My Whole30 Story

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It occurred to me that new readers might not be familiar with my long, loving track record with the Whole 30. It’s not a success story in the traditional sense—there’s no “after” photo of me with six-pack abs or a tale of massive, overnight weight loss—but it is a success story. Eating Whole30 style has kept me relatively fit, mostly happy, and committed to continuing to fight the good fight over the last 5 years while I wrestled with I-have-no-thyroid complications. So here it is: my official Whole30 story.

I have excellent habits 95 percent of the time. I sleep eight to nine hours per night to recover from and prepare for lifting heavy barbells, occasional sprints, and plenty of yoga and walking. I keep the house stocked with paleo ingredients and cook nutrient-dense meals so my husband Dave and I can eat real food every day.

Then on rare occasions, I indulge. I become a temporary slug and give in to the temptation of corn-based chip products, buttered popcorn, an icy-cold glass of Prosecco, or a shot of Ouzo. I should mention that I have a known whipped cream problem.

These minor transgressions are possible because I make deposits in the good health bank the rest of the time. Every workout, every good night’s sleep, every paleo meal is a deposit, so that every once in a while, I can make withdrawals for a food treat.

This way of living started about five years ago when I made the switch to the paleo diet. Before then, I didn’t have such excellent habits.

From grade school to the day I graduated from college, I was a chubby nerd. My parents are both exceptionally good cooks–my dad brought his restaurant training home and my mom won almost every cooking contest that she entered. By the time I was about eight, I was wearing Sears “Pretty Plus” jeans, mostly because I really liked food, but also because I really didn’t like to sweat. After a broken ankle and vicious playground taunts, I stuck with reading, practicing the piano, and roller-skating to the library. I don’t know how many gym classes I missed because I was “sick” or “forgot” my gym clothes. I do know that my P.E. attendance put my otherwise stellar grade point average in jeopardy.

Even though I avoided sports, I secretly admired the athletic kids; they walked taller than the rest of us. When I was in tenth grade, my dad took me to Annapolis to see the Navy band play a concert, and for about three weeks, I was determined to get in shape so that I could apply to the Naval Academy. I abandoned that dream because I was incapable of doing pushups and situps–and I was too embarrassed and overwhelmed to ask for help.

For most of my life, I was haunted by a deep desire to be different than I was. To be thin. To feel confident. To break the cycle of thinking of food–and my behavior–as “good” and “bad.”

I joined Weight Watchers and eventually became a Lifetime Member with a weight loss of more than 50 pounds. I joined a CrossFit gym and learned to love being intimidated by my workouts. I developed a deep affection for lifting barbells. But despite my successes, it was still my habit to celebrate and to grieve and to stress out and to relax with food. Although I worked out regularly, I didn’t feel as strong–inside or out–as I wanted to. I had insomnia, allergies, and stomach aches. My body didn’t feel like it belonged to me.

In 2008, I learned I had a nodule on my thyroid. The risk of cancer was high, so I had the nodule surgically removed, and the doctor hoped that the remaining half of my thyroid would continue to function. It held on for a few months, but then stopped working. That was a very difficult time. It was like constantly having a case of the blues. I was sluggish, foggy- headed, and desperately worried about re-gaining all the weight that I’d worked so hard to lose.

Then I found Whole9 and the Whole30.

It was surprisingly easy for me to give up grains, despite my deep affection for toast, but saying goodbye to my standard breakfast of blueberries with milk almost pushed me to the edge. I did not approach the paleo rules with an open heart. But I committed.

I followed the eating guidelines. I made it a project to get eight hours of sleep every night. I worked with my doctor to try to find the right doses for my thyroid hormones. I was on track with my nutrition, but my training was all wrong for a girl with no thyroid. The constant physical stress of my sometimes twice-a- day workouts and beat-the-clock CrossFit–without restorative activities like yoga, meditation, and walking to balance it out–took its toll. I was diagnosed with adrenal fatigue.

So I started over… again.

