Beginning on January 1st I have been participating in the Whole30 program. Whole30’s website describes the program as “short-term nutritional reset, designed to help you put an end to unhealthy cravings and habits, restore a healthy metabolism, heal your digestive tract, and balance your immune system.” Another way of thinking of it is an elimination diet that excludes inflammation-causing foods for 30 days, then systematically reintroduces food groups one at a time so you can take note of what works and doesn’t work for your body.
I first heard of Whole30 last summer, and when I expressed my interest in giving it a try, my family’s response was one of disbelief, mixed with a bit of teasing. You see, I LOVE my sugar and my dairy, and the Whole30 program excludes both. Also, all grains, legumes, alcohol, and some additives are off-limits for the entire 30 days (well, actually longer, as the Reintroduction period only brings in one food group at a time).
(In case you’re wondering, Whole30 is a completely free-of-charge experience, with no obligation to sign-up for anything. You can purchase the Whole30 book for some great recipe ideas, but most of the information contained in the book can be found online. I checked the book out of my public library and enjoyed reading it.)
Honestly, at that time, I agreed with my family’s assessment of my chances of success. How could I possibly exclude my favorite foods? And furthermore, why would I even want to? After all, we grow and raise much of our own food, including delicious raw Jersey milk. Did it make sense as a homesteader and local foods advocate to steer clear of bio-regionally appropriate choices just for the sake of an elimination diet?
Fast forward to the holiday season and the short December days. I found myself feeling sluggish and reaching for sweet treats for mid-day energy boosts. Sugar began to feel like a crutch, like an unhealthy addiction. I realized that “cutting back” on sugar wasn’t going to be enough. I needed to eliminate it completely to release its grip on me.
I am a person who does really well with support and accountability, so when I learned that Linda from The Organic Kitchen was going to lead a Whole30 Facebook group starting on January 1, I jumped on board. I read the Whole30 book, prepared some Paleo mayonnaise, purchased some almond milk, and made some delicious sunflower butter. I stocked up on extra vegetables and planned a week of meals. Preparedness is key to success on Whole30, and I was ready.
The Whole30 Experience
The first three days were horrible. I was so miserable – headachy, body aches, tired – but what the Whole30 book does really well is prepare you for what’s ahead, so I knew these were common symptoms as our bodies get used to our “new normal.” Come day 5 and 6, I felt good. Although a lot of people report remarkable changes in health and energy level, but I did not have such marked changes, most likely because my baseline diet and health were very good.
My meals, which were based around vegetables, meat, healthy fats, and fruit, were quite simple and very satisfying. A few favorites were:
- Beef chili with tomatoes and sweet potatoes
- Poached eggs on salad for breakfast
- Tuna salad (I always had homemade mayo on hand, so this was a quick and easy meal)
- Salmon “burgers” made with canned wild salmon, eggs, squash, and a tiny bit of almond flour
- Our home-grown pork chops with applesauce
- Roasted root vegetables
- Mashed sweet potatoes and potatoes with ghee and grass-fed beef burgers
- Beef stews of all kind
- Root vegetable “hash” with fried eggs
My biggest complaints about the Whole30 experience was that I spent almost twice as much on groceries as I normally do, making sure I had plenty of fresh vegetables, nuts, and avocados. It also felt challenging to plan and prepare meals for myself, while the rest of my family ate non-Whole30 meals. Attending community potlucks was difficult, but I learned to plan ahead and bring something hearty as my contribution.
Many people report significant weight loss on the Whole30, but one thing I really love about the program is that they discourage you from weighing-in. In fact, they tell you to put away the scale and focus instead on “non-scale victories” such as energy level, resolved symptoms, skin changes, or reduced pain. My biggest “non-scale victories” were:
- Clear sinuses and free breathing
- Very even energy levels throughout the day (no blood sugar spikes and dips)
- A sense of accomplishment and empowerment
Does Whole30 Fit in with Homesteading?
