As you know we recently finished our first Whole 30 Program and it was as exciting as it was challenging! There is so much to learn about food and how your body works, and if you are interested in any of that (or just looking and feeling better) I highly recommend considering it. What I don’t recommend, is going into it without a plan. It is 30 days (IN A ROW) of super clean eating, and that kind of endeavor takes a good mix of desire, discipline and determination. But it can TOTALLY be done!
After our experience, I wanted to share my Top Ten Tips that will help you have success if you are contemplating or in the middle of embarking on this experience. Stalking the Whole 9 archives and reading It Starts With Food would be my first most basic recommendations, but once you have that in the bag, my best bullet-pointed advice (complete with all sorts of helpful links) should get you going!
If Garrett + I can be successful at this, anyone can.
1. Get Your Mind Right
My dad had a lot of advice for me growing up, but one of the things he said most often was this:
What the mind can conceive and you can believe, you can achieve.
True? Also Yes.
So you’ve already conceived of this Whole 30, right? You know what it entails and requires — so the only thing standing in the way of you achieving it is working on that BELIEVING part. And that, requires getting your mind right. Think about some of your doubts and then find some good mantras to counteract those doubts.
Yeah, I just recommended mantras…what of it? They work. Here were the two I used most commonly:
“It’s only 30 Days. I can do anything for 30 Days.”
“I am committed to following through. The journey can’t unfold if I don’t take it.”
2. Just Focus on the First Two Weeks
Yes, it is only 30 days (and remember you can do anything for 30 days) but for me, everything became physically and emotionally ingrained by around day 16. Right about at two weeks in. If you get started and feel like you are struggling (which is pretty common in the first few days) just keep your eye on that summit. It really *will* be all downhill from there. And I KNOW you can do anything for two weeks!
Plus when you finish up two weeks, you’ll then only have two weeks left. And at that point you will already KNOW that you can get through two weeks, so no excuses! 🙂 That’s my kind of mental math/rationalizing.
3. Purge Your House of Non-Compliant Food + Find Alternatives
I’m talking your dark chocolate chip supply, your crappy dressings full of soybean oil, those sneaky ingredients that are harboring sugar. Just ditch them. Or freeze them if you must (True Story: I did that with shredded cheese.) Or give it to someone else who can use them. It sounds a little drastic, but then again the Whole 30 is an exercise in being subtle.
It will be SO MUCH EASIER to resist the temptation if it is not physically there looking right at you and singing its siren song. If that is not realistic for you (spouse or kids not participating?) then perhaps try and contain most of the off limits food to a certain shelf in the fridge or section of your pantry and just DON’T EVEN GO THERE unless absolutely necessary.
Once that’s under control, make a plan of attack to replace all that stuff you just threw out. Need to make some homemade mayo now? Get on that. Next time you are at the grocery store, pick up a dijon mustard that doesn’t have wine and sugar in it (Whole Foods has a good one.) What are you going to put on your salads now? How about some easy homemade vinaigrettes? Find your alternatives BEFORE you get started. That way there will be no mid-meal panic or feelings of deprivation.
My fear was what I would put on my burgers since my old habit was to smother it with cheese. I decided to try some smoked jalapeno sauerkraut and it was basically love at first bite. But if you’re not into kraut? Check out these Paleo Burger Toppings. Seriously. Pesto on a Turkey Burger? WHO THE HELL EVEN NEEDS CHEESE?
4. Actively Plan Your Meals in a Way That Works For Your Life
For me this meant creating a “uniform” for breakfast and lunch, and having dinner be our creative meal. I chose this because I like to cook in the evenings (aaaaah, vegetable chopping after a long day!) and I always enjoy cooking up meals on the weekends. Also, I don’t mind having some variation of the same breakfast everyday.
Dinner leftovers? Sweet.
Frittatas? Make one and have breakfast prepared for days!
Hard boiled eggs? Chicken and veggies? Box that stuff up and take it to work!
I vary my spices and combinations enough that it doesn’t feel repetitious at all, but is still super simple. The Lunch Uniform is usually a salad with meat or leftovers. Obviously I make WAY MORE FOOD THAN NECESSARY when preparing dinner because I count on using my leftovers. It’s all part of this plan I keep talking about.
Maybe that exact breakdown doesn’t work for you. Maybe you aren’t into eggs for breakfast or maybe you work nights. You know your schedule best and what is realistic, so figure out a routine that meshes well your life and commit to that for 30 days.