My current routine includes daily meditation, gentle yoga classes, walking, strength training, and occasional sprints and high-intensity workouts of short (but killer) duration. What’s never wavered is my commitment to and affection for my paleo diet. I’ve been through a lot of self-experimentation in the last half decade to get back to optimal health. The solid foundation provided by following the Whole30 guidelines makes it possible to measure other health and quality-of-life markers and to tinker with them. After five years, I’m more convinced than ever that this is the healthiest way for me to feed my body and mind–and it is sustainable in a way that no other “diet” has ever been.

I spent the first 30 years of my life at war with my body – with my short legs and stocky frame, with junk food cravings and emotional eating. Banishing grains and dairy, in comparison to three decades of negative self-talk and shame, has been easy. And in return for giving up grains, dairy, and sugar, I’ve gained a partnership with my body that uses good food as fuel.

Now I know when and how often I can indulge in non-paleo foods, and I enjoy those “once in a while” treats like never before. The food tastes a lot better when it’s savored and is not followed by a chaser of self-recrimination. I finally know how to truly celebrate on special occasions, while I live healthfully and happily.

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Comments

  • Veronica says:

    Thanks for sharing your story! I’m in the midst of a Whole30 to get my body to a healthy place and it was great to read your story. I was always an indoor kid too but I love strength training and yoga.

  • Totempting says:

    Hello,
    I am 47 years old and have no thyroid. My weight ballooned to 257 lbs in less than 2 yrs after the loss of my thyroid. For 20 years I have fought obesity and countless other ailments due to the complications caused by first the loss of my thyroid and than the massive weight gain.

    My self-esteem is nil and I literally mean nil. My boss pointed me to your site. I am intrigued to say the least. I finally have a doctor that listens and she and I have worked together these past 3 months to get my thyroid medication on the right dosage. She is also helping with my obesity. I have lost 23 lbs so far. I am feeling a lot better, but know I can take this even further.

    Your story has inspired me to take that step.

    • I’m so sorry to learn of your struggles. I know that is NO FUN and it’s really hard to hang on to your self worth when your body feels out of your control. I’m very happy you’ve found a doctor to work with you. That was a big turning point for me, too. I started working with my doctor about a year ago, and she kept experimenting with my thyroid medication to help me first start to feel good and second, to start losing body fat. I’m happy to report that I’m able to workout pretty hard a few times a week now, and I’m eating Whole30 style, so I’m starting to lose weight. It’s a massive relief.

      Keep me posted on how you’re doing! None of us needs to travel this thyroid-less road alone.

    • Dalal says:

      Keep up the good work, i have followed a similar fate, thyroid problems for years, both ends of the scale and eventually had radio iodine drink, the doage was too much and killed my thyroid! My weight ballooned also, ignorant drs telling me your a woman, you probably are eating emotionally!!!! It took many years to get thyroid medication under control and my top weight was 216lbs. I’e list and gained many times but never got to what used to be my healthy range. I’m doing Whole30 right now and plan to stick to this kind of lifestyle. i cannot weight myself right now but I think i’m maybe just u der 200lb mark, srill long way to go but its a journey. Just remember you are not on your own, we are many. Good luck with your journey, stay strong.

      • Thank you for your kind support and best wishes to you on your healthy journey! Comments like yours are wonderful for me and for other readers who are facing their own struggles.

  • Magan says:

    Hi There,

    This is a fantastic post! I’m wanting to start the Whole 30 and see how it goes. I also do not have a thyroid…do you take any supplements? Are you on synthroid? Just looking for some answers to get this unwanted weight off and regain clarity, energy and focus.

    Any type of feedback you have would be amazing as very rarely do I meet someone without a thyroid 🙂

    Thanks!
    Magan

    • I work with a functional medicine doctor, and she has me taking supplements. I was taking a metric ton, but now I’m down to some basics. Definitely work with a doc to help you nail down which supplements are right for you. I take supps to support my adrenals, a probiotic, fish oil, DHEA, and B vitamins, but the doses have changed over the last year as my health has improved. It’s really important to base supplements/doses on blood work and a track record of how you’re feeling.

