On January 1, you may have noticed several friends skipping happy hour or bringing their lunches to work. The beginning of the year is a popular time for Whole30, a 30-day clean eating plan from the New York Times-bestselling book, “The Whole30: The 30-Day Guide to Total Health and Food Freedom.”
It’s so popular that Applegate, a company that makes sugar-free sausages, bacon, and other meat products, noticed a 31 percent increase in sales from previous weeks. The sugar-free bacon alone was up 88 percent.
I tackled Whole30 on January 1and set up a Facebook group for BRIGHT readers who wanted to share recipes, frustrations, and successes. Here are some lessons I learned that may help you tackle the Whole30 challenge.
1. Whole30 Is Not that Restrictive If You Plan Ahead
Many people are intimidated by Whole30 because they think it’s too restrictive—no grains, no dairy, no legumes, no soy, no alcohol, no sugars (natural or artificial), etc. (Get the full program here.) However, you soon realize that it leaves nearly every natural meat, fruit, vegetable, spice, and aromatic. If you’ve done a low-carb or a keto diet in the past, Whole30 practically feels like cheating. A strawberry never tasted so sweet!
Like any “diet” or change in eating, your success depends on planning ahead. Whole30 emphasizes whole, unprocessed foods, which is not always convenient. It is important to consider your schedule for the next 30 days and plan accordingly.
The easiest way to stay Whole30 compliant is to not eat out. Do you know why the ribeye and vegetables taste so good at your favorite steakhouse? Butter. Sure, you can request it be made without butter, but you can never be sure when you don’t see your food being prepared.
If you plan on celebrating a birthday, anniversary, or other event during Whole30, consider a non-food celebration. Of course, if you don’t want to be the wet blanket at the party, eat a Whole30 snack or meal beforehand and get a simple salad with no dressing (other than olive oil and lemon juice). Remember: no cheese, bacon (it’s usually cured with sugar), or beans. Ask for the protein to be grilled and without butter.
For many people doing Whole30, Sunday is prep day. Stock your fridge. Wash and cut up your fruits and vegetables to make cooking easier during the week. Make your salad dressing. Prepare single-portion meals for easy lunches and dinners. If you know you’ll be running errands, keep some nuts or a Whole30-compliant RxBar (no peanuts!) with you so you’re not tempted to go elsewhere.
2. You Might Not Be as Picky as You Think
When I first read the guidelines for Whole30 I thought I’d be sick of it after the first week because there are a lot of vegetables I don’t like—spinach, kale, cucumber, broccoli, cauliflower, asparagus, among others. I also don’t like eggs, which is a staple for most people’s Whole30 breakfast.
So I forced myself to try new things by using Blue Apron’s Whole30 meals. It turns out that I love kale! One favorite from Blue Apron was a kale salad with roasted sweet potatoes, chicken, and pumpkin seeds. It never would have occurred to me to put roasted sweet potatoes on a salad or to let kale marinate in dressing for 10 minutes to soften it. It really makes all the difference. Experiment with roasting or marinating, because it can make all the difference for some vegetables.
In addition to meal kits that offer Whole30 options, there is an active Whole30 community that loves to share recipes. Don’t be afraid to try new foods or even the same foods at a different time of the day. In fact, one Whole30 community favorite is the breakfast salad.
3. Starting Over Feels Worse than Cheating Tastes
I have a confession. I’ve done Whole30 three times, but my last round with BRIGHT readers from January 1 to 30 was the first time I was totally compliant. My cheat item has always been Diet Coke, which is on the no-no list because of artificial sweeteners.
This time I followed Whole30 religiously. The first three days without caffeine were abysmal. I slept 12-14 hours a day and had a terrible headache. It takes a while for your body to adjust and, for some, it’s not just because of caffeine withdrawal. Others experience similar symptoms from giving up sugar.
One of the rules of Whole30 is that if you eat a non-compliant food, you have to go back to day one so you have a full 30 days on the program. Whenever I thought about having a Diet Coke because of an early meeting or a craving, I always thought about those three days of withdrawal.
The author of the Whole30 plan says, “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.”
4. Listen to Your Snack Cravings
Any time you change up your diet or relationship with food there will be some mixed signals from your brain. Whole30 is not about counting calories or depriving yourself, but simply changing your relationship with food.
I often have to ask myself, Am I hungry, or am I bored? Am I hungry, or am I tired? One trick is to ask yourself if you’re hungry enough to eat steamed fish and vegetables. If the answer is no, you’re probably not hungry, especially if it’s just in between meals or in the evening. If the answer is yes, then have steamed fish and vegetables or a Whole30-compliant snack or meal.
5. Your ‘Tiger Blood’ May Vary
The Whole30 authors call the moment your food cravings dissipate and you feel more energetic “tiger blood.” It generally happens about halfway through your Whole30 journey.
The promise of “tiger blood” is enticing, but results vary. I slept better during Whole30, but didn’t feel like I had tiger blood running through my veins. Similarly, you might feel immediate health benefits that the Whole30 creators mention, such as less inflammation and less joint pain.
My cravings for junk food went away, and I slept a lot better. That’s good enough for me.