Home > Health & Fitness > My Experience With the “Whole30” Challenge: One Man’s Journey Into the Paleolithic

My Experience With the “Whole30” Challenge: One Man’s Journey Into the Paleolithic

Paleo-MainImageRecently, my fiancee and I decided that we wanted to try out the Whole30 challenge. (For those of you not familiar with it, it’s essentially a strict Paleo diet.) My fiancee had tried it by herself over the summer, but by day 17, she became so (admittedly) irritable that she quit (in her defense, she quit by drinking a beer, which is obviously best way to go). When she brought up the subject last month, I decided to tag along, because as we all know, misery loves company (and it’s probably good preparation for our upcoming marriage). Plus, she held so much animosity towards me last time for doing all the things she couldn’t that I couldn’t take that wrath again.

On February 17th, we purged our house of all items that would present temptations. Gone were all items with sugar; goodbye wheat, gluten and processed foods; so long milk, yogurt and cheese. What we were left with was a (mostly empty) fridge of raw meats, vegetables, a little fruit and cupboards with nuts, seeds, sweet potatoes and some dried fruit (as long as not dried with sugar or sulphites). As a guy that had one hell of a hangover*, I had officially reached the Seventh Circle of Hell.

*Side Note: Since we knew the start date of the diet, we went out with a bang by getting drunk and eating pizza the night before. As awesome as it was, I wouldn’t recommend it.

Can Eat: Meat, Seafood, Eggs, Veggies, “Good” Fats, Nuts & Seeds
Limited: Fruits, Coconut Oil
Can’t Eat Sugar, Maple Syrup, Honey, Agave Nectar, Artificial Sweeteners, Alcohol (!), Tobacco, Grains, Quinoa, Corn, Legumes, Peanuts, Soy, Dairy, Carrageenan, MSG, Sulfites and White Potatoes
No scales or body measurements

Taking On the Challenge

The first day was undoubtedly the hardest day thus far. The mental anguish of knowing that 30 days stood between you and enjoying another beer, a bowl of cereal or even peanut butter was difficult. This was exacerbated by every commercial for food on TV. All of a sudden, things I never eat sounded appetizing. A commercial for a York Peppermint Patty came on and had me agonizing, even though I probably hadn’t bought one since I even knew my fiancee. Forbidden fruit was now the most tempting. Add this to the previously mentioned hangover, a slight bout of the flu and you get the most miserable day I’ve had in months. And before you can put in the comments, I know, “#firstworldproblems.”

As the days went on, the challenge has become easier, once I became used to switches in my normal diet. Usually my day would consist of cereal in the morning and a possible protein shake (I was too lazy to make eggs), snack on an apple and Greek yogurt, have some sort of protein and veggies for lunch, or possible leftovers with a cheese stick and Zone Bar as a pre-workout snack. Post-workout would include a protein shake and whatever my lovely fiancee would make for dinner.

The biggest changes I had to make adjusting to no cereal, protein shakes or Greek yogurt. Cereal is my all-time favorite comfort food, so not having this available when a small snack is needed has been tough. Although eggs and a banana are healthier and still make the taste buds happy, they’re no substitute for beloved cereal. Also not having a protein shake as my post-workout filler has resulted in me relying on things such as nuts and seeds and plantain chips to stave off hunger until dinner is ready. So, although there are things I miss, I’ve been able to adjust and find somewhat adequate replacements for diet staples, even if I do find myself hungry more often than before the Challenge.

Pre-Challenge Challenge
Breakfast Cereal Eggs & Banana
Snack Apple & Greek Yogurt Sunflower Seeds & Apple
Lunch Protein & Veggies Protein & Veggies
Pre-Workout Cheese stick & Zone Bar Larabar
Post-Workout Protein Shake Plantain Chips

Progress & Results

As of this writing, we’re ten hours into Day 13 of the challenge, nearly to the halfway mark. We’re both holding strong without cheating. Theresa, however, finds herself fighting bouts of hunger more regularly than me, using the words “ravenous” to often describe how she feels. As mentioned above, we can’t use the scale or take body measurements, so we’re still 17 days from seeing empirical data.

Other than the occasional hunger that comes with the challenge, my body seems to be responding mostly positive to the experience. There were a few slight headaches during the first ten days, no doubt from some sort of withdrawal or another. We’ve both also been experiencing extreme dry mouth when we wake up, although it’s not necessarily from thirst. The best way to describe it is the way your mouth feels after a heavy night of drinking, minus the taste of vomit and Jaeger. This is likely due to an electrolyte imbalance from having salt intake greatly outweigh potassium intake.

In regards to performance, I would highly recommend the diet. If you read this blog often, you probably know that I CrossFit very regularly, having gone so far as to get my Level-1 Certificate. Pre-challenge, I was a competent athlete, but my motor always left me wanting more. I could go hard for 3-5 minutes (insert joke here) before my body and intensity started to fade. The workouts I’ve participated in since the diet have shown dramatic differences in this area. My ability to keep my intensity up for longer durations has greatly increased. A week into the diet I did a 20-min partner AMRAP (As Many Rounds As Possible) WOD by myself. Just yesterday, we did the infamous “Fran” WOD, with me clocking in just one second above my personal best and beating my time from six weeks ago by an astounding 34 seconds (5:19 to 4:45).

The one demerit I would have with the challenge is that I’ve found my strength and power is diminished compared to pre-challenge. Workouts featuring heavier weights have been more taxing that they previously were, at least during the strength portions. From talking with others who have done the Whole30, this seems to be a common side-effect for the first couple weeks with the strength returning late in the challenge. That is TBD at this point, but a return of strength to go with increased load capacity would definitely be a reason to keep up with the diet.

Tips & Advice

I’ll close out this article with a few tips I’ve discovered while undertaking the Challenge:

1. Stay Occupied – The more time you’re sitting around watching TV, the more time you’re likely to think about all the food you can’t have.

2. Have an “Account-a-bili-buddy” – Doing this with Theresa is the only thing that has kept me honest. If it wasn’t for her going through the same thing and her awesome Paleo cooking, I would’ve been done with this nonsense a week ago.

3. Have Snacks Prepared & Available – Whether they’re homemade Larabars or a bag of sunflower seeds (non-flavored), have “emergency rations” available for those tough times. Sunflower seeds are a favorite of mine due to the fact you spend more time getting to the seed than you actually do eating, thus keeping you occupied for a longer time without delivering a significant amount of food.

4. Be a Good Cook (or Have One Available) – Despite popular belief, Paleo meals don’t have to be made with some primitive recipe.  Most can and do offer exceptional taste of made by somebody who is advanced in culinary arts. This will provide variety to your diet than eating chicken and broccoli sixty times during the month.

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