{Recipes & Eats} / {Whole30 Journey}

{Whole30 Journey}

Hi Folks,

A couple weeks ago, Jared and I finished our Whole30 experience.

I found the Whole30 to be… Challenging.  Messy.  Powerful.  Excruciating, at moments.  Motivating.


I’m chronicling all my tips, reflections, and food-journal all into one post.  Go pour yourself a cup of coffee.

{Hopefully} Helpful Tips and Thoughts:About the book… I thought we could get away without reading the book, thinking that it was probably a ploy for the founders to make more money off the program.  It does not matter.  Buy it or get it from the library.  Borrow a friend’s copy.  But, I would highly, highly recommend reading the book before you begin Whole30.  My mom gave us a copy about half way through, and it was able to answer so many of the “why?” questions that we had.  Jared and I were all, we-should-have-read-this-sooner, once we started reading it.I found it helpful to make a Whole30 cupboard.  I kept one cupboard with foods like hot chocolate, sweetened coconut, chocolate chips, peanut butter, etc. that I thought we wouldn’t just want to throw away (though now I want to, except for the chocolate chips) and that I couldn’t use up before we started.  With all these foods consolidated into one cupboard, I created a Whole30 friendly cupboard space, for things like almonds, pumpkin seeds, dried fruit, almond butter, almond flour, etc.  It was helpful to me to not be greeted by all the things I couldn’t have–looking at the special hot chocolate my sister brought back for me from Guatemala only bred bitterness and frustration, so out of sight, out of mind, was helpful.Be wary of making “old life” substitutes during Whole30.  One purpose of Whole30 is to break negative psychological habits and unhealthy cycles and attachments to food.  Jared and I chose to make Grain-Free Banana Muffins and Banana Ice Cream during our experience, and thus may be guilty of breaking this principle.  But, neither of us felt that we had a strong psychological attachment to them, and it kept us from putting our head through a wall.  Were we wrong?  Perhaps.  If you pursue a Whole30, decide for yourself which foods you really need to avoid “Whole30ing”.

Strawberry Mango Salsa + White peaches.

Making food will be more work.  I can’t cut it any simpler that this: real food takes real preparation.  Will it be worth it?  Yes, I think so!  Jared and I did a lot of cooking together.  Seize the opportunity to hone your cooking skills (I feel like mine have grown immensely–I’ve always been more of a baker than a cook, but I feel more competent cooking now).  Hey, improve your barefoot-slow-dancing-in-the-kitchen-skills.
Tip: real food takes real time to cook.  Don’t be surprised if it takes you an hour (not all hands on time, but time, nonetheless) to prepare a dinner.

I’ve had some people asked us how we planned meals during Whole30.  For the first 10 days, I was super obsessed with making sure I had a plan each day.  I woke up freaking out on Day 3 because I had no idea what we were going to eat that day.  Before we started Whole30, I did a lot of menu research, then created a list of all the recipes that would be Whole30 approved.  I made a grocery list off these recipes.  I’ve never been one to assign certain meals to certain days, and I didn’t do that during Whole30, either.  The farther we got into Whole30, the more I was able to let go of my-what-are-we-going-to-eat-for-dinner anxiety, and just rolled with the punches (which is my usual food preparation stance) by looking in the fridge and a little browsing through my favorite Paleo blogs.  There were several blogs that I relied on heavily during our experience to pull recipes from.  I’ll share these at the very end of this post.

Whole30 will be a little different for everyone.  Sure, the things you can/can’t eat are the same, but every body will react a little differently on the road to a healthier self.  I responded differently than Jared, and we responded differently than other people have.  That’s good and normal.  If you pursue this, be wary of comparing your experience to others (just be wary about comparison in general.  Comparison is so crafty and divisive).  Please, know that I am not hoping to trigger or encourage unhealthy body image issues by sharing about Whole30.  Jared and I did this as a fun food-experiment, and I pray my discussion about it today will not harm anyone.  Whole30 is very intentional about not being weight-centered, but health-centered.  If you do Whole30, make sure your focus is likewise.
Salad with hard-boiled eggs and bacon.  Excellent slathered with guacamole.
Here’s a play-by-play of my Whole30 experience.  You can refill your coffee, if you like.
*Whole30 encourages participants, if they can afford, to buy grass-fed, free-range, responsibly grown and harvested meat.  They state that if there is one area that you can afford to “go green” on, it should be meat.  I searched every grocery store in town until I found bacon that fit the bill, and we also ate our weight in venison, harvested and processed by my lovely parents.  Sometimes we mooch beef of Jared’s rents, but during Whole30 we were mooching venison… because we’re just big moochers?  Apparently.  So, for a lot of beef or bison recipes, I just used venison because it was already in my freezer (ps: mom and dad, want to put that new crossbow to work this fall?  we’re eating a lot more meat these days.  you’re so great:).

