READER QUESTION: What Are Your Thoughts on The Whole 30

posted by Andrea | 09/12/2019

Over the last 8 – 10 years, the term “Whole30” has become an adjective used to describe all sorts of food on restaurant menus, on grocery store shelves, and on food blogs across the internet. 

It seems almost everyone is aware of the Whole30 craze and eager to follow along (or at least curious about the potential benefits). 

Despite the fact that I am NOT a food blogger or health/wellness blogger, I still get a huge number of questions regarding my thoughts on the Whole30 diet — many from readers who assume I have already tried a Whole30 diet. 

Most questions want to know: 

  1. if I’ve done a Whole30
  2. if I would ever consider doing a Whole30
  3. what I think about the Whole30 way of eating
  4. what my favorite Whole30 recipes are
  5. if I’d be willing to blog my way through a Whole30 diet

My short answers are: 

  1. No, I’ve never tried a Whole30 diet
  2. Dave and I have talked about it, but we’ve never done any serious planning or preparing
  3. I think it’s fairly extreme and definitely not in line with my “all things in moderation approach” to life
  4. I don’t purposely follow any Whole30 recipes, but many of the foods I make would be Whole30 compliant — good meats, roasted veggies, fresh fruit, eggs (LOTS of eggs!)
  5. I don’t think I’d want to blog my way through the Whole30 (I’m not a food or health blog), but if I ever completed one, I would be sure to share my results

Since I get SO many questions about the Whole30 way of eating, and since I personally don’t have many helpful answers, I thought this might be a great “Reader Question” as I know many of you have successfully completed one (or more) Whole30 challenges. 

I also know others who have tried to make it through but didn’t (for whatever reason), and I think it might be insightful and valuable for us to hear all experiences and opinions! 

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First Things First…What Exactly Is a “Whole30”?

Although I’ve never felt a strong desire to try a Whole30 diet myself, I HAVE read and learned A LOT about it — simply because I’m curious! 

So for those of you who don’t know what the Whole30 diet is (or for those of you who are misinformed) here’s a super quick run-down of the basics…

The Whole30 movement began in 2009 when one of the co-founders began researching different foods that caused inflammation. He and his wife decided to eliminate ALL of these foods from their diet for a full month (30 days) and they were shocked by how many positive health benefits they noticed as a result — increased energy, decreased pain, reduced inflammation, fewer cravings, better sleep, uplifted mood, and yes… weight loss. 

While the goal of the Whole30 diet is NOT to count calories or to lose weight, it is often a by-product of following this plan for 30 days. 

NOTE: if you plan to try this, you’ll want to allocate at least 40 to 45 days for the challenge as the process of reintroducing foods into your diet after the initial Whole30 takes at least 10-15 more days.

What you can NOT eat on the Whole30 plan: 

  • Dairy (the only “exception” is Ghee — which is clarified butter)
  • Grains (including gluten-free grains and pseudo-grains like quinoa)
  • Alcohol or tobacco (even cooking wine, vanilla, and dijon mustard)
  • Legumes (including all beans, chickpeas, peas, lentils, tofu, soy sauce, miso, edamame, and peanuts)
  • Added Sugar (including honey, maple syrup, agave, Splenda, xylitol, and Stevia)
  • Carrageenan, MSG, and Sulfites
  • Any “junk food” (including “bread” made from cauliflower or “pancakes” made from banana and eggs)

What you CAN eat on the Whole30 plan: 

  • All vegetables (including white potatoes, green beans, snow peas, and sugar snap peas)
  • All fruits (keep in mind you’re trying to limit your sugar)
  • Seafood
  • Nuts & Seeds (just no peanuts)
  • Eggs
  • Coffee (only black)
  • Fats like olive oil, avocado oil, coconut oil, and ghee
  • Spices, seasonings, and vinegar

NOTE: here’s a really comprehensive listing of foods you can and cannot have (with a free printable).

Why do a Whole30? 

After reading all the foods you are not allowed to have for 30-45 days, you might be wondering why on earth anyone would ever want to do something like this! 

It’s just SO extreme! 

Yup, I fully agree —  this is one of the main reasons Dave and I have never wanted to do a Whole30 challenge. 

A Whole30 is not just something you decide to do one day. No! A Whole30 is something you must research ahead of time, mentally prepare yourself to do, and physically prepare your kitchen, pantry, and freezer with compliant foods.

And, as I mentioned above, the Whole30 is NOT a “weight loss diet”, so if that’s your main reason behind wanting to try this out, I wouldn’t advise it! You need to want more than just lower numbers on the scale to pull this project off! 

The purpose of the Whole30 is to change your health, change your habits, and change your emotional relationship with foods.

