Let me just start off by saying, I never wanted to try the Whole30 diet.
Once people find out that you’ve made a hobby of testing out miserable fad diets just so you can write about the trials and tribulations, they start lobbing all kinds of ideas at you. Among some truly horrifying suggestions (the potato diet), and a few that I actually considered tackling (still the potato diet), the Whole30 diet always seemed to pop up.
I had a handful of go-to excuses prepared for when it inevitably came up: too mainstream, too similar to keto, too boring, etc. But much like death, taxes, and the nervous breakdown I’ll likely suffer as a result of numerous fad dieting experiments, Whole30 seemed to be inevitable. And while none of my stock answers were especially wrong, none of them really touched on the true reason I avoided the Whole30 diet up until now, which was, quite simply, that I thought it would fucking suck.
Well guess what? I was right. It does fucking suck.
But before we get to that let’s rewind a bit, because maybe some of you live truly blessed lives and don’t know exactly what this hellhole of a program entails. In short, it’s an elimination diet. Created by Melissa and Doug Hartwig in 2009, the Whole30 diet is a regimen that emphasizes “whole” foods while cutting out sugar, grains, dairy, alcohol, legumes, and joy. The logic here is that any one of these things, either on their own or collectively, could be negatively impacting your health, and therefore cutting out every single one without any rhyme or reason will cleanse your body, letting it heal and recover from whatever shit you’ve been putting it through for the last 26 or so years.
Rather than just help you lose weight, the Whole30 diet’s aim is to ultimately change your relationship with food. It’s not just trying to teach to you abstain, but to eventually forget about the foods you love that are supposedly ruining your life. Because of this, they have zero tolerance for cheating and don’t support any kind of alternative replacement treat.
Clearly, I have a few issues with the ideology. For instance, say I were so unfortunate as to be cursed with a dairy intolerance but was unaware of the exact cause of my ailment. By cutting out all the things that the Whole30 diet forbids, I would know that dairy could potentially be the problem, but it could also have something to do with the four other categories of food that I stopped eating cold turkey. At the end of the 30 days, re-introducing these foods to my diet would be akin to traversing a minefield, just waiting for the meal that would send me sprinting to the bathroom for an extended period of time. Honestly, I think a trip to an allergist could save you a month’s worth of suffering and provide you with a definitive answer to your problems.
But hey, that’s just me.
Me: Wow I kind of wish I could have some cheese right n-
Also, as a rule of thumb, I have an instinctive distrust of any diet that allows you to eat potatoes. I appreciate it. I respect it. But I don’t trust it. It is the diet equivalent of “I’m not a regular mom, I’m a cool mom.”
You would think my general hatred of Whole30 stems from the restrictive nature of the diet, but that’s not even it. I get restrictive, it kind of comes with the territory in these experiments that I voluntarily put myself through. Do I miss dairy and alcohol? More than I’d like to admit. But if I’ve learned anything by this point, it’s that I can put myself through some pretty heinous shit if I know there’s a light at the end of the tunnel. There’s also usually the added benefit of generally losing some weight, but that’s not the case this time around.
The Whole30 diet has been a miserable experience thus far, in large part because the effort I’ve exerted and suffering I’ve endured aren’t being offset by any kind of benefit. In fact, the results are negligible at best. I’ve withstood sugar withdrawals, blinding headaches, extreme bloating, borderline narcolepsy, mood swings, general malaise, and verbal abuse from friends who find out that I’m abstaining from alcohol for an entire month, all for what? Losing a measly four pounds? Rumored benefits that have yet to kick in? Widespread resentment from every barista in Portland that I’ve grilled over the sugar content of their alternative milk? Cool. Thanks, Hartwigs. My life has truly changed for the better.
In fact, my biggest qualms with the Whole30 diet have come down to the two beverages that have essentially defined my life up until this point: alcohol and coffee. While I’ve had two weeks to come to terms with that single sentence, I’m still not crazy about it. I don’t say it to sound pathetic or try and draw parallels to those Hemingway fanboys who write about drinking whiskey and hating women. I say it because, like most twentysomethings who are trying to reconcile their hopes, dreams, and aspirations with the current climate of the world and their place in it, it’s true. Also, I like drinking. Sue me.
First and foremost, I hate black coffee. I would say 30% of that hatred is due to the actual taste, and the remaining 70% can be attributed to what black coffee stands for. People who pride themselves on drinking black coffee are the same people who list “sarcastic to a fault” in their Hinge bio. The level of pretentious it takes to think that drinking black coffee makes you enlightened is the same level required to loudly discuss your cryptocurrency portfolio at a bar. We all drink this stupid, acidic bean water to make waking up and existing every day just the slightest bit more tolerable. You’re not special because you can stomach it without cream.
