Why I Quit Whole30

Why I Quit Whole 30

When I decided to quit Whole30 on day 12, it wasn’t an easy decision to make. OK, let’s be real, in the grand scheme of things this is not even that serious of a matter at all, but since I know people will be researching Whole30 deciding whether or not to do it or whether or not they should stick with it until the end, I’ll share my experience in the hopes that it can be of help. So, here’s how it went down …

After a few days of feeling like I wanted to throw in the towel but telling myself that I wouldn’t do it, I finally decided to give it some serious thought and basically spent two whole days weighing the pros and cons (looking back, this seems absolutely ridiculous and further confirms my decision to give it up — no one should spend this much time thinking about their eating habits this way.)

For some more perspective, here’s the full story of my experience and why, eventually, I decided to quit Whole30.

Why I Decided to Try Whole30

When I decided to try Whole30 it was after a blogger friend/Team Diamond Mine teammate, Shannon of Happy Wife Style, mentioned she was hosting a Whole30 group for the month of June. I love Shannon’s blog and the health and wellness  approach she shares, so when she mentioned her Whole30 group, my interest was piqued.

I had heard of Whole30 before but wasn’t entirely sure of exactly what it entailed. So about four days before Shannon’s group was going to start I read about the program and what I would need to do in order to follow it.

No grains of ANY kind.
No added sugar or artificial or natural sweeteners of ANY kind.
No legumes.
No dairy.
No liquefied foods (e.g., smoothies)
No alcohol.
No soy.
No MSG, carageenan, sulfates or any other types of artificial additives.
Read the full rules here.

Initially, looking at this list gave me heart palpitations. No grains? Not even healthier kinds like quinoa or oats? No chick peas or Greek yogurt? NO SMOOTHIES?! Even if the ingredients are all whole foods?

For some reason, at the time I was first reading all of this I was thinking, “This is scary; it would be a pretty big challenge for me.” In other words, it scared me and therefore would take me outside of my comfort zone.

So after a few days of contemplating whether or not I would “take on the challenge,” I decided I was in. I was gonna make Whole30 my bitch. (Hahaha!!! Good one, Katie.)

I was going to follow the rules, “reset my system,” and find out how great I could feel by eliminating all of these things from my diet for 30 days. Most importantly, I was going to prove to myself that I could do this.

Why I Quit Whole30

When I announced on Instagram that I was going to follow Whole30 I mentioned that I was also curious to see if it could help improve my running performance and also to see if it would have any affect on a more personal health issue —my digestion.

Basically, I was curious to see a) if I could do it and b) how I would end up feeling.

The Good

Since I definitely did reap quite a few benefits from following the rules for 12 days, I’ll start with what I did like about Whole30 and the good that I gained from it.

Almost immediately, after about two or three days following the plan I noticed that I was waaaay less bloated than usual. My pants were never feeling tight and I was feeling satisfied at every meal without ever leaving the table with that “heavy,” weighed down feeling in my stomach. That was a win for me.

The first few days following the plan on weekdays was pretty much a cinch for me. It basically meant cutting smoothies and oatmeal out of my breakfast routine and skipping the cheese and chick peas in my salads for lunch. Even before trying Whole30, my and Mark’s dinners usually consisted of a lean protein, a veggie and if not brown rice or quinoa, than some type of potato. So aside from skipping the rice or quinoa, I didn’t have to change much there either.

On Friday night of my first week following Whole30 we had a party to go to. I was worried about passing up all the food that would be served there, but to my surprise — and since we had a delicious, filling dinner beforehand — I wasn’t tempted at all. As for the alcohol side of the story, passing that up wasn’t a big deal for me because I don’t drink often anyway. Plus, I wasn’t really in the mood for it that night, so I was perfectly satisfied just having a good time catching up with friends.

The nice part about this was that I didn’t spend the whole night snacking on tons of not-so-nutritious party foods just because they were in front of me — something that’s not a huge deal if it happens from time to time (I’ve done it plenty of times before), but that I definitely felt better the next day for having not done. That was definitely a plus and the experience taught me that I do have willpower against mindless snacking, which is certainly something I can work on.

grinch eating because I'm bored
[Source]

That right there was a HUGE win for me. Ending that night having not broken the rules was proof for myself that I could totally do this.

