Are you thinking of doing a Whole30 this January? Good on you – I highly recommend it. I’ve done four and a half Whole30s now – half because I started one in September this year and realised that I didn’t really need it – I was pretty much eating a version of Whole30 most of the time and I didn’t feel like I was getting anything out of it. But I still highly recommend it, and will do a version of Whole30 this January – pretty much how I eat most of the time but just a little stricter, with a framework to work around.
I first came across the Whole30 programme around July 2013 and thought ‘good god that sounds hard, I’d never do it!’ Of course two months later I found myself about to start my first ever Whole30! I decided to plunge in and do it because although I’d been Paleo for about two years, I never really felt that I was fully Paleo – I tended to be Paleo from Monday-Thursday afternoon and then slipped up over the weekend (which started on Thursday night!). I thought doing a Whole30 would help change my relationship to food and perhaps get a better understanding of what Paleo is all about and what food really does to me. Since then I have done another three full ones – the last one in November 2014, and each time I learnt something new about food and myself.
Here are my top tips based on my experience. It will be hard, you will want to give up. But keep going – it’s only 30 days – and January is the perfect time to do it!
- READ the programme properly. Give yourself a few days before the start date to read all the information. I would recommend buying the book rather than relying on the website. I did find the science a bit complicated at the time but it’s good to know that you’re not blindly following a trend or fad but rather something carefully thought out. Do a little bit of research on blogs (like this one!) to get tips for success. You will forget it all and still feel unprepared but it will help a bit, I promise!
- CHOOSE your time carefully, but don’t be put off if you’ve already got a few events or even holidays planned. On my first Whole30 I had my sister’s birthday the day after I started (birthday cake!), went to a friend’s birthday out at an Indian restaurant (all the sugar!), went on holiday to Geneva halfway through (fondue!!), had the annual work social night out (alcohol! Dinner paid for!) and my boss’s 40th birthday party (so much alcohol!!!). But I resisted all and came through. It’s all about mindset – as soon as I’d decided I was doing this it wasn’t a problem.
- DO meal prep. This is the real key to a successful Whole30, especially during the first week. Spend a little time before the programme starts thinking about your daily habits, restocking your cupboards and fridge and prepping a few meals. There is nothing more motivating than a visit to the farmer’s market and a fridge full of green things and good quality meat. First time round, I decided to do a Whole30 one day and started it the very next. I figured it was all about seizing the day and while enthusiasm is great, I had no food in the fridge, so had literally nothing to eat for that first meal! Breakfast will be the worst – I spent the first half of my Whole30 hungry in the morning because I just never had enough food. Make a frittata and a soup – that way you’ve got your protein, fat and veggies sorted for the morning. The frittata can be had cold, the soup warmed in the microwave or taken in a thermos. BE PREPARED. For the other meals, don’t be too fancy with your Paleo meals for the first week if you’re new to it. Make a bolognese, a stew, steak, pork chops and lamb (use the leftovers to make shepherd’s pie and a curry; in total that’s seven dinners already! Make enough for leftovers for lunch and you’re sorted for week 1!) – whatever classics you’re used to, just make sure it’s with Whole30 friendly ingredients. Once you’ve got the first week under your belt you can get more creative with your meal plans. Whether you prefer to plan out your meals day by day for a whole week meticulously or just cook up a bunch of basic ingredients to be turned into meals and snacks later, make sure you do it. I find it easiest to have a loose meal plan for the week, and on a Sunday cook up a soup, a stew, a roast, a huge tray of roasted vegetables and wash some salad leaves. Then I can fit them into various mealtime slots.
- KEEP a diary if it’s your first one and JOIN the Whole30 forum. I kept a diary for the first one and found it a useful way to get my thoughts out – otherwise my head might have exploded! I noted down what I ate, how I felt, thoughts in general on things like snacking, drinking water, sleep, and so on. I cringe reading back on it now (apparently it was the first time I ate kale!) but it was really useful at the time.
- You WILL be hungry for the first few days. Perhaps partly because you’re not eating enough (eat more protein and fat!) but probably more because you’re thinking about food ALL THE TIME. No, it’s not a very healthy mindset, but it is necessary to do it properly. It will go away once things become more intuitive but initially all you can think about is whether or not what you’re eating is definitely Whole30. On subsequent Whole30s you will find this less pronounced.
- Prepare SNACKS. You’re not really supposed to snack on the Whole30 but I thought about food so much (see 5.!) that it drove me nuts in between meals. And I rarely ever snack generally! So recognise that you might have weak points and be prepared. I found the easiest way around it was to think about the texture of the snacks I was craving rather than the flavour. So if I was craving crisps, I might have nuts, kale chips or plantain chips instead; if chocolate, a spoonful of nut butter. Pip and Nut do squeezable pouches of almond butter which are good for the handbag (it’s just as well they’re portioned out, that stuff’s like crack!); places like POD, Pret, Eat, Leon, Itsu, even M&S are all good for Whole30-compliant snacks such as boiled eggs, smoked salmon, mini protein pots. Keep date and nut bars (Primal Pantry, Fossil Fuel, etc.) for emergencies – they’re very sugary but they are good for when you are really stuck.
