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Why This Popular Real Food Diet Caused Utter Failure (Part 2)

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.
Friends Dont Let Friends Eat Grains rookies try the Whole 30 diet plan

Or something like that. Winking smile

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 happy to be at our wedding[2]

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].

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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.

Lettuce (6)[2]

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! Sad smile 

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. Sad smile 

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!

Russ at beer fest[2]

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). Winking smile

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!

Friends Dont Let Friends Eat Grains what happens when rookies try the Whole 30 because their fr

So why do you think the Whole30, a diet through which many people have found great success, caused utter failure for Russ?

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!).

What do you think? Did the Whole30 fail my friends, did they fail at the Whole30, or do you see the successes and choose to focus there?

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12 thoughts on “Why This Popular Real Food Diet Caused Utter Failure (Part 2)”

  1. I was given advice to eat green at every meal, cut out wheat & dairy. So that’s how I began. Green smoothy; green salad; green veg; (with, fish, chicken, meat, beans, eggs etc). I found wheat free recipes for some bread & crackers & was able to add goats cheese for occasional treat. I made almond milk & then slices with the almond meal to get me through the need for something bread like. Found some great recipes & always cook more so that there are things in the freezer (important in winter – salad is easy in summer). I did this with hubby working away & the change took 6 months out of my life – but it was worth it for better health. I also had a mentor which helps a lot. When hubby was home the closest thing I could find to describe what I was doing was whole 30. He read that & also the Paleo shop book (in Aus). He started to loose weight just eating what I offered & has done his own (learn to cook) from those books. There is so much more to it, and a lot is mind preparation. Once you have some success – with weight and/or health, if you are prepared then you can manage different situations because they become the exception rather than the norm, and your choices reflect that. We are all different so be prepared but also be relaxed and try to enjoy what you are doing. Finding a good grocery store was a big plus for me. Instead of shopping at supermarket I use grocer, butcher etc. It does cost more until you start to undersatnd seasonal produce & get into a groove of delicious food made simply. The cheating can actually be done with ‘good’ cheats. Like most change, you need to have a passion & learning to make it work. I resented the time but the discoveries were exciting.

  2. I spent 3 days with a friend while she and her family were doing Whole30, so went completely with what they were doing while I was there (I’d been really curious about trying something like that, so jumping in with someone else already doing the prep and work was perfect for me!). It was a very interesting experience – I loved the food and never felt hungry. I figured it wouldn’t be long enough to see any changes, but was wrong. I felt pretty good while I was there (of course, I was also on vacation from my family 😉 ), but run-down my first day back at home (while I was still trying to eat the way my friend did), which she said might’ve been a detox thing – or it could’ve been related to traveling all day :p. The most fascinating result for me was how quickly my sugar cravings disappeared. I was on a crazy sugar kick before I left – dealing with stress by eating all the candy I could find in a self-perpetuating cycle – the more candy I ate, the more I wanted, and so on. By the second day at her house, I literally didn’t even want candy – a sunflower ball (sunflower seeds & dates ground together) sounded much better to me. My family is definitely not Whole30 ready – I need to do a lot more baby-stepping first – but I recently started trying to avoid added sugar again for myself in an 80/20 kind of way ;).

  3. We are on day four of our Whole30. I’m a crazy lady who has jumped right in. I think we’ve been baby stepping our way there, though looking back. Hubs has done juice fasting before to lose weight and when we came off we lasted a couple of weeks following a veggie rich diet. This time we’re ALL doing it, and we have really been enjoying the food. With an almost ebf baby, I have been allowing myself and the kids, snacks in the form of fruit with some fat and nuts, I think the littles might be jonesing for sugar, but I assume that will pass. Your two articles were quite timely. Thanks!

  4. I’ve really enjoyed these couple of posts. I think it can be quite helpful to do a sort of post mortem, even when it’s on someone else’s experience.

    Russ’ experience makes me think of two things. First, if he wants to make changes long term he should check out the plethora of recipes available from paleo bloggers. One of my favorites for truly delicious recipes is Against All Grain. Taste and pleasure are soooooo important, especially when you’re swimming against the current.

