What I Learned from my Whole 30

Last month I told you that I was doing a Whole 30 — some of you have been following along on Instagram where I mini-blogged the experience on a daily basis. The short story is that it didn’t accomplish what I was hoping for, but I’m still glad I did it, and food will never be the same.

If you’re not familiar with Whole 30, it’s essentially a 30 day dietary reset during which you eliminate grains, sugar, dairy, legumes, soy, alcohol, and pretty much everything else and so you end up surviving on sweet potatoes and eggs for a month. (You can read the actual food rules here.) It’s similar to the Paleo diet, but stricter since it’s only for a month and not intended to be a permanent lifestyle.

I used to think people doing Paleo were absolutely crazy. No pasta? No dessert? Why are you trying to take all the joy out of life?! But I decided to jump on the “clean eating” diet for one specific reason: my hands.

I have severe eczema on my hands that has been getting worse and worse for the last year. It’s only on four and a half fingers, but that’s enough — if you’ve ever had eczema, you know how painful and itchy it is. If my fingers aren’t raw and bleeding, it’s a good day. I had heard about Whole 30 before but never felt inclined to do it (give up dessert?! Never!) until I read Anne’s account of it — she also had a skin problem with her hands and Whole 30 was hugely helpful. I had been planning to cut out gluten and dairy anyway, since those are common causes, so I went ahead and hopped on the Whole 30 train.

If you’re thinking, “Wow, I could never give up all those foods — you must have amazing self control!” let me stop you right there. I don’t really want to tell you this, but in the interest of full disclosure, I cheated on my Whole 30 more than once. Little tiny cheating — a sip of wine, an accidental chickpea, vanilla extract in the unsweetened almond milk. (No gluten or sugar, I promise!) I had a hard time when I wasn’t the one cooking — I felt so awkward and demanding being honest about my diet. Most people were understanding, but some gave me a hard time about my food choices, especially not drinking alcohol. (Side note: Can people just not do this? It is the uncoolest thing in the world to judge people by how much they do or do not drink.)

But on the whole, I did pretty well. I was already eating a healthy diet, but I do love my carbs and cookies. At first, I was frustrated because a lot of my go-to quick meals were off-limits, and I couldn’t have my after-dinner dark chocolate, so I guzzled raisins like a monster (yes, I guzzled them. Totally in the Whole 30 spirit.) But I discovered some great new recipes and ultimately I’m keeping a lot of the habits I picked up.

But here’s the thing. My eczema didn’t get better. It got worse. I couldn’t leave the house without bandages wrapped around all my fingers. Even the skin on my face became dry and itchy. I couldn’t understand it — even though I had a few slips, I was still eating much better than before! No more bread, no more chips — I was all about the almond butter and apple slices, almond butter banana smoothies, raw almonds with just a little salt, chia pudding with raspberries and almond milk…. healthy snacks, right?!

Three weeks in, Hugo said something to me that made me realize — it’s the almonds!!!! I switched from soy to almond milk around the time this whole thing started and I’ve been drinking it every single day. Then Whole 30 got me addicted to almond butter and I used it as a meal replacement when I didn’t feel like cooking. It just never occurred to me that almonds could be the problem because they are “healthy”. It was a major lightbulb moment, and when I stopped eating almonds, I saw a big improvement right away.

So that’s the good news. The bad news is that the eczema isn’t gone, so there is another factor here that I haven’t figured out yet — I’m working on it (le sigh). The other bad news is that once I realized I had been poisoning myself throughout my entire Whole 30, I pretty much fell off the wagon. There were nachos involved.

I didn’t realize how much my body had changed until it was over. Not so much physically (although I did lose some weight) but how I react to different foods. I can barely eat sugar anymore because it gives me a monster headache after a few bites! I’m a little bit sad about this because DESSERT IS MY FAVORITE but I’m much better at indulging only when I really want to and not just eating cookies because they’re in front of me. I also just crave healthier foods than I did before. But I’m glad I can drink wine again. I missed wine.

