As a health coach, I’m always reading about the latest health trends and diets, and love to do my research on the benefits and drawbacks of these new "health trends".
Generally, I am a believer in avoiding fad diets, and instead, I believe in finding the eating style that works for you long-term; one that helps you reach and maintain your health goals.
And for short-term boosts to your health (and waistline), detoxes are optimal.
Why am I "anti-diet"? Because fad diets are very hard to sustain. They generally can make you lose a lot of weight in a short period of time, but as soon as you go back to eating as you normally do, you gain it all back. Also, they can mess with your psych. I know so many people that are put on calorie-restrictive diets and end up with eating disorders and psychological issues.
So instead, I’ve learned (through personal experience and from working with many people) that its best to stick to “diets” that you’re willing to continue to a large degree for the long run. And AVOID obsessing and counting calories!
That being said, I am a huge fan of doing short-term food-based DETOXES (once, or more, per year) to reboot your system. In the toxic world we live in, we can all benefit from a light cleanse here and there. While they may not be necessary if you already eat a very clean diet, i find that the benefits outweigh any negatives, for almost everyone.
And, if you do have a particular health concern, doing a longer-term detox – like a 30 day elimination diet – can be EXTREMELY beneficial. BENEFITS CAN INCLUDE: boosting your digestive system, lowering inflammation, balancing your hormones, improving your metabolism, and more.
And that’s what led me to trying the Whole30.
I had read (and heard from friends) that the Whole30 had helped a lot of people with PCOS (something I’ve been diagnosed with), and generally, has helped everyone improve their relationship with food. And while I’m someone who has already drastically improved my relationship with food, there is still work to be done, so I decided it was time to give it a shot.
Plus, I was excited about sharing my experience and takeaways with you!
FIRST, WHAT IS THE WHOLE30?
The Whole30 is an elimination-style diet that requires removing all: gluten, soy, dairy, grains, legumes (beans/chickpeas etc), alcohol, sugar and sweeteners (not even stevia allowed) for 30 days straight. They advocate having only 3 meals a day, no snacks, and no purely liquid meals, nor "on-the-go" eating.
The primary purpose is to flush your system. When the 30 days are up, you can slowly add back different food groups, and get a sense of which ones have been (unknowingly) affecting your physical and mental health.
I think for almost anyone it’s a challenge, but a lot depends on your pre-whole30 diet and usual habits.
In my case, I already avoided dairy and gluten so that wasn’t hard, and I limited added sugars (or so I thought). BUT this was a huge change even for me, because pre-Whole30 1) I hardly ate animal protein, 2) I ate a lot of grains and beans/lentils/chickpeas, 3) I had green smoothies for breakfast every morning which are a no-no on the whole30, 4) I ate dark chocolate every day for dessert, and even the darkest chocolate was prohibited, 5) I (unknowingly) consumed a lot of products with stevia, and 6) I snacked a lot (and Whole30 restricts snacking).
What did the Whole30 teach me? Here are my Top 10 "Lessons":
1) I CAN actually finish a meal without a piece of chocolate. I know it sounds silly but I grew up in a home where dessert was pretty-much automatically served after meals (even if dessert was fruit) and it’s a bad habit that stuck. Even when I cleaned up my diet and cut back drastically on added sugars, I still had that “necessity” for a piece of dark chocolate or some “healthy” dessert (example some of my homemade energy balls or chocolate avocado mousse). Cutting out this habit wasn’t easy, but it was (of course) doable. And if I can do it, so can you!
Note: I do admit there were many days where I really wanted something sweet to end my meal, so I would have a tablespoon of my homemade cashew butter and it would do the trick, or a handful of unsweetened coconut flakes.
2) Limited snacking is OK, even for people with mild blood sugar / cortisol issues. Guess what - my metabolism was still strong! The Whole30 encourages no snacking, which was probably the hardest part for me. I'm someone who gets "hangry" after a few hours of no food and whose blood sugar can easily drop, so i've accustomed myself to snacking. And while I couldn’t fully give up all my snacks (for example, I need a pre-workout snack most days as breakfast isn't until 10am for me), I did reduce them significantly, especially in the afternoon. And when I did, I always felt great (and my digestion was usually better the following day). So even though I do have a tendency for low blood sugar (common with PCOS), I found that with the Whole30, I could skip my snack (just have earlier dinner), and I was fine! Of course, it has to do with the diet as a whole, my increased protein/fats, and my ensuring each meal was balanced. So now I’m making a bigger effort to cut out snacking, if/when I can! (Note: this was my experience, but its best to always check with your doctor).
3) Adding grains to meals isn’t necessary. I admit i'm a huge fan of (small amounts of) quinoa, wild/brown rice, and other gluten-free grains. Plus, having PCOS, I had been recommended to have a small portion of grains with most meals. Instead, during the whole30, I usually added some sweet potato, carrots, squash or the occasional plantain for my portion of “healthy carbs” and it was enough. Plus, I often ended my meal with a handful of unsweetened coconut or a piece of fruit, so my carb intake was enough even without the grains. And I didn’t miss them. (Ok maybe some days I craved my black bean pasta or quinoa, but I quickly got over it). And for breakfast, I absolutely love having “sweet potato toasts” instead of regular toast or corn tortillas, so yes, omitting grains is doable and meals can be complete and delicious without them.