5. Mix up Exciting Complicated Recipes with Simple + Easy Food
All things considered, this is probably the strictest month of eating many of you will experience — so may I recommend picking out some DAMN GOOD RECIPES so that you don’t feel the hand of limitation hovering over you? Here are a few that knocked our socks off, and would have on any night of the week, but as a bonus they were totally Whole 30 compliant:
Sun Dried Tomato Meatballs with Spaghetti Squash and Walnut Pesto
Baked Mustard Lime Chicken
But let’s be honest, every single night can’t be a gastronomical discovery suited for Top Chef Masters. Sometimes dinner needs to just get on the table. These were some simple recipes that totally delivered on flavor but also were able to be assembled fairly quickly:
Taco Salad (though I used a vinaigrette as dressing)
Grilled Santa Maria Style Steaks
Coconut Lime Shrimp Skewers
It’s worth taking a minute and browsing Pinterest for good Whole 30 recipes or checking out Chowstalker’s Whole 30 section. You are going to be doing this for an entire month. You deserve good eats!
6. Set Aside One Day Per Week to Plan/Prep
I’m a big proponent of Meal Planning and I just don’t think you will have success on the Whole 30 without it. Whether you plan 1-week at a time, 2 weeks at a time, or an entire Month of Whole 30 meals, just make sure you are thinking about what you are going to eat.
Also, do yourself a favor and set aside a couple of hours to do food prep one day a week. I recommend this in life, but it is PARAMOUNT for the Whole 30. This may not be something that you are used to, but it will be IMMENSELY helpful to adopt this strategy for 30 days, and in the end is only 4 separate Sundays — or whatever days you choose. Don’t skip it!
Don’t know what to do during your food prep? Mel has a great post about all the stuff you can cook in only 60 minutes. Read it. Live it. Love it. 🙂
7. Keep Dining Out + Food-Related Socializing to a Minimum
Listen, I don’t mean to get Debbie Downer on you, but food-related socializing while doing the Whole 30 is like planning Pub Crawls during a month where you are trying not to drink. It’s just…not going to be quite the same experience.
Now, I’m not saying you won’t have success on your Whole 30 if you still socialize — I found myself traveling for 2 days for work, I went to a happy hour/reunion with friends, and attended a book club dinner hosted by friends all in the month we did our Whole 30. You can definitely survive. But I will tell you with 100% certainty that those were BY FAR the most challenging days. The days where I felt the most like throwing in the towel. “Man, I should just give this up,” I thought. “What’s the harm in one glass of wine?” “Life is too short for restricted eating”
But we are not talking about Life. We are talking about 30 days. It so easy to rationalize quitting in these situations. The righteousness of quitting will be palpable. So don’t fall into that trap if you can help it. And I’m willing to bet you can. Don’t put yourself in a situation where you will feel so sorry for yourself that you talk yourself out of all the benefits of this Whole 30 experiment.
I’m not saying hole up in your house, that is not fun and certainly not realistic. I’m just saying — for one month — be conscious of the fact that every time you do go out, or hit a restaurant, or meet friends at a bar — you are putting your success at risk. So choose wisely. Next month will be right there waiting for you when you complete your Whole 30!
8. Find Motivating Resources
The wonderful part of the Whole 30 is that it is a large community of people. Tons have people have paved the way before you, and tons will go after you. Take as much advice and motivation from the experienced ones as you can. There are Whole 30 Forums for you to peruse. Check out My Favorite Clean Eating Food Blogs (almost all of them have Whole 30 sections). Consider subscribing to the Whole 30 Daily if you like to wake up to motivation in your inbox. Do what you can to seek out some inspiration — for now, but also for later. No doubt there will come a point when you’ll need it.
9. Become a Pro at Distracting Yourself
I read something in It Starts With Food that helped numerous times with my cravings — If you feel hungry for a particular food: It’s a craving. If you have just eaten some food and still feel hungry: It’s a craving. If you are not hungry enough that you would eat plain steamed fish and steamed broccoli: It’s a craving.
Cravings take, on average, 5 minutes to dissipate.
(I set a stop watch more than once over my 30 days. I’m embarrassed to say that, but THESE ARE MY CONFESSIONS. :))
If you’re having a craving, leave the kitchen. Flip through a magazine (maybe not a food one though, ok.) Go outside and get some sun for a minute. Fold your laundry. DO SOMETHING for that five minutes, and chances are that craving will go away eventually. It’s worth a try.
And if all else fails? Have a piece of fruit that is extra delicious, or a handful of macadamia nuts. Hell, have a scoop of sunbutter straight out of the jar. But make yourself aware of that response that you are having, and try to manage it better next time. This exercise isn’t about torture, in fact it’s the opposite. It’s about finding awareness. You are giving yourself 30 days to eat in a way that is nourishing to your body. Each successful day that passes will get easier and easier.
10. When The Going Gets Tough, Keep It In Perspective
Times WILL get tough, believe me. But nothing worth doing is easy. Kathleen mentioned something about her experience doing a Whole 30 that really resonated with me though and maybe it will help keep things in perspective for you:
I’m really lucky that I can take such consideration into what I’m eating. A lot of people don’t have that opportunity – so to complain about having to eat really healthy, nice food for 30 whole days would be pretty shitty.
How true is that? I’m not saying that you that you will not be reduced to feeling irritable about your broccoli at any time during your 30 days. You will. It is certain. It’s nice to remember though, that your annoyance at broccoli during those 30 days? It is a privilege. When you start feeling pissed, maybe find a way to muster up some gratitude and just carry on.
