Whole 30 Thoughts From The Trenches

Grocery Shopping in color!

My mom and I had an interesting discussion about food this last week (she is prepping to do her first Whole 30 starting tomorrow.) She said to me “Oooh, because I’m doing the Whole 30 I’m going to treat myself to little cherry tomatoes just for snacking.” And I said “I know! After seeing my friend Elizabeth’s salad on twitter, it reminded me I need to pick up some radishes. I can’t wait to just have RADISHES WAITING FOR ME IN THE FRIDGE. YUM!”

The interesting part about both of these things is that it’s not like daily life precludes us from doing either, but something about narrowing our nutrition focus helps really clarify the Venn diagram of nutritious foods we really enjoy and foods we feel are genuinely pleasurable. It’s almost doesn’t make sense, but there is a way in which narrowing your choices actually creates a feeling of abundance that doesn’t happen in my normal life. Less is more: the food version. If you are feeling frustrated about food right now I challenge you to find your own cherry tomatoes or freshly scrubbed radishes ready to be eaten this week.

My goal with the Whole 30 (among other things) is to find some new, awesome habits (snacking on radishes) and healthy meals that I truly do enjoy specifically because my choices are limited, and to keep them in the rotation when I am back to having ALL OF THE OPTIONS. If I can just change one or two habits after this experience I will count that as great progress.

comfort zone

Some time in the first week, everyone who has decided to undertake this challenge has that moment where they realize “Holy shit, this is really hard.” And to that, I say: YOU ARE RIGHT! What you are doing right now is a really hard thing. If you are feeling a little unmotivated because of that, I want to remind you of this. The act of getting through something tough is going to produce additional benefits (hello, confidence) that reach beyond even the physical awesomeness that you will earn just by doing the Whole 30. So I guess what I’m saying is make sure you are giving yourself credit for both things these days.

And I also want to remind you that if it feels hard? YOU’RE DOING IT RIGHT! Because I really think that is nice to hear.


The last thing I’ve been thinking is that sometimes when the going gets tough we are tempted to use that difficulty to rationalize quitting.

“The Whole 30 is not sustainable, I should probably stop.”

“I don’t want to be obsessed with food all the time, I am just going to quit this now and try to develop mostly better habits in balance.”

“Why am I thinking about every morsel of food that goes in my mouth, that will not make me happy in the long run so in the short run I should quit.”

I want to challenge you to use that difficulty to motivate you.
When you feel it is hard, validate that for yourself. But also, validate that YOU CAN DO HARD THINGS. And then, think about this:

*The Whole 30 *isn’t* sustainable, and it is not meant to be. That is why it is only 30 days. It’s NOT a Whole 365. But it is a finite commitment, and it is one that you have already invested some time into. Why not keep it up and see it through? If you have done it for 6 days, you know you can do it for 6 more. When you get to 12 days, know that you can do 12 more. This is not a life sentence, this is 30 days.

*Embarking on a Whole 30 *does* mean thinking about your food more than usual for a finite period of time. It is not programmed to make you obsessive. There is a light at the end of the tunnel, and that light will be so much more illuminating if you give yourself 30 days of mindfulness about your food. But keep it in perspective that when something *is* about mindfulness, it’s going to be on your mind, right? So if you are thinking about food a lot more than usual, you are not being obsessive, you are on the right track. And you will only be doing it for 30 days.

Don’t let your inner-rationalizer undermine your success!


Remember that you are building an awareness of your body, and that this takes consistency and commitment.

Remember that this is hard, and it is okay to give yourself credit for doing hard things.

Remember that this is only 30 days and you won’t always feel this challenged.

Remember that you are almost done.

Remember that you can do it.


Any other advice you would like to add?

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...
Print Friendly, PDF & Email

40 Responses to Whole 30 Thoughts From The Trenches

  1. Jennie says:

    This morning, on my drive in, I thought “I really want a Diet Coke” but then I thought, “Oh, I can’t, I’ll have water instead.” So I had water. It’s not like I have to be thirsty (or hungry). I can have ALL the water or ALL the carrots or ALL the clementines (I know I’m supposed to limit fruit but I’m calling this Whole30 Lite for a reason). When I take away the roadblock of junky eating, there’s plenty left over to enjoy, and I now get to see it all.

