Because Whole30 alumni never stop talking about Whole30, friends and family are bound to get curious about this thing that you just can’t shut up about. Wasn’t that just a New Year’s Resolution? It’s March now, why are we still talking about this so much?
We had such a good experience with Whole30 that we want to keep living Whole30-ish. (Welcome back legumes, corn and rice! RIP dairy and most grains. Cheers to a little wine.) And now, it seems like some people around us are getting inspired to try it too. And I want to be helpful and share some of what I learned in the process, so here are my Top 10 Whole30 Tips! There are some links and recipe ideas throughout.
1. Buy the Book & Get Social
The Whole 30 book lays out all the rules, has shopping lists and meal plans, and lots of recipes. It’s such a helpful guide, and I wouldn’t recommend trying the program without it. At least a few days before your start date, study the rules, familiarize yourself with what is and isn’t compliant (your new favorite word), mark some pages for reference, and pick a few recipes that you want to try. My copy is full of post-its with notes and recipe tweaks, and I referred to it literally every day for 30 days. I checked in on the Timeline every day to see what to expect at each stage – and I found it so helpful to know that feeling extra cranky or tired some days was just part of the program, and not just me. You will likely hate everyone and everything on Day 4, so try to plan accordingly!
There are also some great resources online, and I recommend bookmarking the Whole30 “Can I Have” list in your phone so that you can refer to it while grocery shopping or dining out. Also check out their official Instagram pages (@whole30recipes & @whole30). I follow a lot of food people (duh) and found that it helped when I unfollowed some of the more unhealthy food pages, you know, the ones that are filled with donuts and ice cream and pretty cupcakes every day. So I followed a few new Whole30/clean eating/healthy living accounts, and now that you can follow hashtags I also followed #whole30, #januarywhole30 and #iamwhole30 for some daily inspiration. The hashtags were a great way for me to find fellow Whole30 newbies as well as experts.
It really helps if you have a friend, partner, or coworker committed to doing the program along with you. Teamwork makes the dream work! Keep in mind that the first week is hard, and you’ll be tired. Support and camaraderie is nice. But once you get through that, you’ll start feeling better and better.
2. Purge & Restock
Purging your kitchen of the stuff that you’re eliminating for the next 30 days is a great way to get in the right mindset for your mission ahead. I ceremoniously trashed the sugar I used to put in my coffee every day (habit fully broken, by the way!), the bread, the cheese, the milk, the butter, and the tortilla chips while listening to Beyonce singing “Boy, Bye!” but the soundtrack is optional (encouraged, but optional!).
Check the labels on everything in your fridge and pantry. Sorry friends, but Sriracha has sugar in it. So do many mayos, mustards, salsas, and tomato sauces, and definitely ketchup. This is good practice for all the label reading you’ll be doing in grocery store aisles over the next month and probably for the rest of your life.
If you don’t want to trash some unopened stuff, at least hide it in the back of the cabinet. Then start replacing these things with compliant items, ideally the day before your start date so you’re prepped and ready for Day 1. I’ve heard that Whole Foods has an entire Whole30 section, so be on the lookout!
Some key staples always on my shopping list are: eggs, chicken or salmon, sweet potatoes, avocados, broccoli (and all other favorite veggies), onion, garlic, baby spinach, coconut milk (canned 100%), coconut oil, canned diced tomatoes, bananas, green apples, almond butter, raw almonds, dried cranberries (sweetened with apple juice), compliant hot sauce (ideally one that’s just peppers, vinegar, and salt), vinegar (balsamic, apple cider, and red wine are all allowed), and a range of spices (curry, chili, paprika, ginger, cinnamon and turmeric – you still need to check the labels on spices! Some contain corn starch or wheat).
3. Put an Egg on it
You’re going to wake up on Day 1 and be like ok what do I do now… and the answer is EAT, so it’s a good thing that you stocked your kitchen with compliant items! If you have time to wake up a little bit early and make yourself an easy easy egg breakfast, do it. You can even pre-chop some veggies like a red onion and a bell pepper the night before to make a morning scramble come together super quickly. If you know that you will absolutely not be cooking for yourself in the morning before work, prepare something the night before, like this frittata or just some hard boiled eggs that you can bring along with you (don’t forget the salt and hot sauce!).
As someone that doesn’t eat a lot of meat, eggs are a very easy protein source for me to keep around and throw on top of anything, breakfast or not. I do a lot of roasted vegetable medleys topped with a fried egg — that can be any meal of the day! An avocado and compliant hot sauce always pairs well with any of these egg dishes. When in doubt, just make some eggs.
A favorite discovery was this sweet potato egg dish: Just scoop out a baked sweet potato, mash it in a bowl with a little coconut oil and sea salt, and top with one or two over medium eggs and hot sauce. SO good.
