How I Lost the Weight: A Love Letter to Gretchen Rubin and the Whole 30

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 did one round of the Whole 30 diet in February, and then changed my daily diet and exercise habits using the principles Gretchen Rubin outlines in her book Better Than Before.


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.

Whole 30 grocery haul.
Life after Whole 30 grocery haul. Everything complies with the plan but the kombucha.

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.)

Yes, it's that ugly in real life. (From Trader Joe's)
Yes, it’s that ugly in real life. (From Trader Joe’s)


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!

Five Ways to Keep Your Head When You’re Stretched Too Thin

Without going into all the details, I need to tell you guys that I am stretched awfully thin these days. The kind of stretched thin where even making a to-do list is overwhelming, where the laundry piles up for what feels like years, and the idea of new things on the calendar — even invites to do something fun — feels exhausting.

That said, I scrapped my half-assed drafted post for today and decided to do what I do best: write it out.

I need the guidance I’m giving today.

It’s easy to spiral into an anxious mess when your life is overscheduled or emotionally messy. It’s easy to give up, do the bare minimum, and wait it out. I have done this. I did this Sunday night.

But schlepping through the tough stuff is what life is about. When I follow the rules outlined below, life is better. My problems don’t go away, but they don’t feel so big.

Note to those of you who are worried: Life is busy and stressful, but everyone and everything is just fine.

1. Stick to your schedule.

When I am overwhelmed, the first things to go out the window are often the things I need the most. I’ll rush off to work without my allergy medicine, or my coffee, or a lunch. Or maybe all three if I’m really on a roll.

That means I’ll have a sore throat, a raging caffeine-withdrawal headache, and I’ll spend $10-15 on a salad in the cafeteria.

If I take less than ten minutes in the evening to pack a lunch and set the coffee to brew, I save myself a world of hurt the next day. I don’t do this evening prep all the time, but try to prioritize it when I know I could use the help come morning.

2. Exercise.

Exercise is easy to blow off for another hour of sleep. And sometimes this is what my body needs. But, mostly, blowing off exercise is just lazy. I never, ever regret a workout, but I almost always regret skipping one. Just like Elle Woods taught us, exercise gives you endorphins and endorphins make you happy.

I’ve Pinned a bunch of 30 minute or less workouts here, if you need to power through exercise. This one is my favorite. It’s hard and really quick.

3. Indulge mindfully.

A mindful indulgence on vacation.

I am guilty of emotional overeating. Big time. I also know that, for me, eating some sugar easily snowballs into more and more sugar. Example: I got a DQ Blizzard Sunday afternoon, and then felt the need to eat chocolate-covered cherries that evening. Two desserts in one day does not a mindful indulgence make.

BUT, having a glass of wine after a stressful day? Mindful indulgence. Going to my favorite donut shop and buying one, perfect, amazing donut? Mindful indulgence.

I know that this one looks different to everyone. Those are examples that work for me. If I overindulge, I feel terrible for literally days. Small treats work better for me.


4. Keep social dates.

When I have spent the whole day go, go, go-ing, the only thing I am interested in doing is reading in bed or watching too many episodes of Law and Order: SVU. I have skipped parties, group dinners, and more to do these solitary activities.

But meeting a girlfriend for a happy hour or an exercise class? Going to that house party (even if I just stop by for an hour)? Usually a good idea. Connecting with my people helps life slow down for just a bit, which makes all the hard stuff feel easier.

Which brings me to…

5. Talk it out.

TALK ABOUT IT. I have amazing family and friends who are always down to lend an ear when I need it. Venting feels good, and it is so necessary sometimes. Go on a walk with your buddy, talk loudly and with your hands. You’ll feel better.

And here’s the big secret: sometimes listing all my problems out loud makes me realize that it’s not so bad.

My problems are small, and my life is full.

Deep breath. Back to work.


What are your strategies when you’re feeling overwhelmed? I could use all the tips I can get!

Midweek Links // 3

Hi friends! Welcome to a Wednesday that feels like a Tuesday in a week that feels like it will never end. Dramatic, I know. Post-vacation blues have got me bad.