- MINIMISE the opportunities to eat out. It is hard but not impossible to eat out, but if you keep them to a minimum you will have to face fewer challenges. So if you’re used to having a Pret every lunch time, try and make it just once or twice a week instead and bring your own lunches to the office. Having said that, there are far more excellent lunch choices out there now compared to just a year or two ago. Vital Ingredient mix your salads in front of you and you can start with a base of carrot and courgette spaghetti; Pure are another good choice, as is Leon. I find Pret has fewer options for me and Itsu can be a bit pricey since all you can have is the sashimi! Soup is generally a bit hit and miss as they can contain forbidden ingredients, but all of the places I’ve mentioned here do list their menus and ingredients on their menu, and their servers are *generally* happy to answer questions.
- When you do eat out, PREPARE and do some research. For evening meals, the fancier the restaurant, the more accommodating they will be. I have had great success emailing the restaurant beforehand to explain what I can’t eat so that I’m prepared when I arrive, knowing what to order. Anyway it’s all a bit easier now that restaurants have to be able to let you know whether or not their food contains the 14 common allergens. They don’t cover all the Whole30 requirements but it’s a good start. Mind that restaurants don’t HAVE to accommodate intolerances, they just have to be able to inform you. So don’t make a scene. Some common restaurants are very good – Wahaca has an excellent gluten free menu, GBK and Byron Burger are good for bunless burgers, Pizza Express has good salads if you skip the dressing and bread and ask for olive oil and vinegar (or bring half a lemon around with you if you’re worried about sulphites in the vinegar! Yes, doing a Whole30 does make you batshit crazy). There’s also a list of places to eat out in London on this blog.
- You CAN have black coffee and tea! A friend of mine gave up on her first Whole30 because she couldn’t manage without coffee. I panicked – had I been doing it wrong all this time? Are we in fact not allowed black coffee/tea? No – she misunderstood. It is best to limit it – and definitely not after midday! – but indulge in a black coffee or tea, and be amazed that by the end of the programme you come to prefer it! You can also add coconut milk or make a bulletproof coffee (with ghee instead of butter) if you must have a creamy coffee, but you will get way more out of the programme if you change your way of thinking rather than simply replacing with compliant ingredients.
- Not drinking in the UK is HARD. Doing it January helps – most people have a dry January anyway – the difference is you will actually see it through! Be confident with what drink you’re having – soda water with fresh lime NOT cordial (be firm on this – most bartenders nod sagely and then ignore the request for fresh not cordial! Make them remake it if necessary!) – and ignore any comments or eye-rolling from friends. I did find I went out way less during my Whole30 which made me feel a bit sad, but I am way more confident now, and most of my friends are used to the fact I don’t really drink often anymore. But if you’re shy, a soda water with a slice of lime could be a vodka and tonic so don’t fret!
- DO invest in the Well Fed books. I only had the Kindle versoin of Well Fed 1 when I did my first Whole30; Well Fed 2 came out a month after I finished it and I so wished I had it before! But these books are absolutely brilliant. I found that by the end of the Whole 30, having spent a full month cooking every damn meal every damn day, I was really really bored of food and cooking. And I love cooking. As I said in my overly long and enthusiastic Amazon review of the book: ‘One of the downsides I found after completing my first Whole30 was I found I’d lost interest in food a little bit. And this is coming from someone who was obsessed with eating well — a self-confessed foodie. Judging from the speed and enjoyment with which I wolfed down the leftover BBQ Beef Waffle Sandwich for lunch today, I’d say I’m over that. I can honestly say that, with Melissa’s help, I am well and truly Well Fed.’
- DO sign up for the daily Whole30 emails. It’s around £10 which is roughly how much you’re saving every couple of days on not eating your lunch out. Generally I found them a nice start to the day, a reminder of why I’m doing what I’m doing. I didn’t sign up for them the first time around, but I did for the second one. Some of the info is a bit American-focused but generally it’s useful.
- DON’T worry if you never get the coveted Tiger Blood or don’t follow the exact Whole30 timeline. I’m not sure I ever really got Tiger Blood, although I did find mornings were better, my hair and nails grew more, I didn’t feel like a nap in the afternoon. We are all so different and will respond to the Whole30 completely differently. More important for me was the change in mindset, that has stayed with me, even though it’s been over a year since I’ve done a full Whole30.
- STICK to the plan 100%. I really believe you will get the most out of it if you do it properly for the first time. Sometimes it seems impossible, often some of it seems pointless, but I promise that if you do it properly you will look back on it and think ‘wow, I really did do without dairy/wheat/legumes/alcohol for a full 30 days.
The best two Whole30 blogposts
There are lots of blogposts saying similar things to what I’ve said here, but better and in more detail. My favourite are:
- Melissa Joulwan does everything she can to help you through. She has an entire blogpost just rounding up all of the resources for Whole30 on her website PLUS Whole30 resources on other blogs. She was my go-to resource for how to Whole30, including shopping and doing a cook up. Her recipes are great and usually work brilliantly.
- Similarly, Michelle Tam of Nom Nom Paleo has numerous Whole30s under her belt and has a fantastic roundup of 30 days of Whole30. With two children and working full time during some of the earlier Whole30s, this is no mean feat!
Bonus: Melissa Hartwig of the Whole30 programme will be in London mid-January giving a talk on Whole30 so if you need motivation at the halfway point I highly recommend going. Dr Michael Ruscio will also be doing a talk on the gut; I’ve listened to him on the Fitter Food Podcast and the Robb Wolf podcast and he’s incredibly knowledgeable, so I’m really looking forward to hearing him speak!