This post has been updated since it was originally published on 7/29/2014.
I’ve completed the Whole30 challenge a few times now and generally live a Whole30 lifestyle, but I still remember how overwhelmed I felt during my first challenge. Since then I’ve learned a few tips and tricks that will really increase your chance of success. I wish everyone success with their challenge, and here are my top thirteen tips!
1) Choose a reward for yourself.
It may sound childish, but sometimes you just need a little extra push to complete something difficult. Before you start, choose some sort of reward for yourself to meditate on during the thirty days. It should go without saying, but do not use food as a reward. If you spend the thirty days dreaming of a huge ice cream sundae that you can’t wait to stuff into your face as soon as the challenge is complete, then you are missing the point. (And you will end up with a really sore stomach!) Choose something more along the lines of a new pair of shoes, or a day at the spa. On those extra tough days during Whole30 (usually the first few days), look at photos of what you’ve set as your reward. Remind yourself that you can do it!
2) Surround yourself with those who support you.
To the average person, Whole30 sounds extreme. I’ve crossed paths with a lot of people who write it off as a crazy fad diet before actually knowing anything about it. Do not waste your time arguing and trying to convince those people. Avoid them during your Whole30 challenge and surround yourself with family and friends who love and support your lifestyle change. If you can’t find friends and family who support you, look online. The Whole30 community is huge and incredibly encouraging. Search Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter and you will find thousands of people going through the challenge with you.
3) Do your research and know what you are getting into.
The official Whole30 website is fantastic. It’s clear and easy to understand. Make sure you read it and know what to expect. Know that you will probably feel worse before you feel better, and that this is normal and good! Take a look at this timeline to get an idea of what your thirty days will feel like.
4) Build your resources.
Now that Whole30 has gained so much popularity, there are never ending resources online. Spend some time looking at all of the recipes available online. A bunch of us foodies have already done all the work for you, so take advantage of it! Some of my favourite recipe resources are: Well Fed 1&2 By Melissa Joulwan and her blog, Nom Nom Paleo, and The Foodie. There are so many more, so keep looking! Most of the recipes I post under ‘Cooking with Joanna’ are Whole30 approved or easily modifiable.
5) Meal plan.
Once you’ve found a bunch of recipes that you’re interested in, set up a meal plan and a corresponding grocery list. The first few times you do this it might seem time consuming, but as it becomes a habit and as you become more familiar with the foods you eat, it becomes easier and much faster. Now, I spend about thirty minutes, once a week, setting up my meal plan and grocery list for the next 7 days.
6) Meal prep.
Once you’ve set up your meal plan and shopped for your groceries, prepare those meals ahead of time as much as you can. Spend a couple hours at the beginning of the week chopping your vegetables, partially steaming your vegetables, and cooking your meat. You will be so glad you did! Melissa Joulwan teaches you how to prepare your meals in detail in her cookbooks Well Fed 1&2. I highly recommend them, as all the recipes are Whole30 approved.
7) Cook once, eat twice.
Leftovers are a huge key to surviving Whole30. Look through each recipe in your meal plan and decide which ones are the most simple to double or triple. I always double or triple any meatballs, hamburgers, soups, chilis or casseroles that I make. You can either eat the leftovers over the next few days just as they are, or repurpose them (use leftover meatballs to make a soup), or freeze them for future days in the month where you are too tired or too busy to cook a fresh meal.
8) Keep emergency food handy at all times.
Snacking is not encouraged during Whole30, but neither is starving yourself. During the first few days of your challenge, experiment with the size of your 3 meals a day to make sure you are eating enough to keep you satiated until your next meal. However, sometimes life gets in the way and we can’t eat our breakfast, lunch or dinner at a regular time. In this situation it is so helpful to have “emergency” Whole30 snacks easily available to you. I like to keep Larabars (you can buy them at Costco, but read your labels because not every flavour is approved), approved beef jerky, Energy Balls, hardboiled eggs, and meatballs either in my fridge or in my purse. The hungrier you become, the less likely you are to make a smart decision about food, so in a pinch, use a snack to stop you from making a poor food choice. Do not use these snacks if you are feeling bored, tired, or emotional. Only use them if you are legitimately hungry and will not be able to have a meal soon. (Side note: notice that all of these snacks are mainly protein. If you snack on fruit, you will be hungry in 10 minutes. Protein and healthy fats are the way to go for snacking.)
9) Read your labels.
The first grocery shop that you do during Whole30 will take twice as long as usual just because of all the label reading you will need to do. To avoid an accidental slip up, check the label on everything you buy. It is shocking how many products contain sugar, preservatives and soy. Be aware and watch out!
10) Focus on what you CAN have, not what you can’t have.
Yes, you need to memorize the list of foods you can’t have during the Whole30 program. But once you’ve done that, stop focusing on those foods and start to get excited about all the new vegetables, spices and herbs you are going to try. I kept this Whole30 Shopping List on my fridge during my first few rounds of Whole30 and it helped immensely.
11) Get outside.
If you are feeling tired and sluggish, get outside. Breathe in the fresh air. Remind yourself why you are doing this challenge. It is amazing how many times I find myself in a slump in the middle of the afternoon, and then when I force myself to go outside even just for a quick walk, my mood improves dramatically. Remind yourself that you are changing your life by doing this challenge, and that is very admirable!
12) Make sure you eat enough.
I hear lots of people complain that they are constantly hungry during Whole30. I take a look at what they’re eating and immediately see one of two problems. Either they’re eating toddler sized portions each meal, or they are not eating any carb-dense or starchy vegetables and healthy fats. If you are eating the same amount as your three year old, then yes, you will be hungry all the time. If you are trying to survive on a small chicken breast and spinach salad every day then yes, you will be hungry all the time. Make sure you include vegetables like yams, sweet potatoes, beets, broccoli and cauliflower, and healthy fats like avocados, olives and nuts. Your body needs them for so many reasons, one of them being to keep you full.
13) Don’t measure your success by the number on your scale.
Say it with me, your value has nothing to do with your weight. Absolutely nothing. Get that idea out of your head. Our society has pounded it into our minds, but I’m challenging you to spend the rest of your life erasing it from your psyche. Instead, be in tune with your body to notice more important changes. How are you sleeping? How do your nails, skin and hair feel? How is your mood? Energy level? Bloating? These are the results that are life changing, not a number on the scale.
I’m so excited for you and wish you the best of luck! Feel free to comment and share your own tips or ask any questions. I would love to be a Whole30 resource for you!