What I Learned by “Cheating” on the #Whole30

What I learned by cheating on the Whole30

As most of you know by now, my husband, sons and I have been experimenting with a new way of eating the past four weeks. It’s called the Whole30.

In a nutshell, we’ve been eating lots of animal protein, plenty of healthy fats, tons of vegetables and some fruit. (Oh yeah, and we aren’t eating dairy, sugar or other sweeteners, grains, legumes or beans.)

It’s called the Whole30 because you’re supposed to do it for 30 days. Thirty. Not 26. Not 15. Thirty days to clean out your gut, reset your system, and get in touch with what food does for you and to you — nutritionally and emotionally.

Each week, I’ve been sharing our food journals (Here’s my Whole 30 Week 1 Recap, Week 2 Recap and Week 3 Recap), to give you some insight on how we’ve been doing this. As you’ve probably realized by reading those posts, I’ve been learning a lot about myself through doing this challenge.

But the biggest lesson, so far, has came from (unintentionally) messing up my Whole30.

Last night was my shul’s annual fundraising dinner. It was a wonderful event. There was a huge spread, and admittedly it looked great. But I’m on the Whole30, you know – and so I was fully prepared to go, but eat nothing. I didn’t want to risk eating “non-compliant” foods – it just wasn’t worth it to me. In fact, I’d gone to a wedding earlier in the month and did just that.

My husband, on the other hand, was pretty keen on finding something that we could eat. He asked our friend, the mashgiach, what foods would be okay. As my husband ticked off a list of foods we weren’t eating, our friend informed him that we could eat the meatballs, the rosemary chicken and the roasted cauliflower.

I was astonished—Really? Meatballs? “Are you sure there’s no wheat? No rice? No sugar? No honey?”

He reassured me a half a dozen times, before I finally helped myself to the “approved” food. I took one bite of the meatloaf, though, and  thought: Something’s wrong here.

“I think there’s gluten in here. You can’t make meat this consistency without grains of some kind.” By this point, my husband was probably getting a bit tired of my neurotic second-guessing and reassured me — yet again — that we could eat the meatloaf.

I did continue eating, but I should have trusted myself, because unfortunately our friend didn’t hear my husband when he mentioned “grain-free”.

By the time we had finished our meal, I already felt a headache creeping in around my temples. I thought it was odd, since I haven’t had a headache since around Day 10, but I chalked it up the loud environment (I tend to get overstimulated in rooms like that, even under the best of circumstances).

We got home at 9 pm and by 9:45, I could hardly keep my eyes open. I felt as though I had taken a narcotic sleeping pill. My husband came into our bedroom and asked me what was wrong. He said I was slurring my speech.

My headache was raging at this point and my back was killing me. Despite my overwhelming exhaustion, the throbbing was keeping me awake.

This morning, I woke up feeling hung over. My stomach was a mess and my head was still pounding. By this point, I was fairly well convinced that there was something in the food I ate that wasn’t Whole30 approved. My body was acting too strangely for it to be just a coincidence.

I texted a friend, who’s husband was at the event.  He has celiac disease. I asked her how he was feeling and was told, “Fine, but he avoided meatloaf.”

I’m not gonna sugar-coat this people, when I realized that I’d most likely eaten gluten on Day 26 of my Whole 30, I had a mini breakdown.

First, I felt lousy physically. Really lousy. But moreso, I felt lousy emotionally — we’ve been so vigilant and committed on this plan and I felt like I’d failed. (Why yes, I do tend to be overly hard on myself, what makes you ask?!)

My husband, me and our two sons – who have been wowing me day in and day out with their determination to stick to this plan – have made big sacrifices to figure out how our bodies handle and react to certain foods.

If one of my original goals in doing this Whole30 was weight loss, 27 days in, I care far more about health. About mental clarity. About elimination of that 3 pm brain fog. About accomplishing something I never believed I could accomplish.

Oh, the guilt of “messing up” raged fierce this morning. But about half-way through the day, I started to cut myself a bit of slack. I talked to a friend (a very well-researched and incredibly smart nutritionist), who reassured me that I had not failed; that I had, in fact, learned a very valuable lesson.

The effect that certain seemingly innocuous foods have been having on me — I thought headaches and wrist pain were normal! — is for real. This isn’t hype or a fad. My body  has been suffering, and I’ve been ignoring it.

In some ways, this slip — gut-wrenching (literally) and unintentional though it was — is actually a GOOD thing.

You see, I’ve been thinking a lot the past few days about want I’m going to do once my Whole30 ends. The way I felt – immediately! — after eating just a small amount of matzah meal (by the way, I found out definitively tonight that it was matzah meal in the meatballs) — tells me that I need to be far more intentional about what I eat.

I get that when it comes to money, right? I talk about that all the time on the blog. Having a plan, being intentional – those are the ways to save more and live better….So why did it take me until now to realize it with food?!

Moving forward, come Friday, I’m going to have to figure out how to take off the training wheels — i.e. how to eat for my health in the “real world,” without the neat and tidy boundaries that the Whole30 provides.

