I am FINALLY sitting down to share our Whole 30 experience! It was our second time doing it and we definitely had more success this time, part of it was not having health issues (I got pregnant which triggered a thyroid condition during our first Whole 30) and part of it was that we were starting over in a lot of ways – new state, new house, new lifestyle, etc… So a new diet worked in pretty well with all the other NEW stuff!
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Here are my 5 steps to a successful Whole 30!
1. LEARN THE INS AND OUTS OF WHOLE 30
If you don’t know what Whole 30 is, here are the basics. For 30 days you focus on eating REAL food, the website says “Eat moderate portions of meat, seafood, and eggs; lots of vegetables; some fruit; plenty of natural fats; and herbs, spices, and seasonings. Eat foods with very few ingredients, all pronounceable ingredients, or better yet, no ingredients listed at all because they’re whole and unprocessed.” A lot of focus gets put on what you CAN’T eat, and at first it is really important to be hyper-aware of the no-no’s, but once you get in a groove try to focus on every you can eat!!!
So real quick, here is the NO list:
- No sugar, real or artificial. This is the hardest and also most beneficial one for me. Whole 30 is a sugar detox for sure. No sugar and no fake sweeteners, not even stevia, honey or agave. Fruit becomes your sweet.
- No alcohol. I typically end the day with a drink so I definitely missed that, but my husband started making these fun mocktails with sparkling water, a splash of bitters and fresh herbs that are SO good!
- No grains. Basically gluten free, but also no corn, rice, quinoa, etc… Anywhere you would have a grain, replace it with a vegetable. Cauliflower rice, lettuce wraps instead of bread, etc…
- No legumes. I think they include this because legumes (beans, soy, peanuts, etc…) cause inflammation in a lot of people and this is essentially an elimination diet, when you’re done with Whole 30 the idea is that you slowly reintroduce things like legumes and dairy to see how your body reacts.
- No dairy. I love dairy, and I missed dairy, but it is a huge source of calories for me, and does upset my tummy in high doses so this was a great dairy reset. Since completing Whole 30 I’ve added back in minimal cheese and sour cream, but did not go back to drinking big glasses of whole milk.
Those are the basics: sugar, alcohol, grains, legumes and dairy. There are two more “rules” to be aware of though.
- No carrageenan, MSG, or sulfites. These show up in a lot of processed foods, which you need to avoid during Whole 30.
- No baked goods, junk foods, or treats with “approved” ingredients. Use these 30 days to reset your diet and habits, don’t just try to recreate the things you crave and binge on with “approved” ingredients. I understand the value and intent of this rule but I still fudged it sometimes. On our first round I made banana/egg/almond pancakes and on our second round I indulged in plantain chips but also stuck tightly to the serving size.
2. CLEAN OUT YOUR FRIDGE AND PANTRY
Having just moved across the country and into a new house we had pretty bare cupboards which worked in our favor. I tucked the flour and sugar canisters away with the booze and got rid of a few snacks and things that weren’t compliant and that our kids wouldn’t eat (or be too much of a temptation to us). We have young kids and while we did have them eat the same dinners as us most of the time, we kept all their breakfast, lunch and snack staples easily accessible. I recommend either throwing away, donating, or boxing up anything that might be a trigger for you!
3. STOCK UP ON WHOLE 30 APPROVED FOOD
The first week your grocery bill will probably be double or triple what it normally is, but for us the following weeks were less than normal so it balanced out. Here’s are the things I bought that first week that we used throughout the 30 days.
- Coconut oil (fun fact: during Whole 30 I started using coconut oil as my eye makeup remover and I love it!)
- Ghee (coconut oil, ghee and olive oil are what we cooked with, plus ghee is delicious on veggies)
- Dates (this is the sweetest thing you’re allowed to have, and they’re full of dietary fiber, other than having one or two to cure the sweet cravings I also used them to make homemade ketchup and homemade BBQ sauce)
- Almond flour (there are other alternative flours that are approved but this is the only one I got this time because I was avoiding making the faux baked goods and really only needed almond flour for almond crusted chicken or fish)
- Coconut aminos (this is your soy sauce substitute)
- Coconut milk and/or almond milk (obviously your milk substitute!)
- Almond butter (or some other non-peanut nut butter, NO SUGAR ADDED)
- Larabars (not all Larabars are Whole 30 approved, and Larabars are not meant to be a regular snack or meal replacement, but an emergency food when you’re on the go and didn’t plan enough meals or snacks)
- Mayo (most mayo is not Whole 30 approved because of the oil used, you can make your own pretty easily or find a compliant one)
Not must-haves but things that helped get me through.
