Whole30: Lessons and Tips From My Second Time on the Clean Eating Program
Recently we shared the story of Kristin Myers Harvey, a friend of Do The Good Stuff, after she went on the Whole30 eating plan for the first time last year.
The UX designer (website user experience designer) and mom of one and her husband Eric decided to commit to the 30-day eating plan that cuts out dairy, grains, alcohol, added sugar, legumes (beans, peanuts, lentils) and more after recognizing the toll that years of stress had taken on her and her body and wanting to help her husband who is losing his vision.
The pros of Whole30, round 1, for her included breaking habits like nightly alcohol and eating empty calories, while the cons included the higher cost of groceries like organic or grass-fed meats and her husband’s exhaustion from preparing all the meals, including homemade condiments. You can read Kristin’s full account of her first time trying Whole30 here.
This year, she and Eric decided to try Whole30 again, but this time they “blew off the nit picky rules,” Kristin says. “We just couldn't find the will to be 100% compliant.”
Below, Kristin shares her second experience with Whole30, how she implemented it while traveling—in buffet-filled Las Vegas of all places!—and some of her go-to Whole30 tips and easy snacks.
Why do Whole30 again?
Seasons and rhythms
I’m a big proponent of intentional seasons and rhythms, so as we approached the same month we did Whole30 last year, I couldn’t help but reflect and think back to that journey. I lost 7 pounds June of 2016 and was happy to see that I had kept that weight off the entire year feeling my way through mindful eating with calorie counting to guide me, [plus] dog walking and spurts of well-intentioned cardio like swimming and a 5K race.
Weight loss & Food Choices
I still was heavier than I was before I had our daughter in 2014 - and losing all the baby weight was one of my core 2017 goals. I noticed my eating habits had reverted back to daily beers, more dairy than I wanted, and too many mindless desserts.
Sometime in May when I found myself checking out of Safeway with cinnamon rolls, beer and ice cream sandwiches, I knew it was time to reset. That particular run to the store was after an intense family conversation with visiting relatives. I needed an outlet to blow off steam and deal with emotions. This often creeps into my eating. But as as I watched myself check out of the store, I was disappointed and sad. I knew I could do better and opt out of using food as this mechanism in my life.
My husband is also a huge reason that I’m on the Whole30 bandwagon. He’s dealing with vision loss and other spinal issues. Eating clean gives him a sense of control when so much of what’s happening with his body is out of his control. In late spring of this year, he noticed more clouded vision than usual and reduced energy. We thought this was just his vision loss taking its course, but we also knew the Whole30 was a tried and true way to take control of food and rebound.
Whole30 was a catalyst that has let us work as a team and support each other in our health journeys. I really don’t think I would have taken such a dramatic step without having someone like him in my life who is so strong and simply does what he needs to do to keep living a satisfying daily life.
He’s working with the best doctors in the Bay Area to get to a specific diagnosis, which now means they are mapping his entire genome to try and find find root causes, but will also screen for 60+ risk factors including cancers, heart disease, etc. As we face that onslaught of information in a few months, eating clean is a solid and proactive way to live life regardless of what that information will reveal.
What was Whole30 like this time around?
Overall it was SO MUCH EASIER to do the Whole30 again. We knew how to make mayo, basic sauces, and which foods at the store we should stay away from and which we needed to stock up on. We also made it easier on ourselves by avoiding fancy meal plans that had Eric cooking three times a day. Instead we customized our own meal plans by stocking up on staples like frozen veggies, frozen meats, eggs, nuts—things we could fall back on. Lots of meals were super simple: meat + veggies + sauce. I would get sick of this formula occasionally, so I was proactive in exploring new and make-ahead Whole30 recipes and expanded our database. Using Plan To Eat and filtering our recipes by a “Whole30 tag” when meal planning was super easy.
What was it like traveling while on Whole30?
Since this was our second rodeo, I was less afraid to take my Whole30 out into the world. We ate out a few times with family, and I took a weekend trip to Los Angeles to workshop with Do The Good Stuff, and a 4-day trip to Las Vegas for Cisco [where I’m a UX designer]. I set a few ground rules:
1. Spirit over compliance.
I knew I needed to stick to the sprit of the Whole30, but not 100% compliance. Oils used in the kitchens were out of my control; meats often have rubs and sauces that I couldn’t know or opt into, so things happen. BUT putting alcohol in my mouth was IN my control. Same with desserts, bread and cheese. These are choices I could make while out and about that were in the spirit of the program and my commitment for the month.
I knew from reading Whole30 forums that planning is key for any travel. So I put on my research hat and got ideas on what to bring and buy. Chipotle has a bowl option that’s compliant, and In-N-Out burgers wrapped in lettuce work in a pinch. Las Vegas had plenty of health food stores a short Lyft ride away from my hotel where I stocked up on essentials.