    The second thing is that he might check out Gretchen Rubin’s work. I don’t know if you’ve heard of her, but she blogs at gretchenrubin.com and she has a couple of books about happiness and the most recent one about habits. It’s full of such valuable information. She’s come up w/ several different ways to categorize human behavior, some of which have been very helpful to me. I, like your husband I imagine, am generally an abstainer. It’s far easier for me to “just say no” than to try to moderate my behavior. Only around certain things, though. Alcohol, for example, is something I moderate very well because I just don’t crave it much. I enjoy a drink now and then, but it naturally ends up being now and then without me thinking about it. Pepsi, on the other hand, I must avoid 100% for the rest of my life or I’ll be back to drinking it to excess within a week. 🙂 Self-knowledge is super important here because we’re all created uniquely. Keep up the good work, Katie. 🙂

    1. Good thought, Joanna, thank you! I love Against All Grain too, but I’m afraid the recipes might be too time-intensive for this situation. Then again, I usually land on her baking stuff, not savory, so that might be the problem. I have that Gretchen Rubin book right now! Although I haven’t opened it yet… 😉 Katie

      1. Ah, fair enough. I haven’t really done her baking. I usually do her savory recipes. Her second book, Meals Made Simple, focuses on quicker things, though, admittedly, there do tend to be ingredients that also need to be made (like mayo or a bbq sauce that you have to make bc in the store there aren’t any good options). In some cases she shares brands that are paleo that you could purchase (for a pretty penny, I’m sure). That second book has an 8 week meal plan that she has modified slightly for Whole 30 in a blog post. You’re right, though, that it would probably be hard for someone who’s accustomed to popping something in the microwave.

        I hope you enjoy Gretchen’s book. I’ve found her work very helpful. I read another book about habits whose title I cannot remember, but it talked about how a habit is something that you literally do not even think about anymore. They’re hard to form, but priceless once you do, bc in stressful times you tend to fall back on your habits. So if they’re bad that makes your stressful time worse, but if they’re good it could really help.

  5. Ah, I so relate to this! I did my first whole 30 earlier this year, and while I rocked the first 2 weeks of it (new recipes, meal plans, food prep, variety of snacks), by the end of it I got so lazy and ‘cheaty’. Was making my own chips, found ways to eat ‘dessert’ with fruit and jumped right back into a rubbish diet at the end of it! I actually think if I had’ve stopped halfway through I would have eased back in well, adding only 1 food group at a time. Instead I was just sick of it! I found out a week in that I was pregnant and I don’t know if this is related but I had next to no morning sickness while on the whole 30 🙂 I agree with it being sort of a success, sort of a failure because I did notice some improvement in my health symptoms, lots a couple of kg and finished the 30 days, but it didn’t help with any lasting changes. Would be open to doing it again, but right now I’m taking so much inspiration from your baby steps way of doing things Katie! So thank you 🙂

    1. Pregnancy makes any diet trickier Sam! I’m sure homemade chips and fruit desserts would be a good habit to stick with though – Michael Pollan says that you can eat junk food as long as you make it yourself. Generally it’s so time-intensive that we can’t overindulge like we can with a bag of Lay’s or a box of Chips Ahoy, you know? Baby probably was asking for starch and fat, hence the chips! 😉

      Congrats and blessings on your pregnancy!!

  6. I am a failed whole 30-er. I completed one last summer and never felt better by the end. I didn’t lose weight, but I trimmed up, my face was clear, and my digestive issues were eliminated. One night at a restaurant killed it because I didn’t practice that during my 30 days and I failed miserably. I tried again during Lent this year. I went twenty days, and I realized two things. One. I love to cook for my family and, well, we are picky eaters I guess. I am not impressed by their recipes. And two. It is expensive to eat that way full time. I cook with good whole foods, but sometimes we eat oatmeal, rice, and real butter (instead of ghee). Three. I love good food. I love good flavors… Like your friend. I don’t want to give those experiences up. I know my digestive issues stink, but I would have to give up most all of the whole 30 banned food plus some to stay “normal”. I want to have an occasional beer and i definitely enjoy butter on my toast with eggs. It is restrictive and for me, the ” guilt ” was horrible and I followed the full less all the way, but I still felt like I was cheating because, like your friend, I found easy ways out and shortcuts so I could feed my family. I might do it again, but it seems worthless if one is just going to fall back into old habits.

    1. Lauralee,
      I can’t argue with the expensive part of the Whole30, but I do think you can enjoy the food and flavors. I never felt deprived with all the meats and veggies we ate (although I didn’t do it all the way because I didn’t cut dairy but did cut everything else). I think you just need to find the right recipes to be able to truly enjoy eating whole30 compliant stuff. That’s too bad that you didn’t! 🙁 I also wonder if you could capture the “feel good” healthy zone you had after the first 30 days but still enjoy cooking and eating if you made grain-free baked goods. There are some pretty darn good bread recipes that don’t use grains, so you could have some toast with eggs (and ghee or coconut spread). Or maybe you would find that dairy isn’t an issue for you and you could feel awesome with butter in your diet! 😉 I would just recommend testing out the various food groups to try to pinpoint which ones cause you to feel poorly. It might not be all or nothing, you know?

      I can’t decide if a completed Whole30 is worthless if you go right back to old habits – maybe not, because at the very least you give your gut and systems a break from a lot of inflammatory foods, and maybe that allows some things to heal that simply wouldn’t with a normal lifestyle.

      I hope you find your silver lining next time!! 🙂 Katie

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