Last January, I completed my Everest; the thing I’d been saying I’d do for years, but never actually pulled the trigger on: finishing Whole30.
My reason for doing Whole30 was simple: I have an absolutely horrible stomach, and my doctor had been begging me to do an elimination diet for literal years. But it never felt like a perfect time to do it (newsflash: it will never be a perfect time to do it), and then one day, I couldn’t take it anymore and decided it was time to try to figure out my food sensitivities once and for all.
Throughout my experience, I had a lot of highs and even more lows, but I did finish the whole 30 days and learned a lot along the way. Thinking of doing Whole30 yourself? Here’s how to survive it while suffering a little less than I did:
1. Know why you’re doing it
Despite what you might think, Whole30 is not a weight-loss diet. You don’t count calories or restrict carbs or anything of the sort, and you’re strongly advised to not weigh yourself during the entire process—because it isn’t the point! The point is to take a step back to evaluate how you’re eating, find out what makes you feel good, and nourish your body with real foods for a while. If you’re thinking of doing it for weight loss, it probably isn’t for you.
2. Give yourself time to prepare before you start
Want to know how my Whole30 journey began? The day after Christmas of 2019, I decided January was going to be the time I finally did Whole30. I went to the grocery store to get all of the ingredients I needed, and while I was at the grocery store, realized everything I had eaten so far that day was Whole30 compliant. I thought, “Why waste a day?” and decided to start right there with no preparation.
Any Whole30 veteran will tell you that this should have been a fatal mistake. In my opinion, all of your success is going to ride on whether or not you’re prepared. If I could go back, I would have given myself a full week ahead of my start date for preparation. I could use basically nothing that I had in my fridge (condiments, butter, the works), and making sure you’re stocked with things that are compliant is absolutely key. Research recipes, come up with a meal calendar, and go into it ready to go. I can’t recommend the Whole30 Book enough to help with this.
3. Meal prep, meal prep, meal prep
Whether or not you’re usually a meal prepper, preparing your meals before you need them is so, so important. When you inevitably have situations where you’re hungry and ready for a meal, needing to figure out a Whole30 compliant meal is truly hell. If you really don’t like meal prepping, at least have your ingredients cut up and stored in your fridge and know what meals you’re going to be eating a few days out.
3. Mentally prepare for how you’re going to feel
Think you’re going to immediately have clear skin and feel like you can run a marathon? Guess again.
A few days into Whole30, I literally felt like I was going to die. I was completely lethargic and could have slept all day, every day—and that’s how you’re supposed to feel. One of my favorite things about The Whole30 book is that it breaks down how you’re going to feel every day, and it’s completely spot-on. You aren’t going to feel good until at least halfway through, and getting to that point is really tough (most people quit around day 10-11 because that’s when you feel the worst).
You’d think that eating exclusively whole foods would make you feel amazing, but your body is going to withdraw from the things it’s used to (looking at you, sugar), and there’s no getting around the slump you’ll feel those first two weeks. I, of course, didn’t know this before I started, but once I got the book and could track how I was supposed to feel each day, the process got much easier.
4. Stock up on compliant condiments
Whole30 has been around for quite some time, which luckily means that many health food companies have gotten on board and created condiments and sauces that are made exclusively with Whole30-compliant ingredients.
My personal favorite compliant brand is Primal Kitchen—a year later, I still use mostly their condiments because they taste so good and are an easy, healthier swap. (Pro tip: their chipotle mayo was my favorite thing throughout the entire process!)
5. Have snacks ready in case of emergency
Yes, one of the rules of Whole30 is that snacking isn’t allowed, but sometimes, things happen, and you literally just need to get something into your stomach. It is absolutely vital to have things on-hand for when that happens. It’s probably going to be a handful of nuts or an Rx bar (not all Rx bars are compliant—I’d recommend researching which ones are beforehand and ordering yourself a full box of them).
6. Get a handle on what’s allowed—and what’s not
Hours and hours of your Whole30 are going to be spent reading nutrition labels. I cannot tell you how much time I spent on Whole30 looking at the labels of everything I picked up and then needing to research specific ingredients to see if they’re allowed. Of course, you aren’t going to memorize an entire list of allowed ingredients (especially since some are so weird and sound forbidden), but getting a handle on the common ones will save you loads of time throughout the journey.
The 30 Whole Days app is magic for one reason: it has a function where you can scan the barcode on a food container, and it will tell you whether or not it’s allowed. It doesn’t have every food under the sun, but it also has a search bar where you can research a specific ingredient and it will tell you whether or not it’s approved. It is so much easier than constantly turning to your book or going through Google trying to figure out if something is allowed.
8. Remember that it’s only 30 days
Whole30 is tough—really, really tough. I struggled quite a bit through mine and am adamant about never doing it again. But it helped me figure out my food sensitivities, and it’s important to remember that it’s only 30 days of your life—and you can do anything for 30 days. Doing Whole30 once changed my relationship with food and knowledge of what makes my body feel good so much, and even though it was a struggle, it was very much worth it.