I love salads, quinoa, and kale. I'm in yoga teacher training, I'm a triathlete, and I enjoy sweating every day. But I also love the sweeter things in life: cookies, booze, cheese, French fries—you name it.
In fact, #treatyoself had become my motto about food more often than was healthy. And it wasn't doing my body (or mind) any good.
After all, I know a thing or two about health. I work at a website where our mission is to help the world think about health differently. We want everyone to find what's good for them—and we embody that mission at the office. We have fresh groceries delivered twice a week, unlimited snacks, and countless articles on healthy breakfasts, easy dinners, and protein-packed snack ideas.
But despite the endless knowledge and resources at my fingertips, I pushed it all aside and kept up habits I knew weren’t the healthiest, like never saying no to dessert and always having a margarita (or two) at happy hours.
Going All In
Every New Year, I make the same resolution: “Be more mindful of what goes into my body.” This year was no exception. But I also thought about one of my favorite mottos: “Go big or go home.” Why, after years of being passionate about health and wellness and with all the perks of working at Greatist, was I not going “big” when it came to choosing what to eat?
That's why I decided to go all in. I'd attempt something I never thought I could (or would want to) do in a million years: the Whole30 program.
If you've never heard of it, it's no joke. Think of it as a stricter form of Paleo where you focus on eating whole foods—no sugar, grains, dairy, legumes, or alcohol—for 30 days.
I'd heard about it from my 33-year-old sister, who had done it twice (once while pregnant!). And while it was challenging, she only had positive things to say about her experiences.
As I prepared to start the program, I thought back on the times when I felt uncomfortable in a pair of jeans. I thought about all my hungover days after overindulgent nights out and remembered my wonderful weekend mornings after a sober evening with friends.
I knew I needed to actually do something about my health—not just know what I should be doing.
I knew I needed to actually do something about my health—not just know what I should be doing. I wasn't feeling my most confident, and I realized maybe I wasn’t living my best life. With a few coworkers embarking on the Whole30 program with me and my sister serving as my sounding board and "coach," off I went.
I'm not going to say it changed my life, but I learned so much more than I ever expected to. Here are the top seven lessons I took away from a month of no cheese, wine, sandwiches, or dessert.
The 7 Biggest Surprises
1. I took my cooking skills to a whole new level.
I never thought I’d whip up a Paleo shrimp curry on a Tuesday night. Or know from memory that you can roast veggies at 400 degrees for about 40 minutes and they'll be delicious. Sure, it took me a few times to perfect spicy plantain chips, but once I did, they were 10 times better than regular chips. And if you've never used veggies in place of pasta before, the Veggetti (and spaghetti squash) will become your BFFs.
2. I learned sugar is lurking in everything.
Did you know there was sugar in Sriracha? And marinara sauce? I used to just grab any pasta sauce at the store, but once I started reading labels, I realized some have added sugars while others don’t—and both taste delicious. I will now always choose the no-added-sugar option.
3. Eating at restaurants wasn't that hard.
I’m the type of person who eats pretty much anything, so when I found myself at dinner with a few friends and I was that person who had to ask if there was any dairy or sugar, I was a little hesitant. But once I asked, I realized it’s really not that awkward. Every server was more than happy to check with the chef.
4. I didn’t miss wine (or really anything for that matter!).
I honestly didn't crave a drink—even when I was stuck indoors during a blizzard. And I was surprised to find I was totally fine eating my Whole30-approved lunch or dinner without craving chocolate chips after. The only thing I craved? My social life, since many of my friends were doing Dry January as well. Still, giving up alcohol (even in a drinking-centric city like New York) wasn’t that big of a deal.
5. OK, I missed cheese.
Cheese makes everything better. I also missed sandwiches, any food I could hold, and flat whites on Saturday mornings. To make up for it, I went a little crazy eating nuts all day long (cashews are the bomb) and realized maybe I need to take it easy on them next time.
6. I felt more confident.
Not that I wasn’t before. I feel so lucky to have grown up with a mom who always told me I was beautiful. When I complained about not feeling my best or eating too many chocolate croissants, she would remind me that tomorrow is a new day! But I’m human, and when I eat and drink too much for too many days in a row, I feel terrible and get down on myself.
My clothes fit, I never felt overly full, and I really felt like my best self—which was my goal.
Over the 30 days, I lost a lot of weight, and my abs decided to show up. This side effect wasn’t the reason I hopped on the Whole30 journey, but I felt great. My clothes fit, I never felt overly full, and I really felt like my best self—which was my goal.
7. I couldn’t have done it without support.
Thanks to my coworkers, my sister, and the weekly emails and Instagram posts from the Whole30 team, I felt like part of a community that was actually excited about conquering this challenge. For me, having a supportive group around me—whether we're changing eating habits, going to the gym, or grabbing fro-yo (post Whole30!) to talk about life—is incredibly important. I wouldn’t be the person I am and definitely wouldn’t have done the Whole30 without my support group, my friends.
Transitioning into life after Whole30 was a little tougher than I expected. Finishing the program wasn't a big hurrah, because I had felt so great during the 30 days. And right after, I felt guilty eating foods that I hadn't been allowed. Still, there were plenty of foods that I'd missed (like the turkey sandwiches that I lovingly craft for lunch), and I was happy to have those back.
In the end, I don’t think there is a magic formula to figure out how to balance my #treatyoself attitude with treating my body the way it deserves. I'm not one of those "everything in moderation" types and likely never will be. Go big or go home—always.
What Whole30 gave me is a tool kit—a tool kit to make healthier choices, to know that it's not that hard to feel like my best self, and to have the confidence to tackle any challenge, even those I thought I’d never attempt.