All in all, I was less bloated, I learned a bit about myself, developed a little bit of grit, and opened my eyes up to how Whole30 can be great program … But that was only one half of the story…

The Bad

So yes, I was super cranky and experienced headaches from the sugar detox and even was finding it difficult to wake up in the morning to work out (something I hardly ever struggle with because I enjoy running so much), and while yes these are “bad” side effects, I was able to cope with them and they were not the reason I decided to quit Whole30. In fact, most of these issues had already passed by the time I decided to throw in the towel.

So in all honesty none of the above really has anything to do with my decision to quit Whole30. What it ultimately came down to was how I was feeling not physically, but psychologically. And I don’t mean I was struggling with food cravings or necessarily having trouble with passing up things that didn’t fit within Whole30 (like I mentioned before, in the first few days I had proven to myself that I had the willpower to do so — I even passed up the complimentary bagels that were handed out at the end of a 10K I ran).

What I was feeling went beyond that. I was beginning to feel genuinely unhappy, which obviously started to take a toll on my mood. Overall, feeling this way really started to bring me down.

Looking back at my notes now, I see that this feeling may have started to creep up on me just three days into the program. Here’s what I wrote in my notes on day 3:

“This is ridiculous, why am I doing this to myself. Why would I stop myself from eating the healthy foods I love? Am I insane?”

At first I tried to ignore it. I brushed it off as a typical side effect, and I mean maybe it is, but still … it was just an overall bad feeling that was looming over me like a dark cloud.

And then it REALLY hit me head on one night when I was out to dinner at this GREAT Brazilian restaurant with Mark.

They brought bread to the table. “No big deal, I can do without it.”

Mark ordered a drink. “I’d love one too but I can pass on the alcohol for a few more days.”

Then I started to look at the menu. “Ooo that sounds good and totally healthy … Oh wait, can’t have it.” I went through the entire menu repeating this until there were literally only two options left that were Whole30 compliant — grilled chicken or steak.

I’m really not a fan of red meat and I had been eating grilled chicken ALL week. Now I was out to eat, I wanted an exciting meal. Something different for a change.

What I really wanted was the tilapia dish (it was seared and came with spinach and puréed sweet potato), but it was cooked in white wine, so it was a no-go for Whole30. I sat at the table feeling so conflicted. And yes, this is dramatic and maybe I’m a big fat baby, but I honestly wanted to cry.  I mean, it’s possible my emotions were still all crazy as a side effect of following the program, but regardless, it was a pretty awful feeling and it seemed ridiculous that I was essentially inflicting it upon myself.

I wanna murder someone and also want soft pretzels
[Source]

I talked with Mark about calling it quits right there so I could just order what I wanted and enjoy my meal. But something inside me wouldn’t let me give up. So I reluctantly ordered the steak (minus the side of puréed sweet potatoes — because I asked and the waitress she said they were mixed with butter) and as I ate I tried to remind myself that this was only for a few more days. But regardless of whether I had one more day or 29, something just didn’t feel right.

After dinner, we met up with friend for drinks. I stuck to my guns and sipped on seltzer while everyone else had their beers.

Why I Quit Whole30

Why I Quit Whole30

The next day, since I was still contemplating whether or not continuing with the program was right for me. I decided to do some reading.

I found several blog posts from others who had felt the same as I was feeling and their insights ultimately helped me decide that not following through was the right option for me; that putting my happiness on hold for 18 more days just to “reset my system” would not be worth such an immense struggle for me in the end.

Kelly Toups, a healthy living blogger and registered dietitian wrote the following about Whole30:

“Judging by the no-apologies way that the rules are written up (and by the rules themselves), Whole30 seems to be designed to take the pleasure out of eating … I truly believe that healthy eating is not a punishment – if done right, it can be joyful, delicious, and a lifelong habit.”

