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I Failed at the Whole30, But Hear Me Out…

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Winston Churchill once said, “Success is not final, failure is not fatal. It is the courage to continue that counts.” However in my case, courage wasn’t the problem. It was my addiction to Cheez It’s that made continuing futile.

Some of you may know from Part 1 of this series that, despite my aversion to all things trendy, I recently started doing the fitness craze CrossFit and, surprisingly, it has been one of the most positive experiences I’ve had since moving to the Temecula Valley seven years ago.

Since joining 79 South CrossFit, I’ve noticed an extreme change in my fitness level, my strength and my mobility. I’ve even improved my running technique and endurance and my timed workouts are getting faster and faster. Though my body has definitely started to change as I’ve increased muscle mass and lost a few inches, the scale hadn’t been moving in the downward direction as quickly as I’d hoped. Although the trainers tell me that health isn’t about how much you weigh but how you feel, your body fat percentage, (yadda yadda), I can’t deny my desire to lose another 20 pounds to be truly be happy with my appearance.

With plenty of exercise, I knew my problem was 100% related to my Pop Tart, pizza and beer-based diet. In a perfect world, I’d live in Cheez It Town, where all the buildings are constructed with little fluorescent orange squares of artificial-cheesy goodness. So, when my trainer, 79 South CrossFit co-owner Quinn Cloninger, suggested I join the Pow Medical Whole30 Challenge I thought, “Sure! I’ve been meaning to eat a little healthier. How hard can it be?” Famous last words.

For those who haven’t kept abreast of the latest trends in lifestyle and health – which apparently I am now doing – Whole30 is a paleo-esque 30-day program which started as a New York Times bestselling book by Dallas and Melissa Hartwig. According to their website, Whole30 is a “short-term nutritional reset designed to help you put an end to unhealthy cravings and habits, restore a healthy metabolism, heal your digestive tract, and balance your immune system.” In layman’s terms, you are eating cleanly for 30 days, in order to give your body time to flush out toxins from processed foods and kick the addiction to sugar that we all have, whether we know it or not.

In a nutshell, the Whole30 rules are:

  • No Sugar
  • No Dairy
  • No Grains
  • No Legumes (peanuts, beans, lentils, etc.)
  • and… here’s the kicker… NO ALCOHOL!

So, you are basically eating meat and vegetables for every meal for 30 days. You can have added fats, but those fats consist of olive oil, avocado and nuts; the last two, I might point out, I am allergic to, making things that much more difficult. Oh, and you can have ghee. What’s ghee? It’s apparently something made from real, grass-fed, unsalted butter, but it’s clarified to take out the dairy. It’s the stuff they give you with crab legs or lobster at seafood restaurants. To acquire the elusive ghee, you either have to travel to a particular health food store that carries it or you go through the arduous process of making it yourself with various cheese cloths, strainers, double-boilers, chainsaws and other devices (ok, maybe I’m being slightly overdramatic, but it was still a pain in the ass).

Let me stress that this is a very abridged version of the Whole30 diet. There are several other rules and restrictions which you can find on the Whole30 website or by purchasing the book, which is highly recommended that you read before you start. And I did NOT read the book. That’s important later.

So, you get the gist, at least how I understood it at the time. Eggs, sugarless chicken sausage and sweet potatoes for breakfast, kale salad with chicken breast and added random veggies, olive oil and lemon juice for lunch and steak, a baked potato with salsa or ghee and sautéed veggies for dinner. No glass of milk. No dessert. No cold, refreshing, euphoric beer after a long day at work. That’s all you get… every day… for 30… whole… days.

So, when Pow Medical did their Whole30 informational meeting, I wasn’t exactly chomping at the bit to get started (and I don’t think bits are Whole30 approved, anyway). The moment the nutritionist suggested putting hemp milk into my morning coffee to replace Coffee Mate, I was mentally checked out of the process. But I decided to give it a try, purely for the sake of journalism, and that is exactly the moment I set myself up to fail.

