Whole30 Challenge

What is the Whole30?

The Whole30 is a 30-day nutritional reset created by Melissa and Dallas Hartwig. For 30 days you will eliminate certain foods that might be having a negative impact on your health. After 30 days you will slowly reintroduce foods one at a time to see how they affect you. You might be surprised that foods you thought were no big deal cause some really bad side effects, like allergies or acne.

Why should I do one?

The Whole30 is meant for anyone looking to see if food might be affecting his or her health. The theory is that some foods, such as those containing gluten, have been irritating your gut lining causing chronic inflammation. Inflammation, in turn, can cause problems such as IBS, acne, allergies, arthritis etc. By cutting out all foods that could be gut-irritating for 30 days, you give your body a chance to heal.

For those of you who read my blog because you also suffer from fibromyalgia, the Whole30 is what I did to find out which foods would trigger fibromyalgia flares. During my Whole30 I discovered my pain started to disappear. (I also discovered I was intolerant to soy).

In the end, the foods you need to avoid might be different from mine. But this will help you figure out which ones they are.

What can I eat?

During the Whole30 you will eat real whole food – Meat, seafood, eggs, vegetables, fruit, oils and nuts. Contrary to popular belief, there are a lot of things you can eat.

What can you not eat?

Taken directly from the Whole30 website:

  • “Do not consume added sugar of any kind, real or artificial. No maple syrup, honey, agave nectar, coconut sugar, Splenda, Equal, Nutrasweet, xylitol, stevia, etc. Read your labels, because companies sneak sugar into products in ways you might not recognize.
  • Do not consume alcohol, in any form, not even for cooking. (And it should go without saying, but no tobacco products of any sort, either.)
  • Do not eat grains. This includes (but is not limited to) wheat, rye, barley, oats, corn, rice, millet, bulgur, sorghum, amaranth, buckwheat, sprouted grains and all of those gluten-free pseudo-grains like quinoa. Yes, we said corn… for the purposes of this program, corn is a grain! This also includes all the ways we add wheat, corn and rice into our foods in the form of bran, germ, starch and so on. Again, read your labels.
  • Do not eat legumes. This includes beans of all kinds (black, red, pinto, navy, white, kidney, lima, fava, etc.), peas, chickpeas, lentils, and peanuts. No peanut butter, either. This also includes all forms of soy – soy sauce, miso, tofu, tempeh, edamame, and all the ways we sneak soy into foods (like lecithin).
  • Do not eat dairy. This includes cow, goat or sheep’s milk products such as cream, cheese (hard or soft), kefir, yogurt (even Greek), and sour cream… with the exception of clarified butter or ghee. (See below for details.)
  • Do not consume carrageenan, MSG or sulfites. If these ingredients appear in any form on the label of your processed food or beverage, it’s out for the Whole30.
  • In addition, no Paleo-ifying dessert or junk food choices. This means no desserts or junk food made with “approved” ingredients—no coconut-flour pancakes, almond-flour muffins, flourless brownies, or coconut milk ice cream. Don’t try to replicate junk food during your 30 days! That misses the point of the Whole30 entirely.”

Note: White potatoes were originally not allowed but were added back to the Whole30 approved list in 2014.

Do I have to pay money to do the Whole30?

No, the Whole30 is a free program. You can find the rules listed above or on the Whole30 website. That is one of the things I really love about this program. You don’t have to shell out money for a membership fee or 100s of dollars for pre-packaged juices or meals. The only money you might spend is to buy the book, It Starts With Food.

Do I have to read It Starts With Food?

Yes and no. No you don’t have to read It Starts With Food to do a Whole30. And you definitely don’t have to buy it (like I say over and over, I’m a big supporter of public libraries). But there was a huge difference between my first Whole30 before I read the book, and my second.

It Starts with Food versus Whole30 Book

It Starts With Food really goes into detail about how food affects your body. Did you know that the antibiotics and growth hormones that are pumped into factory-farmed animals goes straight to their fat? It is so much easier to give up certain foods for 30 days if you know why you’re doing it.

But what do I eat?

