I consider myself to be a pretty healthy eater. I rarely drink soda, I drink unsweetened coffee and tea, I bring my lunch to work, and I eat a mostly vegetable- and protein-based diet. So when my coworkers invited me try Whole30 with them to reset before the holidays, I joined them because I wanted to see if I could do it, not for any specific health reason. Would I be able to go a day without eating cheese? What about all those office cupcakes? It felt like a challenge.
Once I started doing the Whole30 program, however, I quickly realized that I had less control over my day-to-day eating habits than I previously thought.
What Is Whole30?
Whole30 is a nutritional program that was designed, according to its founders Melissa Hartwig and Dallas Hartwig, to "put an end to unhealthy cravings and habits, restore a healthy metabolism, heal your digestive tract, and balance your immune system." For 30 days, you cut added sugar, alcohol, grains, legumes, dairy, carrageenan, MSG, and sulfites out of your diet.
The goal is to reset both your body and your mindset towards food. Other than that, there are no limitations to the amount of food you can eat, as long as they're "compliant" to the Whole30 rules and, ideally, natural and unprocessed.
Why I Decided to Try Whole30
I got interested in doing Whole30 by accident. One day at work I caught a glimpse of my coworker's laptop screen. She and a couple of my other coworkers sat at a table staring intently at a PDF document with "Whole30" emblazoned on it in blue and gray, arguing over whether or not they could eat peanuts. I had vaguely heard of Whole30 before from Instagram, where I love following health and fitness accounts and also everyday women on their journeys toward health and wellness.
The coworker whose laptop displayed the Whole30 rules invited me and a few others to do the program with her, starting in two weeks. The goal was to reset before the holidays and see whether we could simply complete the program.
To be totally honest, I was a little hesitant about joining at first. Cheese is by far my favorite food, and on Whole30 you have to cut out dairy entirely. No dairy! You're also not allowed to have any added sugars, legumes (which includes peanuts), grains, or alcohol of any kind. As a lover of all those foods, I thought for sure that I would starve. But then I read through some of the program materials and liked the tough-love approach.
Sure, these 30 days would require a lot of discipline, but 30 days is just a blip in a long lifetime, and I would be able to eat whatever I wanted after that. I was in.
Why It's Better with Coworkers
A group of five of us took the plunge together. All of us are in different places health, fitness, and commitment-wise, and each of us face our own unique challenges. One of my coworkers already followed an 80/20 Paleo diet and wasn't daunted by the food requirements, but acknowledged that cutting out alcohol at social gatherings would be difficult. Another is on a long-term fitness journey, and yet another is skeptical and joined reluctantly only after we laid the peer pressure on thick. But we're all in it together and keep each other accountable.
Whole30 has brought my group of coworkers closer together, and it's been great having other people who are genuinely interested in my progress and understand what I'm doing. It'd be difficult if not impossible to get my friends, whose schedules are so different and whom I sometimes only see every few weeks, to join me in doing Whole30. But I see my coworkers five days a week, and they've been integral in my Whole30 so far. Otherwise, I'd have no one around to call me out as I lusted after Cheez-Its in the kitchen.
How It's Going So Far
A few days later, I decided to try eating Whole30 for one day, just to see if I could do it. My local grocery store happened to be having a huge sale on veggies, so I loaded up on salad greens, broccoli, cauliflower, potatoes, zucchini, and acorn squash. I fully expected to cave in on the first day, but even when birthday cupcakes appeared in the office kitchen, I held out, telling myself, "It is not hard," over and over again. And I haven't looked back.
I ended up starting a week ahead of my coworkers, so I was able to reassure them that I felt good and it was indeed "not hard." Coincidentally, one of my favorite Instagrammers, @julieanakim, started Whole30 on the same day as I did, and I looked to her feed for motivation as well.
So far, I feel great. Whole30 claims that in addition to a physical reset, participants may also benefit from a change in the emotional relationship they have with food. This has definitely been the best thing I've learned from Whole30 so far. I've had stressful days when I really wished I could eat a cupcake or have a beer just to feel better. Now that I can't, I'm forced to confront my emotions head-on without the crutch of food or alcohol.
Whereas I'd normally come home after a long day and pour myself a glass of wine to relax, I've now realized I can achieve that same emotional release by watching my favorite TV shows, talking with my roommates, or simply waiting it out. I've been forced to think about how much of a role alcohol plays in my socializing and learned that I can have fun on weekends without drinking. And not suffering day-long hangovers is another huge plus.
I started Whole30 for the challenge and camaraderie, and I ended up gaining a whole new perspective that I hadn't anticipated.