I really grappled with this question, as it’s really important to me that my diet is a reflection of my values. On our homestead, we grow vegetables, and raise animals for meat, eggs, and dairy. My freezer is full of home-grown pork, locally raised beef, frozen fruits and vegetables, and animal-based fats (butter and lard). My root cellar is stocked with root crops, meat, and apples. My chickens are laying ample eggs for our family’s needs, and we get between 1/2 and 1 gallon of milk per day. With the exception of dairy, ALL of these foods are completely in-line with the whole foods approach that Whole30 promotes.
However, I have not eaten dairy in 38 days (I’m almost done with the Reintroduction phase), which seems a bit ridiculous, given that I milk a beautiful cow each and every day. I believe that dairy, particularly raw dairy, is a wonderful addition to our homestead diet, and I enjoy eating dairy. I will be glad to add it back into my life when I complete the Whole30 experience.
Yes, I did purchase some specialty items for the Whole30 (coconut aminos, almond flour, and almond milk), but most of what I ate was exactly what I normally eat – a well-balanced diet comprised of whole foods. If I had done the Whole30 in August, I have no doubt that I would have been able to source about 90% of my vegetable, fruit, and meat needs locally.
What I Learned
I have learned quite a bit from this experience, most notably that I often reach for food, particularly sugary foods, when I’m bored or restless. (I also reach for my phone for a bit of Facebook time, but that’s another 30 day challenge!). Eliminating sugar from my diet for such a long period caused me to experience sweetness in a new way, and I appreciate whole fruits so much more.
I have yet to reintroduce gluten-containing grains, but what I’ve learned so far is that my body does not respond well to legumes. I experience digestive distress, but more interestingly, extreme fatigue and brain fog when I eat legumes. I also had a flare-up of lower back and hip pain after reintroducing dairy, which warrants further investigation.
I actually have some excitement about doing the Whole30 again, and aiming for a 90% local foods experience. That would feel like an empowering diet that would nourish my body and my community.
** If you’re interested in the Whole30, I highly recommend finding a support buddy, or joining a supportive group like this one (which is also completely free-of-charge). And if you can get your family on board, then even better!
We have to live variations of the whole 30 every day. My partner and I avoid sugar in all forms ( cane, maple, honey, coconut Etc ). We also avoid ALL grains, the kids have rice ( they also have honey and very occasionally maple). Two kids are dairy free, one and my partner eat goats products, I’m fine with cow cream and cheese and butter, but not milk. One kid has to avoid avocado, raw cacao, all dried fruits but Apple, tuna in a can, many tropical fruits, grapes and the list goes on. All our food is cooked from scratch. I’m nut and legume sensitive ( the rest of my family aren’t ) so I bake with coconut flour. Occasionally almond for the kids. We sweeten with banana.
We only eat this way because eating as we did before ( whole food!! ) was making us all sick and affecting us all in behavioural, anxiety, attention, or illness.
It’s been a few years now 🙂 I’m ok with giving up sourdough breads, home made yogurts and cheeses for us all. My baking makes us happy and healthy, today was a carrot and orange cake with cardomom, nutmeg and cloves 🙂 once you experiment, it’s ok 🙂
Teri Page says
It’s great that you’ve found the foods that were not working for your body, although what an investigation! Thanks for sharing your experience!
Yeah, it’s been a huge journey, swapping from standard foods years ago to whole grains like spelt, raw milks, moving away from cane sugar….then dropping gluten and dairy for the kids, reintroducing…removing…we neglected ourselves, and realised what a mistake that was! A huge part for all of us is gut healing. Luckily eating as we do, it comes naturally. Probably the same for you? Pastured meats, bone broths, home made foods. Good luck on your food journey 🙂
Ed Brown says
Looks like your family responded the way I did when you told me about the Goenka retreat! There is much to be gained by slowing and centering and reaching less far for the things that sustain you. You can create a good diet with what is grown near you, but you also need to know what to avoid. 18 years ago I was producing honey and ate a lot of it and unknowingly suffered consequences. One trip to the acupuncturist told the tale when he asked if I ate any honey and suggested I stop or replace it with white sugar! I stopped and the symptoms went away. I have avoided juices and syrup and other concentrated sugars for over a decade and have replaced my sugar in tea drinks with a tiny scoop of stevia. It takes time to acclimate, but now those sugary drinks just taste far too sweet and the brain slam I get from them is no longer enjoyable. You can get past the “empty” foods too; maybe fill that space with yoga or meditation instead of taste. Be well.