- High-caffeine tea (I needed a substitute for my diet coke and sweet coffee addiction and this was the best approved thing I could find, lightly sweet from the fruity tea flavors and a nice boost of caffeine)
- Coconut butter (YUM, this stuff is good)
- Coconut flakes (unsweetened)
- Veggies you like, and veggies to try (I always kept broccoli on hand because I like it, but I also tried to try a few other veggies each week)
- Onions (I kept red and yellow onions on hand and used them every week)
- Potatoes (white potatoes used to be a no-no but now they’re in, I used white and sweet potatoes every week)
- Salad mix and green leaf lettuce for wraps
- Cauliflower rice (sure, you can make it yourself but you’re already going to be prepping and cooking a ton, save yourself and get frozen cauliflower rice, it is readily available at most grocery stores)
- Carrot spirals (this was my pasta substitute and again, you could make it yourself but I loved the carrot spirals from Trader Joes)
- Gluten-free meatballs (these are not easy to find but I did eventually find them at Costco, you can also make them yourself in bulk)
- Sausage and bacon (starting out the day with a hearty breakfast always helped me, a lot of breakfast meats have no-no ingredients like sulfites and sugar and while you could go to Whole Foods and find a compliant version I wasn’t willing to spend the extra time and money doing that and just tried to get the cleanest version I could easily find at my normal stores)
- Canned chicken (chicken salad was a go-to for me and I liked the ease of whipping up a batch with canned chicken, mayo, grapes, celery, and seasonings)
- Nuts (use modest portions for snacking, and watch the ingredients – no sugar and no peanuts)
There are plenty of other things like chicken thighs, tomato paste, balsamic vinegar, green onions, mango, etc… that I needed for specific recipes, but the above is what I used virtually every single week.
4. MAKE YOUR MEAL PLAN (AND DON’T FORGET SNACKS)
I can get overwhelmed at this step, and initially I thought the meal planning system that Whole 30 offers (for a fee) would be helpful, but after clicking around in it a little I realized I didn’t like the interface, and I wanted more freedom, so I canceled it and went my merry way on Pinterest. I found a free weekly meal planner printable and sat down on Sunday’s to meal plan for the next week and schedule a Walmart pickup. I’d also usually have a short list of things I needed at Costco and Trader Joe’s (or Sprouts).
Breakfast: I could never get on board with a lot of the Whole 30 breakfast ideas there are on Pinterest so I kept it simple with sausage or bacon and eggs most mornings, and occasionally a sweeter option like a sweet potato bowls (I’d add banana, coconut butter, coconut flakes, raisins, cinnamon, etc…).
Lunch: I almost always either had leftovers or chicken salad with some veggies and mixed nuts. Oh, and I also had peaches and prosciutto for lunch several times which is totally not a great choice and doesn’t follow the “meal template” of protein plus veggies with a little fat and occasional fruit.
Dinner: this is where I actually busted out the cutting boards and pots and pans and did some cooking. I tried to stick to relatively easy recipes and ones that didn’t involve me buying a ton of ingredients that would sit unused after cooking one recipe. See all the recipes we loved in this blog post.
Snacks: I brainstormed a bunch of snacks (with Pinterest’s help) and pretty much just rewrote the same list of snacks on my meal plan sheet every week and made sure I had them all on hand.
One more thing I tried to do that is not the norm for me is to actually drink enough water! Drinking water is NOT my favorite so I did lots of La Croix and also made some fruit/mint ice cubes that would keep my water flavorful all day long through many refills.
5. STAY PREPARED AND STAY POSITIVE
Being prepared for every meal and snack is half the battle.
I recommend not eating out and if you must your best bet is a vegan restaurant or ordering a salad (and bringing your own salad dressing).
Doing my meal planning and my Walmart grocery pickup order at the same time was a lifesaver.
Don’t stress about the little things, do your best and move on. I didn’t freak out if there was a tiny bit of sugar in my bacon or some corn in a salad.
Sticking with mostly veggies I know I like and simple meals made a big difference.
Drink lots of water!
Stay off the scale and focus on how you feel (just weigh yourself before the 30 days and after). You might have a week or two of “detox” where you feel crummy but almost everyone feels awesome halfway through or sooner. Mental clarity, sleeping better, clothes starting to fit better, etc… Despite my crappy eating and diet coke addiction prior to Whole 30 I didn’t have much of a detox.
It’s only 30 days!!! Push yourself to stay committed and finish strong! You might be surprised at how good you feel once you’re in the groove, and you might be surprised at how many of the healthy habits stick around after the 30 days!
I lost almost 10lbs which is great, but the biggest change for me was a huge reset in eating habits. Whole 30 is 100% something I recommend doing and plan on doing once a year.
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