A Body-Positive Attempt at the Whole30

Whole30 blog

I haven’t eaten wine or cheese or bread in 30 days. If you know me at all, this may be surprising news. And possibly a little bit sad.

I completed the Whole 30.

{pause for collective groan}

I know. I was searching “faux-tmeal” recipes on pinterest the other day and it was like I didn’t even know myself.

If you don’t know what the Whole 30 is, the best way I can describe it is that it’s sort of like a paleo cleanse. If you don’t know what paleo is, have you been hiding under a rock for the last five years? Do you even internet? I’m pleased you even found my blog. Anyway, I digress. The real definition of the Whole 30 is it’s an elimination diet, where you only eat whole foods (mostly fresh produce and protein) and stay away from processed, genetically modified foods (dairy, grains, legumes, and sugar). This includes alcohol (I know, I must be crazy.)

You might be thinking:

“Ugh, another one bites the dust. *devours whole frozen pizza*”

“Wow, good for her! She’s trying to lose weight!”

“So glad she’s making her health a priority!”

“She’s fallen prey to the multi-million dollar diet industry that thrives off of making people punish their bodies to conform to impossible standards of beauty.”

And you know, at any given time, I too have thought these things. I want to eat everything in moderation. I want to eat a whole frozen pizza. I want to tell the diet industry to eff off. I want to be healthy. And yes, I have even wanted to lose weight. (My wedding rings stopped fitting on my fingers a few months ago, and that was a bummer.) And that’s why I’m blogging about this today, because yes, I did the Whole 30 for reasons that I feel are valid. But also, just like everyone else, I struggle with what it means to be healthy and to love my body. I don’t have all the answers, and as a relatively thin, able-bodied, middle-class, white woman, I recognize the privilege I have around health and nutritious food. What’s true for me isn’t true for others, and vice versa.

So could I do the Whole 30 and still be body-positive in the process? I had 30 days to figure that out.


So, a bit of backstory to my decision: For the last couple years since we moved to Nashville, my health has not been my first priority. My first priority has been making enough money to live, because my husband and I have been underemployed, and when you’re broke, you eat what you can afford (hello, spaghetti and frozen pizza.) I’m a really good cook and I enjoy making food, but my diet choices have been driven by a cycle of anxiety and exhaustion.

I worry about having enough money to eat AND pay my bills -> I buy the cheaper stuff like pasta and cheese -> I’m too exhausted from worry and anxiety and eating poorly to pay my bills to try and eat healthier.

Our financial situation improved remarkably over the last year (though we still have a long way to go), and I no longer had to choose between eating fresh produce and paying my electric bill. And yet, I wasn’t living any differently. Telling myself to eat healthier has almost been like telling a scared child to come out from underneath the covers, “Hi, the storm is over. It’s okay to come out now.” But I haven’t quite been able to convince myself that it really is okay to eat as healthy as I wish I could. It’s taken me awhile to catch my habits up with my desires.

My choice to do the Whole 30 is about breaking the cycle and making my physical health a priority.

About a week into it, I was doing pretty well and feeling confident about my decision when I read this article, No Food Is Healthy, Not Even Kale. It’s about the language we use to talk about food and health. “Healthy food” is a misnomer, writes Michael Ruhlman. If you ate nothing but kale, you’d have an imbalanced diet. Food is nutritious; it provides nutrients to support your physical health. That’s it. Likewise, we have to be careful of the language we use around “healthy” bodies. Weight is not a moral quantifier. Fat is not a moral judgment.

And that became my guiding principle for the rest of the Whole 30: Make nutritious food a priority to support my health, keeping in mind that moderation and mindfulness are the ultimate goal. And that’s also why I chose not to post about it online with a plethora of food instagrams and links and pats on the back. My body type, and what I choose to do with my body, does not make me a better/worse person than anyone else. My diet does not make me a more virtuous person, and it doesn’t add to or take away from my inherent worth.


So what positive benefits did I gain from the Whole 30?

1. Meal planning. Because the Whole 30 is a long list of eat this/not that, it requires a lot of planning. At the beginning of each week (usually Saturday or Sunday) I would take stock of what we had in our refrigerator and pantry, and then sit down, research some recipes, look at our calendar for the week, and make a seven-day meal plan (breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks). And then I would go grocery shopping for everything we needed. (This chart was a helpful guide.) It was surprisingly empowering to be so organized. It helped me me balance my diet and my budget, and resist the temptation to eat out (which is usually instigated by my typical “oh crap there’s nothing in the fridge” moment around 5 pm on a Thursday night). They say it takes 30 days to form a new habit, and this more than anything else is the one I want to keep.

2. Understanding how different processed foods affect my well-being. About three years ago, I started having random bouts of insomnia. I’ve noticed that usually happens around the same time in my menstrual cycle, which made me think it was a PMS symptom. But a few days ago I ate out for dinner and accidentally ingested cane sugar for the first time in almost a month, and then I was awake ALL NIGHT LONG. The idea behind the Whole 30 is to cleanse your system of processed foods and reintroduce them slowly, to determine how they affect you. Thanks to the Whole 30, I now know that sugar triggers my insomnia. (It might still be affected by my hormones as well, but sugar intake is definitely a contributing factor.)

