Tips From Real People to Succeed on the Whole30 Diet

Slashing food groups in one fell swoop

Some diets slash carbs, others deny dairy. Whole30 diet does it all — almost completely cutting out sugar, grains, dairy, alcohol and legumes from your diet. The saving grace is that Whole30 only lasts 30 days, so you just need to hang in there for a month.

But why would you want to? Proponents of Whole30 say removing certain foods can ease digestive issues, boost your energy and immune function, reduce cravings, prevent food allergy symptoms, help clear up acne, put your hormones in balance and improve your emotional health.

If you’re interested in trying Whole30, here are real-life tips for making it through instead of throwing in the towel.

Do your homework.

Kaitlyn Carl participated in her first Whole30 in March 2019, at age 33. She had recently left her long-time job as a bar manager, enrolled in a health coach training program and embarked on a new career realm.

Health-conscious friends were trying Whole30, and Carl was curious enough to give it a shot. First, however, she pored through program materials on the official Whole30 website to learn more.

“I’m always interested in the ‘why’ behind a decision,” Carl says. “I’ve really gotten a lot of value out of reading, and resources that Whole30 has provided and kind of digging into the science behind why we cut certain things out.”

Carl opted to go for the Whole30 program: “I decided to use the wave of motivation to take on new challenges, including getting to the bottom of my digestive troubles.”

First, she did her due diligence. Getting a clear understanding of food restrictions and working on forming key habits in advance helped anchor those habits during the actual Whole30, says Carl, who is now an integrative nutrition health coach, founder of the Give Um Health website and host of a virtual Whole30 support group.

Raise your mealtime awareness.

“Very exciting but certainly challenging,” is how Carl describes her first Whole30. “Cutting out a bunch of food groups, when it’s your first attempt doing something of that nature, can seem really extreme. It really opens your eyes pretty quickly to some habits you might not have been aware of in the past.”

Start taking note of mealtime habits, she suggests:

— Notice when you eat. Is it every two hours or just once a day?

— Be conscious of where you eat. Do you sit at a table or in front of a device?

— Understand your hunger patterns. Do you feel hungrier at certain times of the day?

— Determine whether you’re rushed or relaxed. Are you sitting down when you eat or eating on the run?

“Raising your awareness around how you eat — and not just what you eat — is a great first step toward making different choices,” Carl says.

Take some practice runs.

Camille Skoda, a registered dietitian with the Center for Functional Medicine at Cleveland Clinic, is hearing considerable interest in Whole30 from her patients.

Functional medicine is a systems-based approach that strives to identify the root cause of a disease, Skoda explains. The approach recognizes that disease can be driven by many different factors that increase inflammation — including genetics, environment, lifestyle and diet.

Reducing digestive symptoms, boosting low energy levels, easing joint pain and inflammation and getting rid of headaches are common goals for patients, some of whom opt for elimination diets to try and remove symptom-triggering foods or food groups. Whole30 is one option.

Skoda likes to give her patients a brief period in advance to plan and prepare for the experience and set themselves up for success. “Within those couple of weeks, I usually recommend practicing,” she says. For instance, before diving in completely, patients could try eating all their breakfasts the Whole30 style. They could also find a few Whole30 recipes they enjoy for their family dinners. That way, they’ll feel more prepared when it’s time to eliminate all non-Whole30 foods for a month, Skoda says, “and feel more confident that they’re able to do it.”

Clean out your pantry and fridge.

Combing through food supplies is another preparatory step when you’re about to do Whole30, Skoda says. “It’s finishing up groceries that you have, separating things out for the kids or for your family if they’re not going to join you on it and just setting yourself up with easy grab-and-go items and things at eye level in your pantry that you know you can eat — so you don’t have those temptations.”

You may need to get rid of (or at least keep hidden) a significant amount of food in three major categories. “Grains is a huge one on Whole30,” Skoda says, adding that it’s standard to cut gluten, dairy and sugar with any elimination diet she guides patients through. Passing on packaged breads, pastas, cereals and similar products can help keep inflammation down.

Break out your cutting board.

When you’re doing Whole30 for the first time, be prepared for the food prep. Chopping veggies, slicing fruit and poring over recipes and labels takes more time than you’d think. “For most people — myself included — the amount of food prep during a Whole30 is massive,” says Carl, who sometimes hears others complain of being exhausted from washing dish after dish.

However, cooking at home can be integral to success. “It’s strongly discouraged and next to impossible to eat out during a Whole30, because of the amount of scrutiny and control you need to be able to have over the ingredients,” Carl says. “So, they really encourage you to do most of your food prep from home — which is not how most of us live these days.”

More money than time to spare? You might want to consider a Whole30 meal delivery service.

Keep a log.

“Whether it’s using the official ‘The Whole30 Day by Day’ journal, or making notes in your phone, it’s incredibly helpful to keep notes along the course of a reset,” Carl says. “Not only does it provide space for reflection and self-check-in, it also serves as a helpful reminder of all the progress you’ve made along the way.”

For instance, Carl says, her digestion was “not at its best” when she started Whole30. But symptoms like bloating soon improved significantly.

What Carl hadn’t anticipated was almost “instantaneous” improvement in her sleep, which happens each time she does a Whole30. “I feel so much more energized, so much more rested and my skin clears,” she says. “I find I don’t need that second cup of coffee in the afternoon.”

Back away from your scale.