      I take Armour Thyroid in the morning and the afternoon, and a small dose of Synthroid in the morning. I worked with my doctor for a year to get my doses right, but now I’m feeling really good and have started to lose body fat. Whew!

  • Shannon says:

    This post is great and SO spot on! I have been working with my Naturopath for about a year now after experiencing all of your same symptoms: brain fog, weight at an all time high of 250, daily stomach ailments (I never went anywhere without my huge bottle of Rolaids), migraines, heartburn, fatigue…oh the fatigue, dizziness and that notion of my body not being my own struck a chord with me. I “thought” I was doing the right things listening to my traditional doc: balanced food pyramid diet (lots of grains), taking prescription drugs for any ailment (heartburn, migraines etc) and I kept feeling worse and worse. I did the Whole30 back in Feb 2014 and actually did it for 60 days :). I could NOT believe how much my health and my body started to come back to me. No more migraines, no heartburn, no Rolaids and I’ve lost 45 lbs so far. It was such an easy lifestyle to continue on now that I know how much better I feel. I am with you, I make occasional withdrawals from the healthy bank account…just got back from a special lunch that I did partake of chips and salsa and a quesadilla in…sorta worth it but already feel the effects. The difference is now I know that I do not want to eat that way all the time and I know my small withdrawal from the healthy eating I just did will be quick to subside! I LOVE that I have found this lifestyle and grateful to you Melissa and all of the Paleo bloggers and family I’ve found so inspirational to learn from on this journey. Thank you for sharing your story!

  • Claire says:

    I love this! Thank you for being such an encouragement to those of us who aren’t quite “there” yet! It is very appreciated!!!

  • Roni says:

    Mel, you just have such a great very real and honest way about you that I love. Thanks for sharing your story. July was wonderful and I felt so good after my first Whole30!… August meh. Not so much. Did you have rocky periods in the beginning before you settled into your smooth Whole30 groove?

    • Absolutely! I’ve been eating this way for almost 6 years, and in the beginning, it took a while to “stick.” There have been several times over the years when I really strayed far from the path — like when we went to Europe for 6 weeks — and then I had to do the hard work of re-setting again. There are also times when I’m eating great, but it doesn’t feel fun. I think that’s normal.

      I always come back to this way of eating because it makes me feel the best. And now, I know how often and with what foods I can play around a little bit and not suffer too many dire consequences.

      • Roni says:

        I’m so glad to hear that! Whole 30 taught me what it feels like to actually feel at peace with eating and with my body. But as soon as I finished and reintroduced some of those inflammatory foods I’ve been floundering all over the place. I don’t seem to react physically to anything in a major way but whoa.. mentally I still struggle a lot. Whole 30 boundaries gave me a framework on which to build better habits. I seem to respond well to that. We’re heading to Hawaii in September but I think I’ll do another Whole 30 in October and see if I cant’ get that Step on the Scale demon off my back. That number still matters way too much.

      • Tara C says:

        I am glad to hear that it can “stick” even after a few starts and re-starts. I did my first Whole30 last year, immediately followed by a whirlwind trip to Europe (not-so-Whole30), did another, immediately followed by a not-so-dedicated holiday season. I go through seasons of not wanting to do the work, and so on.

        One thing I struggle with is that I watched my father go on and off of Atkins for many years – either you are in ketosis, or you are not, so I watched him diet with an “all or nothing” approach. He never was great with the re-introduction phases. I didn’t realize how much that influenced me until I started to evaluate myself in regards to sticking to a new way of life. It’s okay if I don’t do something perfectly perfect in one meal. That doesn’t mean my whole day is shot. Then a day turns into a week, and so on. It’s been hard for me to get my mind the fact that it doesn’t need to be that way.

        Thanks for your post and for the inspiration!

  • Melissa, you are awesome! You are so real about all of this, being honest and telling it like it is. Eating real food is fun, delicious and so body rewarding – feeling fab is our body’s way of saying thank you!

