An article by Whole9′s own Robin Strathdee, for all of you participating in our January Whole30®.
The fine folks of CrossFit Springfield (my home gym, and a Whole30 Nutrition Partner) recently wrapped up their first Whole30® program. As a part of their kick-off meeting I was asked to provide a little perspective on what participants could expect during their 30 days. As I sat and tried to come up with a paragraph that would cover all the key elements, I noticed some trends in the emails, comments and personal accounts I was getting. That led me to create what the CF Springfield Whole30er’s came to know as The Timeline.
As with any process that involves personal experience, your results may vary, but it’s my hope that this timeline will give you a hint (and a chuckle) at what you can expect.
Day 1: So what’s the big deal?
It’s 3 p.m. on day 1. You had a guilt-free plate of steak and eggs for breakfast, breezed through the morning with coffee and coconut cream by your side, and had a nice big salad for lunch. Your body is telling you it’ snack time, so you grab a handful of almonds and an apple and head back to your desk to finish out your day. You’ve got a slow cooker full of chili infusing your kitchen with a heavenly smell, and right now you can’t see why anyone thinks this is hard.
This delusion is somewhat akin to the first episode of any given reality show on which the contestants are herded together and forced to live in one house. At the end of the first episode, everyone can just tell they are going to be best friends for life. Those of us on the other side of the screen know better, though, don’t we? No one really believes this mess to be true, but everyone humors it… because how long can it last, really?
The truth is that you’re feeling empowered by making one good choice after another, all day long. And you should! Take note of that Rock Star feeling, stash it away and bring it back out when days get rough. Because rest assured that after a lifetime of suboptimal choices, things are going to have to get worse before they can get better.
Speaking of rough…
Days 2-3: The Hangover.
The alarm rings on day 2 and you pop out of bed expecting the same kind of Charlie Sheen winning feeling you had yesterday. Instead, you get the other side of Charlie…you know – the pounding-head-cross-eyed-can’t-see-straight side. You know you didn’t down a fifth of tequila in your sleep, so what the heck happened?!
Remember the pre Whole30 bender you went on? Pizza, cookies, Jim Beam, jelly beans (oh, the jelly beans)? Yeah. This is when it comes back to bite you in the butt. (And the head.) And it is definitely true that the amount of suck you experience in this phase is directly proportional to the amount of crap you consumed before you began the program. Especially if you consumed it consistently. This phase is especially hard for the habitual Diet Coke (and Diet Dr. Pepper here in my part of the world) drinkers. You know who you are.
Many Whole30ers report headaches, fatigue, and general malaise during this part of the program. This, my friends, is completely normal. Your body is working its way through a whole host of junk it stored from the foods (or food-like-products) you used to eat. This process lasts a day for some folks, but for others it can take a few days longer. Relax, drink a lot of water, and keep making good choices. And do your best to earn the sympathy and support from friends and family, because…
Days 4-5: Kill ALL the things!
Day 4 dawns and you tentatively step out of bed, expecting to feel like you took a strike from Thor’s hammer in the temple. Instead, your head is surprisingly clear. Your limbs all feel functional. This could be a good day! You walk into the kitchen and as you’re greeted by the smiling face of your significant other you are suddenly overcome…with the desire to punch them in the face for smiling this early in the morning. Congratulations! You’ve made it to day 4.
Now, I have no clue why this phase happens, or why it happens here (and not on, say, day 14).* I just know that it happens. Often. Even experienced Whole30ers (myself included) go through this phase. Every nerve is lit, temperance is non-existent and the only solution to the problem seems to be to Kill All of the Things.
This phase, too, will pass. Beg your spouse, children, parents, co-workers, for patience and forgiveness – as nicely as you can (and no, “shut up and leave me alone!” does not count as nice). Take a deep breath and eat some sweet potatoes. I promise, you’ll feel better soon.
*It’s probably because your brain is never very happy when you tell it that it CAN’T have something, and take it out of it’s habitual and accustomed comfort zone. An unhappy brain is a stressed brain, an anxious brain, a fearful brain. No to mention your hormones are desperately trying to keep up with your new food choices, your gut is trying to heal, you’ve had a headache for the last three days, and you REALLY MISS YOUR DIET COKE. So yeah, maybe we do know why this is happening now…
Days 6-7: I just want a nap…
Okay, so its day 6 and you made it through the last phase without smiting anyone. The thing is, today you don’t feel like you could smite anyone if your life depended on it! It’s 10 am and all you can think about is crawling under your desk for a catnap. As the day drags on, the surface of your desk is morphing, from hard wooden surface to snuggly warm pillow, right before your eyes. You hit the gym, but only halfheartedly, unable to face the barbell with any kind of conviction. You crawl into bed at 8 p.m. only to drag yourself out eleven hours later feeling no more rested than you did the night before.
