Life on Whole30: How One Editor Makes It Through the Month

Is It Easier the Second Time Around? We'll See

Easy Skillet Fried Potatoes

The Spruce

I would relate committing to Whole30 to buying leather pants. It is scary to fully invest in it at first— everyone seems to have an opinion on whether this is the right thing for you and you hope that in time, you will look better than you do right now. That’s why all of my friends and family are very confused that I am choosing to do this for a second time—I mean Whole30, not buying leather pants. I have already conquered that fear and own two pairs. Based on everything you’ve ever heard about it, I’m sure you are also wondering who in their right mind would spend 30 days on such a diet with such extreme rules.

To understand why I am putting myself through this again, you need to know more about where I was mentally, physically, and emotionally before my first Whole30 nearly two years ago. I was about 50 pounds overweight, extremely anxious, and struggling with stubborn hormonal cystic acne that no medicines or topicals were clearing up. These three things totally took over my life, making me feel embarrassed to go out or do anything for fear of anyone seeing how I felt. When that's your everyday reality, it can be hard to feel good about just about anything. 

I can’t remember how I stumbled across Whole30, but I figured I had nothing more to lose, so I may as well try it. The first three weeks were rough. All of the convenience and joy of eating was basically gone, as I was just seeing food as a source of fuel to propel me to my next meal. Eating out with friends was a nightmare, as most menus are not Whole30 friendly and it turns out both waiters and chefs hate when you ask to swap out anything for anything else. It was a challenge, but while I may be many things (a complainer, a procrastinator, an Aquarius), I am not a quitter. I kept going. 

It was very suddenly when my outlook on Whole30 changed. It turns out my clothing stopped fitting me because I was two sizes smaller. I had so much energy, I was waking up two hours earlier in the morning and feeling more awake than this night owl has ever felt in her life. I was enjoying putting Frank's RedHot on everything and creating my own Whole30-approved recipes in my kitchen. Now that I knew what I could and couldn’t eat, grocery shopping took a mere 20 minutes from walking in the front door to grabbing the receipt from the cashier. Seeing how much better I felt cutting out alcohol, sugar, processed foods, grains, beans, and everything else on the list empowered me to make better decisions. When the 30 days were over, I didn’t want to stop. Ultimately I did, because I went to Cape Cod with my boyfriend’s family and I would be damned if I left without eating some clam strips from Arnold’s. But everything I learned on that journey propelled me into a healthier lifestyle. I started working out, eating better, and trying to switch my mindset to what my body could do and how thankful I am for it, not on how it looked and what it’s measurements were. And I was able to maintain that for the past two years.

I am choosing to do this again for a few reasons. First, to see if I can do it, because the second time can be harder than the first for most people. Second, I have felt myself starting to slip back into a sugar addiction that I would love to kick. Third, I felt so great when I finished the program and I’d love to feel that again. Fourth, I still think I have some weight to lose and as much as that shouldn’t be the main reason for starting the program, I would be lying to you if I said that wasn’t a factor here.

So, can I do it? Will I cheat? Will the side effects be the same? Will the results be the same? The only way to know is to try again, so join me while I stock up on hot sauce and potatoes and give this another go.

Week One

I can now say with complete certainty that week one is JUST as hard the second time around as it is the first. Most people who do Whole30 more than once tend to bend the rules a bit—like allowing the occasional wine or cookie—which in turn makes it way easier to manage because you're cheating. But if you're following every rule, the first week can be brutal. I'm hungry every hour or two and eat more now than I normally do, but I am usually snacking on vegetables or nuts to hold me over until my next meal, I don’t feel bloated or heavy. I will say that I felt extremely bloated on days 3 to 5, but after some Googling, I realized I was eating way too many nuts and once I cut back I felt instantly better. I haven’t had any headaches or physical symptoms like some people report during this time, which they usually call "the hangover." Instead, I've had a lot of trouble sleeping with vivid nightmares or dreams waking me up in the middle of the night. This could also be because of how scary the news has been lately, so I'm only partially convinced that this is a Whole30-related symptom. Besides feeling tired and a bit sluggish, I haven’t felt too bad. I haven’t checked my weight or measurements. Not only is that not allowed, but that's never been a thing I do. I can feel that I'm lighter and slimmer, though.