3. Communication is key.
I also let those who were hosting and traveling with me know I was eating Whole30 and I was happy to bring what I needed and eat on my own to not burden anyone else with my food journey—though I invited them to eat with me. All of them jumped in to support or cook with me (for me, even) and this made it so much more fun. I offered to pick many restaurants while in Vegas. My co-workers were curious and cheered me on, making sure I could eat anywhere we went. One even explored Las Vegas Whole Foods with me. I was SO thankful for all of this!
4. Stress is a ruiner!
Avoid stress. We make bad decisions when we’re pushed past our limits, so I always made sure to have snacks on hand, next meal planned, and something fun to look forward to, like riding a roller coaster, or an early [morning] dip in the pool, or Prosciutto tucked away in my bag for an easy lunch at the airport. Yum.
With those ground rules in mind I just kept replaying the following mental script: “Hi, Self. I know you love *[fill in the blank], and it is SUPER good, but what if you didn’t consume [fill in the blank] just this month ... even under the pinch of social situations? It’s just one month. Temporary! Let’s see if you can do it. I bet you can!”
*[Fill in the blank] = beer, wine, cocktails, dairy, bread, desserts, rice, beans, etc.
How did you both feel after this second round of Whole30, even though it was more relaxed?
I feel great about round two because we got to the spirit of it and made it work for us—even while traveling. But I'm still feeling my way through another round of post-Whole30 confusion. The key this time was being more careful about reintroduction. I didn't rush off the plan the first day after, or first week after, really. While it can be hard to tell what exactly is causing me to feel "off"—is it food vs. work load vs. stress vs. environment, etc.), I was surprised to be able to pinpoint dairy doesn't mix well with my anxiety. In fact, it puts me in bed with horrible cramps. Great to know!
Perhaps because of lower expectations [since we weren’t 100% Whole30 compliant], Eric was surprised when there actually was a slight improvement to his vision. And the heaviness and sluggishness faded away too, which was more expected and what we were after. In reintroduction, he's noticing foods like dairy and alcohol affect his vision and overall wellbeing more than others. So he's less keen on reintroducing everything going forward.
Are you still applying any of the Whole30 principles?
I am still applying basic fundamentals like filling up with better protein sources, not just empty carbs. I eat about a fourth the [amount of] bread I used to but I still eat it! I stay away from dairy at home, but we all eat desserts and ice cream socially. I have a sweet tooth, which can be tricky, but we keep a nice bar of dark chocolate on hand for chunks some nights and I have dried fruit often, too. But I'm just as happy with a cup of tea—Whole30 helped me see it's the relaxation I'm after, not the sweets.
What Whole30-compliant foods, products, and easy recipes can you recommend?
I love and use Plan To Eat to meal plan.
There are other meal planning apps and websites out there, too. But even if you use pen and paper, organizing meals ahead of time (especially on Whole30) is a must for us. We HAVE to have a plan or stress will completely defeat even our best of intentions for Whole30. If you've never done this, hate the idea, tried it before but got away from it, finding a way to plan and set up for success might be a great start. It reduces decision fatigue during the week, it's less expensive, and you waste less food.
Once you get comfortable and confident making it, you won't go back to store bought. It's just too good. It's also the base for so many other great sauces: ranch dressing, avocado mayo, etc. When people are interested in the Whole30 I tell them to get the book and start here. It's so much easier to do a Whole30 when you've got a handle on the basics.
Hard boiled eggs.
I have a long commute two days a week and get an early start to beat traffic. I've started packing three hard boiled eggs for breakfast. I get weird looks in the office kitchen when I crack 'em open, but they are cheap, easy and fill me up so I'm focused on work.
Get the jar at Costco for the best deal, and pick up some apples to dip. You're welcome.
I love cashews.
I didn't know that about myself before the Whole30, so I always bought almonds or walnuts. It was fun to discover something different in the nut section that would get me excited besides getting a bag with M&Ms mixed in.
There are a lot of compliant snacks that can be fun to explore: seaweed, plantain chips, very specific bars or jerky (brands like: Raw and Epic). I didn't get into this my first Whole30 since I was so overwhelmed, but they are out there when you're ready. Several bloggers compile Whole30 lists of what to buy at Trader Joe's, Costco or Whole Foods if you need inspiration—just a Google search away.
(Thumbnail Photo: Kristin Myers Harvey/@kristinmharvey)
Jessica Hamlin is an LA-born and bred journalist and editor who started taking pictures of food back when everyone used film cameras. A graduate of the Institute for Integrative Nutrition’s health coach training program, she’s passionate about wellness and enjoys making and discovering delicious and healthy food. Her work has appeared in Clean Plates, NPR affiliate KPCC, AOL, and Eater LA.