brussel sprouts, kale, sweet potatoes, carrots, parsnips, squash, beetroot, tomatoes, berries, avocados, coconuts, bananas, oranges, apples, melons, nuts and seeds like almonds, cashew, walnuts, chia, hemp flax, nut butters, extra virgin olive oil, grass-fed ghee, coconut oil, apple cider vinegar, herbs like rosemary, oregano, basil, thyme, tarragon, spices like turmeric, ginger, paprika, cinnamon, nutmeg, and then my favourite - bone broth.
My favourite W30 foods
My favourites, whether I am on W30 or not, are fried eggs with grass-fed ghee, turmeric and black pepper, coconut curry with vegetables and chicken thighs, baked red snapper with ginger, spring onions, coconut aminos and olive oil, and lots of bone broth.
What are the benefits? Whilst weight loss isn't my goal at all. I can tell you that many people have successfully lost weight on the programme. It is simply by switching from a conventional diet full of refined carbs (cereals, pasta, rice, noodles, bread, pizza, doughnuts, cakes, biscuits, cookies) into fresh whole and proper food, such as single-ingredient food like fish, egg, avocados, cucumbers, carrots and bananas.
Whole vs processed?
It is not always possible to eat 100% fresh food with zero processing, but if you pay attention, you know that a piece of salmon or tuna from a can is still a lot less processed than a piece of cake or low-fat cereal bar. Another tip is to look at the number of ingredients on the packaging, ideally you want less than 5 items on the ingredients list, or at the very minimum, you should recognise every single ingredient in the food you are buying. If the first ingredient is wheat or sugar, it is totally off.
Try this for a week As an example, you can even try swapping a bowl of wholegrain cereal for two eggs and an avocado for breakfast, say for a week. This can be a total game changer for your nutrition and satiety. Do you want to stop that mid-morning craving or hunger? My recommendation is to eat some healthy fats for breakfasts, even vegans can get plenty from extra virgin olive oil, spirulina, chlorella, avocado, nuts and seeds. The real benefits The Whole30 changed my relationship with food for the better. I have become more mindful about my nutrition and eating habits. It's been several weeks since I completed the W30, I still haven't got the urge to snack on cheese or cold cut meats. I am happy I can go back to my occasional 90% dark chocolate.
I have no desire to eat bread and I am quite happy to use fresh or dried fruits like prunes, fig and almond butter to fuel my long runs instead of snack bars. Note there are W30 compliant bars such as RX or Larabar but I just don't feel the need for those yet. I am better at reading food labels beyond energy (calories) content, sugar, carbs, fats and protein. I know how to look for hidden sugar, trans fats and preservatives in all kinds of foods. I am more tuned in to pay attention to how my body reacts to certain foods.
Verdict I wouldn't go as far to say W30 is life-changing but considering the programme is only for 30 days, the impact isn't small. W30 has certainly changed my relationship with food. I see whole, minimally processed food as the best way to nourish the body and remove psychological attachment to processed junk. I am sure I would still enjoy the occasional treats like a pizza or ice cream but I can tell my cravings for processed foods and alcohol are notably reduced. I also feel I recover better from my workouts because of lower inflammation. There is so much more I want to share about the Whole30, so let me know what else you would like to know about Whole30. Watch out for upcoming blogs on the following:
Eating out during Whole30 and the social aspects
More on W30 rules of no sugar, grains, beans, legumes, dairy, no baked goods or treats
How to fuel my run and daily activities with W30 compliant food
Please get in touch if you have any comments or questions. Or get a free health consultation with me. Follow mileandbite on IG. If you want to get a taste of health coaching, you can follow a 4 weeks self-guided programme by downloading an e-guide for FREE.