I am a long-time WW member, and, like others, I have had my share of weight issues. But it wasn’t until I was diagnosed with Hashimoto’s disease—an autoimmune disorder of the thyroid—that I decided to try combining my WW program with the Whole30®.
If you’re not familiar with the Whole30, it is basically an elimination diet that leaves you only eating protein, fruits, and vegetables. Though I had been working the Plan and going Beyond the Scale—controlling my portions, recognizing (and stopping) binge episodes—I also felt like I might have some underlying digestive issues or food intolerances. Many of my friends had used Whole30 to identify the foods that were difficult for them to digest by figuring out which food group to eliminate. The result was that they felt happier, healthier, and full of energy—not to mention, they looked fantastic.
My first attempt
I tried the Whole30 for the first time in October 2016. After a month, my skin was clearer (my mind even more so); my face and chin lost baby fat; my stomach, though still soft, was flatter than ever—and I felt damn good in my jeans.
Here’s what you can eat on the Whole30: most veggies, fresh fruit and fruit juice, all types of potatoes (thank goodness), nuts, green beans, sugar snap peas, string beans, seeds, lean meats and fish, coconut oil, and ghee. Here’s what you can’t eat: grains (including quinoa and rice), corn, dairy, legumes, pulses, and sugar. When you eat out, you can ask for your food to be cooked in olive oil. And you can’t drink alcohol.
I pointed everything out on SmartPoints® (don’t rat me out to the Whole30 framers!), leading to my first entirely blue-dotted month, in which my daily points landed squarely in my Healthy Eating zone. I called this first attempt more of a “Hil30” than a Whole30, though, as I wasn’t meticulous in following the Whole 30 rules. I had brisket (with the sauce) at Rosh Hashanah, and broke the fast at Yom Kippur with egg salad (miraculously, I turned down bagels, thank you very much). I also accepted a shot of tequila (it’s clean, right?) out at a bar with friends. I didn’t start a new day 1 after any one of these “slips” as prescribed by the Whole 30 program. And at the end of my challenge, I had a birthday blowout and reintroduced alcohol, sweets, bread, and cheese to my old eating in one fell swoop. So I couldn’t properly assess which food groups were the culprit for my tummy woes.
Combining WW Freestyle™ and the Whole30 ®
As you may have read about my transition to WW Freestyle™, I love the flexibility of more ZeroPoint™ foods—and how anything I wanted to eat was still on the menu. But it got me thinking: Most of the Whole 30-approved foods have become ZeroPoint foods on the WW Freestyle program. Could I try it again? Would I even make it to my 23 SmartPoints daily budget when most of what I’d be eating would be zero Points? (Basically, you only have to count oil, ghee, avocado, potatoes, nuts, and seeds. Bring on the rollovers!) . I decided to try again in December 2017, even though I would face my office holiday party, Hanukkah, and trips to London and Florida.
Ultimately, I discovered that I could follow Whole30 while on WW, but I kind of missed the mark (and 5 blue-dot days this time around). If I had chosen a month when I wasn’t traveling and celebrating, I’m sure I would have been more successful. There were several moments where I should have simply said “No, thanks,” and taken myself out of tempting situations. But, when in London, you sample high tea; and you take the shot of sherry they offer you to keep warm when you’re waiting outside in frigid temperatures for a coveted spot at Bombay-style restaurant Dishoom. Even so, I stuck to Whole30 rules about 80 percent of the time. In the end, it was one of the most mindful holiday seasons I have ever experienced.
Though I may have fallen short once again of doing the Whole30 “for real,” I did lose about 5 lbs in the 30 days. (People following the WW plan can expect to lose 1–2 lbs per week.) I also reignited my energy, had fun with my friends, and discovered valuable tips and tricks that I could take with me into 2018 as well as on my way to goal and maintenance. To do this, I am conscientiously reintroducing each food group one by one. The first was alcohol (though it’s not mentioned on the official plan). I rang in the New Year with a champagne toast before I ran 4 miles in Central Park at midnight.
