This is the second of my two-part post about Whole30. Catch the first post (including what it is, why I did it, and what I loved about it!) here. Now, back to those questions I’ve been getting…
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Woah woah woah, these MEATballs are AMAZEballs!!! If you live somewhere cold ❄️, these caliente Mango Jalapeño Chicken Meatballs will warm you right up! 🔥 I’ve loved every @thewholesmiths recipe I’ve ever tried and this one is no exception. The texture reminds me of a crab cake (yum) and they’re my ideal blend of sweet and spicy! 👍🏼🌶😊 I made a mango + pineapple dip (recipe below ⬇️) to cool things down and served it all with mango salsa. The most exciting new recipe I’ve tried in a while! 🙌🏼 . . . . . #paleo #whole30 #iquitsugar #detox #glutenfree #health #wellness #cleaneating #healthyfoodporn #whole30approved #nofilter #healthyrecipes #feedfeed #lowcarb #eatrealfood #healthyrecipes #healthyeating #thefeedfeed #realfood #feedfeed #realfood #cleaneats #nutrition #weightloss
(a meal I made and she’s not lying!!!)
But, like, was it hard? (the bad)
The only times I struggled with being on Whole30 was a.) eating out with friends, b.) being around the office when yummy snacks were brought into the lounge (it was Valentine’s Day in the middle there – ooooof), c.) as I noted above, when babysitting and making the kids dinner, and d.) when I was struggling with depression after my show finished. Note that these four struggles were incredibly rare, so in no way should it discourage ANYONE from trying it (it’s just 30 days!), but it can be helpful to hear more about the struggles before starting something like this, just to know what to expect/avoid/deal with.
Very, very few restaurants have designed menus with no sugar, no grains, no dairy, and no legumes. It means I pretty much always started at the salad menu and modified it heavily. That got old realllllly quickly. Especially because (as was the case with a couple of the above situations) eating with friends usually feels like a little celebration, and it’s incredibly discouraging both to feel so limited in my choices and to be the party-pooper having to ask the server a million questions about ingredients.
I tried to keep the fussiness to a minimum – not freaking out if maybe there was sugar in the salad dressing that I’d forgotten to ask about, warning my friends at the beginning, letting the server know up front, etc., but I felt like I did a lot of apologizing. That is the part I am most looking forward to ditching when this round of Whole30 is over.
As a side note, I ran into the same but-I-want-to-celebrate hangup when I stopped drinking alcohol – but the fix was much easier, since I discovered that just getting a fancy virgin drink (root beer floats, Shirley Temples, virgin mojitos) satisfied my need to feel celebratory. Sadly, there’s not really an equivalent solution when you’re talking about food and even every salad on the menu has cheese that you’re gonna have to ask them to remove. Salad never feels like a party…
This was one of those moments I discovered in my transition phase – I was really gonna have to exercise self-control when sitting around with my fellow narrators on breaks. We’re a generous, food-loving bunch, and there are often goodies on the table to be shared. And I won’t sugarcoat it (oh, just realized during editing that that’s an accidental pun!): it was tough, especially when someone brought in a whole bag of my favorite Lindor truffles in for Valentine’s Day. But I enlisted everyone’s help in keeping me accountable by mentioning that I was doing it both before and during it. I was never in danger of succumbing, but that was, in part, because I put those accountability measures in place well beforehand.
For years, I have eaten the scraps of the kids’ food after dinner when I babysit. While I always put significant quantities back in the fridge, if there’s just a couple “I don’t like it” or “I’m full” pieces left on the plate, I’ll just pop them in my mouth instead of the trash. Better for the earth and helps me bridge over the long time until I get home (generally 8:30 – when normally I eat dinner at 6ish).
Knowing that that wasn’t going to be an option now and that I would be staring buttered pasta and chicken nuggets in the face twice a week, I opted for my one indulgence of the program: RxBars. These are protein bars made from dates, egg whites, almonds, and spices, so they are Whole30 compliant, but Whole30 emphasizes that you can’t allow yourself to add one of those at every meal or they end up doing exactly the same thing as all that dessert you’re not eating, which defeats the purpose of the program. (This is very much a follow-the-spirit-not-just-the-letter kind of program.) But as an occasional help, they’re fine.
And that’s exactly how I used them: I only allowed myself to eat one as a bridge to get me to the next meal in cases where I wouldn’t get home for a long time – babysitting, open mic nights, etc. I got three Whole30 compliant flavors (Chocolate Coconut, Blueberry, and Pumpkin Spice), and I rotated through them to keep from ever getting bored. This was a great system for me, so that they’re still a bit of a “treat” when I babysit.
I was not prepared for the intensity of the depression that hit me after the run of my first cabaret show here in NYC finished. The only thing I can liken it to is post-partum depression. (Although I am in no way claiming that producing a show is as physically intense or life-altering as pregnancy! Just that the processes are similar.) And this was the first time I dealt with genuine, horrible cravings as well as my one genuine failure of the month: standing at the counter binge-eating dates and pecans. I knew walking into that kitchen that I was going to make a decision I would regret, and while the food was technically compliant, it was classic “food with no brakes” binge eating. And boy, did my body react immediately! Yikes.
Church, prayer, and study helped. So did talking with people. But not having had any intense cravings the entire time I’d been on Whole30 up to that point (perhaps because I was so overwhelmed by my ToDo lists that there wasn’t time?), it was dispiriting and upsetting to try to work through the miasma of conflicting emotions.
