My Whole30 Experience & Why I Recommend it to Everyone
Updated: Mar 19, 2019
When I first graduated from University I was a practicing Kinesiologist in a beautiful clinic located in downtown Kitchener. The clinic, called Urban Wellness, introduced me to an incredible group of female wellness practitioners, who all had the same goal of helping people feel the best they possibly can. It was during my time at Urban Wellness that I was introduced to the Whole30 program by one the chiropractors, Michaela. It was a fairly new concept at the time and after some persuading, she managed to get us all on-board to join her in completing it. (I’m sure some bribery was involved, or at least some friendly competition.) I stuck to it diligently for the full 30 days, but then went on my way and never thought about it since.
Fast forward about 7 years, and one of my friends and colleagues who follows the paleo lifestyle, tells me that she completes the Whole30 a few times a year as a way to reset her system and allow her body a break from anything that isn’t serving her. I was super interested to do it again, but with the year I had coming up (10 weddings and far-too-many social commitments), I realistically wasn’t going to be able to do it within 2018 - at least not successfully. However, by October my body was ready for a reset, and even though I still had two more weddings to attend (seriously, they were never ending), I decided I was going to quit putting it off any longer and just do it.
So, here we are. I completed the Whole30 in October of last year, and felt SO amazing that I decided to do it again this past January as a way to kick-off the year. And, I figured I would write about my experiences so that I can provide some insight and share some tips that allowed me to have a positive experience, so that hopefully you can too.
What is Whole 30?
To quote the Whole30 website, “the Whole30 is designed to change your life in 30 days. Think of it as a short-term nutrition reset, designed to help you put an end to unhealthy cravings and habits, restore a healthy metabolism, heal your digestive tract, and balance your immune system.” For 30 days, the program challenges you to only eat the following foods:
Meat & Fish
Nuts & Seeds
What this means is that you cannot consume the following for 30 days:
Sugar (other than natural sugars found in fruit and vegetables)
For those of you who are familiar with the Paleo lifestyle, Whole30 is an extension of that, but with a few more “rules” and for a 30 day period.
Why complete the Whole 30?
“We cannot possibly put enough emphasis on this simple fact—the next 30 days will change your life. It will change the way you think about food, it will change your tastes, it will change your habits and your cravings. It could, quite possibly, change the emotional relationship you have with food, and with your body. It has the potential to change the way you eat for the rest of your life.”
As we all know, nutrition is so incredibly important to overall health. Fueling our bodies with the right foods can help you to reach and maintain a healthy weight, reduce your risk of chronic disease, fight infection and promote your overall health. Knowing this, why not use nutrition to help our bodies function optimally, and in turn, help us to feel the best we can? Eating whole, clean foods during the Whole30, and beyond, has shown to have the following results:
Decrease inflammation and bloating;
Eliminate toxins and waste (aka help with bowel movements);
Balance blood sugar levels;
Improved mental clarity;
Increase nutritional intake and absorption, and so much more.
The “diet” (and I use that word loosely) that works for me and my lifestyle is the 80/20 rule. I eat clean, wholesome, fresh ingredients for 80% of the time, and for the other 20% I treat myself with foods that truly make me happy - like a cookie and a glass of wine. This works for me and allows me to have a healthy, balanced relationship with food. However, of course I am only human, and there are definitely times when that 80/20 becomes more like 60/40, and when that happens, my body does not function like it’s supposed to, which I almost immediately recognize in the form of bloating, fogginess, lack of energy, poor sleep, congestion and so on.
Allowing myself a ‘reset’ is what my body needs to get back to that joyous state that is optimal for me. Whole30 is that ‘reset’ that I can get on-board with as it focuses on eating whole, clean, nutrient-dense ingredients, and with no restriction on portion size, as long as it sticks to the Whole30 guidelines. Basically this program focuses more on what you CAN eat, vs. what you CAN’T.
No calorie counting, macro tracking or point counting - instead, eat whole, fresh ingredients (meat, fish, fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds and oils) and eat as much as you like. Do this for 30 days straight.
My Whole 30 Experiences
As you can probably tell by now, I’ve had really positive experiences when completing Whole30 in the past. Although minor weight loss did occur for me, the results that truly excited me were increased energy, decreased bloating, decreased congestion (when I eat dairy I get crazy congested) and generally a decreased urge to have sweets and sugary foods. (As someone who has a killer sweet tooth, this one was huge for me.)