4. Keep it Simple & Make Big Batches
You don’t get extra credit for making 30 new recipes during your 30 days. You’ll burn yourself out if you try to do too much, so my advice is to keep it simple. Find a few key compliant things that you enjoy making and eating, and stick with what’s working for you. Focus on some favorite proteins (for me that’s salmon or chicken), find an easy preparation method (I like to roast everything), pair proteins with fresh salads or roasted vegetables, and top with rotating dressings or sauces (see #5).
Top bite sized broccoli and cauliflower pieces with olive oil, sea salt, and red pepper flakes. Roast at 400°F for 25 minutes. Repeat. Not pictured: line your pan with parchment paper for easy cleanup.
Be sure to make everything in double batches. If you’re roasting a head of broccoli you might as well add cauliflower too and have leftovers the next day. It’s just as easy to roast a few big sweet potatoes as it is to prep one. Double your sauce recipes then keep leftovers in jars in the fridge. Make sure you have a tall stockpot for soups and chili, so that you can always max out the portions and have lots of leftovers.
My method for baking big sweet potatoes: quarter them, microwave for 5 minutes, then wrap in foil and bake in a 400°F oven for 30-40 minutes. Keep them in the fridge for a few days for easy meal additions!
If you’re getting bored or feeling motivated to try something new, seek inspiration from the recipes in the Whole30 book or their Instagram feeds and put something fresh in your rotation. Just try to make everything as easy as possible for yourself!
5. Get Saucy
A great way to mix up your meals is to get some staple compliant sauces going. One fantastic sauce to keep around is Tahini. Tahini paste is just sesame seeds, therefore compliant. To make it into a yummy sauce you add salt, garlic, olive oil, lemon juice, and parsley or cilantro. No cooking required, just some mashing and mixing.
Get the full sauce recipe here, then use it to top chicken, salmon, roasted veggies, or as a dip for raw veggies like tomato and cucumber. Tahini is the new hummus (sorry, chickpeas are legumes).
Coconut Curry Sauce is another one of my favorites that goes well with almost everything. It’s easy to make too. Check out my post with the recipe here.
There’s a recipe for Romesco Sauce in the Whole30 book that I also love. It has a nice texture with the nuts, and a really great zing to it with the spices and vinegar. Pair it with zoodles and shrimp like in the link, or try it on chicken and eggplant. There’s a whole sauce section in the book, which includes buffalo, ranch, and pesto, so pick out some faves!
7. You Can Whole30 That
You don’t have to stop eating everything you’re familiar with, but you may have to modify your old stand-bys. My first big Whole30 swap was my morning coffee, which I have always enjoyed with a lot of cream and sugar. The book has a good point on this subject, which is are you sure you actually like coffee? Valid, Melissa Hartwig, valid. I initially thought that I would give up coffee in the process because I probably wouldn’t really like it if I couldn’t have cream and sugar. Instead, I swapped in coconut milk and boosted the spices (turmeric, ginger, and cinnamon).
It took me a couple days to adjust to the different texture of it and to get used to the absence of sugar, but I have started to really enjoy it. I’ve always liked all the coffee drinks that end in “spice” and this combo of spices is a home run for me. And newsflash: coconut milk is delicious! Nut milks are also allowed as long as they don’t have any sweeteners in them.
Have some regular recipes or cooking methods you use that call for lots of butter? Just swap in ghee, coconut oil, or olive oil instead. If you want to make a soup (or curry, or anything) creamy, use coconut milk. Leave out the sweeteners and opt for herbs, spices, or a squeeze of fresh citrus instead. If you’re used to having grains as a side, try cauliflower rice, or make a potato-based dish instead. Try making a sauce you normally buy premade yourself so you get all the flavor and none of the junk. You’ll become a recipe and ingredient scanning pro, and be able to tell right away whether you can easily Whole30 it or not.
8. Snacking is Better than Failing
Snacks are discouraged on Whole30. Personally, I have always been a big grazer so I knew this would be tough. My goals for the program weren’t as much about breaking bad food habits as they were about evaluating the elimination of certain food groups, so I didn’t feel like having a snack would derail me as long as the snack components were compliant. This will be different for everyone, but in my opinion, snacking is better than failing. To be clear, I’m not talking about potato chips, paleo sweets, or pre-packaged snacks, which are clearly prohibited on Whole30.
Especially during Week 1, I felt like I needed more snacks while my body was adjusting to new fuel sources. It’s also important to always have something compliant with you, whether you’re on a road trip, at work, at the beach, on a plane, or at the movies. Sometimes, you just gotta snack! And better to have something compliant in your purse than break protocol in a moment of desperation and have to start over. My go-to compliant snacks are trail mixes of nuts and dried fruit, usually raw almonds with unsweetened dried apricots or apple juice-sweetened cranberries.