Although it’s called Whole30, it’s not really a numbers game. Weighing yourself while you’re on the program is discouraged.

“You’re not meant to step on a scale or take any measurements throughout the 30 days,” Carl says. “You do it on Day 1 and Day 31. That’s to discourage reliance on numbers to indicate your health, but it’s also to keep you focused. Our bodies will naturally fluctuate based on salt, and hydration and hormones, and depending on whether you’re male or female. So, for people who tend to get a little a bit too absorbed in seeing the scale move, it kind of sidetracks their progress.”

Skoda, however, says that certain patients do benefit from taking a peek at the scale. “If somebody has to lose weight but also has digestive symptoms, I usually coach them to focus on the symptoms and how that’s improving,” she says. “For somebody who is losing weight throughout this time, though, it can be pretty motivational if they’re getting on the scale, maybe once a week, to check.”

See weight loss as a bonus, not a given.

Whole30 is not meant to be a diet, detox or weight-loss program, according to the official website, but more of a short-term reset.

Weight loss is “an attractive feature but there’s no guarantee of anyone losing weight, and it’s definitely not the focus of the program,” Carl emphasizes. “So if you’re specifically looking for something that’s going to help you lose weight, Whole30 might not be exactly what it is you’re looking for.”

That said, some people do drop pounds during their month-long stint. “Weight loss is definitely one of the side effects, especially if there’s some sort of food that’s inflammatory that we’re reducing,” Skoda says.

Because Whole30 removes a lot of carbohydrates, Skoda explains, it can act as a lower-carb plan that helps stabilize blood sugar, which makes it easier to lose weight.

Eat enough food, including healthy fat and fiber.

Not eating enough overall is among the most common mistakes that Skoda sees with her patients on elimination diets. “The biggest thing about Whole30 or that type of eating plan is that we’re not necessarily restricting calories — we’re just shifting the type of food that you’re eating.”

Don’t skimp on healthy fats, either. “A lot of times, people aren’t eating enough fat on this type of diet,” she adds. “When we reduce the carbohydrate intake we need to be eating plenty of fat — like your nuts and seeds, avocados and good-quality oils to help keep you feeling full and help absorb the nutrients.”

To replace fiber and other nutrients that previously came from grains, Skoda usually recommends whole-food sources. “Fruit is a great replacement, especially dark berries that have more fiber,” she says. “Sweet potatoes and root vegetables are a great replacement that still have some carbs but can provide some color and nutrient content.”

Plan ahead for restaurants and social meals.

Restaurant dining or shared meals with friends are harder to manage on Whole30 (although likely less of an issue during pandemic restrictions). If you’re going over to someone’s house, bring something to share from “The Whole30 Cookbook,” Carl suggests.

Still planning to eat out? “Call ahead to the restaurant and ask about their ingredients, so it’s not awkward for you when it comes to ordering,” she says.

Mapping out potential scenarios and having a contingency plan is the key. “Just bring some emergency snacks in your bag if you know you’re going to be out,” Carl says. That way, if you get hungry in the middle of the day, you won’t feel unprepared.

Don’t get caught up in product hype.

There’s no need to seek out or stock up on special products to do a Whole30. “I just usually make sure patients don’t lose sight of the simplicity of choosing more whole foods, rather than searching for the ‘perfect’ product that fits in,” Skoda says.

Carl cautions against buying into hype. “Practice skepticism when it comes to claims on food packages,” she says. “Always check the ingredient list, not just the buzzwords on the front or skimming the nutrition label. Many words like ‘natural,’ ‘organic,’ ‘green’ or ‘heart-healthy’ can be used with zero regulation. Be your own detective and find out exactly what it is you’re about to eat.”

Keep exercise routines to business as usual.

Now is not the time to train for your first marathon. “Many first-time Whole30ers get ahead of themselves and try to tack on additional restrictions or routines — like intermittent fasting or a new exercise boot camp — at the same time as their reset,” Carl says. “This is a recipe for burnout.”

Changing any habit takes a lot more work than people tend to realize, she notes, so it’s counterproductive to pile on even more exertion. “Approach Whole30 resets with a single-pointed focus, and save the other habits you’re looking to establish for another time,” she advises.

Celebrate small victories.

“With any goal-setting exercise, it’s important to celebrate the small wins along the way to big successes,” Carl says. Set small, realistic benchmarks throughout the 30-day reset, and be sure to reward yourself when you achieve them, she says.

Planning a long, relaxing bath after your first successful week of sticking to your Whole30 could be a reward, for example. Feeling more ambitious? “Plan a fancy Whole30-compliant dinner party for you and your loved ones to celebrate getting through the hardest week,” Carl suggests.

Remember the light at the end of the tunnel, too. “Knowing that it’s designed to be only 30 days and it’s not intended to be a lifestyle that persists forever — I took comfort in that,” Carl says.

Whole30 diet success tips

Take advantage of practical tips for completing a Whole30 reset:

— Do your homework.

— Raise your mealtime awareness.

— Try some practice runs.

— Clean out your pantry and fridge.

— Break out your cutting board.

— Keep a log.

— Back away from your scale.

— Take weight loss as a bonus, not a given.

— Eat enough food, including healthy fat and fiber.

— Plan ahead for restaurants and social meals.

— Don’t get caught up in product hype.

— Keep exercise routines to business as usual.

— Celebrate small victories.

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