30 Lessons from My Whole 30

30 Lessons from My Whole30

Last Friday I finished my Whole30. Because I gave up halfway through due to morning sickness and food aversions the first time through, I was excited to make it all the way through this time and to meet my goals for forming good habits and getting back to my pre-pregnancy weight.

Next week I’ll share more about why I like the Whole30 program and how I prepared for it, but today I want to share 30 lessons I learned this time around:

1. Just because some thing is hard doesn’t mean it’s not worth doing. I think it’s safe to say that applies to pretty much any area of life.

2. Anything tastes good with the right spices. And sometimes all it takes is a little salt and pepper.

3. It’s true that drink calories are the worst. Lattes are my downfall.

4. Veggies for breakfast might seem weird but it makes a difference. When I start out with a protein + veggie based breakfast (rather than carbs or sugar), I’m less likely to give in to sugar cravings the rest of the day.

5. You can teach yourself to like almost anything. A friend challenged me to learn to like mushrooms, and while they’re not yet my favorite, I discovered that I actually do like them sauteed with onions, especially with fried eggs for breakfast!

6. Variety really is the spice of life. Eating the same thing for 30 days straight can get old real fast. Trying different combinations, preparation methods, and all new ingredients keeps it interesting.

7. But simple is better. On the other hand, several people told me that having set breakfasts and lunches would make a world of difference, and I really found that to be true. I followed a formula of eggs + sauteed veggies and a side of fruit for breakfast and roasted veggies + meat or seafood for lunch, and it provided enough structure so that I could enjoy a variety without standing in front of the fridge trying to figure out what to eat.

8. There are quite possibly an infinite number if ways to prepare eggs. Scrambled with veggies, scrambled with meat, fried, hard-boiled, soft-boiled, omelettes, cooked inside peppers or a muffin tin or meat cups, baked in a casserole, and the list goes on!

9. Mini romaine leaves are the perfect substitute for bread. I’ve only ever found these at Costco, but I absolutely love them. Little 5″ heads of romaine lettuce make the perfect size leaves for sandwiches, lettuce wraps, etc.

30 Lessons from My Whole30

10. When you retrain your taste buds, fruit makes the best dessert. I could almost live without dessert as long as I have banana ice cream, strawberries and coconut cream, baked pears or pineapple, or apple slices with cinnamon!

11. The Whole30 timeline? It’s pretty much spot on. Surprisingly, the first few days weren’t bad at all for me this time around. But food boredom on Day 21? Yes. I was so ready to be done, and it was during the last week that I started to slip because I just didn’t have the motivation to finish.

12. I’m not even sure I know what it feels like to be actually hungry. One thing I realized is that I’m not sure I really even know what hunger feels like (and I for sure haven’t ever experienced the hunger that many other people do on a regular basis). I eat when the clock says it’s time to eat, when I’m tired, when I’m bored, when I’m happy, when something sounds good, etc. But I don’t know about hungry.

13. I often snack out of habit. On that same note, I’m not sure how many calories I’ve consumed simply out of habit, but I bet it’s a scary number.

14. It’s important to focus on what you can have rather than what you can’t. I’ve said it before: The key to making lastiing food changes is to focus on the foods you get to eat and not those that are “forbidden.”

15. The key to staying full between meals is enough fat. Even though I’ve heard about the benefits of fat many times from real food advocates, this is a hard concept for me to wrap my head around. But adding fat to my meals — a spoonful of almond butter, half an avocado, a generous spread of coconut oil — helped me to stay full longer.

16. I’m a happier person when I eat enough of the right stuff. The term “hangry” (hungry  + angry) has been coined for a reason, and it certainly holds true in my life. But I’m also moody when I’m eating junk rather than making healthy choices.

17. Preparation is key. The busier life got for us last month, the harder it got to stick to “the plan”. But surprisingly, the three days we spent commuting an hour-and-a-half to an academic camp was not the hardest part. Because I had prepared food for all three meals — chopping veggies, making a big batch of egg salad, etc. — it was really easy to stick with it. I need to get back in the habit of doing that every Sunday!

