My Whole 30 Is Over. I Feel Amazing. It’s Complicated.

whole 30 results ambivalent success

Tomorrow I’m drinking my first cup of coffee in a month…because at the end of the day I’m crossing my first goal of 2013 off my list: Complete a Whole 30.

Here’s what I wrote at the beginning of the month:

This is a short-term (30 day) nutritional reset. I eat this way (whole foods, and for me, low glycemic index) most of the time already; the big changes for me are no coffee, no wine, no cheating. (I slated January as my Whole 30 month, but I was dreading giving up the coffee so much I started it early so I could just get it over with already.)

Today’s my last day of no coffee/no alcohol/no sugar/no cheats, and I’m shocked at how different I feel. Shocked.

Att the beginning I just felt grumpy, and sad that I couldn’t have my coffee or wine. (I hate to tell you that, but let’s be honest: those are the two things I missed the most. My mom kept asking which I missed more. My answer? It depends on what time it is!)

After Day 3, it wasn’t hard. Really.

On Day 6, in the middle of the afternoon, I felt this huge burst of energy. This does not usually happen to me at 2pm; but it was unmistakable, like somebody flipped a switch. From that afternoon, my energy levels shot up, my brain fog disappeared. I’d been having some health-related anxiety (which is oh-so-easy for me to fall into since 9/11), and it vanished.

Since Day 6, I’ve fallen very easily into a virtuous cycle: with extra energy, I don’t have to drag myself out of bed in the morning–I just wake up. It’s easier to exercise–and then I feel better because I do. I have more patience with my kids. I’m (even) nicer to my husband. I sing more!

Did I tell you I feel amazing?

I feel great, but my feelings about my awesome Whole 30 results are surprisingly complicated. It’s nice to feel great and all, but I’d really like my coffee back. And my red wine. And I’m terrified that when I add those things back in, I’m going to feel like crap. And then what?

(I don’t like the answer.)

Tomorrow morning, I’m looking forward to a glorious cup of coffee. Next week, I’ll try a glass of wine and see how that makes me feel. I’m hoping the answer to both is “just fine,” because it’s great to feel amazing–but wouldn’t it be better to feel amazing and get to drink wine and coffee? I think so.

(If you’re thinking about trying something like this, can I just encourage you to go for it? The worst part of my Whole 30 was the dread of the beginning. Once I got started, it was fine. Even before Day 6. And the results might surprise you. And then you might have complicated feelings about them….but you can cross that bridge when you get there.)

Have you ever had complicated feelings about your own success? Tell us all about it….and feel free to give me a pep talk in comments!

ambivalent about whole 30 results why it's complicated
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  1. Oh, this makes so much sense to me. I haven’t done that challenge, but I have figured out that there are certain choices that are certain to make me feel better, but I’m not yet consistently making those choices because… Well, you know.

  2. Lori says:

    My 24 year old daughter has had gut problems her whole life, not much energy, etc. She went on the Whole30 several months ago and it has literally changed her life. She sleeps great. She has lots of energy. I asked her if she could eat this way forever and she said “Yes!” She started a blog while on the program with all of her recipes here ~

    She doesn’t eat as strict as the Whole30 but more like Paleo now but still feels great.

  3. “it’s great to feel amazing–but wouldn’t it be better to feel amazing and get to drink wine and coffee? I think so.” This made me smile 🙂

    I think finding away to add in small pleasures in such a way that it doesn’t hurt our health is really good way to find balance. Hmmm…I have thought of doing a 30 day gluten free just to see how I feel, but I’m a wimp, and like you said afraid to start….

    • Anne says:

      Johanna, I started eating strict (and not half-hearted) gluten-free two years ago. I started with a “gluten-free January” and felt so good at the end of the month I just kept going. When I finally cheated in March I felt HORRIBLE–that was motivation enough to remain GF and I have been ever since.

      You can do it!

  4. Katie says:

    I’m thinking of going gluten-free for Lent (because dressing it up in a religious framework might convince me to actually stick to it). And I’m trying to cut my sugar intake in general. But even though I know I feel better if I don’t eat certain things, sometimes feeling better just isn’t worth not having bread or warm cookies or whatever it is. Isn’t that sad? You’re right that it’s complicated!

    Also, I would miss coffee and wine the most too, but mostly the wine. Not being able to have a beer on a hot day or wine with dinner was the worst part of being pregnant! They let you cheat with the occasional coffee so that was ok but you can’t cheat on the alcohol and I missed it!