    • Holly says:

      It ends up being quite eye opening in my experience, and that is a really enlightening and powerful take away. Of course, every single moment doesn’t feel like that, so in those moments it helps to have some strategies or pep talks. Or ALL the clementines or macadamia nuts! I always tell myself that I can eat whatever I want on this list within reason and if that is all the clementines, well so be it! If it keeps you on track and you benefit from the whole experience then it’s a success!

  2. Elizabeth says:

    this was so helpful, Holly! So helpful! I am feeling ALL THOSE THINGS and it just helps so much to know that it’s totally normal and not just me. Thank you so much for this.

    • Holly says:

      Anytime! The genesis of this post was a comment that I was going to leave for you (about the radishes) and then I realized it was like 9000 words and I would look like a psycho so I thought maybe I would just be a psycho over here in my own front yard instead of doing it in yours. Glad it was helpful though!

  3. Kelsi says:

    This came at a great time- thanks!!! My husband and I are doing the Challenge but started on the 2nd… Finally getting over the ‘sugar flu’ and am loving the way I feel: more full on less food, not as bloated, and reminded that I love green tea!!! Thanks again Holly!!

    • Holly says:

      Hooray! Glad to hear you are feeling better. I am too! Noticeably. I tweeted this morning that I feel human again, and I swear it’s like I have a whole new lease on life. I mean, I still miss wine, but hot damn if I don’t have a clear head and a body that feels light and agile and ready to take on this week!

  4. Sara says:

    Wow, Yes! That first “reason to quit” is exactly the one I’m struggling with. You nailed it. Thank you for this! I needed some motivation today πŸ™‚ Now off to make a meal plan for the week. My fridge is dangerously empty of veggies…

  5. Erin says:

    This came at the most perfect time! I’m finding this 2nd Whole30 more difficult and challenging than the first. I tend to push the boundaries more with this one. The nice thing with being done with week 1 (all about survival) I can start to focus on other goals like no nuts for snacks and cutting back even more on my fruit. These are my slippery slope. Sometimes it just gets exhausting thinking about food so much, but I know that it’s necessary to focus on it for these 30 days because after that somehow it turns into you almost never thinking about food, it’s liberating and that’s what I look forward too.

    • Holly says:

      I couldn’t have said it better — it IS liberating! You just have to kind of walk through the fire first. πŸ™‚

  6. Kristabella says:

    Great post! The focusing so much on food is hard and hard to get used to. But for me, I always go back to the whole point of Whole 30, about learning about your body’s reaction to the things you put into it. I am a crazy emotional eater. I have triggers. Every time I get down, I remember that I am going to learn from this (I hope) and that 30 days is not an eternity.

    And the best part is I’m still eating really great food!

  7. Abby says:

    I’m not doing a Whole 30, but this is such great advice for any challenging period in life. Thanks so much for writing and sharing this. πŸ™‚

  8. Mariah B says:

    Thank you, dear Holly, for this timely post. I had been eating mostly paleo for the last year or so with some dairy, Quest protein bars, and a honey, maple syrup, or stevia sweetened treat now and then, so I wasn’t expecting a huge change. And overall, it hasn’t been that bad.

    I had a few food dreams just recently.. which is funny, since I haven’t eaten mac’n’cheese in YEARS. But in my dream, I was sleeping and dreaming about mac’n’cheese. Hah! Weird.

    However, I’m getting bored with my non-cheese paleo meals, and I dug into a few different books like Melissa’s Well Fed, and the great It Starts With Food for some inspiration. Thank goodness I have some new things on the menu!

    Anyway, yes, this feels hard. This Whole30 may very well be the longest WOD of my life…

    Or I could just need a nap. My husband’s not really on board with the whole 8 hours of sleep a night thing..

