This post about 10 lessons from a celiac on Whole30 contains affiliate links.
I have celiac disease and have always said that being gluten-free is NOT enough to heal your body.
If you think about it, just taking out the irritant food does little to heal your body. In addition to removing gluten, you must also take time to heal your insides. (Learn more about how I healed my body from the damages caused by celiac disease.)
The Whole30 offers a great way to do that.
When you accept the Whole30 challenge, you not only take out gluten but also eliminate all grains, dairy, alcohol, corn, added sugar (no honey, maple syrup, coconut sugar, or artificial sugar), soy, beans, and legumes (including peanuts).
You focus, instead, on eating fresh fruit and vegetables, meats, seeds, nuts, and potatoes (both white and sweet potatoes are okay).
Because I have celiac disease, I already eat a strictly gluten-free diet. I also don’t eat a lot of dairy – it’s just not my thing. So gluten and dairy were easy for me to eliminate… but what about everything else? Not so easy, indeed!
10 Lessons from a Celiac on Whole30
Here are 10 lessons I learned from my personal Whole30 challenge:
(1) Sugar is Hard to Eliminate and Avoid
When you take the Whole30 challenge, you must give up all forms of sugar – white sugar, maple syrup, honey, and artificial sugar.
I found that my body craved sugar throughout the entire Whole30 challenge. Even though I could hold strong, those cravings never went away. After every meal, I craved something sweet. In fact, I never stopped craving sugar, even though I was able to steer clear of it. (Read about the 4 root causes of sugar cravings.)
The greater challenge than craving sugar, however, was finding packaged foods that do not contain sugar. Sugar is in ketchup, mayo, many gluten-free power bars, and even in almost all [turkey] bacon. In fact, the Amylu organic chicken sausages I loved so much had a touch of maple syrup in them, so I couldn’t eat them during Whole30 month.
You will need to read labels carefully and avoid anything that includes sugar, maple syrup, honey, agave, or any artificial sweetener altogether.
However, I found 10 satisfying Whole30-compliant snacks that contained no added sugar that helped get me through the days.
(2) Savory Breakfast is a Must
You must get used to enjoying a savory breakfast during your Whole30 month. I already enjoy a savory breakfast each morning, so the breakfast swap was easy. But if you’re a pancake, cereal, and acai smoothie bowl breakfaster, the Whole30 will shake you.
You’ll instead need to get used to enjoying eggs, hashbrowns, and vegetables for breakfast. If you’re looking for some Whole30 breakfast inspiration, take a look at my list of 10 Whole30 breakfast ideas and recipes.
(3) Coffee Tastes Just Fine Without Sugar
Speaking of breakfast, if you’re a coffee drinker, you better get used to enjoying your coffee black or with a non-dairy creamer like coconut, almond, cashew or flax milk. I used to put Truvia (Stevia) into my coffee each AM, but I got used to not having it during the Whole30.
This is one positive change I will continue to make – no sweetener in my coffee. I’m over it.
(4) Eating Big Meals is Key
Snacking is discouraged on the Whole30 (although I admittingly snacked), so you’ll want to eat big meals. I felt like I was eating so much at each meal – sometimes I wasn’t even very hungry for lunch.
If you want to kick some of your snack cravings, eating bigger meals and limiting snacking might be the way to go. This also gives your digestive system time to rest between feedings, which is a good thing. I’m trying not to snack as much now that I’ve finished the Whole30 challenge. It’s hard, though – snacks are always calling my name!
(5) Eliminating Gluten Isn’t Enough
Just because you’re gluten-free doesn’t mean you’re healthy. I wish more people knew and understood this truth. So many gluten-free packaged foods contain sugar, soy, corn, rice flour, and a slew of other ingredients that are not allowed on the Whole30 diet.
If you have celiac disease, the Whole30 will be a wake-up call for you. You will realize that many gluten-free foods are just junk food in disguise. I limit packaged foods and truly focus on whole, real foods as much as possible.
What I personally learned from the Whole30 elimination is that cheese does not work for me. Not only does it give me gas, but also it gives me acne. I gave up cheese (and only eat it on the very rare occasion I get to enjoy a little pizza), and I’ve welcome clearer skin as a result.
