The Whole30 is a nutritional reset/elimination diet that aims to remove inflammatory foods from our diets for 30 days while changing our relationship with food. The Whole30 challenges participants to eat nothing but real, nutrient dense food for 30 days while removing grains (including quinoa and corn), dairy, legumes (including peanuts, soy, and peas), sugars and sweeteners (including honey and agave), and alcohol (yes, even if its just used to cook). The program also challenges participants to change the relationship they have to food by the next two program rules: no weighing yourself, and no recreating dessert-like foods (no pancakes, no cookies, no 3pm sugar bomb. No smoothies either, because it’s important to eat your food and not drink it). Those who have successfully completed the program have seen many benefits, including a reduction in inflammation, better sleep and energy, better performance at the gym, clearer skin, heightened focus, a loss of old cravings. 99% of successful program participants will lose weight.
I am currently in the middle of my third Whole30. I decided to try out the program back in August of 2016, after contemplating going on the program for about 6 months. Over the past year, I have learned a lot—not only about food and how my body reacts to certain foods, but about myself and my discipline in general. I always considered myself a not-very-disciplined person before Whole30, but as it turns out I actually really excel when there are a lot of rules to follow. I acknowledge this isn’t the perfect program, and may not work for everyone, but because I have really enjoyed this program and have gotten so many questions about the program, I wanted to share my tips for success with you all.
Do Your Research
While this may seem like fairly obvious advice, it’s really important to know what you’re getting into. You don’t have to have all the answers before your first round, but you do need to have an idea of what the program entails. I recommend starting with the Whole30 online, and reading and bookmarking the resources there. The website is incredible, and outlines the rules, recommendations, and other resources you may need while on the program. The founders of the Whole30 wanted the program to be accessible for all, so it is totally possible to be successful just using the website.
If, like me, you like to be ultra-prepared and having everything in one place, I recommend purchasing “The Whole30” book, which outlines the program rules and gives a lot of great tip for success. If (also like me) you want to get into the ‘why’ behind the program (the science!), read “It Starts with Food”. I read ‘It Starts with Food’ 6 months before I did my first round, and it was part of the reason why I started eating paleo, and why I ultimately decided to do my first Whole30. I did two successful rounds using that book and the website, but this third time around I decided to purchase ‘The Whole30’ book, and honestly I wish I had it a year ago!
Commit and Tell the World
Once you’ve done your research and have decided that this program is for you, it’s time to commit. Look at your calendar, pick a date that works, and commit to the program. Tell a few people you trust, or tell everyone who follows you on Instagram. I find the latter strategy to work best for me, but ultimately who you tell and how you do it is up to you.
Picking a date can totally seem daunting, and it’s important to realize that there will probably be at least one event that you would rather not be on Whole30 for. Big trips, important weddings, your birthday, and anniversaries are probably events that you want to avoid when planning your first Whole30. Friend’s parties, a day trip somewhere close, a fun office happy hour, and your cousin’s Bat Mitzvah are events that might be difficult to do a Whole30 during, but probably wouldn’t be the end of the world.
If it is your first round, make sure you have about a week after your Whole30 to reintroduce various foods back into your diet. This is an extremely important step to the process, so make sure to schedule it when you’re picking a date for your Whole30.
Stock your Pantry and Be Prepared
There are plenty of resources on the internet that will help you prepare for the next 30 days. Find some great recipes (start here) that you can make ahead of time, and definitely have some last minute go-to options. I like to prep a good amount of chicken thighs and some side veggies for the week so I can quickly through together a lunch or dinner. I always have eggs on hand, and I know where I can go get lunch near the office if I forget what I prepared at home. I have a few cans of Whole30 compliant tuna, coconut milk and broth in the pantry just in case. My pantry essentials post is mostly Whole30 compliant, despite the honey and protein powder. Here’s another helpful resource for stocking your pantry from the creators of the program.