To save my readers the longest story in What’s Up? Temecula history, my culinary misadventure went something like this:

Week 1: I did well. Got really sick of sweet potatoes. Tried to make Whole30 approved “mayonnaise” with EVOO and it was gag-worthy. Apparently I was supposed to use the light olive oil. I refused to leave my house all weekend because there is much beer lurking around every corner of the outside world and I’m very skilled at finding it. Was tired and had no energy.

Week 2: Hungry all the time due to lack of food variety. Every time I saw an egg, I wanted to throw it across the room. Had my first slip up when toasting my new baby niece with champagne… two glasses of champagne, that is. Energy was coming back but still not the mythical tiger blood* I’d heard so much about.

*Tiger Blood: A phrase Whole30 authors lifted from Charlie Sheen, which is defined as “flipping a switch and going into ‘Energizer Bunny’ mode.”

Week 3: I yelled numerous expletives at my fridge and eventually gave in one late night to a bowl of Special K. Hated everyone at Stadium Pizza which, if you read my website often, you know what a big deal that is considering it’s my favorite place in Temecula. (They have Sculpin on tap for like $12 a pitcher!)

By the end of Week 3, I actually posted this to the Pow Medical Whole30 Facebook Page:

Having trouble with the Whole30 diet, week 3

Obviously I was kidding when I wrote this, so no posting comments about my mental health.

And then I ate brown sugar out of the box with a spoon.

And that was pretty much it. After that, I sort of ate Whole30-ish on weekdays and gave up on weekends. I had failed and I don’t like to fail. The Whole30 had defeated me and I now had guilt.

So, if you’re considering conquering the Whole30 yourself, you can use my experience as a cautionary tale and consider these tips for success.

First, what did I do right?

I had a support team. Pow Medical put together a group of us to attempt the Whole30 challenge and we had each other to offer support, provide tips and recipes, and give each other general encouragement and the will to keep going. Most of us were members of 79 South CrossFit and got to see each other daily and discuss our strengths and weaknesses. Maybe I didn’t make it all the way through, but many of us did and all of them attribute the team effort to their success. So, if you are going to attempt the Whole30, you MUST gather friends and family together and don’t go it alone.

And that’s it. Being a socially active member of the Pow Medical Whole30 group was pretty much the only thing I did right, so I have much more wisdom to offer my readers by simply learning from my mistakes.

But, what did I do wrong? (A lot of things, actually.)

I didn’t read the book. Apparently there are dozens and dozens of innovative recipe ideas, meal plans and helpful hints for taking what seems to be a limited amount of items and creating imaginative meals; not to mention it explains the reason for doing the diet in the first place. The meals I prepared resembled dog food with a side salad and asparagus for pretty much every meal, which was depressing considering I’m usually a very good cook.

You can get the book at Costco or on Amazon.

I didn’t prepare my food ahead of time. The food prep for Whole30 is probably one of the biggest commitments someone who wants to be successful will make; second only to the decision to start the diet in the first place.

“The food prep was so time consuming and really hard when you’re running around with kids and work,” Pow Medical group participant Vianca Hassankhail said. “By week 2, I was still feeling great but running out of ideas on what to make. I like to explore with different recipes but it was hard getting it together when running around.”

It will take several hours, during your limited free time, to chop vegetables, marinate meat with approved ingredients, make salad dressings and sauces from scratch, divide up portions in baggies and Tupperware, and on and on and on. Take a look at this photo posted on our Facebook page by Pow Medical participant Romina Alvergue:

Whole30 meal prep

Click to enlarge.

The food prep is difficult, but it can be done. You have to set aside time on weekends to prepare the upcoming week’s meals. It will save you a ton of frustration, come Wednesday or Thursday, when you’re reduced to eating deli meat out of the container.

I expected the wrong results. I went in to the Whole30 as a way to drop a few pounds but had I bothered to read the book, or even go on the website, I would have known that it was not designed as a weight loss diet but instead a way to reset your body into health mode. The trainers told me to put away my scale, but I didn’t listen and weighed myself daily. If I’m going to force feed myself veggies, the pounds have to come off, right?