Also, don’t forget: YOU CAN DO THIS. You’ve already done the conceiving. It’s time to get to the believing.
Fellow Whole 30-ers — have some advice you want to share? Help someone out by leaving it in the comments!
Want to Read about My Experience with the Whole 30:
Whole 30 – The First 5 Days
Whole 30 – Days 6-12
Whole 30 – The Summit
Whole 30 – Days 16-21
Whole 30 – Days 22-30
This list is amazing! I think I’m going to hang it on my fridge. I’m on Day 10, but I definitely wouldn’t have made it this far without pre-prepping and meal planning. It’s alot easier to make good choices when I have a fridge full of good food I don’t want to waste!
I love what you said about perspective. Am I really going to complain about “having to” eat fresh veggies or local meat? I’m not going to be That Girl. 🙂
I know, right? I didn’t think like that AT ALL while I was actually doing it, but when I read Kathleen’s recap I thought to myself “Ain’t that the truth!” I will definitely remember it next time.
Great post! I’ll be referring back to this around day 10, when I’m feeling really discouraged.
I’m on day 3 of my second Whole30. For me, the meals are the easy part. My biggest challenge is from 3pm-5pm every day, when I start to get cravings. During the first Whole30, I relied too much on dried fruit and dates, so I never really got rid of that sugar programming at that time of day. This time I’m trying to make more food for lunch, and if I’m hungry, I either have another small meal or I grab coconut flakes, nuts, or cocoa nibs–but no fruit.
I found those cravings the hardest the first week and totally shoved my face full of macadamia nuts (something I don’t really do in real life because I’m always so concerned about having too many nuts.) It got me through and then during week 2 I was like — hey wait! Maybe I don’t really neeeeeeeed this, and cut back. By week 3 we didn’t even buy them anymore. Sometimes I think you have to put a band-aid on the discouragement just to get through. 🙂
Fantastic tips! If you plan hardcore for Whole30 it’s easy. But I don’t think people realize how much planning and prep is necessary until they start.
Amen, sister! A planner after my own heart 🙂
One mantra I like to use is “Ride the wave.”. I didn’t make this up– I read it somewhere– but it really helps me.
Think of each craving like a wave, pushing you around. Then visualize yourself on a surf board, just riding it out.
Yes, the craving is powerful, but you just hang in there, ride it out, and eventually the craving will dissolve.
Good one! Love that.
Yeah, so, we pretty much love this. I’m glad I stumbled across this on Facebook! We’ll be re-posting on our page tomorrow so everyone doing the September Whole30 can get their houses in order.
Thank you for your contributions to our community.
Melissa & Dallas
I’m in the middle of my “Whole30 Take II” challenge since I messed up my August challenge on day 28 (ya, i know! right?) This is an excellent post and very much like the one I’ve been planning to write when I finish my Whole30 days (in a row) on October 3! Planning is key but so is the mental aspect when you dont “want” to cook or you try to convince yourself out of eating well. We know what we need to do to get through this 30 days (and it will change your life), but sometimes all you need is a different perspective! Thanks for posting!
The biggest help for me has been getting all the unhealthy food out of the house and bringing in tons of new. I’m covered for 30 days if we get an ice storm in Atlanta in September! All good, clean meats & fish – frozen in the freezer. I can thaw as I go. Lots of root veggies that won’t go bad. I can purchase green leafies as I go – and be spontaneously inspired.
My biggest challenge is having food available when I need it (unpredictable schedule) and at least we have 5 Wholefoods in Atlanta and they label the deli ingredients meticulously. I can put the weirdest things in a bowl together, add olive oil and call it a salad. By then it tastes heavenly – even a boiled egg w/red cabbage, cashews, plain kale & chicken!
Great mantras; thanks. I’ll add: “It’s not leaving the planet,” so it’s easy to pass on it.
If I eat well (protein, veg, fat) before I go out, all the options don’t tempt me.
Thank goodness for coconut manna. Especially in the beginning. Like eating frosting from a can (and I don’t usually like coconut). Ok, food shouldn’t be a hug – but this helps!
Thank you so much for all these amazing tips…your Whole 30 journey has inspired me to start one. I’m on day 2 and I have bookmarked your site under my Whole 30 inspiration. Love your blog and honest posts about the road to becoming the “best you” possible.
Oh, Holly. I’m having such a hard time. Not with the food or with avoiding temptations, I’m just so tired. And depressed. I jogged for 20 minutes yesterday and thought I would die. I know it’s Day 8 and that should be turning around soon…right? I need some light at the end of this meat and vegetable tunnel!
Also, ugh, I’m sorry, I hate being a downer. I really want this to work! But I’m SO VERY DOWN.
Excellent post! I’m really tempted to do a Whole 30 now. Hmmmm…
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Great post – will be sharing with friends 🙂