a few weeks ago i posted about my experience doing the whole30, and since them i’ve gotten a few texts, emails, and in person questions asking me more about it, so here you go! whether you’ve done one yourself, or think it’s whacko, or are considering doing one yourself, read this and let me know what you think!
whole30 is a month long food experiment (at least that’s what we call it in our house) in which you strip away foods that may be causing negative effects in your body in order to push reset. these foods can cause inflammation, affect your metabolism, your sleep, etc. so you to take them away for 30 days and then slowly reintroduce them back in when your body is in a blank slate status so see which of them you should probably live without and which don’t seem to affect you that much.
you can read much, much more about whole30 on their website or in their related books, but here’s the skinny: for thirty days, you eat only whole, unprocessed meat, seafood, vegetables, fruit, and good fats.
you don’t eat any kind of sugar/sweetener (real or fake and that includes the “healthy” ones like honey, agave, etc.), alcohol, any grains, legumes, soy, dairy, or carrageenan/MSG/sulfites.
this doesn’t seem too hard until you start reading labels and realize that the aforementioned ingredients are in freaking everything. sugar, soy and grains are snuck into so much of the food we eat! there are foods that are whole30 compliant that fit the parameters and help make a whole30 successful, but it takes time to track them down.
oh, and you can’t weigh yourself for the duration of the 30 days. this is not just because whole30 isn’t a diet or weight loss program (although you will probably lose some weight if you do it- both times i did it i lost ten pounds), but because it is about shifting and transforming your relationship to food, which for many of us (ok, at least for me!) is also connected to the numbers on the scale. see my previous post about this and my 5 billion body issues.
last thing? whole30 is all or nothing. dramatic i know! but it’s 30 days of no slips, no cheating, so sneaking, no secret eating, so tasting just one bite of this or sampling a spoonful of that. this is what held me up for so long. i really didn’t think i could go for thirty days without eating a teensy bit of something on the forbidden list. spoiler alert: i did it without any mess ups! twice!
in case this post sounds like i sailed through the thirty days without complications? SO not true. some days it's going to suck. you're going cold turkey on lots of staples and your body may freak out. i had major digestive issues the third week, got cranky without sugary treats, really missed the ritual of wine or a cocktail after a long day or in social situations, wanted to default to some of my fast and easy routines (like toast for breakfast), etc. i longed for homemade baked cookies and alcohol! i really wanted to mindlessly snack. but i got through it, and then was glad when i did.
based only on my personal experience, here are some tips that i think help going into a whole30 food experiment.
- look at your calendar and make sure you can really commit for thirty full days. both of the times i’ve done it, i made sure to plan it knowing that it didn’t coincide with important social events (ahem, like my birthday, my cousin’s wedding, matt’s birthday). it isn’t that i couldn’t have done whole30 during those times, but it is much harder to stay compliant when you are eating a lot at others’ homes, restaurants or while you’re traveling. for my cousin’s wedding which was across the country, i knew that we would be eating at either friends and families houses or in restaurants while we were there, so it would make that time more stressful than enjoyable to be on whole30 in that context. that isn’t to say that i went crazy and ate whatever i wanted, since i had only recently finished my first round of whole30. i did choose carefully what i ate and drank, but also didn’t feel guilty about it because i was being intentional and selective. so yes, i had cheesesteaks, a hoagie, a clamshell (a powdered donut stuffed with custardy frosting), and my friend shelly’s amazing homemade scones.
- get one of the whole30 books. you don’t have to buy it; check it out of the library or borrow someone’s. mine was given to me as a birthday present. this isn’t imperative, as you can also look up stuff online; there are so many resources on different websites! i still liked having a physical guidebook with recipes, what to expect during the month and the philosophy behind whole30. i looked at it all the time, and made quite a few of the recipes out of it.
- do it with someone else! my first round matt did it with me, and my sister and some friends were also doing it at the same time. it really helped to be doing it with other people because we could text each other or complain or count down the days together. when matt did it with me he cooked a lot, which made it easier to stay on track. it also made it a lot more doable as a family!
- expect to spend waaaaay more time the first week or two grocery shopping and looking at labels. i already look at labels, but there are so many ingredients that are thrown in to items that you would never expect and so many aren’t allowed on whole30 that checking every single thing you normally buy adds a healthy amount of time to your shopping trip. i love chicken sausages because they are an easy and healthy protein. guess what! almost all of them have 2% or less of sugar (plus other non-compliant ingredients) other items that took some time to find? compliant versions of chicken stock, coconut milk, dijon mustard, alternatives to soy sauce, kombucha. the first few weeks i did a lot of “can i eat this?” and then googling it in the grocery aisle or at home in my kitchen.
