What the heck is a Whole 30, anyway?
So you think it might be time to do your first Whole 30 program. But just in case you haven’t decided to do that yet, what IS a Whole 30?
At it’s simplest, a Whole 30 is 30 days where you commit to eating only real, unprocessed food and is based on the New York Times’ Bestselling book It Starts With Food. But it’s not just avoiding the junk and losing some weight (in fact a key and often overlooked part of a Whole 30 is NOT weighing yourself!). It’s about taking all of the things in your diet that may be affecting your health negatively OUT so that you can begin to heal your gut from the inside out. And to do that, you must avoid all grains, added sugars, soy, dairy, beans, legumes or treats.
Are you still with me? Or did I just scare you off completely? Yep, I can still hear some screams echoing in the distance.
So why would you WANT to cut all of those things out of your diet as part of a Whole 30? Well, even if you’re not convinced that you want to be permanently Paleo, it is a fantastic place to start! The Whole 30 is in fact what made me realize that eating Paleo made me feel the best and healthiest than I ever had. But it can also be used as a kind of reset for your body, as the beginning of an elimination diet to identify and deal with food allergies or intolerances, or for a whole other bunch of reasons like managing autoimmune issues like my Hashimoto’s Disease. I’ll delve more into those reasons a little more later.
This post contains affiliate links. Read what that means to you here.
(If you’ve not yet convinced, check out Melissa Joulwan’s 30 Reasons To Do A Whole 30 post here!)
So, what if you’ve already read the New York Times’ Bestselling book? What if you’ve already read about or seen plenty of people have success following the Whole 30 program and you think that it’s something you want to do? Now what?
Commit Yourself to the Whole 30 Program
Maybe 30 days sound easy peasy. Maybe you’re freaking terrified. Me? I was what is probably typical: a mixture of both. I was desperate to see if changing how I ate would really change how I felt – especially when it came to managing my thyroid issues. But I was also hesitant to start. Like many people, I have a history of disordered eating. I was terrified of both ends of the spectrum: that I wouldn’t be able to manage 30 days of a Whole 30 at all (thus trapping myself in another cycle of food “failure” and the resulting body image negativity that would ensue) OR that I wouldn’t be able to let go of all these food “rules” afterwards, thus launching me yet again into the food weighing “everything is bad for me” mode of existence that I had spent years fighting to drag myself away from.
Luckily, neither of those two fears were founded on anything other than my own anxiety. But before you commit to your first Whole 30, I think it’s a good idea to face any worries or concerns you might have. They may seem small or insignificant, but be honest with yourself: does the idea of going “without” your favorite glass of red / dark chocolate / paleo pancakes or similar bring out an emotional response in you? If it does, it’s ok! Maybe you’re just scared eating this way will be boring and you won’t be able to stick to it. Maybe you depend on your treat foods more than you thought. Taking on your first Whole 30 under those circumstances is scary: you’re letting go of your food habits and in some cases emotional food crutches or connections you maybe didn’t realize you even had. That’s not easy.
But, when you’re ready, take a moment to think about what will change for you (and your habits) on your first Whole 30. Write things down if you need to. Think about what your potential worries or difficulties might be and – now I’m really getting hippy-ish on you – realize that whatever they are, you WILL be able to work your way through them. And then you will be ready: time to commit to 30 days of real food eating and living.
You can do it!
Prepare yourself for the Whole 30 mentally
You’ve already done a lot of this preparation if you followed my advice above. If you know what scares you, or where you may be vulnerable to sliding off the edge of the Whole 30 program, then you’re already miles ahead of the game! Next, I really recommend that you spend some time thinking about what you want to achieve through your Whole 30. And, no, weight loss on its own is NOT a good answer!
- Are you trying to break your sugar habit?
- Do you want to improve specific health concerns like joint pain or thyroid issues?
- Are you trying to figure out how good your body can feel?
- Do you suspect that you have food allergies or intolerances that you can narrow down in the reintroduction phase?
Those are just some ideas about things you might be motivated by. Everybody’s “why” is going to be different, so spend time figuring out what YOU want to know, find out or achieve through these 30 days. They are YOUR days! Make them work for you.