Thank you for sharing your experience. I feel your pain about dairy. I had to give it up while pumping breast milk for my firstborn (a preemie); it gave her reflux. Ohhhh so hard to live without 🙂
Teri Page says
Oh, I remember so well reading your blog when she was born. I didn’t realize that you had to make dietary changes as well, but that totally makes sense. Is she able to tolerate dairy now?
If cow dairy gives you problems try goat dairy. We can do a limited amount of goat cheese, but NO cow dairy. You eventually learn to live without it…it is better than having a chronic sinus infection or a rash all over your body that never goes away and itches all the time. Hopefully, you can find a happy medium. Love the blog post.
Teri Page says
We used to have a herd of goats, and if I truly can’t tolerate the cow’s milk, I would definitely consider raising goats again, as I love them, and their milk. Luckily, my reaction was not too extreme, and I’m going to try again with smaller amounts to see how much I can tolerate. Thanks for reading!
CeAnne @ St. Fiacre's Farm says
So I’m curious, would sourdough relieve the issues with gluten? I’ve read that it eats all the gluten in the process of fermentation. There are also recipes for sourdough cake and cookies. Perhaps its not the gluten foods but how we process them? Then we could be in keeping with homesteading ideals and still eat well. The same with dairy, what about fermenting it into kefir or yogurt, fermented cheeses? Given you have good raw milk there probably was not as much benefit as most get from going dairy free since they are used to a commercial heated milk. Thanks for the interesting post!
Teri Page says
Yes, these are exactly the kinds of questions that I want to dive deeper into before I make any permanent changes. For instance, perhaps I should have introduced fermented dairy first, then waited a few days, then done milk. But alas, I didn’t, so I am going to try dairy again in a few days, and just try the raw milk from our cow. I’m hoping that all goes well! In general, I think fermentation helps with digestion, but some people can’t even take fermented/sourdough. I guess it all depends on your level of sensitivity!
What a great idea! I’d heard that fermenting grains made them “safe” but I haven’t found a recipe that didn’t add in a little unfermented flour to the fermented flour before cooking-maybe I just haven’t found the right recipe.
We’ve been slowly replacing soda with kombucha. As my brewing skills improve the husband is coming more on board (though now he wants to make traditional root beer and sarsaparilla and…he mentioned whiskey once but that’s taking fermenting a little far in my opinion.)
Teri Page says
Water kefir might be another beverage that you’d enjoy. I have a blog post about it: https://homestead-honey.com/2014/06/25/strawberry-chia-water-kefir/
My husband is the bread baker here, but he has made a very wet rye loaf with all sprouted grains and sourdough. It is baked in a pan to hold the shape.
We just completed a Whole30 as well! It was my fourth and my husband’s second round and we noticed a lot of changes this time-namely how much easier it was to plan meals. Practice makes perfect? We splurged a bit on Superbowl goodies but now we are back on the Whole30 track (not sure if that means this is another round or if it counts toward a Whole60). After having some troubling health tests we both want to be a bit healthier and the black and white rules of the Whole30 diet help keep us on track.
I have the same questions as you do-how do you be a homesteader and follow such strict protocol? My sourdough has languished in the fridge for the past month and wheat seems to be an issue for everyone in the family, could my sourdough days be over? And while almond flour cookies are good they don’t quite have the taste and texture (or sentimental value) as grandma’s special oatmeal raisin recipe. We’ve been trying to think of these things as treats, stuff that should be eaten sparingly and for a reason…but its hard to break old habits. How do you fill the house with the smell of fresh baking bread…without eating the bread afterward!?
