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Have you heard of the Whole30 and been wondering what it is? Not only that, but also if it’s right for you?
I have attempted the Whole30 twice within the last 6 months. I didn’t make it through the 30 days either time! But my second attempt was a lot stronger than the first.
And even though I didn’t make it through the whole program (yet!), I still learned a lot about what healthy eating means and what my relationship is with food.
If you’re at a point where you’re feeling sluggish, eating really bad foods, drinking too much, or you just want to begin a healthier lifestyle, then I 100% recommend trying the Whole30 (of course, talk to your doctor first, especially if you have a medical condition).
But before you decide to try this program starting tomorrow, please finish reading this article.
It’s not an easy program by any means. You’ll increase your odds of success with it if you truly understand what it is, why you’re doing it, and what the “rules” are.
In this Whole30 review, you’ll find a bunch of valuable information regarding the Whole30 program – including what the heck it is, why you may want to give it a try, what to expect, and some tried-and-true tips to get you through.
What is the Whole30?
Before I get into what the Whole30 is, let me clear up what it’s not.
- It is not a fad diet.
- It is not a way of eating that you’ll want to maintain forever.
- It is not about losing weight (although many people do end up losing some weight).
So now that we know what it’s not, let’s dig into what it actually is.
The Whole30 is a program that was designed in 2009 by a husband and wife team of nutritionists, Melissa and Dallas Hartwig.
As I mentioned above, the goal of this program is absolutely not to lose weight (I can’t stress that enough). In fact, Melissa and Doug tell you stay away from the scale for the duration of the program.
The goal of this program is to figure out which food groups are negatively impacting you. Some of them are obvious, right?
Like alcohol. Alcohol causes you to not sleep so great, gives you a headache, and just makes you feel crappy.
But other foods may be hurting you without you even realizing it! For instance, gluten.
And the only way to learn that information is to eliminate foods from your diet. But not just any foods.
Foods that have been proven to harm your digestive system, slow down your metabolism, weaken your immune system, and perpetuate your unhealthy eating habits (anyone here addicted to diet coke?).
These foods do a number on your gut. And your gut is super important to your overall health.
When I told my friends and family that I was doing the Whole30 and they asked me what that was, I told them it’s basically an elimination diet for 30 days that resets your gut.
Except that you’re not just eliminating one type of food, say dairy, for a few days to find out if it’s negatively impacting you.
You’re eliminating quite a few foods for a period of 30 days, namely dairy (with the exception of eggs), peanuts, beans and legumes, whole grains, soy, added sugars, and alcohol.
Yep, that’s right. Sugar and alcohol. It’s insane. It’s quite literally torture. And for the first week or so of the program I felt like hell.
So then why am I advocating that you give the Whole30 a try??
Why You Should Consider the Whole30 Program
Oh my goodness, there are so many great reasons to try the Whole30. They, by far, outweigh all of the reasons you think you don’t want to try it.
Here are the benefits that I experienced, even though I only made it 21 days:
1. Better sleep.
To be honest, I like sleep and I don’t usually have an issue with it. But what I noticed is that my sleep was more restful and I was waking up feeling more refreshed.
2. More energy.
You know that slump you usually feel around 3 pm? That went away! I’ve always seen myself as low-energy, even sluggish. This totally changed.
3. Better moods.
Ok, for the first 10 days or so, I was ridiculously moody! My husband begged me to go back to my french-fry-eating ways. Sugar withdrawal is real, folks.
But once I got past that point, my moods stabilized. Since I had more energy and was feeling more rested, naturally I was in a better mood.
4. No headaches or migraines.
This was huge for me because I experience headaches a few times a week, and migraines a few times a month. To not get any type of headache for 3 weeks was a miracle!
5. I felt “lighter”.
I don’t know how else to explain this except that my gut felt empty. TMI?
6. My skin was brighter.
I’m fortunate to have clear skin, but my skin was really dull. I noticed that by Day 21, my skin wasn’t as dry and had little more color to it.
I’m assuming this is because I wasn’t eating junk food and was drinking a lot of water.
7. I realized that I had an unhealthy relationship with food.
I discovered that I had a way of turning to carbs, sugar, and alcohol as soon as I started to feel stressed. This was really eye-opening for me. I began learning alternative methods to handling stress.
