My 5 Takeaways from Doing Whole30 for the First Time

updated May 1, 2019
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(Image credit: Kimberley Hasselbrink)

I finished my first round of Whole30 about two weeks ago. In case you aren’t familiar with the program, Whole30 is a 30-day nutritional program during which you remove added sugar, alcohol, grains, legumes, dairy, carrageenan, MSG, and sulfites from your diet in an effort to reset your metabolism and emotional relationship with food. I decided to take the month-long plunge just to see if I could do it and reset before the holidays. You can read more about my personal reasons for trying it here.

Whole30 forced me to think deliberately about the food I eat and the way I live. There are countless other methods I could have tried to go through a similar process of realization, and it’s important for anyone considering a lifestyle change like this to consider what’s best for their individual needs. Whole30 was just the one I happened to try.

Here are the five biggest takeaways I learned from my first time.

(Image credit: Emily Han)

1. Tahini is a staple ingredient.

I put tahini in the majority of the meals I cooked on Whole30 and continue to do so. Not only does it work as a grain- and dairy-free thickener, but tahini also adds a great nutty flavor that I had completely underestimated in my limited engagement with sesame paste in the past.

I was worried that I wouldn’t get enough calcium without dairy until I discovered that tahini is rich in calcium, as well as iron and magnesium. The most common uses for tahini are in sauces and dressings, but I’d encourage everyone to experiment with tahini as much as possible.

(Image credit: Rachel Joy Barehl)

2. I love not drinking.

Whole30 challenged me to enjoy myself without using alcohol as crutch. I grew to love my new teetotaler ways, but there were definitely times that I struggled. I went up to a friend’s lake house one weekend, where everyone sat around a bonfire drinking wine and making s’mores … except for me. This was by far the closest I came to caving. All I wanted was to sip some red wine and shove a gooey marshmallow in my mouth. Instead, I sat by the fire, a white-knuckle grip on my mug of tea, trying to find other sources from which to derive pleasure.

Slowly, begrudgingly, I realized: This tea is warm and delicious. The glow and smell of the fire reminds me of camp. I’m in a beautiful place surrounded by friends, and we’re happy. I realized I had a lot to feel good about, without a drop of wine or even a surreptitious nibble on a Hershey bar. While that trip certainly wasn’t representative of my weekends on Whole30, it proved that I could resist what seemed at the time to be an insurmountable temptation. And for all that hard work, I was rewarded with 30 straight days of blissful, productive, hangover-free mornings.

(Image credit: Leela Cyd)

3. I can drink my coffee black.

I used to add whole milk or half-and-half to my coffee until it was about the color of a brown paper bag. On Whole30, though, all dairy is prohibited. Luckily, I don’t normally take sugar in my coffee so I didn’t have to go through sugar withdrawal as well, but my first sip of black coffee on Whole30 was still miserable. I had no idea coffee could even taste so bitter. I thought I would just have to do without it for 30 days. But caffeine won out, and I learned to appreciate Americanos and espresso.

Ditching milk also led me to discover the magic of almond milk lattes, which I think can taste richer than their traditional dairy counterparts. As I write this, no longer on Whole30, I’m sipping a double espresso and actually enjoying it!

(Image credit: Kimberley Hasselbrink)

4. I have time to eat breakfast.

Before Whole30, I would wake up, get ready for work in about half an hour, and rush out the door. What I ate for breakfast would depend on the snack situation at my office. On a good day, I might make some oatmeal, sneak half a bagel off a platter from a meeting, or grab an apple. In more dire situations, breakfast might mean a paper cup full of popcorn or Cheez-its. Don’t act like you haven’t been there.

But on Whole30, my metabolism quickened and my appetite grew. I needed to eat ASAP after I woke up or I’d end up super hungry around 11 a.m. and be tempted to dig into my lunch. So I set my alarm 30 minutes earlier and learned that I can easily scramble up some eggs with diced peppers or mushrooms in no time. I still make time for breakfast off Whole30, and it’s definitely worth it.

(Image credit: Faith Durand)

5. My emotions play a huge role in consumption.

The few times I found myself actually craving a non-compliant food on Whole30, it wasn’t because I was actually hungry for or needed that food — it was because I wanted a specific feeling that I subconsciously associated with that food. If I wanted a cupcake, it was most likely because it was someone’s birthday and I wanted to join everyone else in celebrating, not because I needed or wanted the umpteenth Baked by Melissa mini cupcake of my life.

Rarely during my 30 days would I be faced with a food or drink I had never had before, so it wasn’t as if I was missing out on new experiences. I got past any tempting foods by telling myself, “You’ve had this before, and you’ll have it again. Just not right now.” I never regretted not eating or drinking something once I got past the initial craving.

Now what?

Right now, I’m on vacation and am very much not on Whole30. I’m indulging in as many pastries, breads, cheeses, and wines as my heart desires with absolutely zero regrets. But what I learned from Whole30 is that I’m capable of taking control of my diet and lifestyle whenever I want. I’m definitely more aware of what I’m eating, but I don’t feel guilty about indulging because I know that this, too, is temporary, and that I’m enjoying these foods conscientiously and not just to fill an arbitrary emotional desire.

When I get home, I plan on squeezing in a second round of Whole30 between Thanksgiving and Christmas, and I’m eager to see what comes next.