In September, I successfully completed a Whole30. With a 3-month old. And went back to work halfway through. I know what you are thinking - and no, I’m not crazy. Just determined. And it turns out that sticking with a Whole30 was just what my body - and mind - needed during this tough transition.
This was my 3rd attempt at completing the Whole30. My first Whole30 that I attempted last June turned into a Whole14 (damn you margaritas!), and my second in October was a coverup for my first pregnancy. It didn’t work - people still figured I was pregnant. My age + gender + not drinking = “Are you pregnant?" in Wisconsin.
So what is Whole30? I encourage you to check out the website, but in a nutshell, Whole30 is a 30 day food program to reset your body by eating only whole foods. No calorie counting, no points, no weird shakes or juices. Just delicious, wholesome food. But what does that leave out? Pretty much everything that a SAD (Standard American Diet) includes - sugar, grains, legumes, alcohol, dairy….at first it sounds like you can’t eat anything, but in reality, it’s the exact opposite. There are so many amazing meals that we ate - like steak with green beans and rosemary roasted potatoes, burgers with avocado and sweet potato fries, carnitas salad, chili with potato wedges and garlic aioli, stuffed peppers - that sometimes we questioned if we were really on a restricted food plan (I’m avoiding the “D” word).
There are also some non-food rules - you are not allowed to jump on the scale during the program. I love how this program focuses on health and not weight.
Don’t get me wrong - Whole30 is challenging. Especially living in today’s modern convenience world. But, the benefits are unprecedented. I needed to do this for many reasons - I was having a hard time post-baby. My weight wasn’t “falling” off with breastfeeding, and more than the weight, I just felt off and out of control. I was using the “I just had a baby” for enjoying food that I typically wouldn’t indulge in, and needed to reign it in. I also was exhausted getting up with my peanut 2-3 times a night, and my skin looked like all the life had been sucked out of it. Mood swings were ever present with the hormone party post-partum (baby commercials left me sobbing on the couch).
I learned a few things along the way, and hope that this will help you if you decide to take on the Whole30 Journey. Oh, and my results? Not only did I happily lose some weight - but my biggest victories were small things like my rings fitting again, some pre-preggo jeans fitting, amazing skin, even mood, and ENERGY. Oh the energy.
Lessons for Taking on the Whole30 Challenge
1. Get the Whole30 book, and read it cover to cover. Twice.
This book is key to understanding the whys behind everything you are taking on. It also is very specific in what you can eat (dates are ok!) and what you can’t eat (gum is a no no). It’s full of helpful hints and tips, and lots of recipes. It explains what’s happening to your body day by day (day 10-12 are typically the hardest and when most people give up, and day 16 you get TIGER BLOOD!) My mum bought me the book at Costco for $16 - otherwise it’s on amazon, too!
2. Take 1-2 weeks to prep - that includes mentally.
Whole30 is hard - but like the book reminds us, it’s doable. Fighting cancer is hard. Having a baby is hard (ummm, yep). So much of the 30 days is mental toughness, so I recommend giving yourself a week or two to prep. This includes planning meals, shopping for the “weird” ingredients to have on hand, and telling your friends and family to ask for their support in your journey.
I’m loving this new website called Thrive Market - my friend Angie introduced me to it. They have many of the “weird” food items that you will need at great prices. Highly recommend that you pick up many of your items like ghee, coconut oil, almond butter, coconut milk, coconut aminos, macadamia nuts, etc here. If you stock up on these items early, then your weekly grocery/market trips will be easy.
4. Meal plan and prep
This is probably my number one recommendation - and was a key to me completing my Whole30. On Saturdays, I would break out the cookbooks, Pinterest boards, and interwebs and plan the week’s meals and grocery list, and then go shopping and prep on Sunday. Prep would include grilling 4 chicken breasts for salads during the week, chopping veggies, and making mayo and dressings.
5. Make double batches.
Whole30 is a LOT of cooking. Luckily, Tim and I enjoy cooking, so this part isn’t that hard. But I encourage you to make double or even triple batches of soups, chilis, stuffed pepper filling, carnitas, etc and then freeze half of it (and keep some for the next day for lunch). I spent the first two weeks of Whole30 on maternity leave, so would cook when Philly was sleeping. And then the second two weeks when I was back to work, we would defrost many of those meals and add fresh veggies. We also would roast 2 pans of veggies every couple of days - sweet potatoes, potatoes, onions, butternut squash, brussels, etc. Whatever we had on hand. And then ate leftover roasted veggies under over easy eggs for breakfast, or with lunch. Delicious!
6. Have emergency meals ready.
The book encourages this too, and I found it to be key. You will have a night when you come home from work, exhausted, and the last thing you want to do is cook. Write down several meals that you can make in 10 minutes. For us, we always had sweet potatoes, avocados, and eggs on hand and would do breakfast for dinner.
7. Make mocktails.
The drinking part is hard - but not that bad. I did it for 10 months, so figured another month wouldn’t be too difficult. Socially, it can be awkward - but just ask for soda water and move on. At home, we would make the rosemary berry mocktail and it was delicious! Just having a “fancy” drink helped for the first week, and then we found we didn’t even need them.
8. Use social media and friends!
There is so much support out there for #whole30 people! Jump on twitter, instagram, and follow @whole30 and @whole30recipes. Search #whole30 and you will find so many stories that will inspire you to keep going. I also strongly suggest that you do this with someone - have an accountable friend. Tim did this with me for 95% of the time to be supportive, which was very helpful. Also, if you post it publicly, you are more likely to follow it, since you don’t want to admit that you cheated.
9. Be positive.
There will be people that think what you are doing is crazy. And that’s ok. Remember that you are doing this for YOU, and that it makes you happy (or will after day 16 ;)
10. Have Whole30 snacks on hand.
Technically, Whole30 advises against “snacking” and encourages 3 square meals a day. But, athletes, pregnant women, and breastfeeding moms (hello!) are encouraged to snack when hungry. My go-to snacks included an apple or banana with almond butter, avocado and egg, handful of macadamia nuts, or carrots and guacamole.
I’m thinking about doing another Whole30 after the holidays - January 1, anyone? If you've done a Whole30, what are your tips?
Side note: As a breastfeeding mom, my number one priority is milk supply. I tracked it closely, and knew beforehand that if Whole30 affected my supply negatively that I would stop. But, turns out, it stayed steady, and I think increased slightly. In the book, there’s more info for pregnant and breastfeeding mothers, so I encourage you to read that if you’re in this camp, too.
I'm an ambitious self-starter working in the software biz, married to a lumberjack wannabe, mama to daughter, Philly, and puppy, Louie. Life includes running far, trying new recipes, traveling as much as my checkbook can handle, and figuring out life as a new mom.