8. I stopped focusing on calories, and instead focused on the types of food I was feeding my body.
This made me feel happier! I didn’t have to stress over how many calories were in the salsa I had doused my chicken in, and I could eat baked potatoes galore. It was so freeing!
9. I found that I actually enjoy eating fresh, whole foods.
I don’t know why I was so against healthy foods, but I was. Maybe I viewed them as bland, and they didn’t provide comfort to me like cheese doodles did.
But what I ended up learning is that there are a lot of ways to spice up healthy food, and I actually enjoyed those dishes a lot more than the processed foods I’ve been consuming my whole life.
10. I enjoy cooking!
I used to dread cooking dinner. No, seriously. My husband and I have had countless fights over who should cook.
And because I hated it, I wasn’t very good at it and didn’t really care to improve.
But now, I enjoy it and look forward to trying new recipes. It’s really invigorating to know that I am not only feeding my family food that tastes delicious, but that is also really good for them. (In full transparency, my kids will still only eat PB&J sandwiches and chicken nuggets, but least I’m trying?)
11. I lost weight!
Again, not the purpose of the program, but I lost TEN POUNDS. In 21 days! How much weight you lose, if any, is going to vary depending upon many factors.
But odds are, you’ll lose weight (I think this tends to happen any time you eliminate one or more food groups from your diet).
Some other benefits that others who have completed the Whole30 experienced include:
- Reduction in joint pain
- Clearer skin
- Improved body image
- Reduction in anxiety
- “Food freedom”
- Improvement in diabetes
- Improvement in eczema
There are so many more benefits that people have experienced, but the ones that I experienced are the most common and most likely.
Cons of the Whole30
As with pretty much anything, there are some cons with the Whole30 program, although not many. Regardless, you should know what they are so that you can truly make an educated decision on whether this program is for you.
1. It gets pricey.
My weekly food shopping bill doubled, even tripled some weeks. Fresh produce ain’t cheap! Especially if you’re buying organic. And since pasta was out the window, I cooked a lot more chicken.
2. It takes a ton of planning and preparation.
Seriously, if you don’t prepare, you will not make it very far. This is one big reason why I only made it a few days with my first Whole30 attempt.
It’s amazing how much we rely on processed foods for convenience, and how much you will miss that convenience.
3. You will feel absolutely miserable for the first two weeks.
It is so freaking hard. You won’t feel good, you’ll feel tired, you’ll feel cranky, you’ll feel hungry… the list goes on.
They say it gets easier in the last two weeks. I found the third week to be relatively easy.
But if you’ll remember, I quit at Day 21. My monthly friend paid a visit and there was no holding me back from the Godiva lurking in our food pantry.
4. No wine. No chocolate. No wine. No wine.
Need I say more?
5. There’s a lot of label reading, and it’s time consuming.
You will literally have to read the label on everything – it’s shocking how food manufacturers slip sugar into foods you’d never think would have it (I think I was most surprised to find sugar in my chicken broth! Even the organic brands.).
6. Eating out is kind of out of the question.
I mean, you can do it, but you’ll end up annoying the server and embarrassing the person you’re dining with.
My husband and I went out to eat while I was doing the Whole30. I picked my meal off the menu and then basically had them recreate it with all of the modifications I asked for!
Even then, I wasn’t 100% convinced that my meal was Whole30 compliant.
Those are some pretty significant cons in my book (self-discipline is not my forte). But if you really think about it, they aren’t really cons (barring the expensive food shopping).
Meal planning and prepping, being knowledgeable about what’s in your food, breaking unhealthy habits, cooking at home more… these are all really great habits to incorporate into your life.
They’re just really hard to get used to. But they are so worth the hard work and sacrifice!
How to set yourself up for success
There are a few things you can do prior to starting the Whole30 that will make the program a tad bit easier for you and increase your odds of completing the 30 days (or at least 3 weeks of it).
1. Get the book that Melissa and Doug Hartwig wrote.
It’s called “The Whole30: The 30-Day Guide to Total Health and Food Freedom”. It’s kind of expensive in my opinion, about $30. But it’s chock full of really helpful and valuable information, including FAQs, what to do when your 30 days are up (the reintroduction period), and some tasty recipes.
If you don’t want to spend $30 on a book, I totally hear you. Maybe your library has it, or a friend that you can borrow it from. You can find most, if not all, of this information online, but it’s really nice having it all in one place.