For example: 

Eliminating all those foods for 30-45 days should drastically improve your HEALTH: 

  • your blood sugar will regulate
  • your hormones will balance
  • your digestion will improve
  • your immune system will not be compromised by all the junk foods you were previously ingesting

Similarly, your eating HABITS should change significantly after 30-45 days: 

  • you won’t be able to reward yourself with a sugary treat
  • you won’t be able to soothe yourself with a glass of wine
  • you won’t be able to comfort yourself with bread and cheese and casseroles
  • the goal is that many of these habits will stick around even after your challenge is finished

Last (but certainly not least), this challenge should curb your EMOTIONAL relationship with food.

  • you will supposedly lose cravings for salt, sugar, and other junk foods
  • you will no longer feel attached to food or associate certain foods with “good” or “bad” emotions
  • you will work to view the foods you eat in a healthier, less dysfunctional way

My guess is that reading the list above might change your tune a bit… and maybe restricting your diet for 30 days doesn’t sound so bad anymore! 

That’s exactly how Dave and I feel every time we read about the benefits too! 

We regularly think that MAYBE we could do it — but then we regress and decide it’s too complicated with young children and we aren’t the type to be so restrictive. 

Obviously, not every person will experience everything I listed above — but these are the claims made in the books and on the websites… and they are the testimonials of thousands of people across the world who have succeeded in completing their own Whole30 challenge! 

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The Whole30 most definitely is NOT for everyone… however, I would personally love to hear from any of you who have completed one (or more) challenges — and from those of you who have tried it but didn’t finish. 

I get so many questions from others, and Dave and I have plenty of our own thoughts and questions as well! 

What are YOUR thoughts, experiences, and takeaways from and about the Whole30? 

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19 comments

  1. Blondie

    09/16/2019

    I’ve done a few strict Whole 30 rounds, and just generally eat paleo “in moderation”, I’d say. I find that by cutting out bread, pasta, cheese, and PBJ (my emotional foods) I can focus on the veggies, fruit, and protein that meet my macros. I have a major sugar addiction and find that avoiding added sugar helps me not go crazy.

    I have two jobs and two preschoolers, and weekly meal prep is the only way I can make it work. Breakfast is always a protein shake. I meal prep a casserole or salads for my lunches on Sundays. My husband cooks a meat for dinner and I microwave frozen veggies. We also grill a big batch of chicken breasts, some chicken sausage, and roast a bag of sweet potatoes on Sunday to eat all week long. My kids are picky and eat completely different things from us at different times.

    In terms of doing it “in moderation”, I don’t sweat the store bought condiments; if sugar is the second-to-last ingredient on a label it’s an extremely tiny amount. I still drink Diet Coke, have a small square of very dark chocolate before bed, and cook with wine. I’m also not strict about it when I go to someone’s house or eat at a restaurant; I have a glass of wine at book club and eat the pasta salads at church potlucks.

    One caveat: once we cut out all dairy for 2+ months the lactase in our guts died and we can no longer metabolize lactose. Another caveat: “detox” and “clean” are not scientific terms.

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  2. Terry

    09/13/2019

    Prepping your kitchen and fridge ahead is key. Get the stuff you need!(i.e. Ghee, coconut sugar (allowed), sugar free almond or coconut yogurt, nondairy milk. Buy fruit and vegies in moderate batches, I stuck to what was on sale as much as possible. It goes fast, and can get pricey. I can only tell you I just finished 30 days, and,I will keep going. The weight loss was nice, but feeling all over better was so worth the sugar withdrawal.

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    Andrea Reply:

    interesting — I knew about Ghe, but I did not know coconut sugar, and the nondairy milks were allowed!
    Do you know why coconut sugar is allowed with all other sweeteners are not?

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  3. Natalia

    09/13/2019

    It’s the very first time I’ve heard of this!!
    With so many people commenting that they’ve done it, I wonder if I live on a different planet or if I slept for the last decade!

