A Diet-Breaker’s Take on the Whole-30

It would be quite a curious thing to see the results of a poll run among Catholic women right before Lent asking how many of us look forward to the possibility of losing weight during the 40 day season of prayer and fasting.

I mean, c’mon, Lent provides a wonderful opportunity to lose weight and get ready for those pretty summer dresses and swimsuits, right? It’s a great time to give up sugar or alcohol or any other fat-loving food that clings so tightly and quite easily to our hips. 

To be completely honest with you, as I prepared to head into the Lenten season this year, I won’t deny that the thought of shedding a few pounds was extremely appealing, but there were several other factors that led to the decision to lean in with my 16-year-old daughter and follow the extreme Whole 30 program throughout the entire 40 days of Lent and right up to Easter Sunday.

Before we get into all of that though, let’s do a quick review on the Whole 30 in case you aren’t familiar with it yet. 

The Whole 30 is a 30 day reset as opposed to a diet, detox or weight loss program with the goal being to help curb cravings and bad habits, boost the metabolism, heal the digestive track and calm the immune system. 

To put it simply, the Whole 30 is like a time-out for all the unhealthy habits and foods that are making us sick, tired, overweight and simply feeling blah.

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The beauty of these 30 days is that when all is said and done, you will have eliminated craving-inducing, hormone-unbalancing, gut-disturbing, inflammatory food groups for 30 days straight, giving your body time to recover, reset and actually feel good!

Sounds pretty great, doesn’t it?

And no, it’s not a forever thing. Once the 30 days are over, you can slowly start introducing foods back into your life such as dairy or grains, and take stock in how your body feels as you do it. This will allow you to see exactly what foods are affecting your moods, how you physically feel, and even how they are affecting your health.

So why the Whole 30? Over the years, I’ve found that it’s extremely important to seek understanding when it comes to the foods we eat, the products we use, etc. I’ve spent countless hours googling symptoms, recipes, etc, always trying to make improvements on how we take care of our family. This research has made a profound difference in my family’s health, our children’s athleticism, in so many areas of our lives. 

I love how in St. Catherine of Siena’s Dialogue, God the Father is constantly going back to the fact that we have three powers of the soul – memory, understanding and will. When we apply these powers to each area of our lives, it’s amazing how we grow. In this instance, not only does the Whole 30 require a LOT of will-power to stick with it, but more importantly, it helps us to begin to understand our body better.

The Whole 30 gives us the opportunity to see what foods are helping us and what foods are essentially hurting us. The beauty of it is that the more we understand our bodies in their uniqueness, the better we can take care of this “temple” of the Holy Spirit and continue to shine on longer and stronger as we navigate life.

So with all this being said, the Whole 30 sounds pretty a-mazing, don’t you think? You really do feel awesome at the end of those 30 days, and in the process, you learn a LOT about yourself. But, if you want me to be REALLY honest with you, as a Whole 30 veteran and someone who’s in the throws of it all right now, I’ve got to get real.

It SUCKS!!! It’s the WORST 30 days EVER!!!! (As I sit here laughing, but no… not really. LOL. So hard!)

Imagine this: for 30 days, you’re giving up cheese, all grains, sugar (and I mean all sugar including honey, maple syrup… yeah… even the good ones), alcohol, peanuts, beans (legumes), and pretty much anything that has an ingredient that you don’t recognize. 

I mean… HELLO! Mom of 6 here. No sugar, no alcohol, not even a slice of CHEESE to make a rough day just a little bit better? EEEK!

There’s a really awesome chart that goes through the emotions experienced while doing the Whole 30 and it’s quite scarily accurate.

Day 1:  “Oh no! What am I doing???” 

2 & 3: The hangover.

4 & 5: “Kill all the things!” 

6 & 7: Exhausted and napping

8 & 9: Uh-oh! Pants are tighter.

10 & 11: Just want to quit.

12, 13 & 14: Bring on the junk food dreams. 

15: Halfway point.

16 – 20: You’ve got “Tiger blood.”

21-30: Countdown to the end.

I think it’s usually around day 8 or 9 that I’m struggling the most, usually feeling sorry for myself because I can’t have any treats… heck, I can’t even have black beans or a tortilla with my tacos. Seriously… at that point, can you even call them tacos? 

So, for goodness sake, WHY would I encourage you to give this a try?

My friend, it comes down to this. Life is crazy. It just is. The world our parents grew up in is not the same as the world we grew up in, which is now entirely different from the world we’re in now and the world our kids are growing up in. 

We do more, connect more, run more, rest less.

Eating right is hard. Stress is high. Healthy food is more expensive and pockets not quite so deep. It’s easy to grab a quick “healthy” sugar-filled granola bar or hit up the drive-thru, get a quick meal, eat fast, or forget to eat at all… move on to the next thing… pick up the next kid… go to the next practice… you get my point.

By the end of the day, when the kids are finally settled or work is done, we’re tired and exhausted. That evening cocktail, cold beer or glass of wine is calling our name just waiting for us to sink into the couch, take a big sip and let the stress of the day melt away. 

Big picture – our clothes don’t fit right, we’re struggling with being grumpy or depressed or anxious, we’re not sleeping well and we just don’t feel good.

So again – WHY do I recommend doing the Whole 30?