What attracted me to the Whole 30 wasn’t just the more quantifiable benefits I mentioned earlier. What I personally wanted to get from it was a better understanding of my own body. To teach myself what the difference was between truly being hungry and just emotionally “hungry”. I wanted to learn to trust my body: to know that I could eat nutrient dense food without having to worry all the time about what was “right” or “healthy”. I wanted to prove that my body could manage itself far better than my overly stressed out mind could! I wanted to see if “just eating real food” could break the final barrier between “healthy eating” and NATURAL eating.
That was my motivation for starting a Whole 30 and I relied on that motivation heavily at some points! What is your motivation? What do you want to achieve?
Know what you can eat on the Whole 30
Obviously, this is crucial. At first the list of things you can’t have on a Whole 30 program may seem overwhelming. People seem to spend more time worrying about this than anything else. But in many ways, it’s very simple! You can eat real, unprocessed food of any kind: meat, fish, seafood, eggs, vegetables, fruit, good fats and oils, plus small amounts of nuts and seeds. So far, so good! The chart below was created by Diane Sanfilippo of Balanced Bites, but it’s a handy summary that applies to the Whole 30, too. Read the rest of her awesome post on the US Food Pyramid here!
But, to clarify, here is a list of things that are not permitted on the Whole 30 program:
- Sugar: none whatsoever, of any kind. This includes natural sweeteners like honey, maple syrup and agave nectar as well as chemical / processed versions.
- Processed Foods: this might seem obvious, but some processed foods are sneaky. Protein bars or powders are included in this!
- Grains: this includes corn, which is not a vegetable, as well as so-called “pseudo-grains” like quinoa.
- Dairy: the exception is clarified butter, or ghee – everything else is out.
- Beans or Legumes: no peanuts, soy products or derivatives, peas or lentils, either! An exception: green beans, sugar snap peas and snow peas are a-ok as they are more pod than “bean”.
- Potatoes: sweet potatoes are fine, though.
- Vegetable oils: canola, sunflower and soybean oils are no go. Stick to coconut oil for cooking and olive oil for salads or dressings.
- Any kind of “Paleo-fied” treats, goodies or recreations: no paleo pancakes, baking or versions of junk food.
There are some non-food items to be avoided, too: alcohol, drugs and tobacco are no bueno! Lastly: do NOT weigh yourself throughout the 30 days. That’s kind of missing the point in the same way as making “Paleo” pancakes. Here is a more detailed description of foods you need to avoid if you have any questions.
If you really want to understand WHY all of the above list need to be avoided, I highly recommend that you read (and re-read!) the Whole 30 creators’ book It Starts With Food. Seriously, the Kindle version of it is less than $10. It is the best foundation on which to start a Whole 30 and will show you how to take what you have learned from your own Whole 30 and apply it to your life long after your 30 days are over. You can also find plenty of starter information on their website, Whole 9 Life. If you still have questions about whether or not specific foods are allowed on the Whole 30 or not, you should check out this page, the official “Can I have…” page!
Know what to expect on the Whole 30
The first week is not the most fun you will ever have, to be honest. At various times you will be tired, grumpy and maybe even a little bored. It’s at these challenging times that you’ll want to look back at what you did to prepare yourself for your Whole 30 mentally. Yep, hippie-me is back. But she’s right, too! All of that thinking and preparing time will really help you in those moments when you’re not feeling quite so positive about this Whole 30 thing as you were before you started! Check out the Whole 9 timeline here.
There are going to be times when the Whole 30 program seems amazingly easy. There are going to be other times when it seems like the hardest thing in the world. You can get through those rough patches, though. Remembering WHY I wanted to do this in the first place kept me on track at some times when I really, honestly, just wanted to have a damn glass of wine. And then I reluctantly made myself some tea instead and felt glad that I hadn’t reached for the booze like I usually would.
You know what else kept me on track? Being prepared: stocking my kitchen with everything I needed, having a food plan and batch cooking so I was never without easy Whole 30 compliant eats.
More on all of those things are to follow in Part 2 and beyond!
This is a fantastic post, and I can relate to so much of what you have just said here, starting with the thyroid issues and the history of disorderd eating!
