an honest review of whole30

by Nora Varcho
February 2, 2018

Today, I figured we’d talk about a topic that we don’t often address here on TTT: food. It’s not that we don’t love it — it just can often fall to the wayside as a subject matter with so many other things to consider. Personally, I’m obsessed with food; I take photos of my food everywhere I go, I think about my next meal while I’m eating, and I plan my day around places I can eat. When I moved to New York,  my method of exploring the city was eating my way through it. A new restaurant meant a new neighborhood to explore, a new cuisine to sample. I am the person my friends text when they’re visiting for restaurant recommendations. I admittedly get very hangry if we have a long workday and don’t have time for lunch (sorry Krystal!). I adore finding new recipes and trying them at home. Basically, food is my life.

So, I felt a little crazy when I decided to try Whole30. For those who may not have heard about the craze (it’s all over social media and super popular in January!), here’s a basic summary. Whole30 is essentially an elimination diet — you get rid of a bunch of major food items for 30 days in order to see if there’s something negatively affecting your system. Things you DO NOT eat include: added sugar (of ANY kind, even things like honey, maple syrup, stevia, coconut sugar, etc), alcohol, grains (brown rice, quinoa, wheat, oats, corn, etc), legumes (all beans, peanuts/peanut butter), any soy products, dairy, carrageenan/MSG/sulfites, and any desserts/treats even with “approved” ingredients.

Phew, that’s a mouthful! To recap, basically what you CAN eat are “whole” foods. “Eat moderate portions of meat, seafood, and eggs; lots of vegetables; some fruit; plenty of natural fats; and herbs, spices, and seasonings. Eat foods with very few ingredients, all pronounceable ingredients, or better yet, no ingredients listed at all because they’re whole and unprocessed.”

I decided to embark on Whole30 because I just wasn’t feeling my healthiest. I believed I was eating healthy (I cook a majority of my meals at home, rarely eat lots of empty carbs, and have never had a big sweet tooth), but I wasn’t feeling great, didn’t have a ton of energy, and was gaining weight without real explanation. I wanted to see if maybe something in my regular diet was affecting me in ways I wasn’t aware. Whole30 promised to make me feel better, change my cravings, habits, and, supposedly, my life.

And now, here I stand, on day 30 — no ice cream, no pizza, no cheese, no pasta, no brown rice bowls, no hummus in my system — bringing you my unbiased thoughts of the program. Shall we begin?

(**Disclaimer: I’m not a health professional/associated with Whole30 in any way. This is the way I did it, totally on my own, and what worked for me!)

First of all, there are a few modifications I made for myself that technically go against the rules of the program. There’s a lot of intense language out there surrounding Whole30, and I didn’t want to get into that. I didn’t want to be scared of my food. That means when I went out to eat (which is nearly impossible to avoid in New York/as a busy person), I tried my absolute best to order and modify compliant dishes. But, I wasn’t going to drive myself — and everyone else — crazy by making sure every item was 100% perfect. Also, I’ve never had a problem with needing desserts or eating too many sweets, so when I wanted to eat a compliant sweet, I let myself. I ate Lara bars with approved ingredients often, especially on the go or even after a meal with a little bit of coconut yogurt and almond butter. Die-hard Whole30 fans wouldn’t be okay with this, but for me, this was the best way to do it.

Bon Appetit’s soft scrambled eggs (cooked in ghee), sautéed spinach, asparagus, and mushrooms, and prosciutto.  
Bon Appetit’s sous vide steak and sautéed mushrooms.

So, what were the best parts? 

I loved all of the cooking. It requires a lot of cooking. Much of the food can be made in advance and eaten throughout the week, but I found myself failing a lot at meal prep and just cooking things as I got hungry. It felt great to eat lots of salads, lots of veggies, and get creative with my protein choices (I made my first ever steak!). While I love a good burger, I sometimes love it even more without a bun or with a lettuce bun. I adored Tessemae’s W30 Caesar dressing; it was literally a life changer and I went through a bottle so quickly (which probably wasn’t the most healthy but it was that good!). I loved using recipes from The Defined Dish — I found her catalogue of Whole30 recipes the most extensive and easy to replicate! Her chicken tikka masala was so, so good.

I also loved finding out how much sheer self control I have. Shake Shack is probably my favorite restaurant (not even ashamed), and one night all of my friends ordered Shake Shack for dinner. It took SO much willpower not to steal a fry, but I did it! I’m amazed at the resistance I displayed, for I typically joke that I have absolutely no self control.

