Our family is halfway through a Whole30 challenge and for the most part we are thriving! If you aren’t familiar with what Whole30 is, it is a 30 day challenge to eliminate processed foods and added sugars. No grains, no dairy, no sugar. Did I mention sugar twice? Yes–sugar is a big deal! Basically for 30 days you eat whole foods. Fruits, vegetables, meat, eggs, nuts and seeds. I am not an expert on Whole30, so I will leave the description up to the people who created it and you can read more about it here if you are curious about that sort of thing.
We decided to try this challenge because we needed to do an elimination diet for my daughter who has some health issues that her doctor thinks are tied to certain foods. We are hoping to be able to tell what foods are triggering her symptoms as we add in foods slowly after the 30 day elimination period.
I just have to say that we are not pretentious people who desire to control every bite that goes into our children’s (and our) mouths. If we can do something like a Whole30—well, anyone can! While at home, we are strictly Whole30. My husband, my daughter and myself have gone hard core (no cheating), but we have allowed our other two children to have regular snacks at school and church etc. Since my children are still pretty young and with us most of the time, even the two kiddos not following Whole30 entirely are eating like this about 95% of the time.
Now, this isn’t a blog about food or nutrition so I am not going to focus on what we ate or even how we did Whole30, but instead I am going to talk about some of the ways I have seen the Whole30 challenge impact the character of my children and change the atmosphere in our family. If you have specific questions about how do do a Whole30 as a family, I would love to respond in the comments.
There are at least eight ways I have observed Whole30 impact our family that have surprised me. As someone who thinks a lot about the character development and discipleship of my children, I think there is a connection between a challenge like Whole30 and personal (even spiritual) growth–the kind of growth I hope my children experience, but in our entitled culture can sometimes be hard to make happen.
In other words, it is a GOOD thing to challenge our kids to do something HARD! It doesn’t have to be Whole30, but our kids need us to show them how to handle life when they have don’t have everything they want and need handed to them without having to work and wait for it! Whole30 has been a way for us to do that and has had some surprising benefits that really have nothing to do with food.
Just take a look at what we are learning through Whole30
1.My children (and the grownups in the house) are learning self-discipline.
There are A LOT of rules on whole 30 some of which are hard to explain to a 9, 7, and 5-year old. They don’t really get the bit about not snacking. And I haven’t pushed them too much in this area other than to give them a structure to their decision making when it comes to snacks. At snack time, they are supposed to drink a glass of water, eat a fresh fruit or vegetable, and then if they are still hungry they can get one of the few “snacky” type items allowed on the plan.
On day three of the program I found my 9-year-old son about halfway through a large bag of pistachios. The large pile of shells proof of his binge. Well, that’s a lot of nuts and one stomachache later, he learned his lesson. We also had an opportunity to talk about considering others when eating the “treats” allowed on the program and how we need to discipline ourselves to only eat our share of what is available so everyone gets to enjoy the few special items allowed.
We have said “no thank you” to all the extra treats at the post office, and the bank, and daddy’s office. That has been a lesson in self-discipline for all of us.
2. We are practicing delayed gratification
My youngest daughter usually goes with me to do the grocery shopping while the older kids are at school. Like any preschooler, she is mesmerized by all the colorful boxes of snacks with pictures of cartoon characters on them. And she’s no dummy, she knows about pizza, and potato chips, and donuts, and ice cream.
The first week, she really struggled! She wanted so.many.things.right.now! And I had to do a lot of explaining about how we were only eating certain foods right now and we would have to wait until our diet was over to have those things again. The second week was different. She still noticed all the pretty junk, but her response was more dreamy than demanding. She said a lot of, “Oh mom, when our diet is over, I want….” Fill in the blank with whatever treat she had found.
But she also started asking better questions and seemed to be more aware of what we were allowed to have and what was off limits. She still wants all the junk, but she is looking forward to having it later. Delayed gratification is SUCH AN IMPORTANT SKILL TO MASTER and one that this particular child has great difficulty with. A little progress in this area is a big success in my book!
3. We are learning to do without
Even though we are looking forward to this whole thing being over and being able to have some of our favorite treats again, it has been amazing to experience what I can actually live without and to hear my husband and kids say that they don’t really miss certain foods that were a staple of our diet.
Our meals are pretty simple and there is a noticeable lack of cheese (I love cheese!) and bread. But it has been so much easier to go without than I ever expected. I had pictured a family rebellion and mutiny directed toward me as the cook, but that really hasn’t happened–yet.
I actually think there is less complaining about the food than normal. My personal opinion is that everyone had worked themselves up into thinking Whole30 was going to be so terribly miserable that every meal that is edible is a terrific surprise!
We have used this as an opportunity to try a lot of new foods and make this a food adventure. Not everyone has liked everything, and truthfully not every meal has been fantastic, but we have found ways to feel satiated without relying on many of our favorite foods.