I grabbed that book lots of times to answer the kajillion questions I had about the Whole30.
They also have a couple recipe books. I didn’t splurge on that since there are more than enough fabulous Whole30 recipes online, but these could be valuable resources for you if you like to cook from a recipe book.
2. Do this with a friend who is all in.
It makes it more bearable! The first time I attempted the Whole30, I did it with my husband. He’s a lot like me when it comes to self-discipline. I quit after just a few days! My husband lasted a week longer – something he likes to me remind me of often.
The second time around I did it with one of my best friends. She’s way more disciplined than I am and is the primary cook in the family, like me. One reason I lasted longer this time is because I didn’t want to let her down!
Also, we had fun meal prepping together and sharing recipe wins and fails.
Oh, and misery loves company.
3. Get rid of the junk food.
Admittedly, I did not do this. Hence, my failed second attempt.
I had kept a box of Godiva chocolates that my husband got me for Valentine’s Day. He told me to throw them away, but I was like “uh, NO WAY. I’m saving them for when I’m done with my 30 days”.
Welp, it was that very chocolate that I dove into on Day 21. Learn from my mistakes!
4. Prepare, prepare, prepare!
Read about the program, learn what you can and can’t eat, find out how you’re going to feel on various days (this is outlined in the book), read your labels, and identify recipes that you’re excited about.
If you don’t do this, you’ll make mistakes. And trust me, you don’t want to make a mistake because technically, if you do, you have to start the 30 days completely over.
For example, I was telling a friend that I was on the Whole30. After explaining it to her, she decided to try it. That was on Sunday. She started the Whole30 the next day on Monday.
I thought that was kind of soon to just jump into it, but I also thought that maybe she’s just more on it than I am.
I texted her a couple days later to see how she was doing and she told me she ate a pickle thinking it was ok, but after reading the label she found out there was added sugar!
And that was the end of that.
5. Hide your scale.
Do NOT weigh yourself.
Here’s the thing with the Whole30. As your body adjusts to eating healthier foods, your gut begins to heal and you might experience some bloating. I sure did!
I’ll bet that if I had weighed myself over those first two weeks, I would have found that I actually gained weight.
You know what would have happened? I would have gotten discouraged and quit.
I would have forgotten the real reason I wanted to do this – to get healthier.
And I wouldn’t have made it long enough to actually see the positive benefits that come from it.
Besides, even if the scale doesn’t end up going down much, your measurements will have.
6. If you don’t have a food processor, consider getting one.
You’ll be cooking with lots of fresh veggies and a food processor will save you tons of time! I don’t think I would have made it as long as I did without mine. This is the one that I have – affordable and gets the job done.
While planning is a key to success for the Whole30, let’s be real for a minute – life doesn’t always go according to plan.
You’re going to have days where you unexpectedly get pulled into a meeting at 5 pm by your boss, you’re late picking up the kids from daycare, and by the time you get home you’re so stressed and exhausted that cooking those Moroccan meatballs you had planned on just. Ain’t. Happening.
Your instinct is going to be to throw a Digiorno in the oven.
To protect yourself from doing that, here are a few foods you can throw together quickly and painlessly, or that you can make ahead of time and will still taste yummy as leftovers.
- Eggs and bacon. You can’t go wrong with breakfast for dinner. And I had this for dinner more than I’d like to admit.
- Frozen veggies that you can steam in the bag in the microwave. These are my go-to side dishes – Whole30 or not.
- Chicken topped with salsa. One week I slacked on my food planning and this dish saved me from quitting the Whole30 earlier than I did. It’s so simple, but so delicious! I still make it now. Just bake some chicken and throw some salsa on it!
Also, at some point in the program, you’ll be hit by some food boredom. You’ll get tired of eating eggs and baked chicken all the time. You’ll want something different, or you may go postal on someone.
Here were my go-to sites for easy, but reallyyyy good recipes:
Of course you can just google Whole30 recipes and a TON will come up. But the recipes on these sites came out good every time.
Last but not least, stock up on RxBars. They’re pricey, but, in my opinion, having a few on hand for a little sweet treat after dinner makes them worth the price. I’ve tried a few different flavors, and my favorites by far are the Blueberry and the Mixed Berry. Just be careful which flavors you buy – not all of them are Whole30 compliant.