  9. Madison L. says:

    Love this post! I am finally feeling pretty normal today, and I actually haven’t had many cravings throughout the first week. Most of my difficulty came from feeling cranky and not wanting to eat any of my food after cooking it. I still don’t understand that one… πŸ™‚

  10. Day 1, today – was doing great until I mindlessly popped a piece of gum in my mouth!!!! Crazy how it didn’t even occur to me, talk about annoyed lol.

  11. RGorden says:

    This was a great post – thank you. I’m so thankful you are going through this experience with those of us who are doing it for the first time. As I was journaling this morning, one of my insights was that I need to keep my guard up as I suspect this week will be tougher than Week 1…..the newness of following a Whole 30 regimen has lost some of its excitement and I.just.want.a.glass.of.wine! I can taste it in my mind. But that’s as far as I will go, I promise. We’re a quarter of the way there. And only a week before we hit the downward slope to completion and success. That’s what is keeping me going.

    This really hasn’t been as bad as I feared as I’ve been pretty strict with Paleo eating for 1 1/2 years. So the few days I had headaches and lethargy were a bit of a surprise – but also a great reminder of how even little bits of sugar and gluten can mess with your bodily systems.

    Anyway, thank you for your posts – I read every one!

    • Holly says:

      Hey thanks for that! I’ve been reading back through my posts from the last time I did the Whole 30, and it seems like by day 12-14 I felt pretty confidant in the process. And by Day 20, my wine craving was actually gone. BUT IT WAS FIERCE THOSE FIRST 20 DAYS πŸ™‚ Keep up all the good work that you are doing. It will be worth it in the end!

  12. Jacki says:

    “*Embarking on a Whole 30 *does* mean thinking about your food more” – yep, I have been thinking about my food more. And I like that. Instead of mindlessly putting crap in my mouth, I am taking the time to stand at the produce aisle, plotting out future meals with strange combos of veggies I have never tried. I spend several hours in the kitchen prepping and planning. I consciously consume my meals, making sure to savor as many bites as my taste buds allow. And I take the time to watch the faces of my loved ones as they try out these new foods.

  13. Scot Herrick says:

    I’m looking at thinking about food all the time as a great opportunity to learn about different approaches to eating, finding new recipes to try, and then focusing on the learning. And, of course, the food tastes pretty darn good as well!

    As well, I think it is also important to know what many stages people go through when they go on the whole 30. I started yesterday (holidays, company, blah blah blah…). It was easy. But I know the sugar withdrawal is coming. So is the “kill anything” moment. And the emotional trigger of stress to hit the fridge. Or that wine bottle. If you know stuff like that is coming, it helps to both prepare for it and recognize the moment when it comes.

    Thanks, Holly, this site and others have been really helpful for this work.

    • Holly says:

      Thanks Scot!

      Yeah I definitely think all the thinking about food inspires some creativity. And I LOVE that post that details the different stages of the Whole 30. I’ve even found that it helps me when I’m not doing the Whole 30 — for example in real life, if I have a few too many cocktails I know that within 24/48 hours I will sort of feel a low grade depression — like “WHY IS EVERYTHING SO DIFFICULT?” when nothing has actually changed, you know? But I was only really able to connect that after really learning about my body and it’s reactions during the Post-Whole 30 reintroduction period. Super helpful!

      Good luck with your 30 days!

  14. Amy says:

    I think that one of the great things about doing a Whole30 or similar challenge is that later on down the road, when I’m tempted to EAT ALL THE THINGS, I can point to this as proof positive that NOT giving into a craving won’t kill me. It seems so much easier to say no to one thing when I know I can say no to 30 days of things. It’s such good motivation to remember later.

    • Holly says:

      EXACTLY. It’s empowering to do something like this because once you get through “the suck” it definitely helps with challenges down the road. You realize when something sucks — “Hey, I am totally equipped to deal with this.” ROCK! πŸ™‚

  15. Nicole says:

    You’re definitely right about having to think more about your food choices.

    I was hungry after my workout and thought about all the things I could eat, but then realized that none of those things would work. No bread, no quick bowl of cereal, etc. BUT, I looked in the fridge and ended up making myself the most delicious chicken salad with homemade mayo, celery, diced apple, and shallot-tarragon seasoning. It was awesome. I feel satisfied. And it barely took any more time than making myself a pb&j.

