I’ve learned a lot about nutrition over the past couple years. There is a lot I don’t know, and there is a lot science doesn’t know. One thing I know for sure is that the United States Government knows next to nothing about nutrition and you’d do best to ignore their guidelines altogether.
Like Tim Ferris in the 4 Hour Body, I kind of treat my body as an experiment. I may not track everything in as much detail as Tim but I do track some things and note any observable trends. I’ve experimented with different diets and training programs in various combinations but I’ve never tried eating Paleo. Mostly because purchasing organic meat and eggs is so expensive but when I heard about Whole30 I thought I would give it a shot for a month.
The Whole30 is laid out in It Starts with Food by Dallas and Melissa Hartwig. The first half of the book provides a lot of sciency information to back up their hypothesis along with examples from their personal experience and others that have done the Whole30 previously.
Their hypothesis is that whatever we put into our body should make us health, so by removing all things that don’t make us healthy we will become healthier. Makes sense, but some may argue about what foods don’t make us healthier. For the Whole30 food has to meet the following good food standards:
- Promote a healthy psychological response.
- Promote a healthy hormonal response.
- Support a healthy gut.
- Support immune function and minimize inflammation.
For 30 days follow the following four guidelines:
- Eat foods that make you more healthy – meat, seafood, and eggs, lots of vegetables, some fruit, and plenty of healthy fats.
- Do not consume any added sugar, alcohol, grains, legumes, or dairy.
- Do not attempt to recreate junk foods or desserts by using “approved” ingredients.
- Do not step on the scale for the entirety of your program.
Then sit back and watch the magic happen. The book makes lots of promises about how the heavens will open up and unicorns will let you ride to work on their backs, but my experience wasn’t so perfect.
I followed the guidelines except for #4. I totally forgot that it was a guideline. I usually don’t weigh myself very often, but I could tell I was losing weight and not feeling the greatest and was a little concerned about how lean I was getting and how quickly it was happening.
The first couple weeks were the toughest, dealing with the elimination of grains and sugar. Doing the Whole30 directly after the holiday binge is not the easiest. The end of week 2 I was feeling pretty good except that my performance in the gym was suffering. I have a pretty rigorous training schedule for someone that doesn’t compete as an athlete. I was following the portion and meal guidelines laid out in the book and I felt good throughout the day but I didn’t have enough energy to work out.
This was mentioned in the book and was expected but it persisted into week 3. I was eating 3 huge meals everyday, I began sleeping well, woke up with energy but didn’t have enough fuel to make it to the next meal. I consistently felt as though I was starving 2 hours after eating.
Out of curiosity I did a little exact measuring of my meals into Zone Blocks as that is something I am more familiar with and found that I was consistently eating the equivalent of a 4 block meal less doing the Whole30 than I was on the Zone. To give some perspective that is roughly 4oz chicken breast, 2 apples, and half a large avocado. That’s a lot of fuel. So I began to experiment a little bit.
I tried adding more fruit even though it wasn’t recommended. Maybe I wasn’t getting enough carbohydrate. That didn’t seem to help. Then I remembered that one of the goals of the whole30 was to turn your body in to a fat burning machine and not rely on carbohydrate for energy. So I gradually started upping my fat intake. I began to feel more satiated between meals and wasn’t ravenously starving by the time the next meal came around. Sadly this took me until about day 23 of 30 to get all dialed in, but then I felt wonderful. Almost all the lofty promises made in the book began to look like a possibility. I just wish I would have figured it out a week earlier.
I ended up roughly doubling the carbohydrate and fat amounts that were recommended in the book. Most people wouldn’t need to do this, but I train hard(ish), and already had a relatively low body fat percentage. I needed the carbohydrate to fuel the intense workouts, and the fat for my body to burn though out the day as I had very little body fat to burn. So sweet potato and avocado became my friends.
What I learned
- The quality of food I eat makes a difference in how I feel. I didn’t notice a lot of difference in performance once I got everything dialed in but my resting energy level throughout the day was greatly improved eating this way.
- Pre and Post workout nutrition is inconvenient. Taking a hard boiled egg and some sweet potato to the gym to eat after a workout is kind of weird. A protein shake mixed w/ some fruit and almond butter is so much easier.
- Sugar really is the enemy. After 30 days I still have intense cravings for cake and cookies. Cutting it out has been dificult but has left my body looking and feeling great.
Now go move better.