Yesterday I joked about how the D.A.R.E. to keep kids off drugs program was kind of like my hubby and I peer pressuring our friends to do a Whole30 – a diet that cuts out all grains, dairy, legumes, sweeteners, and alcohol.
Did you know that some would say gluten and sugar are as addictive as a drug?
If that’s the case, then it would be true to say:
Friends don’t let friends eat grains.
Or something like that.
This is part two of two where I get to introduce you to some dear friends of ours, both of whom independently (they don’t know each other) decided to tackle the Whole30 diet this spring after hearing about my husband’s good experience with it last year. He lost weight easily, wasn’t hungry, and it really killed his cravings for sugar (which lasted until Halloween when his mom brought over a big bag of his ultimate favorite candy, grrrrrr…).
Because of all that, hubby’s friend Russ wanted to give it a go, but for different reasons than my friend Cherie, who was motivated by fatigue and Hashimoto’s.
The “Losing Weight, Killing Cravings” Reason
Our other friend who just happened to choose this winter/spring as a good time to follow in the Kimballs’ footsteps and try a Whole30 is my husband’s childhood neighbor. They’ve been tight friends for 25 years, and Russ has even become close with my husband’s college friends, and now they all socialize together regularly, at major events like the 10-man annual camping trip in the deep woods with many pounds of cured meat, white bread and cheese and weekly to work out, eat Thai food and watch a movie with a few beers.
Food and drink is definitely a part of my husband’s social life, and Russ will quickly tell you that the Whole30 complicates exactly that, quite a bit.
But Russ has tried to lose weight in many ways over the years, and after hearing about my husband’s positive experience with it last year, he made the decision to jump in. As an engaged bachelor with almost no real food cooking experience, this was a huge leap into the deep end. We worried he would drown and did our best to throw him flotation devices in the form of recipes, advice, and a pre-Whole30 shopping trip with me to learn how to read labels and use produce he’s never bought before.
Russ looking happy to be in my hometown for our wedding, 13 years ago. He was a big guy then, and bigger now.
Here’s what he had to say about the experience after it was all over:
1. Why did you decide to try a Whole30?
I needed to lose weight and get healthier and having a friend do it at the same time seemed to make sense. I knew of it last year when [your husband] did it but I had never heard of it before that.
2. What concerned you the most about starting?
I had zero concerns, I’m not a very picky eater, so it wasn’t about finding food I would like, but now I think I was probably a little naive with all the other challenges you don’t think about. Like – preparing fresh food takes a lot of time. Shopping, storing properly, preparing meals.
3. What were you expecting from it?
I was expecting to do well – and I did while I was on the plan. I expected to lose weight and feel more energy, and it did both. I was hoping my cravings would diminish like it did for [your husband].
4. Tell us about the first 3-5 days – challenges?
I kind of had the opposite experience – rather than being negative or more challenging at the start, I felt surprised, challenged, and excited. It was easier the first 3-5 days because of the mental preparation I had done – I was geared up for it and excited to try it. I found that initial bit was easy to get moving. I didn’t struggle mentally with giving up foods.
And then – the time it took got to me. Cleaning, chopping, making proper portions, all those vegetables – it takes a lot of time keeping up with those meals! I ended up sliding into “bad habits.” I found the easiest meal I could make and just kept doing it.
I wasn’t cheating on the Whole30 itself but I felt like I was “cheating” because instead of preparing a whole meal, I’d throw a frozen turkey patty in a pan and shake hot sauce on top. I ate a lot of eggs – it’s easy to just crack a few eggs and eat them. I’d pull out a bag of carrots and eat a handful and then eat the eggs and move on with the day.
I was like, “I need some vegetables, so I’d eat some vegetables. I need fruit, so I’d eat fruit. I need meat, so I’d eat meat.”
But it wasn’t seasoned or anything. I was eating out of necessity. It wasn’t exciting.
