Last year I knew I was unhealthy. I knew it because I felt it. It wasn’t just my weight, it was my energy levels, it was my skin, it was my aches and pains—they all told me I was unhealthy. And I was ready to listen to my body and do something about it.
But what was I going to do?
Over the past two years I had seen posts and done a little research into Whole30, but I had no idea what it actually was. I knew it was extreme, and I knew I needed extreme. So I started to read more about it.
As I researched, I realized this was the plan I was looking for. I wasn’t looking for a diet to lose weight quick. I wanted knowledge. I wasn’t afraid of putting in some hard work, but I wanted to know that I would come out the other side empowered and inspired to keep going.
That is what Whole30 has done for me.
I have committed to openly sharing my health journey, and Whole30 has been a big part of that. My relationship with food has changed in the past nine months and I think yours can too.
My goal is to share somewhat of a beginner’s guide to the plan. Whether you are looking to make some changes yourself, or you are simply curious what all the Whole30 hype is about—please keep reading.
1) Who is Whole30 for?
Whole30 if for people who are sick and tired of being sick and tired.
That’s me. Maybe it’s you too. This plan is not specifically for male or female, old or young, overweight or skinny people. It’s adaptable and it’s for anyone.
2) What is Whole30?
Whole30 is a 30-day plan to reset your relationship with food. The creator, Melissa Hartwig, is clear that it’s not a diet. Diets are temporary. Diets work fast. Diets focus on weight loss.
Whole30 focuses on learning your body. What foods fuel your body well? What foods make your body react poorly?
Whole30 aims to eliminate inflammation-causing foods for 30 days and then slowly reintroduce them over the next 15 days to see how your body reacts to them. The foods it recommends to remove are done so because they are known to cause reactions in some people.
Are they all affecting you when you eat them? Probably not. But the truth is, I didn’t know what in my diet was affecting me because I had never isolated any specific foods.
By removing all these foods for 30 days, you are giving your body a chance to heal itself. When you start reintroducing these food items one group at a time, you will notice if something triggers an unpleasant reaction. These reactions could be digestive, skin related, headaches, weight gain . . . and the list goes on!
You then have the knowledge to make your future food decisions.
My husband, for example, knew for a while that pizza messed up his stomach. But what was it about pizza? Was it the cheese? Was it the gluten in the crust? Was it the meat toppings he was choosing? By isolating each of these areas in reintroduction, he now knows dairy is not kind to his stomach.
He can use this knowledge to make better food choices when he is out. If there is a choice between cake and ice cream, he knows he likes the ice cream more, but then has to decide whether it is worth the stomachache later. Poor Brian! He’ll probably end up passing on both, because if he can’t have ice cream what’s the fun in cake?!
Whole30 is about arming yourself with knowledge. It is about learning to make choices that serve you, not learning to follow a list of rules to get typical results.
If you are looking for a temporary meal plan that will make you drop some pounds fast so you can then go right back to your old habits—this is not for you.
If you are tired of yo-yoing and looking for something sustainable—this may be for you.
3) What do I have to give up?
I’ll be honest, the list is daunting! So, I’ll just list off the major things quick—like ripping off a Band-Aid!
Dairy—cow, goat, sheep products
ALL grains—even gluten-free ones
Sugar—natural and artificial
Legumes—beans, soy, peanuts
Additives—sulphites, msg, carrageenan
Alcohol—not even in cooking
Those are the basic things to avoid.
But then it gets into the real heart of the matter.
There are three Key Principles that will make or break your overall success:
- No baked goods.
This one rule might have helped me succeed in changing my habits more than anything else.
If I am craving a brownie and I make a delicious concoction with ground up almonds and dates and cacao and use all ingredients that are “approved”, my mind knows that. But all my taste buds know is that I wanted something sweet and I got it. This does nothing to change my actual cravings and habits.
To follow this path out, think of yourself one week after you have finished a strict diet. Every evening when the kids are finally in bed, you have been enjoying a “fake” treat. But suddenly those restrictions are no longer around you and you find yourself slowly reaching for the real, much more satisfying, brownie.
Maybe it takes you more than a week to slip back into your old ways. But when you swap out ingredients to create “just as good” treats, you have not changed habits, you have just temporarily substituted what you really want.
Imagine the same scenario at three o’clock in the afternoon. You are tired and just want chocolate so bad. But you are on a diet. So instead you grab a handful of berries and a banana.
You made a healthy choice. But you still made a sweet choice.
You had a sweet craving and you fed it. When your willpower weakens and your diet guidelines relax, that three o’clock craving is still there and this time you will reach for the chocolate. I know. I’m talking about myself.
But what if you could actually defeat that craving?
You can tackle it one of two ways:
Option One: You can eat a bigger, more fat-filled lunch that will carry over until your evening meal. I know, “fat filled” doesn’t usually come into play when we are talking about getting healthy.
But good fats fill you up and give you energy. It’s not a bad thing. If you know you ate a satisfying lunch, wait five minutes when that craving comes up. Are you really hungry? Or are you just stressed out or bored?
Letting the craving pass unsatisfied tells your mind you don’t really need sugar at that moment. You are retraining your habits.
Option Two: Maybe you wait five minutes and your stomach starts to rumble and the desire just gets stronger. You really are hungry! Don’t just reach for something sweet—that’s feeding your normal habits and cravings.
