Let me begin this by confessing a simple truth: I love Halloween candy. Every year, I buy tons. Sure, a lot of it is for the tons of Trick or Treaters that hit my neighborhood, but a lot of it is devoured by me. This year, though, I decided to do something about it. Rather than simply be that guy who doesn’t buy candy for Trick or Treaters and hide out that night in a dark house, it seemed like trying out Whole 30 for the month of October was a better option.
I first heard about Whole 30 when a friend of mine, Elizabeth, was singing its praises. It intrigued me, but besides a mental note being made, that was about it. However, last summer, Kari, one of my best friends, took it on and was a champ. In addition to her updates about her progress, I also had the opportunity to see her make it through a lunch meeting where almost everything that was served was not Whole 30 compliant, but she did her best with the fresh fruit that was there and ate afterwards. Her discussing the benefits led to my deciding Whole 30 should be one of my monthly New Year Resolution themes. September was not an option because Kansas State Fair food was a must, and Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays, so November wouldn’t work either. Therefore, October had to be it.
Whole 30 was created by a wife-and-husband team, Dallas and Melissa Hartwig. Here is a link to the program’s rules. Basically, one is to avoid having sugar, alcohol, grains, legumes, soy, and dairy during a 30 day period. Then the dieter is to slowly add these back in to see what effects, if any, the person experiences. Although popular, there are mixed views about how healthy it actually is. Many have found it life changing with their going on about how great they feel. Then places like Health magazine listed it as one of the worst health trends for 2013.
No concrete studies have been done about the long-term effects of Whole 30 that I could find, but I figured 30 days, or in the case of October – 31 days, would be fine to give up the list of banned items and test my will power.
Without a doubt, it was a fascinating month, and here are a few takeaways.
- Sugar Is in Everything
Thankfully, I could eat fruits and other items containing natural sugars; however, white and brown sugar had to be avoided. The same went for anything containing them as ingredients. I was prepared to give up desserts and the such; however, I was shocked when I started reading labels and finding sugar as a listed ingredient time and again. My healthy organic low sodium chicken broth – sugar. My tasty meat tenderizer – sugar. Dried fruit – sugar. Bacon – sugar. Most things tasty – sugar. One thing after another, I would find it listed and be shocked repeatedly of wondering the simple question, “Why?” I still don’t know the answer to that besides the fact that sugar is delicious.
- Eating Out Is Rough
Several times during the month, I attempted to go out to eat, and it was indeed rough. There was a date at a Mexican food restaurant (I will get to that in a bit). There were several lunch meetings. My mother came to visit for a weekend and we attempted to find places that would have something Whole 30 compliant. Looking back, there were a lot of not-so-great salads that were devoured (Hutchinson needs some great salad places on a side note). Even my go-to healthy place to eat in town had little on its menu that was Whole 30 friendly (the salad there was good though). In fact, it was harder to go out to eat and follow the Whole 30 rules than it was during February when I was playing vegetarian.
- Eating In Was Easy
Most of the meals (after I found a no-sugar-added-for-no-reason low-sodium vegetable broth) I make at home are Whole 30 compliant. Sure, bread was missed to go with the soup, and a tortilla shell to have tacos instead of taco salads (no tasty tortilla bowl for that either) would have been nice, but overall, I didn’t have to adjust too many of my usual recipes except for breakfast. For that meal, my cereal was replaced by eggs either in the form of scrambled, hard boiled, or omelet. They were tasty, and they have continued to start off my day.
- My Will Power Was Stronger Than I Thought It Would Be
I was really concerned some of the banned foods would greatly tempt me. For sugar, it was sweets of any kind. For grains, it were popcorn, tortilla chips, and fried chicken. For legumes, it was peanut butter. For soy, it was Asian food, and for dairy, it was cheese. For alcohol, well, I gave up drinking again back in May and I have no plans to restart anytime soon.
To my surprise, none of the banned foods actually were tempting at all. Early on in October, I went on a date, and he was craving Mexican food. In addition to being that guy who first struggled finding something on the menu and then finally locating a salad to only make some special requests while also trying to explain to the very nice server that I really am not that crazy diet person despite my currently being that crazy diet person, I had to resist the urge of the unlimited tortilla chips that were sitting in front of me. Usually, I will eat a basket by myself and then some. A desire to eat even one wasn’t even there.
These tempting foods continued to appear. Fried chicken tried to tempt me three different times, and each time I admired it and was okay with not eating it (even at the Volunteer Center’s Appreciation Dinner where I served as their volunteer photographer for the evening).
Requests two different times at work had me popping popcorn for others, and I also had to throw all of the extra away at the end of the day. Not once did I want to eat even a single piece (okay, there may have been a little bit of desire here, but I stayed strong). Cheese is everywhere, and going without was fine with me. Then on the last day, a former student of mine went over the top by sending me a gift box from Henry & David that was complete with chocolate-covered cherries, tasty looking chocolate truffles, a chocolate-covered popcorn mix, and a whole bunch of other things that were not Whole 30 compliant. Plus, there was all of the Halloween candy too. For both, I was fine with letting everything stay in their wrappers.
- I Lost Weight Despite Eating Tons
For the first couple of weeks, I was hungry all of the time. This is supposedly caused by the body turning to other sources of energy in our bodies rather than relying on carbs and sugar as the main energy sources. Following the guidance from the Whole 30 site, I ate more Whole 30 compliant food. Not really following the advice on the Whole 30 site, those cravings were often satisfied by more fruit, nuts, and these super tasty homemade Larabars that consisted of dates and nuts (seriously, that is it – dates and nuts and a blender or a food processor). Another part of Whole 30 is that the dieter is not allowed to weigh oneself during the 30 days, so I stayed away from the scales. Given my eating tons (although my constant hunger did go away after those first two weeks), I just figured there is no way I could have lost any weight. However, to my surprise, I was 7 pounds lighter at the end of the month with my dropping a percentage of body fat in the process. Plus, a great friend of mine commented about how I appeared to be in much better shape with my face seeming much slimmer. That actually made my day.
- Sugar Does Odd Things to My Mind
So after the 30 days are complete (or 31 in my case), one can slowly introduce the banned foods back into one’s life. Well, November 1 led to my experimenting with sugar. Overlooking the recommendation regarding the “slowly” part, I ate some tasty Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups and found out first-hand the Henry and David chocolate truffles were indeed delicious. Soon after, my mind felt extremely fuzzy and a desire to sleep came not too long after that. Just to make sure it wasn’t a fluke thing (aka following to the temptation of the chocolate-covered popcorn and more Halloween candy), November 2 led to my experimenting some more with sugar. The outcome of a fuzzy mind was the same. Lesson was learned for sure. All of the left-over Halloween candy was placed in the candy drawer in the Honors Lounge where it quickly disappeared soon after. While some sugar will be coming back into my life (like the sugar in the Airborne I just had or in food when eating out), the plan is to limit most refined sugar going forward.
As I continue to reflect on the Whole 30 experiment, more takeaways will surely come. It did introduce me to some tasty recipes (this one for pork carnitas especially), and the Whole 30 book has many more I am planning on trying. However, the will power found to resist the tempting foods was easily the biggest takeaway. How that will come in use in the future is yet to be seen, but like with the other months, October’s theme is sure to have some residual effects.