  5. I think it’s the sugar, myself. When we were faithful to the 1st and 2nd stages of South Beach (low carb, no sugar), and after we got over the really grump, we-feel-like-crap first few days, we had the same experience. Extra energy, no more headaches (and we both had them all the time), and we started loosing weight.

    Now we’ve tried to break that sugar/carb habit again, and I’m sorry to tell you that we haven’t found the self-discipline to stick with it. However, this post reminds me of how good we felt, and that even after 2 or 3 weeks, we no longer craved the sugary foods and high carb items. So…maybe 2013 will be the year for us to get that back again. We’ll see.

    In the meantime, I’m interested in how this turns out for you. Keep us posted!

  6. I started a 90 sugar fast 2 wks ago. The first four days were nasty-awful. At a party and I overheard my husband tell my bro-in-law, “Adriana is off sugar and she’s like a bear out of hibernation.”

    After the first week I started to notice two things: 1. The crave was gone. 2. I was sleeping 8hrs straight at night. (I’ve been up w/ my kids a few times in the last 2 wks., but after I took care of them I went RIGHT back to sleep w/o the usual tossing and turning.)

    Getting enough sleep is a DREAM COME TRUE! I’ve suffered from insomnia/sleep deprivation for YEARS!

    I’m not yet sure how I will proceed when my 90 days are up. I can’t imagine I’ll never indulge again, but I believe I’ll be A LOT more cautious about when and how much.

    THANK YOU Anne for inspiring me to do this!

    • Anne says:

      The first paragraph cracked me up 🙂

      Adriana, that’s wonderful that you’re feeling so well. I can’t believe how much a difference something as simple as cutting the sugar can make in something like how well you sleep!

      I’m the same way about the crave. When I don’t eat sugar, I don’t crave it. (When I drink Diet Coke, I crave sugar like a mad woman. That’s one of the reasons I quit that stuff!)

      I’m so happy you’re doing well and feeling great.

  7. Amy says:

    I’ve done the Daniel Fast (basically, vegan) twice and always felt fantastic. I keep psyching myself up to let go of coffee (ie, sugar) every single morning but like you, I love it so much.

    • Anne says:

      The worst part is the dread before you start. Really and truly. (Unless, of course, you get nasty withdrawal headaches.)

      This is kind of an aside, but: Is it the sugar you want to quit or the coffee? I’ve heard two ways to quit the sugared coffee:

      1. Just quit. Drink it black. The first day will be horrible but in 2 weeks you’ll never go back. That’s what I did about 5 years ago.

      2. Just take a sip of it every day before you add anything. Small steps 🙂

  8. Delphine says:

    Uh..I’ve been back and forth on this for so long but I just got my boyfriend to do it with me. So we can laugh together over how badly we want a bagel. I’m doing it in February!

    • Anne says:

      It IS nice to have someone to commiserate with–and it’s even better to not a loved one eating bagels in front of you when you’re on the wagon! Here’s to a wonderful February for both of you!

  9. amy says:

    This post has truly encouraged me to consider trying this 30-day challenge. I love having both coffee and wine but I also am curious how I would feel without these daily habits. Worth a shot, right?

  10. Sarah Beals says:

    I had a similar experience. I’ve significantly changed my diet since Jan. 1st and I can’t even believe the difference in my energy. Although I haven’t done the same challenge as you, the results sound similar. I’ve cut out most white sugar and flour, processed foods, hydro. oils and any High fructose corn syrup.
    AND I am asking myself–How have I been SO clueless about my own body for so long?? I plan to continue my eating plan for as long as I can. 🙂

    • Anne says:

      Sarah, that’s wonderful that you’re feeling so well!

      (And I know what you mean–how did I not realize how much I was hurting myself with what I was eating? I didn’t know I had the power to change anything!)

  11. Jacki says:

    I am also terrified about adding certain items back to my diet and then finding out that I feel like crap. Have no idea how I would handle it, but knowing how well I feel now, not sure I am willing to make that sacrifice.

  12. Tim says:

    Pep talk? Sure thing – You did great, kiddo! And by “great”, I mean you pulled off something I can’t imagine going through myself, at least not willingly. Nice job.

    Then again, I gave up beer, wine, single malt whiskeys, etc., over a decade ago and haven’t gone back. I did it for a couple reasons. First, the calories. Second, my son was getting to an age when he would wonder why grown-ups could do things he couldn’t, and I just didn’t want to have the double-standard alcohol conversation with him when he entered his teens. I still find myself thinking about what beer or wine would go well with what I’m eating, though, and sometimes a good single malt sounds awfully perfect!