Ahhh….the ‘problems’ on the homestead. They never end. (Who would want them to anyway?)
Teri Page says
Exactly! I enjoy baking, and sharing sweet treats with others. I found that I had no adverse reaction to non-gluten grains, so I know I can make cookies or bread with alternative grains (I have yet to introduce gluten – that will be tomorrow’s fun!). But the dairy and the sugar are the big questions for me. I find it very difficult to “moderate” my consumption of those items.
I have a friend that is always doing Whole30. It makes a pain in the ass at dinner parties.
That said, sounds like you’re having a good experience with it! In my non professional opinion, I think everything is fine in moderation, including sugars (natural kinds). I recently heard a podcast about how sugar used to be used as a spice, and in small quantities because it was so rare. I like that idea- such as sprinkling it on top of a buttered toast or fresh berries instead of cups and cups in baked goods.
I’m on a 30day facebook fast right now….that’s a cleanse I try for each year!
Teri Page says
Well, that is definitely one of the cons! I found that it was very challenging for me as well. But as long as the person doing the Whole30 is willing to shoulder the burden of making sure there is something hearty he or she can eat, it shouldn’t really be an issue. For instance, I recently went to a Mexican-themed potluck. I knew I wouldn’t be able to eat the rice or beans or corn tortillas, so I brought a huge pot of Whole30 compliant Chili. It was a meal in and of itself, so I was very satisfied. But if I had expected my hosts to make compliant meals, I would have been very hungry (and I learned that from experience!!)
NICK D. says
YOUR POST ARE GREAT BUT THERE IS JUST TO MUCH CRAP ON THE WEB PAGES. I THINK AN I AM SURE OTHERS WILL AGREE YOU NEED TO THIN THEM
OUT AN GET RID OF THE ONE AT THE BOTTOM ASKING FOR YOUR NAME AN EMAIL YOU ALREADY HAVE THAT FROM USE OR WE WOULDN’T BE GETTING YOUR BLOG. BUT LIKE I SAID THE POSTS THAT YOU DO ARE GREAT JUST MAKE THE PAGE A LITTLE LESS ANNOYING AN CLUTTERED. THANKS AGAIN
Teri Page says
Hi Nick, I’m glad you are enjoying the blog posts. If you have an iPhone, you can set your window to “reader view” which I believe will cut down on some of the clutter. Although you are subscribed to my newsletter, and thus seeing my blog post, most people are not already subscribed, which is why the name and email sign up is there. Since I offer my biggest discounts and freebies to subscribers, I really hope more people will be encouraged to share their name and email, hence the sign up.
Pumpjack Piddlewick says
Like you, we homestead (but in France) and grow much of our own food. We changed out diet almost 2 years ago, for more or less the same reasons as you – energy levels and a feeling of addiction, though in our case it was to lovely French bread. We cut out all carbs, particularly gluten related, and sugars – but for us this included fruits. Dairy stayed in (we get our fresh milk from the dairy farm next door.)The difference was amazing. Our energy levels and focus soared. We slowly introduced foods back in and discovered what worked for each of us and what didn’t, which differed per person. (Me – any nightshades; potatoes, tomatoes, etc, flare up the arthritis.)
I know lots gets made of fads in foods and eating, but if nothing else it is worth doing something like this to determine what your body likes and doesn’t like. And like you said, it empowers you to discover and manage this.
(An age old addendum, for us women of certain middle years, menopause flairs up and increases allergies whlist going through it, so if you know what your body does and doesn’t like it is really helpful to avoid the worst of ‘the change’.)
The old adage you are what you eat, is so very, very true.
Teri Page says
Thank you so much for sharing your experiences. I have definitely noticed an increase in reaction to foods as I tipped over 40 years! My husband loves to bake, so I don’t think we’ll ever be free of breads and some dessert, but this experience has been a big shift for me, and has cut my sugar cravings down to nearly nothing, which was my main goal.