Days 1-3–We were both excited and ready to try familiar and unfamiliar foods in different ways.  Neither of us had headaches or really noticeable detox symptoms.  I really missed cream in my coffee, but we both felt physically and mentally excited to get this show on the road.  These felt like the easiest days for us (don’t worry, our struggle is coming).
{What I ate:
Day 1: Veggie and Egg Tower of Power; salad with apple and hard boiled egg; venison bacon burgerpico de gallo, and smoothie; banana and almond butter.
Day 2: Omelet with sweet potato hash; bacon and guacamole and egg salad (see photo above); leftover venison and bacon burgers with sweet potato fries.
Day 3: Bacon, avocado, sweet potato, and mushroom scramble; harboiled eggs, banana, peach and almond butter (we were canoeing for this lunch); chicken fajita lettuce wraps.}

Days 4-6–Were incredibly hard.  All the food we were eating felt foreign, nothing felt like “comfort” food.  We were both craving salty and crunchy things (um, popcorn withdrawal, hello).  I started experiencing something I call, “Whole30 belly” which felt like a big painful knot in my gut as I digested food.  Not bloated exactly, just like a massive knot it my gut (I now hypothesize that this was my digestive system both healing and adjusting).  It was difficult, physically, mentally, and spiritually… oh, discipline.
{What I ate:
Day 4: Sausage and veggie scramble; banana, chicken and fruit salsa on a green salad; spaghetti squash carbonara with sweet potato fries, banana ice cream.
Day 5: Sweet potato hash and eggs; leftover spaghetti squash carbonara, blueberry and peach smoothie;  venison mexican meatballs with pico de gallo and mango.
Day 6: Sweet potato and bacon hash with fried eggs (um, can you tell I love this meal?  I love this meal.  Still do.), leftover spaghetti squash carbonara with cherry tomatoes; rosemary and lemon chicken, carrot fries, watermelon, banana ice cream.}

Days 7-9–Were a mixture between the “this awesome and we’re going to gain so much from this experience” and the “I hate this and I just want to eat popcorn and chocolate chips cookies”.  This too, shall pass.
{What I ate:
Day 7: bacon, sweet potato, and egg hash; peach and almond butter; salad with hardboiled egg (or “hegg”), kiwi and peach (I think I missed writing down our evening meal… but I believe it may have been when I attempted to make grain-free crepes.  They didn’t turn out and I was literally crying into the fridge.  Don’t be like me).
Day 8: “It didn’t suck!  Hooray!” Blueberry, peach, and spinach smoothie; venison burger with avacodo and tomato, sweet potato fries; salad with pulled pork.}
Day 9: peach, raspberry, and blueberry smoothie; leftover pulled pork and sweet potato hash, fruit, grain-free banana muffin; spaghetti squash with tomato sauce (not even going to link it up… the only dish that Jared couldn’t even finish.  it sounds good in theory but this one called for rosemary and it was just a baddddd combo) and zucchini chips.

Days 10-12–Adjusting went a little better, and we felt a little more comfortable with what we were eating.  I started realizing how much emotional comfort I draw from food.  It was humbling and I spent a lot of time in prayer.
{What I ate:
Day 10: omelet with mushrooms, onion, bacon, and banana muffin; banana muffin with almond butter, guacamole, grapes; pulled pork with BBQ sauce, sweet potato fries, and grapes.
Day 11: bacon, eggs, and grapes; sweet potato and pork hash with bbq sauce, cantaloupe; shredded pork and guacamole wraps, banana ice cream.}
Day 12: eggs, sweet potatoes, mushrooms, and tomatoes; limey tex-mex chicken, mango pico de gallo, cantaloupe; banana muffin and almond butter; bacon and crepes with fruit (I didn’t cry into the fridge this time).

Days 13-15–Again, things were starting to feel more normal.  However, I still had a hard time not snacking.  I’ve eaten like a grazer since I was in college, and it’s been an incredibly difficult habit to break. “Whole30 belly” is becoming a lot more uncommon (it’s about time!).
{What I ate:
Day 13: scrambled skillet: sausage, bacon, mushroom, onion, eggs, and banana muffin; pork with guacamole and fruit, banana muffin with almond butter; watermelon slush (sans sugar), spaghetti squash carbonara and sweet potato fries.
Day 14: eggs, bacon, muffin; spaghettis squash carbonara; mango, grapes, almond butter, banana (apparently, I again did not write down what I ate for dinner).
Day 15 (driving to Michigan): banana muffins, mango, apples and almond butter, shredded pork and eggplant and zucchini stir fry.