Instead, be prepared with a protein and fat packed snack. This could be nuts, boiled eggs, lunch meat, and maybe even a banana with the protein. Basically, have a mini-meal. If you can do it sitting at a table, even better!
Train your mind to know you eat planned, full meals and don’t just snack mindlessly throughout the day.
Changing your habits is hard. It takes time. But when I realize it took me over 30 years to create these habits, it makes it a little easier to give myself some time to change them.
- No Weighing Yourself
Seeing the numbers go down on a scale is super motivating. But the same number over and over can make you lose all motivation. If you have ever been on a diet before, you know this first hand.
You have made such hard choices for an entire week. You have passed up baked goods, you have menu planned, you have gone out and exercised. You step on the scale ready to see the results of all your hard work. And the number has not changed from the week before.
All that hard work seems pointless. You might as well just eat the donut today, it didn’t do any good to pass it up last week.
Or maybe you lost weight, but it wasn’t quite as big as you wanted. So this week you will starve yourself a little more. You’ll push harder in your training. You know this kind of dedication and sacrifice is not sustainable, but you just want to reach that goal quickly.
Real life change takes time.
And real health means so much more than a number. Do not sabotage your success by playing head games with a scale.
If you really follow the rules of Whole30, you weigh yourself on Day 1 and Day 30. And chances are the numbers will go down. They have for me each time I have done it.
But that was just one of the results I have noticed—not the whole picture.
- No Counting Things
This is one of the things I love most about Whole30!
I don’t count calories! I don’t count macros! I don’t count points! I just eat! It’s glorious!
I am super unorganized at tracking things. I start and then I don’t follow through. Yes, I need to be more disciplined, but I need to be more disciplined in a lot of areas of my life.
Adding up calories or counting points is not an area I want to give my energy.
I focus on putting healthy, non-processed foods into my body and I do it until I’m full and then I stop.
It’s an amazing concept really.
Okay, enough with what you can’t do…
4) What can I eat?
So much good food!
For real. Meat, vegetables, fruit, nuts, oils—it’s all fair game!
Here’s a big thing for me: you don’t have to cut out carbs. Woohoo! I eat potatoes when I am doing a Whole30. I don’t make homemade chips or French fries (that goes along with fake baked goods), but I do enjoy potatoes as an addition to a lot of meals.
Why do I love this? It all goes back to sustainability and motivation.
I know I could lose weight faster if I cut out the majority of my carbohydrate intake. But I’m not looking for a fast solution. I’m trying to change my habits and lifestyle.
I can be as boring or as creative as I want when I am following Whole30. I could eat chicken and broccoli every day for lunch and dinner. Yuck! That would make me go crazy! Or I could spend hours in the kitchen every evening making a variety of gourmet dishes from scratch.
I recommend falling somewhere between repetitive meals and time-consuming meals.
I have learned so much about cooking and tried so many new things in the past year. It’s amazing how much your taste buds change when you totally remove sugar from your diet.
I love flavor now. I love experimenting with new ingredients and recipes.
Will this happen for everyone who follows Whole30? No.
It’s like anything else in life, you will get out what you put in.
5) How Hard is this really?
We’ve all said it, “I could never go without chocolate for 30 days!” Or “I just can’t drink my coffee black”.
Right away some of you have read these rules and told yourself, this is too hard for me.
Melissa Hartwig is maybe most famous for her tough love on this subject. You can find her now famous response on the official whole30 website.
This is not hard. Don’t you dare tell us this is hard. Fighting cancer is hard. Birthing a baby is hard. Losing a parent is hard. Drinking your coffee black. Is. Not. Hard. You’ve done harder things than this, and you have no excuse not to complete the program as written. It’s only thirty days, and it’s for the most important health cause on earth—the only physical body you will ever have in this lifetime.
I agree. There are harder things in life than drinking black coffee. I have gone through one of the hardest things anyone can face in life when I lost my son. I’m not even going to compare the two.
But that said—THIS IS HARD!
It is hard for the same reason grief is hard. It forces us to get real with our own thoughts. You will have to fight through every excuse you or someone else will throw at you. You will have to determine beforehand that there are no “cheat days” and that you can’t tell yourself “just this one time”.
You will have to know your health is worth more than 30 days of sacrifice.
I think there were a few things that helped me achieve that focus and complete a “cheat-free” Whole30.
First, I bought the book * (Whole30:The Official 30 Day Guide or if you are in the UK, this version) a month before I started.
I read the book. I absorbed the message into my heart. I wanted to change my habits and not just achieve a quick fix. I recommend you do the same. If you aren’t going to buy the book, at least spend some time on the website.
Next, I had a partner.
Brian was 100% committed along with me to do this thing. This was best-case scenario and I realize that. My partner was my best friend who also happens to live in the same house as me, do life with me daily, and had my best interest at heart.
If you are single or your spouse is not interested in participating, I believe you can still be successful. You can enlist accountability in other friends who are going solo, or even find an online community.
If you can’t find current accountability, find someone who has gone through it in the past and will tell you, “Yes, it’s hard, but it’s possible!” (Cough cough, me!)
I’m not saying Whole30 is for everyone. There are very few things in life that are for everyone. But it was for me. And maybe it is for you. Are you willing to find out?
*This post contains an affiliate link. That means if you clink on the link and buy the book, I get a portion of the sale and you don’t pay any extra!