I completed a Whole30 in April 2016. What is Whole30? Great question, you can read all about it here. In short, it is 30 days of not eating anything that could potentially cause allergies, inflammation, discomfort, etc. The list of foods to avoid includes sugar, grains, dairy, alcohol, legumes...so yes, it is difficult, but not impossible. Once the 30 days are over, you are supposed to reintroduce each food group on its own to test how it affects your body, if at all.
Doing a Whole30 is not for everyone, and it would not have been the right thing for me even a year ago. However, I had found myself at a low point; weighing myself daily only to be angry and upset, binging and feeling out of control, and overall feeling a little yucky. Remember, I do have some real biological annoyances (hello underfunctioning thyroid and chronic heartburn), that will always make my relationship with food a little complicated. I was desperate to turn my brain and obsessive thinking about food around, so I decided to give it a go.
Did I mention the two best rules (and what ultimately drew me to Whole30)? For 30 days I was not allowed to track my food or weigh myself. Both of which had become unwelcomed and unhealthy habits in my life. Whole30 asks people to focus on “non-scale victories”, essentially asking participants to stop focusing on a number and start focusing on how they feel.
The internet is full of blogs and posts about how amazing Whole30 is, but I do want to caution it's not a magic solution, but for me it was a start.
What I learned:
So where is my criticism? During the challenge, and for the few weeks after, I was convinced Whole30 was the answer, but as I move further away from the experience, it has occurred to me that Whole30 creates some not-so-great thoughts for those of us prone to food anxiety. I am now struggling in finding a balance between the “ideal” and what is realistic. While I admire Melissa Joulwan and Michelle Tam (and their amazing recipes), aren’t they also part of the problem? In my ideal, sometimes warped brain, I want to eat a Paleo diet** 99% of the time, but striving for this may create more emotional problems than the physical ones it solves. Yes, I believe following a Paleo diet is a better choice for me; many of my GI symptoms disappear, but do I really think beans and rice are bad? No.
**On a side note, I think we should ban the word “diet” from our vocabulary.
Another side note, I do not intend to bash Melissa and Michelle, they are amazing cooks and have created some of my favorite recipes. I only mean to point out that even the best intentioned health advice can have extremes.
Ok, back to my thought…
No, I do not think rice, beans, corn, etc. are bad for you. In fact, I make them for my husband multiple times a week, they just do not work for me. What makes choosing to avoid these foods easier, is I rarely crave them. But what about yogurt, which I often miss? Or nuts (which Whole30 and Paleo say are fine in a limited amount)? What if I want to eat some nuts at each meal today, am I doing something wrong? Probably not, but you can see how my thoughts easily start to circle, and before I know it, I am at peak anxiety, worrying if I am going to wake up to my pants not fitting.
Whole30 taught me a lot, and I will always be grateful in how it helped me throw away the scale and delete MyFitnessPal, but trying to find some balance afterwards brings about its own challenges. I work each day to pull myself out of a pattern of food anxiety and focus on more positive parts of my life. Some moments are easier to work through than others, and I am still working toward letting go.
For those interested in doing a Whole30, I would recommend really taking the time to think through your motivations and read other’s experiences:
Walking enthusiast, and kitchen experimenter currently living out my dream in Mexico City, Mexico.
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