Read Every Label and Question Everything
While you’re stocking your pantry, make sure to read every label. Sugar, sweeteners, and soy are added to so many packaged food items (way more than I ever realized), so don’t assume your usual go-to tuna/chicken broth/almond milk/deli meat/salad dressing is safe. Reading your labels becomes second nature, but be prepared to be that person who is picking up and reading the back of 5 different almond milk’s before finding one without carrageenan (a common thickening agent) or without some sort of added sweetener (hint: if it ends in -ose, it’s sugar). I found this common additive cheat sheet super helpful, because there are a lot of additives that I didn’t know existed that are pretty common on food labels.
Don’t be embarrassed to have to look something up on your phone in the middle of Whole Foods or to ask questions along the way. Slowly but surely, you’ll start to recognize various ingredients and feel confident in what you’re purchasing. And if you don’t recognize something, just google “[ingredient] Whole30 compliant”. Someone probably has the same question you do. At first I found this to be the most frustrating part of the Whole30, but slowly but surely I’ve become really confident in the food I buy, as well as empowered to want to know what is in my favorite bacon. I still read all my labels when I’m not on a round, and while I may not flinch at added honey or soy when I’m not in the middle of a Whole30, I overall feel better making those decisions about additives for myself.
Don’t Be Afraid to Eat Out
While there are a lot of hidden additives and ingredients in a lot of foods, this shouldn’t be a reason to not eat out! There are going to be situations where, for one reason or another, eating out will be the best option. If you know the restaurant you’re going to, call them before hand. Most chain restaurants have a full list of what is in their food online, and if not they have it available on request. Make a list of foods you can and cannot eat, be kind to your waiter, and be confident when you order. Chipotle is a great option, as well as most steaks (as long as they are ‘dry’) and salads. Stay away from sauces and dressings, and ask what kind of accommodations can be made. I also found a-la-carte menus were especially helpful, especially for breakfast.
Don’t Cheat Yourself
There is no such thing as the Whole30 police. No one is going to knock on your door and force you to start over if you eat a slice of cheese or if your bacon has sugar in it. But that being said, this is not hard. To quote the creators of the Whole30 (with the single-most motivating sentence for me personally): “It is not hard. Don’t you dare tell us this is hard. Quitting heroin is hard. Beating cancer is hard. Drinking your coffee black. Is. Not. Hard.” There are no slip ups, and there are no mistakes. Everything you eat a decision, and there is no way you’re going to reap the benefits of this program if you half-ass it and not follow every rule.
If you prefer to follow something a little bit more relaxed and ‘Whole30 inspired’, than I totally support that! But it isn’t a Whole30. So, if you decide this is something you really want to do, put away the honey in your tea for 30 days. Hide your scale if you need to. Give up your smoothie for breakfast. It’s only 30 days, and you can absolutely do it. Connect to the reason why you want to do it in the first place.
Don’t Over Think it
While the program can seem intimidating, I really do believe it is intended to be simple. You don’t have to have a crazy fancy dinner every night. One of my go-to meals are some compliant hot dogs with a side of vegetables and avocado. Simple, not glamorous, but nourishing. One day, I forgot my lunch at home and ate carrots, guacamole, and prosciutto from the supermarket across the street from my last job. Again, not glamorous but I felt nourished at the end of it. Don’t get caught up on what you think certain meals should look like. I can’t tell you how many times my breakfast looks almost identical to dinner. At the end, I think you’ll be amazed at how easy it is!
I am here for ANY questions you may have. If you can’t find the answer to your question on google, get in touch! You can leave a comment on this post or get in touch with me via Instagram. I have a lot of knowledge from my research and experience and if I don’t have a good answer to your question, I’m sure I can point you in the right direction.
Best of luck! If you’ve done a Whole30 and have any more tips, feel free to leave them below! If you’re considering a Whole30 and still have questions, let me know. I’m definitely planning on blogging about this more!