What If You Fail?
Oh my darling, but what if you succeed!
Kidding aside, don’t let your fear of not being able to make the 30 days keep you from trying.
You will still learn something new about yourself and your relationship with food. It’ll get you to start rethinking how you eat. And while it’s a small step, it’s a step in the right direction.
The first time I attempted the Whole30, I lasted only a few days. But what it helped me realize was that my reliance on junk food was way more serious than I had thought.
The second time I attempted the Whole30, the first few days were a lot easier because I knew what to expect and I had planned and prepared for the week.
Yes, I failed again, only making it 21 days, but I wasn’t even mad about it.
I was seeing positive benefits, I had kicked my sugar addiction (for the most part), and I had much less of a need for some wine at the end of the day.
So while I didn’t make it 30 days either time, I did get into a routine of eating a lot healthier. That’s not a total fail – in fact, that’s a success!
Bottom line, attempting it (no matter how long you do or don’t last) is going to help you realize some things about your diet you may not have otherwise.
What Happened After My Second “Unsuccessful” Whole30 Attempt?
So, what did I do that fateful day after I devoured a piece of Godiva chocolate?
I realized that I didn’t enjoy it as much as I used to. How crazy is that? It just wasn’t… as tasty.
But since I had fallen off the Whole30 bandwagon, I decided to make meatloaf with a McCormick’s seasoning packet I had on hand.
That tasted good, I’m not gonna lie.
BUT, I woke up the next morning with a splitting headache. My first headache in 22 days.
I realized how much what I eat has an impact on how I feel. I didn’t want to go back to the way I was eating before. I had been feeling too good to go back to that.
So I decided to loosely follow the Paleo diet. This is similar to the Whole30, but not as strict. If you want to learn more about it, this post will tell you everything imaginable you need to know.
It’s been about a month since I transitioned to Paleo and I gotta say, I’m loving it!
Again, I follow it loosely. Like maybe 80% of the time.
At my son’s 2nd birthday party a week ago, I had some drinks and cake and pasta… and I felt awful the next couple of days.
This past weekend I had ice cream and a hot dog and pizza… and felt awful on Monday.
So, I’ll allow myself to indulge every now and again, but I usually pay for it the next day. Which just gets me more motivated to stick with Paleo.
A Few Other Tidbits on the Whole30
There are a few other things you should know about the Whole30 before diving in.
1. This program isn’t meant to be followed for the rest of your life.
Some people have followed it for 60 days, 90 days, or even a few years. I really wouldn’t recommend doing that, especially if you haven’t talked to your doctor about it.
The purpose behind this program is to give your gut time to heal, to evaluate your eating habits, and to get on track to a healthier lifestyle.
The Whole30 excludes foods that have solid benefits for your health.
Whole grains reduce your risk of heart disease. Dairy helps your bone health. Legumes are an excellent source of protein. You get the idea.
You may not need, or even want, to exclude these foods from your diet indefinitely.
2. A great part of this program that I completely bypassed is the reintroduction phase.
This is the 10-day period following the 30 days.
There is a whole section in the book on the reintroduction phase. If you can, try to do this part – it’s what will help you realize what causes you to feel certain ways.
I wish I had done this because I would have been able to pinpoint what causes my headaches. Remember how I woke up on Day 22 after eating chocolate and processed meatloaf with a headache for the first time in weeks?
I knew it was because I ate something excluded from the Whole30 program the day before – either chocolate or the meatloaf that was made with the seasoning packet.
But I didn’t know which.
If I had done the reintroduction period, I would know.
Will I Attempt the Whole30 Again?
Absolutely! I wouldn’t recommend that others try it if it was not something I wanted to do again.
If I find myself trending back to my unhealthy ways, I’ll try the Whole30 again. I’d also like to go Whole30 every January. After the holiday goodness, I think it will be needed!
Go for It!
I am not an advocate for fad diets AT. ALL. I believe they do more harm than good.
I don’t look at the Whole30 as a fad diet – the point of this program is not to lose weight. It is to examine your relationship with food, help you kick bad food habits, and help you understand which, if any, foods are making you feel less than optimal.
Even if you attempt it and don’t make it through the whole 30 days, you will undoubtedly benefit from it in some sort of way.
For those reasons alone, giving the Whole30 a try is worth it. So go for it!
If you do, let me know how it goes!
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