10 Things I’ve Learned Halfway Through Whole30

10 Things I've Learned Halfway Through Whole30 | Stephanie Drenka

Promise me you’ll always remember: You’re braver than you believe, and stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think. (Christopher Robin to Winnie the Pooh, A.A. Milne)

Day 15. I made it to through 50% of my January Whole30 Challenge! I got off to a rough start (hello carb flu) with a terrible migraine on Days 1 and 2, but now that I’m here– tiger blood coursing through my veins ???? — I can honestly say that I’ve never felt better, and look forward to the second half! It’s something I would really encourage people to try at least once. Whole30 has taught me a lot about food and my body, as well as the emotional connections and responses to eating/dieting. I thought I’d commemorate the halfway mark of my journey, and share some things I’ve learned along the way.

1) Being public about doing Whole30 can help you stay accountable.

I felt a little nervous to tell people that I was doing Whole30, but I’m so glad that I did. My family and friends have been so supportive, and announcing my participation in the January Whole30 Challenge keeps me from being tempted to slip or cheat, because I feel like people are rooting for me. ????

Courtney messages me at work every day to see how it’s going, and what I’m eating for each meal. It’s helped keep me in check and also makes me feel proud every time I’m able to say that my Whole30 is going well and I’m staying on track!

2) You’re not being a brat ordering dishes with modifications at restaurants, and they are usually happy to oblige.

The first time I went to a restaurant during Whole30 was for a work meeting. I was terrified, because I wasn’t sure if anything was compliant, but I didn’t want to be rude and not eat. I ended up ordering a salad, but asked for vinegar and oil on the side in place of their house dressing. It’s become my “when in doubt” order, and I haven’t encountered any scrutiny or disdain.

I don’t typically order things with substitutions or changes, save for requesting burgers without pickles or mustard at fast food restaurants. But I’m realizing now that it’s not necessarily annoying to the restaurant staff, and sometimes people need modifications to their orders for health reasons.

There are also several local Dallas restaurants that offer Whole30 compliant dishes. Origin Kitchen has become my favorite go-to lunch spot, and when all else fails– I can always grab a carnitas salad at Chipotle (with lettuce, salsa, and guacamole). Speaking of Origin, Andrea just posted an amazing Whole30 Dining Guide about them this morning! When all else fails, I rely on Snap Kitchen for compliant prepared meals that can be ready after a couple minutes in the microwave.

Sweet Potato Hash Bowl with Grassfed Ground Beef from Origin Kitchen + Bar

Sweet Potato Hash Bowl with Grassfed Ground Beef from Origin Kitchen + Bar

3) I’m really glad that I never threw away my George Foreman Grill from college.

Whole30 requires protein with every meal, and grilling is such an easy healthy way to cook most of our favorite meats. But it’s wintertime, and there’s only two of us at home, so it seems unreasonable to make Holden stand outside at the grill to cook our dinners. I pulled out my handy dandy George Foreman Grill, and it’s been perfect! I’ll marinate chicken during the day or sprinkle tilapia filets with sea salt and a drizzle of olive oil to have dinner ready within 15 minutes of getting home from work.

4) Whole30 meals are delicious, and I’m not starving myself.

I’ve been avoiding restrictive diets, because they remind me so much of unhappy times. There were two periods in my life when I was at my lowest weight. The first was after a breakup with my college boyfriend when I became depressed and basically lived off of $1 yogurt parfaits from McDonald’s for weeks.

The second was back in 2010 when I started dating someone from the “popular” group at my high school. The moment I always remember as being rock bottom during this period was at the gym making myself run on the treadmill while he was out with his friends (all tiny former cheerleaders from our graduating class), and I told myself I wouldn’t stop running until he called or texted me back. Spoiler alert: he was not the most reliable person, and I ended up almost passing out from exhaustion.

I needed Whole30 to be different. I wanted to challenge myself to make a positive change, instead of losing weight as a punishment to myself. I loved that part of the program is not weighing yourself during the 30 days. Watching the scale makes me too tempted to skip a meal here or there. Another guideline of Whole30 is not to let yourself get hungry (or in my case, hangry). I’m able to snack if I need to, but I really haven’t had the urge to do so. And when I do, a banana or small bag of pistachios satiates me quickly.