There are so many places to go for recipe and meal ideas. A quick Google search for “Whole30 recipes” will give you 100s of ideas. Some of the websites I’ve used in the past are:

Then there is of course Pinterest. I’ve got quite a few Paleo/Whole30 recipe folders. But a quick search for Whole30 will give you many more.

Follow on Pinterest

If you’re on Instagram, you can connect with others who are doing the Whole30 too and take a peak at what they’re eating. The Whole30 actually has three different Instagram accounts (@Whole30, @Whole30recipes, and @Whole30approved). But take a look at their hashtags too to see what others are eating:

  • Whole30
  • Whole30approved
  • itstartswithfood
  • Whole30challenge
  • Whole30recipes
  • Whole30compliant

What do I do if my partner/family isn’t eating Whole30?

This can be difficult. I’m very lucky that Jake is very supportive of my food choices and will eat whatever food I cook without complaining. So when I do a Whole30, he unofficially does too. I also do all of the grocery shopping and make sure that everything in my kitchen is Whole30 compliant. That means no ice cream in the freezer, no packaged meals, no soda, etc. If it’s not there, you can’t eat it.

I realize this might be harder for most people. Before you start, have a serious talk with your partner. If you’re doing a Whole30 because you’ve been suffering from fibromyalgia, my guess is your partner will be willing to give up the bread in your fridge to see if it helps your pain go away. Or at least help you avoid the bread by keeping it on the bottom shelf.

But if your family isn’t willing to give up their favorite foods, keep a separate shelf in your fridge and pantry for your non-Whole30 foods and then avoid it like the plague. You can also find recipes that can be adapted for your non-Whole30 family members. For example, you can make tacos for your family and use the same ingredients to make yourself a taco salad. You can make burgers for your family and eat just the meat with a large side of veggies.

What do I eat at restaurants?

It’s definitely easier to complete a Whole30 eating at home than it is going out. But we can’t all become hermits for 30 days. So my biggest piece of advice is go prepared.

If you know you are going out to eat, spend 5 minutes looking at the menu online. I cannot tell you how frustrating it is to sit with your friends, frantically looking for something that is Whole30 compliant, only to realize there really isn’t anything you can eat.

Some of the easiest restaurants are American and Mexican. A burger with no bun and a side salad (with lemon juice as a dressing) is Whole30 approved and delicious. Order fajitas, load up the guacamole, and eat them without the shells. Or get a taco salad. Just remember that for the Whole30 rice, beans, tortilla chips, and sour cream are out. (Once you’re finished with the Whole30, you’ll know which of those you can add back. I eat rice, beans, and corn now without any Fibromyalgia problems).

Remember to avoid anything fried because that normally means it’s been cooked in canola oil (and probably oil that’s been reused at least a dozen times). That means although sweet potatoes are allowed, don’t order the sweet potato fries at a restaurant. If you want them, make them at home.

I have an event / conference / wedding. What do I do?

First off, no cheating. To do the Whole30 correctly, you have to do it for the full 30 days, the way it is written. I found out the hard way during my first Whole30 that those small sips of wine or bite of cookie do make a difference.

If you can, bring your own meal or bring food to supplement what is being served. In the past I’ve taken Lara Bars to a baby shower to avoid the cake during a Whole30. The good news is I promise most people won’t care if you bring your own food. They really won’t.

But if you have an event that you just don’t want to miss out on, then maybe this isn’t the month for you to do your Whole30. If you have a wedding and just can’t imagine not having that glass of Champagne to toast the bride and groom, then just postpone. I typically pick January because that is when most people start their New Year’s resolutions. So when you tell your friends you are avoiding certain foods for 30 days, they understand.

Wait, I really can’t drink alcohol?

No, you really can’t drink alcohol. I know this is a shocker for most people. It isn’t giving up your bread with breakfast that bothers you, it’s giving up your vodka cranberry or glass of wine. But here is the honest truth. Alcohol is a poison. We pretend that drinking it in moderation isn’t a big deal but it still is harming your body. Those headaches you get aren’t normal.

But I get it. The first time I did the Whole30 I cheated with a glass of wine. Now I hardly drink at all, even when not doing a Whole30. I began to realize just how better I feel without it. I’m not even talking about giving up the crazy Friday nights. Giving up my occasional glass of wine with dinner has actually improved my sleep, which in turn helps my fibromyalgia.

