I’ve previously pledged to be sugar free or as close thereto as possible. Let’s just say that my resolve was stampeded by a cookie-wielding fat man in a red suit and his eight frosted reindeer. If you made it through the holidays without creating a Betty Ford-level sugar addiction then color me impressed. I started off alright but by the time I was making 6 dozen cookies for a cookie exchange party in mid-December, I was eating them nearly as fast as my three-year old could decorate them. My evening piece of dark chocolate turned into an evening double cookie sandwich with a side of hot cocoa.
It was out of control, which is probably fine if you can just limit the sweet train to December. But if you’re like me, that train was gathering steam to chug right on through to January and beyond. So when I heard of a 30 day cleanse promising to slay that “sugar dragon,” while allowing me to eat as much real food as I wanted and didn’t involve juicing of any kind, I was very interested.
If you are unfamiliar with it, Whole30 is a 30 day plan to cleanse your digestive system of inflammatory and possibly allergenic foods and then slowly and thoughtfully reintroduce those foods after the 30 days to see how your body reacts to them. Apparently when assaulted with gluten and beans, your body sets up a natural defense system and only when you reset your digestive system with an elimination diet like the Whole30 can you know if your body is sensitive to those foods or not.
The Whole30 program is also intended to reshape your relationship with food. No more emotional eating. Eat food because it is delicious and fueling you, not because you had a good or a bad day. No more eating sweets just because you crave them, either. Dessert is not actually a required meal of the day. And we all know sugar is highly addictive and very unhealthy, right?
Of course the Whole30 program touts other possible side benefits too, with weight loss being the most sought after by most Whole30 participants. There are also hopes of clearer skin, more stable energy and emotions, less bloat, and two more pages of possible benefits (non-scale victories or “NSV” in Whole30-speak) listed in the Whole30 book.
Sounded good to me. I read the Whole30 book, meal planned and bought some Whole30 approved (“compliant”) foods (more on that below) and started my Whole30 on January 2nd. It’s a deceptively simple program, but definitely not easy. So here are my essential whole30 tips.
Whole30 Tips: The Program 101
The list of forbidden foods is daunting so I’ll start with what you can eat: fruits, vegetables (including starches like potatoes and excepting corn and beans), meat & fish (so long as they are compliant with no added sulfates, nitrates or sugar), eggs, oils (with olive, avocado, coconut and ghee strongly recommended over hydrogenated oils like canola or vegetable), nuts, and COFFEE!! (I could not have done this without coffee). The plan suggests about a 60/30/10 ratio of vegetables to protein to healthy fats and has a handy meal planner cheat sheet to show you how to build your meal. It also suggests buying as much organic foods as possible to get the most nutritional value and limit toxins.
Now for what you can’t eat: Alcohol, soy, beans, legumes, grains of any kind including wheat, rice, flour, corn, etc, added sugar of any kind, dairy, and a short list of additives that are particularly inflammation-triggering such as carrageen, sulfites, and nitrates.
Many mistake Whole30 for Paleo or Low Carb High Fat (LCHF) but it’s really not. Paleo allows honey and “treats” like bread products made from nut flours or baked sweets made with dates and honey. Whole30 calls these treats “sex with your pants on” or “SWYPO” because SWYPO in food, just as in personal relations is inevitably followed by the real thing, despite your best intentions. Since Whole30 wants to break your addiction to these treats, eating them even if they’re somewhat healthier is not going to help. Whole30 is also not LCHF. Carbs are fine. Grains are not. So potatoes, sweet potatoes, carrots, bananas and other high carb fruits and vegetables are perfectly acceptable on Whole30.
Whole30 Tips: What to Eat
It took some experimenting but I discovered that the best plate for me that would be compliant but also keep me from feeling hungry was about 50% green vegetables, 30% protein and 30% starchy vegetables with 1-2 tablespoons of a healthy fat (avocado, guacamole or homemade mayonnaise or ranch dressing).