Woman to woman, mom to mom – yes, it is hard. I LOVE good food and constantly want to eat all the things. At the end of the day, though, as hard as it can be to get started and get through the entire 30 days, the reward at the end really is high.

There’s great satisfaction that comes with completing the Whole 30 in the midst of a crazy busy life and insane temptation – in knowing, we DID it! 

By following the Whole 30 for 30 consecutive days – no cheats – we can see a profound difference in our energy levels. Our pants will probably be looser, but even better, our attitude towards life, our happiness and energy levels will all most likely greatly improve if not be absolutely fantastic.

The hardest part is making the decision to commit to the Whole 30 and then actually sticking with it for 30 whole days. 

Lent is a season of prayer and fasting, and it lends us the very real reminder that we can turn a simple reset into the opportunity to pray and sacrifice for those we love.

This, my friend, is where Lent can lend a great hand in our success. Not because Lent is the excuse to give something up and stick with it, but because Lent is a season of prayer and fasting, and it lends us the very real reminder that we can turn a simple reset into the opportunity to pray and sacrifice for those we love.

So when we’re fed up, ready to quit and dying for that slice of bread and butter or glass of wine, we can instead turn it into prayer. 

In the moment, we can stop, remember someone we love (or perhaps an ‘enemy,’ public figure, country, etc), offer up a prayer for them and choose to forgo whatever it is we’re craving. Instead of giving in to temptation (which wouldn’t even be sinful in this case) we stick with it and instead offer up that struggle and our desire for instant gratification for someone’s healing, restoration or whatever their needs may be.

We are indeed doing little things, with great love!

In these instances, I have a favorite prayer that I often turn to which Jesus gave to St. Faustina. He told her, “If you say this prayer, with a contrite heart and with faith on behalf of some sinner, I will give him the grace of conversion.”

And so in the midst of the struggle, I close my eyes, think about a specific person or situation and imagine Christ’s mercy flooding over them as I say,

“O Blood and water which gushed forth from the heart of Jesus, as a fount of mercy for us, I trust in You.”

Considering that the Whole 30 gives plenty of opportunity to say no and to throw those interior (or exterior) “Life’s unfair.” or “Why me.” tantrums, I find myself praying quite a bit more this Lenten season.

Instead of struggling our way through the daily “Whole 30” sacrifices, we get this renewed sense of purpose. “I’m doing something.” Every prayer, every sacrifice leads those we’re praying for that much closer to Jesus and draws us deeper into His heart as we unite our suffering with His.

If you’re struggling with the way you feel, perhaps your health is hurting or you’re feeling uncomfortable in your own skin, and you’re asking yourself, “Can I really do this?” I want to encourage you to give it a try. It’s only 30 days. 

I get it. Seriously… I get ALL the excuses. I do. I’m a food addict who loves to eat pizza, cheetos, cheese & crackers, chips and salsa, fajitas with all the fixings, etc. The more flavor you can pile on, the better! To top it off, I’m not a huge fan of veggies.

Over the years, while coaching women in their health and fitness journeys and in learning to finally take control of my own life, I’ve learned that there will always be birthdays, parties and reasons to make excuses to NOT take care of myself.

When I give in, I’m often left yanking on those jeans that are a bit too tight, going to bed thinking – “I’ll start tomorrow.” or better yet, “I’ll start on Monday.” Monday comes and I get started. I make it all the way until Thursday morning, then I slip. “Ugh… well, I might as well wait until Monday to get started again.

It’s such an endless cycle. I’ve learned that feeling good in your own skin is amazing. That when we take care of our bodies, we have more energy. We have more to give our families, friends and the people around us.

So yes, it’s hard. The excuses will always be there. The question we have to ask ourselves is this – do we WANT something different? Are we ready for our life to change?

If our answer is YES, then the action is clear – we have to DO something different.

Perhaps the Whole 30 isn’t your answer, and that’s okay. There are so many ways to become healthier. The point here is that if you know it’s time to do something different, what better way and time to change your life, than to unite this very real cross and the sacrifice that comes with it to our very own Savior’s suffering during this Lenten season? 

Through Christ ALL things are possible. So, my friend, I want to encourage you and leave you here with this. Don’t allow the voices of fear and doubt stop you from taking care of the beautiful temple which you have been given.  

Jesus, I trust in you. I surrender myself to you, take care of everything.

The struggle is 100% real. Self-denial is HARD, but, my friend, remember that our God has already overcome the struggle. And as we unite with His cross we allow His light to shine in and through us every day as we lean in to each opportunity to turn a craving into fasting and turn each prayer into a moment where we’re actively laying down our lives for our friends.

Looking for an easy and delicious Whole 30 complaint meal? Check out Winner Winner Chicken Dinner.

About Author

Michelle Hillaert is a wife, mother, bestselling author, coach, and a woman of vision. She is passionate about spending time with her family, making memories, and being intentional in cultivating an intimate relationship with Christ. As an entrepreneur, avid blogger, and website design and branding enthusiast, Michelle is a recovering perfectionist who gets a woman’s desire to strive for more. A mom of 6 kids, she is attuned to the needs of busy women striving to stay ahead while still being “good enough.” She lives in Northern Virginia with her husband and best friend, Trent. They have fun creating a close family culture and sharing the lessons they’ve learned in over 20 years of marriage in their new ministry and podcast, Catholic Family Uncorked.

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