  13. Stacey says:

    Ugh! I am having complicated feelings about this post 🙂 I am so tempted to try it because I am awfully close now and have done something similar in the past and felt wonderful. But foor me, it’s all about the coffee. Crazy but true!

  14. My psychiatrist has me on a strict diet that not only cuts all caffeine (even chocolate!), refined sugar, dairy, yeast, eggs, and alcohol, but also requires me to rotate through a small group of foods every seven days. (For example, I had turkey for dinner last night. I can eat it again for lunch, but by dinnertime it’s off the table again until next Thursday.)

    Most of the time, I don’t mind the sacrifices. I know I’m getting better, so the results are easy to see. But I’ve noticed three things make giving things up harder.

    First, where I am in my cycle. I cannot tell you how much I NEED chocolate the second half of the month. Even naturally sweet foods like fruit would do the trick if I were allowed to eat them.

    Second, how my life is going. There is only so much sacrifice a woman can take before her will-power to voluntarily sacrifice things starts to crumble. My eighteen-month-old has been sick and waking up at night for about a week. While the diet is generally easy, I’ve sacrificed so much sleep I think I deserve a nice cup of tea.

    Third, what the people around me are eating. It’s not that I can’t resist other people’s treats–although that’s hard enough. What I really miss is the social experience of eating. My mother taught me that it’s rude to make a big deal of foods you can and can’t eat when someone serves you something, so having a special diet makes me feel uncomfortable. But more than that, I want to join my husband and my son for dessert or a course of fresh fruit. Eating is such an important way to spend time together as a family that I hate being the one with something different on my plate.

    Overall, I’m on the same page as you. I’m proud of myself for giving up so many foods and–for the most part–sticking with it. I feel better and less depressed. But, even after three months, I can hardly wait for the day some of my “foods to avoid” make their way back onto the menu.

    • Anne says:

      Alison, that’s tough. And I think you’re so right–food is social, and it’s at social events that I most often lament my special diet. (Especially because on things like gluten and dairy, it’s not optional–if I eat it I’m going to feel like crap. And I hate having to interrogate people about what’s in the food, or skip things that look delicious because I can’t be sure they won’t make me sick.)

      Your comments made me think of Elizabeth Foss’s excellent review of It Starts With Food over on Amazon. It’s the first one at the top, entitled “Actually, It Is Hard.”

      I hope your special diet is bringing about good changes in how you feel and your sense of well-being. If it’s going to be so tough, I sure hope it’s worth it!

  15. I’ve got some complicated feelings about even starting a strict eating plan, because like you said, what if I find that it does help with some chronic health issues I’ve had, what if I do feel a lot better, but what if it means I have to live without some of my favorite things

    So instead I keep resisting when I’m encouraged to “just try it” and see how it works for me. Plus, I seriously do not know what I would eat, and what I’d feed my family.

    • Anne says:

      Sheila, the Whole 30 wasn’t a huge change in my diet. The coffee, alcohol, and strict sugar-free were the biggest changes. But we’ve made some major dietary changes in the past, and in my experience the first two weeks stink. There are a lot of days (meals, snack times) when you open the fridge and just stare into it, thinking “there is literally nothing here for me to eat.”

      Then by the time for the first two weeks are over, you’ve found your groove and mealtime is no longer a big deal. But it’s taken me every bit of that two weeks to adjust.

  16. I would be interested in doing something like this, but wonder how. I don’t drink alcohol or coffee so that doesn’t concern me, but a few years ago I did a 2-month anti-candida no-sugar no-carbs diet, and found it nearly impossible to find things that didn’t have sugar in them, and basically impossible to make three meals a day of no-sugar meals. I’d be interested in hearing more about what you ate and how you avoided what you weren’t supposed to eat (especially when not at home).

    • Anne says:

      Jessica, it is a big adjustment to make. I had a huge running start on this one. I’ve been eating more-or-less like this for years (not always this strict, though). And we have food allergies in my house, including a soy allergy, which means that we have to make meals from scratch because it’s almost impossible to eat out in America with a soy allergy!

      Honestly, I eat a lot of the same food every day, and it’s pretty plain sometimes. I might roast two chickens at a time and freeze some. I’ll roast chicken breasts in the oven or crock pot, shred them (in the mixer!), and put that in the fridge to eat for lunch all week with salsa, avocado slices, and frozen broccoli on the side. Or I’ll make a big pot of chili, package it in 3-cup tupperwares, and take those to work. I also eat tons of apples, baby carrots, and almonds, which require zero prep.

