*This post was written by a Start Healthy contributor.
A few months ago I wrote about the whole foods diet. Then, earlier this month, I tried it for myself. And here I am, writing about it again–only from a first person perspective.
As someone who has never really craved meat (though dairy is a different story) I was intrigued by the thought of going completely plant-based. But before I dive into my own experience, I should explain a little bit about what the whole foods diet entails.
Not to be confused with Whole 30, which restricts carb intake, whole grains like oats and brown rice are totally acceptable. This eating plan focuses on plant-based foods only, eliminating all meat, dairy, and processed foods. Fats like nuts and avocados are OK in moderation, but you are supposed to get the majority of your energy and nutrients from fruits, veggies, and whole grains.
If the thought of giving up bacon and Greek yogurt sounds like torture, hear me out: the original idea behind the whole foods diet is that people from cultures that traditionally eat more plant-based foods are shown to live longer, healthier lives. People from Eastern cultures, in particular, have a lower risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, certain cancers—the list goes on. On the flip side, the impact that processed foods can have on the body is pretty alarming.
Now, I’m in no position to say you should never pick up a package of deli meat again. And, at the same time, eating exclusively plant-based can have some effects on your body that you don’t like and aren’t used to (more on that in a minute). But, overall, a plant-based diet has tremendous benefits that can’t be ignored.
I should first be honest and say that my original goal was to eat whole-foods-friendly meals for a month. Which, after a few days, changed to two weeks. By the end of week one, I had decided to cap the endeavor at just a week. I’ll leave it up to you to decide whether I gave up too soon, or if listening to my body was the right choice.
For obvious reasons, I started my whole foods journey on a Monday. I had stocked up on plant-based foods the night before, planned out my meals for the week, and prepped what I could ahead of time. My days are long: I wake up at 5:30 a.m. and get home around 7:30 p.m., so the less I have to think about actually making my food, the better.
I started the day with a glass of apple cider vinegar and water, plus a bowl of oatmeal, half a granny smith apple cut into bite-sized pieces, and a sprinkle of cinnamon. Oatmeal is often my go-to breakfast, so I was happy I could continue my oat obsession on this plan.
I forgot to prep my salads for lunch the night before, so off to Wegman’s I went, where I opted for the salad bar so I could be sure all ingredients were 100% whole foods approved—including the dressing (which was literally just red wine vinegar). The salad was nothing more than spinach, cucumbers, carrots, red onions, and walnuts. Yum *eye roll*. Since the salad was very light, I also decided to grab a container of pre-cut fresh fruit as a snack.
By the time I got home around 7:30 p.m. I was HANGRY, to say the least. Luckily my dinner was mostly prepared and just required steaming (not sautéing) some veggies. Another point I should mention about the whole foods diet, and perhaps the most annoying part for me, is no added oils. So, instead of cooking up my peppers and carrots in a bit of olive oil, I used only water. This salad was more robust, though, than my lunch: spring mix, cucumbers, cooked peppers and carrots, roasted chickpeas, and edamame. Did I mention I accidentally cooked and ate the entire pepper in one sitting? 🙂
In a moment of “Oh my god I need something sweet,” I decided to make an entire sheet of homemade granola I could pick at throughout the week. For this, I combined whole almonds, pecan halves, chia seeds, a few tablespoons of cinnamon (I really love cinnamon), and 2 cups of oats into a bowl. In another bowl, I mashed two very ripe bananas mixed with a little bit of almond milk and a ½ cup of honey. I combined the mixtures, spread on a baking sheet, and baked at 400 degrees for about 40 minutes, turning over the granola halfway through.
Feeling a little bloated on the morning of day 2 (thank you cruciferous veggies and handful of granola I picked at as it baked), I went for the glass of apple cider vinegar and water again before heading off to work. I’ve found after drinking ACV off and on for almost two years that it generally does help with bloating and digestion for me. Once I got to work, I ate some cut up fruit (a mixture of berries and pineapple) with a handful of the granola on top. It was a nice break from the oats.
For lunch, I packed a simple salad (shocker) with spring mix, strawberries, and tomatoes, with a dressing of red wine vinegar and chia seeds. Simple? Yes. Filling? No.
By the time I got home for dinner I was very hungry, per usual, and had the same salad as the night before (minus the pepper, since I ate the entire thing), and tomato. I also decided to have some carrots, celery, and hummus as a post-dinner snack.
Back to oats I went for day 3, only this time I added a tiny bit of honey because sweetness is a necessity. No apple cider vinegar today, though, as I don’t like to repeat it too many days in a row since it’s so acidic.
I won’t bore you with the lunch details, as the salad was essentially a repeat of the day before, minus the tomato. So, yes, literally spring mix and strawberries (cue tears).
