Starting the New Year with an elimination diet is all the rage. Some personal experiences.
Never mind what you see at the top of your calendar. For some people, it’s not January. It’s Veganuary or Dryuary. For others, it’s Whole30 month. These initiatives feature some sort of elimination diet, and this is typically the month when people try them.
“I think there is always a focus on healthier dining in January,” says Robbie Jester, culinary director of High Five Hospitality, a restaurant group, and partner of Full Circle Food, which delivers chef-prepared meals to customers’ doors.
Many people are looking for a reprieve after the excesses of the holidays. “The beginning of the year seemed like a good time to slow down, spend quiet time at home, and get back into the habit of cooking and eating healthy meals,” says Francine Stone, who with husband Matt has done the Whole30 diet each year. “It’s just a good time to reset.”
Cutting Back. Tuning In.
The Whole30 plan is a diet made famous by Melissa Hartwig Urban, who in 2009 blogged about her 30-day dining experiment. It was so popular that she wrote a book and started a business. More books have followed.
Those on the Whole30 plan eliminate gluten, dairy, added sugar (real or artificial), grains, legumes, baked goods, soy, carrageen, MSG, sulfites, and alcohol in any form. What’s allowed? Plenty of vegetables, fruit, grass-fed meat, seafood, and unprocessed ingredients.
A consummate researcher, Stone investigated the plan before January. She first reviewed the website whole30.com. But there is a host of other sites. Google Whole30, and you’ll get nearly 24 million results, including recipes. (If you want a break from meal prep, Full Circle features several Whole30 meals a week for home delivery.)
Feeling they needed more guidance and tips, Stone bought Urban’s books—initially published under Melissa Hartwig—and subscribed to a daily email program that offers advice and lets you know what to expect physically and emotionally.
The popular plan is not the only monthlong initiative that involves changing your diet. A British-based program, Veganuary, promotes a vegan diet in January. The website, us.veganuary.com, features recipes and a blog.
Eileen Dallabrida was inspired by the Veganuary movement, as well as Dryuary (dryuary.org), which encourages consumers to take a break from alcohol in January. She decided to go one step further: She gave up sweets. “The trifecta,” she quips.
The Angel and the Devil
Of course, you don’t need to begin a diet program in January. Late last year, Jester committed to a 75-day diet called 75Hard, which incorporates two workouts and a gallon of water a day. He lost 40 pounds. He plans to follow up with three complementary 30-day courses.
But if you want to try one of these programs, it can be easier to do in January. Most people are partied-out by New Year’s Day, so there’s less temptation to cheat, notes Dallabrida. That said, she still faced enticements. A few tongue-in-cheek friends invited her out for red wine and rare burgers.
More than once, a friend or two would tell the Stones: “You can have just one” of whatever food was verboten. The couple stood firm, and during January, they ate the majority of meals at home. It helped that they both were on the diet, Stone acknowledges.
Most friends were supportive. Dallabrida recalls the good pal who reminded her that “it is good for us to take on challenges, to do the things we think we cannot do.”
What was the hardest thing to give up? Stone and Dallabrida both missed wine. Stone also longed for fine cheeses. “The cravings for everything else—sugar, carbs—fell away,” she says.
Dallabrida was surprised that she didn’t miss meat and seafood as much as she’d anticipated. She made do with plant-based meals, including dishes with lentils. However, she was not a fan of tofu, which is “loathsome stuff,” she says.
Results and Rewards
So, do the diets work? On the Whole30, many people feel better initially because they’ve eliminated processed foods and increased their consumption of nutrient-dense fruit, vegetables and lean proteins, says Kate Mackie, a personal trainer, nurse coach, and the owner of Kate Mackie Wellness.
Dallabrida experienced a spike in productivity. Instead of settling in for a night of TV with a pinot noir, she practiced piano and tidied the house. Stone also had more energy. She slept better and lost weight. But it took patience. They did not see benefits until the third week.
One Whole30 buff, who preferred not to have her name in print, lost 5 pounds. To be sure, most diets limited to certain food groups lead to weight loss—even if the diet isn’t marketed as such, Mackie says. The pounds often come back when you return to your normal eating pattern.
