I have always held the philosophy that you should enjoy yourself and enjoy food, within moderation. Life is too short. I had never been one to ‘diet’ or go along with something food-related in which you had to be ‘compliant’. That word was a real turn off for me when I first heard of Whole30. I thought ‘compliant?! What is this, a cult?’ It certainly seemed that way to me.
However, a dear friend of mine insisted on doing this program in order to lose weight in a quick span of time. (But more importantly, Whole30 will change your eating habits and food choices beyond one month). She was so clearly dreading the next 30 days of her life, seemingly confined to salad and expensive recipes requiring pricey pantry items like arrowroot starch and coconut aminos.
The strict and detailed guidelines of Whole30 intrigued me as she informed me ‘you’ll be reading the ingredient labels of every single thing you pick up’. Sure, it sounded somewhat anal, and this program would turn you into ‘that person’ in the grocery store. But as I read through the ‘rules’ of Whole30, I was already learning so much. I had no idea what things like ‘carageen’, ‘soy lechtin’, and ‘yeast extract’ were, yet they were on the list of no-nos for Whole30. I picked up random items in my own pantry to see if they contained these mystery ingredients – they did.
Now, my friend who was doing Whole30 knew how to cook, but wasn’t a freak about engineering new recipes like me, especially when balancing a full time job and other normal, adult commitments. To aid her journey, I knew I wanted to concoct a combination of practical recipes that complied with Whole30’s rules – and weren’t salad. Working within the confines of such meticulous rules became an awesome creative challenge to me as a cook and quickly warped into an obsession as I set out to prove that any ‘diet’ can be made do-able, practical, enjoyable and flavorful – you just have to look at it the right way!
As I designed a meal plan for Whole30-ers, I realized “maybe I can do this too”. It seems to be effective and I have been trying to find a routine forever that helped me lose weight and feel good without starving. However, Whole30 is about way more than that. Once you know what the rules are, you start paying attention to ingredients and realize you’re feeling good about what’s going into your body, it’s not just about losing weight. It’s about instilling good eating habits in yourself. It may sound cheesy, but I’m serious – I truly think it’s an effective way to learn about clean eating, improve your health, and you can eat great food.
Sure, cutting out diet coke (my nectar of the gods) and dessert (I was working as a pastry chef at an all dessert restaurant when I started Whole30) was going to SUCK, but with the new, exciting alternatives – and major pay off regarding my health – I was up for it.
Now let’s look at the essential make up of Whole30.
What exactly is compliant?
- Moderate portions of meat, seafood, and eggs
- Lots of vegetables; some fruit
- Plenty of natural fats
- Herbs, spices, and seasonings
In short and according to the updated rules: “Eat foods with very few ingredients, all pronounceable ingredients, or better yet, no ingredients listed at all because they’re whole and unprocessed.”
Now to get things clearer and to recognize what you need to change about your current diet, let’s look at what is
- Added Sugar (real or artificial): Maple syrup, honey, agave nectar, coconut sugar, date syrup, stevia, Splenda, Equal etc, Nutrasweet, Xylitol
- Dairy: Cow, goat or sheep’s milk products, milk, kefir, cream cheese, sour cream, ice cream, frozen yogurt, yogurt
- Legumes: Beans of any kind (black, red, pinto, navy, white, kidney, lima, fava etc), chickpeas, lentils, peanuts, peanut butter
- Grains: Wheat, rye, barley, oats, corn, rice, millet, bulgur, sorghum, sprouted grains, all gluten-free pseudo-cereals like quinoa, amaranth and buckwheat
- Alcohol: In any form, not even for cooking
- Carrageenan, MSG, or sulfates
- Re-created baked goods, junk foods or treats with “approved” ingredients: Pancakes, waffles, breads, tortillas, muffins, cupcakes, cookies, brownies, cereal, ice cream, pizza crust, biscuits, potato chips, tortilla chips, plantain chips, French fries
Exceptions to the Rules
- Coconut Aminos
- Fruit Juice (some recipes will call for this as a natural sweetener)
- Ghee or clarified butter
- Certain legumes (green beans, sugar snap peas and snow peas are allowed)
- Vinegars (white, red wine, balsamic, apple cider and rice wine vinegar are allowed)
Keys to success
1. Make a (realistic) meal plan
Meal planning is essential to accomplishing Whole30. Until you’re starting to remember the rules, you won’t be able to just open the fridge, stare, and say “what can I have that’s probably compliant?” When you’re hungry and without a plan, you’re more likely to break the rules and have to start again from square one.