In that vein, I really liked the satisfaction of knowing I controlled my decisions and knowing I was making good choices. I did ClassPass this month, so I got to visit a lot of great fitness studios. Doing an awesome workout and then knowing I was going to eat a healthy lunch was really gratifying.

And…the bad parts?

It is time consuming to cook so much! As a student with a job, the only reason I was so successful on Whole30 was because I started it during my winter break, and with Krystal in Reno for most of the month, I spent a lot of time working from home, meaning I could take breaks to cook breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I’m currently two weeks into a hectic school/work schedule and it has already gotten much, much harder to make time to cook.

Eating out is also very hard. Almost every restaurant I went to, I had to modify something on the menu. I couldn’t order a lot of the things I consider healthy (grain bowls, hummus plates, etc), which was a bummer. I was definitely the defining factor on where my friends and I could eat, and it made me feel a bit like a burden. But I didn’t want to give up going out to eat because I really do enjoy it.

I didn’t mind this aspect so much, but black coffee is basically the only option if you want coffee and are in a coffee shop. Almost every shop uses almond milk with added sweetener (even if it’s technically “unsweetened” — even one of my favorite brands, Califia), and my favorite alternative milk, oat milk, wasn’t allowed on the program. I reallllllyyyy miss a good latte. That was one of the craziest things I noticed — how much added sugar is in so many of the things we eat. Just keep that in mind next time you’re ordering a lot of almond milk lattes!

I also didn’t notice much of a change in my skin — I break out relatively often, and didn’t see an alleviation of blemishes even though my diet was clean. I suppose that’s for a dermatologist to diagnose, but still interesting. I also found that if there wasn’t an easy option for me to eat, I just wouldn’t eat anything, sometimes for almost entire days until I got home or made it somewhere that had things I could eat. That resulted in me feeling extremely tired! Again, this is probably a just-me issue, but it was kind of a bummer.

And overall?

Am I glad I did it? Yes. Did it change my life? No. I’m looking forward to incorporating my favorite healthy foods back into my life (oh beans! How I’ve missed you!) and regaining some of my food freedom. I think that’s what I missed the most — the freedom to eat a sandwich now and then. The freedom to get something I knew was healthy even though it didn’t have approved ingredients. The freedom to eat a piece of pizza or a bowl of pasta! If there’s one thing I learned, it’s completely healthy to sometimes just need a bowl of pasta.

I do think the test in self control was very important. Now I know I’ll be more inclined to make healthy choices when presented with unhealthy alternatives. I also do feel better in a lot of ways — lighter and leaner and satisfied. I’m probably going to continue to incorporate Whole30 values into my life, but if there are tacos on the menu, I’m ordering them.

I hope this look into the Whole30 life has been helpful or interesting to you, whether you’ve completed it or are considering it! Let me know in the comments if you have any success stories or questions.

3 thoughts on “an honest review of whole30

  1. I did January Whole 30 and I think my overall reaction to the whole thing is pretty similar to yours. I was pretty strict and only ate out 3x the whole month. So I was happy I was cooking a lot more, ordering less delivery, and reminding myself that I can quickly put together a healthy meal instead of ordering pizza. But it definitely kind of takes over your life. If I wasn’t cooking, I was thinking about my grocery list, or my cravings, or talking to my friends about whole 30! I also wasn’t great at meal prep and work from home most days so although it was probably easier for me to make food when I was hungry (unlike normal office jobs) I also spent a lot of time in the kitchen. Overall, I’m glad I did it because I found out how much sugar and additives are in things you never think about, but on the flip side I also know my body isn’t sensitive to gluten and I’m happy to have grains back in my life!

  2. I agree with you 100 percent. It is so much work, I feel
    Like I don’t do anything but cook and do dishes. I have four days left and I want some conveniences back. I felt like I ate more at meals bc I would get so hungry from not snacking, too. And the hunger made me cranky. I am very anxious to be done, and have some dark chocolate and not have to explain why I will punch someone at happy hour if I go and can’t drink.

  3. It’s the first time I heared about whole30 and I have to say, I’m a bit shocked by all the things you have to eliminate! Especially things I consider healthy, like quinoa, chickpeas, beans, peanuts?! The no sugar and weird additives rule makes so much sense though! Even cutting thos two out of your life will probaby make a huge difference on your health. I am trying to, but my chocolate bar cravings are very hard to resist! 😀 Thanks for this honest review, it sure was an interesting read!

    Blogging for the lazy yet conscious at #Idle

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