Health & Wellness

Whole30: A Starter Guide

I am thrilled to be hosting a Whole30 for this community starting Monday, April 23! I hope you will join if you have been thinking about trying a Whole30. We are using #saraswhole30 to support each other and connect, so feel free to jump in.

I did my first Whole30 in January 2014 and it was a game changer for me. I slept better than ever before (and woke up wide awake at 6:30am!) and, more importantly, I thought a lot about the types of food I was putting in my body. I love the Whole30 because it forces me to ensure I am eating enough vegetables, protein, and fats, something I am not always the best at. I am particularly excited for this round because I am definitely in a sugar craze at the moment and I know this will be a helpful reset.

There are so many wonderful resources already available for the Whole30, so I am not going to attempt to recreate the wheel. Instead, I will curate some of my favorite resources and recipes, and add my own tips and techniques. In this post, I will give you the resources you need to get started, and I will likely post a couple more times during the Whole30 answering additional questions and providing tips and recipes as we go.

The basics

So, what is the Whole30?

The Whole30 is a 30-day elimination diet and reset. Over the 30 days, you will completely eliminate certain food groups to gain a better understanding of your health and how food affects your body. The process can be used to identify causes of symptoms you may be experiencing (fatigue, headaches, bloating, the list goes on and on) or to optimize how you feel every day.

Whole30 is as much about the nutrients as it is about the mindset. The program is meant to help you “slay your sugar dragon” (aka reduce sugar cravings) and train your body to crave whole, unprocessed foods.

If you want to understand the science of all of it, I highly recommend reading the Whole30 book, It Starts with Food.

What do I eat?

The simplest answer is you eat real food. Preferably of the highest quality. This includes vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, and high-quality animal protein (meat, fish, and eggs). Every meal should have a balance of protein, healthy fats, and lots of vegetables. There’s no counting calories or macros, just filling yourself up on wholesome, clean ingredients.

Check out Whole30’s meal template for what each meal should look like.

What am I not allowed to eat?

Dairy (except for ghee), grains (including quinoa), alcohol, added sugars of any kind, and legumes (including beans, corn, soy, peanuts). Whole30 also forbids using Whole30 compliant foods to make “fake” versions of non-Whole30 compliant foods such as pancakes, bread, cookies, etc.

Of note is to also be careful about oils– you want to use unrefined oils. Be careful about dining out or products with canola oil and others. I love using extra virgin olive oil, coconut oil, and avocado oil.

Since the protocol helps with your mindset around food, keep in mind what you are working on. If you are trying to reduce sugar cravings, eating a whole bunch of fruit and dates all day isn’t going to help. Do what’s best for you.

You can find a full list of Whole30 rules here.

Can I do this if I am vegetarian or vegan?

Yes and no. Vegetarian is more possible than vegan, since most sources of vegan protein are from legumes. You can find more information about doing the Whole30 if you are vegetarian or vegan here, and I also found this article helpful.

So this will be really hard, right?

Yes and no. It requires a lot of preparation, and it’s hard to eat out. The Whole30 is incredibly strict about not slipping up even once in the 30 days, the reason being that you are trying to detox your body of all these potential triggers and a reintroduction could hinder that progress. However, the food can be absolutely delicious and you will, most likely, feel fantastic. So it’s worth it. And I am going to give you all the resources you need to be successful!

I am Paleo! Isn’t that the same?

Almost! There are a few big differences– on Whole30, you cannot have any added sugars, wherein Paleo you can have natural sugars such as maple syrup and honey. Also, Whole30 doesn’t allow any alcohol or “Paleo-ified” foods like cookies, cakes, pancakes, and baked goods. If you are already Paleo, Whole30 shouldn’t be a radical change! Paleo is a longer-term lifestyle while Whole30 is a 30-day reset. You can learn more about the differences here.

Preparation

In my opinion and experience, the number one key to ensuring a successful Whole30 is preparation. This is not an easy thing to just do on the fly! It will require meal prep and planning to be successful. That’s one of the reasons I love it– it forces me to think about making balanced meals (versus many days when at 2:30pm I am sitting at my desk and eat a piece of bread with almond butter).

If I am going out to dinner with friends, I will pick the restaurant and find one that there is something I can eat at. Sometimes it helps to call the restaurant ahead of time to see if they can accommodate your needs.

The first thing I recommend doing is hide everything that is not Whole30 compliant. During my first Whole30 I put all the shelf-stable goods in a box and hid it. That way you won’t be tempted or confused. Next thing is to restock with the essentials you need to make for a successful program.

Pantry/refrigerator staples

There are some pantry staples that can be very helpful to always have on hand in addition to your fresh meat, fish, and eggs, produce, and nuts. Here are some of my favorites which you can grab at your grocery store or on Thrive Market:

  • Coconut aminos– a great substitute for soy sauce. They now sell it at Trader Joe’s!
  • Mayo- you can make your own or Primal Kitchen is wonderful
  • Spices and seasonings– these will be your best friend! Make sure your pantry is stocked with all your favorites.
  • Coconut milk– the canned kind (make sure there are no additives, just coconut). Great to add to your coffee, in curries, and lots of other recipes
  • Coconut oil– I don’t love the flavor of coconut so I go for refined coconut oil which is generally tasteless
  • Nuts– all your favorite varieties except peanut (which is a legume) and nut butters (check to make sure they are only nuts, no additives). I highly recommend going organic with your nut selections.
  • Canned sardines, tuna, and salmon– If you eat fish, always great to have on hand. Super healthy and no prep needed for your protein source!
  • Hot sauce– Frank’s and Cholula are approved. This adds lots of flavor to your eggs and dishes!
  • Salad dressings– I like to make my own, or you can buy Primal Kitchen or Tessamae’s.
  • Tahini– You probably know I douse this on everything! My favorite is Soom.
  • Avocado and sweet potatoes– not really for your pantry, but I always have these on hand during my Whole30s. I use them in at least one meal a day, if not more!
  • Hard or soft boiled eggs (or just eggs in general)– one of the easiest, most affordable protein options!