    Sometimes you just really have to stop yourself when you get in that “this is too much” mindset and decide if it really is. So far, it’s not that hard when I make myself have the right outlook.

    • Holly says:

      I feel like the challenge of the Whole 30 is 70/30 mental/physical. Getting in the right mindset is TOTALLY key.

  16. Emily says:

    I have to say that this Whole30 has been more difficult than my first one. Unsurprisingly, my life circumstances are different, including extra work and home-life stressors this time ’round.

    That said, the most informative part of this experience for me has been realizing just how much my emotions rule my eating choices. And GIVE ME THE WINE DAMMIT!!! Which is kind of scary.

    On the upside, the cooking piece has been much, MUCH more fun this time ’round, thanks to your Instagram homework. That part was the WORST for me last time… I was so over veggie prep by the end that I went a few days afterwards eating only pre-prepared food because I just.couldn’t.chop.anything.else. Now, I’m just so over drinking only tea and water. But I can hang in there for a few more weeks πŸ˜‰ I always feel better after getting past the decision point where you could potentially decide to de-rail yourself. And that’s what keeps me going.

    • Holly says:

      Do you like or are you drinking any sparkling waters? The La Croix ones have so many good flavors it almost feels like a fun cocktail. Squeeze a little lime into the Cranberry Raspberry one and it almost (ALMOST) feels like a cocktail.

      Oh, or have you read this: http://whole9life.com/2012/10/quench-your-thirst-whole9-style/

      Might have some fun ideas (Kombucha? I have had a bad Kombucha habit the past few months. ha. Bad because that stuff is EXPENSIVE!_

      • Emily says:

        Yeah, sparkling water is where it’s at! I get the Safeway “Refreshe” flavors – Berry is my favorite. to make it feel special, I put it in a champagne flute πŸ™‚

        I’ve also been drinking tea out of beautiful china cups. Pinkies UP!

  17. Rhonda H says:

    I am not sure what I am doing wrong… the Whole 30 is not hard for me at all… in fact, like you said Holly, it is making me look at normal everyday foods in a different light and choosing ones I WANT to eat — I too got some yummy cherry tomatoes the other day and couldn’t wait to put them on my plate!
    Maybe it was the overdose of Mexican pastries before Christmas or just the feeling of being so blah before I started this that it is actually easy — in fact easier than when I first tried Paleo a year and a half or so ago! Weird huh? It has been what, nearly a week and I already have so much more energy and I am feeling great! I keep waiting for the proverbial “other shoe” to drop but I think with your encouragement for planning ahead, that it might not be dropping this time.
    I guess also since I normally cook at home and HAVE to bring my lunches (I refuse to eat school cafeteria fake food), so that part is also not so hard.
    The only thing I have stopped is the separate blog but that has nothing to do with food but time. I am so enjoying your posts and I think things like this and other blogs that are encouraging us help a lot too.

    • Holly says:

      I don’t think you are doing it wrong at all, you probably just did a great job physically AND mentally preparing! The physical part of preparing is an absolute, I think. But the mental part is icing on the cake and if you can prepare yourself and re-frame the challenges into positives, I think the whole experience actually becomes pretty exciting and fun. I mean, not without it’s rough spots, but for the most part: AWESOME.

      • Rhonda H says:

        All that said, today was the first day back at school (work, middle school teacher) and it was actually fine until the end of the day. We had a lunch reversal schedule so I have 3 classes in a row and at 3:10 when school got out, I was HUNGRY! But I had a meeting so I couldn’t eat yet and ended up getting sort of grumpy… I have to figure out a way to get some quick energy at the end of the day after all those 12 year olds!

  18. Fiona says:

    Wow Holly,
    Fantastic answers to all the excuses and reasons not to do something hard. I will definitely be coming back here to read this again. Thank you very much.