I also learned that alcohol makes me feel very bloated, so I gave it up. I decided to only drink when I didn’t mind feeling bloated. When I’m wearing a tight dress or skinny jeans, I pass on the wine and sip on water instead. I feel so much better and lighter when I do!
(6) You May Not Lose Weight
Many people with celiac disease have learned to eat healthily (not all, but many). So if you’re already eating pretty healthy, to begin with, you may not lose much weight, if any at all. I lost three pounds. Not enough to write home about, but it’s something.
I would have liked to have lost at least five pounds, but it just wasn’t in the cards for me. That said, while I didn’t lose much weight, I felt lighter, and my body felt more svelte. The skin on my face was perfect (I usually have a nagging zit here or there, but nothing during Whole30 month).
(7) Whole30 Snacks Are Good
I sometimes felt hungry, so I’m grateful for these much-needed Whole30-approved snacks that I could keep in my purse to eat at a moment’s notice. I personally enjoyed Wild Zora and RX Bars the most. I created a list of 10 snacks I loved most – check out my Whole30 snack list. I plan to continue to enjoy these snacks going forward.
(8) Mindful Eating is Key
As much as I missed the mindlessness of eating whatever gluten-free thing I wanted, I enjoyed that the Whole30 forced me to be a bit more mindful. I was forced to plan meals and thoughtfully consider where we ate out, and I became an even more avid label reader than I was before. I was not just looking for gluten, but also I was looking for nasty ingredients unnecessarily hidden in the food we eat. The cleaner the label, the better!
(9) Salad Dressing No More
One major takeaway for me is that salad dressing is gross. It’s filled with all sorts of nasty things, sugar, and preservatives. I found that I like eating my salads with a drizzle of olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and S&P. That’s it. It tastes wonderful and fresh. Less is more. Give it a try!
(10) The Reintroduction Phase is Impossible
When you reintroduce foods to your diet after the Whole30, you are supposed to go slow. But that’s really hard to do. If you wait, it ends up being the Whole40 or Whole50.
I tried really hard to reintroduce things slowly. I started with some chocolate and peanuts. Then a day later, I added rice. Then two days later, dairy. Once Labor Day weekend plans took hold, I was screwed!
I held off on reintroducing alcohol, popcorn, and cheese, though. Those are three foods that I’ve always suspected as irritants for me.
Sure enough, when I slowly reintroduced them, I found that some of them bothered me. What I found:
(a) Alcohol bloats me: I had no idea that the glass of wine at dinner was causing me to bloat, not the meal itself. This was a real eye-opener for me!
(b) Cheese gives me acne: I used to enjoy melted cheese and chips for a snack almost every day… and almost every day, I had a nagging zit. I stopped eating cheese, and guess what, my zits have all but cleared up. I still eat a little dairy and cheese on occasion, but my daily dose of melted cheese is gone, and so are the zits.
(c) Popcorn bloats me if I eat too much of it. I now eat just a little popcorn on nights I’m okay feeling bloated (aka, nights I’m at home watching TV and laying on the couch!).
My Final Whole30 Thoughts
While I didn’t have life-changing results from the Whole30 challenge, I did learn that I still have so much work to do to improve my diet. I already eat gluten-free and am fairly healthy, but I know I can still do better.
I also imagine that someone who isn’t gluten-free already will really struggle with the challenge. I was halfway there – gluten is very hard to eliminate at first as gluten is very addicting. I already overcame my gluten addiction long ago and enjoy my burger lettuce wrapped, so giving up gluten was no big deal for me. I did, however, miss grains and was happy to add them back into my diet (and even happier to know that they didn’t bother my tummy).
Overall, while the Whole30 gave me insights I would have never discovered otherwise. Was it life-changing for me? Probably not… but it did give me actionable insights into ways I can improve my diet even more, and it gave me insights on a few foods (in addition to gluten) that affect my body in adverse ways.
Oh, and I did come out of the challenge feeling a little lighter and a lot healthier. I was proud of myself for maintaining the willpower to keep this diet going for a full 30 days. I wasn’t sure I could do it at first, and there were times I wanted to give up, but I did, and I’m so much better off for it!
I’d love to hear about what you learned when you took the Whole30 challenge. What did you learn about yourself? What foods will you continue to eliminate?