Healthy mind and body are my priorities, but sometimes it feels like one can get sacrificed for the other. Enter Whole30: the idea is to eat whole foods and avoid the eating that can make you unhealthy, body AND mind. Or, in their words, improve your “relationship with food.”
I’ve mostly avoided sugar for 4 weeks (exceptions being one restaurant meal and a few servings of dairy) and I wouldn’t say my life has changed, but my cravings are definitely more manageable, I haven’t had a breakout the whole time, and I haven’t had a migraine in that time either (just the regular constant headache). So I’m kinda already on the bandwagon, but the Whole30 deal is no compromises for 30 days straight, meaning no experimenting with dairy and no nightly ounce of dark chocolate until AFTER the 30 days. It’s like a reset button that allows you to tell the difference when you try adding foods like dairy and chocolate back in.
One thing the authors concede in It Starts With Food is that there’s still a lot the scientific community doesn’t know about food so there’s a lot of contradicting “evidence” out there. That’s why they balance science with clinical experience, adding in self-experimentation to the program. I’m going to focus more on the practical direction here, but a lot of reason behind Whole30 are well explained in It Starts With Food. The gist IMHO: food that is designed to stimulate pleasure centres with huge hits of sweetness, fat, and salt, meanwhile void of nutrition, is a recipe for overeating and undernutrition. And the more we make eating this food a habit, particularly in response to emotions, the harder it is to overcome. Gut and hormone imbalance makes it even harder.
So what are considered healthy foods? Meat, seafood, eggs, vegetables, fruit, and healthy fats like avocado, macadamia nuts, cashews, hazelnuts, olive oil, coconut oil/meat/milk, and ghee. Walnuts and pumpkin seeds should actually be limited because of their polyunsaturated fats.
A note about fruits: they are nutritious, but not as nutritious as vegetables and their fructose (sugar) is sent straight to the liver like alcohol and contributes to metabolic syndrome – so keep fruit to a few (~2) servings per day. Great fruit choices are berries and plums. Also beware the sweetness of fruit may trigger an unhealthy psychological response for people still struggling with sugar addiction. Replacing candy with fruit won’t help you break free from that unhelpful habit.
While not as obviously unhealthy as sugar, the following are often problematic and warrant self-experimentation:
- Grains (including oats and quinoa) are not nutrient-dense when compared with vegetables and fruit and about 3 times as sugar-packed – not to mention, they have anti-nutrients like phytates, prolamins make them difficult to digest, and they can lead to inflammation in the gut
- Legumes (including soy sauce) also contain phytates, can feed bad bacteria, and likewise cause inflammation
- Dairy is a hormone-delivery system (hello, insulin) for rapidly growing infants – meanwhile the protein (casein and whey) it contains can cause headaches, GI upset, etc. Furthermore, calcium can be more bioavailable from vegetables and as well as other nutrients for healthy bones
Additional guidelines: avoid “compliant” treats like baked goods (especially not those containing sweeteners like honey or xylitol) and to avoid weighing or measuring your body. This is as much about mental health as physical. Believe it or not, following the rules 100% for the 30 days is easier on your mind than creating compromises or excuses. A general recommendation is to avoid snacking because it can disrupt hormones – instead, eat bigger meals.
After 30 days, you can reintroduce the foods you missed and want to test if they make you less healthy. Every 3 days or longer, try something like 100% agave tequila, chickpeas, oatmeal, or plain yogurt for one serving and then take the following days to evaluate. You might then see how you feel consuming the added sugar in ketchup or salad dressing. If you start feeling out of control with food again, immediately return to the Whole30 plan until you stabilize.
P.S. Whole30 happens to be exceptional for providing free resources at whole9life.com – this book summary is really just for my reference.
Still, I’d encourage you to read the book(s) for really great coaching. One quick gem: write down “If…, then….” statements for every challenging situation you can think of in advance. For instance, if being pressured to drink, then say “I’m doing this food experiment to see if I can make my food allergies, so I’ll just have the water/tea.” Or if coming home after a long day, then I’ll prepare one of my back-up meals, i.e. eggs and veggies or frozen leftovers.