18. You can roast any veggie. Seriously, anything. Cauliflower, carrots, brussel sprouts, radishes, onions, potatoes, asparagus, peppers — they all taste amazing when roasted!

19. It’s possible to look forward to spinach and green tea as much as I used to look forward to a chocolate bar. Who would have guessed?

20. Family dinners are a must for parents doing the Whole30. I’ll talk more about this next week when I share the actual how of my Whole30, but it made a huge difference that I planned most of our meals around a Whole30-friendly “base” that we could all eat. For example, taco chicken became quesadillas for the family and taco salad for me. I honestly don’t think I would have survived otherwise.

30 Lessons from My Whole30

21. When I’m willing to try new things my kids are too. My 4.5 year old now considers asparagus a treat (as do I!), and it’s amazing what I can get the girls to try when it’s on my plate!

22. There’s a fine line between just right and overcooked when it comes to spaghetti squash. Let’s just say one is delicious and one is a mushy mess.

23. Costco is your Whole30’s best friend. I know it sounds crazy, but our family has a Costco membership almost exclusively for the produce anyway, and that is a huge help during a Whole30, as are their meat options. The produce is always high quality and delicious, and they do a pretty good job of featuring in-season produce as well. For this Whole30, I couldn’t get enough of their sweet potatoes, which are giganganormous!

24. Sweet potatoes make everything better. Thanks to Costco, I am pretty sure I consumed close to 30 sweet potatoes over the past month, whether I shredded them for breakfast hashbrowns or — more often that not — simply baked them and ate them right from the skin. When I mentioned on Day 5 or 6 that I was surprised by how good I felt already, my sister-in-law chimed in and said that the starches in sweet potatoes can help you avoid carb flu, and I think that was definitely the case for me! Plus, what other vegetable can so easily masquerade as a dessert without adding a single thing to it?!

25. Big changes are easier and more fun with friends. I’ve been privileged to be part of a Whole30 group on Facebook during both of my Whole30s, and it just makes it more fun. This time around, our group was mostly local friends, and it was really fun to share finds, compare meals and encourage each other as we went. I’m not sure I have the willpower to do the challenge without accountability!

26. It’s worth preparing food you enjoy. On Memorial Day, we splurged and made crab cakes, and I savored every single bite. It’s tempting to walk through a challenge like this expecting to feel deprived and unhappy, but choosing foods that you love makes it so much easier. I took this lesson to heart and made crab cakes again last week!

27. If you’re not drinking green tea, you really are missing out. I have always been hesitant to drink green tea (it just didn’t appeal to me!), but I read that green tea can increase your metabolism by 17%, and that was enough for me to at least try it. As it turns out, I really like iced unsweetened green tea, and I’m fairly convinced that drinking a quart of it every day contributed to my success this time around.

28. You can’t just cheat once. Oh, how I wish I had the willpower to eat a chip or a square of chocolate without falling off the wagon, but I really don’t. Things started to go downhill fast after I began to cheat on Day 23, but I was able to reign it in a little bit and finish fairly strongly. Next time, no cheating!

29. I’m not very good at moderation but it’s still a worthy goal. The challenge for me is figuring out where to go from here. I don’t want to live 100% paleo (or even 80% if I’m honest), but I need to figure out how to eat treats without getting to the point where I’m snacking all afternoon or eating a pan of brownies in a day. The good news is yesterday I had one chocolate chip cookie. Just one. Even though the package is sitting in our pantry calling my name. So we’ll consider that progress!

30. The benefit of the Whole30 lasts long after the 30 days are up. I actually learned this lesson my first time around. Even though I wasn’t able to finish that Whole30, my love for roasted veggies (which started during that challenge) has lasted for more than a year. I’m hopeful that many of the habits formed this time around — drinking green tea, veggies for breakfast, etc. — will last as well.

How about you? Have you done a Whole30? Is it something you’ve considered doing?

Mandi Ehman is the blogger behind Life Your Way. She and her husband have four beautiful girls plus one baby boy, and together they live, work and homeschool on a little slice of heaven in wild, wonderful West Virginia. Mandi loves coffee, chocolate, easy meals, beautiful things and minimalist spaces.
  • Rachel Jonat

    So timely for me. I am on day one of a Whole 30 (my fourth or fifth) and these were all such good reminders for me. Can’t wait for fruit to start really tasting like the sweet treat that it is.