When I read that a light bulb went off in my head. What Kelly described is how I’ve always felt about healthy eating, and that’s what that bad feeling was; Whole30 had entirely sucked the pleasure out of eating for me. OK, and I get that it’s not about pleasure and I definitely could have done more to explore new recipes with my meals and asked more questions to have meals modified while I was out to eat, but that’s just not me.

I did look for new Whole30-approved recipes to try, but what I found was that most required more effort than I was willing to put in (look at any recipe I’ve posted on this blog for the past five years, the main premise 90% of the time is that it takes under 30 minutes to make). I’m not trying to make excuses, no doubt I could have put more effort in on the cooking front, but beforehand I wish I had paid more attention to the fact that it would require a bit more time in the kitchen than usual if I wanted to keep my meals fun and interesting.

More time in the kitchen is NOT my style, so if I had fully realized that before diving in, I might have made the decision not to start in the first place.

A Huffington Post reporter wrote about his experience with Whole30 saying,

“Any diet plan this restrictive and complex is built for failure and designed to generate more New York Times bestsellers. I refuse to feel bad for myself.”

I agree. But I also disagree. I know many people see Whole30 as a “diet” and as a vehicle for weight loss, which is fine and if you choose to utilize it that way it can be that.

But when I began Whole30 I wasn’t in the mindset of “I’m going on a diet.” For me it was more of an experiment to see what all the hype was about and to see how I would end up feeling.

And while in some ways Whole30 is marketed as a “diet” in the traditional “weight loss-y” way that we think of the word, in other ways it’s not and the creators did not intend it to be a sustainable approach to healthy eating or something you should follow over the long-term. After all, at the end of the 30 days the program explains how to reintroduce the off-limits foods back into your diet.

That’s why it’s called Whole30. That’s why it lasts only 30 days. It’s a jumping off point; a learning tool.

But on the other hand, personally, I also feel that it’s too restrictive — the psychological aspect of it was messing with my relationship with food, which I can honestly say wasn’t perfect (nothing is), but was for the most part fine the way it was before I started.

Plus, regardless of how you approach it and even though the main point of it is healing through nutrition (which I believe in and support wholeheartedly — I have an exciting story about this from my Dad coming soon!), Whole30 is still a part of our traditional diet culture, which as a whole is highly disordered and toxic — that’s a whole other conversation, though.

The Bottom Line

For me, the “bad” outweighed the good by far. Whole30 was not my jam and while the competitive side of me still feels slightly guilty for not sticking it through, deep down I know that my decision to quit Whole30 was absolutely the right one for me.

That said, my point here is not to discourage anyone thinking of giving it a try to not do it. Ultimately, it will come down to what you’re hoping to get out of it and if it’s right for you. So, before making the decision I encourage you to read as much as you can about it and think a lot about what it will be like for you. It was silly of me to not do those things before starting.

Health Is Worth Fighting For

Also, consider other people’s experiences, not just mine. After I decided to quit I had a chat with Shannon. She really loves Whole30, has had much success with it, and loves helping others with the program. Here’s how she sees it:

“The Whole30 isn’t going to be a good fit for everyone … The point of it is to, in the end, find the eating lifestyle that’s right for you … and that will look different for everyone. The point is to find a lifestyle that makes you feel your best …”

Eating well looks different for everyone — A-fricken-men. I love that even though Whole30 turned out to not be my thing, at the end of the day, Shannon and I still have the same feelings about what it means to eat healthy, which is that there’s no cookie-cutter definition. Remember that.

Oh and one more note from Shannon about what she really loves about Whole30, because I think this is important as to the “healing through nutrition” aspect:

My favorite part of the program is hearing the stories about people getting off of meds and having their autoimmune diseases CURED. That’s how it’s truly changing lives. I did a blog post about an 8-year-old boy named Caleb whose mom was so frustrated because he had bad eczema and she’d tried EVERYTHING, every medication and cream. After only three days of eliminating grains and dairy his redness was significantly reduced and after nine days it was essentially gone. I saw the pictures. She literally healed him with nutrition alone. Those are the stories that bring tears to my eyes.

