Thoughts on #Whole30

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Collard Green Wraps with Peri Peri Roasted Chicken, Mango and Peppers

I promised my followers that I'd share my feelings about my first Whole 30, so my blog seemed like the best place to do that where everybody can read it. If you have any questions about my experience, please ask away in the comments. For questions about the program, I'll refer you to the Whole 30 website which has a wealth of information and discussion forums.

With three days left on Whole 30, I'm feeling better than ever. I didn't think I'd get through a whole month without sugar, let alone dairy, gluten, alcohol, legumes or soy products. As a comfort food cook, that's a ton of challenging ingredient restrictions. But as somebody who admittedly struggles with making healthy food choices, it was the best thing I've ever done for myself. The first week on the program was bleak. Not because of the food - I honestly had no issues with figuring out what to eat. It was the sugar withdrawals. I experienced more discomfort than I ever did quitting smoking. Besides feeling insatiably hungry all the time, I had headaches, fatigue, and was flat out moody. Ok, more than usual. Towards the end of the first week though, those symptoms subsided quite a bit. I found myself enjoying meals that were relatively guilt free and I didn't really have to go out of my way to cook differently than I would normally. I stayed away from most condiments unless I made them myself, as it quickly became evident that sugar and soy are sneaky little ingredients found in just about every ingredient label I read. Breakfast was a little disappointing with the absence of bread, sausage and bacon (sugar free cured and smoked pork is almost impossible to find) so I usually had dinner leftovers when I wasn't feeling particularly excited about eggs. I did finally locate some "paleo bacon" about halfway through my Whole 30 but by then it wasn't really something I felt that I needed all the time. I treated myself to a truffle chicken sausage breakfast last weekend that more than made up for the rest of the month!

Truffle Chicken Sausage with Balsamic Roasted Grapes, Duck Fat Potatoes and Fried Eggs
Part of Whole 30's philosophy deals with the psychology behind our food choices, particularly sugar. Fresh and dried fruits are allowed within the program, but you're not supposed to eat them to the point that you're compensating for sugary snacks and desserts. Knowing myself, I really limited my intake to one or two servings of fruit a day for that reason. I made a couple dishes utilizing dried apricots or dates to balance sauces, but that was the exception not the norm. After the first week, things started to taste naturally sweeter on their own (because I was no longer tricking my taste buds with excess sugar and artificial sweeteners.) I even grew to like my coffee black and quit adding coconut or almond milk.  Instead of binging on ice cream or baked goods, a small bowl of berries became my "dessert" once in awhile after dinner and it did feel like a treat.  I also had to deal with my carb addiction within the program, as potatoes of all kinds are still allowed. I limited my serving of white potatoes to no more than once per week, and same for sweet potatoes. Still, I continue to struggle with the occasional night cravings for some kind of snack. I turned to nuts, pumpkin seeds and coconut flakes at first, but when my technically Whole 30 compliant "trail mix" became a nighttime fix, it was a red flag that I couldn't ignore. I stopped eating it for fear of never breaking out of this habit. Instead I'll have a glass of water with lemon and if all else fails, head to bed. Other than that, I honestly don't experience much hunger even when I'm running a little late fixing breakfast. The food I'm cooking really seems to satisfy me much longer.

Moroccan Stewed Chicken with Roasted Sweet Potato and Squash, Cauliflower "Couscous"
As far as what I'm eating, it's probably better to show you than explain here, so I created a gallery on Storify of the meals I shared to social media. I aimed for about 8 ounces of meat and two cups of vegetables for most meals. I focused mostly on cooking dinner and cooked huge batches of boneless skinless chicken breasts every week to use for lunches. Instead of making a ton of crazy substitutions, I focused more on creating meals that naturally fell within the bounds of the program's allowed ingredients. I cooked with a lot of variety in my menus and relied even more heavily on interesting spice combinations with ethnic influences. There were a few exceptions, and through a little research I found some great new ingredients that I'll continue to use after Whole 30. One of them is coconut aminos, which is an ingredient you'll see in my next post. It's the best thing I found to replace the flavor of soy sauce and add that salty/sweet component to Asian dishes. The other was coconut flour, which is coconut meat stripped of oils and finely ground. I didn't use it often, but it came in handy to dredge meat and thicken sauces. Another ingredient that became key is ghee, a form of clarified butter. Because dairy isn't allowed on Whole 30, I had to give up my European butter, but ghee was just as flavorful if not more. I don't use it every day, but for certain dishes it really does add a luscious buttery undertone and it's essential for the Indian style curry dishes I came to love. My oils of choice for regular everyday cooking were grape seed, olive oil (extra virgin or light) and coconut oil. I'm really enjoying adding coconut oil back into my diet. Around the time I started this blog, it had become a new favorite of mine and did wonders for my metabolism. It's a shame it gradually worked itself out of my recipes but I'm just glad to be using it again. Finally, nuts became much more prevalent in my recipes than ever before, especially almonds and cashews. Besides making homemade nut milks, I've found that they work really well in blended dressings and sauces to add body, and when ground they made a decent filler to things like meatballs.

