The Beginner's Guide to Whole30
If you’re looking for a plan that will get your ass into gear come January 2 (let’s face it, you’ll be hungover on Jan 1), we feel you. We’ve been eating all the sugar cookies and drinking all the mulled wine too, and we admit, it’s time for a reset. Here’s what we’ll be
attempting doing: the Whole30 program.
What’s the Whole30?
Whole30 is a 30-day (duh) clean-eating plan designed to clean up your eating habits by cutting out foods that might be having a negative impact on your health (a.k.a. making you feel crappy). Yes, we're talking about the foods that are super hard to give up: dairy, sugar, grains, legumes, and alcohol.
Committing to the Whole30 is breaking up with the booze-filled, dessert-every-night, carb-fueled diet that we've been following for the past month (french fries are vegetables, right?), and instead, swiping right for clean proteins and vegetables. Let's break that down.
What You Can Eat
All hail the yes list.
- Meat. Yes to a burger, no to a bun.
- Poultry. So. Much. Chicken. Sausage.
- Fish. You can even eat the canned stuff.
- Veggies. Your options are limitless.
- Fruits. An apple a day keeps your sweet tooth at bay.
- Fats. Avocados every single day.
Oh, and black coffee! There are also a few ridiculously good store-bought foods that are Whole30 approved and make this plan a wee bit easier (hello, clarified butter and coconut aminos).
What You (Absolutely, Positively) Can’t Eat
- No sugar or natural or artificial sweeteners. Nope, not even maple syrup.
- No booze. Make dry January great again!
- No smoking. We mean weed too.
- No grains. Time to empty your jar of quinoa.
- No beans or legumes. No chickpeas, no peanut butter.
- No soy. Tofu is a goner.
- No dairy. Cheese is dairy, guys.
- No processed additives. Carrageenan, sulfites, MSG.
- No fake treats with Whole30-approved ingredients. Sorry, cauliflower crust pizza and Paleo pancakes, you're off-limits. This rule is all about building a healthier relationship with your food, and we think it actually works.
You got this. It’s just 30 days. *Insert sweating emoji*
The Benefits That Make It Worth It
Before you run away, there's good reason those foods are off-limits. We can’t guarantee everything on this list is going to happen to you, but these are the most common benefits we experienced while on (and after) the Whole30.
- Weight loss. We can't complain.
- Health conditions may improve. Headaches now only happen when we’re hungover.
- Digestive problems resolved. We can finally poop twice a day!
- Skin is clearer. No more teen acne in our 30s.
- Energy levels are through the roof. What third cup of coffee?
- An entirely new list of tasty recipes. Seriously, it's good food.
- Transformed taste buds. Cravings for pizza subside faster these days.
- More effective workouts. We didn’t stop to walk at mile 2 during a 4-mile run.
- Improved sleep. We had the energy to wake up for said run.
- Discovered what foods make us feel like crap. This is different for everyone and something we noticed once processed foods were added back into the diet on day 31; for some it's cheese; for others, it's the bread.
Why It's Not Your Typical Diet
You're not tracking calories. You won't feel hungry. You won't be eating based on a points system. You're going to miss your morning doughnuts, but this isn't like any diet you might be used to. Whole30 co-founder Melissa Hartwig actually doesn't like calling the Whole30 a "diet" at all. “Most diets are spent white-knuckling your way through deprivation, restriction, hunger, tuning out your body’s signals, and obsessing over tracking and weighing your food,” Hartwig says. She doesn't think that type of behavior is sustainable, and if you've ever tried dieting, you probably agree.
Also, weight loss isn't the sole focus. You're not even supposed to weigh yourself, except for on days one and 30. Of course, sliding into your usually-too-tight jeans on week three feels pretty damn good, but Hartwig wants the focus to be on feeling better overall; weight loss is the cherry on top.
Why 30 Days?
Why not 27 or 43? “Thirty days is a good compromise. It takes 66 days for a habit to stick, but if we told someone to do this plan for that long, it’d be pretty intimidating,” Hartwig says. This amount of time is long enough for you to see results but not so long that you’ll be afraid to start.
