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How I Survived the Whole30

Photograph by Denise Cortes

Before I can share how I survived the Whole30 program, I’ve got to give some of my backstory. I’ve been overweight my entire life. I was a chubby baby, chubby toddler, chubby grade-schooler, chubby high-schooler, chubby college student and finally, a chubby wife. Giving birth to six kids didn’t help my situation, even though I never gained more than fifteen pounds per pregnancy. What really pushed me over the edge from chubby to fat was an existential crisis. The pounds piled on as I struggled to make sense of what was happening to my marriage and the person I had become.

I had to change, but I had no idea how.

I began to follow a handful of people on Instagram who had embarked on this crazy program called Whole30. For 30 days, they committed to abstaining from eating any dairy, grains, legumes and sugar and instead filling their bodies with whole, delicious, natural foods. It definitely piqued my interest, but my mind began to spiral as I contemplated a life without goat cheese, crusty french bread and cinnamon rolls. What is the point of life if you can’t enjoy food? My entire social life revolved around food. I wore my “fat girl” status like a badge of honor. But things were different now. My self-esteem took a big hit, and I hated the way I looked in clothes. I had no energy. I couldn’t make it throughout the day without an extended nap. I couldn’t fulfill my duties as a wife and mother. I also started showing signs of Type 2 Diabetes.

The collective journey of the Whole30 Instagram community inspired me. Weight loss, inches lost, renewed energy, cravings banished, ailments healed, and a renewed sense of self—I wanted all of that. Thirty days, I kept telling myself, all you need is 30 days. Little did I know that was the key for me to start this program and to keep going.

My before and after:

Photograph by Denise Cortes


1. Just do it.

Pick a time when you won’t have any important events coming up (weddings, birthdays, major holidays, a weekend in Vegas) so you can focus on getting the hang of the program. I wanted to give myself the opportunity to succeed. My thirty days included Valentine’s Day but ended just a week before my birthday because I didn’t want to miss out on my birthday sushi tradition. But honestly, there may never be a “good time”, so just do it anyway.

2. Read “It Starts With Food.”

Educate yourself. Understand how certain foods affect your body. It goes far beyond just losing weight. I had to learn how the foods I loved didn’t quite love me back and were, in fact, sending me to an early grave. It’s an easy read and you can even download it to your Kindle app.

3. Commit to doing this for yourself.

As mothers, we’re accustomed to putting everyone’s needs before our own. Do this for yourself! Don’t feel bad about taking up some of the grocery budget for the food you need to nourish yourself and stick to the program. And be prepared for some selfish behavior by your loved ones. “How come mom gets to eat steak?” This was something I heard a few times before I had to sit down with my six kids and drop some science on them. When a mother takes care of herself, the entire family benefits.

4. Plan ahead.

I’ve never been a meal planner and I still struggle with this, but stocking my fridge and pantry with healthy, Whole30-compliant food gave me peace of mind. I made breakfast frittatas that I could easily heat up in the morning, since that’s usually the hardest meal to make for myself. I had “roasting parties” and roasted all of my veggies (Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, asparagus, sweet potatoes, and so on) at once and then stored them in plastic containers to enjoy throughout the week.

5. Trust the process.

I followed the program to the best of my ability (I didn’t always eat organic or grass-fed protein) and stopped worrying about weight loss. After a week or so, I realized I didn’t feel ravenously hungry because for once, my body was receiving all the nutrients it needed. I didn’t feel deprived at all. Instead of lamenting about what I couldn’t eat, I focused on all the delicious things I could.

6. Buddy up.

Do the Whole30 with a friend, your spouse, or a co-worker—someone as equally committed as you. My brother did the program with me. We would cook for one another, share our crazy food dreams, text one another with our outlandish cravings, lament over our weird body detoxing symptoms and how Whole30 was miraculously breaking life-long food dependency issues for the both of us.

Now that my first Whole30 is over, I am blown away by what I have learned about myself. I didn’t weigh myself, but I lost a total of 14.5 inches when I measured my arms, neck, chest, waist, hips, thighs and ankles at the end of the month. My skin feels amazingly soft. Dairy is the devil, according my to chronic sinus problems. For the first time in my life, I can breathe through my nose clearly. I’m able to pop out of bed without feeling groggy, grumpy and reign terror on everyone around me. I sleep better and I haven’t had one bruxism-induced headache (you know, those annoying headaches you get from grinding your teeth). I’ve experienced a great sense of mental clarity and am making much-needed changes in my personal life. Most importantly, I no longer look to food as a source of comfort for myself.

Today was my first post-Whole30 day and it’s business as usual, eating my spinach, mushroom and prosciutto frittata and herbal tea with a splash of coconut milk. No donuts or pizza to celebrate success for this mama. I’m going to stick with a whole food and paleo model of eating and continue toward a healthy life because I know this is just the beginning of my journey.

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