Days 16-18: Jared and I traveled to Michigan to hang out with my family for the weekend.  It was not nearly as difficult to eat Whole30 as I anticipated, thanks to my fam’s sensitivity.
{What I ate:
Day 16: Sausage and zucchini frittata; leftover frittata and banana muffin; burgers and veggies with fruit
Day 17: Sweet potatoes, bacon, and eggs’ venison steak, eggplant, cabbage, and zucchini; shreeded pork, sweet potato slices
Day 18: bacon, eggs, banana muffin; ham (sandwich meat) and chicken breast; carrot fries, shredded pork.}

Days 19-21:  Jared and I drove home on Day 19.  My body was starting to feel really stable.  My energy levels started feeling more stable throughout the day and it seemed easier to focus.
{What I ate:
Day 19: Fried eggs and sausage, almonds and apricots; taco venison, pico de gallo, kale chips (we’ve tried kale chips a few times, and I’m just not wild about them).
Day 20: Omelet with mushroom, onion, tomato, green pepper; pork and vegetables; venison taco wraps.
Day 21: I got Whole30 belly again, which was wildly discouraging.  I started toying with the idea of extending my experience so that my body could heal a bit more.  Fried egg and sweet potato, banana muffins; avocado and strawberry salad; mango chicken, fruit salsa, carrot fries.}

Days 22-24: I think Jared and I might have hoped that we would have noticed more positive difference at this point.  I’m not exactly sure what we had hoped for… leaping off buildings?  I know not.  But the food we were eating was good for us and tasted good and there is something really satisfying about knowing you’re taking care of your body.  Even if it is hard.
{What I ate:
Day 22: fried eggs and banana muffins; baby carrots, grapes, fruit smoothie; fruit salad and vegetable quiche.
Day 23: eggs, bacon, banana muffins; eggs, sweet potato hash, tomato and avocado; meatloaf and sweet potato fries.
Day 24: eggs, bacon, banana muffins (it’s really good, okay!); leftover meatloaf and sweet potato hash, enchilada pork stew and bacon wrapped green beans (sooooo good!).}

Days 25-27: Close to the finish line!  I was still toying with the idea of extending my experience another 10 days, Jared was thinking about cheese.  It’s the Marcoot cheese.  Still just so good.  I noticed when I exercise (and by that, I mean canoeing or hiking.  don’t picture me going to the gym) I perform better and recover faster during Whole30.
{What I ate:
Day 25: Eggs, sweet potatoes, banana muffins; enchilada pork stew, bacon wrapped green bean leftovers; banana muffins and almond butter, kiwis, leftover eggs/sweet pot (um, that’s sweet potato); leftover enchilada stew, zucchini, banana muffins.
Day 26: Eggs, banana muffins, sweet potatoes; leftover meatloaf; mocha steak and green bean fries (great meal!  the recipe for mocha steak is It Starts with Food).
Day 27:  It’s empty in my journal.  What?  How could this happen?  Remain calm.  We can assume that I ate eggs, banana muffins, and/or sweet potatoes and bacon because clearly I am obsessed with a lumberjacks breakfast.  But it. is. so. good.  Let’s say I ate leftover steak for lunch (I do remember that, for real), and I probably ate some form of venison for dinner with a side of vegetables.  See?  Crisis averted.}

Days 28-30: I was pretty much singing Eye of the Tiger this entire time.  We’ve made it!  We are victorious!  Well, except that at this time, I decided to do this for another 10 days.  I made the commitment official in my brain.  Also, somewhere in here, for me, more than Jared, Whole30 started feeling really normal.  It became much less about restrictions and the oh-I-can’t-have-that, and more about really good food and my body feeling pretty awesome mentally and physically.
{What I ate:
Day 28: Eggs, bacon, muffin; enchilada stew and an orange, apple and almond butter; faux jack apple cakes with stewed apple topping, frittata (yeah, I made way too much food for dinner).
Day 29: Eggs, bacon, banana muffin; frittata; chicken, tomato and zucchini, banana ice cream
Day 30: It’s the eye of the tiger, it’s the thrill of the fight… I digress.  Eggs, bacon, banana muffin; frittata and an orange; venison burger with apple balsamic chutney (so great!) and sweet potato fries.}

Menu Recap:
I definitely found my food favorites!  Am I still obsessed with fried eggs, sweet potato hash, bacon, and banana muffins?  Yes.  The obsession continues (perhaps I shall post a recipe for my sweet potato hash so you can see exactly what I mean.  it’s like breakfast heaven in your mouth.  for real.).
I also learned that some homemade condiments can be really great.   Homemade burgers need some sort of sauce or creamy something to go over the top (apple balsamic chutney, guacamole, homemade mayo, etc), unless you just really love a tomato slice and lettuce on your burger.  Me?  Not so much.
I love vegetables.  Seriously.  I did not know this before.  Roasted vegetables, chopped up like a “fry”? Amazing.  Throw some green beans in a hot oven with a bit of olive oil and salt and call them fries?  Done.  Butternut squash?  Done.  Zucchini and yellow squash?  Done.  Eggplant?  Done.  Sweet potatoes (obviously)?  Done, done, and done again.