If you can’t give up alcohol for 30 days, you have bigger problems to work on first.

Does this really work?

Yes, the Whole30 does work. It will help you understand which foods make you feel like crap and which foods fuel you. And it will open your eyes to your relationship with food. But will it completely get rid of your fibromyalgia pain/allergies/asthma etc? Maybe not. I can’t promise that this is a cure-all. But I can promise that it will teach you things about yourself. I learned that I use food as a crutch when I’m sad, I learned that soda is actually really nasty, and I learned that I can survive without cheese.

But if you want to read more success stories, check out the testimonial section of the Whole30 website. You will read about people with everything from fibromyalgia to diabetes to lupus.

OK but what about (insert food)?

Juggling what you can and cannot eat for your first Whole30 can sometimes be confusing. The easiest way is to just Google “Can I have _____ on the Whole30.” 9 times out of 10 you will find your answer.

I hate cooking, can I still do a Whole30?

Do you really hate cooking or do you just not know how and therefore avoid it? In order to do the Whole30, you will need to cook. However there are ways to make your life easier, like buying frozen veggies for the microwave. Just make sure to always read the ingredients, especially if you buy pre-cooked meats.

Ask any of my friends from college and they will probably tell you that it’s mind-blowing to see me step foot in a kitchen. Besides boxed pasta, I didn’t cook a thing. Ever. So when I started to change my diet and cook more, I had to take baby steps. Once again, Google is your friend. Yes, I have Googled “How to cook chicken breast.” If fact, the first time I actually called my mom for help.

The good news is there are tons of great websites to help, including my own. I have a beginner how to cook series that I hope to continue.

My family has a strict grocery bill. Can I afford to do a Whole30?

Yes! You can afford to do a Whole30. The last time I completed mine I wrote a blog post specifically on this subject because my food bill actually went down! However, here is the catch. If you’ve been eating nothing but processed, packaged foods, your grocery bill will go up. That is an unfortunately reality. Fast food, processed food, fake foods will always be cheaper than real meats and vegetables. However that doesn’t mean you should just give up.

In order to keep your budget low, pick your battles. Organic fruits and vegetables are expensive but you can still do the Whole30 eating non-organic. Grass-fed beef is more expensive but you can still do the Whole30 eating lean factory-farmed meats. Keep your eyes peeled for sales. If pork is on sale that week, eat pork. If salmon goes on sale, eat salmon.

One tip a friend of mine shared was he bought and cooked up meat in bulk. Not only was it cheaper, it was also great for his sanity. Dinner was a breeze since the meat was already cooked.

I tried one of these once and felt like crap. What did I do wrong?

I can almost guarantee it was because you weren’t eating enough. If you’re used to eating a hardboiled egg and toast for breakfast, you can’t just eat a hardboiled egg and think you’re good to go. If you are feeling sluggish and tired, go eat something. If you’re hungry after breakfast, go eat something.

The second reason might be because you’re going through “The hangover.” The Whole30 website and It Starts with Food go into detail about how you might be feeling each day during the detox. The first time I did the Whole30 I had horrible acid reflux. I remember thinking the Whole30 was stupid and almost quit. Turns out the acid reflux is super common and goes away.

How long before I start feeling better?

This is the number one question I get multiple times per day. And the answer, unfortunately, is different for everyone. For me, it wasn’t an overnight thing. My fibromyalgia pain would fluctuate every day between a 4 and a 10. Slowly during my Whole30, I realized I was having more days at 4 and less at 10. By the fourth week, I realized my pain was down around a 3. But I didn’t realize it was actually gone until I reintroduced gluten after my Whole30 and my pain shot back up. That’s when I knew I was on to something.

My advice is don’t stop. Finish all 30 days and don’t be afraid to go longer. I get emails and messages from people who say they tried the Whole30 and almost threw in the towel, but they didn’t. And now months later their Fibromyalgia is still gone.

Let’s do this! Now what?

Great! First, pick which month you want to start. January is typically the easiest but people do Whole30s year-round, so you’ll always find people to connect with.

A week before you want to start, clean out your kitchen and start looking up recipe and meal ideas.

A day or two before your Whole30, go grocery shopping and only buy Whole30 compliant foods.

