I know, I know, that sounds really cheesy (which is ironic, because you can’t eat cheese when you’re doing a Whole30). But seriously…
I found out about Whole30 while I was on the quest to lose that stubborn baby weight. I had no interest in pursuing anything complicated (because with a two-year-old and an eight-month-old, complicated is my worst enemy). I also didn’t have any time for counting points and calories and macros… not to mention I’m terrible at math. I can’t afford fancy shakes and $11 juices. As for deprivation? No. I like to eat. I didn’t want to turn into Cranky Mommy because I skipped dinner.
Considering that it has no points or shakes or counting, you might be wondering what the heck Whole30 actually is. The concept is deliciously simple—for 30 days, you remove all grains, dairy, soy, legumes, sugar (natural and artificial), processed foods, and alcohol from your diet. What you’re left with is pure, whole foods—all the eggs, fish, meat, vegetables, and fruits you can imagine. You eat as much as you want, when you want. It’s essentially the same principle as the Paleo diet, but without the honey and molasses and unbelievable Paleo baked goods that taste like cheating. High quality, organic produce and grass fed meat is recommended but not required. You can also have accompaniments such as coconut oil, ghee or clarified butter, olive oil, and every kind of spice.
Whole30 is basically an elimination diet. New York Times best-selling authors Melissa and Dallas Hartwig, creators of the regimen, claim that after your 30 day reset, you should reintroduce food groups slowly to gain a better understanding of how your body reacts to them. You may have small intolerances that you don’t even realize, which could be contributing to all kinds of ailments, like fatigue, joint pain, migraines, and more.
And you will probably lose some pounds, but the founders are quick to clarify that this is not merely a weight loss diet. They champion something called “non-scale victories” include more energy, less bloating, clearer skin, better mental clarity, and a healthier overall relationship with food. Doing a Whole30 also gives you the chance to tame your Sugar Dragon, that beast that lives inside, demanding candy and brownies.
While it may not be for everyone, I personally love the results of doing a Whole30. Sugar has never been my weakness. I’m more into carbs—I’ve never met a bagel I didn’t like. But, surprisingly, giving up sugar for my Whole30 made me realize that I was much more addicted to that white stuff than I realized. I used to use Splenda in my coffee (terrible, I know). Now I not only drink coffee with plain coconut milk, I prefer it that way. My first taste of Splenda post-Whole30 was a real eye-opener. Giving up sugar for a month makes you realize just how sweet those artificial sweeteners really are.
Open to the idea of taking on a Whole30 (or some other elimination-style diet) yourself? Here are 10 small pieces of advice:
1. Don’t underestimate yourself.
I cannot tell you how people who, upon hearing the Whole30 rules, laugh and say, “Ha! I could never give up cheese for 30 days.”
Seriously? These are people who run marathons, start businesses, take night classes, raise children… in other words, things that are wayyy harder than simply abstaining from dairy for a month. I say, give yourself a little credit! It’s not forever. And it’s not actually that hard, compared to so many other things in life.
2. Don’t set yourself up for failure, either.
The strict rules of Whole30 say that you need to do it for thirty entire days. Not 29 days. Not 28 days. Not 5 days during the work week followed by an extra large pizza on the weekend.
In other words, don’t go into your Whole30 with the intention of cheating at your mom’s birthday dinner on the 20th day. Remember, you are strong enough to last the entire 30 days without “accidentally” demolishing a pile of birthday cake. Bring some fruit to the party and politely decline your slice. You don’t owe anyone an explanation for your own personal eating habits.
Trust in your innate willpower and do not make excuses to cheat before you even begin.
3. Don’t go it alone.
It can be so helpful to have a friend to text if you find yourself staring down a glazed donut in the break room. Whether it’s your coworker, your spouse, or your best friend, doing the Whole30 together makes it so easier. It also makes you accountable to someone besides just yourself.
4. Buy all the produce you can find.
Produce shopping is so fun, isn’t it? This is your chance to really go out on a limb and experiment with exciting new fruits and veggies you may not have considered before. Buy all the really interesting, prickly skinned, oddly shaped produce you can get your hands on and Google or scour cookbook recipes later. There’s a good chance you’ll find a new favorite or two.
5. Pinterest = your new best friend.
The internet age makes Whole30 SO much easier. Create a Whole30 board and start searching recipes—I guarantee you’ll be amazed at all the delicious options. Many of the meals on my regular dinner rotation only needed a few minor tweaks to make them Whole30 compliant (example: bread crumbs swapped for almond flour). I don’t even bother to cook separate meals for my family while I’m doing a Whole30 because everything is so yummy that my husband and kids happily eat it along with me.
6. Don’t forget to meal prep, meal prep, meal prep.
I know, meal prep is the worst. It totally sucks. But for Whole30, I hate to admit, it’s really, really helpful. I usually spend Sundays chopping veggies and putting together egg bakes and stuffed peppers for the week. If you’re really short on time, even just making big batches of hard-boiled eggs can be endlessly helpful. Just add an avocado and some sliced berries, and you have a filling, delicious breakfast to go!
7. Don’t oversell it.
The first couple days of Whole30 are pure torture while you’re detoxing all that evil sugar out of your system, but then you may experience a kind of “high” where you feel absolutely amazing and want to shout it from the rooftops. You’ll want to evangelize the program to anyone who will listen, but trust me, this can get a little obnoxious. Try to limit your gushing to a few select friends who aren’t afraid to tell you if you’re getting annoying about it. And do spread the word… but do so with restraint.
8. Don’t believe everything you hear.
The next person to call Whole30 or the Paleo diet “low-carb” is getting a sweet potato thrown at their head. No, Whole30 is not low-carb. You can eat both sweet and white potatoes, not to mention plantains and bananas. This program is not about totally cutting carbs, it’s about eating wholesome, healthful foods that nourish and sustain your body.
If you are trying to lose weight, it would be wise to limit potatoes and fruit during your Whole30, but if you do want carbs with every meal that’s totally OK, too.
9. Find a new reward system.
I read a quote once that really stuck with me. It went something like this: “Don’t reward yourself with food. You are not a dog.”
Thought-provoking, right? I’m totally guilty of this—saying to myself, “If I go to the gym today, then I can have a cookie.” Try to replace your reward system with non-food items—how about a walk in nature, a new book, a movie, or a phone call with a friend? Find the little non-food things that make you happy and forget the Snickers bar.
10. Celebrate your success.
While Whole30 isn’t as hard as some things in life, but it is challenging, especially in our culture of endless self-gratification. Be proud of yourself for completing one! Not everyone has the willpower. Celebrate—just maybe not with a cookie.