I like to sit down and enjoy a good meal, so I felt like I was selling myself short. Sure, carrots and pea pods are tasty, but shaking some lettuce into a bowl and eating it is not very fun. I kept everything at a very bland basic level – eating whole food but not exactly cooking, not learning strategies to make it really sustainable.
That’s why I called it bad habits – cheating.
Note from Katie: In other words, Russ was only “getting by” to get through the 30 days. And he was giving himself guilt by feeling like he was cheating, even though he DID have the discipline to get through 30 days of a really tough, restrictive diet!! My husband and I were proud of him and glad he made it, but we were always curious why he felt like he was cheating. Turned out in the end, he was right. You’ll see what I mean in a minute…
5. What things (foods, strategies, mental states, whatever) became your saving grace in getting all the way through it without giving up?
I did figure out some tricks to survive – my favorite was the discovery of microwavable steaming bags of veggies in all different varieties. I checked the ingredients twice and there was no added salt or preservatives. I was pretty amazed that these were just frozen vegetables in the bag!
Five minutes in a microwave and I’d have 2 meals. I would microwave them first but then fry up with some Frank’s and/or some eggs. It became easy to get some cooked vegetables. Then I could throw some seasoning on top of it at least. Trying to cut up all the fresh vegetables was a problem, so this helped me add flavor and not have to cut stuff up or worry about how long foods keep in fridge, etc.
Note from me again: Poor Russ, I took him grocery shopping the Sunday before he was to start the Whole30 and ended up putting all SORTS of veggies in his cart! I know the ingredient reading lesson was good and important (especially finding added sugars), but I am sure I overwhelmed him with the fresh veggies. Not only could he not remember how I told him to use all of them, he wouldn’t have time to deal with them either. I was definitely throwing the poor guy in the deep end and showing him how WE did the Whole30, rather than helping him figure out good baby steps that would bridge him from his current knowledge to being able to sustainably carry out a Whole30. I should have followed my own rules!
The mental strategies are a bit different – a couple times I wanted to go out, but I basically had to eliminate going out. I was not happy with restaurant eating strategies in any way shape or form.
If I’m going to pend $15 on a steak dinner, I don’t want an unseasoned piece of meat and skipping butter and everything. You can’t even really have their vegetables because they’re probably also drenched in butter. A straight baked potato is not appetizing to me at all. Even a salad is just a plate of leaves.
On the bright side, it saved me some money, because it’s not worth spending money on something you could make quickly and easily at home. My solution was to just not go.
6. What did you learn that you enjoyed that you didn’t expect?
I’ve never been a picky eater about vegetables but found that I really DO like veggies, the flip side of indifference to enjoyment. I learned a lot of vegetables I hadn’t tried before thanks to you! I love all those root vegetables cut up and roasted – that was just delicious. Beets, rutabaga, parsnip – I’d never had any of those before.
But it’s a LOT of work, cleaning, peeling, dicing. They’re good but you put in your work to get it.
7. Did you see any positive results? What happened?
In the first two days, I immediately noticed my digestive system was moving well, I felt a lot better. I lost 5 pounds within first 3-4 days and lost 15 pounds by the time it was over.
But…he’s now gained all that back.
Definitely eating right helped me feel better. The diet definitely did the things it said it would [as far as inflammation], although I didn’t notice that it nullified any cravings. I wanted things I wasn’t supposed to have on this diet just as much after 30 days!
All the digestive distress also came back after finishing Whole30.
8. What did you dislike about the experience?
A day of Whole30 food was satisfying, but there are days you wish you could go out, have butter.
I didn’t feel hungry, which was good. I felt “satisfied” by the food I was eating physically, but not always enjoyment-wise.
Sometimes I was psychologically satisfied, plus if you know you’re doing something right, it’s like, “Hey, good job!” and that feels good. For dinner, if I ate the same throw-it-together-quick three days in a row, by the fourth day I’d start wanting pizza!
My fiancé was not interested in the diet at all (and she’s kind of picky), so when we ate together at night we had to prepare two separate meals. That was no fun.
