Family Whole30: “Even Grandma loves coconut cappuccino now!”
The Dutch Dijkstra* family wanted to adopt a healthier lifestyle for a while now... but where to start? That wasn't easy for a family with 4 kids, the eldest 15 years old and the youngest just 8.
Mom Sanne heard about the Whole30 program during her personal training session at Whole9 Nutrition Partner HealthCreators. She was keen and proposed doing a Whole30 as a family at home: "Well, that plan didn't go down easy with the rest, to say the least. They resisting started right away", Sanne says. But she was determined.
Together with her coach Brenda, she decided to create a transitional period for her family: she did some Whole30-homework, choose not to buy anymore candy. She didn't throw anything away, but soon the kids ran out. And sodas were next. Sanne: "Look, if you are making a choice just for you, you can just decide to flip a switch and go for it. But with kids, that doesn't work. If you dictate, they will retaliate. This way I could coach them in a bit". Sanne also used this time to try out some Whole30 recipes, which went down well.
With the motto "It's only 30 days" the resistance was slowly broken. Dad Joris finally made the call: "I felt it was the right step for us, to at least give it a go. So we went for it".
On March 5th 2015 the family started the program, all six of them. Now, 6 months later, they look back on that decision with satisfaction. Or how oldest son Aiden, now 16, puts it: "It wasn't that bad!"
The reason to do a Whole30 was different for every member of the family. The parents set a family goal: "We wanted to create more peacefulness in our lives, see what healthy eating could do for our bodies and for us. The more I thought about it and read about it, the more convinced I got that something had to change. When I heard about injuries finally healing, what a load of junk-ingredients is sneaked into our food... that is something I had never realized. Basically: the only knowledge you have about food is what your parents told you and I always assumed that was the true story. Until I started to dig a bit deeper".
Weight loss was not a goal on it's own for the family, although the kids had upped their intake of candy over the years and started to gain some pounds. Especially the two youngest, Kai and Neve, were showing some extra body fat around their waists.
Besides that, several family members had started to develop health issues. Second son Mason had had gastrointestinal issues for months. He was hospitalized several times, but no real diagnosis was made. Sanne hoped that returning to more natural food would be the start of a solution.
The parents have a busy life: they run their own business and a big family with all busy schedules. They hoped to get more energy from better food to keep them going. They had noticed some starting health issues themselves, like fluid retention in the legs and a recalcitrant pancreas. They did want to lose some weight as well and improve their training results.
Oldest son Aiden... basically just had to suck it up and join in. Although he secretly hoped for a flatter stomach and maybe even a six pack.
For the four kids, the Whole30 rules were slightly adapted: the starting over rule after a mistake was taken out to not put them under pressure. They did promise to stick to the program and that was good enough.
The family made a flying start the first week. All the preparation payed off, although preparing 18 fresh homemade meals a day was a daunting task. Aiden had treated himself to a bit of a farewell party to/with candy and soda (secretly, with his own money), so he had to pay the biggest price in discomfort: a crushing headache from sugar withdrawal on day 1. Mom Sanne got all the usual week one symptoms (tired, cranky, feeling a bit off): they were all severe but swiftly gone again. Sanne: "But then the mutiny started, that was hard. The lunches came back only half eaten, because the kids didn't like it.
They were so used to the typical Dutch lunch of sandwiches... and that also was very easy to prepare. Now we had to find something new we could all eat, we would all enjoy and it had to fit within the program. For me it was important we could all have the same thing, otherwise I would go crazy in the kitchen preparing all different things. I was doing a Whole30 as well, after all!"
Coach Brenda stepped in again and helped Sanne think "super simple", because that would lead to a doable solution. And Sanne found it: "Vegetable frittata with salmon or tuna. That was it, everybody liked it. Okay, it lacked a bit of variety, but you know: everyday a sandwich for years and years and years is also the same every day. This worked for us".
After that hurdle was successfully taken, the practical part of the Whole30 started to become a sort of a routine. The family found a new rhythm. But there was still all kinds of old behavior that needed addressing: "That 30 day period can get a bit confronting, it is showing you your behavior in a mirror: all kinds of habits, automated behaviors, that need changing. Like going for healthy food options when schedules don't go to plan: the fast food option was out. So we would come together and make our food, something simple but still healthy. Quality comes before comfort in the Whole30 and that is really a good choice to make."
The family received a lot of interest for their experiment: "Healthy eating is an important issue for families. Everybody seems to be looking for answers and no one seems to know where to start", Sanne tells. Well, that things have changed in the Dijkstra household is pretty obvious, when guests are treated to coconut cappuccino, because there isn't any dairy in the house. "Even grandma drinks coconut cappuccino and the hairdresser who comes to our home. They enjoy or even love it!"
The Whole30 is now finished months ago. The family says it's mission accomplished: "The first thing we noticed is that the kids calmed down a lot, a lot less fights among them. The whole family found more peace. I am super proud that they all hung in there for the full 30 days. One did nibble on a piece of cheese, but he told us and we had a conversation about it. It was a learning experience."
The family booked a lot of wins in the health department and all the kids easily fit into their clothes again. Sanne: "Especially the bloating has gone. We even had to get Kai a belt."
Mason found out which foods trigger his gastrointestinal issues. Sanne: "For him it is important he keeps making the healthy choices. If he decides to eat crappy for a day, he really has to pay the bill for that. Like when he forgot to take his lunch to school and decided to buy a sandwich... his stomach gave him trouble right away". But Mason is mostly glad he knows what he is dealing with: "I feel so much better now and it is good to know what triggers the pain. I now have an opportunity to take responsibility".
Both parents and the eldest son took giant steps towards their goals: "We sleep better and we have tons of energy. We used to have an energy dip in the afternoon, now we can just keep working. That is a great result. And we all do look a lot better."
On a recent holiday to Spain something remarkable happened: "We ate more in restaurants, so 'normal' food made our plates more regularly, like before the Whole30. It gave us a lot less satisfaction the we thought it would. Even the kids liked the Whole30 food at home better. I do recognize that feeling: our taste has changed, maybe it's more refined. I like black coffee now, because I taste better."
And treats have become special again: "Recently we shared some ice cream together. Everyone a scoop of their favorite flavor from the best ice cream shop in the east of Holland. We thoroughly enjoyed that together. That was a fantastic experience."
In daily life the meals at home are mostly according to the Whole30 program rules. That accumulates to about 80% of what the family eats. Candy and soda never reappeared in the house. The kids have their own responsibility outside of the home: they can choose if they want to accept and eat a treat when it's someone’s birthday at school for example. "The way we eat now is already so much healthier than before. A treat every now and then won't derail that." Sanne also emphasizes that it is not just about the 30 days on the program: "Before you start it is important that you take steps towards it as a family. In the end it is the family lifestyle that follows the program that matters. Once you realize that, you are set to go on the journey."
Or as 16 year old Aiden so eloquently puts it: "Switch your brain off and go for it! It is really not so bad those 30 days."
* The family chooses to keep a low profile on the internet, so these are not their real names. These are, however, their real faces.