When it comes to popular diets, Whole30 is the most talked about plan at the start of a new year. Whole30 is a clean-eating plan that cuts out all of the things that most commonly make people feel less-than-ideal: dairy, sugar, grains, legumes, soy, and alcohol — which might leave you wondering what on earth you’re actually allowed to eat.
I know, Whole30 sounds like the stuff of nightmares. But even if you think Whole30 wouldn’t be possible for you, Health Coach Ellie Rome knows you can do it — and wholeheartedly believes you should. Ellie shared her Whole30 experience with us, how it completely transformed her, and all of the steps to help you tackle it, too.
What is Whole30?
Whole30 is a 30-day protocol focused on removing commonly problematic foods that bring our bodies down and fuel inflammation (i.e. gluten, grains, dairy, soy, sugar, etc.). The Whole30 allows your body to reset, your gut to heal, and will help you begin to break unhealthy psychological relationships with food.
Why I love the Whole30
I was a complete sugar addict and binge eater — I don’t use the word addict lightly.
From a young age, sugar was constantly on my mind. I was always looking for my next fix. Looking back, the main reason I did summer swim team each year was because we got to swim a lap, and then sit under a tent and eat fun dip and donuts all day.
However, sugar didn’t really start taking its toll on my health until college.
I gained 28 pounds and was doing everything I knew to do to get it off: calorie restriction, starving myself, hours at the gym. These tactics would work for about a week at a time, until some stressor hit, and I’d wake up to Hershey’s kisses wrappers all over the floor.
I felt shameful and out of control. I would eat far beyond the point of fullness, and used food to numb out.
It wasn’t just the weight, though — I also started developing an autoimmune thyroid condition. I was chronically fatigued, developed digestive issues, eczema, heavy periods, numbness in my toes, shortness of breath, and started to lose hair.
Fear drove me to seek professional help. After seeing six different doctors, I was still left with no answers, just a handful of random prescriptions. A naturopath was the first to ask me what I was eating. A food sensitivity test showed I was reacting to gluten, eggs, soy, and dairy. I did a three-month elimination diet, but didn’t feel any better. Even though I was eating foods labeled “allergy-free,” the ones I was choosing were loaded with sugar, hard-to-digest grains, and inflammatory oils, like gluten-free cakes and brownies. Finally I was introduced to the Whole30, and my world changed.
After those 30 days, my symptoms dissipated, my energy skyrocketed, and I lost about 15 pounds the first month. My biggest gift from the Whole30 was that it was the first time in my life I didn’t crave sugar or chocolate, something I never believed possible.
The best part? After the Whole30 I finally felt in charge of what I was eating. Aside from an occasional vodka soda, and a nibble of pure dark chocolate, this way of treating my body has been my lifestyle over the past six years. I’ve completed over 25 Whole30 protocols, and now help my coaching clients develop ideal lifestyles through similar personalized protocols.
Ready to start your Whole30 Journey? Here are my 8 tips to make your Whole30 easy and enjoyable!
1. Make This Easy For Yourself
Don’t psych yourself out that this is going to be hard. You don’t have to spend 30 hours in the kitchen or create something new every time you eat. Make this practical and work with your schedule — you could literally eat Chipotle for every meal (I’ve done this during weeks when I’m crazy busy). Just pick up a bunch of bowls to-go to keep in the fridge for a couple days, or order frozen Whole30 meals to keep in your freezer for back up, like Grancestors or TrueFare. And invest in a crockpot!
2. Emergency Food is a Must
During the Whole30 the goal is to minimize snacking, but having emergency food for every situation is essential. Don’t let being hungry be an excuse for falling off the rails. Put emergency snacks like epic bars, RX bars, nuts, or packets of nut butter in your purse, car console, gym bag, work drawer, etc.
3. Play Sugar Detective
Even though the Whole30 doesn’t allow any form of added sugar, sugar-dense dried fruit and products made with dried fruit are technically compliant. These sugar bombs can cause sugar spikes, and fuel your sweet tooth, which keeps the cravings coming.
Shoot for less than 30 grams of sugar a day. Be mindful of things like Whole30-compliant bars, bananas, sweet potatoes, and dried figs. The ideal goal is to break your body’s dependency on sugar, and that won’t happen if you’re eating 12 Lara bars each day.
4. Healthy Fats Don’t Make You Fat
Good fats in foods like avocado oil, ghee, wild caught fish, nuts, and seeds keep you satiated, give you long-lasting energy, and help minimize food cravings. General rule to start: 1-2 thumb sized servings of oils, a closed handful of nuts, or open handful of olives or coconut at meals. However, if you find yourself getting hungry between meals, try adding in more healthy fat, like an avocado or a spoon of nut butter.
5. Keep a Food Journal
Record not only what you are eating, but how you feel after meals. Just because something is Whole30 compliant doesn’t mean its optimal for you. Tuning in to to how you feel, what’s going well, and what’s not working well will help to guide you during your 30 days, and is incredibly valuable as a reference for your future Whole30 experiences.
6. Mindfulness vs. Willpower
Transforming your relationship with food is not just “what” you eat, it is “why” you are eating it. Before food crosses your lips, simply ask “Am I actually hungry? Why am I reaching for this?”
Start tuning into your triggers.
- Did you get a stressful email from your boss?
- Did your co-worker bring in a box of donuts?
- Are you tired, sad, angry, thirsty?
Create a new habit pathway for your brain to default to when you are triggered.
For me, club soda was a game-changer. Now when I’m hit with a major stressor, my brain’s like, “Where’s my Waterloo?” Not a club soda fan? Try things like herbal tea, a quick meditation, go for a walk, or listen to your favorite song.
7. Accountability and Support is Key!
It’s never a bad idea to start Whole30 with a partner, friend, roommate, or spouse. Not only will you be able to discuss what works versus what doesn’t, but you can share recipes and have someone to keep you mindful when that 11pm ice cream craving sets in.
If you don’t have anyone close who is as serious about Whole30 as you are, investing in a coach or support program will provide you with the support and accountability you’ll crave during the Whole30 experience, set you up for inevitable success, and make this easier than ever. You can also try searching for Whole30 support groups on facebook.
I’ve had so many clients who have done the Whole30, but struggle with a maintenance plan that is practical for all areas of life, and how to really fine-tune which foods are right for their unique bodies. Whole30 is incredible, but for most people it isn’t Whole365.
8. Reintroduction Tips
Inevitably 30 days will be over and you’ll wonder what’s next. My advice: If you don’t miss it? Leave it out — especially gluten and dairy.
The best approach for maintenance mode after your Whole30 is using simple swaps that will give you more variety than the Whole30, without going back to the inflammatory foods that drain your energy, disrupt your gut health, and fuel chronic disease. Swap for things like cauliflower pizza crusts, nut-based cheeses (like Kite Hill cream cheese), and paleo, low-carb baked goods.
When re-introducing sugar, I suggest still targeting less than 30 grams per day to keep cravings at bay. As you add it back in, pay attention if your sugar cravings start to reappear. Maybe you notice you can’t stop thinking about that dark chocolate bar, or find it hard to pump the breaks on some paleo cookies. If you notice your sugar dragon coming back with a vengeance, take a break for a couple days, and let the cravings subside.