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My Whole30 experience: 6 weeks without grains, dairy, sugar and alcohol

Many of us know what the Banting diet involves and now the movement towards veganism has us mulling over all things plant-based, but how familiar are you with the restrictions of Whole30?

by: Marizanne Knoesen | 15 Mar 2018

(image: iStock)

A while ago I came across the Whole30 book and movement. I read the Kindle sample of the book and did some extra research on the internet. No one's Whole30 looks the same, but the key is to stick to the main principles as best you can. 

So what on earth is it?

Created by sports nutritionists Dallas and Melissa Hartwig, Whole30 calls for the elimination of grains, dairy, soy, legumes, sugar and alcohol for a period of 30 days. It's like Paleo, but a bit stricter than that. The only sugar that you're allowed to eat should come from fruit and you shouldn't stuff your face with it. You should also avoid carrageenans, MSG, and sulfites. You're also dissuaded from recreating normal foods in a healthier manner, so for instance you're not supposed to bake cookies using coconut flour or concoct milkshakes using almond milk. 

ALSO READ: 5 Ways you can train yourself to eat more mindfully in 2018

You can eat as much as you want of the foods that are allowed, so no calorie counting necessary. After 30 days you start to reintroduce certain foods selectively. When you start reintroducing, you basically ‘eat clean’ plus only the isolated food group for that day, i.e. on dairy day you're not allowed to mix in gluten or soy, otherwise you won't be able to distinguish which ingredient caused which reaction.

I've never really seen the point of going to such dietary extremes, but I then decided to try it and set myself a Whole30 personal challenge. Besides, if you never stop eating certain foods, you will never really know how certain foods affect you, right?
My Whole30 outline

Day 1 - 30: Clean eating

Day 31: Introduce legumes (in my case it lead to constipation)

Day 32-33: Clean eating

Day 34: Introduce gluten-free grains (no notable effect)

Day 35-36: Clean eating

Day 37: Introduce dairy (in my case it lead to diarrhoea and then to constipation; maybe I just went a bit overboard with the cheese and yoghurt?)

Day 38-39: Clean eating

Day 40: Introduce gluten (no notable effect)

Day 41-42: Clean eating
Examples of meals

Breakfast: Coffee with almond milk; almonds, raisins, banana, nut butter and a dash of almond milk in a bowl. Make your own milk at home with this recipe

Mid-morning: Diluted 100% fruit juice and some biltong

Lunch: Hake and veggies

Dinner: Chicken, walnut, grape and rocket salad with homemade Whole30 approved mayonnaise
What I've learned (in general)

- The beginning is hard. Two or three days in I was wondering why the heck I decided to do this stupid thing.

- Going to the supermarket was torture, walking around with my can of tuna when other people are buying freshly baked baguettes and pushing around desserts in their trolleys

- Eating out was not impossible as there were still some options on the menu, but it takes a while to get used to your baked potato when the other guests are eating their pasta or sushi.

- After the end of week one I felt some sense of achievement - only five more to go. But I can totally see how one can give up easily if there's no internal motivation to prove to yourself that you can and will stick to a/the goal, no matter what. 

- The food you eat matters. My energy levels and moods were definitely more stable during the period of clean eating. On the whole my demeanour felt more consistent.

- Meal planning is very, very important if you want to take this seriously.

- I think many of us know this, but food and eating is an extremely social activity. In society it has become second nature to meet for a chat over a cappuccino and cake or a glass of wine when we're having pizza. 

What I found difficult

I am not the biggest meat or egg eater. It therefore made it a bit more challenging as I chose to limit my intake of some of the foods that I was allowed to eat. E.g. I don't like pork, I usually only eat red meat when I indulge in a hamburger and I only like eggs when they are baked into a pudding. My sister on the other hand did her Whole30 as a pescatarian (no red meat at all) so it can be done.
What I missed the most

- Initially I really missed milk in my tea. In fact, I missed it so much that I quit drinking Ceylon tea altogether during the experiment.

- I missed bread, but when I eventually ate some toast and rusks it was quite a large anti-climax. The taste was less amazing than I remembered.

- On the weekends I really wanted a G&T. 
Some personal triumphs

 - I can now drink black coffee without thinking that it's the grossest thing in the world. Don't get me wrong, I still prefer my flat white, but I can take my coffee black and still kind of enjoy it.

- I've realized that I don't need to eat bread every day. Previously in my life this was non-negotiable, one of my meals had to include some form of white or brown stuff from the bakery.
My results

- I've not lost weight, but I've definitely lost centimetres as my pants fit me better now.

- My stomach is not as bloated as before.

- My total cholesterol came down by 1.3.

- Food has lost its power over me. I still like trying out new dishes and can appreciate quality ingredients, but I can actually walk past a piece of cake now and not feel like it's calling my name. In a sense I feel like I've gotten some of my ownership back as I can now choose what I eat without being hypnotised by a burger or manipulated by a chunk of Brie. 

My six weeks are over now. How will I eat from here on onwards, you ask? That I still need to figure out.

* Marizanne Knoesen lives in the Cape Winelands and works as a social science researcher largely focusing on the future, trends and foresight. A generalist by nature, she’s intrigued by human behaviour, cultures, travel, stories and movies. You can also check out her blog

Have you had any experience(s) with the Whole30 way of eating? Share your thoughts and opinions with us in the comments section below or email us!

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