Here’s what I’m thinking: As recommended in It Starts with Food (the book upon which the Whole30 diet is based), I am planning to test out the other eliminated foods, one at a time  — dairy, sugar (I still am missing my Starbucks Chai Lattes – but dang, did you know there are 32 grams of sugar in a tall?!?), legumes and beans — to see how my body responds.

Ideally, I’m thinking that at home, we will be sticking to a mostly Paleo diet – meat, chicken, fish, and eggs; healthy fats; lots of veggies and some fruits. Out of the house, we’ll be more flexible. My boys are already saying that they don’t care about grains and sugar (other than on Shabbos), but they want beans, chickpeas and dairy back in their diet. Assuming they tolerate those well, I’m 100% good with that.

Does this mean I will never eat a cinnamon roll or drink a chai latte again? Has v’shalom!

But it does mean that I need to be purposeful about what I’m choosing to eat. I can enjoy the occasionally “off-plan” foods – as long as there is no medical condition (such as for those with Celiac disease) precluding it – but I need to do it with my eyes open. I’m going in knowing that I may pay for it, so the “treat” I choose better be really worth it.

As I wrap up the last few days of my Whole30, I’ll be sharing with you guys one more week’s worth of menus. And hopefully as the days go by, I’ll have better clarity about what all of this Whole30 experiment has meant for me – and my family — and be able to express that as well.

Have any of you done a Whole30 or eliminated entire categories of food from your diet short- or long-term? What happened if and when you slipped? I was shocked by the swiftness of my reaction – and would love to hear if that’s a familiar experience for any of you.


  1. Is it possible that your reaction was so severe precisely because you eliminated it so much. Clearly you have some kind of sensitivity because your husband did not react this way. I know gluten elimination is the hottest thing right now, but I wonder what the backlash will be on a decade. I have a friend who took herself off gluten nearly 2 years ago (100%) and now says some no longer feels the physical benefits but has a terrible gastric reaction when she tries to eat something with gluten. She feels like she made herself a celiac. I know I’m a tiny little voice in this vast sea of the all experts telling us what is best, but they’ve been wrong in the past (Atkins, anyone?). I’m just thinking moderation is the key to a healthy, lifestyle.

    • Mara Strom says

      I hear what you’re saying and I certainly don’t think gluten is public enemy #1. (Unless of course you have celiac disease). There is nutritional value in grains, as there is in all whole foods. But when grains comprise 70-80% of our diet instead of 20-30% of our diet, it’s problematic.

      FWIW, my husband also had no “withdrawal” when we started this. Zero cravings, zero head-aches, totally seamless. He’s got a stomach of steel, I tell you!

      Also, I definitely don’t think you can “give” yourself celiac disease. Your friend probably has a gluten sensitivity — just like some people are sensitive to dairy (actually, that’s the one thing that my husband *is* a bit sensitive to!).

      As for my reaction, I honestly don’t know what to make of it. It really caught me off guard. I had been having a lot of inflammation (bloated belly, yes, but also almost daily migraines and wrist/joint pain), so clearly something was going on.

      Oh, and with re. to moderation. I think some people ROCK at moderation. I *wish* I was one of those people. There is no “one cookie, please, and then I’m done” for me. There’s “I just ate an entire sleeve of Thin Mints and am eyeing the other one”. I wrote about this, actually, last summer, when I first eliminated grains. (I did great with that for several months, and then my eating went to pot during my “busy season” of November and December.) http://kosheronabudget.com/a-month-into-being-grain-free-why-abstinence-is-easier-than-moderation/

  2. Having never eliminated entire categories of food, I have nothing to offer on that…but if/when you do add dairy back, you can make what I call “poor man’s chai lattes.” You could certainly make your own chai spice blend, but I order (via subscribe and save) decaffeinated chai tea bags from Amazon. I heat a mug of milk – anywhere from halfway full to fully full, depending on my mood – in the microwave for 1-3 minutes until it’s steaming hot (you could certainly do this in a saucepan) and then add a chai tea bag. I top off the mug with steaming hot water from a tea kettle if I didn’t fill the mug with milk. I add 2 or 3 splendas because I like my coffee/tea drinks very sweet. You could replace that with agave or honey if either of those is Whole 30 approved; if you make your own chai spice blend, perhaps increasing the cinnamon would make it taste/seem sweeter.

    • Mara Strom says

      Great suggestion, Marnie! I’ve actually been trolling Pinterest for make ’em yourself lattes! I love that little bit of spicy kick with the sweetness. They are so crazy good, aren’t they?!

  3. For whole 30 chai lattes make chai tea (can buy in bulk loose or tea bags) coconut milk and a piece of licorice root. You can buy licorice root and chai from mountainroseherbal.com

  4. It happened for me today, R1D16. I bought a roasted chicken and I thought it would be just chicken and salt. After I ate it, I got a headache and felt tired so I looked for ingredients and they were written so tiny, carrageenan sugar and brown sugar. Omg, I wanted to have a breakdown too. But you’re right, it’s a good thing. Because now I made up my mind that those things are going to be just ingredients for holidays.

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