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We all need a little food reset from time to time. If you’re looking for a plan that will get your rear in gear, we feel you. Here’s one way to do it: the Whole30 program.
What beginners need to know about Whole30
The Whole30 program is an intense, 30-day dietary detox that requires you to hyper-focus on whole, minimally-processed, easy-to-digest foods.
Notably, you can’t have sugar, alcohol, grains, beans, soy, dairy, processed snack foods, or additives (or “healthified” versions of processed snack foods) on the plan. Gulp.
However, it may help some people maintain moderate weight, identify problem foods, improve their skin, and even help them get on a better poop schedule.
Whole30 is a 30-day (duh) food plan that involves eating whole, unprocessed foods and minimizing refined sugars and additives. And yes, we’re talking about cutting out some 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 we’ve come to know and love (French fries are vegetables, right?). Instead, you’ll be swiping right for proteins and veggies. Let’s break that down.
Here are the rules that you’re going to alternatively love and hate for your 30 days on Whole30.
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.
What you (absolutely, positively) can’t eat
- No sugar or natural or artificial sweeteners. Nope, not even maple syrup.
- No booze. Unless you’re talking about the trace amount of alcohol in kombucha.
- 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, even 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*
Before you run away, there are good reasons 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 some people have experienced while on (and after) the Whole30. The eating plan may help you:
- Maintain a moderate weight. We can’t complain.
- Potentially improve health conditions. Headaches now only happen when we’re hungover.
- Resolve digestive problems. We can finally poop twice a day!
- Get clearer skin. No more teen acne in our 30s.
- Increase energy levels (aka Tiger Blood). What third cup of coffee?
- Access tasty recipes. Seriously, it’s delicious food.
- Transform taste buds. Cravings for pizza subside faster these days.
- Have more effective workouts. We didn’t stop to walk at mile 2 during a 4-mile run.
- Improve sleep. We had the energy to wake up for said run.
- Discover what foods make us feel like crap. This is different for everyone, and something some noticed once processed foods were added back into the diet on day 31. For some, it’s cheese. For others, it’s bread.
You’re going to miss your morning doughnuts for sure, but this isn’t like any diet you might be used to. Here’s why:
- You’re not tracking calories.
- You shouldn’t feel hungry.
- You won’t be eating based on a points system.
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, maintaining a moderate weight isn’t the sole focus. You’re not even supposed to weigh yourself, except for on days 1 and 30.
Of course, sliding into your usually-too-tight jeans on week 3 feels pretty damn good, but Hartwig wants the focus to be on feeling better overall. Weight management 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.
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 that 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: Some of us have 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.
Here are some official and unofficial rules and tips 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 hard times. 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, such as 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 helpful, clear, and will get you motivated. Want even more Whole30 ideas? Hartwig’s cookbooks may not have the nitty-gritty plan details, but the recipes are solid.
Clear your house of temptations
Hartwig calls these “foods without brakes.” The ones that give “once you pop, you can’t stop” true meaning. Say goodbye 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 after-work happy hour into a midday coffee date. You can drink black coffee with a splash of unsweetened nondairy creamer.
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 1, 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 shopping 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 7 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.
Here’s what 3 days on Whole30 might look like, and if you need more meal inspo? Check out our ideas for Whole30 breakfasts, dinners, snacks, Instant Pot meals, and slow cooker meals — and we have recipes and guides for individuals, couples, and even vegetarians, too. Can you tell we’re Whole30 folks?
- Breakfast: eggs fried in coconut oil
- Lunch: tuna salad over salad greens
- Dinner: taco bowl with cauliflower rice
- Snack: celery and baby carrots with almond butter
- Breakfast: smoothie with strawberries, almond butter, almond milk
- Lunch: chicken zoodle (zucchini noodle) soup
- Dinner: roast chicken, sweet potatoes, and asparagus
- Snack: grass-fed beef jerky stick
- Breakfast: scrambled eggs with avocado
- Lunch: chicken Caesar wrap (using Whole30-compliant dressing and wrap)
- Dinner: egg roll in a bowl
- Snack: pistachios and blueberries
The Whole30 is too legit to quit, 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. And high five yourself for the victories you’re achieving every day, no matter how small.