Five Spice & Coffee Roasted Lamb Ribs with Gremolata
Overall, I feel healthier than I have in years. All of my issues with stomach bloating are gone, my eczema is less severe, and I'm experiencing a mental clarity and alertness that I've never felt before. The best way I can describe it would be as if a cloud has lifted. As somebody who copes with bipolar disorder, this is really good news and I'll definitely be exploring the connection between mood and diet much more thoughtfully now. I did lose weight, but as Whole 30 advises not to weigh yourself I don't know how much. I can tell from the fit of my clothes that I'm close to my pre-pregnancy weight again but to be honest, I'm not concerned with that number as much as I am with how I feel. What was important to me is that I took huge strides in breaking some terrible habits and moving forward in improving my relationship with food. What's next after Whole 30? Believe it or not I'm ready to go right into another one. I have a couple non-Whole 30 compliant blog obligations to fulfill this weekend, and we have family coming into town so I'll probably enjoy a few reasonable "cheats" here and there. I'm otherwise really encouraged to stay on track and do another Whole 30 for October. Besides that, I do plan to embrace the Paleo phenomenon. The Paleo diet closely aligns with many of the principles I like about Whole 30 but it's more of a long term lifestyle change than an (intentionally) restrictive 30 days. I will gradually incorporate sugar, dairy, legumes and grains back into my diet but in far less quantities than I was accustomed to in the past. I don't have any plans to make this blog exclusively about clean eating, but you'll definitely see changes in the majority of the recipes I choose to post.

Stir Fried Eggplant and Okra
Some of you asked how my kids did during this transition. This was actually mostly the idea of my 12 year old son, Jaden! We've toyed around with a plan to start eating better all summer and I made the final push to commit ourselves in August. I chose Whole 30 because it was a program written in layman's terms that he could understand and remember the rules without counting calories or other nutritional info. We printed off the shopping lists together and chose vegetables, fruit and meat that we both wanted, and he also accompanied me on most of my grocery trips.  That helped to keep Jaden engaged and he took ownership of the experience. I made sure to have plenty of healthy options on hand for snacks in between meals, so he usually grabs a handful of pistachios or a piece of fruit. He rarely complained and was only disappointed a couple times to turn down some grilled meats that were unfortunately basted with a bbq sauce we couldn't eat. I was worried that returning to school would become a challenge, but he really surprised me. Every morning he packs his lunch - usually chicken breast or pork tenderloin, depending on leftovers, and a garden salad with a small container of olive oil and vinegar. He also grabs an apple or grapefruit slices and keeps a self-filtering water bottle on hand. I'm really proud of him for embracing this change. I can tell he's slimmed down quite a bit and I hope that contributes to improving his overall self-esteem as he enters these scary preteen years! My 17 month old daughter Raven was her usual greedy self and happily gobbled (or stole) whatever we cooked, so no big change there. I do feel better that through breast milk, she will benefit from any healthy change I make in my own diet. Hopefully she will grow up to know healthy eating firsthand rather than unlearn bad habits as an adult!

Coconut Curry Beef Stir Fry & Cabbage
That sums up my thoughts on the past month so I hope it gives y'all some insight on what the program was like. I'd encourage anybody to give it a try if you're looking for a way to make some positive changes and "reset" your body and mind in the process. To answer a question that many of you are also asking, yes I would love to put my Whole 30 recipes into a cookbook. I'm currently deep into my other Elevated Comfort projects though, and want to stay focused on completing them before starting anything else. I'd also like to give Whole 30 another couple runs and really become better acquainted with what works and what doesn't. So for now, I hope the occasional blog post will suffice as well as plenty of pictures to serve as inspiration to create your own healthy meals at home!

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  1. Hello,

    Where did you find the "paleo Bacon?"

  2. Did you incorporate a lot of exercising with whole30?