In other news, I am working my way through alternative milks since I can’t have almond milk anymore, and I want to stay away from soy (and I’m not so much with the dairy). Everyone is raving about cashew milk but I’m staying off nuts for now. So far I’ve tried Ripple (made from pea protein — I call it my pea milk which is funny because it sounds like pee milk) and oat milk (which is cheap and delicious but a little fattening). Suggestions welcome 🙂

Here’s the bottom line for me: I think everyone has to eat the way that is best for their body, and it’s not the same for everyone. Not even scientific studies can agree. There is some research that shows that spinach and tomatoes can cause inflammation, for crying out loud — does that mean we should all stop eating them? No. Does that mean that cutting out those foods may help some people? Sure. So there’s no reason for anyone to lecture those non-spinach-eating people on the health benefits of spinach. There’s also no reason to chastise cake and ice cream lovers for their consumption of gluten and dairy (oh, it happens). Their body, their choice. There’s not a one-size-fits-all healthy eating solution.

Whole 30 Resources

Whole 30 is very popular, and there are tons of great resources and recipe ideas out there! I found some fellow Whole 30ers on Instagram who shared their stories and suggestions (and said they missed wine too!)

Anne has written a lot of great posts on Whole 30 — start with preparing for your Whole 30mastering meal prep and avoiding food boredom, and lots of other tips and reflections on Whole 30.

I went a little crazy on Pinterest — I made a board for Whole 30/Paleo recipes, then another one just for Paleo desserts (because they are not kosher for Whole 30!) and a board just for smoothies, and then ANOTHER one for healthy snack ideas, like oatmeal bars. (…I may have a Pinterest problem. But I say it’s not a problem — it helps me to keep recipes and useful blog posts organized!)

I also discovered the gluten-free cooking blog So Let’s Hang Out by Gina — she has a lot of Whole 30 compliant recipes and a week-by-week account of her own Whole 30 (she tells the story of a stressful night on Day 5 that started with bourbon and finished with In n’ Out, which made me feel a lot better about my own imperfect Whole 30. We’re all just doing the best we can and that’s fine.)

When in doubt, start at whole30.com. There is more information than you could ever read, and there are also some tips on doing Whole 30 outside the U.S./Canada, since some recommended foods and ingredients might be harder to find in other parts of the world.

So, what do you think? Would you ever do a diet like this? Are there any foods you just couldn’t give up?

17 thoughts on “What I Learned from my Whole 30

  1. I think falling off the wagon is a natural part of any sort of diet/ clean-eating regime – after all, we’re only human! I used to have bad eczema as a child, but over the years it has improved – I can now wear clothes made from polyester (who knew that was worth getting excited about?!) and it only tends to make an appearance when it’s particularly cold and dry outside. Hope you get to the bottom of what’s causing your eczema soon 🙂 I don’t think I could do Whole 30, but I’ve been making a concentrated effort to cook properly this year and my skin has improved as a result. I usually give up either crisps or chocolate for Lent, and make it through fine – this year it’s the former, as it would be rude to give up chocolate and all chocolatey related desserts when in France…

    1. Thanks Rosie! I hope so too 🙂 You’re absolutely right, it would be terribly rude to abstain from chocolate in France. (Mmmm I miss Côte d’Or chocolate.) I don’t think I could give up gluten if I were still there! I loooovve the boulangerie 🙂

      1. It really would, especially as Lindt is so much cheaper in France than in the UK. (Plus going without a pain au chocolat for six weeks… Ouf!) French cuisine is so gluten-based, I can’t imagine what it must be like to lead a gluten-free life here!

      2. Yes, Lindt costs a lot more here too! It’s hard to justify buying the chocolate we used to keep at home all the time. If I keep up a gluten free diet I don’t know how on earth I’ll explain it when I’m back in France… (or how I’ll explain that it’s no gluten EXCEPT for pain au chocolat, because obviously I need viennoiseries!)

