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A healthier you in 30 days on Whole30

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What does it mean to be healthy?

Is it weighing the correct amount at the doctor’s office? Does it mean being able to climb several flights of stairs without becoming winded? Or, does it relate to what you eat, and how your body processes and reacts to the food?

The Whole30 diet was co-founded by Melissa Hartwig Urban in 2009 and is designed as a short-term nutrition reset. It is a diet that challenges the idea of what many believe are “healthful” foods, by having the dieter eliminate them for 30 days. Then, food groups are reintroduced one-by-one to see if any negative symptoms occur. If you’ve ever gone out to eat or cooked at home and felt ill the next day — but, among the numerous ingredients in the food you ate, you have no idea what caused the problem — this type of diet can help solve the mystery.

How to start

The first step is cleansing the body of common foods that can cause a negative reaction or intolerance — symptoms often include digestive problems, headache, fatigue, pain, skin issues and more.

Whole30 eliminates alcohol, all grains (wheat, rye, barley, corn, oats, rice), legumes, dairy, soy, all processed foods, MSG, carrageenan and sulfites. It also eliminates one of the hardest ingredients to avoid — sugar, including all artificial sweeteners and natural sugars such as honey. Learn to read labels carefully, as sugar hides in many forms.

This stage is not pleasant but is not as hard as you might think.

“Fighting cancer is hard. Birthing a baby is hard. Losing a parent is hard. Drinking your coffee black. Is. Not. Hard,” said Hartwig Urban in “The Whole 30: The 30-Day Guide to Total Health and Food Freedom.”

“You’ve done harder things than this, and you have no excuse not to complete the program as written. It’s only thirty days, and it’s for the most important health cause on earth — the only physical body you will ever have in this lifetime,” she said.

Letting go

At the beginning of this journey, do a few things. Weigh yourself once — and then not again until day 31. Do the same by taking body measurements and photographing yourself in profile, straight on, and from the back. Then don’t worry about it for 30 days.

There is no need to count calories or macro nutrients, measure or weigh anything. This is a freeing concept for dieting, even though other elements of this program are very restrictive.

Cravings, detox and ‘tiger blood’

Hartwig Urban includes a helpful timeline on her website and in her book for how your body, mind and spirit may react on any given day.

The first few days may seem easy, and then days 4-11 are where you start to truly detox and may hate everything about what your body is feeling. Part of you will want to give up, or say it isn’t worth it, but hang in there.

During days 16-27, many people report feeling something Hartwig Urban calls “tiger blood.” Your energy may sky rocket, food cravings may be fully under control, your clothing fits better and your workouts are stronger during this period. The last few days are in some ways the easiest and the hardest. You may feel that 28 days is close enough to 30 and want to quit. Or, some people start worrying about reintroduction and want to extend the comfort zone of the 30 days you finally have down pat. Both are normal reactions.

Day 31, now what?

This is the day that reintroduction starts, and when you want to take the most notice of how your body feels. The best way to do this is by keeping a daily journal. Track not only what you eat, and how you plan to reintroduce foods, but also — and this may be most important — how your mood is each day, how you feel after each meal, how other healthy habits that you may want to track are going (drinking enough water and getting enough exercise), and how much sleep you are getting.

Every fourth to fifth day, a new food or food group is reintroduced, then you go back to eating Whole30 compliant for two to three days to see how your body reacts. Some intolerances — especially digestive ones — may not show up for 24-48 hours. Giving your body a chance to react purely to a food, when you are only adding that item back to your diet along with the compliant foods, helps narrow down reactions.

Tips for success

— Get rid of foods in your house that may cause you to cheat on the plan (eating even one ingredient or bite of food that isn’t compliant during the first 30 days is cause for starting over).

— Learn to batch cook for the week; it is a time saver in the long run. This means on any given day you will have compliant food available. You will probably become a more proficient and adventurous cook as well.

— Don’t be afraid to try new foods, spices or cooking techniques. You don’t have to eat boring food on this plan. Healthful and good for you don’t have to mean bland.

— Keep a journal or chart of what you are cooking, eating and how you feel each day.  Make your journal creative or colorful and unique to you for a more personalized experience.

— Plan your meals in advance, plan for traveling, plan for socializing and taking it day by day.

— When eating out, don’t be afraid to ask what ingredients are in the food, and if any substitutions can be made. Many restaurants have nutrition guides and allergen menus. It’s challenging, but not impossible to find Whole30 compliant restaurants.

— Remember the “non-scale victories.” One reason people try Whole30 is to lose weight, but other benefits include: healthier skin, less bloating, clothes fit better, less joint swelling or pain, fewer seasonal allergies and headaches, taking a lower dosage of or stopping some medications (consult a doctor for medical advice), feeling less fatigue — including sleeping better and waking up easier — and having more energy.

Stress may decrease while patience increases. Having fewer sugar cravings and feeling more in control with a healthier relationship to food is a big perk. In addition, many people have less brain fog, stronger workouts, fewer cravings and are more satiated. These are just the tip of the iceberg of what you may experience.

It only takes 30 days to make a significant change in lifestyle and become a healthier version of you. I should know. The tips above come from successfully completing two rounds of Whole30 this year myself. So far, I have discovered several negative reactions to common foods that I have eaten for years, have lost 20 pounds and about 14 inches and experienced most of the non-scale victories listed above and more. Most importantly, I feel so much better overall. You can do it, too.

Find out more

For more about Whole30 go to whole30.com.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2019