Of course with any kind of eating “program”, there are some challenges that come along with it, so here are a few things I have learned along the way that hopefully will help you should you feel like completing the Whole30 in the near future:
Planning, planning and more planning
I can’t say this one enough, if you want to succeed with Whole30, you have to be ready to get organized and be diligent. You will be spending more time in the kitchen than you are used to, so try to make it as efficient as you can. (Because no one has time for that.)
1. Plan your meals for the week
Use a calendar, a note in your phone, or a good old fashioned pen and paper to plan what meals and snacks you will be eating throughout the upcoming week. You can then use this to generate your grocery list and get everything you need. I created the template below for myself and my partner, Andrew. We are both pro-leftovers (which is pretty much a requirement for Whole30), and because he consumes meat and I do not, we have to get crafty with what we cook. This is a sample week that works for us:
2. Meal prep for the week
Yes, this will take a while, but if you follow your plan and you’ve already completed your grocery shopping, then you’re off to the races. Take a few hours on the weekends to prepare everything you’re going to eat for the coming week. If you’re anything like us and have some kind of commute, we never feel like cooking in the evening, so we also prepare our dinners ahead of time as well. (Of course, if you’re someone who can prepare their dinners fresh every night, then don’t worry about meal prepping those.) I also recommend preparing your snacks to take with you to work, or keep in the car/your bag, so you aren’t tempted to reach for something not Whole30 compliant.
The goal of all this planning and meal-prepping is to prevent you from steering off course at all during your Whole30. Chances are that if you are coming home tired at the end of every day, without any kind of plan or food prepared, you’ll likely reach for that frozen pizza, pasta or worse - not eat at all! This may seem crazy, but it will absolutely help you be as successful as possible.
3. Prepare more than you think
The first time I completed Whole30 I prepared a Sweet Potato skillet for all my breakfasts for the week ahead. It looked and smelled delicious, however by the time it was cooked, it didn't yield as much as I’d hoped (you know how sweet potatoes, mushrooms and spinach shrink right down when you cook them?), and I ended up only having enough to last me until Wednesday. So, what I learned here is MAKE MORE THAN YOU THINK YOU NEED!
Worst case scenario? You have more delicious meals and snacks prepared to take you all the way to Sunday, and you can even roll some over to the following week if they have been stored properly.
Tell your friends and family
When completing your Whole30, you may feel like you have to stay away from socializing with friends and family during the month from fear of steering off course. What I suggest to help combat that is to simply tell them! Let them know that you’re completing Whole30 and that you’ve got to be careful with what you eat for the full 30 days. I’m sure they’ll have questions, so feel confident answering them and let them know you are doing this for you and your health. Don’t ever feel guilty about that! (You do you, boo.)
A few ways to stay on track but still get your social fix:
Take your pre-prepared food with you (it feels weird the first time, but then you get over it real fast);
Sip on soda water and lime, instead of alcohol;
Eat BEFORE you go out, so you’re happy and full and less tempted to order food not Whole30 compliant;
Do your research and see what places would work for you (eg. The K&K Paleo Bowl at Kupfert & Kim in downtown Toronto is fully Whole30 compliant!);
Host at your place, so you can control what is on the menu (and ‘wow’ people with your delicious, and Whole 30 compliant, meals!).
Use this as an opportunity to get creative in the kitchen
The last two times I’ve completed Whole30 I’ve been on a mission to create some delicious meals that are different to what I usually cook. (This will also naturally occur as you stay away from ingredients that are not Whole30 compliant.) I wanted to make sure that not only do I not get hungry (which is why it’s important to meal-and-snack-prep in advance), but I also don’t get bored eating the same egg breakfast and zucchini-noodle dinner every day for 30 days. If you can stay ahead of both hunger and boredom, then you’re a superhero and you’re going to be successful. I promise!
One of my favourite recipes I came across during my last Whole30 was this Apple Cranberry Paleo Oatmeal dish. As oats are technically not Whole30 compliant (they are a grain), this recipe uses acorn squash as the base, and is super filling and flavourful due to the full-fat coconut milk and shredded coconut. Even re-heated it was DELICIOUS! I highly recommend giving this recipe a try.
Don’t fool yourself
You’re probably wondering where I’m going with this. In a nutshell, this program is to help you reset your body and allow your digestive system to ‘breathe’. It is also programmed to allow you to assess your eating habits, and evaluate if you’re eating because you’re hungry or thirsty, or if you’re eating based on emotion. For example, I have come to recognize that my daily GO Train commute causes me some minor anxiety, which in turn triggers an emotional response to eat, even when I am not hungry. (And trust me, I am not reaching for healthy foods when it is emotionally driven.)