She also pointed to this pretty cool story from a girl named Brigid who almost had her colon removed but ended up not having to have the surgery because she turned to nutrition as a last resort!

So, while Whole30 didn’t work for me, I definitely wouldn’t say it’s “bad” or that you should pass it up because it’s hard. Weigh all of your options and be honest with yourself through the entire journey — staying true to yourself and your bottom line is what matters most in the end.

Time to chat! Have you tried Whole30? What was your experience? Are you thinking of trying it? Are you currently following it and thinking of quitting? Let me know your thoughts!

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19 comments
  1. Thanks for sharing! I had read the book (as I mentioned on Instagram) and while reading it made me very anxious. I kept thinking I can’t have this, I can’t have that, etc. Food shouldn’t make us anxious. As someone with disordered eating issues in the past, I knew it wasn’t the right path for me. It’s awesome that it can help heal and I do believe that nutrition can do that. However, “if ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” That’s how I have felt about my nutrition over the past few years. I love vegetables and healthy grains and I love ice cream. If we keep a balance and not give food so much power, we can continue on a healthy and happy journey! You are not a quitter, you listened to your mind, body and soul! 🙂

    1. You’re exactly right, there’s no reason food should ever make us anxious. And it’s never worth trying to fix something that isn’t “broken” … I definitely wish I had realized that before I started. It is truly all about balance and not letting food have the power. Thanks for your sharing your story and your kind words, Andrea 🙂

  2. I’ve done a Whole30 in the past and soon after became curious about the scientific research provided in the book, It Starts With Food. As I am a student studying nutritional science and currently work as a researcher, I decided to review the citations the authors provide for each chapter of the book and see if the science matched up with the claims being made.

    Unfortunately, I found that a majority of the cited claims were very misleading or completely false. This book can substantially mislead people about what a proper healthy diet looks like due to this inaccurate information. You can read some of my chapter reviews of the book here:
    http://nutritionasiknowit.com/whole30/

    The Whole30 approach to elimination and reintroduction of foods is also not appropriately designed in a way that would allow accurate and reliable identification of food sensitivities. For a more evidence-based approach to an elimination diet, you might want to try the one set out by Precision Nutrition found here:
    http://www.precisionnutrition.com/elimination-diet-infographic

    1. Thanks for sharing, Mike! I was pretty aware that the research behind the program isn’t all that solid. I can’t wait to check out your post about Whole30 and your site in general. And I’m also a fan of Precision Nutrition but I’d never seen their stuff about elimination diets, so thanks for pointing to that as well!

  3. I love how I feel Whole30 and have done a few rounds. No,its not for everyone and that’s OK. It does require a lot of prep, time in the kitchen and not eating out. I usually start a round by making mayo, ketchup, curry chicken salad for some lunches and cutting veggies.
    But really the only thing I trust ordering is a barbacoa salad at Chipotle or a steak salad (as long as it’s not seared in butter) with oil and vinegar. It’s really easier to not eat out for just 30 days.

    1. It’s always so cool to hear from the people who feel great following the program. You’re a rockstar for being dedicated and doing all of the prep, it really is a key component. Ordering food out to eat was definitely the biggest challenge, and if you can avoid dining out for 30 days than more power to you. For my boyfriend and I, it’s sort of a weekly, weekend tradition after we’ve cooked dinner all week.

  4. It sounds like you made the right decision. Food shouldn’t make you unhappy. If you are feeling too restricted and your mood is effected for more than the little hump of getting over the lack of sugar, it’s not the right thing. I’m glad you listened to your body and your brain!

    1. Thanks friend. I’m pretty confident I did too! I’ll still pretend I have food allergies/am following a diet program when we’re at restaurants together if it helps 😉

  5. Thanks for sharing. I also bought the book and wanted to give it a try but honestly could never make myself start it. Life is short and why put yourself through it. I can see how people with many healthy issues could benefit though, kinda resetting the system and starting with a fresh start. Would you maybe recommend this as a week long detox? You mentioned that your bloat went down a lot so maybe it could be better as a short term thing?

