When I set out to lose weight earlier this year, I didn’t know what I was doing. I’d never tried to lose weight before, at least not in more than a half-hearted way.
I didn’t try a bunch of different diets or even consult a nutritionist. What follows is not a magic recipe or a quick fix. It can’t be explained in 30 seconds or less, so I don’t think I’ll be marketing the Caitlin Diet anytime soon. But it’s what worked for me.
I stuck these books together in a photo because I wouldn’t have had the same success without both. I needed the clean-eating principles of Whole 30 just as much as I needed the habit-formation ideas from Gretchen. One wouldn’t have worked as well without the other, and I am super grateful that I found these books when I did.
The #Whole30 gets a lot of play on social media, and I was very skeptical at first. I still think some of the ~science~ in the book (It Starts With Food) is a little sketchy, but the principles worked for me.
The Whole 30 diet is simple and very restrictive at the same time. During the plan, you eat meat, eggs, nuts, veggies, fruits, and fats like coconut oil and avocado. You don’t eat dairy, legumes, any sugar (including honey!), alcohol, soy, or grains.
You stick to this restrictive plan — with no cheating at all, or you have to start over — for 30 days, and then reintroduce the eliminated foods one at a time.
A basic meal for us during the Whole 30 was grilled chicken breast, roasted sweet potato chunks, green veggie. Boring, yes. Low calorie? Not necessarily, especially once you factor in the coconut oil and an avocado on the side.
But cutting out processed food like Cheez-Its, flavored yogurt, and sandwich bread really helped me realize how much I leaned on food like that as a crutch. I thought that Grant and I ate healthfully, but we were ingesting a lot of processed sugar and junky carbs.
And the “occasional” dessert we were indulging in? More like 3-4 times a week. And, yes, banana bread is dessert. It’s a hard truth, but someone’s gotta tell it.
The Whole 30 is difficult. If you’re like me and use food as an emotional shield, cutting out basically all comfort food is a struggle. I formed quite the bond with cashew butter.
Sticking to the plan is a lot of work. You can’t eat out very easily, and almost all meals have to be prepped ahead of time.
Breakfast is especially hard. Since you can’t have oatmeal or toast or cereal, you have to plan ahead so that there is a baked sweet potato to go with the eggs you quickly scramble. Smoothies, the ultimate quick breakfast, are discouraged on the plan. You’re supposed to use the 30 days to train your body to do without added sugar, and the sweetness of a smoothie undermines that progress. Which I understand, but COME ON.
I made egg and veggie bakes every weekend and ate the leftovers until I never wanted to see another egg.
And the plan is not cheap. Grains are cheap. Sugar is cheap. That’s one of the reasons that processed foods are often so much cheaper than fresh ingredients, calorie for calorie.
Coming home from the store with enough potatoes and squash to serve as starchy sides for the whole week, instead of a bag of rice and a box of pasta? That added up. And the no-added-sugar version of typical snack foods, like almond butter or dried fruit? Those are more expensive too. (Case in point: compare the price of a Larabar to a regular granola bar. Yikes.)
It was worth the work and the money, though. I learned what good energy felt like, without a post-lunch carb crash. When we reintroduced the eliminated foods, I learned that dairy makes me break out, and that Grant is allergic to oats.
And I lost 15 pounds.
If you’re looking for a quick way to jump towards a weight loss goal or want to examine your relationship with processed food, I could not recommend this program more. (But again, I’m not a doctor, so you should talk to one first, probably.)
Life after Whole 30 for me includes the occasional pasta and weekly desserts, but keeping our meals light on the grains has helped me to continue to lose weight. (My new thing is bean-based pasta. I know, sounds terrible, but it’s not. Edamame and black bean pastas are my new, protein-packed side of choice.)
BETTER THAN BEFORE
Gretchen Rubin is my new Oprah, and I do not say that lightly.
Her book, Better Than Before, is all about strategies for habit formation, based on your “tendency.” Gretchen breaks personalities into four tendency types: Upholder (✋), Obliger, Questioner, and Rebel. (You can take a quiz to find out who you are here.) The book presents strategies for forming lasting habits based on your personality tendency.
Better Than Before inspired me to keep going, to push harder, to lose the next 15 pounds.
Gretchen thinks that our life is made up of the habits we repeat every day, and I could not agree more with her. Eating a cheeseburger SOMETIMES is okay if you eat salad for lunch MOST OF THE TIME.
She says that building positive habits can make us happier. Again, I totally agree. Meeting my diet and exercise goals has made me happier and healthier, and I couldn’t have met those goals without positive and fruitful habits.
There are lots of individual strategies in the book, but one of the simplest and most impactful is ABSTAINING. Gretchen suggests making a very specific rule of something you never do. My abstainer rule: at a potluck, I never eat a store-bought baked good. (To be clear, I mean grocery-store baked good, not a bakery-made baked good. I’m not insane.) I’d rather save the calories and potential sugar headache for something really yummy and really homemade. (And, oh yeah, that’s a Whole 30 side effect I didn’t mention above. Processed sugar gives me a headache now. 😒)
But, more than the individual principles that Gretchen introduces in the book, the idea that HABITS MAKE OUR LIVES HAPPIER resonated with me so deeply. That message (which is also the central focus of her podcast) made me want to do better.
It seems so simple: our lives are made up of habits. Change your habits; change your life. But thinking about life like this flipped a switch for me. Getting up early got easier when I thought of it as a positive habit. Choosing veggies over pasta became easier when I thought of saying no to grains as a habit.
Veggies at every meal? Sure, I can do that most days. Walk laps at work in the afternoon instead of succumbing to the vending machine? Yep. Make my bed every morning? Working on that one.
I’ve heard that Better Than Before speaks to everyone in a different way. I needed help finding wellness habits, but maybe you’re looking for budgeting habits. (Let me know what you find out, k? 💸)
I’m still on a journey with wellness and solidifying good habits. Actually, I’m not sure that “journey” is the best word to use here. Journeys have destinations and endings, and I’m sure I’ll never totally figure this health thing out. Maybe wandering is a better word: I’m wandering towards wellness, with my buddy Gretchen in my ears and a Larabar in my purse.
I’d love to hear if you’ve done the Whole 30. How was your experience?
Any fellow Gretchen-lovers out there? She’s from KC, you know!
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