Why I've Done Whole30 Seven Times

Why I've Done Whole30 Seven Times

Stephanie May
Jan 9, 2017
(Image credit: Stephanie May)

For 30 days this month we're exploring Whole30, the 30-day reset and refocus on whole foods. Whole30 isn't a diet or a judgment of foods as "good and bad." It's actually a short-term reset that has helped many of our readers cook more and figure out the foods that make them feel their best. Read more about our coverage here.

Over the past three-and-a-half years, I have completed seven rounds of the Whole30 program. The Whole30 was created by Melissa and Dallas Hartwig, and it has exploded in popularity recently. Most of us would be hard-pressed to find someone who hasn't done Whole30 or hasn't thought about doing Whole30. The program has plenty of supporters boasting life-changing results, and I can say that I am one of the people who has experienced these tremendous results.

Even though Whole30 explicitly states that it is not a weight-loss plan, I fully admit that I wanted to lose weight, and to my own surprise (and disbelief), I've ended up losing more than 60 pounds since I did my first round of the program.

The only thing that has surprised me more than losing that much weight is that the weight loss isn't even the biggest reason I keep coming back to Whole30 over and over again.

What Is Whole30?

If you don't know exactly what Whole30 is, it's a nutritional reset that lasts for 30 days. It's similar to a very strict version of the Paleo diet. You eat meat, eggs, veggies, fruit, and healthy fats, and you don't eat any grains, legumes, alcohol, dairy, sugar, or processed foods.

You aren't allowed to weigh or measure yourself for the full 30 days, because the program really doesn't want weight loss to be your main goal. You can't re-create Paleo "baked goods," even if they use Whole30 ingredients, and you have to take the time to listen to your body, break emotional ties with food, and regain control over your eating habits.

  • Read more on the details in the Whole30 book and here.

Why I Needed to Try It

Before I did my first Whole30, I was 40-plus pounds overweight (you can see some before and after photos below) and I felt like crap most of the time. I was in no way, shape, or form a "healthy eater." Back then, my idea of healthy eating was having a small salad with ranch dressing and croutons before eating a big plate of spaghetti and three slices of garlic bread. I had constant stomach issues; terrible aches and pains in my back, shoulders, and elbows; and I was tired. I mean, I was completely exhausted all the time.

I was 31 years old, a busy stay-at-home mother of three, and unfortunately, I had just accepted that being tired, cranky, and unhappy with my physical appearance was just how my life was going to be. Back then, even doing simple tasks like vacuuming my living room would cause me to have to lay down and rest afterwards.

I also lived in a constant state of stress and irritation. I wasn't in a good place, mentally or physically, and the saddest part of all of this was, I thought that it was all normal. I mean, all moms feel that way to some extent, right? I had no idea that my poor food choices were actually the cause of my symptoms, or that I had the power to change the way I felt.

(Image credit: Stephanie May)

The First Time

In April 2013, I started reading the original Whole30 book, It Starts with Food. I knew that I needed a big change in my life, but I was also completely terrified. The Whole30 program was the complete opposite of the way I ate, and honestly, I didn't think that I would be able to make it through the full 30 days. I had done lots of different diets in the past, but I could never make it more than a week before I would quit.

On other diets, I would get discouraged if I didn't lose five pounds in the first couple of days and I would give up, and then proceed to stuff my face with every sugary carb that I could find. It was a vicious cycle and one that I was desperate to break out of. After reading the Whole30 book, I had high hopes that maybe, just maybe, the program would actually work for me. I told my husband that I wanted to try it, and he said that he wanted to do it with me. I was skeptical at first, because he had had even less success with diets than I did, but he was also looking for a big change, so we agreed to do the program together.

We started the first round on June 4, 2013, and I'm not going to lie, it was rough in the beginning. I spent the first week of the program laying in bed, having even more stomach issues, and generally feeling sorry for myself. But I knew from all of my Whole30 research, that things had to get worse before they would get better, so I kept going.

I was groggy, had headaches, and felt emotional over the "loss" of my favorite foods.

Victory!

During those first 30 days, we followed the rules 100 percent. We read every label, researched recipes, and gave it our all. In the end, it paid off. We both lost weight, gained huge amounts of energy, and felt amazing in general. My bloating was gone, I was able to stop taking my seasonal allergy medicine completely, my skin was clear, and the aches and pains in my joints vanished. I was astounded at how wonderful I felt. My mood swings had really leveled off, and I was thinking clearer. I really didn't want to return to my old habits. I wanted to keep going and I knew that I still had more work to do, but for the first time in my life, I felt like I could actually achieve my goals. I was completely hooked on that feeling.

Don't Fix What's Not Broken

For the next few months, we continued to eat Whole30 meals the majority of the time and continued to lose weight and see more health benefits. We weren't doing an official Whole30 because we were occasionally having treats or off-plan foods, but during this period, I quickly discovered that indulging in that bowl of ice cream wasn't the experience that it used to be. My skin would break out, I'd get an immediate stomach ache, and would even feel dizzy from the sugar overload.

With this new food knowledge came power. I began to view my favorite junk foods in a completely different light: not worth it. This was an incredibly freeing feeling because I was no longer being controlled by the cycle of cravings, giving in and then feeling guilty about it. For the first time in my life, I was in control of my food choices, and it felt fantastic.

My husband and I decided that we would spend the majority of the time eating this way, and then we would do an official round of the Whole30 every five or six months. We have continued this for the past three-and-a-half years, and we finished our seventh round of the Whole30 this summer.

It Gets Easier

For me, the first two rounds of Whole30 were definitely the hardest, because I was still learning as I went along. With each round, I became more and more familiar with the process, and it began to feel second nature to me. But, even now, there are still days when it feels hard, especially the emotional aspect of food.

I can be going along, doing just fine, and then, all of a sudden, I want to eat a whole package of cookies in one sitting. I've had to take the time to recognize the things that are triggering those emotions in me – stress, loneliness, etc. — and although I'm nowhere near perfect in it, I also realize that it's an ongoing process and that eating right is something that I should be doing ... forever.


I deserve to be taken care of, to be seen and to be heard, and if I can be empowered to take control of this previously "impossible" thing of losing weight and changing my eating habits, I can do other big things as well.


So Much More than Weight Loss

As I said, going into Whole30, my main objective was to lose weight, but even though I lost more than 60 pounds (and that has been fantastic), I've also come away from my experience with a newfound sense of self worth. Whole30 has shown me that even though I'm a wife and mom of three, I can (and should) make my health a priority.

I deserve to be taken care of, to be seen and to be heard, and if I can be empowered to take control of this previously "impossible" thing of losing weight and changing my eating habits, I can do other big things as well.

Will I Do This Forever?

People ask me all the time if I'm ever going to stop doing Whole30 stints, and honestly, I have no intentions of stopping at this point. I really look at the guidelines of the Whole30 as a part of my lifestyle right now, and even though I don't eat this way all of the time, I will continue with it as long as it makes sense for me. Whole30 has really changed my life and has made me feel so empowered to do the things that I want to do. If that means I can't eat cookies sometimes, that's more than okay with me.

Read more about Stephanie's Whole30 experiences on her blog: MayDae

30 Days of Whole30: We're kicking 2017 off with 30 days of Whole30. Why Whole30? It's not a permanent diet; it's not a prescription for eating. It's just 30 days of eating whole foods and exploring a more purposeful, mindful approach to food. Read more here on what Whole30 is and how to follow along.

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