An Experiment in Dieting: Takeaways
This past month, I did something I said I’d never do and tried restrictive dieting. Whole30, to be exact. If you’re not familiar with Whole30, it is a 30-day eating pattern that seeks to eliminate anything that could be sensitivity or allergy-producing. What you can’t eat: dairy, grains, soy, peanuts, alcohol, any added sugar (including natural sugars like honey, maple syrup or agave), legumes, or corn. What you can eat: fruit, vegetables, other nuts, natural meats, and potatoes.
For me, this eliminated about 50% of my daily food intake. I didn’t decide to do Whole30 because I wanted to be healthier or lose weight. Personally, I did it as an experiment, curious how my body and mind would react to the elimination of certain foods. Professionally, I did it because I wanted to be able to talk to clients about restrictive dieting having had the experience.
As I’m ending my experiment and reflecting on the experience, I want to share with you all some of the things I’ve learned, because I believe they give insight into the pros and cons of restrictive dieting.
Here are my takeaways:
- First and foremost, restrictive dieting in even the smallest doses is not mentally safe for everyone. If your current relationship with food is you vs. food, or if you see food and exercise as a punishment/reward system, restrictive dieting will only amplify your frustrations and result in more negative associations. Three months ago, I would not have been in a mentally stable enough position to try something like this.
- Foods aren’t inherently good or bad. It’s not that the slice of pizza is bad and the salad is good, it’s the patterned choices you make with food that are either helpful or harmful to your health and your goals.
- That being said, temporary restriction like Whole30 can help you figure out what foods make you feel good or bad. The time I accidentally slipped up during Whole30 provided a valuable lesson. I was out to dinner with my parents, and after 15 minutes of scouring the menu for something Whole30-compliant, I settled on a salad and a cup of bean soup. A few bites into the bean soup, I remembered beans were against the code. The rest of the night, my stomach spoke to me in ways I won’t repeat. Moral of the story: I’m not going to eat beans ever again. They don’t make me feel good. Other moral of the story: Don’t go out to eat when doing Whole30. Just don’t even try.
- Your body is your best nutrition coach. No restrictive diet “works.” You work. Don’t hinge your success on a particular diet. Instead, take what you learn from all of your experiences with food – including restrictive diets – to craft a life of eating that makes you feel good mentally and physically. It’s okay if this is a life-long process filled with many frustrations and experiments. Your body is always telling you what to do. Listen to it. If you’re hungry, eat – whole, satiating foods before you reach for the snacks. Your hunger is your best calorie counter, better than an app or a dietitian.
As I start the Whole30 process of reintroducing foods, there are some habits and patterns I’m making into a lifestyle. For instance, I’m not going to eat beans, and I’ve kicked my processed sugar addiction. I’m going to keep eating meat and vegetables for breakfast to stay satiated long into the day. All in all, the process has been an incredible learning experience. On the other hand, I also can’t wait to have pancakes once in awhile!
— Coach Emily