Speaking of vacation, on our trip I read The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon (🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟) and Adnan’s Story, which surprised me with how good it is! If you didn’t listen to “Serial,” this won’t make sense to you, but: the book is by Rabia, Adnan’s best friend’s sister who you may remember from the podcast. She’s a lawyer and advocate for Adnan, and she brought his case to Sarah Koenig. Rabia goes into the details of the case and brings up a lot of stuff that “Serial” left out. She’s a great writer, so this book is worth your time, especially if you fell under the “Serial” spell as hard as I did in 2014.

If you’re looking for a dishy crime read where the bad guys are lawyers and the victim is a PTA mom and the case is truly bonkers, read this from the L.A. Times.

I can’t wait for a little chill to pop up so I can make this carrot and sweet potato soup with Thai flavors from KC blogger Cookie + Kate.

I loved this profile of Elizabeth Smart. While we all remember her for her kidnapping and rescue, she’s now an advocate for changing the way we talk to children about sex and purity. Fascinating to read her perspective as both a survivor and a Mormon.

Now that we’re home, the reality of our engagement is sinking in: We have to plan a whole wedding. As much as I love planning, I do feel like I’m in over my head with this one. This article from A Practical Wedding helped a little:

“In the end, we come back to where we started: people are the most important thing (which very much includes the two of you). Your people, however many there are, care much more about seeing you happily married than they do about personally liking the color of your bridesmaid dresses. If aesthetics are your thing, go ahead and throw yourself in headfirst. But if they’re not? Remember that it’s pretty hard to go wrong with candles on white tablecloths—because everyone looks amazing in soft light.”

I instantly ordered both Practical Wedding planning books. Fingers crossed!

If you have wedding planning resources that you used and loved, please, please, please share.

See you Friday for a new meal plan ✌

Top 10 things to do in Mount Desert Island, Maine

G and I just got back from a trip to Mount Desert Island, Maine, and it was the best vacation ever. Maine is insanely, breathtakingly gorgeous. We’re already talking about a trip back. I made a non-scientific, incredibly biased list of the best things to see, eat, and do if you ever make it to this beautiful island.

  1. Hike the Precipice Trail.
    IMG_3849This trail, which summits Champlain Mountain in Acadia National Park, is not for the faint of heart or the weak of limb. Parts of the hike are so steep that there are iron ladders and handles in the side of the mountain to make the climb possible.IMG_3886But, like many Hard Things, it was so, so worth the work. Sitting at any summit with Grant is my favorite.

  2. Eat a lobster roll or three.
    P1000196Right after hiking, we jetted for Side Street Cafe in Bar Harbor, where I had the best lobster roll of my life. Lobster rolls are the perfect food, and this one had the perfect amounts of lobster (lots), mayo (only a smidge), and a toasty, buttery (but not TOO buttery) bun.

  3. Eat a whole lobster.
    Excuse the grainy iPhone photo, but my hands were way too lobster-y to even think about touching my camera.

    G had never eaten a whole lobster before, so that was high on our list. The wait at Thurston’s Lobster Pound was long, but the food was WORTH IT. We intended to order two medium-sized lobsters and ended up with two super-sized ones. #VACATION

  4. Read a Stephen King book.
    Stephen King is one of my favorite authors, and he lives in Bangor, Maine, so I had to read one of his novels while I was in the state. I picked The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon, which is about a 9-year-old girl who gets lost in the Maine woods. Seemed appropriate.

  5. Lounge on the Sand Beach.
    IMG_4248 The Sand Beach at Acadia is so beautiful and weird. It’s like a regular east coast beach, but in the middle of the woods. I read half of my novel, Grant took a nap, and we did not get in the cold, cold water.

  6. Go to the Abbe Museum.
    The Abbe Museum is dedicated to sharing the history and culture of the Wabanaki Nation, a group of Native American tribes that are indigenous to the land that’s now Maine. What made this museum so special and so interesting is that it was curated by members of the Wabanaki tribe, instead of by historians or anthropologists that are removed from the culture by several layers of experience.