4. We are confronting disappointment and struggling through something that is hard TOGETHER.
My middle child is the one who has the health issues and she has definitely experienced Whole30 differently than the other two kids and even my husband and myself. It’s really hard to be the kid who doesn’t get the cupcakes someone brought to school for their birthday. Its really hard to feel left out of the social part of eating or the comfort of having treats on special occasions.
She is naturally very self-disciplined and responsible so she is very committed to getting through this challenge. She knows the rules and what’s allowed and whats not and she holds it together at school like a champ. But there have been several days where she has come home sullen and grumpy and when I finally get her to fess up about what’s bothering her it has to do with some treat she couldn’t have.
In reality, this may be a part of her life going forward if some foods really are making her sick, so I have really prayed about how to navigate these feelings without making a ton of promises about her getting to eat all those things when our Whole30 is done. Sometimes our kids have to face hard stuff and we can’t fix it, but we can listen and show compassion, and show them how to face suffering.
My husband and I probably wouldn’t have signed up for something like Whole30 or stuck with it if we hadn’t been doing it for our daughter. It changes our commitment and makes it less about food and more about love. And for our daughter there is a sense of solidarity that we have her back through this time of cutting out things that are familiar (not to mention tasty).
5. We have forced ourselves to slow down and focus on simple things
It takes a lot of time to cook all your food from scratch. We live in a pretty small town and our eating out options are pretty limited on Whole30, so we haven’t left town except to go to the grocery store. We have to plan our time around cooking and eating at home which naturally slows down the pace of life.
We picked a time of year when we aren’t overly busy to complete this challenge and it has been a good time for us to just be at home and be with one another.
6. We are developing a new appreciation for food and a gratefulness for God’s creation
All of my children have had these moments during Whole30 where they have waxed eloquent over a piece of fruit. Seriously, they have come to a point where they have so much to say about the piece of fruit they are eating because they are enjoying the moment and the taste so deeply! Its kind of humorous, but it is also beautiful.
They really have been more grateful for the food we have and for the work that goes into preparing it. They have become more aware of the difference between a food God made and a processed food and have begun to appreciate the taste of foods without adding a bunch of stuff to it.
7. We are dealing with isolation and having to go out of our way to connect with others
Eating special food is isolating. Not only do you have to say no thank you and not join in on things that others are eating, but it is easier to just not go to some things because you won’t be able to eat what’s being served. We skipped a church potluck, which if you know me you know that potlucks are my jam!
As the person who is primarily preparing the food, I have felt a little isolated in my own home as well as I prep and cook instead of doing other things either with my family or outside of the home.
To help feel like we aren’t missing out on the social aspect of food, we have invited people over to eat with us and shared our food with them or we have done a few little things with friends that don’t involve food.
This Whole30 has made me more aware of my need for community and motivated me to make extra effort to create ways to spend time with people in a way we can all participate. And sharing a meal with friends is great even when you don’t serve them dessert!
8. We are experiencing a sense of togetherness and better communication
The first week, I nearly killed myself prepping and cooking whole foods for a family of five. By the time I finished all the dishes from one meal, it seemed like I had to start thinking about the next. I was trying to store up some food options in the freezer for later in the week and quite frankly, I felt like a prisoner in my kitchen. I totally slacked on posting new posts in this blog, I got behind on laundry, and started going stir-crazy cause I had hardly seen the light of day!
I pretty quickly realized that everyone was going to have to help with this or we weren’t going to make it. I had to ask for help from my family and they had to do it or we wouldn’t have food to eat. As a result, we have spent more time as a family cooking and cleaning and communicating about food, but also communicating about other things that come up when you spend time doing daily stuff together.
Whole30 is an experience and a tool that has proven to be useful to teach our family some important lessons. Sure its a little trendy right now to complete a Whole30 and I don’t want to be dramatic and over-spiritualize our experience, but it really does dig deep and help you confront your food issues and apparently a lot of other things too. It by no means is the only way to teach your kids the lessons written about in this post. We just learned more than I expected and I wanted to share it.
Lent begins this week, and even though we didn’t plan our Whole30 to coincide directly with Lent, I am definitely entering Lent with a different mindset this year. The heart of participating in Lent is about sacrifice. It is about choosing to set aside things that aren’t necessarily bad, but may be keeping you from fully relying on God. It is a time when Christians ready themselves for Christ’s sacrifice for sin through His death on the cross. It is a humble time where we deny ourselves on purpose so that we experience dependence on God in a more obvious way.
As our family enters our normal traditions during Lent, I think we will be able to draw upon this Whole30 experience and make connections to what Jesus has done for us and what it means to be a Christ follower, denying ourselves and taking up our cross to follow Jesus.
How about you? Have you tried a Whole30 with your family? Did you see it as an opportunity to grow your children’s (and your own) character?
What is it about denying ourselves or practicing discipline in a purposeful way that grows us?