At first, it may not be the best idea to jump into three new recipes a day, seven days a week. Start simple and incorporate leftovers into your meal plan.
Make food you already eat that is compliant or only requires a bit of tweaking in order to become compliant. There’s no need to force yourself to buy a bunch of broccoli and cauliflower if you don’t like it and you know you won’t eat it. I used to make this type of mistake all the time when I wanted to start health kicks. Until Whole30, of course. I found that all of the rules actually made it easier for me to find food I actually wanted to eat that was compliant. The rules didn’t restrict me, but they guided me.
That brings me to the next and by far most crucial point…
2. Know. The. Rules.
There are quite a few rules, but fear not! They’re doable and there are several awesome fact sheets that break it down (provided in the PDF downloads below). Keep list of non-compliant ingredients in your purse for when you’re out grocery shopping and are having doubts.
3. Meal Prep
Returning to the first key to success is meal prepping. You’ve made a meal plan, have checked that all of the recipes’ ingredients are compliant, made your brand-specific shopping list and made it home with all of these glorious ingredients. Now the real fun begins!
Do not overlook meal prep. It’ll take a few hours out of your Sunday, but it’s totally worth it. It’ll be smooth sailing from here. Don’t forget to meal prep some emergency snacks too! I always do several portioned tupperwares filled with compliant items for those moments when I can’t wait until lunch or I have to deflect a dessert craving.
Self control is a huge problem a lot of us have when it comes to eating. We often overeat and we eat when we’re not actually hungry. I know this to be true about myself. And when I was putting in all of the work meal planning and spending a little extra on the right ingredients, I didn’t want to defeat the purpose of Whole30 by eating TOO much compliant food. Instead of making this mistake, I recommend getting in the habit of drinking more water. Sounds simple enough, right? Well many times, when we feel the urge to eat food, it means we NEED to drink water. I think I chugged two bottles of water every hour when I started Whole30. Maybe that extreme is not necessary – but you get the picture.
Here are links to the pertinent information regarding the make up of the Whole30 diet and rules, which include downloadable PDFs. Think of these as essential cheat sheets. I carried these with me everywhere when I first started.
Before you start, check out the website for additional information, such as the calendar which breaks down common mood swings that accompany the changes your body experiences during the 30 days! Don’t overlook this. Be prepared. I’m laughing as I write this, but it’s true – detox isn’t always pretty! While you’re not physically starving, the discipline of cutting out sugar can take a temporary toll on our moods! Don’t worry – this comes with a flip side. After you get through the tough stuff, you’ll feel great and your body will thank you. The Whole30 community refers to this initial rush of energy as “tiger blood”.
One last resource: My Whole30 page! I’ve been slowly sharing the real recipes that got me through without feeling like I was ‘dieting’ or really doing anything differently. If Whole30 wasn’t the label for what got me looking closer into clean eating, I would simply title this page ‘clean eating’. My non-Whole30 conscious friends and family who I cook for have enjoyed all of these recipes as well.
A bit about my personal experience:
- Cutting out gluten was easy. I found substitutions and adjusted myself to plant-based anchors to meals, such as a salsas, sauteed peppers and onions. Mind you, I am not a fan at all of greens. If I could do it, you could do it.
- Coconut and almond products got me through. It was a little on the expensive side, but easily balanced out and I felt like I learned a lot about the health benefits to these products. Almond butter, almond milk, almond four, coconut milk, dried coconut, coconut flour.
- I should have done several things differently when considering moderation and what the program advises against: Going heavy on fruit (I’m a fruit fiend), potatoes, meat and plantain chips.
- Cutting out processed sugar was easy after a few days. I still, however, craved Diet Coke like a madman up until day 30. Coconut La Croix got me through it. When it came to other sweets and sugar cravings after eating a lot of something salty, I got into a lot of melon or had half of a coconut cream pie Lara Bar (Treating the Lara Bars as dessert is a no-no, as Whole30 advises you to use them as an emergency snack or meal when you’re on the go). I also was guilty of making some coco-powder and frozen banana ice cream. Ingredient-wise, it’s compliant, but contradicts the principles of fighting cravings. Now, however, I am not on the Whole30, and this is the sweet I regularly keep on hand rather than full on ice cream and candy. All in all, a better long term habit I’ve held onto.
- The only other thing I never found a compliant alternative for, yet still craved, was cheese. You just can’t fake cheese.
What are your thoughts on the Whole30? How effective did you feel that it was? What did you learn? I love talking about nutrition and unique ways of achieving positive health habits. Share your experience in the comments below! If you’re in the midst of your 30 days or are preparing to begin, good luck!