Happy November, everyone!
So yesterday, my boyfriend Kyle and I wrapped up our adventures in an interesting paleo diet derivative: the Whole30, named for the 30 days you are supposed to follow this stricter version of paleo as a sort of “hard reset” to your body’s food response.
My understanding of this is that you are training your body not to have insulin spikes as a result of food intake. One thing we noticed is that we NEVER got food comas while eating Whole30, not even once, which is probably a good measure that we were doing it right
You can read about Whole30 on its official site, but for a quick definition: no sugar or sweeteners (even honey), no processed foods, no dairy, no grains, no legumes, no alcohol, no white potatoes (a somewhat arbitrary measure by their own admission), limited fruits, and generally a focus on low GI foods and a healthy protein/good fats/carbs ratio (veggies are crucial, as the main source of carbs).
That certainly sounds like a lot of ‘no’s, but if you’re committed to putting in the time and effort to maintain this diet, it’s not that hard. Sugar cravings subside fairly quickly, believe it or not, and there’s no limit on how much food you eat as long as it’s approved! You have to be willing to cook a lot, but fortunately there are a lot of resources on the web related to delicious paleo and Whole30 recipes. We used thefoodee pretty extensively for this, it has some nifty features like dynamically generated shopping lists that really simplify the process.
Here are a few favorite recipes from around the web:
Snacks (not all are recipes):
Generally, our strategy was to reserve one night every 5 days or so for a “cooking marathon”: make as many of these recipes as possible all at once, and then eat the leftovers as meals for the next few days. This seems to work really well, although if you’re not planning carefully you’ll occasionally run into a night where you’re all out of options and need a meal on the spot. I used Chipotle as an emergency reserve. There’s a very limited menu that’s completely Whole30-approved, but luckily they list the ingredients in all their components right on the site!
Speaking of restaurants, eating out is generally very difficult, as restaurant cooks and servers aren’t used to thinking of food in “paleo” terms. Most places I went to, the waiters were fascinated and had never heard of this diet before. I think Kyle and I have had one possible slip each, and both times it was from a restaurant entrée where we suspect they might have misunderstood our order (of course, at restaurants it’s really hard to tell). I’ve had better luck with steakhouses than anywhere else: you can generally sub vegetables for their side dishes if you ask nicely, and make sure you order your sauce “on the side.” Still, it seems like the best approach is to avoid dining out as much as possible.
Kyle and I have been following this throughout the month of October (technically making it a “Whole31” for us). We’ve been as exact on these guidelines as possible to be totally scientific about it. We’ve even stayed off the scale at their recommendation, though that one seems to just be about defining clear “before” and “after” states. Obviously, this is all completely anecdotal, but I’ve tried my best to remain objective.
Here are my observations:
- Without going TMI, my digestive system had a hard time adjusting. I almost gave up after about a week from stomach pains and related discomfort. It finally disappeared completely after about 2 weeks. I haven’t really found an exact explanation for this beyond a vaguely-defined “adjustment period.”
- I tended to get fuller faster, but hungrier more often. Often, about half an hour to an hour after a meal, I’d eat an extra small snack (nuts or fruit or something) before feeling sated. I was hungrier for breakfast more often, too (I used to generally skip eating in the mornings). Small snacks became more and more common over the course of the month.
- As mentioned above, we never got food comas, even when we’d go back for 2+ rounds on dinners
- I’ve gone without sugar for extended periods before, but it always fascinates me that your tastebuds acclimate to the change so quickly. At the end of Whole30, even things like grapes and sweet potatoes were almost too sweet.
- Relatedly, I noticed sort of a “mental shift” with regards to sweet stuff: I’m sure I could still enjoy a lovingly-baked slice of cake, but the idea of it isn’t inherently appealing. It’s a lot easier to avoid cakes and candies now at parties, for example.
- Another mental observation, I’d regularly (once a week or so) have dreams about eating foods that were clearly non-paleo, like Oreos or a sandwich, and would freak out in the dream and try to spit it out or something. The guilt would carry over into the morning for a bit while my fuzzy brain was still decoupling my subconscious from reality. Kyle reported having these too, which makes it even more interesting to me.
- I didn’t notice any large jumps in energy levels, mood, overall health, allergies, or whatever else as a result, and I’m inclined to think many of these changes are somewhat psychosomatic. However, I’m almost certain this diet is more effective coupled with a regular exercise routine (which I did not do), and relatively low stress levels (which I DEFINITELY did not do). I’d like to try it again with those two extra factors sometime and report my findings.
- The hardest thing for me? Strangely, alcohol. (Strange because I’m not a heavy drinker by any means.) I like the taste of wine, and it pairs well with a lot of paleo meals. I also missed having a little bit at social outings. We were so recipe-focused that the only time I really missed particular foods was at restaurants when we would have to skip the free bread or appetizers. Another good reason to avoid eating out!
- Finally… the numbers. I’m almost hesitant to reveal these because it obviously varies so widely from person to person. I dropped 7 pounds and 2 sizes after following this diet strictly for a month. That brings me exactly to the halfway point of reaching my ‘ideal weight’. Again, this is only my personal result and a lot of individual factors come into play. (I was pretty sedentary the entire month, for one thing.) I’m pretty happy with that, for the relative ease of implementation of this diet!
So I guess the final question is whether I would recommend this diet. Again, it’s a lot of cooking and highly restrictive, and if you’re in a lifestyle of eating out often, you have to be ready for a big change. I’d try just cooking paleo meals for a few weeks beforehand to see if you’re ready to devote the time and effort (that’s what we did).
I’d consider it a step up from many other diets: you’re not restricting how much you eat, which means you won’t just go around hungry and thinking about eating all the time. This to me is a lot of what makes it sustainable. It’s not impossible to think about doing this diet indefinitely, and with the Whole30 restrictions lifted, staying paleo suddenly becomes a LOT more accessible. Most commercialized diets (Weight Watchers, etc.) don’t strike me as nearly as sustainable. If you especially hate the minutia of portion control and calorie counting, I’d consider this a top choice alternative. There’s also the added benefit that this program is free and openly documented right here on the ‘net!
I wouldn’t say it revolutionized my relationship with food or anything. A lot of it is really just about becoming more aware. Knowing how your body works and reacts to different foods differently, seeing the changes of minor diet tweaks, etc. If you approach it scientifically, you’re eliminating a lot of variables that affect how your body reacts to food, so you become pretty acutely aware of your body’s reactions, right down to the meal. Seeing that is actually really neat!
If you already eat fairly healthy, you probably won’t find this life-changing or anything, but you’ll certainly find a wealth of new recipes to try! By all means, check it out. And if you’re looking for a fun food adventure, it’s definitely worth a shot. As for Kyle and I, I think we’ll keep going paleo for a while… we’ve got no reason to stop!
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