Now to the arguably biggest drawback to the Whole30 diet: no alcohol. If you want to get yelled at by your friends for a month straight, boy do I have the diet for you. As if being the designated sober person for 30 days isn’t hard enough, you will also have to deal with every possible drunk person you come into contact with telling you that you’re making the single greatest mistake possible. This isn’t hyperbolic. That is what every one of them will say.
If I’m being honest, the alcohol restriction was the biggest draw of this diet for me, largely in part because it was so challenging. After you do stupid things like eat ice cream for a week straight, food challenges start to lose their gravitas. But a month long abstention from drinking? That’s new territory. In fact, that’s probably the longest I’ve gone without drinking since I was 18 years old, another sentence that truly makes me hate myself.
And while avoiding hangovers for four weekends in a row is definitely a plus, what I didn’t realize is how much I would miss casual drinking. A glass of wine after a long day of work. A cold cider at happy hour on the first sunny day for the year. A vodka soda to cling to at the bar when you find yourself separated from your friends and attempting to avoid eye contact with creepy guys.
In all fairness, I am only two weeks into this ordeal and thus can’t accurately report on any real results. By breaking my experience into two installments, I’m hoping that my thoughts will be easier to both outline and digest. Perhaps two weeks from now I’ll be 10 lbs. lighter, eating my words alongside a bowl full of grilled vegetables and tahini dressing (the only ray of light in this otherwise dreary experience). But right now, I’m not convinced.
Week One: Sleeping (Not) Beauty
Week one is supposed to be a rollercoaster of emotion, starting with a far too confident “what’s the big deal?” phase, which quickly declines into a roaring hangover from the carbs and sugars you stuffed into your body immediately before starting out under the pretense of “well…I’m going on a cleanse.”
After that, you’re likely to fall victim to mood swings that can be very easily mistaken for PMS, followed by two to three days of a full-body tired that you haven’t felt the likes of since high school. If you just read all that and thought to yourself, “but when do the good things start to happen?” you and I have a lot in common. Which means you’ll also be devastated to find out that no real benefit of this diet is due to kick in until around day 12. And yet here I am at day 15, wondering when my will to live will return from war.
My first week of the Whole30 diet can be summed up in a single word: exhausted. I have truly not been this tired since the tender age of 16, when my body was growing at an inhuman rate and required every ounce of energy within me to keep my knees from disintegrating. In fact, on day three I almost fell asleep at lunch, and then crumbled into an absolute pit of despair when I momentarily believed that the reason I was suddenly succumbing to narcolepsy is because I was going through another growth spurt at 26.
Me on Day One: I’ve tackled keto. I drank spicy lemonade for 10 straight days. I ate Halo Top for a week. I’m invincible.
Me on Day Six: *Googling whether or not it’s physically harmful to sleep for 48 consecutive hours*
I couldn’t focus. I couldn’t communicate. I couldn’t muster the energy to pretend to be interested in things that I didn’t even remotely care about. But it wasn’t until I cancelled a workout class, six minutes before it started and with zero regard for any kind of cancellation fee, that I realized something was amiss. It was at this point that I finally decided to do some research into why it felt like I was dying, and discovered the Whole30 diet timeline.
They do caveat that the timeline is subjective and everyone’s experience is unique, but I still decided to blindly trust it. This meant that I was at least marginally justified in sleeping about 30 hours over the course of the next three days, but was still full of dread for what I knew was to come.
There were many lows of week one. Usually that kind of sentence is followed by “but there were also a handful of highs.” There weren’t. Not a high in sight. Every morning that I woke up and remembered that I had to force down black coffee just so I could make it to work unearthed a new level of rock bottom that I personally was not prepared for.
“But what about coconut milk? Almond milk? Any form of alternative milk that is available in Portland, OR—the home of alternative milks?” Great question that will inevitably show up in the comment section. Here’s the thing: most alternative milks have some kind of sugar or preservative in them that isn’t Whole30 diet compliant. If you read the label on any given food item and don’t recognize, or can’t pronounce, one of the ingredients, odds are it’s not allowed. So, short of making my own almond milk, I was out of luck. Did that stop me from having a painful conversation about the sugar content in my favorite coffee shop’s house nut milk trio? No. Did I feel good about that? Also no.
Certain canned coconut milk is allowed, but it’s the kind you cook with. Was I ready to become the girl who came to work with coconut milk and a can opener just because my high-maintenance ass wants something slightly resembling a latte? Idk, talk to me in a week in a half.