“Whole30 isn’t a weight loss program. It’s a healthy eating program and that’s why I picked it,” Cloninger said. “If you’re giving your body the proper nutrients, it will start pulling the things it had been deficient in and you’ll get higher bone density and more muscle mass. When you’re eating badly, you have all these toxins creating this negative cesspool inside your system. With Whole30, the reason you’ll see the loss in inches and the change in body composition is because you’re getting rid of those toxicities and your body can build muscle while getting rid of all the garbage.”

So, by expecting to lose weight, I was setting myself up for disappointment and ultimately to fail. So put away the scale for the entire 30 days and take your measurements at the beginning. You’ll see results at the end.

And finally, and most importantly…

Get your head in the game!My heart wasn’t in it. If you are thinking of trying the Whole30, you have to be 100% committed mentally as well as emotionally. You have to be well-informed and educated about the process and you have to understand the purpose for the program. I didn’t do any of those things and I basically had no chance of making it to the end. I didn’t want to do it, it’s that simple, and therefore I couldn’t do it. Set your mind on finishing and you will finish. So, get your head in the game! (Go Wildcats!)

So, after all is said and done, I actually did lose 5 pounds and was getting compliments about my hips looking thinner but, considering I didn’t follow directions and do my measurements like I was told to, I have no clue how many inches I actually lost. Some people in my group, those who only cheated slightly or actually finished all 30 days compliant, lost up to 15 pounds and as much as 9 inches. I had members of my group tell me that not only do they feel better than ever, they are ready to incorporate what they learned as a lifestyle change; not just as what is essentially a 30-day dare.

The Whole30 works. There’s no denying it. And now I’m left to wonder what I could have accomplished had I actually devoted myself to the process.

“The best lessons we learn in life are the ones that sting the most and we fail the hardest at and, if you learned something about yourself and about your diet, then it isn’t a true failure,” Cloninger said. “Most people who made an attempt at [Whole30] with us learned more in a two-week timeframe about what they eat and how messed up they were nutritionally than ever before and they can attribute that to their new lifestyle, whether they made it through or not.”

So, here’s the eternal question. Would I recommend the Whole30 to someone else? I can honestly say that my answer would be a resounding… it depends. It’s definitely an extremely hard, time-consuming and emotionally exhausting experiment but, considering the growing rates of heart disease, type-2 diabetes and obesity, something needs to be done and maybe Whole30 is the answer. Maybe it’s not. It won’t work for everyone but it does work when rules are followed correctly, which my group ultimately proved.

To succeed at the Whole30 requires discipline. I had no discipline. To succeed at the Whole30 requires commitment. I had no commitment. To succeed at the Whole30 requires investing your whole heart and mind into something you’re passionate about and, unless you consider investing sarcasm and wit into my daily Facebook posts, I can honestly say I didn’t invest much else. So take that into consideration when making your own decision about starting the challenge.

If you are ready to get your head in the game, then by all means, go for it! Then shoot me an email and let me know how you did and any advice you can give to future Whole30’ers.

As for me, I recently decided that, by my 40th birthday next May, I am going to look and feel the best I have in years. I am going to start eating the right foods to keep my body in optimum shape and Pow Medical is going to help me get there. Next Monday, they are beginning “My30,” a modified version of the Whole30, created by 79 South CrossFit trainer, Brittany Peterson and Cloninger. It is designed to incorporate Whole30 theories into a livable healthy lifestyle. This one I think I can do.

So, ask me in a month how I feel about everything you’ve just read and hopefully I’ve learned enough from my own mistakes to tackle this new challenge with my eyes and heart open. After making the commitment to eat right for me, and not journalism, I think things will be different this time. I know that I’m not perfect and I know that, in the future, I may still travel to Cheez It Town every once in a while. But maybe this time I won’t run for mayor.

Do you need a support team for your own Whole30 challenge or want to try My30? Why not join my friends and I at Pow Medical and 79 South CrossFit? Contact Brittany Peterson at brittany@powmedical.com to get started! Tell her Holly at What’s Up? Temecula sent you.
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Holly Herndon

Holly Herndon

Holly has been covering arts & entertainment in the Temecula Valley for as long as she has been a part of the community. She loves San Diego sports almost as much as she loves her family.

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