Whole30 So Far (or, “Eight Days Away From a Chocolate Chip Cookie”)

Eight nights from now, I’ll be getting ready for bed and letting it sink in that what I’ve dreamed of for a month can become reality once I wake up in the morning.

That dream? Eating one of these.

I’ve been denying myself of Levain Bakery’s deliciousness for the past three weeks while doing Whole30, and now only a week + day stand between me and that cookie.

Truth be told, I don’t even crave Levain on a regular basis. They’re the best cookies in the city, but they’re definitely an indulgence, mostly purchased for special occasions. But if making it through 30 days without grains, dairy, added sugar, alcohol, and legumes isn’t a special occasion, I don’t know what is.

I really wanted to blog extensively as I went through Whole30, but I think I’m only now in a spot healthy enough to process it: Far enough away from the painful first week that I can assess with some perspective, and close enough to the end that I’m not discouraged about how far there is to go. Plus, at least in the first couple weeks, all the time I thought would go to blogging went to meal prep – and that’s only a slight exaggeration.

For some reason, tonight, I really felt like I could sense the light at the end of the tunnel. So while I’m riding that wave of inspiration, I wanted to share a few thoughts on my Whole30 so far (today, officially, was Day 22). It’s organized in the same way I find myself talking about the program – all the negative stuff at the top, and then the positives (“All I do is prep meals now and I really want a cookie but I haven’t had a stomachache since I started and I can really tell that eliminating dairy is helping my digestion.”).

The Whole30 creators are famous for saying the program “isn’t hard,” but I’d also say it isn’t for the faint of heart. Aside from the obvious dietary changes it requires you to make, it forces you to plan meals, shop for groceries, and cook to a degree you might not be used to. I certainly wasn’t used to it, and I even pride myself on not eating out too much in New York City. I love dining out with friends, but I’m good about not just picking up dinner on any random weeknight, and I bring my lunch to work every day. But coming home and whipping up cost-effective orange chicken from Trader Joe’s (hey, only eight days until I can have that, too!) is not the same as making a recipe from scratch. And shopping and prepping to make all your meals from scratch is not the same as zipping through the store, picking up a lot of pre-prepared foods that require minimal effort to assemble into a meal, and maybe grabbing an ingredient or two that’s needed for the one real recipe you might attempt that week.

The prepping-shopping-cooking is just the tactical element. There’s also the emotional strain, and if that sounds silly, I promise you, it’s not. I don’t want to speak for anyone reading this, but my emotional attachment to food is real. Deep down, I think I recognized that and made it the driving force for starting Whole30. I don’t come home and devour a box of donuts on a bad day, but I often have a hard time saying “no,” especially to sweets, and especially when I’m stressed or upset or nervous.

I’ve found myself describing certain foods as a “crutch.” I’ve realized how much I leaned on an afternoon snack, or chocolate after dinner – how much I looked forward to those foods, and how much I thought I needed them to help me deal with external frustrations. So far, the results of Whole30 for me have been less about not craving that stuff at all (I led this post by admitting I dreamed of a chocolate chip cookie, after all) and more about realizing the place “crutch” foods had in my life. Even after a month of no added sugars of any kind, I’m still going to want that cookie. But I think I’ll emerge from Whole30 with a much healthier sense of why I run to certain foods. I have confidence that I’ll be eating the Levain cookie because I find it delicious and totally worth every calorie and ounce of sugar – and not because I need a bite of the cookie just to cope with a certain feeling or get me through the afternoon.

I’d say that sense of clarity about the place I let food have in my life has been the biggest positive of my Whole30. That realization didn’t come easy, though. The program preaches “food freedom,” which I suppose I have found to some degree, but while you’re actually in it, you’re totally enslaved to food – always checking ingredient lists, becoming “that guy” who asks a million questions about how food is prepared at restaurants, unable to have even a sip of wine when out with friends. And that sucks. But I’m far enough along now that I can appreciate needing to follow the rules to a T for awhile, so that once you give yourself leeway again, you know which rules are worth breaking.

I could go on and on about everything this process has taught me from an emotional standpoint, but there’s also the physical element to consider. Without going into too much detail about my digestive tract, I’ve felt amazing the last couple weeks. I usually don’t make it through the week without getting backed up or experiencing some sort of stomach discomfort, and it’s been very smooth sailing during Whole30. And while I don’t think I’ll ever go completely coffee-free in my life, I’ve found it much easier to get up and moving with a smaller cup of joe. I still get tired and cranky if I don’t eat enough (or enough of the right stuff) during the day, but I’ve been waking up much less groggy.

On top of all that, I’ve become much more confident in the kitchen. I’ve followed more unique recipes from start to finish in the last three weeks than I had in, honestly, maybe the previous year. Definitely the previous six months. I have a long ways to go, but I feel less daunted by recipes, am more excited about trying new ingredients, have developed more of a well-stocked pantry that allows me to whip up things without making a trip to the store for a single item, and have more of a knack for understanding how I can utilize leftovers. All of this may sound pretty basic for the average home cook, but for a city dweller who’s used to preparing easy food for one person, it’s something I’m proud of.

At this point, I’m not such a Whole30 convert that I’ll tell any of my friends or acquaintances that they just need to do it because it’ll make them feel so amazing. But if anyone I knew was considering it, I’d encourage them to try – but not before doing extensive research into the program rules and reading up on how much prep goes in to each week.

There are still eight days to go, and I’m sure at many times in that span, it’ll feel like an eternity. But right now, I feel good, have my lunch prepped for tomorrow, and am ready to be one night closer to a warm chocolate chip cookie.