That said, some people do make changes that last beyond 30 days. Stone now drinks her coffee black rather than with cream and a touch of sugar. She grew to love coconut milk and regularly uses coconut oil, both of which are staples of the Whole30 plan. Today, the Stones have three of Urban’s cookbooks and use many of her recipes throughout the year.
Jester has become a devotee of drinking lots of water. “It helps relieve inflammation, keeps me full between meals, and helps to lubricate the joints,” he maintains. One of his two daily workouts had to be outside. He still follows that approach whenever possible. “I found a lot of peace in that outdoor workout.”
With any diet, there’s something to learn, Mackie says. You might find that you enjoy eating more vegetables, for instance. “You can’t go wrong with increasing your intake of nutrient-dense foods,” she says. You may also learn that a restrictive diet, such as the low-carb keto plan, brings nothing to your table.
Unless there is a medical condition behind the change, most people on restrictive diets can’t maintain the changes for more than a year, Mackie says. “It either doesn’t fit in with their lifestyle or their likes or dislikes,” she says. “Or, it’s made their health worse.”
For example, if you don’t need to be on a gluten-free diet, you’re missing the vitamins, minerals, and fiber in whole grains, she says. Gluten-free products are also pricier. “Why cut out so many foods if you can manage to cut back on calories but still eat the things you like?” Mackie asks.
For some, it’s not all about calories. The Whole30 devotee likes the discipline that a 30-day diet imposes. Dallabrida treats her January diet as a form of mindfulness or conscious eating.
For Jester, following a plan, even for a scheduled amount of days, puts the focus on self-care. “Chefs are bad at the healthy lifestyle thing, and we give everything to those around us,” Jester says. “But you can’t give from an empty cup.”
His continued New Year’s resolution? “Fill your own cup.”
A Whole30 Recipe
Restricting your diet doesn’t mean you’re deprived. Take a look at this recipe from the Whole30 website. (It originally appeared in The Defined Dish: Healthy and Wholesome Weeknight Recipes by Alex Snodgrass.)
Lemony Greek Potatoes with Crispy Greek Chicken Thighs (serves 4-6)
For the Greek Potatoes
• 1 1/2 pounds Yukon gold potatoes (4 medium potatoes), halved lengthwise & sliced into ¼-inch wedges
• 1/3 cup fresh lemon juice (2 lemons)
• 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
• 1/4 cup low-sodium chicken broth
• 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
• 1 teaspoon dried oregano
• 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
For the Chicken
• 2 pounds bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs
• 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
• 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
• 1 teaspoon kosher salt
• 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
• 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
• Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Place the potato wedges in a 9-by-13-inch baking dish. Add lemon juice, olive oil, broth, salt, oregano, and pepper and mix until evenly combined. Spread the potatoes into a single, even layer and bake, gently tossing every 20 minutes, until tender and golden brown, about an hour total.
• Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper. While the potatoes bake, arrange the chicken thighs on the baking sheet in a single even layer. Make sure they are not touching. Pat dry the tops of the chicken thighs, then drizzle each thigh with olive oil to coat. In a small bowl, mix the paprika, salt, oregano, and pepper until well combined, then sprinkle evenly over the chicken.
• Bake the chicken until it is cooked through and the skin is crispy and golden brown, 35-to-45 minutes, depending on the size. Let the chicken cool for 10 minutes before serving.
For a list of vegan recipes, visit us.veganuary.com/recipes.
A Drink for Dryuary
If January has become Dryuary, you can still clink glasses with friends. Mocktails are just as pretty as the real deal. Start with sparkling water, seltzer or club soda. (Note that tonic water has sugar in it.) Add a squeeze of lemon or lime juice. Or, muddle fresh or frozen berries or melon. Garnish with mint or other herbs.
Here’s a recipe to try at home.
• Juice of ½ lime and ½ lemon
• 1 teaspoon zested ginger
• Sparkling water
• Squeeze the juice into a glass. Add ginger and top with sparkling water. Add ice and stir. Drop in lemon and lime wedges as a garnish.