I think Whole 30 is a great “reset” for most people – after all, who couldn’t benefit from eating just REAL food and avoiding all the things that might be causing them problems?
The issue I have with Whole 30 is that there is more focus on eating animal protein than on eating vegetables. My personal food pyramid looks a lot like theirs, except the bottom two sections are inverted. Also, when I checked into the forum they gave me a lot of trouble about drinking green smoothies 🙁 I know most people put too much fruit in their smoothies and they are not well-balanced, but for me green smoothies have been integral part of healing my digestive system and I make a huge effort to make sure they are well balanced and not “sugar-fests” 😉
Ah, I guess I got off on a bit of a rant there, didn’t I? Sorry about that. And to think it all started with me wanting to tell you that your blog is awesome 🙂
I hear you on it sometimes feeling like a meat-fest! I think the trick when looking at that pyramid is to think about it in terms of nutrient density and energy RATHER than quantities. I know that in terms of AMOUNTs that I eat, veggies far outweigh the meat.
I do understand what they’re getting at with the smoothie thing for the reasons you mentioned – lots of people use them to mainline (fruit) sugar. But, honestly, if you have found something that works for you, I say go for it. The main point of a Whole 30 is to give you a sound platform from which to experiment so that you can tweak your diet and lifestyle to suit YOU. If smoothies fit into your life and make you feel good, then – perfect!
Thank you for your kind words, I really appreciate you stopping by 🙂
Wow. No offense, but honestly, this sounds a lot like the crazy Candida Cult/Diet Fad. I did my research on that to find out how it goes. I then tried it in last November for 2 weeks and although I was eating like crazy (like every 15 minutes I was hungry). I ended up in a ketosis and started to look like Skeletor. Had to stop and that is why I did the diet for only two weeks. I was committed to it as long as it takes (some people it’s 6 months or more, depending on how long they have been under the Candida attack.) Just didn’t want to end up in the ER.
The symptoms from fasting (which this seems to be basically to me, since you are getting rid of most carbs in your diet) seem to be always similar no matter what diet it is (Euphoria, Toxins released that make you feel sick, Feeling lightened, Clear thoughts, Loosing weight, Cravings, Mood changes and so forth, you can Google for more). Well these fads come and go but in the end they seem all to be the same.
I don’t know, they just seem odd to me, all. I just feel bad for my self since I was naive enough to try one of them myself. Why not just simply try to limit some things you eat that are not the best choices for you instead of eliminating almost everything in your diet.
My New Year’s resolution went as following: don’t eat anything sweet (pastries, cakes, cookies, candy and so forth) unless in company and they are having them too. And if having cookies limit the portion to two and others just one small serving. To me this has worked great and I am seeing the benefits already.
And FYI I do eat a healthy diet, get the right nutrients, vitamins, minerals etc. But occasionally I do eat junk, and I don’t think it is going to do me that much harm if I keep it at minimum. Now the bigger thing would be for people to just stop burning firewood and other things related and avoid being exposed to toxic particulates and other gaseous emissions, which will kill you a lot quicker than you know. 😉 Maybe do your next post on those.
I don’t think you get this, it’s not a diet it’s a way of living. Read the books practical paleo, wheat belly or in have been reading step by step paleo from Amazon e-books. If you were looking for a quick fix, yeah this can do it but the point of this diet is to remove this stuff from your diet and than in most cases slowly bring back the foods in your diet taken out and see how they affect your system. Gut health is the most important. Your gut is what keeps you healthy, it’s the most important part of your body because it breaks down your food and you vet you nutrients from there. When your gut isn’t functioning right, your body isn’t functioning right, so read these books cause I am not going to explain this anymore. You can feel the way about this the way you want, I really don’t care but read these books especially the Step by Step Paleo book one and two, he has more coming out too. They outline the different types of paleo diets and how you can benefit. Hope this is helpful.
Really? Is that how you interpreted this? That really bums me out, to be honest, especially as I stressed that a Whole 30 is not about weight loss at all. This is a Paleo website with Paleo recipes because that is my “way of living”. I am very familiar with those books and the fact that a Whole 30 is the BEGINNING of a journey.