So what’s the deal?! Isn’t eating like this supposed to increase energy levels? Yes…in the long run. Right now, you’re body is learning that it can’t rely on all those easy access energy sources it used to know and love. Gone are the days of cinnamon crunch muffins and Frappuccinos. Now your body is learning to efficiently burn fat and protein as its fuel sources, and that takes more effort – and some time. If you can hold out just a bit longer, you’ll definitely reap the benefits. (Besides, you could probably use a day off from the gym anyway, right?)
Days 8-15: Boundless energy! Now give me a damn Twinkie.
Hurray! The slump is over! Your energy levels are better than normal – you’re downright Tigger the bouncing tiger! But something weird is happening. You’re dreaming. Not crazy nightmare or strange surrealist dreams, either. Incredibly normal and realistic dreams – about donuts. Or Twinkies. Or Snickers.* In your mind, sometimes you get caught and feel guilty. Sometimes you just brazenly eat the contraband. But then, the feelings start following you into the waking hours. Suddenly, you’re craving things you don’t even like. (For me, it’s Diet Coke and Twinkies, for Melissa Hartwig, it was fast-food cheeseburgers!) Your co-workers; heads transform into giant Girl Scout Cookies as you gaze on in disbelief. Seriously, you’ve almost hit the halfway mark, and now this?!
All joking aside, though, this phase gets really intense and for some people. This is the part of the program where our minds try to drive us back to the comfort of the foods we used to know. Our food relationships are deeply rooted and strongly reinforced throughout the course of our lives and breaking through them is really big deal. Journaling can be especially enlightening and helpful during this phase, and helpful for reflection later. Take some time to jot down what you’re craving, how you’re feeling and what tools you’re using to work through the cravings.
*The cravings people get, and the dreams they often have, rival those of pregnancy. One person told me they craved pickles and Doritos (together) during this phase!
Days 16-28: Tiger Blood
Goodbye cravings, hello Tiger Blood! This must be what everyone is talking about! You’ve hit the downhill slope of your Whole30 and life is beautiful. Your energy is through the roof, you’ve kicked the cravings, you’re experimenting with new, delicious food, and you’ve finally got the time to notice that your clothes fit better, your workouts are stronger, and you are generally more awesome. There’s not much more to say about this phase – go and enjoy it!
Day 29: HolyOprahIt’sAlmostOverWhatAmIGoingToEatNow?!?!?!
It’s day 29, and you’re still rocking. You cruise through the day and as you crawl into bed you have a small thought that then grows into full-blown cold-sweat panic. Holy crap. Tomorrow is day 30. The last day. What the hell are you going to do after that?! You worked so hard, fought through all the anger, the naps, the cravings to get to the awesome you’re feeling now. The rules have been your backbone, your lifeline, your excuse for being “that person” in social situations. Are you just going to give them up on day 31? No. You firmly resolve that there will be no deviation on day 31. If it ain’t broke…
It’s totally normal to feel a twinge of panic as your Whole30 comes to a close. For the past month, you’ve lived, breathed, and literally eaten the rules. You feel incredible in your new high-octane body. It’s natural to hesitate at the thought of making any changes – even if the change is a return to what was “normal” for you before. And, the truth is, you don’t have to go back to the way you used to eat. But keep in mind that the Whole30 was intended to be a reset, an introduction into the world of Good Food. I know it’s scary, but keep an open mind, okay?
Day 31: Deep breathing. And maybe some ice cream.
Your sanity returned at some point on day 30 and you realized that eventually, you will have to come out of your perfect Whole30 bubble. Try as you may, you won’t always be able to make life fit inside the Whole30 rules. Does that mean you’re headed off-road at 90 miles per hour? No. But it does mean that you’ll give the reintroduction protocol (in It Starts With Food) the same attention you gave the last 30 days and be honest with yourself about your reactions – physical and emotional – to food. And tonight, that might just mean a bowl of ice cream. And that’s OK.
We don’t expect you to live your life Whole365. We do expect you to take what you’ve learned and use the information to really evaluate how the foods you were eating before make you feel now that you’ve eliminated them (and any of their negative effects) from your body. We do expect you to listen to the feedback your body and mind give you and change your food relationships. Make conscious choices about when and how to go off-plan and, when you do, enjoy it!
Your Mileage May Vary
Of course, no two people’s Whole30 experience is the same, and you may find you breeze past some of these phases while being stuck in others for longer than you anticipated. Either way, we hope you use The Timeline to help you prepare for your first Whole30, or to look back on after your Whole30 and reflect on whether we were more right than wrong here.
Have you done a Whole30? How spot-on is our Timeline? Want to propose a new phase, or modify a phase we’ve written about above? Share it in comments!