  • Jen S. says:

    I have your books and have just dusted them off again actually and even though it really scares me, I’m going to start committing to 1 paleo meal a day and see how it goes…

    Your cookbooks, I’ve found, are great for busy families too! your cook ahead methods have helped me out in a pinch so many times – thank you!

  • AKM says:

    Like I said over on Twitter, it is NO COINCIDENCE that I have been feeling just AWFUL lately due to eating crap like bread, pasta, packaged foods, and sugar (probably the WORST offender for me). I decided to play around on the Whole30 website yesterday, and THEN I read YOUR post here. You are probably my biggest paleo/primal/Whole9/Whole30/real food/whatever-we-want-to-call-it mentors and yours was one of the first websites I found when I embraced this WOE in fall of 2012. (And yeah, not to be all gushy fan-girl about it, but you’re my fave!) I had a whole host of health problems that led me to this WOE, and I still do have some issues, although eating this way put one of them in remission and greatly improved everything else. Sadly, grad school and personal life stressors caused me to slip over the last year, and here I am. I read WELL-FED like a bedtime storybook often, and it’s time to actually USE it again. (And pick up WELL-FED 2! Poor grad students sometimes have to delay purchases, ha ha.) So, anyway, thanks for being the kick-ass rock star you are, and I hope Vermont is treating you well today!

    • I’m so glad you’re staying in touch with paleo peeps, even as you work to regain your good habits. It’s not easy. If it was, everyone would be super healthy 🙂

      As I mentioned in my comments above, it takes ALL OF US some time to adapt, and there are always challenges and slips.

      Maybe start with a small goal like no gluten… then expand to no gluten, no dairy. Make it as manageable as you can.

  • Sarah says:

    I really needed this. I, too, have had a lifelong dysfunctional relationship with my body. It’s still a work in progress. But just over a year ago I crossed the threshold into a CrossFit box for the first time… and never looked back. My weight became secondary to my strength, and I discovered amazing things about myself. It turns out my stocky frame wasn’t meant to run races or dribble a ball (I could never master sports); it was meant to lift heavy things. I’m strong! And I needed that lesson. The more complicated aspect to this whole journey has been the food component. Yet it’s arguably the most important. I joined a 30-day paleo challenge my box was putting on and fell in love. I bought both of your cookbooks and my grain-loving husband (and picky kiddo) even got on board. I cook more! Just over a month ago we moved from New Hampshire to Washington and I’ve since felt that pre-CrossFit, pre-paleo melancholy set it. I’ve avoided finding a new box for fear of starting over, I think. Being the “new girl” again. I needed to re-read your story and pick myself back up. Thank you for this.

  • Suzann says:

    So much of this could have been written by me. We just might be soul sisters :0)

  • Lalie Hyde says:

    The 95% thing is so important. Beating yourself up so much for that 5% is a sure way of getting sad and spiraling out of control and falling off the wagon for long periods of time. You’ve got to put the “cheats” in their place.

    I’ve noticed, too, that the cheats really solidify what a good decision going paleo was for me. I had fried chicken yesterday (I’d been fantasizing about it for months) and it was FRICKIN’ DELICIOUS but it also made me feel like absolute death for the rest of the day.

    I announced afterward that I was never eating fried chicken again. “Because it was so good or so bad?” my sister asked.
    I said both — it was so good I’m comfortable with that being my last memory of fried chicken, and so bad that I don’t want to do that to myself again.

  • Melicious, I just love you. I’m on Day 29 of my {first} Whole30 and could not have done it without you. (This is, I think, the 2nd time I’ve told you.) Your awesome recipes, your upbeat perspective, your happy smile on the sidebar every time I stop by…

    Well, enough said.

    Wait.

    “Enough” said except for thank you. Thank you! You are making such a difference in so many lives.♥

  • Elizabeth says:

    When I read your story, I felt as thought was reading my story (most of it anyways). You accurately portrayed how I’ve felt all my life. Your story gives me hope and inspires me. Thank you!!

  • Denise says:

    I am starting Whole30 today, and love the wealth of informationa and inspiration you have posted. Your weekly menus and shopping lists and prep guides for us beginners are the BOMB! I cut back on starches years ago, but didn’t entirely give them up. Thank you so much for sharing your experience!