The hardest part when getting into it was organization in the kitchen and time management. I work a lot of hours and come home late, and if the sink’s full of dishes, it makes it really hard…if I was a more organized bachelor I would probably still be eating that way, but it’s way too quick to slip into easy habits. Even though I found some crutches that made the 30 days possible, I could only do them so many days, and then I needed something different.
9. How did you do “re-entry” – coming back to normal afterward? Did you learn anything through that process?
I jumped RIGHT back into bad eating! There was the beer festival and then we went out of town the following weekend, restaurant eating, beer drinking, junky snacks like donuts and pretzels, late-night pizza. I basically had everything crappy you can have that isn’t allowed on the Whole30!
Yep, those are doughnuts on a necklace. This is Russ on day 31, for real. He is NOT kidding when he says he didn’t do re-entry gently, one food group at a time like you’re supposed to! (I stole this pic from my husband’s phone; I hope he doesn’t mind! Ha!)
I can’t be surprised that I started having digestive issues again.
I actually expected to feel a lot worse right away because with drinking alcohol, the symptoms would flare up normally, so I figured that weekend with a beer fest I would feel really bad. I thought I was going to spend the next 3 days in the bathroom. I was surprised I didn’t feel worse, but it kind of built back up to the former pain/discomfort level instead.
10. Would you ever do one again?
I think I would; it’s an excellent jump start. What I need to do is learn other strategies to prepare to live that lifestyle. The only way it could be permanent is to become a lifestyle, but I feel like I’m rushed from when I wake up every day – there’s an activity every night of the week.
When I first started, my plan was to shop and chop on Sunday and put all the veggies in bags in the fridge. I thought, “That will be great!” But in reality, that’s one of the only days I get to see my fiancé that time of year, and I didn’t want to be in the kitchen chopping vegetables. I would have to plan much differently to be successful next time.
It is nice to have the excuse of the Whole30 to stave off peer pressure, because I don’t feel as guilty saying I can’t do or eat certain things.
When I finished I said, “This wasn’t THAT hard, so I think I should be able to keep doing some of the stuff, most of the time.” I figured I would keep eating vegetables and no grains during the week but that it would be nice if I could go out to dinner on a Friday and so on.
…and then it went from that wish to, “Oops, I’m not doing any of it,” pretty much right away!
Ideally it was supposed to be, “I am capable of going to the extreme, so I should be able to meet myself halfway and eat healthier, but…”
The surprising part for myself was that I couldn’t.
The Poker Face of Dieting
Russ and I talked a little more about that interesting facet of human nature – that sometimes, it’s all or nothing. For example, my husband knows that if he drinks a soda pop, it will be just like those Halloween candies. The chute will be opened, and his 4-year streak of abstinence will be over.
In our house, we’re going to try a “Whole30 week” once a month, just to keep up the good veggie-eating habits. Now to put a recurring reminder in our shared calendar, because I see he didn’t when he decided that and I told him we’d have to plan it out (ahem).
He and Russ will also shoot for another shared Whole30 in September, a needed reset of cravings after the fun of summer and before the evil dark days of “the holiday season.” My husband says he needs the boost of willpower that the Whole30 will give him! We’ll have to invite Russ and his fiancé over for a few meals right at the start and try to impart some more baby step strategies to them this time!
So why do you think the Whole30, a diet through which many people have found great success, cause utter failure for Russ?
I think it’s the same as Lori found with her church and the Daniel Fast:
Trying to do everything at once.
But for a special few, diving into the deep end without learning to swim first will result in failure in the long term.
You can’t keep up short term “getting by” habits forever.
So if you want to do better with food, don’t wait until that perfect moment when you can overhaul your entire life. Not only will that moment likely not materialize, but you’ll probably be setting yourself up for failure anyway.
Baby steps, folks.
There’s a reason I’ve been talking about them for 7 years. It’s because they work (or at least give you the best chance!).