What I was trying to convey – to people who may not have ever come across or heard of the Whole 30 – was that it was a gateway to exploring a whole range of issues and a way to approach simple, natural, approachable eating that will bring you back in touch with your body.
This is part of a series that will eventually conclude with the elements you were talking about: reintroduction, gut health and finding your own personal balance.
I wasn’t commenting on the program, I was commenting on the person above. I was mad when she called it a fad diet. Your posts are amAzing and the information is so helpful. I am pursuing to help me out with.my ways of eating. Sorry for the confusion.
That makes so much more sense – thank you for clarifying! I was so worried I was coming across in a totally unhelpful way and wondering how I could re-write it to improve. Phew.
What a great site. Can’t wait to give this a try 🙂
I’ve been eating a Paleo diet for about two months now but am now considering doing the Whole 30 because I’m still having some female issues. I don’t know if my problem is sugar (I have been using the approved natural sweeteners) but I’m going to discuss that with my new dr on Tuesday. I’m going to try to get him to test my thyroid as well so I’m all clear befor I start this diet. I’ve been doing so well on paleo in general, no weight loss but my body IS changing. My pants fit better, my sleep has improved and my digestion has also improved. I also take a probiotic daily. Anyway, I may start in Jan. or I may wait until Feb. but I do plan on doing it if my dr approves. Thanks for the free help you do offer, I take advantage and read, read, read as much info as I can.
Thank you so much! Glad to help where I can. I think a Whole30 is a great place to start troubleshooting, I’m actually wrapping up one now myself 🙂
Just an FYI…I believe white potatoes are now allowed in the Whole30 program.
Yup, they are! They weren’t when I wrote this post though, so I’ll take another look and update it 🙂
really??? that’s FANTASTIC. because they grow where I live and we have part of a 50-lb bag left and I was feeling bad about the potential for them rotting while I’m whole-30-ing. I am sure they’re to be used in moderation, but I really like to toss some in a stew or something along the way. I hate to waste good food (local, fresh… etc)
You’re right about the moderation, but adding them in for some extra carbs is fine… just no french fries allowed! 😉
I love your post! Thank you! I really struggle with the Whole 30 inducing sort of a disordered eating pattern for me. I get all ramped up and excited at the beginning (eat one last pizza and ice cream the night before) and then have gone all in. By about day 14 I am usually feeling worse so I end up giving up and then in all my guilt start the cycle all over again. I stopped even attempting a whole 30 for about 8 months and am interested in trying again, but am scared of starting this cycle again. I struggle the most with thinking “I can’t do it this month, because I have that dinner party (or insert other social gathering plans).” Do you have any other advice for beating this? I definitely will try out what you suggested in your post but would love to hear more of your thoughts on this! Thank you!!
Whole30 have a great article about whether or not the program is appropriate for those who struggle with disordered eating here, which might be a useful read to start with. You say that by about half way through, you feel worse – can you elaborate on how so? I wonder if perhaps you are not eating enough or not getting enough carbs / fat to feel satiated? I wrote this post on things that often trip people up on a Whole30 which might help a little. When it comes to managing social plans that revolve around food, like dinner / birthday parties, I would suggest eating before you go and bringing some snacks of with you – or even a plate of food that you can share if it’s more of a pot luck type thing. The Whole30 people also put together this guide for meals when you need to eat out – hope that helps! 🙂
Not understandable to me..I understand about processed food, but grains? Beans and vegetables? Is there any specific Doctor research about this? If you leave out a lot vitamin/ protein you will have a lack of necessary things your body needs to function. Careful people, don’t trust everything you read it.
You’re not going to lack in vitamins and protein if you follow the Whole30, since you will be eating plenty of vegetables and healthy proteins even without grains and legumes. They have done extensive research in coming up with this program and people have been following it to great success for years. It’s important to bear in mind that it is only a 30 day program and you’re not supposed to follow it for life. Its purpose is to remove all the foods that you could potentially find disagree with you and to break the negative habits you may have revolving around food. After the 30 days, you slowly reintroduce foods back to see what you tolerate or not and to isolate foods that you rely on emotionally, for example. All the information about the program is actually available for free on their website, so if you have lots of questions, I really recommend you check it out.