    • http://lifeyourway.net/ Mandi @ Life Your Way

      Oh, wow — that’s impressive, Rachel! Enjoy!

  • Sara Kilpatrick

    I’m considering giving this a try, but it goes completely against some of the dietary changes I made a few months ago. I switched to eating more non-animal protein sources – beans, yogurt. Kind of a hybrid of VB6 and French Women Don’t Get Fat. I’ve been eating oatmeal for breakfast several times a week and meat only occasionally. Eating lots of veggies and fruits wouldn’t be a problem, but wow the rest of that is quite a shift! I need to do some thinking. It sounds like a great way to reset your body and especially your taste buds to appreciate food in it’s natural glory! I am hoping that you will be sharing some recipes?? :)

    • http://lifeyourway.net/ Mandi @ Life Your Way

      I think the key is finding out what works for your body, and if you’ve already discovered a plan that works for you, there’s no reason to switch to the complete opposite just to follow a program. I definitely learned a ton during my Whole30, but I’m still struggling with figuring out what my “normal” will look like!

  • http://myoverflowingcup.com Heather @ My Overflowing Cup

    This is a great list. I tried the Whole 30, but gave up about halfway through it. I did, however, do it long enough to be able to relate to most of these. It’s interesting how we want to quit things because they are difficult, when isn’t that where real growth really happens? You can get used to anything, simple is better, spices help, sweet potatoes are wonderful, and veggies for breakfast have become a habit we have continued since we tried the Whole 30. Focusing on what you can have, rather that what you can’t is huge. And, no, you can’t cheat – even just once. Thanks for these great reminders. They are helpful even if one isn’t doing a Whole 30.

  • HeatherDB

    I really want to do one.. wish there was someone local who would teach me how… it’ ust 30 days right? It’s summer time so veggies are in abundance… Did you have a menu plan you followed? I’ve read the book. I’d love just a simple “eat this today” and then how I can vary it a bit. I’m married to a dairy farmer so I have a freezer full of beef!

    • http://lifeyourway.net/ Mandi @ Life Your Way

      Heather, the key for me was really just sticking to the basics for breakfast and lunch: eggs + veggies and meat + veggies. For dinners, I tried to do normal meals as much as possible and just stick to the Whole30-compliant parts for myself.

      If I ever do it again, I may do a better job of recording exactly what I eat, but I’m afraid it would end up being a fairly boring meal plan!

  • Kim

    I just did my second W30 while 23-27 weeks pregnant with my third baby, and I agree with all of your observations! I’d personally add avocados to your point about eating a ton of sweet potatoes. I probably ate an avocado a day (although I might have scaled that back a bit if not pregnant)! I’ve done much better at maintaining the positive diet changes this time around, even while pregnant. And while I am still tired (I’m in my third trimester and have two kids!), I think it is really helping me maximize my energy and prepare for baby.

    • http://lifeyourway.net/ Mandi @ Life Your Way

      You’re my hero! I wanted to try again while I was pregnant, but I just couldn’t bring myself to do it (in part because my food aversions from the first trimester never went away!). Way to go!

  • Lori Spear Downs

    A timely topic! I started my first whole 30 on June 1 but had to quit on the fifth. I have a medical condition which requires me to eat low-sodium. However on the w30 I think I was eating too low-sodium with all the veg/fruit. I got severely dehydrated, and This caused my medical condition to be exacerbated for three days straight. I was miserable! It wasn’t worth it for me to continue with the w30 even though I was really excited and motivated to go the whole 30 days. So my advice here is that if you have a medical condition that is affected by what you eat, to really consider what you’re doing with the program and maybe even talk to your doctor about it first. I’m thinking that if I would have just lightly salted the food I was eating that I would have been okay. However I’ve spent the last five years training myself not to salt my food, so I didn’t want to start that habit up.

    • http://lifeyourway.net/ Mandi @ Life Your Way

      Oh, wow — yeah, I can see how that would make it difficult!