2b. Figuring out that not all sugar is created equal. First of all – processed sugar is the hardest ingredient to eliminate on the Whole 30 because it. is. in. every. thing. Meats, dried fruits, sauces and condiments, juice, nut butters (i.e. peanut butter, almond butter, cashew butter). The Whole 30 creators say that you have to eliminate it completely, including honey and maple syrup. In order to do that, you either have to be wealthy enough to buy the expensive shit that doesn’t have it in there (like a $15 package of uncured, organic, artisanal bacon), or you have to go without A LOT more things. So I’ll be honest: I didn’t eliminate sugar entirely. I gave myself a little grace, because I’m not made of money and because it doesn’t make sense to me that an organic plant byproduct like maple syrup (the real kind, not the Log Cabin corn-syrup-with-food-coloring kind) would be banned from the Whole 30 when you’re allowed to have other things like canned coconut milk. So there were a few times when I used pure, organic honey and maple syrup out of necessity and desperation, and they did NOT affect me the same way as cane sugar.

3. Creativity in my cooking. Turns out that lots of foods still taste delicious, even when they don’t have butter or cheese or sugar in them. The Whole 30 challenged me not to use these things as a flavor or calorie crutch, and I found some delicious recipes along the way: like this homemade barbecue sauce sweetened with dates (tastes delicious in pulled pork stuffed into a baked sweet potato, topped with homemade coleslaw, cilantro and lime.) Or zucchini noodles with sausage + tomatoes. Also, chocolate “pudding” made from whipped coconut milk + bananas + cocoa powder saved my life when I was craving a sweet snack after dinner.

4. Motivating myself to create other healthy habits. I live a pretty sedentary lifestyle since I work from home and sit at a computer 80% of the time. Changing my diet is part of staying healthy, but so is being physically active. Participating in the Whole 30 reminded me that I *do* have the willpower and fortitude to try new things and build healthy habits. I started doing yoga, too (this 30-day video series from Adrienne is awesome for beginners like me.)

5. It’s never a bad idea to go a few weeks without alcohol. I love my glass of wine with dinner after a long day. I know I have a healthy relationship to alcohol, but even so, it felt empowering to remind myself that I can go without it. For 30 Whole Days, I went without so much as a sip. I survived no less than four presidential debates stone-cold sober. That’s some serious self-control, I’d say.


Cons to the Whole 30: 

1. It’s expensive to eat this way. There’s just no way around it, because it’s how our food industry operates. The major downside of the Whole 30 is that it’s steeped in economic and class privilege. My grocery budget was nearly double the first week, and I didn’t even purchase all-organic/all-natural produce and meats. I cannot afford to eat this way 100% of the time. I couldn’t even afford to follow the Whole 30 100%, because I cannot justify the cost of a $16.99 jar of almond butter that doesn’t have sugar in it. My best work-around was preparing meals that provided lots of leftovers – soups and stews, meats that could be divided and frozen for multiple meals, etc. The meal-planning also helped me budget, so it eventually evened out a bit.

2. Life without wine, cheese, and bread is still kinda sad. Maybe other people really mean it when they say they don’t miss that stuff, but I do miss it, and I’m okay with letting “the soft animal of my body love what it loves,” as Mary Oliver would say. Sometimes the cravings were really intense, and resisting was a bummer. I’m just a happier person when I live by moderation. #sorrynotsorry

3. They mean “cleanse” literally. Eating only whole foods for 30 days was hard on my digestive track. That’s all I have to say about that.

4. Cooking for myself 24/7 is exhausting. I felt like I was in the kitchen for 30 days straight in an endless cycle of cook/eat/wash dishes/repeat. Cooking can be a creative outlet, but it’s still time-consuming and sometimes I just barely had the energy. It’s really not a very sustainable lifestyle, and I’m pretty sure I only survived because I work from home and have more margin for the energy and time it takes to make my own meals. I’m glad I did it, but I’m glad it’s over and I’m happy to include more “rest” meals into my week.

5. Searching for recipes is a minefield of body-negative bullshit, especially on Pinterest. You’re out here trynna survive without french fries, and Pinterest is like “STRONG IS THE NEW SKINNY” and “CAULIFLOWER CRUST PIZZA TASTES AMAZING”. Be careful what you search for, because it can trigger shame spirals and fits of rage. The self-loathing messages are everywhere, and the lies about tasty faux-pizza and pancakes are abundant. Brace yourself, because it can be really discouraging.


If you’ve read all the way to the end of this rambling diatribe, thank you. You’re either wonderfully supportive, curious, or bored, but I’m grateful for your time. I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.*

I’ve shared all of this because I think there are a lot of people out there who want to make their health a priority, but get discouraged by all the body-negative content out there. Even the nutrition-based meal plans are often shaming of diverse body types, equating thinness with health, “pure” or “whole” foods with virtue, and assuming that people are lazy when they don’t conform to their standards of “healthy” eating. So what are we supposed to do when we know, personally, that we need to change our habits for the sake of our health, but we don’t want to buy into the body-negative bullshit? Don’t let the diet industry fool you into the false dichotomies. We can real-talk about our own experiences, acknowledging our privileges. We can accept that what’s true for us may not be true for others, and we can affirm all the diverse bodies God created. We can live and let live, knowing we don’t have all the answers.

Thirty days later, my wedding rings still don’t fit so I’m going to get them resized, but I’m happy with myself. I feel strong and capable and I’m proud of the work I’ve done to put my body first. And now I’m going to go have a glass of wine. And a burrito.

I love all you beautiful people. Be good to your bodies. xoxo.

*P.S. I make no claims to be an expert in body positivity, nutrition, health, or the Whole 30. Take the “attempt” in my blog title very literally. These opinions are my own, as are my experiences. I recognize that everyone has strong feelings and differing experiences about physical wellness, and I respect that. Please keep your comments kind, respectful, body-positive, and privilege-conscious. Health-splainers not welcome.