I’ve found that Whole30 has forced me to make healthier food choices, but I haven’t felt particularly restricted. Instead of focusing on what I can’t eat, I’m loving what I can. Delicious protein (eggs, steak, chicken), fresh vegetables, and flavorful sauces and seasonings.

For breakfast, we typically have scrambled eggs (I pour Whole30 compliant Frank’s RedHot Original Red Hot Sauce on mine), with avocado, bell peppers, and a little fruit. Lunch is typically leftover from dinner. My favorite Whole30 dinner recipe is the Chocolate Chili from the book Well Fed by Melissa Joulwan. Our usual dinners have been grilled chicken or fish with a hearty salad. Speaking of which…

5) Dump Ranch is a game changer.
I heard great things about the Whole Sisters Dump Ranch recipe from Andrea. Holden is a ranch fiend. He hated the Tessamae’s Whole30 compliant dressing we tried, so I decided to give the dump ranch a chance. The recipe was SO easy, and I’ve already made it three times! I bought this fantastic KitchenAid hand blender, which is perfect for mixing the ingredients into the perfect creamy dressing.

The ultimate taste test… Holden LOVED it. It’s so delicious– it has all the flavor of ranch dressing, but it’s lighter and fresher than store-bought. He brought it to work with him and let his coworkers try some. They all wanted the recipe! We love adding it to salads or dipping baby carrots into it for a snack. Seriously… GAME CHANGER.

6) Teamwork makes the dream work.

I was so lucky that Holden agreed to do Whole30 with me. It would have been strenuous figuring out separate meals every day, and also sticking to my regimen while he eats things that I can’t have and make me crave them more. I’ve also been a little overwhelmed with all the cooking and meal prep, so he’s been amazing about washing dishes and keeping our kitchen as clean as possible.

I also have a couple friends who are also doing the January Whole30 Challenge, and being able to talk to them has made all the difference. Andrea, who introduced me to Whole30, even organized a support group/goal planning session with life coach Lizzie Somabut at Pure Barre Preston Hollow last week. The fitness studio owner, Britta, is also doing Whole30 with her husband. It was amazing to be in a room with others who were facing the same challenges, and hear their goals and tips. I saw Britta again last night at a blogger event, and it was nice to have someone else there resisting all the delicious appetizers the catering staff was offering us every five minutes. (Misery loves company?)

7) Whole30 is more time consuming, but it can also make time more valuable.

I’m still getting used to running to the grocery store multiple times a week for staple items like eggs and fresh produce. (We seriously go through at least 6 eggs a day). Prepping for and cooking meals is also taking up a lot of my free time, and poor Holden has been cleaning endlessly. BUT, it has been so, so, so nice to sit down for breakfast and dinner together over a nice meal. Usually, Holden grabs a granola bar or eats something at work for breakfast. Now we get to start our day together, and talk a little bit before leaving for our respective offices.

For dinner, instead of calling Holden on my way home from work and debating over what restaurant we want to pick up take-out from, I know what we’re going to be having. Even though it takes time to cook (or heat up leftovers), we’re not rushing through the meal or eating pizza in the living room watching Netflix. Granted, Netflix is still playing in the background (we love That 70’s Show during dinner for some reason lol), but we’re sitting down at the table and unwinding from the work day. Holden has been complimenting me on the cooking, and it makes me feel great to know that I’m taking care of us with healthy food.

I’ve also been sleeping really well. I had issues with insomnia and anxiety a couple years ago during our wedding planning process and after finding my birth family. Last year, my sleep schedule was so off because I’d be up editing photos until the wee hours of the night. Since starting Whole30, I’m usually asleep by 10 and feeling refreshed and ready-to-go around 6am. (Think Tracy Turnblad singing “Good Morning Baltimore!”) It gives me time to prepare our breakfast and lunches for the day, and even fit in some PS4 before work.

8) There is sugar in almost everything.

