Reflections on the Whole30 Challenge
I’ve always had a complicated relationship with food. Starting at the age of eleven, I’ve been plagued by intense stomach pain and nausea, often after I eat, but without pattern, rhyme, or reason in the foods that triggered it. I have been tested for a myriad of food allergies, with each one coming back negative. I’ve visited countless doctors, even a pediatric gastroenterologist specialist in Seattle when I was seventeen. None of those half a dozen doctors (or the tests that I’ve had to take) have given me any conclusive results. They’ve told me to try yoga, antacids, a low-fat diet, deep breathing—one even suggested that the intense stomach pain was probably all mental and that I should try positive thinking to get over it. In short—while I love food and coffee, it seems to cause me an immense amount of pain; a pain that often inhibits my daily life.
The first time I heard about the Whole30 challenge was in a Buzzfeed YouTube video. Before I knew it, it felt like I was seeing Whole30 everywhere—a friend on Facebook praised its benefits and random internet articles seemed to be popping up everywhere. I was intrigued, and when the same friend who had shared her results on Facebook offered to let me borrow the Whole30 guidebook, I decided to try it.
After all, what did I have to lose? Not only was I tired of the constant, daily stomachaches and nausea, the stress of the previous semester had caused me to spiral down into a pit of terrible food choices and unhealthy habits—I needed to get back on track. So, on January 15, 2018, I made the decision and officially embarked on the Whole30 challenge (and a challenge it was, indeed). The rules of the program, after you get a general gist of them, are fairly simple. For a period of thirty days, you avoid eating grains, legumes (including peanuts and peanut products), all sweeteners (including honey, agave, and artificial sweeteners), dairy, alcohol, and all chemically-processed foods. You focus on eating whole foods instead (hence the name—Whole30), like meat, poultry, fish, eggs, fruits (in healthy quantities), healthy fats (like avocados, nuts, and olive oil), vegetables, and potatoes.
The first week was hard—harder than I expected. I got a daily, constant headache for the first five or so days. This was the detox period, and it was pretty terrible, but I got through it. The second week was definitely the easiest: The headaches had subsided, and I had gotten into the swing of food prep and cooking. By the third week, however, I was starting to go a little crazy. I felt like I was spending all my time cooking and making special meals instead of socializing or doing other things that I enjoy, and I wasn’t seeing any of the awesome benefits that Whole30 advocates had promised. The fourth week was a little easier, if only because I knew that the end was so near.
You might be wondering—did my stomach issues subside by the end? Do I want to continue eliminating these foods from the diet? The answer is yes—and no. While I noticed that the stomachaches were a little less frequent, I still got them. Doing Whole30 wasn’t a magical fix, and although gluten, dairy, and sugar are often known to be common triggers for digestive issues, I can’t pinpoint one of them as being the sole source of my pain.
In short—I’m glad I did Whole30. If anything, it forced me to eat healthy, read nutritional labels, and really consider what in the foods I consume. It was also a great exercise in self-control and made me stop and analyze the way food (particularly sugar) affects my mood, and the way I eat in accordance to my emotions. If you are at all interested in try the Whole30 challenge, I would definitely recommend it. Even if isn’t a magic cure-all or fix for your nutritional ailments, chances are you will learn something about yourself and the food you eat, and for me, that is a benefit enough to commit to a month of healthy eating.