    Bearing witness to the terrible losses and injustices that Native peoples suffered on the land where we were vacationing felt important to both of us. The exhibits are a mixture of art, history, and personal storytelling, and everything was gorgeous and well-written. Worth the time and money 100 times over.

  7. Eat at CJ’s at least twice.P1000281Since Grant has dairy allergies, we almost never get dessert on vacation. We walked past CJ’s on the first day of our trip and saw the words “dairy-free” in the window. The manager explained their whole process for lowering cross-contamination risk the second he heard we had allergy concerns 👍. They had three dairy-free sorbets and two dairy-free ice creams, different flavors each day. G had four flavors in all: chocolate coconut, graham cracker, raspberry-vanilla swirl, and mocha cappuccino.P1000283Other awesome eats: Project Social for tapas like lobster-stuffed piquillo peppers, Jeannie’s Great Maine Breakfast for their strawberry rhubarb jam and homemade bread, and Galyn’s Restaurant, where we had the most delicious Dijon-white wine mussels.

  8. Walk to Bar Island
    P1000220At low tide, you can walk across a normally submerged sand bar to Bar Island. We did this while exhausted from our Precipice hike, so I didn’t appreciate it as much as I could have, but it was beautiful. G played in some tide pools, and I sat on a log.

  9. Go on a sunset cruise.
    P1000332We sailed around the harbor on the Margaret Todd, a four-masted schooner. G loves sailing, so this was super fun for him. We shared pink wine and pistachios, and met some fun people to chat with.P1000357

    While I guess this activity isn’t available to everyone, watching the sunrise on Cadillac Mountain —  the first place in the U.S. where you can see the sun each day — is. Which is what we were doing when Grant said a bunch of nice things to me, got down on one knee, and asked me to be his wife.P1000338I am over-the-moon happy.And the nice people we were chatting with on the cruise above? They got engaged on Cadillac Mountain, too, except in 1989. To meet them on the day we got engaged felt very auspicious.

    So, go to Maine. I can’t promise you’ll come home with a new fiance, but you’ll have a hell of a time regardless. Eat a lobster roll for me!

Midweek Links // 2

Happy almost long weekend! How are you relaxing? What are you eating? I need to know!

My favorite Labor Day eats and reads are linked below.

First things first, check out the Fall style story I wrote for KC’s Ink Magazine.

This article decoding Britney Spears’ history through her hair styles is essential.

I froze a bunch of leftover watermelon for these 3-ingredient watermelon margs. 🍹🍉🍹🍉🍹🍉

I’ve been blowing through episodes of this true crime podcast. The hosts describe interesting, real-life cases. Perfect for a Law & Order fangirl like me (Detective Elliot Stabler is my boyfriend, and I am only kind of joking).

I finished Heft, by Liz Moore, this week. I loved it. I’m not sure I would have picked it up based on plot summary alone (Brooklyn man doesn’t leave his house for a decade because of his morbid obesity and the accompanying depression), but Kristen of Dine & Dish recommended it via Snapchat. I am so thankful to her. Heft is one of those novels where the characters get deep inside your heart. I’ll be thinking about it for a while.

Speaking of Snapchat, follow Gaby Dalkin of What’s Gaby Cooking (username: whatsgabycookin). She’s a fun person to follow in general if you like yummy, California-style food, but my favorite thing she does is her Friday “Snapisodes.” She makes a step-by-step recipe and encourages her followers to make it over the weekend. So fun. Last Friday, she made a stone fruit and tomato panzanella, and I did too! 🍑🍅 Except I swapped the burrata in her recipe for avocado and left out the croutons because I didn’t want them, ha. The recipe, as I made it, couldn’t be simpler: slice a bunch of stone fruit, add some halved cherry tomatoes and chunks of avocado. Tear basil over the top. Photograph for Instagram. Dress with balsamic vinaigrette. DEVOUR.

Good luck making it to Friday! You can do it. xoxo