To make life easier, batch cook foods on Sunday for the week – bake sweet potatoes, make a giant pot of Whole30-compliant chili, roast Brussels sprouts or grill chicken.

Should I count calories?

I used to say no. Counting calories (or macros) isn’t part of the Whole30. Instead listen to your body. If you’re hungry, eat more. Just make sure that you’re actually hungry and you’re not just reaching for food because you’re sad or bored.

However, I currently count macros because I realized during my last Whole30 that if I don’t count, I actually under eat. So now my answer is count calories only if you have problems with under eating.

For the most part, it’s very hard to overeat during the Whole30. Your body will quickly tell you that you don’t need more chicken a lot faster than it will tell you to stop eating cake. The two exceptions to this are nuts and fruit. The first time I did the Whole30 I ate almond butter like it was my job. Big no-no. I felt horrible. A serving size of nuts is a handful. Not 3 handfuls. And while you can eat fruit, make sure you’re eating them whole. You can’t really over eat fruit unless you’ve blended them to fit into a tiny glass every morning.

Will I lose weight?

Maybe. There are tons of testimonials online of people dropping 10 pounds the first couple of weeks. But then again, the people who have the most dramatic weight loss are those who have been eating large amounts of processed foods, sweets, soda, etc. If you’ve been eating relatively healthy, unless you accidently do low-carb you probably won’t lose a ton of weight. But remember that’s not really the point. The Whole30 isn’t a weight loss crash diet. It’s an elimination diet to figure out which foods you should avoid.

I lift weights/exercise. Can I still have my protein powder?

Unfortunately no. Take a look at the ingredient list of your protein powder. I can almost guarantee that it has fake food coloring, fake sugars, chemicals. Remember that even Stevia isn’t allowed during the Whole30. For now, it’s best to give it up. You never know what ingredient in your supplements might be affecting you.

Instead, stick to whole foods like chicken and sweet potatoes post workout. You won’t digest them as easily as protein powder but it’s only for 30 days.

What about vitamins?

Vitamins are OK on the Whole30, but make sure you look at those ingredients. I found out the hard way that almost every Vitamin D pill at Walgreens and CVS have soybean oil as their first ingredient. Thankfully Whole Foods had plenty to choose from that were not only soy free, but gluten and dairy free as well. And not that expensive.

I’m the type of person who needs more hand-holding. Where I can I go for help?

I share my journey because I honestly love connecting with others. So don’t hesitate to reach out via twitter, Instagram, Facebook, email, etc.

If you need a way to stay accountable, why not share pictures of your meals on Instagram or twitter? Don’t forget to add the hashtags to connect with others doing a Whole30.

And of course, don’t forget the Whole30 website has a whole list of resources as well, including a daily email newsletter (which does cost $14 so I’ve never done it, but if you need it, then go for it).

For those who have done a Whole30, did I miss something in this post? Got any advice to share?

Also if you have a Whole30 Fibromyalgia success story, let me know! I want to start sharing more stories from others on my blog.

6 thoughts on “Get Ready for the Whole30!”

  1. So I just read on your blog that the first time you did whole30 you had really bad acid reflux. I just started and I have really bad acid reflux now. I literally was thinking I can’t do this until I saw your post. When does it go away? I never had it until I started eating whole foods. Do you know why this happens? Thanks!!

    1. Hi Elissa. Yes, it’s totally normal so don’t worry. The only bad part is it could be caused by a lot of things. One thought is it’s the extra fat, especially saturated. I’ve heard people getting acid reflux because now they’re eating more meat. For me, I’m almost positive it was actually the increase of vegetables. My body really doesn’t like all the fiber. So I had to dial that back a bit by cooking all my vegetables and increasing my meat. The good news is it does go away. I think it should only take about 2 to 3 weeks to even out, although I’m not positive. I stopped the Whole30 and went back to my normal eating. I slowly transitioned to a more paleo style of eating and then when I did the Whole30 the second time, I had no acid reflux problems at all. The good thing is you are definitely on the right track. The more you figure out what’s best for your body, you might alter paleo a bit adding beans or lentil etc. But the basic framework, the cutting out processed foods, is the best thing you can do for your body and health.

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