I decided to buy another pepper to make my dinners a little more exciting, but this time I vowed NOT to eat the entire thing at one time—I still can’t believe how I managed that? So, for dinner day 3, I had a bowl of steamed peppers, carrots, cucumbers, tomatoes, and a hearty sprinkle of Italian seasoning and red wine vinegar. I skipped the spring mix because there’s only so much lettuce a person can eat.
Still a little hungry post-dinner, I went for the carrot and celery sticks with hummus again before bed.
On the morning of day 4 I was officially feeling blah. I was definitely more puffy than before I started the challenge, which was something I didn’t expect. Although I know raw fruits and veggies can be hard to digest for some people, I didn’t think it would pose a problem for me. Unfortunately, I was wrong.
Instead of oats, I went for fruit and granola again for breakfast—light on the fruit, heavy on the granola. I was also running on day 5 of no coffee (HOW did I survive?) so, even though the diet allows for decafe only, I allowed myself my usual Grande Iced Americano, but with no added flavor or sweetener … it was bad.
Lunch isn’t even worth a mention, since it was the same salad as earlier in the week. But for dinner I added onion and avocado to my bowl of steamed veggies, which gave it a little extra something.
I also remembered I had a bag of frozen bananas in the freezer, and decided to make some “nice cream” which is just frozen bananas blended with a little almond milk, that I topped with strawberries, blueberries, chia seeds, pecans, and cinnamon. Who needs regular ice cream (me—I need it).
As the weekend rapidly approached I was getting a little nervous about how I would stay on track. Although alcohol isn’t really allowed on this diet, I decided beforehand that I was just going to ignore that little detail. You can’t win ‘em all.
For breakfast I had a cup of oats from Starbucks. It didn’t really follow the “no prepared foods” rule, but I had to run some errands and convenience was key this morning.
I didn’t really have time for lunch this day, nor did I want the same boring salad. I’m definitely not condoning skipping lunch, but for the sake of sticking to my goal without losing my sanity I just decided to eat a nice dinner.
I added a small spoonful of red pepper hummus to my bowl of veggies for dinner and, let me tell you, it made all the difference. I was kicking myself that I hadn’t done this all week long. I’m not big on dressings, but the fact that I couldn’t drizzle a little olive oil over my salads was killing me. Hummus was just the solution I needed to fix this problem.
It was a really nice Saturday, so, even though I didn’t have any set plans, I knew I needed to get up and moving so I wouldn’t be tempted to lie around. I also knew hanging out at home would pressure me to snack, which I didn’t want to do.
Even on the weekends I find that I wake up pretty early, so I got up around 7:30 a.m., got dressed, and picked at a handful of granola before I left for the gym. I ran some errands immediately afterward with friends, which helped distract me from my ever-present desire for coffee and a bagel on Saturday morning.
By the time we got home it was about lunch time, so I made myself a salad with a scoop of brown rice, veggies, and, remembering my stroke of genius from the previous day, added a spoonful of hummus. I even added some sesame seeds for extra crunch. It was definitely satisfying, and I was pleased with myself that I avoided the compulsion for a cold brew.
The Sixers were playing later, so my friends had decided we would watch the game at my apartment. In the process of running errands earlier, they had picked up snacks GALORE—we’re talking multiple kinds of delicious chips and dips that I had to say no to. It was not OK. But I managed. I still snacked, don’t get me wrong, but on fruit—plus I completely demolished what was left of the granola.
I had planned to go to a street festival today with a group of friends, which I would normally be super excited for. Only, this time, I knew there would be virtually nothing I could eat. There was a slight chance of rain, and part of me was hoping the weather would take a turn for the worse. It didn’t, so off we went.
Before we left I ran to the Whole Foods salad bar to make sure I ate a filling meal—hoping I wouldn’t be too tempted to indulge at the festival. I went all out on this salad: spring mix, pea shoots, peppers, onions, chickpeas, roasted sweet potatoes, tomato, walnuts. Looking back, it sounds like a weird combination, but it was actually really good and definitely full of good fats and carbs I needed to keep me full.
Aside from cocktails, I remained diligent on my eating plan and avoided all of the delicious foods my friends got to eat—blue corn tacos, pizza, pasta—this festival had everything.
By the end of the day Sunday I decided my whole foods journey had come to an end. It wasn’t so much that I felt like I was missing out on things, but it was more that I felt I had to make up for what I couldn’t eat by overeating the things that I could. I’ll admit, this is 100% a mindset problem that, maybe if I gave the diet another week or so, I could have overcame.
My biggest takeaway, though, is that it’s most important to pay attention to how your body feels after eating certain foods. Most of the time, I feel great when I eat fruits and veggies. But over the course of the week, I ate an ENTIRE pineapple, multiple containers of berries, a few bananas, a whole pepper (in one night), and a full tray of granola. That is A LOT of extra fiber and calories that my body was not prepared for.
Eating intuitively is key, and if that means enjoying meat and dairy every once in a while, eating completely plant-based, or going vegan—the choice that makes you feel the best is really the best choice for you.
For more health and nutrition tips, visit starthealthy.com/food.