Food & Drink

The Low-Down on Whole30: A Food Editor’s Thoughts


I’ve always considered myself a fit person with above average eating habits (namely healthy, but I like to have my cake and eat it too). However, I’m also human and have had my struggles in the past with weight fluctuation and unhealthy habits, particularly this last year. Although I learned to love myself no matter what size I was, I couldn’t ignore the feeling that my body just didn’t feel healthy. I was always tired and lacked energy, I couldn’t focus on my tasks for very long, and I just felt sluggish (my pants were definitely getting a little tighter too).

I was in a food rut—this I knew for sure, but I also just felt off and not in-tune with my body.

Although I’ve never been a fan of the word diet and what it stands for, I knew that I needed to find a system to jumpstart my health back on track. I am not a fan of frozen prepackaged meals and I wanted to still cook and have access to plenty of good foods so that I wouldn’t feel like I was dieting.

Before starting Whole30:

Before going through Whole30, I was off my normal routine. The reason I wanted to try Whole30 versus changing my lifestyle was because I wanted structure: rules on what I could and couldn’t eat and foods I could buy at my local grocery store that I would cook. I felt that if I had a plan, or a system, it would be easier for me to stick to it because I was easing back into a healthy lifestyle.

My overall goals were to feel healthier, more energized, and to understand more about how my body works when I eat certain types of nutrients. Also, and let’s be real here, I wanted to lose weight. However, after reading It Starts with Food, I realized that it wasn’t so much about losing weight as it was about what you were putting into your body. Keeping that in mind I thought whatever weight I lost would be a bonus. The main point was to be healthier.

Chopped BLT Salad via The Iron You

Whole30: So what is it?

The Whole30 program is all about how certain food groups and their nutrients may have a negative effect on your body. If you’re feeling consistently tired or you’re having issues losing extra weight, ridding your body of these negative nutrients may help that, according to the Whole30 website and book. The point of the program is to strip your body of these negative nutrients to see how your body positively improves within 30 days.

The Rules

  • The program’s first (and what I feel is the most important rule) is to eat real food: meat, eggs, vegetables, fruit, and more. Ideally, completely unprocessed foods with all natural ingredients are recommended.
  • The second rule is to say no to any and all sugars, alcohols, grains, legumes, or dairy products. Also say no to recreating cheat foods and/or baked goods in a healthy way.
  • No slips allowed or special occaision cheat meals—that would break the cycle of healing your body and ridding it of negative nutrients, which could alter your results.
  • The final and most important rule? Do not step on a scale or take measurements of your body. The point of Whole30 isn’t to lose weight—it’s to figure out what your body can and cannot tolerate, as well as improving any illnesses through digesting natural foods rich with nutrients.

Here’s a handy cheat sheet for a grocery list of the approved foods and you can read more about the program here.

Massaged Kale Salad with Butternut Squash via Honestly Nourished

My thoughts during the program:

I felt a range of feelings and emotions. The book and website say this isn’t hard compared to other life problems, but it was certainly difficult for me (perhaps because I may be addicted to the bad foods I was eating).

Week one: “Okay, let’s do this!” I had high hopes and I was ready to take on Whole30! With my fridge stocked with fresh goods, I began assessing inventory and deciding which meals to make. I started out very strong with full breakfasts, big lunches, and lighter dinners. The first three days were great and I honestly felt more energized and ready to take on my busy day.

However, days four through seven were really hard for me and my mind began playing tricks on me. I began thinking of little ways to cheat or to have a snack here and there. Now, I’m not the type of person to ever deny myself what my body is telling me (within reason) but I really wanted to stick to my plan. So I packed approved snacks on days when I knew the struggle was real. I took notes on how I felt before starting Whole30 so I could compare my notes to the after result.

Week two: “Does my face look thinner?” The beginning of week two was difficult because I felt like I was hammering in my new habits. But by day 10 I finally felt like this was my new normal. Of course I started asking my friends if I looked like I had lost any weight (I had!). Again, I knew that weight loss wasn’t the point of Whole30, but if I dropped a few pounds, all the better.

Other benefits I noticed: my skin was clearer, awesome energy levels, and other minor aches and pains were few and far between. My routine and cooking schedule became the new normal and I really felt proud of myself for sticking with this without fault.

Week three: “Can you substitute the rice for an extra side of vegetables?” By week three, I really felt like a professional in my personal quest for health. I picked up yoga a few times a week as well, which worked great with my schedule. I knew about 95% of the approved foods off the top of my head, so cooking dinner on the fly came easier.

Also, I felt normal. I was awake and alert, as waking up at 7:00am was easier. I was able to concentrate better when I wrote or edited my images and I was consistently satisfied with my meals. I think this was my favorite week.

Week four: “It’s over! Now what? Don’t blow it!” Even though I was getting better at accepting this lifestyle change, I was also happy my 30 days were almost over. There were a few ingredients I was really excited to reintroduce: Greek yogurt, grains (rice and quinoa), and, yes, coffee creamer and wine. But I also needed to keep my progress in perspective—I didn’t want all of my hard work to be wasted. I wrote down how I felt after the 30 days so I could compare it to the beginning.

Shrimp and Cauliflower ‘Grits’ via Wicked Spatula

The overall verdict:

Whole30 is not easy—it takes mental and physical dedication but meal planning and a cheat sheet of approved foods are helpful tools. Be prepared to get creative with recipes during the first few weeks until you’re into the routine. Also, be sure to take notes throughout the process to help gauge your progress.

Some people decide to move straight into doing a Whole60 or Whole90 after their Whole30 experience because they don’t feel noticeable results (perhaps they are already be pretty healthy) or they just really enjoyed the lifestyle change.

Here are the changes I noticed with myself:

  • Before I was consistently sluggish, always exhausted, and was more interested in taking a nap than cooking dinner. After my Whole30 journey, I still wanted to nap but didn’t need to because I have high energy levels and could better concentrate when it comes to completing my tasks.
  • I’ve always had mostly clear skin (with the occasional blemish), but after my Whole30 experience I noticed less blemishes. My skin looked brighter and energized.
  • I lost a total of 12.6 pounds while on Whole30. Note: I lead an active lifestyle and exercised three times a week.
  • Overall on Whole30 I felt like I had a purpose. I felt excited to cook myself breakfast in the morning and looked forward to making dinner at night. Being on Whole30 also motivated me to establish a good cooking, eating, and exercise schedule, which helped me feel like I actually had a fulfilling day.

To me, the most important improvement was the energy levels. Although the weight loss was a great bonus, it was important to me for my energy levels to be at a normal level. Although I decided to not continue my journey entirely, it gave me the push I needed to get back to being healthy. Now, I call myself influenced by the Whole30 method and still incorporate the rules in my daily life. There are a few exceptions though! I’m OK with eating rice, quinoa, and dairy products, and my body agrees.

Would I recommend this program? Yes! Especially if you want to try something new and want a change in lifestyle. But as always, please consult with your nutritionist and do the research on this program (or any program, for that matter) before starting.

It’s hard and it takes discipline, but it’s a great way to get to know what foods your body can and cannot tolerate.

*Editor’s note: Some of the recipes featured in this article include ingredients on the Whole 30 avoidance list: legumes (lentils) and grains (quinoa). Be aware of what you’re cooking and don’t be afraid to get creative by subtracting and adding approved ingredients.

Have you tried the Whole30 program? If so, share your thoughts and results!