I understand the rigidity that the Whole30 program preaches, for the purposes of garnering accurate results about what foods you may or may not have difficulties with—most elimination diets are strict. But knowing my own mental stamina and previous issues with an all-or-nothing mindset, I personally felt I needed to use the WW philosophy while on it.
On WW, nothing is off limits, there’s no failing, and after a slip-up, you can always hop back on the train. I am grateful for the flexibility and freedom offered by WW. By the same token, Whole30 doesn’t prescribe any calorie or portion limits, so I tried to be easy on myself if I went over my daily and weekly Points budgets, as I’ve learned to do both on Beyond the Scale and on WW Freestyle.
Lessons I Learned While on WW and Whole30
1. I can be more generous with oil when cooking, and nuts when snacking. My second day on Whole30, I only ate 13 SmartPoints. There wasn't much I could eat when I was out with friends, but I ordered smartly and was satisfied. I didn’t snack throughout the day. Still, I wanted to make sure I wasn't skimping on the key nutrients I needed, so I worried less about sticking to only 1 tsp of coconut oil when I cooked my eggs, or mixing it into my coffee to make my own “Bulletproof” cup of joe. I started having a handful of Brazil nuts each day.
2. Eating out on Whole30 makes everything simpler...at least for me. Anyone who’s eaten out with me knows I am terrible at making a decision. By sticking to my limited food groups, there was usually about 1 or 2 dishes I could choose from on a menu. I sat back, relaxed, reveled in my company, and didn't have a food hangover. I will probably stick to these rules 95 percent of the time. (I can’t give up pizza forever forever.)
3. I don’t need the bread basket. It looks worse and worse every time it’s set on the table.
4. Ordering coffee or tea at the bar isn’t the weirdest thing I can do there.
5. I do not miss holiday cookies, treats, and winter comfort food. I had 26 years of them; I know exactly what they taste like.
6. I miss chocolate. Chocolate has been my most stable relationship, which isn’t saying much. One of the times I had broken the Whole30, I had a bite of chocolate truffle and my stomach went beserk. I’ve had a sneaking suspicion that I might have an intolerance to chocolate, and I think I might be right. I am heartbroken, and I am going to have to find something other than food to wallow with.
7. I can cancel my Clean Plate Club membership. When I went to the aforementioned high tea in London, I had just a few bites of pastry, and left the rest on my plate. It sat there for almost 30 minutes, untouched, while we waited for the check. I have never done that in my life. I somehow survived and it was strangely gratifying.
8. I can eat out with friends, even go on dates, and not order a drink. If I am being honest, I do not love drinking. I do love sampling cocktails and craft beers, and toasting with friends (champagne at a wedding, tequila shots whenever). I never like how I feel immediately after, or the next morning—or the hit my SmartPoints Budget takes. However, I do often suffer from FOMO (the fear of missing out is real, y’all.) I internalize feelings of guilt, shame, and otherness for not being able to do what everyone else is doing, seemingly without a care. But literally no one is bothered over whether I imbibe with them or not.
I learned that just saying, “No I don’t want it, thanks,” was more than sufficient than launching into my usual diatribe of reasoning.
My Go-To Whole30-esque WW Recipes
In general, I was more of a food-assembly kind of practitioner during my Whole30 experiment, with my sweet potato toasts, egg scrambles, simple salads, and eating out. And I turned to RX bars (7 SmartPoints value) when there was no other option.
Here are some delicious and easily tweakable WW recipes that could work well throughout your Whole30, should you choose to try it. However, consider:
Leaving off any yogurt, cheese, or bread crumb toppings (and remove their SmartPoints value!)
Swapping any vegetable, canola, or seed oils and cooking spray with coconut oil (7 SmartPoints per 1 Tbsp) or olive oil (4 SmartPoints per 1 Tbsp), and ghee (5 SmartPoints per 1 Tbsp).
Avoiding condiments and other packaged products containing gluten, sugars (anything ending in –“ose”), and carrageenan.