If I’m honest, I had hoped that eating better and successfully resisting temptation throughout the month would mean those cravings would disappear entirely, or at least substantially, but it looks like it’s gonna be a much longer climb out of my years of turning to food as an emotional crutch. It’s a mental craving, not a physical one, and I know that, and I know that food doesn’t help ANYTHING, but I also don’t know what will be a satisfying solution for me in those moments of despair, given that what I’m actually craving (a companion to care for me in those emotional moments) is the reason for the depression in the first place.
That got a little real, so let’s move on to:
I’m about to begin my reintroduction to normal foods, and I’m pretty sure it’s gonna be a slow one. I don’t see a need to stop cooking like this for myself! Breakfasts like Twice-Baked Sweet Potatoes and Chia Seed Puddings are soooo much more satisfying than a bowl of Special K, and eating veggies and fish and sausage and steak and fruit for lunch and dinner is genuinely my dream diet.
So my plan going forward is to continue shopping, cooking, and eating Whole30 at home and really just to loosen up when eating out with friends, whether at restaurants, parties, or others’ homes. I want to be a part of the fun again! Depending on how things go at work, though, I’ve also been toying with a “one non-compliant item” per day rule for myself, just to keep from getting carried away with Lindor truffles, chicken nuggets, or dollar pizza going forward.
At some point, when the weather gets nice again, I’m gonna start rollerblading to work again, which will mean adjusting my diet a bit to account for the calories burned. But I love the freedom of not feeling I HAVE to work out to stay this weight. This is the new normal for me, and I’m ready for it.
5 Tips if You’re Thinking about Doing Whole30
- Do it for real. If you’re gonna do it, read the fine print (and all the exclusions and the reasons behind them) and give the full shebang a solid go before modifying. It’s just 30 days! And it’s more than just technical compliance – embrace the spirit of the program. Even if a food or ingredient is “compliant,” it doesn’t mean you’re breaking the emotional bad habits you’ve accrued over a lifetime of eating unconsciously, which I would argue are worse for you than the various grains/sugars/dairy products. If you don’t give it your full attention and obedience, there’s no way to see the benefits. It’s like a giant science experiment, so don’t mess around with your variables!
- Accountability helps! Mention it to your coworkers, your friends, and your family before you start, and not only will they be curious about it, but you’ll have essentially made the promise to more than just yourself, so it’ll be harder to break. There’s also a huge community of Whole30ers on Instagram and the blogosphere, so don’t be afraid to google ANYTHING you have a question on. Also, there are so many amazing recipes on the internet!
- Set aside time in your schedule to meal plan and cook. It’s not gonna happen by magic, and if you don’t have food prepared, you’re gonna find fast food EXTREMELY difficult to remain compliant. I like Sunday night, but that’s ‘cause I also like making sure I’m home to prep mentally for the work week before it begins. You could break this up into smaller chunks, too – meal prep twice a week or even every night. Just figure out what you need.
- Be generous with your meal choices. When you meal plan each week (which can be ultra specific with recipes and the days to cook them or just “I bought a bunch of roastable veggies and there’s fish in the freezer” – I did both, depending on the week), make sure you include a couple things you know and love as well as some new recipes to try. The variety was so important for me, as I needed both the reassurance of an “old” favorite as well as the excitement of a new option to feel comforted about the week ahead.
- Be kind to yourself. I know it sounds a little new age-y, but remember, if you’re thinking about doing this plan, it’s for a reason: weight loss or better health or just spicing up your life. So be the best manager of yourself you can be – encouraging yourself, giving yourself grace when you struggle, and nurturing yourself with all the support and emotional honesty you need.
Hands down, my favorite recipe was one I improvised – and have made SEVERAL times since. Fast, easy, delicious:
Sausage with Rainbow Veggies
I peeled and small-diced a (raw) sweet potato, then roasted it in a skillet with a couple tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil (EVOO) on medium heat for ten minutes or so, turning occasionally and seasoning with salt and pepper.
While the sweet potato roasted, I cut up a red bell pepper into small strips (whatever size you’d like to eat) and roasted it in a Dutch oven or similar pot with a tablespoon on EVOO at medium heat.
While the red pepper and sweet potato roasted, I washed and roughly chopped some greens (at various times using kale, spinach, and even beet greens!), and then tossed them in with the red bell pepper and some salt and pepper. They’ll wilt slightly but you don’t want them to cook down or anything.
After the sweet potato cubes were clearly cooked (with some good char!), I added them to the Dutch oven, turned the heat to low, and zested an entire lemon onto the mixture, tossing to coat.
Then I cut three compliant Italian sausage links into medallions/chunks/slices/whatever and put them into the skillet the sweet potatoes had been roasting in, covering with a paper towel to keep the grease from spattering. Once they were nicely cooked, I tossed them into the Dutch oven with the veggies, tossed everything together, and scooped a bunch into a bowl.
Made between two and three meals for me.
Other favorites were from the internet:
Chia Seed Pudding (first recipe on the page; use it as a template for whatever you feel like! Bananas and sliced almonds were a strong choice for me.)
Flank Steaks with an Avocado, Beet, and Orange Salad (I served it over arugula, but you do you!)
So that’s my whole experience with Whole30! Have you tried it? What are some of your favorite recipes?