For the record in case you don’t know how Whole30 goes, even though I’m technically all “done” and on Day 31, I’m really still on it. I’m in the reintroduction phase, which I now realize may be even more important than the first thirty days. But don’t let that scare you off. Even if for some crazy reason you skip the reintroduction and try to go back to your old way of eating after you finish your Whole30, you’ll probably feel great and have learned a lot about yourself.
Since I’m a food guy though, I want to talk about the food first. Even though I’m the editor of the New York Times best-selling The Whole30, I’d put off trying out the plan for months because I wasn’t sure what I would eat day after day. I’ve been gluten-free for years now, and I felt like I already had enough limitations on my diet — why would I add more?
But then in recent months my old problems with dairy had come back. For years before going gluten-free I’d been self-diagnosed as lactose intolerant. I could tolerate just a bite of ice cream or a small slice of cheese at the most. But after I went gluten-free and felt so much better, friends encouraged me to reintroduce dairy into my life. I did, and surely enough, my newly healed gut could suddenly handle dairy just fine. I was enjoying ice cream and cheese for years. Then in the last few months, those old dairy pains started coming back. I realized now was the time for me to try something bolder… the Whole30.
I jumped in fast, deciding I would start in two days with little to no planning, although of course because of my job, I’d become very familiar with how everything works. But again, I’m a food guy. What was I going to cook day after day with restrictions like no dairy, no gluten, no soy, no grains, no legumes, no added sugar (not even stuff like ketchup or bacon which have hidden sugar if you check the ingredients lists), and of course no alcohol too?
At first I was, like many people, only thinking about the restrictions. On the other hand, what could I eat? All kinds of vegetables, fruits, and herbs. Fish, seafood, pork, beef, lamb, and poultry. I found that sugar-free bacon in my local market. And I discovered there were some sausage products out there without sugar too (phew). Add all sorts of spices, and it just meant I had to get creative in the kitchen. I looked at it like a culinary challenge, and I was up for it.
The Whole30 book has loads of recipes, including very basic ones for beginners in the kitchen, so you can just buy the book and start cooking right away. But I’m a pretty avid cook, and so I simply started combing through books I already owned (a lot). I soon found there were plenty of recipes in my current cookbooks which just happened to be compliant, or could be adapted quite easily. For example, sometimes all I had to do was change the cooking fat.
Other times it was more complicated, like using coconut milk in place of dairy, or bumping up the spices and other flavors a bit to compensate for the lack of cheese in a frittata. But mostly, I realized there were compliant recipes of all kinds out there and that cooking this way for 30 days might be really fun.
And it was. These are just my Instagram snapshots, not fancy photos. If you follow me on Instagram (@justcooknyc), then you probably saw all of these and more.
Besides cooking from cookbooks, I of course did a lot of experimenting in the kitchen too. Some of those experiments turned out great. Some weren’t great but were still pretty good, but that’s how I always cook. I’m not afraid to take a chance with new ingredients. But again, don’t sweat it if you aren’t very creative in the kitchen. The Whole30 is packed with recipes, and there are loads of internet resources for more recipes. Just start looking on Whole30.com to be sure you are getting legitimate sources for recipes, because you want to follow this program very carefully. No slip-ups. No cheats. No excuses.
So what else? Did I lose weight? The short answer is yes, I think so. I almost don’t want to say too much about what improved because everyone’s experience is going to be different. Plus I haven’t weighed myself since finishing, and I’m not sure I will. My clothes fit better though. Some of my pants are just too big. I pulled my belt tighter to the final notch about ten days ago. Considering I didn’t count calories for the entire month and felt at times like I was eating more food than ever before (more nutrient-dense, filling food), that’s pretty amazing. This is by all means not a diet. I ate more eggs than I can count, and I was putting avocado on everything.
There is a lot more — my skin looks better than it has in quite a while, but perhaps I’m the only person who will notice that. And I think the more important thing than how you look is how you feel. I honestly feel great. I feel more confident. My stomach pains and bloating have virtually disappeared. Now if I eat something that’s not right for me, it’s really clear. It turns out that most nuts hurt my stomach — same with nut butters. My diet had never been so clean before that I could figure that out so precisely. I can have a few nuts at once, but that’s about it.
But you really want to know about the Tiger Blood, right? Did I get it? To be honest, I’m not sure I know what Tiger Blood really means, but I did have amazing, stable energy levels all the time. (Well, I still do now.) No sudden sugar drops in the mid-morning or mid-afternoon that left me scrambling for another junk food snack to give me a boost. I already don’t drink coffee, so I wasn’t looking for that fix. But honestly I can’t imagine how anyone does Whole30 and still needs coffee in their life. My energy levels are pretty much ideal now.
There is another factor that is hard to pinpoint though. I feel clearer, mentally speaking. This happened to me before when I went gluten-free, so I really get it. I just feel sharp, like I could take on a lot right now, like I want to take on something new, a challenge. That’s a great way to feel.
This is how I want to look and feel, so the next steps for me should be interesting. Some part of me just wants to keep eating this way indefinitely. Okay, maybe I won’t worry about trace amounts of sugar in every piece of salami that I eat. But I’m going to think a lot before I order dessert at a restaurant again. At the least I will probably look at dessert as more of a really special treat, rather than what I was doing in months prior — ice cream every night of the week. And it wasn’t just about ice cream… I was eating sugar-packed yogurt for breakfast every day too. I thought it was healthy for me, but I just ended feeling really hungry soon after. Now I eat one big breakfast in the morning, and I’ve got plenty of fuel to carry me for hours.
I’m not snacking at my desk at all, and if I really need to, I feel so strangely satisfied with some celery or carrots. Again, don’t think this was diet food. Just look at these pics. Does it look like I was suffering? Trust me, I was eating well. Like crazy well. And although I’m sure my supermarket bills were high, I saved a fortune by not dining out (it’s just too hard during those thirty days) and not drinking. Life in NYC is so crazy with all the alcohol. Cocktails are $10 to $15/each nearly everywhere you go. Wine is just as expensive. I’d love to know how much money I ultimately saved, but that’s another story, and the savings did also allow me to buy things like coconut oil which can be pricey. In the end, unless you were living on fast food burgers before, there is almost no way you won’t save money eating this way. And the long-term costs of eating at fast food burgers are so great, to your health initially, and then in medical costs later on, I’d rather eat better now and be healthier in the long run. I feel like I understand that concept more clearly now than ever before. It’s my life. It’s my health.
But now I’m getting a little preachy, and I didn’t want this blog post to seem that way. One thing that is clear to me now is that anyone who does Whole30 is going to tell you a different story about their experience, and I’d love to talk with people about what they learned about food and themselves after they have tried it? Are you sleeping more soundly like I am? Did you get that Tiger Blood? Are you thinking about giving up grains permanently? How is your skin looking? Is it time to go buy some new pants because your old ones are too loose? My story is my own, and I’m so glad I gave this a try finally. What was I waiting for? If I knew I’d feel this great, I would have tried it months ago for sure.