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The Whole30® Experience

Sometimes, I need to be beaten over the head before I can clearly see the lessons right in front of me. 

When I was young, my mind was too preoccupied with useless information to be able to sort through all of the feedback I received on a daily basis. As I matured, it was more that I had become too comfortable in my routine to make any significant changes. 

Change is really hard. It’s much easier to keep putting things off, constantly reminding yourself that you’ll get started tomorrow. 

By the time I reached my mid-thirties, I had been suffering from Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) for nearly a decade. Several trips to the gastroenterologist for endoscopies, colonoscopies, probiotics and diet modification had produced little to no significant improvement. 

Then one day, a Wareing’s Gym member gave me a copy of the book Wheat Belly by William Davis, MD. 

In the first two paragraphs, Dr. Davis mentions the possible deleterious effects of wheat consumption. Smacking me in the face from the middle of the page were those three words that serve as my own personal harbinger of pain: IBS.

I thought, “What have I got to lose?” So I decided right then to eliminate all wheat products from my diet for 30 days, just to see what would happen. 

Within two weeks, I was essentially free from IBS. 

Then the most interesting thought occurred to me… you actually are what you eat! (Like I said, sometimes you need to beat me over the head before I get it.)

That personal experiment created a paradigm shift for me in terms of how I viewed my own nutritional choices. From that moment forward, I would pay more attention to how the foods I ate affected how my body felt. 

This practice would serve me well for many years. Unfortunately, my affinity for IPA beers and blue corn tortilla chips would often override my body’s signals to my brain that something wasn’t quite right. 

My slow drift back toward IBS symptoms combined with my wife’s desire to set some personal goals of her own led us back to the same conclusion – it was time for us to make some changes. 

While we continued to knock around ideas about how to change, I happened to catch something on the radio that would serve as the impetus for the challenge we would ultimately take. 

I was already familiar with the Whole30® program, as many of my friends and colleagues had already taken the plunge.

However, my wife is a lifelong migraine sufferer. So when the woman on the radio mentioned that her migraines had been virtually eliminated on Whole30®, we both knew that this was definitely worth a shot. 

Little did I know then that this would be another life-changing moment in my relationship with food.

If you have never heard of Whole30® before, let me just say… It’s not easy. The rules are strict, it takes a lot of planning and hard work, and there are absolutely no slip-ups allowed. 

But the thing is, Whole30® is NOT a diet. You’re not supposed to follow it for the rest of your life. It’s just a 30-day reset, a way to break some bad habits and develop a healthier new perspective on your relationship with food.

The rules are as follows: no sugar or sweeteners of any kind (natural or artificial), no dairy, no grains, no processed foods, no legumes, no alcohol. 

Now, I know what you’re thinking – “OMG, what CAN I eat?” Actually, it’s not as difficult as you might think to find foods you enjoy, as long as you’re willing to do a little bit of extra legwork. 

Here’s what Whole30® does include: vegetables, fruits (in moderation), unprocessed meats, seafood, nuts and seeds, oils (some) and ghee, coffee. 

With these guidelines in mind, here is what a typical day looked like for me:

Breakfast – avocado, mushrooms, ground turkey, spinach, seeds and eggs cooked in olive oil.

Lunch – chicken or tuna salad (with homemade mayo) over greens and veggies.A

Snacks – almonds, cashews, apples, bananas, berries.

Dinner – a variety of meats and seafoods with root veggies (carrots, sweet potatoes) and green veggies (Brussels sprouts, asparagus, broccoli, green beans, etc.)

Like I said, it wasn’t difficult to find something great to eat! We just had to plan ahead and stay prepared. (And I do mean prepare.)

My wife and I would use Sunday to plan all of our meals for the week and then we would go shopping. We were at the grocery store virtually every day.

Between trying a multitude of new Whole30® recipes and making our everyday staples, I have never spent so much time in the kitchen cooking and cleaning.

Since the rules of Whole30® are so rigid, it was virtually impossible to go out to a meal at a restaurant and stay compliant, so we had to make sure we always had appropriate foods in the house.

Social situations with our friends also proved somewhat difficult. Most people didn’t understand what we were doing (or why we were doing it) therefore they were more likely to tempt us than to support us. (We forgive you, jerks.)

Hard work and challenges aside, the positive changes of the entire Whole30® experience far outweighed the difficulties.

Within a week or two, the arthritis pain in my joints decreased by half. My energy level went up dramatically — after I got over my caffeine withdrawals. (You’re not required to give up caffeine on Whole30®, but I was going ALL IN!)

Plus, my gut never felt better and less bloated. As an added bonus, I dropped 10 pounds and went from 10% body fat to 6% without a loss of muscle mass.

While I would never say that everyone should do Whole30® — that’s what doctors and experts are for — I would strongly encourage everyone to be more mindful of their own nutritional choices.

Most people tend to do whatever is easy. I get it. Life is busy, there is a ton of conflicting information out there on what’s considered “good” nutrition, and the cost of eating well can appear prohibitively expensive.

But if I could give everyone one piece of advice it would be this: “When you eat like $#*!, you will feel like $#*!.”

Take the time to listen to what your body is trying to tell you, you will often find all the answers you need.

Hopefully without having to get beaten over the head.

Chris Ullom

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