The Whole 30 is a popular diet program, though not for the faint of heart. Sugar, carbohydrates, grains, and legumes are some of the things that are off-limits in this program. The purpose of the Whole 30 is to find out what foods bother your system, though many people use it as a “reset” or a way to jumpstart healthy eating.
I have been Gluten and Dairy Free for the past year and a half for health reasons, though in the past several months I have not been feeling ok and suspected that there was more bothering my digestive system than just gluten and dairy. Also, there are a few foods that contain gluten that I knew I could handle (several breads, for example), so I suspected it might not be gluten specifically. I thought the Whole 30 program would give me answers.
So, my husband and I started the program towards the end of January.
It was definitely hard at first. Although I had already been excluding gluten and dairy from my diet for a while, my body revolted from the exclusion of sugar, grains, and peanut butter. After about day 4, though, I started to feel a little better – all of this is typical for the Whole 30 process. After day 4, I started to notice that it was becoming difficult to adequately refuel after a run, and I began to be concerned.
My husband and I are both runners. We both ran cross-country in college, so we also know a little bit about proper rest, diet, and exercise for running. I have also taken an online sports nutrition class, so I’m familiar with how carbs, protein, and fat all work together to provide fuel for the body.
So, most people need their diet to be about 50% carbohydrates, with 20% protein, and 30% fat (these percentages are taken from your overall calorie intake). Runners need more calories in general, and if you do fast or long runs, those calories consumed after the run need to be 70% carbohydrates in order to adequately recover (this is not the same for all athletes). Needless to say, I was not getting that while doing the Whole 30. With removing all grains, dairy, sugar and legumes from my diet, it was very hard to replenish my carbohydrate stores after a hard run. I do 2-3 more intense runs per week, and after those runs I felt like I ate and ate but never got my blood sugar back up to where it needed to be! If I did a hard run at 11am, I would be sluggish and exhausted for the rest of the day, or until I could eat enough fruit to finally regain balance.
Although you’re not supposed to weigh yourself on the Whole 30 program, I did check my weight after one week because of the concerns I was having. I had lost 3 pounds in that one week, which brought on more concern. Now, some people do the Whole 30 in order to lose weight (even though that is not its purpose), but I was definitely not trying to do that. Losing 3 pounds in one week might even mean losing muscle for me, and I don’t consider myself a “muscular” body type – I don’t have much muscle to begin with, so I need all that can get! (This is also common for most runners).
With these concerns and the miserable blood sugar rollercoaster I was on, I went in to the second week of Whole 30 taking it one day at a time. This is supposedly when you should really start feeling better and have more energy. In some ways, I did. I slept better, was more alert and felt better overall – except my muscles could never recover. I was afraid to do hard runs that second week because of the miserable after-effects of not being able to refuel, but I forced myself to because I wanted to train. All I wanted to after those hard runs was sleep, but as a mom with six part-time jobs and a husband in school, that doesn’t come easy!
So towards the end of that second week, I ate a candy bar after a run. gasp
Now, a candy bar is obviously not in “the plan” of the Whole 30. But “breaking the rules” is not why I decided to quit the Whole 30 at two weeks, but it did cause me to consider why I felt like I needed the candy bar so much (I don’t even usually like candy bars that much and ate them on rare occasion before the Whole 30). My muscles were starving.
Basically, at two weeks, I came to the conclusion that I would rather be able to run and recover adequately than to say that I “made it” through the Whole 30 – which was a hard thing for me to let go of. I’d like to say that I persevered and made my way through the whole thing, but that’s not what I determined would be best for my body.
When doing diet plans, you are the one ultimately in charge of your health, not the diet plan. So if it’s really and truly not working for you, it’s ok to stop! I received some benefits from doing 2 weeks of the Whole 30, but then I determined that the cons outweighed the pros for me.
If you’re doing a diet plan, detox, exercise regime – determine what your purpose for beginning it will be. Then, after a week or two weeks, reevaluate. If the plan is not serving its purpose for you, you don’t have to keep doing it just because it’s “in the plan”. I did find out several small things that I believe inhibit my overall nutrition, and I found some pretty delicious recipes through doing the Whole 30. I also discovered that my muscles need carbs! Again – a few benefits, but one big deficit.
I’m not trying to knock the Whole 30 program – it’s recommended by doctors and nutritionists – but I don’t think it’s for everyone. Our bodies and lifestyles are so complex that no one diet is going to be a “one size fits all” kind of diet. Find out what works for you, and do that!