Tuesday, November 13

Our First Whole30

31 days ago Jessie and I started a diet called the Whole30. The reason for doing it was more or a less a question of “Why not?” Why not see how the body responds when you eat a ‘clean’ diet? Why not give something a shot that is grounded in scientific research? Why not try something that promises good outcomes? It’s only 30 days. Why not?  

So we did it...

Today is Day 30, the official mark of the end of a successful program. I'm proud to report that there was no cheating whatsoever. I haven't had a grain in over a month. No cream in my coffee, no popcorn at the movies and no beer at happy hour. As preached by the crew over at Whole9, the idea is to be all-in. No half-ass'ing the program. Do it, but do it right, and then yield results.

What is the “Whole30?”

The shortest answer:  Paleo.

The longer answer:  A way of eating that strips out grains, dairy, legumes, alcohol and anything with added sugar/artificial sweetener. It stresses the importance of high-quality proteins and fats. The source of everything is critical: grass-fed beef, pasture-raised meat/eggs and tons of plants (vegetables and fruit). 30 refers to the amount of days the program challenges you to make it in order to see any substantial difference.

So, did it make a difference?

Yes. 100%. My energy levels have sky-rocketed, I no longer hit any sort of afternoon slump. I’m happier. I’m falling asleep faster and waking up feeling better. My allergy symptoms are completely gone. I’m recovering faster from my workouts. I no longer crave unhealthy garbage. I burn more fat for fuel as opposed to relying on carbohydrates. And, despite my best efforts, I lost 10lbs.

The word “diet” has many negative connotations, one of which being that they typically involve calorie-restriction. This diet did not. As a matter of fact, I ate more calories on average during the last 30 days than I had prior to starting the program. For most of my breakfasts, as an example, I would consume around 1,000 calories, 60% of them from fat (raw, canned coconutmilk is delicious)!

(**Note:  I could write so much more on the concept of fat efficiency, the damaging effects of grains, and a lot more of the science, but I’ll save that for another post in the near future.  In the meantime, check out the Whole9 website and poke around – they've got a ton of great reads and valuable resources.)

Observations/Lessons Learned

It wasn't easy, but it got easier. The first week was miserable as my body adapted to less sugar and began the switch over from a metabolism that relied heavily on carbohydrates, to one that tapped into fat as a fuel source. I was cranky, tired, my stomach felt jacked up... things just weren't good. And then something happened: I started feeling better.  Not just better compared to the first week, but better than I had felt in months.

The hardest part was the planning and cooking. Take a moment and think about how much of the food you eat on a daily basis consists of grains (bread, crackers, cereal, oatmeal, etc.). Now, imagine taking that out. Tough, ey? It took a lot of planning and preparation to make it through, but it got easier as time went on. (Props to Chef Jessie, without her, I would have been eating eggs for breakfast, lunch and dinner)

Eating Whole30-approved is by far a healthier way of living. The proof is in the paleo-pudding.

Eating Whole30-approved is not sustainable for athletes involved in high intensity exercise/fitness. I found myself lagging at certain points on some days because of hard (high heart rate) workouts. I'm sure it's possible to adapt entirely to rely on carbohydrates from fruits and vegetables to fuel high-intensive workouts, but at this point, I'm not there yet. If my workouts were less intense and more endurance-focused, Whole30-eating would be perfect. (Fast-forward 9 months to see how this concept has evolved in my life. Spoiler alert: I qualified for the Boston Marathon on this diet.)

The bottom line is that I absolutely recommend this. It's amazing how fast the 30 days went by and how much benefit I got from doing it. It's a measly 4 weeks out of your life.  And in all seriousness, it's changed the way I look at food. I'm not saying I'll never have bread again, won't drink some beers or indulge in some desserts, but I will undoubtedly be more aware of what I'm putting in my body (the quantity doesn't matter as much when it's the right stuff!).

There's never a perfect time to start.  There will always be a dinner that comes up, a party, happy hour, occasion, whatever.  I'll be the first to raise my hand and say it would have been nice to have a couple of cheat-snacks at the Halloween parties I attended, or shared some beverages with pledge brothers I hadn't seen in a while at SMU Homecoming. So that's why you pick a day on your calendar, and you go. Give it a whirl. See what it's like to eat clean, give your body a metabolic reset, repair the lining in your stomach, and all the other benefits you can get from doing this. Or if none of those reasons are enticing, perhaps your reason should be the same as mine and Jessie's:  "Why not?"

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