4) Purely Whole-Foods "paleo" recipes (including fish and meat recipes) are delicious! Ok, maybe a bit more work, but worth it! I had fun experimenting more in the kitchen. I created a ton of new sauces (like the Whole30 BBQ sauce which even required that I make my own Apple Cider since I can't find it here) and I experimented with more animal protein dishes. I actually bought pork loin for the first time (I used to avoid pork). And honestly, I LOVED all the new recipes. This was probably my favorite part of doing this challenge!
5) Eggs with veggies and avocado really is an ideal breakfast. Pre-Whole30 I would usually have vegan smoothies or a combo of oats and chia pudding, but after having eggs almost every day during this challenge, I “remembered” that eggs are such a good source of protein and healthy fats, they’re low calorie, fairly easy to digest, and keep you full for hours. Plus they’re a great source of choline, and known to be great for fertility (in case you’re a woman interested in that…)!
6) I realized how Stevia is in SO MANY PRODUCTS. Even in many of my teas and supplements! Now (post-Whole30) my protein powders and other superfoods taste so sweet. So while I may still add them to my green smoothies (which I’m adding back only a few days a week vs. everyday), I’m adding a lot less of these stevia-sweetened powders as I just can’t handle them. and prefer to continue limiting my Stevia intake. (I'm now doing 1/2 scoop unflavored collagen protein + 1/2 scoop of my vanilla vegan protein powder, and switched to unsweetened Natural Calm at night).
7) Eliminating 100% of sugar and sweeteners really does curb your sweet tooth better than anything else. Although I already ate limited sugar, now even my “healthy” “no-sugar added” date-cacao bites taste extremely sweet. I need to pair them with extra nuts to remove some of the sweet taste. I love this part because my sweet tooth is my biggest “weakness” and now I really can’t have too much of something that is sweet. And as mentioned in point 1, i can actually skip dessert all-together!
8) Eating 100% whole foods and NO on-the-go smoothies/juices/snacks forces you to sit down at home to eat every meal. And that’s priceless. You’re more present, you enjoy your meal more, you chew more, etc. Even as I begin to reincorporate smoothies, I’m now committing to making them as smoothie bowls that I will eat at my breakfast counter, with a spoon, just as I would my eggs. No more breakfasts on the go! I've even rearranged my schedule so I can come home to have breakfast every day (but you can do this at the office, too!)
9) I thought I ate only WHOLE FOODS until I did this detox. I hate to admit it but my fabulous, superfood-packed green protein smoothies aren’t 100% whole foods. The protein powders are still processed and while they’re derived from whole foods (and I use the purest, organic, good-quality powders), it's still not the same. And it's not a terrible thing! I totally plan to continue with my green superfood smoothies (a few days a week instead of everyday), but it’s a good reality check. (Note: I believe the benefits of green smoothies 100% outweigh the "negatives" of slightly processed protein powders and being easily on-the-go, as long as you go about them the right way and choose only the best ingredients). Still, I think everyone can benefit once in a while from eliminating ALL processed foods, even the healthy ones. It makes you realize how much of what you eat comes in a package, even if it’s healthy! (And this "realization" is coming from me, someone who was already very aware and already cut out a significant amount of packaged foods)!
10) Like with my own detoxes, I experienced greater mental clarity and more awareness. Granted i accompanied my Whole30 challenge with daily meditation and journaling (and recommend this to everyone who does a detox, whether its 7 days or 30 days). But wow, doing a 30 day detox really makes you so much more aware of all the "excess baggage" in your life. Excess food, excess chemicals, excess/unnecessary emotions and stress, etc. It's one of the top reasons I recommend doing a detox! Being more AWARE is step #! to eliminating the baggage/toxins in your life.
· I really enjoy vegan meals, like macro-bowls with some grains/beans and tons of veggies. And they sit well with me. So they’re not something I feel the need to eliminate from my diet. Therefore, the Whole30 isn’t a sustainable eating/lifestyle for me. It was great as a one-month detox, and taught me a lot, but I don’t feel the need to repeat it 100% as it’s not the lifestyle I want to keep longer term. However, I will keep a lot of what I learned!
· I suffer from chronic constipation (which has improved massively since I cleaned up my diet after studying and applying integrative nutrition) but it’s still something I innately deal with, and this diet didn’t help. Digesting animal protein is harder for me than for others (maybe because I’m blood type A and have lower stomach acid) so I kept my meat portion sizes smaller than most recipes suggested, and ate more veggies, but still, I needed help of natural herbs like Triphala (and my occasional green juice and chia puddings) to stay regular.
I felt great throughout and after my Whole30 challenge. Yes I missed my smoothies, my vegan bowls, dark chocolate and wine, but it was actually easier that I had imagined/feared. I lost a few pounds (nothing major, but that wasn’t a goal for me), I felt lighter, with a flatter stomach, and felt that I got more toned/muscular from my usual workouts (probably from the increased protein intake and decreased carbs).
Most importantly, I saw a huge improvement in my sweet tooth, and learned that YES, IT’S DOABLE TO DO A 1 MONTH DETOX. And it’s worth it. It makes you stronger to realize you can do this. It forces you to cut out ALL THE PROCESSED JUNK which is more abundant than you think. And a yummy bonus was experimenting with tons of new, amazing, healthy, detox-friendly recipes.