Wednesday, October 23

Featured Whole30'er: Stewart

Slightly different format for this Featured Whole30'er that we think you'll appreciate. Stew is a dear friend and is a part of our Small Group through Church that has been together for over three years.

As someone who is physically active and relatively health conscious (at least on the weekdays), I decided to do the Whole30 because I felt like I had hit a plateau in terms of workouts, energy and health in general.  I was exercising regularly and eating pretty healthy food but wasn't getting the results I wanted.  After hearing so many of the great physical and mental benefits the Whole30 program yields from Brian and Jessie and recently reading the book “It Starts With Food”, I felt I had no choice but to experience it for myself.  Apologies in advance for the lengthy write-up…

I am going to keep my thoughts on physical benefits of the Whole30 program relatively brief as I don’t think the effects of eliminating all processed garbage from my diet and replacing it with naturally derived, nutrient dense substances that were intended for human consumption will be all that shocking to you; additionally, Brian and Jessie have done a great job of discussing it in detail already. 
In short - I ate tons of vegetables (some that I didn’t even know existed), fruit, nuts and clean meats.  I felt outstanding, had tons of energy (not sporadic), significantly better workouts, clearer mind, better sleep, lost weight, gained muscle, more efficient at work…..the list goes on.  At one point I remember saying that I “feel like I am taking steroids”.  At its core, the Whole30 has allowed me to view food in a completely different light.  I now look at food as either something that will make me more healthy or less healthy.  If I make a healthy selection, I am more likely to experience the benefits listed previously and if I make an unhealthy selection I should expect to experience the inverse of those benefits.

I want to address the aspect of the program that was the biggest hurdle for me.  From a physical standpoint, I am blessed to have had a pretty smooth ride – no major cravings, crashes, headaches, frustration etc.  I ate when I was hungry and enjoyed most of what I ate.  The challenging aspect for me is that from a social perspective, Whole30 clashes with a lot of normal activities in my life. 

I am an avid social drinker with most weekends consisting of dinner and going out Friday and/or Saturday night with friends.  Going out is a term that people use that frequently implies binge drinking at bars.  Following graduation, I have continued a favorite college past-time of drinking out of moderation on the weekends.  Given the tendency for social circles to engage in similar activities, most of my friends do as well.  Additionally, I work in an industry that is very social by nature and in a role that is business development oriented and therefore reliant on relationships.  This translates to lots of dinners, industry events and booze-filled boondoggles.  As part of this Whole30 experiment, I have been keeping track of the number of opportunities I turned down alcohol in social situations – 16 times (so far).  This is partially because I picked a very socially active time (fall aka football season) that included an SMU tailgate, TX/OU weekend and Homecoming weekend to name a few highlights.  Needless to say, this is where my Whole30 experience took a turn and became more art than science. 

After much trial and error, I quickly learned that the best way to deflect criticism/negative attention was to own up to the fact that I was not drinking and eating certain foods in a proud and confident manner.  “I’m not drinking alcohol and eating certain foods for 30 days and I feel outstanding” is a line I frequently used while displaying a huge sh*t-eating grin.  In most cases, this was followed up with “why?” to which I would answer some variation of “I was tired of not having any energy and being hungover on weekends and am training for a race”.  It was the times where I tried to avoid addressing the fact that I was not eating/drinking certain things that exchanges got the most uncomfortable.  I believe this approach is a good proxy for many aspects of life – you should be proud of personal actions taken to improve your life, even if that means creating social friction in certain situations.  These frictional moments were very fleeting (less than 30 second exchanges) and easy to overcome with practice.  Additionally, if you are so inclined, holding soda with a lime will fool even some of the most discerning critics…

The hard part for me was trying to avoid feeling like I have a “no-fun” stigma because I am not participating in the festivities.  Not surprisingly, I got a decent amount of flak from friends for avoiding all alcohol (probably says something about the company I keep) and also felt less engaged with some clients at a couple of dinners/events.  However, I still managed to have fun and think that any detrimental effect at work from not drinking with clients (negligible in my opinion) was overcome by my added efficiency and enthusiasm at the office from eating so much better.  The most uncomfortable that I felt was probably dancing (completely sober) at a TX/OU party where, at one point, I remember thinking “I could not be whiter”, a thought that normally is not permitted to surface as a result of a few doses of liquid courage. 

This is a pretty qualitative analysis, so it's difficult to come up with hard and true advice, but the bottom line for me was that as long as I didn’t allow not drinking and eating certain foods to dampen my mood, everyone else was pretty indifferent to my choices.  Avoiding hangovers on Saturday and/or Sunday was well worth any stress from criticism taken for stiff-arming alcohol and certain foods at dinner.  Lastly, one very underrated side-effect of this program – I saved an embarrassing amount of money.  Despite paying a premium for grass-fed beef, pastured eggs and cashew butter ($16?!), I still saved literally hundreds of dollars in the last month from eating out less and not buying drinks at bars.  As a brief illustration, a $60 bar tab that I will easily rack-up on weekend nights out could alternatively purchase me 4+ entire days’ worth of Whole30 compliant food from the grocery store.  Pretty incredible…but also not surprising? (the epitome of my thoughts on this program).                            

Whole30 is a philosophy that has helped me to understand how to remove the most basic handicap that I inflicted upon myself on a daily basis.  It has given me the awareness to know how to optimize my health (life) by simply making more intelligent (albeit sometimes inconvenient) decisions about what I ingest.  Healthy food is relatively scarce, especially when dining out, and that fact is completely consumer-driven; therefore, discipline, preparation and knowing your way around the kitchen are all pretty important attributes during the program.  Going forward, I will undoubtedly go back to occasionally drinking and eating certain non-compliant Whole30 foods but I am now significantly more educated on how to maintain a healthy relationship with food and could not be more happy to have been introduced to this program.  The only question I am left asking is why did it take me a quarter century to do this?         

My advice to anyone doing a Whole30 – do your best to incorporate the Whole30 regimen into as normal a routine as possible.  If you hibernate at home throughout the entire process, you are less likely to maintain the habits encouraged by the Whole30 after you finish your 30 days.  Learning how to adapt at restaurants, events and amongst friends will be valuable experience if you hope to continue certain aspects of the program when it is complete.      
Many thanks to Jessie and Brian for the inspiration to do this and all of the support and advice.


PS – If you really want to challenge yourself, head to the TX/OU game and the Texas State Fair.  I did this and survived six hours surrounded by cold beer (on a very hot day) and food that could not have been more seductive to a hungry, first-time, deprived Whole30’er (fried mac and cheese, funnel cakes, brisket nachos etc.).  I felt like a Spartan at Thermopylae and even more so when I triumphantly found a turkey leg to gnaw on (probably cooked in something non-compliant but desperate times call for desperate measures).  Events like the State Fair also make you understand how out of touch the American population is with health and why medical costs have gotten so out of control (preventive [Whole30] vs. curative [$$$] medicine)…but that is a topic for another conversation. 


  1. This is awesome Stew! So cool to hear your story!

  2. Well done Stew! You are a stronger man than I. However, Craig and I have recently cut WAY back on carbs/sugar and taken a Paleo/Whole30 approach to the next 30 days. Wish us luck!

  3. Congratulations on your success! I am truly motivated by your story!

  4. Great stuff, Stew! Thanks for sharing.


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