How I Overhauled My Physical and Mental Health in 30 Days

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Photo: Courtesy of Katie Smith

It was January the 2nd and, while my heart felt full of love post Christmas and the New Year, my mind and body just felt, well, full. After weeks on end of family dinners, catch-ups with old friends, and parties with colleagues, my body had endured a sizeable amount of over-indulgence, and I found myself feeling out of sorts. I didn’t want to begin 2018 by starting a fad diet. In fact, I’ve never dieted in my life, and I wasn’t about to start now. Instead, I was looking for a lifestyle change, something that would kick-start a healthy new way of thinking, eating, and feeling, without calorie counting or obsessing over how many “sins” I was consuming. Enter: Whole30.

The Whole30 program is designed to push the reset button by eliminating all food groups that could be having a negative impact on your health and fitness — without you even realizing it. It focuses on healing your gut, altering your relationship with food, and improving your overall physical health, be it through weight loss, improvement of skin, or increased energy. And while most diets look at cutting down food intake or eliminating just one food group, Whole30 encourages the consumption of foods that include just one ingredient, and cutting out anything that is processed or that you may have difficulty digesting. These include sugar (natural or artificial), complex carbohydrates, dairy, legumes, grains, and intoxicants (bubbles, grapes, and anything else of the sort).

Now, while improved health sounded great, reading the ‘no-go’ list left me wondering if I would just end up miserable from food deprivation. So, I researched and read and researched some more. The amount of people all over the world declaring how Whole30 had changed their lives was overwhelming. Some stated how the program had cured chronic medical conditions they’d been battling for years to no avail; others recalled astonishing improvements to skin conditions such as eczema, and the stories of gut and digestive repair were in their thousands. I figured, if I really wanted to improve my health and develop a better understanding of how my own body worked, this was worth investing my time and energy into. And so I started my Whole30 journey.

Keep scrolling to discover what happened over the 30 days, how I got through it, and what I wish I knew before I began.

What I Wish I Knew Before I Began

Whole30 takes willpower, preparation, dedication, and a little bit more willpower.
Consider the time in which you are starting — do you have a month full of weddings, birthdays, and celebrations coming up? Are you going to be traveling multiple times? Is your calendar full of work dinners with set menus? All of these things will make the program very difficult to stick to, because it involves a hefty amount of home cooking and meal prepping. Plus, this isn’t a diet, so you’re not going to have ‘cheat days’.

Be prepared to cook, a lot.
During my 30 days, I rediscovered my love for cooking, but when you work a 10-hour day, have a home to run, kids to feed, or gym classes to catch, it can become very tedious. Fill your fridge with compliant foods that you can mix and match easily, figure out your go-to food formulas, and be willing to spend one day of your weekend cooking for the week ahead.

Your social life is going to suffer.
Firstly, the sugar hangover and food cravings you’ll experience will not make you fun to be around. Secondly, you’ll find yourself talking about Whole30 to anyone who will listen. Thirdly, eating out becomes almost impossible, going to bars isn’t fun, and you have less time for leisure because you’re cooking so much.

What I Learnt During

Resources are everything.
The official Whole30 website basically became my homepage over the month. I downloaded the timeline and stuck it on my desk, and crossing each day off not only gave me so much satisfaction, but it also helped me understand what I was feeling that day, whether it be snappy from food cravings or full off ‘tiger blood’ energy. The shopping list provided proves just how many delicious foods you are allowed, and stops you from focusing on what you’re cutting out. Forums are so helpful, and you’ll be hard-pressed to find a Whole30-related question someone hasn’t asked before. Finally, follow, follow, follow! Whole30 Instagram accounts are great for recipe ideas and motivation.

The program really is life-changing.
Although I never contemplated having a food intolerance, I had a few ailments to say the least. My digestion was worryingly far from regular, my PMS symptoms were often unbearable, and I had a constant bloat. Each of these problems practically vanished just two weeks into the program. And in their place came better sleep quality, remarkable amounts of energy, improved brightness to my skin, and a flat stomach for the first time in my entire life.

Eating habits are as much mental as they are physical.
From childhood, most of us have been cognitively trained to believe that good behavior deserves a “treat”, usually in the form of something sugary and totally delicious. However, I realized that the biggest treat of all is waking up every single day not feeling tired and being able to button my pants because I’m not painfully constipated. During the month, I stopped craving the “treats” because I felt happier than any cake had ever made me feel.

Photo: Courtesy of Whole30

What I Learnt Afterward

I’m intolerant, to something…
I wish that someone had explained the importance of going really slow with your re-introduction after the 30 days were over. My last day was also my first day of a 10-day vacation, and I jumped feet first into local delicacies. On my return, I indulged in some of the foods I’d missed, and my gut was not happy about it. Take it slow, keep a diary, and learn exactly what makes your body tick.

The results are astonishing.
The non-scale victories meant more to me than the inches lost, and these are the reasons I’ll continue to eat clean. But, avoiding the mirrors and scales for a whole 30 days meant I really noticed the difference when I did step on the scales. I lost 3kg in total, and my clothes fitted me in a way they never have. That being said, I haven’t felt the need to monitor my weight since that day because I’m much more aware of how I feel on the inside and in my mind than what numbers are telling me on the outside.

Life is all about balance.
Whole30 is only 30 days long for a reason. It’s a reset, but it’s not designed to be adhered to for the rest of your life. Instead, it teaches you how to adjust your daily habits. While I felt healthy and happy on Whole30, I realized that socializing is also a huge contributing factor to my well-being, and missing out on quality dinners with friends and dates with my other half really got to me. Now, I’m implementing a Whole30 lifestyle that works for me, which includes a very healthy balance of eating clean, working out, but knowing it’s also okay to enjoy a bowl of pasta every now and then.

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