Follow the Rules
No cheating, kids. Hartwig emphasizes the importance of sticking to this plan with zero slip-ups, so you give your body the complete break (from not-so-healthy food) it deserves. If life happens and a glass of wine or a piece of bread gets in the way, Hartwig recommends starting over. She wants you to feel the full benefits of the entire 30 days. We're not gonna lie: We've let a glass of wine slip before, we didn't start over, and still felt on top of the world at the end. (We aren't suggesting you do the same, but we're just being real with you.) For a full list of rules, visit Whole30.com.
Here are some official and unofficial rules we follow to get us through the program.
Do it with a friend.
Surround yourself with support. "Touch base with [other Whole30ers] every single day. Ask for help when you need it. Be authentic with your successes and your struggles. Share resources and take the time to offer advice to others where you can," Hartwig says. You can also follow Whole30 on Instagram to connect with like-minded people.
No fake treats.
This one was hard for us to grasp, so it deserves some explanation. If a Paleo pancake calls for nothing but Whole30-approved ingredients (eggs and bananas), the flapjack is still off-limits. The Whole30 wants you to change your habits and your emotional relationship with food. "Your brain doesn't know the difference between an almond flour brownie and your mom's recipe; it just knows you crave sugar. So if you keep eating those sweets during the 30 days, your habits aren't changing," Hartwig says. Don't shoot the messenger!
Read the Whole30 book.
The Whole30 book is the perfect thing to read while you’re visiting your in-laws or don’t feel like telling Aunt Sue for the 100th time what you do for a living. It’s helpful, it’s clear, and it will get you motivated. Want even more Whole30 recipes? Hartwig's latest Whole30 Cookbook may not have the nitty-gritty plan details, but the recipes are baller.
Clear your house of temptations.
Hartwig calls these "food without brakes." The ones that give "once you pop, you can't stop" true meaning. Say good-bye to everything on the no list. Toss it, pack it, send it to your grandmother. Just get it out.
Celebrate with coffee.
You can’t drink alcohol, but you can turn your afterwork happy hour into a midday coffee date. You can drink black coffee with a splash of nondairy, unsweetened carrageenan-free milk.
Plan and prepare.
This is Hartwig's No. 1 tip when it comes to success on the Whole30. No more grabbing a slice of pizza on the way home from work. "Before day one, you should have your first week of meals planned, grocery shopping done, pantry stocked, and you should have some Whole30-compliant emergency food stashed away," Hartwig says. Here's a Whole30-approved grocery list to get you started.
Don’t make it complicated.
You’ll be exposed to a ton of new, delicious recipes. If you know you’re not the cooking type, start simple. Instead of making the fancy egg-bake in a cast-iron pan, grab some eggs, veggies, sausage, and avocado then scramble your breakfast. Top it with (sugar-free) hot sauce, and you'll have yourself a solid meal in seven minutes. Don't be afraid to make that for breakfast five times a week; making similar meals over and over again is easier than trying to whip up (new) complicated ones.
Always make leftovers.
For lunch and dinner, make extra so you have leftovers. There’s nothing more rewarding than knowing your meals are already cooked and ready to go for the day. Pat yourself on the back and have a party.
The Struggle Is Real, but Worth It
The struggle is legit, so we asked Hartwig to give us advice to help us get through it. We'll leave you with this:
"The struggle is a normal, necessary part of the process. Changing your food is hard. Changing your habits is even harder. Changing your relationship with food is the hardest part of all. The process requires struggle—it’s how you know you’re growing—but don’t make it harder than it has to be! There is no such thing as the 'perfect Whole30,' so if your beef isn’t grass-fed or your travel meal doesn’t look exactly like our meal template, don’t sweat it. Your only job is to stick to the Whole30 rules for 30 days, and some days, you’ll have to let good enough be good enough. When you do struggle, remember why you took on the program in the first place, and don’t be overwhelmed by the big picture—just focus on the next day, or the next meal. Don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it, and high-five yourself for the victories you’re achieving every day you’re on the program, no matter how small. Even tiny progress is progress."
Looking for even more helpful info? Go straight to the source at Whole30.com.