- if you have kids and you can swing it, go shopping without your kids! they aren’t so into the extra time that it takes to read the labels and hunt for compliant food. if you do take your kids along (which i inevitably had to), make it a trip where you’re buying just vegetables, fruit and proteins that have no additives where you have to scan the label.
- expect to go shopping more often and to (probably) spend more money than usual. shopping for whole foods means lots of trips to the store or farmer’s market. i found myself underestimating how quickly i’d go through fresh vegetables since you’re eating them at every meal.
- prepare to chop a lot! i don’t think it’s that much more prep than we usually do for meals, but since you aren’t using other fillers in your meals (sauces, pasta, rice, grains), you have to build flavor and variety with whole foods….which means chopping, peeling, dicing!
- leftovers are your friend. make extra of any compliant recipe! i loved big ole recipes of soup, ragu, curry, etc. that i could eat throughout the week, streamlining meal prep. i’d throw them over cauliflower rice (frozen from trader joe’s or make it yourself) or sweet potatoes or potatoes. i’d make a big batch of compliant chicken sausage, roasted or grilled meat, roasted vegetables and then mix and match at different meals. hearty kale based salads can last for more than one meal. i’d also make a big salad without dressing, then add protein, more veggies and a homemade dressing whenever i was ready to eat.
- expect to make new recipes or figure out how to tweak recipes you know and love.
- follow whole30 accounts on social media. on instagram i follow whole30, whole30recipes, whole30approved, and wholelifesisters just to name a few. i also follow whole30 on facebook. whole30recipes has great and diverse recipes every day!
- give yourself 10 minutes to let cravings pass. and guess what? they will!
- exercise your “it’s ok to say no” muscle! this one is really, really hard for me. i am so influenced by what others around me are eating, and i often sabotage myself by mentally making good choices and then changing my mind dependent on what others are eating. when people offer me food i feel bad saying no, or i feel obligated, or i feel high maintenance saying, “oh, sorry i can’t eat that.” but saying no isn’t as big of a deal as you think it is, and no one really cares. there are food pushers for sure (and you realize that if you spend any time with other people and food and you are on whole30 or any other type of food modification), but saying no repeatedly is a good way to remind yourself that you are in control of what goes into your body. remember: you aren’t passively inhaling food, you choose every item that enters your mouth.
- include your kids! yes, really! my girls are pretty good eaters, but they both have complicated lists of foods they won’t eat. if you are shifting towards eating less crap and more whole food, shouldn’t they be too? this is what it looked like in our house: if we had blt’s, i had a blt salad (with compliant bacon) and my kids ate blt's on whole wheat bread. if we had chicken curry, i ate it over cauliflower rice with lots of vegetables and they had regular rice with a little bit of curry and lots of vegetables. if we had carne asada i skipped the tortillas & sour cream or cheese but had all the compliant fixings (salsa, guacamole, etc.) we didn’t make two entirely different meals: a whole30 one and a kid one. we just cooked healthy whole food and then let them keep some of the items that were taking a break from. for some families the hardest part for kids might be flavored yogurts and processed snacks. my kids don’t eat that many processed snacks; however in their lunches they might have some crackers or pretzels, and sometimes they’ll have pasta or a half-sandwich. otherwise they have veggies, fruit and nuts. i didn’t mix up their breakfasts and lunches that much and turn them into whole30 meals, but dinner was a shared activity. i also didn’t make it that much of a big deal with my kids. i just said, “mommy and daddy are doing a food experiment to see if there are certain things that don’t make our bodies feel as good or as string. sometimes we eat too much sugar or foods that aren’t as healthy for us so right now we are trying to think about how we can eat without them.”
- these were my friends: (you still have to check the labels) gt’s brand of kombucha (no added sugar), applegate brand deli meat, saag’s chicken bratwurst, sweet and regular potatoes, trader joe’s ghee, coconut oil, cauliflower rice & their cruciferous crunch bag of kale/cabbage/brussel sprouts/broccoli, pederson’s bacon, avocados, la croix sparkling water! plus of course so many versions of salads and roasting everything!
- a sampling of whole30 from my month:
(those bean or lentil looking things were actually seeds)
(a typical breakfast for me-even though i don't usually eat eggs! scrambled eggs with veggies and compliant sausages. otherwise i ate dinner leftovers :))
roasting up some of trader joe's cruciferous mix
typical lunch: grilled protein plus some vegetables
i didn't make this pretty curry, but chicken curry was a favorite! i used this recipe, and added in lots more vegetables (including potatoes) than it calls for.
i'm not in the cult of whole30, but it did give me some great and sustainable tools to apply to the rest of my life, and i'm eating way healthier and cleaner than i was. it acted as a great reset for me, and the second round was easier in a lot of ways than the first.
questions? whole30 experiences of your own that are the same or different? still think i'm crazy? (that's ok too)
talk to me.