It was my wife’s idea, which, out of the shoot, made it a better idea than whatever I was thinking. She wanted to do something to jump start her fitness for the season, to refine her eating, and she had settled on the Whole 30, a sort of extreme paleo diet with a one-month time horizon that made it palatable to her husband, me.
Now the disclaimer: I am not a nutritionist or an expert in performance eating. This is not an endorsement of Whole 30. No one paid me to do this. All I want to do here is report my experience. Your results may vary.
The basic guidelines are: no dairy, no sugar, no grains, no legumes. You can eat fruit in limited quantity, but nothing with added sugar, which means most anything that comes in a package. Legumes includes both beans AND peanuts. Tree nuts become one of your better friends.
The basic goal, as I understood it (and there are books and websites devoted to this program, none of which I read), was to force my body to stop defaulting to available sugars as fuel, to switch over to fat burning. I was not really trying to lose weight, but the idea of being able to switch over more seamlessly between sugar and fat during long rides held some appeal. More on this later.
Typical days looked like this:
Breakfast – Two egg omelette with no-sugar-added bacon or homemade breakfast sausage for breakfast, accompanied by black coffee and a fruit smoothie.
Mid-Morning Snack – Generous handful of cashews or almonds with dried currants.
Lunch – Salad with olive oil, might include sun-dried tomatoes and walnuts or olives and cucumbers. Some meat dish, mainly leftover from the night before.
Dinner – Large protein, copious grilled vegetables, many greens.
I went to bed hungry a few nights, but not ravenously hungry, and the larger breakfasts left me feeling good most of the time from a hunger point of view.
I kept my regular exercise schedule throughout the month, and did two ride events, both 30-40 mile off-road races. My big concern, going into Whole 30, was how I would manage energy on 2+ hour rides. In practice, it was really great. I packed bags of cashews with raisins, and used some date/coconut blocks in addition to 1/2 water, 1/2 fruit juice in my bottles, and I was fine. In fact, the great revelation of the experiment was that my energy during prolonged efforts seemed much more even, and perhaps more importantly, my frame of mind was more consistent. I felt more calm, and my exertion levels were more level without synthetic carb supplements than they generally are with the cocktail of blocks and goos and bars that I rifle down my pie hole.
This is but one of the positive results I experienced.
The others are/were:
- Successfully restricting your diet in this way requires planning, which forced me to plan my eating, which led to far better choices. I often default to chips or other easy-to-eat foods when I’m hungry and don’t have a plan. All the planning helped me see how many empty calories I was consuming.
- It’s a pretty restrictive diet, and I like food, so it forced me to learn to make new things. Adding new dishes to the repertoire is always a good thing. I also discovered a number of new, good foods, which are now part of my regular diet, e.g. New Barn Almond Milk and Farmhouse Culture Gut Shot.
- I lost 6-7 lbs. This was not, as I mentioned, one of my explicit goals, but I am much closer to my optimal weight (maybe 153 lbs) than I was before (163 lbs).
- I spent more time with my wife. We did this together, and so we talked a lot about what we would eat. We made food for each other. We cooked together more. We’ve been together 25 years. More time together is good.
- I was able to put some realistic thought into how I wanted my long-term diet to change. As a rule, I don’t believe in “diets,” and I think the conventional wisdom agrees that, if you’re not going to change your eating habits long-term, dieting is a waste of your time. Doing the Whole 30 gave me a solid month not only to experiment, but to draw some tangible conclusions about what I think is a reasonable way to eat, from now on. As an example, I know I want to eat far less processed sugar.
Most of those who try the Whole 30 report serious cravings, hard days, depression, etc., as their bodies and minds adjust to new inputs and more importantly, lack of old ones. I didn’t have this so much. I made sure I ate a lot of what I was allowed to eat. What I missed most was cream in my coffee, and, oddly, pizza crust. I don’t even love pizza the way some do, but that was the thing I wanted.
When the month was over, we didn’t go off the rails. Each day we allowed ourselves something previously sanctioned. It was fine. No panic. We have kept to protein-rich breakfasts. We have kept to limited sugar intake. It all feels good, and the weight that left has stayed gone.
I really couldn’t tell you whether or not my body has learned to switch back and forth more efficiently between burning sugars and burning fats. I don’t know. But, I can say that the experience of Whole 30 was good enough, for me, that I can see repeating once or twice a year as a way to reset my eating habits.