January and my Whole30 are over. I’m quite excited. I have had time to think extensively about my Whole30 experience. I have had quite a bit of angst this time around, and I’m not sure why. The last time we did this, as I’ve mentioned before, it was May so stuff was coming up in the garden, our CSA was delivering fresh, local goodies every week, and we were outside – A LOT. I’m wondering if all of that sunshine had more to do with my attitude than I realized. I actually don’t mind Indiana winters too much. I like to use January and February as an excuse to stay in and read lots of books, but whatever the reason, the Whole30 the second time around made me really cranky.
My crabby mood gave me plenty of time to think, and I’ve narrowed down what I see as the benefits and my critiques of the Whole30 to the following (most of these critiques are true of the paleo diet in general, as well). Obviously, these are just my opinion, so feel free to try it for yourself (or not) and see what you think.
- I got really annoyed with the Whole30 fanatics recommending that people find a non-food way to reward themselves – with a shopping excursion or a pedicure. I don’t know about you, but our budget just doesn’t mesh with me rewarding myself with weekly trips to the mall (which sounds absolutely awful to me anyway, so that would be more punishment than reward) or a massage. My idea of a non-food reward is an evening out at a local restaurant or brewery with Grant. Crap, that includes food and alcohol. You can see why I was so cranky. However, I did notice that I do just fall into patterns with a few treats: I love to have a glass of wine while I cook, or I like some dark chocolate after dinner. After 30 days without those things, I’m certainly adding them back in, but it was at least a little bit helpful to see that some of those things are just habits that I fall into. If I really want a glass of wine with dinner, I’m going to have one, but I might think about it a little more first versus just blindly pouring.
- We came up with some great new recipes that we will definitely keep in the “menu rotation.” Doing something like this is always a good way to break out of a cooking rut if nothing else.
- For the last few days, I have really appreciated having all of those things that I couldn’t have. It’s always good to give up something for a bit just for how great it tastes when you get to have it again.
- I added back in dairy – and feel fine so far. Hooray!
- I added back in legumes and lentils – and feel fine so far. Hooray! I missed those more than I thought I would.
- I have added back in some grains – quinoa, tortilla chips, and oats so far – and feel fine so far. Hooray!
- I added back in alcohol – maybe a few too many yummy beers we had been saving to have with some friends – and I woke up with a headache. But it was fun!
- I have stayed away from white sugar, but I had some maple syrup (with the oats) and honey (in some salad dressing), and it was so delicious.
- My biggest critique is that the Whole30 is not environmentally-sustainable. While the creators of the Whole30 stress using sustainably-raised, pastured animal protein, I would guess that most Whole30/Paleo eaters don’t eat 100 percent sustainably-raised protein sources from local farmers. The planet cannot support that type of meat consumption. I would love it if more people were buying more grass-fed meat and pastured poultry from their local farmers, but from what I see out in the blogosphere/Twitter-land/Instagram-a-world, many people aren’t eating what I would consider happy meat sourced locally. I’m obviously all for getting people thinking more about where their food comes from, but I think all of this industrial protein consumption is terrible for the planet (and for our health too). Interestingly, I read the following articles over the course of the month that seemed to confirm my concerns from an environmental perspective:
- The environmental benefits of growing – eating – more lentils.
- It takes a gallon of water to produce one almond?! You’ve got to be kidding me. I read this about two weeks into my Whole30, and I had been consuming almonds (and other nuts) in mass quantities. Contrasting this article against the lentil one above really demonstrates how our economic choices around food can have such a huge impact on our environment.
- I also realized about a week into this time around that the Whole30 flies in the face of our family’s resolve to eat and live by the seasons. I guess I didn’t realize this the last time around because it was May, and there was enough variety from the garden and the CSA that it wasn’t as obvious? So many recipes call for zucchini as a substitute for noodles, which I’m highly in favor of during July and August in Indiana. Similarly, spaghetti squash isn’t available year-around. We have a few more left from our garden that we’re carefully storing, but we haven’t been able to buy local spaghetti squash since November here in Indiana. We have some cucumbers canned, but they’re pickled, not fresh. And the list goes on. I’m not saying everyone has to live like us obviously, but the whole idea of seasonal eating doesn’t mesh all that well with Whole30. Traditionally, the winter months have been a time to eat more grains and legumes because they store so well and a variety of fruits and vegetables just aren’t available. I’m not convinced that just because we can get cucumbers or strawberries shipped in from South America at the grocery store in January means that we should.
- I think the Whole30 is great for people who eat the Standard American Diet (SAD) – it gets them thinking about where their food comes from, it gets them reading labels for sneaky, crummy ingredients, and it gets them eating more real food. I’m someone who already spends quite a bit of time thinking about food: sourcing it locally, menu planning, food blogging, batch cooking, etc. This time around, the Whole30 was just too much thinking about food, even for me. By the end, I just wanted to be done already, so I could go back to (what I think is my mostly) healthy relationship with food. (This article really resonated with me on this point).
- One thing I like about eating seasonally is the built-in variety it provides. By about the end of August, I’m starting to get a wee little bit sick of my normal lunch portion of sliced tomatoes with salt and pepper, but then the tomatoes stop coming from the garden and, by the following June, I’m babying every tomato plant every morning in the garden just dying for that first tomato. During this Whole30, and maybe this is because we really tried to keep as seasonal as possible, I felt like I was eating so many eggs, consuming a ton of meat and poultry, snacking on way too many nuts, and it might be a month before I can have coconut milk in anything. By cutting out entire real food groups like whole grains, legumes, and dairy, it means that you’re repeating much of the same stuff over and over again. Not only did I just get flat out bored about eating by the end of month, but I’m not convinced that such a lack of variety is good for our health.
- I’ve mentioned here before some of my thoughts about the paleo lifestyle if you’re interested in reading back. I think we should all mostly avoid the SAD – soft drinks, processed foods, etc., but I also think we all should figure out what is best for our individual bodies. If you think about it, we’re all so different that it’s crazy one way of eating would be right for everyone, or even that what’s right for you today will still work for you in five years. I don’t think paleo is totally off the mark, but I think many people tolerate whole grains just fine or lentils or dairy or whatever. Even if you eat according to paleo standards today, our cavemen ancestors would not recognize much of anything we’re eating – our fruits and vegetables and even the domesticated animals that we primarily eat are vastly different from what they ate before the advent of agriculture (see my review of EATING ON THE WILD SIDE for more on this).
So I’m glad I did the Whole30 again, if only to have learned a few more things about myself, but I won’t be doing it again anytime soon! Have you done the Whole30? What did you think? What changes did you notice? Share in the comments!