Why I Chose Whole30 and How I Made it Fit My Life

Photo by Chrissie Huang

If you’ve never heard of Whole30, it’s a 30-day nutrition program that is designed to reset the body using “whole” foods like fruits, vegetables, meats and nuts. That means cutting out all dairy, grains, added sugars, and legumes. This is all meant to change and fuel your body, cutting out processed foods, as well as any foods that disrupt your body’s natural ability to digest nutrients. It’s also meant to help your relationship with food so that you learn to eat non-nutritious foods in moderation.

For a 21-year-old junior at Penn State, this program is pretty intense— no alcohol, no grilled stickies, no creamery ice cream. It’s rough.

Going into this, I was excited to try something new. I was excited to break my habit of stress-eating after class and fueling up on sugar-filled Starbucks drinks throughout the day. I wanted to make my body feel its best. I bought the Whole30 cookbook and couldn’t wait to try all the new recipes.

Throughout my first week junk-food free, I noticed how often I wished I could go grab a candy bar or a bag of chips just to pick myself up throughout the day. It opened my eyes to how emotionally-dependent I had been on food. Freeing myself from this habit is thrilling.

Most of the actual recipes from the Whole30 cookbook were too expensive, complicated, and time consuming for a college kid who can barely boil water to follow, but I did use them as inspiration. I made fresh baked sweet potato chips with garlic and onions, I put together some killer veggie omelets, and I substituted ground cauliflower for rice and added shrimp and tomato sauce. I even made homemade soup. It was really fun experimenting with cooking different healthy recipes, and I found that, when you’re using all whole ingredients, you really can’t go wrong.

Throughout that first week, I had also decided to incorporate exercise into this healthy-living challenge. I started using my Penn State Fitness membership every single day. I went to Washboard Abs, Pilates, Barre, and Vinyasa Yoga classes. I was feeling so great by the end of that first week.

When the next week rolled around, things weren’t going as well. I had a jam-packed schedule— meetings, two exams, lots of homework. I was stressed, and I didn’t have time to make all my meals from scratch. I was tired of just eating meats, nuts, fruits and vegetables. None of that sounded good to me, so I wound up just not eating much of anything, which wasn’t really helping either.

My busy schedule also meant that I only worked out once, so I didn’t feel nearly as great as I had the week before. By Thursday, I was so hungry and the thought of eating one more carrot stick or apple slice with almond butter made my stomach turn. It was late, I was exhausted, and I found myself reaching for my roommate’s potato chips. I checked the ingredients on the back, and there was nothing in them I couldn’t have. I decided to check the Whole30 website just to be sure, and to my dismay, I found that potato chips weren’t allowed simply because they didn’t fit the “spirit” of Whole30. Come on!

On Friday, I was still going for it, but I still didn’t want another piece of plain chicken or handful of cashews. It was around 7 p.m., I was in the car on the way to visit my boyfriend at another campus, and I realized I had only eaten a handful of raisins all day long. This goes without saying but that, of course, is not healthy. My friends who were carpooling with me pulled over at a rest stop, and I walked over to the vending machine. I immediately started scanning the products for anything I might be able to have. I saw a stick of beef jerky and checked the ingredients. I sighed. And then I saw a bag of baked onion sticks, and my mouth watered.

“Screw it,” I thought. I bought the bag and ate the whole thing, and it felt great. This was the moment I decided I would have a cheat weekend.

Now, I’ll be the first to admit that I took the whole “cheat weekend” thing to an extreme. I had a sandwich, beer, a giant Rice Krispie treat, a mountain of cookies, a bottle of chocolate milk, nachos, Snapple raspberry iced tea, Hungry Howie’s cheesy bread, a bunch Starbursts, gum, sushi and anything else delicious in sight.

At the end of that weekend, I felt sick both physically and emotionally. Of course, all of that junk food made me feel bloated and lethargic. But I also felt defeated and disappointed in myself and ashamed for giving up. That wasn’t what I wanted. I wanted to change my life. I wanted to feel better.

That was when I decided it wasn’t over. I had learned how amazing it feels to eat good food and workout every day— throwback to Week 1 of my Whole30 experience. But, I had also learned that Whole30 wasn’t realistic for me when I was really busy, tired and stressed. I decided to use all of this information and not give up.

Now, my plan is to focus on healthy foods that I can eat and not freak out over ingredients that aren’t compliant. Especially during the week, I don’t mindlessly stuff garbage into my face for no reason. I listen to my body and eat what I know will help me feel my best. Also, I work out as much as possible. And, most importantly, I also don’t restrict myself to the point where I go completely rogue and eat everything I can get my hands on in a GetGo gas station.

So that’s my Whole30 story. It wasn’t the journey Whole30 intended, but the program did do what it said it was going to do. It changed the way I look at food and it changed my life.

Have you tried Whole30? What was your experience? Tweet at us @ValleyMag to let us know!