Look at me, all drinkin’ my coffee black.  Booyah.
On the other side of Whole30…
I continued my Whole30 experience for another 10 days, so I ended up making it a Whole40. I can’t completely articulate why I did this, except to say I just didn’t feel ready, somehow, to be done.  The idea of integrating other food back into my diet made me feel a little panicky.  Whole30 takes away the freedom to choose anything but good food, and I wasn’t ready to start making other choices yet.  Also, my skin was just starting to clear, and I wanted to give it time to fully heal.  So, Jared ended on day 31 and reintegrated a food group, but I kept going (which by default, actually meant that Jared continued for a while as well, since I plan most of the meals).
Whole30 recommends food reintroduced by food group–dairy one day, then a few days of Whole30 eating to see how it affected you, etc.  I didn’t have any huge reactions until last weekend when Jared and I went on the retreat with our church.  It was at a camp and the food that was there was… well, camp food.  The food I had previously reintroduced, even if it was dairy, grains, or sugar, was fairly unprocessed.  I’m still reaping the pain of the processed food (I’m currently battling a cold, and you can call me crazy, but I think it’s largely connected to my food options).As to what life looks like on the other side of Whole30… I think that’s up to each person that experiences the journey.  But if you’re asking me if I could skip dairy ice cream and reach straight for pumpkin banana ice cream?  9 times out of 10, yes.  And if you ask me if I’m drinking my coffee without cream like a hardcore, then again, yes.
{Pumpkin Banana Ice Cream}

Here are some things I learned about myself:

  • How to evaluate if I am genuinely hungry, or if I want to eat because I am bored, lonely, upset, or used to eating a certain thing at a certain time (sayonara expected nightly bowl of popcorn!).
  • There is a difference between being “full” and being “satisfied”.  You can be full and unsatisfied or still a little hungry (sometimes that’s okay!) and satisfied.  Mind blowing.
  • The Sugar Dragon is a tricky, tricky villain.  Be wary.
  • I can EAT.  Whatever you get out of today’s post, hear me on this: you do NOT starve on a Whole30.  In fact, Jared hypothesizes that my metabolism has actually increased because I can pack away breakfast like nobody’s business, now.  Did you hear that?  I can out eat Jared at breakfast.  Prior to this experience, I could barely finish an omelet.  My body is lovin’ this real-food business.  Beware if you have me over for breakfast now: toast will not suffice.
Recipe Sources:
The book, It Starts with Food, has some good recipes, including one for Mocha Steak.  Holy yum.
I also used the blogs Health-bentPaleoOMGElana’s PantryAgainst All Grain and Roost to find delicious recipes.
I have a Whole30 Pinterest board you may find helpful, as I left comments under most of the recipes we tried.
The Very Bottom Line: would I recommend doing a Whole30?  Yes!  Do it.  You will learn so much about yourself and how to eat in today’s culture.
It took effort, but like most great things, it was worth it!
ps: have more questions?  leave them in the comments and I’ll try to answer them the best I can!
pps: Go Jeremy and Alanna!  You’re doing great!  I know it’s hard now, but it will get better!!

3 thoughts on “{Whole30 Journey}

  1. Oh, Mary. This is helpful. This is day 8, and we are not having fun. I'm pretty sure that it would be muuuch easier without a toddler to feed, by the way 😉


  2. So interesting. This is something I'd like to try. Did you find that it was a lot more expensive eating this way? Also, I imagine it would b easier in the summer…? What you ate sounds so yummy (if not repetitive) and other than the work aspect of making it, doesn't sound like much of a sacrifice (easy to say from this side of it before I've gone a month without chocolate or cheese or bread).


  3. Alanna, I hope it is helpful! I've been thinking of you often over the last week!I am His (Karen, isn't that you?), it is more expensive… well, I guess it depends. If you buy expensive chocolate and cheese and bread, and then switch to vegetables, then you might not notice a big difference. We found it to be more expensive… I really wish it wasn't, but the reality is, a box of pasta is like 2 dollars and vegetables and bacon are not always that cheap. I think it helps that we did it in the throws of farmer's market season; even Whole30 doesn't encourage folks to try it right in the middle of the holidays. Today's Letters found it to be comparable on their budget, but they eat out far more often than we do (we're the lame folks that maybe maybe eat out once a month. maybe). So, I think the expense depends a bit on the season and your current food spending habits.


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