      It’s also been helpful for me to find a few good food blogs (there are piles of good ones, but too many is overwhelming) and then keep adding back for ideas and recipes.

      Eating when not at home is a pain. If I have access to a fridge, it’s easy. If not, I make sure I have apples and almonds handy. At restaurants, a grilled piece of meat with steamed vegetables or a giant salad can work most (but not all) places.

      • It’s good that fruit is allowed for the Whole 30 — it wasn’t allowed on the anti-candida diet (no natural sugars) and I eventually broke down crying over fruit cravings and ate some blueberries.

        I already eat the same things for breakfast and lunch every day, so I wouldn’t mind switching up what that is, but it sounds like the Whole 30 would be difficult to do as a vegetarian, and definitely not a good option for the moment when I’m getting dinner most nights at the campus dining hall (because we get a free meal plan — I’m not going to pass that up!). But it’s good to know about for the future. Thanks!

        • Anne says:

          Jessica, there is a vegetarian-ized version of the Whole 30, but I don’t think there’s anything magic about the Whole 30 exactly. The important thing is to do the experimentation you need to do to figure out what works best for your body! And if I were you, I would do my utmost to figure that out in the context of a free meal plan 🙂

  17. I won’t lie. The best I’ve ever felt health wise, since I grew up and was told I have to care about these things, was going 6 months without caffeine. I had more energy, real energy, and was eating better overall because of it. I think part of the process was realizing I wasn’t dependent upon a substance to bail myself out.

      • I have gone a month or two before in conjunction with the 4 hour body diet, and felt great then too. Of course, then, I was drinking Yerba Maté tea, which also has caffeine, but it doesn’t make you jittery.

        I think the reason caffeine helps is that it gets your through temporarily, since life sometimes just take so much out of us. Without a real long term physical and or emotional solution, we always come back to it.

  18. You don’t get caffeine headaches? I hate coffee – so I get my caffeine via diet Coke mostly. I’ve kicked it a couple of times, but it’s SO hard, because I get awful, awful headaches. And then it always ends up creeping back in…

    • Anne says:

      There was a time when I did get headaches when I didn’t have caffeine before mid-morning, but I’ve backed way off caffeine in the past year so now I don’t. Wish I could help with those–they’re horrible!

      • Laura says:

        I’ve tried a few times to quit coffee. Not so much for the coffee itself, but for the (really delicious local pastured) cream which I put in it. I’ve avoided the headaches through careful attention to hydration, but I had another really unpleasant side effect. It seems that the morning coffee ritual is at least partially linked to my regularity, and stopping the coffee did not do me any favors. Has anyone had that effect? Every time I’ve ended up going back to the coffee. I just really enjoy having that hot drink ready for me in the wee hours of the morning, and I don’t have the guts (so to speak….) to give it up if it means an upset to my regularity.

        • Tim says:

          Funny you should mention that, Laura. I drink my coffee black, but my gastroenterologist advised I continue with coffee for the same effect it has on my system. Bonus that I love my coffee. Dr.’s orders, you know!

  19. Louise says:

    I’m impressed you were ok by day 3. I decided I’d give up alcohol & chocolate for 2013. It took exactly 22 days to stop thinking about how much I’d like a glass of wine with my dinner (or just when I finally got both the kids to bed!). The chocolate was a bit easier because, as you say, once you get off the sugar you feel better & more inclined to stick with it (but I still had to remind myself at a 4th birthday party last weekend that I could have any cake).
    I agree wholeheartedly with the comments about eating being social & how that adds to the difficulty.
    I have found two things very helpful
    1. Advice I received that was something along the lines of ‘its about self-love… You are not denying yourself something… You are doing it FOR yourself not against yourself
    2. Each night when I first get into bed I take a moment to assess how I feel & what I ate… If I feel great I know to repeat those behaviors. If I feel less than great I think about how I could make one small adjustment tomorrow to feel better.
    Good luck to anyone trying.. Happy healthy days ahead!

    • Anne says:

      Louise, I just love your #1 piece of advice. It’s so true, giving up coffee sounds terrible. But “freedom from headaches” is something else altogether!

      I don’t do #2, but it sounds like a good habit to adopt. Thanks for that!