For the first few days, I wasn’t adding that starchy vegetable and I was starving all the time. Like an hour after I’d eat, I’d be so hungry again. Whole food meals take some time to prepare and eat so being hungry every hour was a non-starter. I was eating nuts like a squirrel in winter to compensate. Someone on one of the Facebook Whole30 forums (which I highly recommend with a small caveat I’ll talk about in my Whole30 Conclusions & Recommendations post next week) recommended adding a fourth meal if I was hungry. That did help a lot.
I didn’t want to fall into the bacon bonanza trap I fell into when I did LCHF and wound up with elevated cholesterol (if you can even find compliant bacon. I could not). So I stuck to chicken, eggs and fish for my protein, and healthy cooking oils like olive, avocado, and some coconut.
A typical breakfast was a hash of pre-roasted butternut squash, bell peppers, and onions, with baby kale stirred in, an egg fried in olive oil on top, and a healthy drizzle of homemade ranch dressing.
Pre-roasting veggies, chicken, and making compliant mayo and ranch on the weekend was key to my survival. Otherwise breakfast and lunch would have been so hard with two kids clamoring for attention. Making your own mayo is surprisingly easy, cheap and something I am still doing weekly because it’s so delicious and can be the base for ranch, tzatziki, tartar or other sauces.
Lunch was sometimes a kale salad with basically the same ingredients as the hash replacing the egg with a chicken apple sausage or salmon cake (I found compliant ones at Costco). Or I made a kind of handroll in a nori sheet with canned crab, mayo, curry, kale and bell peppers, but I’d need to eat some sweet potato oven fries with that to be satiated. I usually skipped the dip but if you wanted a soy sauce substitute, coconut aminos works if you can find it at your local health food store (or here on Amazon).
I tried to keep costs down by shopping in bulk at Costco for organic veggies so I ended up eating a lot of the same things. Whole30 can be a budget buster because of all the whole fresh foods and organic ingredients but I tried to limit my organic purchases to proteins and the Environmental Working Group’s list of produce with the most pesticides, the dirty dozen, or where organic was only marginally more expensive.
For dinner, I’d try to get creative. I followed Whole30 Recipes on Instagram and joined several Facebook Whole30 groups which gave me tons of recipe ideas. I also bought the Whole30 Cookbook about halfway through my Whole30 and loved the recipes in there. Some of the best meals I had were cowboy chili, tandoori chicken with cauliflower rice, shrimp alfredo with zucchini zoodles and asparagus subbed in for the pasta and peas.
To replace that after dinner sweet craving, I would often have compliant fruit flavored tea, a piece of fruit, or even a piece of dried fruit. Dried fruit is kind of a grey area for whether it’s compliant. If you can have just a piece, then it’s probably fine. But if it leads to a binge or more sugar cravings, then it’s SWYPO and not recommended.
For snacks or on the go food, I did eat a lot of nuts. I love nuts. I tried a few of the Epic Bars that many Whole30ers recommend, basically ground up dried meat bars, and I hated them. Too salty and a weird texture. I did like the Rx bars and Lara bars for on the go (note not all of these bars are compliant – check your labels!). But if I was home, I snacked on a bit of fruit, some leftover roasted squash with tahini, or olives.
When I was prepping for this journey, I went a bit crazy at Trader Joe’s and bought all of their compliant kale chips, dehydrated broccoli, and other snacky items. I did eat some of those things in the first week or so, but honestly, they either weren’t very good, or they were too good (SWYPO!) and I just wound up with a ton of canned salmon and flaked coconut that I really have no use for. So my whole30 tip is to maybe buy a few things out of your comfort zone but if you don’t usually eat it, don’t buy it just because it’s compliant.
Another whole30 tip is that you can substitute cashew cream or coconut cream in almost any recipe that calls for cream. I made a delicious alfredo sauced zuchini noodle “pasta” one night that my husband even liked.
Check out my Whole30: Was it Worth it? follow up post where I’ll fill you in on how it felt to eat like this, whether I made it through all 30 days, what I learned from reintroducing the forbidden foods at the end, and if I would recommend you try the Whole30 program.
Have you ever tried a cleanse or elimination diet to get your health back on track? What were the results? I’d love to hear in the comments!
**May contain affiliate links. Honest opinions are all my own
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