The Whole30 rule about no sugar (real or artificial) is explicit. “No maple syrup, honey, agave nectar, coconut sugar, Splenda, Equal, Nutrasweet, xylitol, stevia, etc”

It sounded easy enough to follow, until I realized all the sneaky ways manufacturers add sugar to products. Even if the nutrition facts say no sugar, and you don’t initially see sugar in the ingredient list– you have to be careful for all the different scientific variations of the word!

I still miss drinking sweet tea and soda, but my cravings for sugar in food has decreased dramatically. I did try kimchi that didn’t have sugar in it, and it was pretty gross. I’ll try to eliminate (real) sugar from my diet post-Whole30, but there are definitely some things that I’m going to let myself enjoy.

9) My reasons for doing Whole30 are about more than just weight loss.

I’ll admit that when I first started reading about Whole30, I thought that it would be a great way to lose some of the added pounds I’ve put on over the last year or so. But as I learned more about the program and it being a “nutritional reset” for your body, it seemed like the right thing to do. In my first Whole30 post, I talked about wanting to see if it helped improve my allergies and asthma. (Which I think it has, but it’s hard to tell because I got a cold last week…)

At the aforementioned Pure Barre goal setting workshop, I started writing down some reasons for doing Whole30 and where I wanted to be 30 days from the beginning, and even further down the road. After a few minutes of free-writing, I took a look at my list. It surprised me.

One of the reasons I did Whole30 was because my sister, during her visit from Korea, told me to be careful with my weight. Our older sister, Kyung-mi, and birth father both had diabetes. Kyung-mi got gestational diabetes when she was pregnant. Since Holden and I have started talking more often about starting a family, it hit me harder than I realized. I’ve been questioning my ability as a (someday) mother, and whether or not I would be able to kick my terrible eating habits and prepare healthy meals for a family or set the right example for a child.

I’ve also been missing singing lately. I fed my creative bug last year with photography, but since I was so busy on the weekends, I stopped going to church and singing with the choir. Now that I drive to an office every day, I sing-a-long to showtunes in the car and have noticed that my health has really affected my singing abilities. My lungs are weaker, so it’s harder to belt, and I’m not able to hold notes as long. It seems trivial, but given how important singing was to me growing up, it makes me really sad that to think that I won’t be able to get my voice back as strong as it used to be. After about a week of Whole30, I noticed that my phrasing was much better and breaths were less frequent, and more powerful. I’m looking forward to leaving more time in my schedule to sing at church again and plan more karaoke nights with friends.

10) There’s no such thing as a perfect Whole30.
Andrea told me this while I was frantically texting her about what I could eat for lunch at a restaurant. It calmed my nerves, and reminded me that even though it is a strict program (and the founders do say that if you slip up, you need to start over), there are so many factors out of your control.

As long as I’m making conscious choices to eat the right things and not giving in to temptations, I’ll consider this Whole30 a success. I’ve already made huge strides, tested limits, and proved to myself that I can commit to (and enjoy) a healthy lifestyle.

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  1. Yay! Go Stephanie (& Holden!). I got my man friend on board with the Whole30 too and it seriously has made ALL the difference. I do most of our cooking, but he’s a huge help in the kitchen (cleaning & chopping!) and it’s much, much easier to make good decisions when the whole kitchen has been cleaned out of non-Whole30 compliant foods – and as an added bonus, it’s an extra opportunity to spend quality time together doing something good for ourselves. Good stuff. Good luck with your second half!

    • Thanks, Amy!! I need to teach Holden how to chop veggies! I felt bad cleaning out our pantry, because I knew some of the items would still be good afterward, but I had to remove the temptation haha. Let me know if you come across any awesome recipes!!

  2. Congratulations on Whole30-ing! It sounds like you’re doing so AWESOME… good on you! I’m really glad you’re enjoying the Chocolate Chili; thanks so much for the shout out.

    I hope the second half of the month is even better than the first!