  20. I looked up Whole 30 and didn’t see anything about caffeine–did you give up the coffee because it’s better in general or am I missing something about the program? I ask because I’m trying to convince my husband that this would be a good idea and his response to suggestions that he give up coffee involve loud protests and running away. 🙂

    • Anne says:

      Catherine, I did the caffeine because I felt like I needed to–not because it’s part of the basic program. (I had been having headaches and brain fog and caffeine is a likely trigger for both.) No need for your husband to run away 🙂

  21. Michelle says:

    Congrats on finishing your Whole30! I’ve got 4 days left. I have the same conflicted feelings – excited about having more flexibility but terrified of how things will wreak havoc on my body. I already know I won’t be reintroducing dairy after my first Whole30 but it will be interesting to see if there’s anything else I need to keep out.

    • Anne says:

      Michelle, now I’m trying to be very purposeful about adding foods back in slowly and seeing how I feel. So far it’s not looking good for coffee….

  22. Kim says:

    Today was my day 28. Two more days to go. I feel VERY conflicted about it. While at this point I can’t imagine eating differently than I do now, I am afraid that if I start introducing things that slope will become awfully slippery and I will slip slide into eating some things I shouldn’t before I know it. Life inside the Whole30 feels very safe.

    • Anne says:

      Oh, the dreaded slippery slope! I’ve fallen prey to it many a time. I need to remember to come back and read my own words if I start sliding–and remember how great I really feel when I’m on it.

  23. Greg says:

    My wife and I have combined our 2 favorite diets/eating plans in to what we call “Whole-S”.

    It is a combination fo Whole30 and the “No S Diet” (No snacks, no sweets, no seconds. Unless the day starts with S.

    So we Whole30 for the entire Month of January (Ends this Saturday, Yeah!)

    Then February, March and April we Whole30 during the week, then give ourselves a little break on the weekends, and Special occasions, Days that start with “S”.

    We do not go full scarforama on the weekends, but we will go out to eat, or have a sandwich with actual bread. And maybe One sweet item over the entire weekend.

    May we Whole30 again.
    June, July, and August Whole-S.
    September Whole30 again.
    October, November and December Whole-S.

    Then the cycle starts all over again.

    We think this is very sustainable, and follow the Whole9 recommendation to Whole30 3 or 4 times a year.

    • Anne says:

      Greg, “sustainable” is just the word that came to mind. Thanks for sharing what’s worked well in your family; it’s so helpful to me as I try to figure out what I’m going to do long-term.

  24. Stephanie says:

    Anne, why no coffee? Is it because you usually take sugar in it? I’ve always had sugar in my coffee, but surprisingly enough I’m happy with a big splash of coconut milk in my coffee these past couple weeks (trader joe’s light)…and it’s perfectly Whole30 compliant. Bummer about the wine, though 😉

    • Anne says:

      Stephanie, I usually drink my coffee black, but I quit it for my Whole 30 because I’d been having headaches. My doctor told me coffee and wine were likely triggers. Since I was already quitting wine for the month, I thought I’d quit the coffee too to see if that had any effect on the headaches. It did, and you can read about it here.

  25. Amanda says:

    OH goodness! I was nervous for a few minutes there. I am on day 18 and I’ve been drinking coffee. I stopped reading your comments and went straight to Google to see if I had been cheating! Then I finished reading and saw why you had stopped drinking coffee. I usually drink a cup in the morning-a travel mug that I’m lucky to drink half of and two nights per week when I work the night shift in the hospital ER. I used to love to get a latte before work, but I’ve settled in to drinking a cup with coconut milk and it’s suprisingly better than I thought it would be. I love it for the warmth and sometimes for the pick me up-night shift plus a 15 month old who still doesn’t always sleep through the night, but I could also go weeks without it if I didn’t have to work. What I really miss is soda. I love the bubbly sensation and I cannot find anything that satisfies that for me-so clearly I have a poor relationship with it.

    I’m also trying to figure out what my life will look like post 30. I’m not sure that I’ve noticed significant results, but I also wasn’t convinced that I had food sensitivities–maybe some bloat. I feel like I’m going to start with trying to stay compliant at home and maybe allow myself some cheats in social situations and on the weekend (those are definitely the hardest times to follow the rules, but sure enough, I actually do live through them much to my surprise.) I guess the reintro will give me a better sense of what works for me and what doesn’t.

    • Anne says:

      Yes! A thoughtful re-intro is crucial to getting the most out of the whole 30. Good luck with yours! (And sorry to panic you about the coffee. 🙂 )

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