      3. The weird thing is that Lindt is cheap in bars, but their Easter range is twice the price (or more) of the equivalent products in the UK. (I think my family will just be getting bars of chocolate for Easter this year!) I love your additional clause to the gluten free diet – i.e. except for the things I love most and couldn’t live without 😛

  2. You and Anne have really opened up my eyes to food intolerances. It’s not something I’ve ever had to deal with, and I know how easy it is to be dismissive or judgmental when you don’t understand. I’m conscientious of that now and I’m trying to do better. You girls are inspiring. I don’t feel like I have food intolerances but I have trouble sleeping. I think taking Vitamin D has helped some but I’d be curious to know what else is out there. Keep rocking on! x

    1. Thanks Dana! I admit that I haven’t always been 100% sympathetic to “picky” eaters even though I’m kind of difficult about food myself, so this really reminded me that everyone is allowed to control what they put in their body, no questions asked. I have always been an excellent sleeper (one of my few talents) but in the past year I’ve had trouble falling back asleep in the wee hours because of anxiety. (Now it’s mostly better 🙂 ) I don’t know if it would help, but have you ever tried relaxing yoga or anything like that before bed? I really like the YouTube channel Yoga with Adriene and she has some relaxing bedtime yoga videos that got me through jetlag. Hugo is also a light sleeper and he gets excited when his sleep app says he got a 100% night of sleep (or whatever it’s called). I hope you find a solution that works for you soon! x

      1. I need to get more serious about sleeping better… will have to commit to more yoga (or just more fitness) in general in 2017.

  3. Eczema is the absolute worse. I used to get it mostly on my arms and stomach, but when I arrived in France, it started on my hands. Like you, they’d be basically raw. It would be worse whenever there was a change in weather. I found cortisone cream (stocked up on in the US) would keep it from getting too too bad but never heal it. Since moving to Lyon, my hands have been fine! *knocks on wood* I wonder if it was the super hard water up North!

    I would love to try Whole 30 at some point, but I don’t particularly like meat, so I don’t know how I’d fare since I tend to eat a lot of grains and legumes. And I can’t do it anytime soon as dairy (mmm yogurt) has basically become my lifeline, because (I’m not sure if you know this) I’m pregnant!

    1. I didn’t know, that’s so exciting!!!!! Congratulations!!!!!!!!! Definitely not the right time to start a weird restrictive diet

      I’m so glad you mentioned buying cortisone cream in the U.S. because I usually stock up on medicine in France, assuming it will be much less expensive, and I didn’t know that there were cortisone creams available over the counter in the U.S. at a reasonable price. I only have one tube from my French prescription left so I’m glad to know I can buy it here without having to go to the doctor. Thanks for the tip!

      1. Thank you! I’m not sure if I straight out said anything anywhere but Facebook yet…

        I buy the brand Cortizone which is 1% hydrocortisone. Not sure how that compares to prescription. They make several kinds (all the same strength). The last one I bought was the ultra healing formula. My grandmother would sometimes pass me along her prescription cream if I ever had a particularly bad outbreak, but I think that was even before I just started buying the cream at Target for like $7 for a large tube.

      2. Thanks for the tip! I am so glad to know that I can get it for a reasonable price here. I try not to use it all the time, but sometimes it’s the only thing that works. One less thing to stock up on next time I’m in France 🙂

  4. This is a great reflection!! Thanks for the links :). I totally agree that everybody’s body is different and no one solution works for everyone! I basically poisoned myself on my first Whole30 too, because I hadn’t eliminated eggs, so I kept getting terrible IBS symptoms. Afterward, I found out that eggs were a no-go for me through some specific testing by my Nat Med doctor, and this time around I eliminated those, too!

    I’ve gone through some eczema regressions as well – about two weeks ago it got SO bad. But, I’m still eating mostly whole30 and it is finally going away. I think cashews bring it back, and have been thinking of eliminating nuts as well…we’ll see ;). The other things that are factors are soap and hormones. Anyway, I’m glad to hear you found some new things to think about! Here’s to maybe future “food freedom.” 🙂

    1. It’s so tricky to find the right balance — I was thrilled when I thought cutting out almonds would cure my eczema, and soooo disappointed when I realized it wasn’t gone entirely. I would like to do a food sensitivities test, but I think it will turn up other foods (e.g. fish) that aren’t relevant to my skin problem. My dad has been polling all the people he knows in medicine on eczema and one doctor said that there is research connecting it to staph infections and that washing your hands with antibacterial soap like Cetaphil can help. I just bought some yesterday and it seems like it’s working… fingers crossed. Thank you for sharing your story and resources! A Whole 30 diet minus eggs — and nuts?! — does not sound like an easy feat. I hope that things continue to get better!

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