Becoming more in tune with your emotions and your body’s reaction to it is a beautiful side benefit of the Whole30 program, and one which I encourage you to pay attention to the first time you do it. Breaking some habits that are not serving us, although challenging, is also an important step. That said, don’t fool yourself into thinking that because you’re eating ‘Whole30 approved’ muffins or cookies, that you’re still killing it. If you’re anything like me, muffins and cookies are my weakness, and eating them is usually the result of emotional eating. So, steer clear. The same goes if pizza or pasta are your emotional eating favourites. Eating ‘Whole30 approved’ pizza - cauliflower crust and all - is not going to help you break those habits. Instead, listen to your body, question why you’re craving your usual ‘emotional-food’, and instead fill yourself up on a delicious balanced meal like a portobello mushroom with coconut cream sauce, cauliflower rice and roasted brussel sprouts.
In the ‘Whole30 world’ they call this concept ‘Having sex with your pants on”. You can read more about it here. In a nutshell, just because something is ‘paleo’ or ‘Whole30 approved’, doesn’t mean it’s serving you, at least during your Whole30. If the usual name is included in the title, except you placed ‘Paleo’ in front of it, it’s probably a no-go. (I see you ‘Paleo Pancakes’ and ‘Paleo cookies’’.)
Cut yourself some slack
Last, but definitely not least, cut yourself some slack! Completing the Whole30 is HARD. Depending on your current lifestyle, it could be a drastic change to what you are used to. This could mean some slip-ups, especially at the beginning. But don’t let that get you down. If you read the Whole30 website they say that if you eat something not Whole30 “approved”, that you have to start from the beginning. I think that’s kind of crazy, and could result in an unhealthy relationship with food - which is exactly what this program is not designed to do.
Instead I suggest this: honour that you had a slip-up, pay attention as to why you ate that food (was it due to a certain emotion, and if so, how in the future can you respond differently?), and move on. Don’t focus on it, just keep going with your Whole30! Easy as that.
Completing Whole30 while Eating Plant-Based
I wanted to touch on this topic as I’m sure there are some of you reading this that have wanted to try Whole30 in the past, but were not sure how to do it if you don’t consume meat. I’m not going to lie to you when I say that the Whole30/Paleo lifestyle is very meat-based. The entire Paleo way is to focus on eating foods like our ancestors, who were hunter-gatherers. On top of this, legumes such as chickpeas, beans and peanuts, and grains, like quinoa or barley, are not within the Whole30/Paleo lifestyle, which are usually a great source of protein for non-meat eaters.
Don’t worry, this doesn’t mean that you can’t complete Whole30, it just means that you have to get imaginative when it comes to your meal planning! (Which is exactly why planning is SO important, especially for those of you who are primarily plant-based.) Here are a few things that I incorporated into my Whole30 that worked for me:
I re-introduced organic eggs into my diet to provide additional protein that was easy to incorporate;
I still consumed my favourite plant-based protein powder, especially after workouts. (This is the brand I use. It’s a pea/cranberry/rice protein blend);
I was pretty meticulous when it came to researching my meals and planning my weeks (see above);
I did eat fish (wild salmon) a few times throughout my Whole30, again as an easy way to incorporate protein and keep myself full;
I loaded up on veggies during all my meals;
I sprinkled hemp hearts on pretty much everything;
I ate a fair amount of snacks throughout the day so I was never hungry, and therefore never tempted - fresh fruit, fresh veggies, almond butter and date balls;
I researched lots of new recipes, tweaked them to not include meat and used this as an opportunity to expand my cooking repertoire. (For example, this recipe here is amazing even without the chicken. I added baby potatoes instead to provide some extra sustenance and the coconut milk makes it very filling).
So there you go. Those are a few things I have learned from my last two times completing the Whole30. I plan to complete it again before the summer so I’ll continue to add anything new that I pick-up along the way.
My biggest piece of advice to you is this: don’t overthink it, just do it. If this is something you’ve been considering for a while, or even if this is the first time you’ve heard of the Whole30, then just do it. There are SO many incredible benefits to learning how to eat this way, and you will be so surprised how your body reacts when you allow it to flourish and thrive the way it was meant to.
If you have any questions at all about the Whole30, or if you have any tips you’d like to share from your past experiences, then comment below. I’d love to chat!