If you’ve ever experienced the whirlwind love affair with empanadas, medialunas, dulce de leche, and Malbec only to have the honeymoon end with a sudden longing for a healthy change, keep reading. Could you handle life without these delicious creations for a full 30 days? Enter the Whole30, a nutritional reset of sorts, that involves 30 days without grains, dairy, legumes, sugar, or alcohol.
If the Whole30 really is changing people’s lives in the US, could it work here?
I had heard about the Whole30 through friends and family in California, and after two years of struggling with stomach pain and trying to eat healthy, I figured there was nothing to lose but annoying stomachaches, bad skin, and maybe some extra weight, right?
Through 30 days of real, unprocessed foods, the Whole30 is designed to help you discover the optimal diet for you: after the 30 days of no dairy, grains, legumes, added sugar, or alcohol, the idea is to systematically reintroduce foods and learn more about how they affect you.
According to the program’s founders, Melissa and Dallas Hartwig, “Don’t you dare tell us this is hard. Beating cancer is hard. Birthing a baby is hard. Losing a parent is hard. Drinking your coffee black. Is. Not. Hard.”
Successful Whole30-ers (who plaster their #whole30results all over instagram) report weight loss, improvement in skin health, and boundless energy. On the other hand, there are plenty of criticism claiming that such a “severe” elimination diet is unnecessary.
One of the program’s major pros, especially for those of us living in Argentina, is that you don’t have to buy anything – no special food or fancy plans required. The two books, The Whole30 and It Starts With Food, are helpful, but it is entirely possible to be successful using just the website, forums, and extensive online resources.
So what’s a Buenos Aires dweller in search of 30 days of eating clean to do? If you choose to embark on your own Whole30 adventure while in Buenos Aires I would say start by studying the website, planning a lot of meals, and stocking your fridge with lots of fruits, veggies, and meat. Here are some tips to help you along the way. Courage, brave empanada-abstaining souls.
1. Practice saying no
In a place where cookies are a common breakfast food and pizza and beer bring people together multiple times a week, it often feels like a cultural offense, rather than a personal dietary choice, to reject food.
No, I don’t want bread with my dinner… chori… or salad. No I don’t want a cute little free chocolate cookie with my coffee. No I don’t want leche with my café. No, I really don’t want a delicious, buttery empanada. At least not for the next 30 days.
During my Whole30, I got really good at saying no. Sometimes just “no, thank you” was enough, but sometimes people demanded a full explanation for exactly how I could possibly reject a homemade, cheesy, doughy empanada. It was helpful to have a variety of responses ready if people insisted on offering me food. If something like, “No thanks, I’m not eating medialunas right now” doesn’t work, try, “[food] makes my stomach hurt.” Little white lies never hurt either, if you’re feeling uncomfortable about warding off aggressive food pushers try “Not right now, but I’ll try some later” — it’s hard to fight back someone asserting their own timeline for carb consumption.
2. Get to know your carnicero and verdulero and find a solid dietetica
Explore your neighborhood to find the places with the best price to quality ratio as your budget shifts away from empanadas and medialunas and towards meat and vegetables. As for nuts, seeds, and grain-free flours, Dieteticas Tomy is my new favorite, because have locations all over capital and they sell nuts in bulk for 10-15 pesos lower than other places (almonds for AR $27 per 100 grams? Insane). Barrio Chino is a great bet for finding hard-to-find ingredients for any new recipes you’re trying out but the price points tend to be a bit higher.
3. Parrillas are a Whole30-er’s dream
The beautiful advantage of doing a Whole30 in Argentina? You are surrounded by restaurants that specialize in grilled meat. Going to parrillas was especially easy and enjoyable during my Whole30. I ordered a cut of meat from the grill, a big salad, and didn’t have to explain to anyone that I was on a diet — I mean lifestyle change.
Plus, in what other country can you order a platter of delicious grilled meat to your door? If you haven’t tried ordering a parrillada para dos for delivery, it’s an experience I highly recommend.
4. Discover things you never thought you could make from scratch
Although there are plenty of new brands of things like nut butters and dairy-free milk popping up around Buenos Aires recently, I found it was easier (and much, much cheaper) to make most things myself. Here are a couple of the things that I was amazed at how easy they are:
Almond milk: Soak 100g of almonds overnight, blend them with two cups of water, filter, and voilá! You’ve saved yourself from spending more than 50 pesos on a bottle of almond milk.
Cashew butter: Take 100g of cashews, blend them (with a stick blender or food processor) until they form a powder, and then keep blending. With a little persistence, it will form a chunky cashew butter, and you can add coconut oil (or any kind of oil) for extra creaminess.
5. Pick a start date and friends to support you
Choosing a specific start date for your Whole30 allows you to plan ahead. Spring is wonderful because A) lots of vegetables and fruits and starting to come into season and eating greens is more fun when you’re not shivering and bundled up in your freezing house and B) everyone else is trying to “llegar al verano” right now, so you’ll fit right in.
6. Get ready for plenty of weird looks, new lessons about food and lots of energy
The Whole30 is hard. Doing the Whole30 in Buenos Aires is extra hard, especially when you do things like ask for a chori “sin pan”. Prepare yourself for some serious side eye.
But at least for me, it was so, so worth it. The program’s timeline of what to expect was eerily accurate, and the first 10 days were truly difficult. But for the first time, I had 30 days of zero stomach aches, my skin improved hugely, and I no longer felt that desire to take a siesta every afternoon after lunch.
The best part of trying the Whole30 in Buenos Aires was the realization that by eating well I am finally able to achieve the energy level required to keep up with the pace this dynamic, chaotic city and its infamous night-owls.