When I look back to how I used to eat, especially between the years of 2007-2017, I can easily recall how often I ate fast food, out at restaurants, or chose something I could quickly microwave when I got home from work/school. Then I cannot forget about countless cups of coffee, soda, and alcohol as well. It was easy and very convenient, so why wouldn't I eat like this? Going off of appearances alone, I "looked" healthy. Plus, this was how my friends and roommates ate, so I didn't know that there were others ways to eat.
At the beginning of 2017, my husband (then boyfriend) and I were about 9 months out from our wedding. While I had the initial thoughts of, “I want to look amazing in my wedding dress!” and “I don’t want to look fat in our wedding photos,” I knew that I also wanted to just feel better overall. I was drinking almost a full pot of coffee daily during the work week just to get by while also never feeling satiated by what I was eating. I would need a few snacks in between meals just to make it to the next meal without getting to "hangry." As I was looking into different diets to try, I knew deep down that I didn’t actually want to be on a diet. I have tried plenty in the past (counting macros, counting calories, low-fat, vegan, etc.) and while I may have had initial success* being on a diet, I found it wasn’t a sustainable long-term.
*Success being defined as quickly losing weight which will be a whole separate topic for another day!
That is when I came across something called the Whole30. If you aren’t familiar with the Whole30, you can find more information here, but basically it is a 30-day elimination diet that removes certain foods from the diet while also focusing on eating a ton of vegetables, a moderate amount of protein, and lots of healthy fats. Essentially you are removing overly processed foods, alcohol, sugar, grains, and dairy from your daily intake. The more I read about doing this elimination diet (from their books, their website, and from various blogs), it seemed like that was just what I needed.
As I was navigating the 30-day elimination diet, I began to notice a change in my mood, my energy, and in my body. That is when I really started to question how I was previously fueling my body. How could just a few simple shifts in the types of food I was eating, along with the composition of my meals, make such noticeable changes in a short amount of time? I was leaning on a pretty refined-carb heavy diet without a whole lot of substance. It was no wonder I was feeling hungry throughout the day and had symptoms of blood sugar dysregulation. I found the winning combination of how to prepare each meal for me. I needed to have a source of protein, a few servings of vegetables, a few servings of healthy fats, and, at times, a starchy carbohydrate per meal to feel my best.
After I completed the 30 days and did a careful reintroduction period (introducing the eliminated foods back into my diet to see how my body responded to those foods), I knew I had found something that worked for me. When I would go back and have a meal that didn’t have the ratios of macronutrients or something that was more heavily processed, I would feel hungry shortly after. I also learned how to tweak some of my favorite meals to help me feel satiated. For example, I love a bowl of oatmeal (especially when the weather gets cold). Instead of having a plain bowl of oatmeal, I now add in a few eggs to cook into the oatmeal. Then I add in a spoonful of peanut butter or almond butter to get some fat mixed in. With my salads, I now add in a variety of veggies (crunchy and dark leafy greens), with a serving of protein and a high quality salad dressing. And my salads are HUGE. We’re not talking about the small side salad you tend to get at a restaurant. See the picture above for reference!
Once the novelty of doing the Whole30 faded, I found it was still fairly easy to focus on nutrient-dense foods at most of my meals. I was enjoying trying different recipes and trying food combinations that I had never considered. There are definitely times our family eats foods that are packaged or maybe isn’t jam-packed full of nutrients and I am completely okay with it. I ultimately take note in how I feel when I eat certain things. Do I get an instant headache (which seems to happen when I eat something full of sugar)? Or am I left feeling sluggish (which always seems to happen when I have a big pasta dish)? When I have those reactions, it encourages me to seek out a different type of meal the next time I eat.
Some of the benefits that many people have experienced while eating a mostly whole food diet include:
· Feeling feel satiated when eating balanced meals (protein, fat, with carbs/fiber)
· Reduced inflammation within the body
· Skin issues (such as acne) decreasing or completely eliminated
· Balancing of hormones and improved fertility
· Improvements in sleep
· Improvements in mood and energy levels
· Decrease in joint pain
· Improvements in blood sugar regulation
· Improvements in the gut microbiome
· Improved immune function
Three and a half years later, and my family and I are still eating a mostly whole food diet. It tends to get easier in the summer months when fresh and local produce are readily available via our Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) share and online marketplace. If you want to see if you have a CSA local to you, I highly recommend checking out this website. When we opt for a packaged food, I scan through the ingredient labels and try to make the best decision I can (we are all trying our best, aren’t we?). I give myself grace that we cannot possibly eat every single meal made from scratch…especially with a toddler in tow…so I focus on making sure the meals that we do make from home give us variety of nutrients, while also being flavorful. In future blog posts, I will share how I made the switch in our home, what to look for on your food package labels, and how to navigate the grocery store!