Now I’m going to tell you a little secret. Almond butter stirred with a splash of coconut milk and a sprinkle of sea salt is magical. Top a sliced banana or green apple with this stuff and you’ll feel like Whole30 hasn’t denied you anything. Don’t go overboard, because this could fall into the category of “food with no brakes”. But really, you’re welcome.
If you’re looking for something more savory, try hot sauce on raw almonds. Seriously, it’s like healthy hot cheetos. Or avocado sprinkled with hot sauce and sea salt. (Yes, my hot sauce consumption went way up during those 30 days!) Or cucumber and carrots dipped in Tahini.
9. Use Everything
I already mentioned that leftovers are precious. Think your leftovers all the way through. For example, if you roast a whole chicken at the beginning of the week, that one lil chicken can get you through the whole week with a little creativity!
Try this roasted chicken recipe with olive oil instead of butter. Slice some of the breast meat and put it on top of a fresh spinach salad with tomatoes, cucumbers, olive oil and balsamic for lunch. Have another portion of the chicken for dinner, with a side of baked sweet potato and roasted broccoli.
The next day you can shred some of the chicken to use in a salad with compliant mayo and other mix-ins of your choosing (try grapes, cilantro, and chopped nuts). When you’ve used all the chicken meat, save all the bones and start a batch of bone broth. Incorporate your home made broth into this big batch of chili. Refrigerate half the leftovers and freeze the other half. You’ll get a few days out of the chili, and have some frozen on hand in the future when you’re in a pinch.
When you start thinking like this, meal prep comes a lot more easily.
10. It Gets Easier
Week 1 is hard. Shoot, it will already feel hard on Day 3. You’ll be tired and cranky and want to eat all the non-compliant foods you can think of and go drink wine with your friends and throw your Whole30 book in the trash. It gets better and it gets easier. When you understand the reasons behind how you’re feeling, it’s easier to push through.
In the first week, your body is switching fuel sources. You’re used to running on sugar and carbs, and your body is used to burning those for energy. But when you deprive your body of the sugar and carbs it’s used to, it’s forced to find a new source of energy — fat. You want your body to burn fat, but you have to give it a chance to switch gears. In the meantime, you’ll feel tired and crave carbs. When you feel tired, sleep if you can. When you have cravings, eat something compliant instead. Then, your body will start using its new fuel. Suddenly, you’ll start to feel better, and then you’ll start to feel amazing. A fog lifts from your brain, you feel fully awake and switched on, and you have what feels like unlimited energy. Whole30 calls this Tiger Blood. It can come in a surge of motivation to check things off your to-do list, start a new activity, go for a run, or do jumping jacks in the middle of your office.
Get a calendar going and cross off the days as part of your daily ritual. A visualization of the countdown really helped me! Just get through the first week and your Tigers Blood will be around the corner. Then focus that newfound energy on healthy activities, exercise, and meal prepping. And the 30 days will be up before you know it. Over time, your cravings will literally be turned off. You’ll find it’s easier to pass on the wine and the bread, and you may not even want dessert by the time you’re allowed to reintroduce it. It’s an empowering change, and it only takes a month to achieve it!
Bonus Tip: A Word on Socializing
You CAN eat out in restaurants during this month. But you will be kind of annoying when you do. Make sure you’re well educated on what you can and can’t eat before you go out. If possible, preview the menu online and figure out how to Whole30 it. Don’t make it the job of your server to tell you everything that’s Whole30 on the menu – that’s your responsibility. Keep your “Can I Have” guide handy, and Google is your friend when you come across something you don’t know on the menu. What’s in chimichurri again? A quick Google search for a recipe will tell you it’s compliant.
Usually ordering sauces and dressings on the side and swapping sides of grains or fries for veggies or salads is a pretty safe bet. If you wind up with a plain piece of meat or pile of vegetables, you can always ask for balsamic, an easy way to jazz it up that most restaurants should have on hand. You may also be able to get away with bringing a compliant sauce with you. Channel Beyoncé and have hot sauce in your bag (swag).
Also try different ideas for socializing other than dinners and happy hours to make avoiding alcohol easier. Suggest going for walks, bike rides, hitting the beach or pool, or something else around town you’ve been meaning to try. You may surprise yourself with all the new things you can accomplish in a month without alcohol and hangover days. I think you’ll find that good friends will be supportive, and you might end up re-evaluating some friendships if anyone isn’t. If you can’t hang out with someone sober…are you really friends?
Now pick your start date, commit, and start counting down to the Tiger Blood! Please let me know in the comments if you have any questions or if I missed a topic you’re curious about. Also check out my previous Whole 30 posts for more thoughts on the subject:
You got this!
© Cook it Pretty 2018