  3. Wow, Stephanie…you and Holden are doing great! Loved reading this update! This entire list is awesome, but I especially like #7. I never really thought of it that way, but doing the Whole30 and taking time to prepare and enjoy meals really does make for more quality time, even though it takes more time in the kitchen. For us, its given Marisa and I another way to spend time together and teach her the value of healthy eating. And, Ryan and I also catch up after a busy day in the kitchen while cooking/cleaning. Eventually, we’ll put Andrew to work in there, too;-) You put it into words perfectly! It’s a worthwhile tradeoff! Can’t wait to see where you are on Day30…keep up the good work! xo

    • Thank you for all your inspiration and knowledge, Andrea! You’ve totally helped set Holden and I up for a healthy lifestyle in the future. Now that Holden has been spending more time in the kitchen with me to clean, I think I’ve finally made my case for a kitchen renovation hehe.

  4. I love your post and can totally relate to all of this!

    Thanks for linking to that dump ranch recipe. My husband and I also tried the Tessamae’s ranch recently and we weren’t fans. 🙁

    I agree, having a spouse do Whole30 with you is the way to go. I am so grateful my husband agreed to do it with me the first round and now the second. I seriously don’t think I could do this without him!

    Congrats on getting this far into the program. Only two more weeks to go!

    • Thanks, Gina! Oh my goodness- you must try Dump Ranch asap. I just wish it didn’t have to be refrigerated so I could carry it with me at all times haha. Yay for supportive husbands! Good luck to you both for the rest of your second Whole30!

  5. Way to go! I’m right there with you doing whole 30 for the first time ( started on January 1st). This is my first time posting anything about it and I really appreciate your story here and wish you the best! Personally I’m thrilled with how my taste buds have changed. I actually like black coffee now. I actually crave roasted vegetables! I actually believe I can stay away from the Sugar Dragon for real.

    • I’ve been so shocked by how my cravings have changed, too. When I was first drinking sparkling water like La Croix, it seemed so strange that it wasn’t sugary like soda– now it’s so refreshing and I don’t miss the sweetness!

  6. I am in the process of finishing up the Whole30 book and plan to start on February 1st. I started lc/hf in March of last year and it has helped tremendously. But I am far from optimal health and that is what I am hoping for from Whole30. My biggest fear? I have no one as far as friends or family to do this with. I am on my own. My husband is wonderful but is almost tired of having to live our life around my new way of eating. SideNote: I am type 2 diabetic. Have lost 38 lbs since March,2015, cut my insulin by more than half, and have completely cut out 2 meds. But my body still aches all over and my bs is still to high. So I am counting on Whole30 to help with the left over problems that the lc/hf have not fixed. I stay under 20 grams of carbs a day. I am just looking for any input, good ideas or encouragement I can get here. Oh and I can’t find any bacon without added sugar, any one know of some? Thank you!

    • Hi Terri! Maybe you can find some people nearby who are doing Whole30 by browsing their forums. Might be good to form a local support group to help stay the course. My husband is pre-diabetic, so as much as this was an adjustment for him, it’s only going to increase our quality of life in the long run. Trying new recipes has really helped me stay interested and has made my husband more enthusiastic. And as for bacon, Koreans eat pork belly, which is basically thick bacon that’s uncured– you can maybe find it at your local butcher/grocery store– and if there are any Asian markets nearby, they’re sure to have some! I like to dip it in sesame oil/salt/pepper.

  7. Help me! I have begun the Whole30 twice and cheated on the second day both times!! I will start again tomorrow! The sweet craving is so horrible!! It is all I can think about! Any suggestions??

  8. I hadn’t heard of Origin Kitchen, so will definitely have to give them a try. Just coming off a stressful few weeks and the calories find me, yes they do. Sugar is definitely a beast. I’ve done a variation of Whole 30 which was really just kicking all the white stuff. Is there a post that talks about your second half of this?

  9. I am on day 2 and appreciated your post! It encouraged me to stay on track! Thank you for the ranch recipe. I bought some yesterday at krogers but it doesn’t even LOOK appetizing LOL. I am doing well aside from the caffeine withdraw headache! ( I hate coffee. Was a diet Mt Dew freak!) Keep up the good work. May we both be healthier in 30 days!!

  10. I just heard about Origin Kitchen and am on day 5. How am I semi already bored with eggs? IF you dont mind what is your go to order at Origin during Whole30?

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