But, as I stated before, this first week was on the whole pretty hard for me. Not because of how I physically felt, but because of how few food options there were around me. I made a mistake that I'm very surprised that I made. While I went food shopping the weekend before my program started and stocked my fridge, freezer, and pantry with everything I needed for the month, I neglected to get snacks for when I'm at work or out with friends or staying at my boyfriend’s place, which left me in the vulnerable position of having to eat whatever compliant thing was around me at the time. These things include dried seaweed (not a fan, but I'm eating a bunch of it because it is salty and I am hungry), kiwis (it's very hard to eat a kiwi like a professional person in an office space, so I've worn a lot of kiwi juice on my shirts this week and I have eaten as many as three in one day), walnuts, some Thunderbird Bars I discovered at a bodega near my house (they're minimally processed with five ingredients, all of which are compliant, so I consider this not cheating), and cashews. I have tried to speak kinder to myself when I am in these situations. Instead of beating myself up or getting hung up on how much it sucks to be stuck with nothing you actually want to eat or know for sure is compliant, I tell myself that being fed is the most important thing. I ordered an egg dish to-go from a breakfast spot, only to get home and realized that they added cheese even though I told them not to, and I felt actual tears come to my eyes. Also, I left my lunch in my fridge one day and tried a steak salad from the Whole30 menu at Chipotle. It felt like cheating because I was going to a fast food place, but it tasted amazing and the menu is apparently approved by Melissa Hartwig, so it is a great option for lunch if you are in a pinch.

This brings up something that I neglected to mention in my introduction, but I think is super important for anyone participating in a Whole30 to know. This is not just a physical journey you are on. It is mental, too. You're thinking about food all the time by reading labels, meal prepping, and complaining to people about how hungry you are. Also, you may constantly be searching for the positive results people tell you will come. If you aren’t careful, you can end up in a place like I was after my first program, where after it was over, I had a hard time re-adjusting to no rules and had a major complex about food, health, and gaining weight. I was able to get myself out of it with a combination of positive self talk and eating more of what made me feel either physically good or emotionally happy, and not focusing on what is or isn’t compliant. I knew that sugar didn’t make me feel good, but I told myself that I shouldn’t beat myself up for having a slice of cake, because in order to enjoy my life and try to be healthy for the rest of my life, I need to be able to balance things that are super healthy and things that aren’t. There is no good or bad food—just balance. I have been in a way better place with this over the past few years, but the stress of week one and being lost without a snack plan at work or out to dinner started to bring back some of those same feelings again. Remember, you are doing this for your health as a long-term gift to yourself, not to fit in some pair of pants or reach a certain number. This is a chance for you to learn more about how certain foods affect you so you can make smarter decisions, not necessarily so you can remove them from your life forever.

Week Two

I’m getting sick of talking about Whole30. Not as much to people who know me or who watched me go through my last Whole30, but to curious people or acquaintances who find out I am doing it and start peppering me with questions, criticisms, or worse... both. You’ll find that you become an object of fascination for some people who either think the program is dumb or unhealthy. Common things I have heard are that: 1) I am torturing myself 2) why bacon is allowed if that is processed meat or 3) that someone’s best friend’s cousin is on their 10th Whole30 and they allow themselves to have cookies and wine. For the most part, I have been trying to keep my thoughts on everyone’s observations or persistent questions to myself. I don’t owe any explanations to anyone else. Also, I know I can still go out and have a good time even if I only have water in my hand, so why is it a big deal to anyone else? 

Aside from the social hurdles I’ve had to navigate this week, I’ve found the whole feeding myself part of the process is getting easier. I have been bringing lunches to work and prepping dinners in advance, but my biggest hack has been packing two lunches per day. That way, when I get hungry between lunch and dinner, I can have a salad with some fish or a chicken breast and some carrots instead of just small snacks, which do not hold me over at all. I also watched someone make peanut butter-stuffed dates on YouTube and I have been obsessed with recreating a Whole30 version. Mine include almond butter and a dash of vanilla extract, topped off with a little flaky sea salt. They taste amazing, especially when left in the freezer overnight. 

I’ve also been having a little more energy and sleeping better, which has helped my mood improve and given me the extra kick I need to get through the day. I am back to my regular workout schedule, waking up on time, and even having fun experimenting with new recipes to test my kitchen skills and taste new foods. I seared scallops for the first time this weekend, then cooked them in a chicken broth and coconut cream sauce. While I definitely have room for improvement, they were delicious. Another pro tip: I have been freezing things I want to try that aren’t Whole30 so I can indulge next month, like sourdough bread, bagels, and doughnuts. Sure, they probably won’t taste as fresh as they did when everyone else got to eat them, but taking small portions home helps me to feel like I participated in the social events at work like bagel Thursday or in my personal life like a birthday party, instead of having to flat out turn down everything.

