The Whole30—What You Need To Know

The Whole30— it’s something I get a lot of questions about from clients and followers. Will The Whole30 help me lose weight, get into my skinny jeans, get rid of the bloat, feel more energetic, look younger? Is it safe? Will it hurt my metabolism? Is it difficult? Is it for me?

More on this in a bit, but first: Do you know what The Whole30 is?

It’s a 30-Day eating system created by certified sports nutritionist Melissa Hartwig and her husband, functional medical practitioner Dallas Hartwig, back in 2009. Somewhat similar (though definitely less Vegan-friendly) to my own food plan, and nearly identical to the Paleo food plan, The Whole30 centers around whole food.

Seeds are a yes. Grains of all kinds are a no. Veggies are a yes. Most fruits are a no—or are allowed in severely limited quantity. Meat, poultry, seafood and specialty meats are a yes. Dairy products are a no (bye-bye Greek yogurt!), as is soy and any form of sugar. And, believe it or not, legumes—a darling in my own diet—are forbidden.

The Hartwig’s developed The Whole30 as a way to fight inflammation, which leads to an array of health concerns—from poor sleep to cardiovascular disease, skin conditions to cancer.

You eat this way for 30 consecutive days, cleansing your body, nourishing your body with whole food ingredients, giving your system a chance to heal, and resetting your eating habits. At the end of the month, there’s a good chance you’ll be bloat-free and have lost some weight.

Fans talk about “doing a Whole30,” meaning they’ve made it through 30 days on the program, much like someone may do a 7-Day cleanse or a three-week sugar detox. At the end of their 30 days, many people go back to their old ways of eating, but others incorporate some of the things they’ve learned during their Whole30 month.

Like any diet, however, there are pitfalls and potential health disturbances that can arise. If you’re interested in learning more about The Whole30 system,  keep reading to learn the possible downfalls and hurdles you may face, as well as find tools to help you.


  1. Ask yourself why. Why are you interested in The Whole30, and what results do you hope you’ll see after completing it? This is a question I ask each of my own clients before they make any type of changes in their diets. Getting clear on your intention helps you determine whether a specific diet is for you.
  1. Are you vegan, do you adore beans or grains or fruit, or do you thrive on a raw diet? The Whole30 is a very Paleo-style eating plan espousing most whole foods—with the exception of legumes, grains and many fruits—with an emphasis on vegetables and animal protein. If your body does best on a clean, green, animal-free diet, The Whole30is not for you. Nor is it for you if you eat mostly raw, or thrive with grain, beans and/or large amounts of fruit in your life.
  1. Read the official book, It Starts With Food: Discover The Whole30 and Change Your Life in Unexpected Ways, from cover to cover before committing to the diet.You’ll learn not only why the Hartwig’s created the diet (including what health conditions it was originally designed to heal), you’ll get a sense of whether The Whole30 eating plan jives with your personality and your desires around your health and weight. If you’re still unsure after reading it, take a look at the follow-up book, Food Freedom Forever: Letting Go of Bad Habits, Guilt, and Anxiety Around Food by the Co-Creator of the Whole30. One of the most common reasons that people lose interest in a diet plan is it is incompatible with their lifestyles or doesn’t work with their food preferences.
  1. Are you okay doing this alone, or do you need support? Book-based programs, likeThe Whole30, are so popular because they are easy and inexpensive to dive into. But consider your personality. Do you like to dig in and work solo? Or do you enjoy having cheerleaders and people to share the experience with. Fall into the second category? Consider creating a diet group. Or, join a nutritionist-led group. Stay tuned—I’ll be announcing my own group program in a couple of weeks. Details to come.
  1. Invest in a few good Whole30-friendly cookbooks before you start. It’s tough to start a new eating plan and not know what you should be eating. Purchase at least one The Whole30 cookbook before you start your 30 days and make a few things before beginning. This will give you a chance to see if you feel good eating this way, if you enjoy the recipes, and will help you get a better sense of how much kitchen work the diet requires (and if that’s going to be doable with your current schedule). If you don’t want to purchase cookbooks, reserve them from the library for free. Official The Whole30 cookbooks worth looking at: The Whole30: The 30-Day Guide to Total Health and Food Freedom and The Whole30 Cookbook: 150 Delicious and Totally Compliant Recipes.
  1. Be prepared to cook. A lot. Whole foods are amazing. And eating a diet based on whole foods is a great way to get healthy and maintain your health. BUT for many people, the term “whole foods” is synonymous for “raw ingredients.” Which is why so many whole foods-based eating plans require a lot of cooking. Yes, you can always find a personal chef or The Whole30-compliant meal delivery service or health food store hot bar to take care of your whole food meals, but these can get expensive. If you undertake The Whole30 and don’t have discretionary funds for a personal chef, plan on putting an hour or so aside each evening to prep your breakfasts, lunches, snacks and dinners.
  1. If you are someone who gets bored easily, there are other, unofficial The Whole30-compliant cookbooks out there, which can give you another view of the diet. Check out these inexpensive Kindle books: Whole: 30 Day Whole Food Challenge,The Ultimate Diet Guidebook, and The Healthy Whole Foods Eating Challenge – 250+ Approved Recipes & 2 FULL Months Meal Plan for Rapid Weight Loss.
  1. Make sure you have plenty of food containers ready for all of that homemade food!I can say from experience that if you don’t have enough or the right food storage containers, you won’t continue to pre-prep and make meals ahead of time. Spend a couple dollars and a few minutes and get enough (BPA-free) containers to let yourself make a week’s worth of meals ahead of time. A few to consider: Popit Little Big Box Food Plastic Container Set 8 Pack, Rubbermaid TakeAlongs Assorted Food Storage Container 40 Piece Set, Glasslock 18-Piece Assorted Oven Safe Container Set and 50 ct Plastic Food Storage Containers with Lids.
  1. Be prepared for cravings the first few days. Anytime you give up foods you eat a lot of, you will experience cravings. Because The Whole30 diet requires that you give up most fruits, beans, grains, as well as dairy and processed food, you may find yourself intensely craving these items. Give yourself three days, after which your cravings will lessen. I find distraction to be a wonderful way to handle cravings: If you have a painting you’ve been meaning to finish, a vision board you want to make or a piano piece you want to learn, this is a great time.
  1. Think ahead to challenging food situations. For many people, any social gathering—be it a barbecue, picnic, potluck or party—is a difficult time to stay loyal to a diet. With a plethora of new, exciting, tantalizing foods, it’s hard to stick with diet fare. A busy, crammed-with-appointments kind of day is another time when people are likely to give up their diets—it’s so much easier ducking into a deli for a muffin or bag of chips than it is to think ahead and pack a homemade whole food snack. By taking a look at instances when you traditionally make junky food choices, you can plan ahead. Maybe you double tonight’s dinner recipe and take half with you to tomorrow’s book club potluck. If you know you have a day of errands tomorrow, stashing a healthy snack in your handbag may be just what you need to avoid grabbing a street vendor hot dog. Purchasing a few premade The Whole30 compliant snacks can make this even more convenient.

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