Whole30 also provides a list of pantry recommendations, Thrive Market has an entire tag for Whole30, and at some Whole Foods tag Whole30 approved items.

Meal planning

There are two approaches you can take to meal planning (and a combo of both also works!)– planning each meal or buying a lot of vegetables and meats and make what speaks to you in the moment. While I generally might throw what I feel like into a salad for like, I like to make sure I have at least a few recipes that I have all the ingredients for, especially for dinner. You can see the recipe section below for ideas.

While I may change it up, my typical day looks like this:

  • Breakfast: eggs, avocado, sweet potato hash
  • Lunch: Big salad with chicken, sardines, or meat, lots of veggies, avocado or olives, nuts or leftovers from dinner
  • Dinner: creative time! Chicken curries, meatballs and zoodles, grilled salmon and veggies– I love to use dinner to explore and experiment
  • Snacks: Whole30 doesn’t encourage a lot of snacking, but I eat nuts, fruits, and sometimes a smoothie (even though it’s not encouraged to drink too much sugar!)

If you would like to plan out your meals, here are some free sample meal plans for inspiration and/or guidance:

Grocery Shopping

Before starting the Whole30, I recommend buying all your pantry staples and planning in advance for the next 4-7 days. That way you can grab a bunch of produce and whatever meats you would like and be totally prepared and not tempted to run out for a slice of pizza (dare I say that word in this post?!).

While at the store, READ EVERY LABEL. If you don’t know what something is, it’s probably not included in the Whole30 (and you probably shouldn’t be eating it in general!). This is particularly true when shopping for condiments, sauces (many tomato sauces include sugar), nut milks, and anything that comes in a package. Google is your friend while shopping!

Whole30 provides a whole bunch of guides that are useful for grocery shopping:

Whole30 Approved

Whole30 provides a list of products on their site which are 100% compliant and certified by them, which may serve as a useful resource. There are even meal delivery services that are approved! The Whole30 section on Thrive Market is also approved by the Whole30 team and provides a good number of pantry items at a discount!

Things to note

You may experience a sugar crash during the first few days. You may also be very hungry. Feel free to eat as much compliant food as you would like, and stick to it. It takes at least a week for your body to really adjust to this new way of eating! For some of you, it may not be so different from how you usually eat, and for others it will be a radical departure. For a breakdown of what the day by day while likely look like, you can see this nifty guide. My best advice: push through it! It requires a little discomfort to break out of your normal way of eating and to help you feel your best.

Recipes and inspiration

Recipes

There are enough Whole30 recipes on to be on the Whole30 for years! In addition to the meal guides provided above, here are some recipes I am adding to my list to make during this Whole30:

And some quick meals I like to throw together, no recipes needed:

  • Kale salad with beets, olives, avocado, and smoked salmon (make sure it’s sugar free!)
  • 2 soft boiled eggs with sliced avocado and roasted sweet potato (my go to breakfast!)
  • Canned tuna with homemade mayo (or girlled chicken/steak) wrapped in collard leaves with slices of avocado

Blogs

Here are some great blogs to follow for Whole30 recipes (just make sure the recipe you are picking is Whole30 friendly– some of these blogs have Paleo, non-compliant recipes but often have Whole30 sections which I linked to!):

Instagram

A handful of awesome Instagram accounts to follow (keep in mind that since the Whole30 is not a long-term program, some accounts feature non-compliant recipes like cookies or otherwise, so just be mindful!):

Be mindful that not everything posted on Instagram with #whole30 is actually compliant with the protocol. People use hashtags for exposure and sometimes do not understand the rules!

Tips, tricks, and considerations

  • Always make enough for leftovers– one less meal to worry about.
  • Make sure to have a compliant snack on you at all times in case you get hungry– easy ones include a piece of fruit (an apple, banana, orange, grapes), some nuts, or some cut up veggies (carrots and cucumbers tickle my fancy)
  • Use lots of herbs and spices! The food you cook will be delicious and flavorful, and you won’t miss the things you can’t eat.
  • Make it easy for yourself– roast a whole chicken or a bunch of veggies at the beginning of the week so you have something easy and filling at your fingertips.
  • Turn to our community for support! I am always happy to answer questions here in the comments or via DM on Instagram (or tag me in your photo/story), and use the hashtag as well to get inspiration from others who are participating and to ask questions.
  • Don’t cheat. You are stronger than that.
  • Have fun and be curious! See how this process feels for your physically and mentally.

Well, that’s all for now! What questions do you have? What are you most excited to try? What are you nervous about? Let me know in the comments and I will answer your questions here or on Instagram. And if you are joining along starting on April 23, use the hashtag #saraswhole30!

This post contains affiliate links. I only post about things I love and use myself! Promise. Thanks for supporting the brands that support me!

 

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