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I Lost Weight on the Whole30 Diet (Without Cheating!)

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Photo: Getty Images/Chloe Crespi Photography

At four months post-pregnancy, I still wasn't feeling quite like myself. And while I was finally in a somewhat regular workout routine (well, as regular as you can get with a new baby), my diet was all over the place. I was trying to get back to eating clean 80/20 percent of the time. But I had enjoyed one too many almond croissants during my pregnancy and subsequently picked up a habit of overindulging. If I wanted to return to a healthier, happier self, I knew I had to make some changes.

I noticed a couple people posting about the Whole30 diet (or Whole 30, as it's often written) on Facebook, and it piqued my interest. But it wasn't until a friend mentioned that he was halfway through the program—and had lost 10 pounds and was feeling great—that I seriously consider doing it. (I mean, talk about Whole30 weight-loss results!) After some further research, I decided this was just the system reset I needed.

While it shares some characteristics of the paleo diet, which I was already loosely following (no processed foods, grains, dairy, or legumes), when comparing Whole30 vs. paleo for weight loss what you should keep in mind is that Whole30 excludes paleo-approved sugars like honey and baked goods made with almond or coconut flour. You're basically committing to eating nothing processed and no treats of any kind, even the "healthy" versions, for 30 days. Things that *are* allowed: all the fruit, veggies, and meat that you want. "Whole30 isn't just a 'harder' or more 'extreme' version of paleo," says Melissa Hartwig, cocreator of the program. "It's a short-term intervention designed to teach people how the food they are eating impacts them, and ultimately help them create their own perfect diet."

For the month of June, my husband and I committed to following the Whole30 meal plan. We had two weeks prior to get rid of the gluten-free cookies, coconut milk ice cream, and other unapproved foods in our apartment, which was good because it gave us some time to adjust to the fact that we wouldn't be eating any of those things for the next month. We started the one-month weight-loss plan with a clean slate and a fridge stocked with fresh fruit, veggies, eggs, chicken breasts, ground turkey, and thin-cut pork loins from our Whole30 shopping list. 

While Whole30 rules don't set a calorie limit, the guidelines are restrictive. This plan isn't a weight-loss diet, according to Hartwig, but rather a means of changing your relationship with food and identifying any food sensitivities. "It's designed to jump-start optimal health for the rest of your life," says Hartwig. Sounds simple enough, right?

Well, yes and no. I started day one with a hearty breakfast of scrambled eggs with mushrooms and onions. However, by lunchtime, I wanted cookies. Maybe I shouldn't have had that last Fat Tuesday–type hurrah the day before, because all I could think about was sweets. Luckily, I had my husband to help talk me off the cookie-binging ledge. The bag of fresh grapes also helped. Despite sticking to my diet of eggs in the morning, a midday fruit snack, a meat and veggie lunch, midafternoon baby carrots, a meat and veggie dinner, and fruit dessert, by day three I had a pounding headache that refused to go away. Thank you, Whole30 sugar withdrawal. 

Halfway through week two, I felt like I had a good grasp on things. I wasn't always thinking about junk food and, surprisingly, I began to feel satisfied by fruit. Who knew pineapples could taste so sweet? You might be thinking, "I did." But after cutting out all the crap with added sugar, I think my taste buds were finally free to fully pick up on the true sweetness of something as simple as fresh pineapple or ripe strawberries.

The Whole30 grocery list made hitting the supermarket an eye-opening experience, as I realized there was sugar in so many products I had never thought about. For example, we weren't able to eat a single variety of bacon for the entire month, as we couldn't find any without added sugar at our local grocery store (I know, crazy!). We did find a delicious and all-natural spicy chicken sausage that served as a good breakfast meat. Major lifesaver. Other go-tos included roasted almonds with sea salt and "just apples" applesauce.

By the end of the third week, I was starting to miss carbs, but I was so close to the end that I didn't dare cheat. Finish line aside, I was enjoying how great I felt. I had been eating clean for the past 21 days and my insides could tell. I didn't feel weighed down or sluggish. And that sugar headache was gone. Bonus: I was down 10 pounds! (You're encouraged to not weigh yourself during the 30 days, but I noticed the changes in my body and couldn't resist stepping on the scale to see how it translated.)

I definitely completed this diet with an improved relationship with food. (It was easy to shake up my old eating habits with delicious Whole30 recipes like these.) The weight loss and my improved complexion (I felt like my skin was glowing!) didn't hurt either. While I feel proud for making it through the 30 days without cheating, there were definitely moments when I wanted to cheat.

Here were the five crucial things that contributed to my success on the Whole30 diet.

1. Have a partner. I'd like to think that I've got pretty strong willpower, but 30 days is a long time, and some days a pepperoni pizza just sounds way better than whipping up something in the kitchen. You know you should stick to your diet, but having someone (for me it was my husband) follow the program too can keep you accountable and help you kick the cravings for junk.

2. Get creative with meals. Flavorful meals make all the difference. No, this isn't breaking news, but when you're working within strict guidelines, savory foods leave you feeling much more satisfied. The best part: You can still have favorites like pasta and pizza—with a few changes, of course. Case in point: zoodles (zucchini noodles) and turkey meatballs and cauliflower crust pizza.

3. Plan ahead. Whole30 doesn't mean the end of your social life. You can still go out and enjoy brunch or dinner with friends. Look at the menu ahead of time and find a meat/veggie option or maybe a nice omelet stuffed with veggies.

4. Meal prep. You'll need to think about your meals in advance, and grocery shopping is a must. If your fridge is stocked with a variety of fruits, veggies, and easy-to-prep meats, you'll be much less likely to go off track. On Sundays, I would prep meals for the week. A favorite was mini frittatas with peppers, onions, and spicy chicken sausage. (Related: Meal-Prep Mistakes to Avoid for Faster, Healthier, and Better Food)

5. Don't skip dessert. Before this monthlong experiment, I felt that sweets, whether the paleo versions of ice cream and brownies or some other baked goods, were a must-have after dinner. But this month forced me to get creative with nature's candy: fruit. I realized there's so much you can do with it—and it can totally satisfy my sweet tooth. Grilled pineapple with a sprinkle of cinnamon and a dash of cayenne is a delicious dessert option that fits within the diet criteria. Or try an upgraded fruit salad with almond slivers and coconut flakes—so much flavor and texture!

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