  19. Holy crap this is so true! “there is a way in which narrowing your choices actually creates a feeling of abundance that doesn’t happen in my normal life.” When I read that it was like a lightbulb went off in my head! Yes, I miss cheese and bourbon, but when I’m thinking about what to make, I get excited about the new possibilities – and they aren’t actually new (as in I could have been eating them all along but didn’t) which is weird. I guess they got crowded out by all of my old standby habit foods that I can’t have anymore. I bought a rutabaga the other day and I can’t wait to use it. I’ve never been so excited to buy a root vegetable before – so weird, but cool. Definitely a side effect of the Whole 30 I hadn’t thought about before! Great post as usual – hooray for week 2!

    • Holly says:

      I feel like every time I challenge myself to do something like complete a Whole 30 I always take something positive from it moving forward. I may not live the rest of my days in 100% compliance with whatever “rules” were going on during the challenge, but committing to something hard makes you learn stuff, and learning stuff helps me up my game. I love the Whole 30 for helping me see some of the “health-IER” choices that I could be making without losing the excitement I have for cooking and eating. It’s a win! (Of course I also miss wine and bourbon. Fiercely. But hey, it’s a small and temporary price to pay for enlightenment I wouldn’t get otherwise.)

  20. Rose-Anne says:

    Hey, Holly! I just wanted to pipe in with a few thoughts. First, I am loving the posts about Whole 30–it’s fascinating to read about your experience and those of your readers/co-Whole 30 participants. What you said about abundance versus deprivation is very true for other dietary choices, like veganism. I followed a vegan diet for a month in 2012, and while I found it almost impossible to eat out in Texas as a vegan, at home, I felt almost no deprivation, despite my deep love for dairy and eggs. It’s all in your mindset: do you seek abundance or do you seek deprivation? I try to seek abundance. Grocery shopping is your friend πŸ™‚

    Second, I want to give major props to Whole 30 for having a vegetarian plan. I really want to write some blog posts about paleo from a vegetarian perspective (both the science and the ethics of eating), but I’ve been kinda stumped about where to start. Perhaps Whole 30 is where I should start…and I’m even…(ohmygod)…thinking about doing a Whole 30 myself. Heaven help me!

    So keep up the good work with the blog and Whole 30–you are an inspiration, lady. xoxo!

    • This part of your comment is so true: “It’s all in your mindset: do you seek abundance or do you seek deprivation?” I know that restaurants will make me feel more limited and tempted to cheat with “just a little” bad oil or sugar or something, so I am pretty much avoiding them during the Whole30 in favor of eating at a 100% Whole30 restaurant- Chez Moi! I love cooking at home during the Whole30 and find such joy and abundance in all of the new ingredients and recipes I”m trying. I would love to read your posts about a vegetarian Whole30 or paleo diet.

  21. Rockermocking says:

    Holly, I always love reading your blog because even if it doesn’t relate exactly to what I’m doing (I’m not doing Whole 30 now), you often give good positive thinking that helps me out in other areas, such as the fact that I just started a new job.

    Your talk on persevering with tough situations and following-through those tough situations successfully, resulting in improved confidence, really was the statement I needed to read today to give me positive thinking for the challenges I will be facing in the coming months at my new position. “I want to challenge you to use that difficulty to motivate you.” was just the motivational phrase I needed! πŸ™‚

  22. I’ve actually been thinking about writing a post on redefining treats during your Whole30. My eyes light up in the grocery store when I see that something out of the ordinary is on sale-this week is was pomegranates, which made an amazing topping for a kale salad, last week it was ground sirloin (hey, I’m cheap, so this was a steal). During the Whole30 I tend to treat myself in this respect quite a bit. It really helps to balance the feeling of being an outsider or having to say no in social situations when I have so many new recipes and “treats” to look forward to…I actually feel like I kind of spoil myself in this respect!

  23. Danielle says:

    Thanks for the encouraging words!!

  24. Ashley says:

    I totally agree with you. I definitely tend to “rationalize” how this isn’t the best way to go etc etc. I also turn into a major b*tch and realize I practically RELY on sugar. I mean I definitely have a sugar addiction! The Whole 30 is incredibly eye-opening. This was such a great post!!

  25. Pingback: Foodie Finds: Healthy Crock-Pot Recipes, Hangover Hash & More!