  • Julia says:

    I don’t want to sound like a crazy person, but I feel like I was meant to find your website today. I developed hypothyroid about 8 years ago, and my weight has climbed ever since despite being on medication. I had recently decided that I just cannot lose weight and basically gave up trying. Then my Dad died on June 20th and it just rocked my world. I have found myself having some very dark thoughts. I’m fat, unhealthy, miserable, and I lost the only person who really “got” me – what’s the point of sticking around? I have 2 small children. I cannot have thoughts like this. I have to get control of my health and my grief.

    I kept seeing Whole30 pins pop-up on Pinterest and after researching it, I started Whole30 today. I’m trying to focus just on the health benefits and not the weight. I ordered your two cookbooks after reading glowing reviews. I feel hopeful, especially after reading your story and the stories of others with thyroid issues.

    • I’m really glad you found this post today. You are a valuable human being, and I’m very sorry you’re mourning the loss of your father. While eating Whole30 style won’t solve every problem, in my experience, it makes managing life much easier. I hope you find peace in good food and your children. Immerse yourself in your family and taking good care of YOU, and things will sort themselves out. Keep us posted on how you’re doing. I’ll be thinking of you!

  • Anonymous says:

    Hoping for a little insight although from a different angle. 43 y.o. runner (3x/wk but significant distances) + some lifting. I seem to be unable to *gain* weight. I weigh less than I did in HS. I know this sounds like an easy problem to have, but I’m tired of looking a little gaunt. Slightly addicted to the endorphins of a good workout. I keep thinking I’m going to do the Whole 30 but find myself unable to resist cramming something, ANYTHING into my mouth when “rungry.” Must I just always have something allowed on hand to grab when hungry? I’m finding it hard to do that. I don’t want to lose weight if I try the Whole 30 (I want to be healthy, not skinny), do you think I’ll lose weight?

  • Laura says:

    Just bought your two Well Fed books along with, “It Starts with Food”. Starting the Whole30 Tuesday after Labor Day. I have spent most of my morning reading your recipes and blogs. Getting excited but I hope I have the will power to get through the first week.

  • Laura says:

    I too have battled a thyroid condition now for 16 years and need to find a good doctor and also high blood pressure. I was once a thin girl in beauty pageants, modeling…..then life came, children etc….I am 45 yrs old and have doubled the weight I was when I graduated high school. I realize I can’t be that same size but I have lost all self esteem. Now separated from my husband of 22 years. This next month will be a true testimant of my will and strength. I am glad I found this blog and see many people out there with similar health problems…seems to be a good support group so far.

  • Claire says:

    Really enjoyed reading about your journey, I’ve loved your recipes since starting my first whole 30 in jan I’m about to start my next one tomorrow… I love reading about how people start their journey to good health. My journeys been the opposite of yours, always been really sporty didn’t have a particularly good diet and always been bit overweight, but able to stop it getting too out of control with loads of exercise… Then had kids and destroyed my pelvic floor. had to grieve the loss of high impact exercise “how can you be “fit” with yoga and walking?.”, but with the diet and lifestyle changes I have never felt healthier, still got a long way to go loving the journey.

  • Penny says:

    I have just began my first whole 30. I want to thank you for the weekly menus and plans. And of course all the awesome recipes. I like to cook for the week as well and you have done a great job of leading me through it. I know with the help I have received from your site that I can do this!!! I have struggled my entire life and am now realizing that there are simply foods I cannot eat. I am looking forward to finding answers with whole 30. Thank you for sharing your story and your time with those of us who are still in struggling mode!

  • Karen C says:

    Great story thank you for sharing! I’m easing into the Whole 30- Paleo lifestyle. I’ve finally kicked the gluten now I’m working on easing out of the dairy. I love to hear others journeys through these big lifestyle changes. I’ve had Hashimoto’s for the past decade and meds aren’t quite helping. So, I’ve broken down and realized that this is a lifestyle change not just popping pills. Thanks again for sharing your story.