    1. “Life is too short,” That’s what I was thinking the whole time, I felt like I was putting my happiness on hold! I think it could totally be beneficial as a week-long “detox,” although that is totally based off of my own anecdotal evidence. I have no doubt that reducing these things in my diet is definitely something I should continually focus on, but for me, there was no need to cut them out completely, even if just for 30 days.

  6. First off, I just listened to your podcast with Diz Runs – great interview! I really enjoyed what you had to say about food, running, and especially fueling. I’m not a huge fan of the pasta dinners either – something Denny and I talked about when I interviewed with him as well!

    I am not a huge fan of Whole 30 myself, even though I have not tried it, but based on what you say yourself – the strict rules take the pleasure out of eating. I completely understand when people do it for extreme health conditions, but like you said it’s not for everyone. I’m glad you made the decision that was right for you! It takes a lot of self-knowledge and courage to discern when something isn’t right for you and leave it behind partway through.

    1. Aw thanks Laura! I’m so glad you enjoyed it 🙂 Thanks for listening. And thanks, you’re right … it was hard to make the decision but I know it was the right one.

  7. Thanks for sharing all this! So much of what you wrote echoes my own sentiments about Whole 30 and other similar restrictive diets. I have food allergies that made something like this seem like a good approach, but like you I was really unhappy and found it utterly ridiculous that suddenly I was afraid to eat beans (this girl loves garbanzos too!) because they were supposed to be essentially junk food. The tipping point for me was an announcement from the Whole 30 crew that was essentially a press release announcing that they were now “allowing” people to eat white potatoes. Seriously? Anyway, I think there are many healthy ways to eat, and I’m sorry…hummus is not junk food! I would agree that it’s valid as a healing protocol, but even if you follow something like the GAPS diet to heal your gut, it’s not intended to be permanent. The doctor who developed it as a treatment did so with the idea that you’d use it for awhile until your gut was stronger, and then you’d slowly reintroduce more and more foods. Ultimately it was the food shaming that I found the most disturbing. On that note, off to eat some oatmeal 🙂

    1. I totally agree, Sarah, there is an element of food shaming and I’m totally not down with that aspect. I hope you enjoyed your oatmeal! 🙂

  8. Katie – I wholeheartedly agree with you that it takes the fun out of eating. I just quit on Day 8 because I realized that I wasn’t enjoying my meals anymore. I wasn’t looking forward to eating, and I didn’t like that. While I did learn a LOT about my diet and myself from the program, I realized that this type of strict diet just isn’t for me. I’ll gladly take back my high-intensity workouts and moderated desserts & pasta thank you 🙂 Speaking of words, off to go workout! Thank you for this fantastic blog post – glad I’m not alone!!

    P.S. I’d like to say that while we quit the program, we definitely didn’t fail. We learned a lot, and that’s what matters!!

    1. Hi Kelsea! Thanks for sharing. I found it so helpful to read some blog posts like these when I was going through the same – definitely helps to know you’re not alone. Congrats on making the right choice for you! It’s definitely not good when you’re missing the joy of eating, that’s what did it for me too. And for sure, we definitely didn’t fail because we learned so much 🙂

  9. […] had good results. I ended up finding a lot of people that were like me and actually quit, including this blog post. This blog post really stuck out to me, especially when she quoted Kelly Toups about her opinion on […]

  10. Thank you so much for writing this. It gave me the confidence to quit Whole30 and not feel like a totally failure. It’s seems like so many people have done it and loved it and I felt like less than because I wasn’t experiencing all the great outcomes and if anything I was in more pain and I was extremely unhappy. It was an unhappiness that was creeping into my marriage and work place. I was recognized this but was frustrated because I hated the idea that food could have such a hold on my emotions. I am a very healthy active person and in general happy. Also have little no problems with food…only tomatoes. But on Whole30 I was in pain and angry and looking for ways to get out of being active. I’m so happy that my friends enjoy it but it’s not for me. Thanks for letting me know I’m not alone.

    1. Glad this helped! I totally agree, if it’s causing you more pain than benefits, it’s totally time to call it quits. I just felt it wasn’t worth it to struggle so hard when I wasn’t getting anything good out of it.

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