Week Two: The Great Bloat
After lamenting the lack of coffee creamer in my life the entire week before, I remembered that there’s a work-around for this: bulletproof coffee. By replacing grass-fed butter with ghee or coconut oil, I was able to drink something that was at least marginally more enjoyable than the black coffee I’d begrudgingly come to tolerate. Just throw 16 ounces of coffee and one tablespoon of your fat of choice into a blender, and mix until nice and frothy. I found that coconut oil coffee was lighter than Ghee and an ideal start for the first sunny day in Portland this year, with the added benefit of keeping your lips moisturized all morning. Ghee provided a richer taste, which I found paired perfectly with the cold, dreary mornings that immediately followed.
Week two was when I really hit my stride with meal prepping. Make no mistake: The Whole30 diet requires an outrageous amount of meal prep. Eating out isn’t easy, so I spent three hours of the last two Saturdays preparing breakfast, lunch and dinner for the week ahead. I didn’t expect to enjoy this part, but I’ve actually begun to find it kind of soothing to know that I don’t have to worry about coming home and cooking anything after work.
Week two meal prep, however, was almost entirely derailed when I woke up Saturday morning feeling like I’d consumed six vodka sodas and absolutely zero water the night before. In my early morning haze, I quickly accepted the fact that I’d waste my morning lying in bed hungover before I realized that there was zero reason to be feeling this way. I hadn’t gone out the night before, definitely hadn’t had any alcohol. In fact, I was asleep by 9:30pm. After an hour of deliberation and the slightly irrational conclusion that maybe I had contracted salmonella, my roommate pointed out that I was very likely going through a sugar withdrawal.
This was news to me because I really don’t consume that much sugar in my normal diet, certainly not enough for the migraine that was slowly blinding me. But some quick research verified her claim, which is how I found out that some health and wellness professionals assert that sugar withdrawals are on par with cocaine in terms of severity. Now, I’m not saying that a cocaine diet would likely have better results for just about the same level of suffering, but I’m also not not saying that.
Throughout week one I developed a heavy dependence on almond butter. It became my life, my love, my reason to be. I went through an entire jar in the first week, usually accompanied by some kind of fruit. Why does a diet that wants you to cut all sugar out of your life allow you to have fruit? Great question. All I can say is that, after what I experienced, it probably shouldn’t.
The closest I’ve come to a peak is when I discovered a Whole30 diet compliant recipe for banana chia pudding, which became my nightly treat. With just three ingredients (banana, coconut milk, and chia seeds), it was easy to make and a relatively guilt-free indulgence. Or so I thought.
I’ve been eating bananas all my life and up until these past two weeks, there have been zero negative side effects. But since starting Whole30, I can’t eat bananas without becoming comically bloated. Like, we’re talking post-Thanksgiving levels of discomfort. At first I thought this might be a fluke, a weird side effect of the diet. But after I (illegally) whipped up some fake banana ice cream the other night and went to bed looking four months pregnant, I realized something was very, very wrong. So in line with the logic of the Whole30 diet, I’m cutting bananas out of my life for the next two weeks. I don’t know what I’ll do if I can never have them again, but I can promise it won’t be rational.
The thing is, even when I wasn’t suffering from banana-induced weight gain, I have yet to feel good throughout this experience. You know when you start a diet and after two days, despite any discernible difference in your appearance, you just feel amazing? You’re confident to the point of hubris, breaking out jeans that haven’t fit in months “just to see,” walking around with a pep in your step, generally just happy with your outlook? Yeah, that has yet to happen, and I’m two weeks into this mess. In fact, I feel worse.
Logically, I know I’ve lost weight—four pounds, to be exact. But that’s considerably less exciting when you take into account that halfway through week two, I was one pound above my starting weight. So I’m technically netting four pounds, but only three below where I started.
Probably my biggest lesson so far is that knowing I’ve lost weight and feeling it are two vastly different things. I understand that there’s more at stake here than just weight loss, but if a diet doesn’t make you feel good, especially one that requires so much effort and upkeep, then what’s the point? Usually you’re miserable and dropping weight left and right, or you’re making slower progress but feeling stronger and energized than usual. I’m not succeeding at either of those things, and it’s even more frustrating when I remember how much money I’ve spent on groceries over the past 14 days.
Today begins week three, and morale is at an all-time low. I know things are getting bad because I found myself watching Tasty videos for 45 straight minutes last night. If you ever find yourself at the point where you’re salivating over the idea of a crunchy taco ring or lasagna chips and dip, you’re in bad shape.
I don’t know what the next two weeks hold for me, but I can promise that I’ll be angry for at least 90% of it. Stay tuned for the second installment of the Whole30 Diet Diaries, and maybe consider pouring one out for my sober ass on St. Patrick’s Day tomorrow.
Images: Giphy (5)