After years of getting conflicting advice about what should and shouldn't be going in my body, and trying to keep up with all the latest healthy food trends, I was exhausted.
I was also dealing with severe gastrointestinal issues and constipation that would last up to two weeks, and hadn't found any relief. I decided to tune out the voices telling me what was right and wrong, and instead find what worked for me.
In 2014, I started the paleo diet, which consists of fruits, vegetables, meats, nuts, eggs, and some oils. While the paleo diet usually advocates cutting all grains, I was less strict about that and kept eating some (kind of an 80/20 approach).
I loved this diet. Weeks after going paleo, my skin had cleared up, I had more energy, and the seasonal allergies I had been struggling with my whole life subsided. I even started a blog, The Whole Smiths, about the foods I made for my two young daughters, my husband, and me. I just felt so much better about the choices I was making with my food.
'I wanted to go a step further.'
The problem: I was still dealing with those gastrointestinal issues. I was less bloated and had fewer stomach pains, but still had some bowel problems that were bothering me. My doctor told me to take a daily laxative, but I felt like that would only treat the symptoms, not the problem.
I wanted to find what was irritating my body, but it was hard to know exactly what that was. That’s when, about five months after going paleo, I stumbled on a program called Whole30.
'I could do anything for 30 days...'
Think of Whole30 as a stricter version of paleo. For 30 days, you cut all alcohol, grains, legumes, soy, dairy, processed food, and added sugar (including natural sugar in honey and sweeteners like Stevia). The “can-eat” list is short: meat, seafood, vegetables, fruit, and nuts.
I won’t lie, it sounded pretty restrictive. But Whole30 is designed to help people understand what they’re eating, why they’re eating it, and if it works for them—and that's just what I was looking for.
After being drowned in advice from others about what I should eat and why, I was ready to dive into Whole30 and discover what was best for me. Besides, I could do anything for 30 days, I told myself.
'I felt amazing during the Whole30.'
When I started Whole30, I’d already been used to eating paleo, so the transition was easier than if I had gone straight into it from my old, dairy- and grain-filled diet. But it definitely took some getting used to. There were so many rules!
Luckily, I found a huge online community of people who were doing the program too. I joined Facebook groups and started following more and more Whole30-ers on Instagram. My feeds became filled with great advice about how to stay on track—and I had a lot of fun developing delicious recipes that were Whole30 compliant.
Here’s a sample of what I would during a typical Whole30 day:
- For breakfast, I would sauté Brussels sprouts, fry an egg, and top those with sauerkraut and hot sauce. I’d make a latte by blending coffee, cinnamon, coconut oil, and almond milk.
- For lunch, I’d make my own tuna salad stuffed into half of a bell pepper. I’d mix albacore tuna, scallions, hot sauce, coconut aminos, and vinegar with a homemade mayonnaise (olive oil, Dijon mustard, an egg, lemon juice, and salt.) I’d top that with cucumbers or avocado and fill the pepper.
- Dinner was where I loved to get creative. One of my favourite meals (and my family’s favourite, too!) was curry meatballs and sweet potato mash.
I felt so accomplished when I completed Whole30 for the first time. I loved the way I felt—so much energy! I used to have to take afternoon naps a lot, but didn't need them anymore during Whole30. And best of all—no more constipation.
'But after I finished, I got sick—really sick.'
The bigger challenges came when my 30 days were over. The Whole30 program suggests a “reintroduction” phase, so that you can add gluten, dairy, grains, and legumes back into your diet one by one. The idea is to help you see which foods irritate your stomach or make you feel lethargic, achy, or bloated.
But I didn’t do that—I just jumped straight into my old diet (paleo but with some grains), and I started getting really sick. Over the next few days, I felt nauseous, had diarrhoea, and got rashes all over my body.
I quickly realized that these symptoms flared up every time I ate anything with gluten (whether it was a cookie, a sandwich, or any of my other favourite go-tos). So I tried cutting those foods from my diet—and my stomach symptoms disappeared.
'Gluten has been gone from my diet ever since.'
Now, I have more energy than ever, and no more constipation problems.
But the rest of my diet isn't quite as strict as it was during the Whole30. I try to limit my dairy, grains, and sugar, but if I want to do a gluten-free pizza night with my girls or take them out for frozen yogurt, I allow myself to indulge. These ingredients irritate my stomach sometimes, but I’ve learned that those moments with my kids are well worth it.
'Finding the right diet was life-changing.'
Since completing Whole30 for the first time, I’ve done the program another three or four more times when I felt like I needed to hit the reset button. But figuring out the best way to eat during time in-between rounds of Whole30—my every day diet—has been most life-changing.
The thing is, I realized there weren’t many resources when it came to finding foods that weren’t quite Whole30 compliant, but great for the reintroduction phase and beyond. I felt like the Whole30 community—myself included—needed a little more direction for the other 335 days of the year, and years after that.
That’s how the concept for my new book, The Whole Smiths Good Food Cookbook was born. The recipes can be easily altered to fit into the Whole30 diet itself, the reintroduction phase, or life after Whole30—it's designed to help people (like me!) eat good, whole foods all year round. And best of all: My friends, family, husband, and daughters love the recipes, too.
If you want to try this for yourself, don’t expect instant perfection. The Whole30 program takes time, patience, trial, and error. But if you’re like me, you’ll find the best ingredients for your body, and you’ll have so much fun cooking with them.
As told to Carly Breit. This article originally appeared on Women’s Health US.