Overall, week two has been a huge improvement from week one—someone told me I looked like I was glowing, so hopefully those Whole30 benefits are just around the corner!

Week Three

We’re almost there! The end is near! Honestly, I am so ready for it. I'm starting to have less mental fog and my energy is up, but I don’t want to constantly keep thinking about food anymore. I went to brunch with a friend who is doing the program with her boyfriend next month and when she asked me how I was doing my response was: “I am so over this.”

Inspired by my semi-successful scallops meal last week, I decided to cook some chicken breasts for the first time. I cooked them in a broth made from coconut milk and chicken stock broth, which was delicious. But to me, raw chicken breasts are nauseating to work with and I don't plan on doing that again. I’ve actually been so sick of cooking and eating meat on this program that I am considering becoming a vegetarian starting in February. Otherwise, I haven’t really cooked anything new. It’s a bit disappointing because I was a cooking fanatic during my last program, but this time, I have just not had the time or energy to even bother. It’s been a lot of salads, smoothies, and pre-made Whole30 meals from a local cafe that does meal deliveries.

As for how I’m feeling, in addition to more energy, I have definitely noticed my bloating go away, which is great. So long, Christmas cookies! I cheated and took my measurements the other night (there's no measuring of any kind until after the program) and they are the same as pre-Christmas, so not the big size drop I was hoping for, but nice nonetheless.

I’m sorry if at this point in my diary you are bored of Whole30, but honestly, I am getting pretty bored, too. Totally worth doing for the nutritional knowledge and body awareness, but when that shiny newness of your first program is over, you're left counting down the days until you can eat that bagel you left for future you in the freezer.

Week Four

I can’t believe I finished another Whole30! There's been one similarity between my first and second programs: the first half of the month drags on for what feels like years (because you're tired and hungry and craving things you can’t eat), then the second half flies by because it starts to feel less new and frustrating. I don’t even remember that much of what happened this week food-wise. I was just chugging along, business as usual. 

Something that definitely took over my brain this week was thinking about what my first meal would be once Whole30 was done. It doesn’t help that this is the most common thing people have been asking me lately, besides “When is this thing over?” and “You’re still doing this!?”

I wasn’t sure what to eat and while this should be a source of elation and joy, it actually brought me a bit of anxiety. Whatever I eat that isn’t Whole30-compliant may start to ruin the glowing skin I have started to enjoy. It may make me feel bloated, which always ruins my day. I can’t go on eating Whole30 forever, but when you start to feel good, you’re afraid of that good feeling slipping away—especially if you're someone who is normally self conscious about your body or your skin. You don’t want to go back to feeling bad about yourself.

This was a big problem with my last Whole30. If you recall, I tried to keep going on the program even after day 30 until I was confronted with one of my favorite summer foods: fried clams strips from the beloved Cape Cod eatery Arnold’s. But when I started to go back to eating non-compliant foods—even though I was eating less than I had pre-program—I started to feel super anxious about gaining the weight back or getting a zit. I woke up every morning and ran to the mirror, checking to see if I had acquired some sort of overnight potbelly. If I'm being super honest, it isn’t a mindset I've really been able to shake yet, so it was only worsened by the end of my program closing in.

What am I trying to do about that? I’m trying to be more mindful about slowly reintroducing foods back into my daily diet this time and checking in with myself to see how they make me feel. I’m also more inspired now to cut back on the dairy and sugar even more, which will help to keep the bloating and zits—two of my biggest confidence snatchers—at bay. 

But mostly, I’m trying to be kinder to myself. By reframing how I think about myself and my body, I hope that—though I may never be 100 percent confident all the time— I’ll grow to appreciate everything my body does for me, nourish it with what it needs, and enjoy a chocolate cupcake on my upcoming birthday without beating myself up. It takes a lot of time, dishwashing, and mental toughness to complete a Whole30 and I'm proud of myself for making it through another one. 

Oh, I never told you what my first non-Whole30 food was! I had a half a bagel with butter—and it was absolutely fantastic.