What is the Whole 30 Diet?
Whole 30 is best described as an elimination diet. For 30 days, you completely eliminate several food groups that are common “problem” foods for people. And completely is a key word: zero tolerance for 30 days. If you blow it for even one meal, you are supposed to start over. (Sounds harsh, but sure helps your commitment level when you may be tempted otherwise!). And before you start wondering why some of the food groups are eliminated, I’d recommend that you get the book – it does a fabulous job of explaining the diet, and the reasoning behind all of the exclusions and the “rules” that the diet imposes).
For thirty days, you consume zero:
No wine, beer, spirits – or any alcohol at all. This includes foods that contain alcohol (like this extreme example: vanilla extract).
This includes all foods that contain sugar. This one is a real eye-opener, because you’ll quickly discover that sugar is added to nearly everything: lunch meat? Yep. Ketchup? You probably knew that. Oh – and this rule also includes artificial sweeteners, so no Diet Coke or other sodas, and it rules out other natural sweeteners like Stevia. (The idea is to break that sweet craving).
No milk. No cheese. No cream in your coffee (thankfully coffee is OK!) No sour cream. No butter. (Clarified butter is OK, and we used it a lot). Zero dairy.
This seemed like it would be easy enough, until I learned that peanuts are a legume (so no peanuts, nor peanut butter, or peanut oil), and probably the single most difficult ingredient to avoid: soy. Soy is in everything. Store-bought mayo is out (because of soy). Vegetable oil is out, because it includes (or “may include”) soybean oil. We used olive oil almost exclusively, but eliminating soy made it difficult to buy many, many foods from the store.
Grains was the one that made me nervous, because I’m a huge bread-lover. Surprisingly, I don’t miss it. It’s worth noting that grains include a lot more than just wheat: grains include rice, oats (as in oatmeal), quinoa, barley – all grains. And guess what? Corn is a grain, so that removes corn, corn oil, and all the other corn products we discovered we had been enjoyed regularly.
A Few More Rules…
In addition to eliminating these food groups, eating Whole 30 also came with some rules:
Eat three – and only three – meals a day. No snacks (except a post-workout snack). No dessert. The book does an excellent job of describing the reasons why, and they make sense. Plus, they make it clear that even though a bowl of fruit would comply with the food rules, the spirit of whole 30 says you do not sit down to a bowl of fruit for dessert. You can have some fruit with your meal, but the intention is to break the habit of having a sweet dessert.
Nuts are an accessory, and should be used sparingly. And again – peanuts are a legume, so they are completely out.
No juice, or juicing. While this wasn’t a problem for us (we don’t typically drink juice or juice fruits or vegetables), this may be a problem for some.
No weighing yourself during the 30 days. This was particularly difficult for us. We’re in the habit of weighing in every morning. And the curiosity started getting to us as we saw our bodies respond to the diet after a few weeks.
Oh – and if you blow it – even for one meal, you are supposed to start over at day one. Starting over at day one after being on this for a week or two was motivation enough to stick with it!
There are good, legitimate reasons for all of these, which I touch on in more detail in the “Reintroduction” section later.
One of the reasons I describe Whole 30 as an elimination diet is because a significant point of this diet is to learn how different foods affect you. With that in mind, we took the reintroduction phase very seriously.
Over the course of about 2 weeks, you strategically reintroduce some of the food groups that you have eliminated.
For example, one day eat legumes – peanut butter on some apple slices as part of breakfast, soy sauce with your sashimi for lunch, and a side of black beans with your dinner. Then, for the next two days, eat Whole 30 compliant. By doing this, we were able to determine which foods affected us, and which did not. Surprisingly, nearly all of them did affect us in some undesirable way.
During reintroduction, you also split grains into two categories and reintroduce them separately: non-gluten containing grains, and gluten-containing grains. In this way, you can more easily identify if you have an issues with grains, or if it’s gluten.
The book suggests breaking a particular food into it’s own reintroduction if you have any suspicions about it. My wife decided that corn specifically may be an issue for her, so we did corn completely separate from all the other grains during reintroduction, and we are glad we did, because she was right.
Some of the Consequences…
Eliminating these foods ended up having several natural consequences. That includes:
We barely ate any packaged foods. There are so few that comply with all the restrictions, we ended up preparing virtually everything we ate. There were a couple of Kind bars that were compliant, and honestly I think that’s the only “packaged” food we ate – and even those were infrequent.
We barely ate out. During the entire 30 days, we ate out exactly twice: Once at a local brewpub that promoted “have dietary restrictions? let us know and we’ll happily accommodate them”. And the other time was at Zoe’s Kitchen, which amazingly has menu items that they clearly mark as “Whole 30 compliant”.
We cooked. A lot. While we cooked plenty before, being Whole 30 compliant brought this to a whole new level. With all the cooking, we learned to make larger batches to have leftovers for other meals to try and help reduce the sheer volume of cooking that would otherwise be necessary.
We prepared our own mayo and ketchup. I like mayo – a lot – so we found and used a tasty recipe that is super simple: light olive oil, eggs, and lemon juice. The only downside is the shorter shelf-life (which didn’t matter for us), and in my opinion, this tasted way better than the store-bought stuff.
For more “consequences” (which honestly are more like “benefits”), check out the article Going Whole 30 for 30 Days
If for no other reason than the amazing new food insights – even for people who are “food aware” – I strongly recommend trying the Whole 30 plan. Do it for 30 days, take the reintroduction seriously, and find out your unique reactions to different foods, and become aware of the prevalence of soy and sugar.
For our parts, we have decided to integrate Whole 30 into our lifestyles. While we aren’t committed to eating Whole 30 compliant for every meal every day, we are going to be intentional about eating Whole 30 compliant the majority of the time. Life throws enough circumstances each week that we will likely eat 2-3 meals per week that are not compliant, but that leaves 18-19 meals per week that are, and we expect the results to be worthwhile.
If you’re considering trying it out, you may want to read our Top 10 Tips For Following Whole 30