    Wow – those benefits sound amazing!!
    I’ve been vegetarian for almost 20 years (but I admit it – I eat way too much junk food: carbs and sugar). I could see how this would be so benefic for me. Would I do it? Probably not. A small “Maybe” if someone else would do the planning and prep of food and I’d just show up and eat from the limited supply.
    But – I don’t think I have the guts to do something so extreme. (Pun intended :))

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  4. Paula

    09/12/2019

    I’m a dietitian who treats eating disorders & disordered eating. The best predictor of weight gain is dieting. 95% of those who lose weight gain it back within 3-5 years. Check out Intuitive Eating by Tribole & Resch or, for families, Satter’s Division of Responsibility with eating. Both are life-changing, non-diet methods. Most eating disorders & disordered eating begin with diets such as the Whole 30, unfortunately. Wish everyone the best with the pursuit of health in whatever way that is best for them. Sunrise Nutrition Consulting – New Perspectives are on the Horizon. ⛅️☀️

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  5. Shelly Pettigrew

    09/12/2019

    Whole 30 was too extreme for me and I didn’t think long term was something I would stay with. I decided to go the Trim Healthy Mama route for more of a balance. I’ve been on it for 3 yrs and lost 30 pounds with great health changes. I don’t feel like I am missing out on anything. In some ways it’s similar to Whole 30. The two sisters that have created THM have lots of Utube videos that talk about benefits and health changes.

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  6. Kristen @ Joyfully Thriving

    09/12/2019

    Andy and I did a whole 30 earlier this year – but we didn’t make the kids do it. It was definitely the most extreme food thing I have ever done, and while a good challenge, I have no plans to do it again. I learned a lot about how much sugar is (sadly) in everyone and spent A LOT of time in the kitchen. I missed my bread and cheese, and yes, chocolate. It takes a lot of planning because you can’t wing things to be successful. I blogged about what I learned – and how to do a Whole 30 on a budget too – for those who are interested in more of my take.

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  7. Wendy Kraft

    09/12/2019

    I am on day 11 of Whole 30 and will say it is work and takes time and prep, but you know that going in. This is not a full change, but truly a reset and chance to evaluate personally how food effects you. You realize right off the bat how many things sugar is in unless it is a basic vegetable, fruit or unprocessed meat like Applegate Bacon that costs a lot more$$. I ate Paleo for 6 months straight many years ago and was not this strict and felt a huge difference, but slowly had sugar and processed food come in and know that takes time to get out of your system. This certainly is not for everyone, but if you struggle with health issues or have relationship issues with food, it may be a good starting point for your health.

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  8. Liane

    09/12/2019

    We’ve been Paleo for a very long time. After a few month of Paleo we did a whole 30. There’s only one food group I have added back — but limited still: heavy whipping cream in coffee and raw milk cheeses. Milk gives me brain fog. Legumes give me gut issues. Meaning I’ve avoided soy for decades. I’ve never liked peanut butter so no problem not eating it. As for nightshades we grow our own tomatoes and don’t eat potatoes or eggplant.

    Two days after finishing my first whole 30 someone asked if I’d had a face lift. I’m 70 and look 50.

    Here were the big takeaways — to eat a really clean diet you need to not buy mayonnaise or shredded cheese or bottled salad dressing. The mayo and salad dressings, every last one contains soy or seed oils. Shredded cheese has additives.

    I make my own mayo with a stick blender. Recipe is on Melissa’s site – she’s the co author of the book. In 20 years of homemade mayo we’ve never ever once became ill from the raw egg. We don’t eat bread of course but we use a lot of mayo in tuna salad or bacon and tomato salad and I add chipotle or sriracha to it for putting on veggies.

    A whole 30 with sugar/starch addicted children is probably impossible. Dr. William Davis, author of Wheat Belly books details the brain chemistry and opioids in grains that cause withdrawal from grains. I think of gluten grains as “addictive pre-sugar substances with the ability to puncture my gut and aggravate autoimmune disorders”.

    When the initial whole 30 was released bacon was not allowed. Nitrate free bacon was really hard to find back then. We now buy uncurled bacon. It’s the only processed meat we eat — no lunch meats, salamis etc unless I make it myself.

    With my dairy exceptions notwithstanding I basically eat this way all the time. The standard American diet is killing people. There are numerous nefarious reasons why but consider that big agribusiness has a tremendous influence over our government and ranchers and poultry farmers have very little.

    Even if someone decides to consume gluten grains, they can still eat very cleanly by making their own bread from non gmo wheat like eikorn. Don’t buy food that comes in boxes or cans or plastic bags. Shop locally, cook from scratch and avoid junk food. But if you have children you may need to move to a remote part of Alaska because the peer pressure, the ad industry and well meaning grandparents will conspire to get kids to eat sugary foods, seed oil cooked foods and on and on.

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  9. Linda

    09/12/2019

    I have been a plant based eater for one year. Though some people would call me a vegan, I don’t like the term “vegan” because many vegans practicing it “for the animals” are junk food vegans–i.e. they have no qualms against eating lots of things like french fries, potato chips, cookies such as oreos which don’t have animal fat, etc.

    I have chosen a diet full of fresh fruits, vegetables, beans, and legumes (but no meat, fish, eggs, or dairy products) for my health and it has paid off. I have dropped 37 pounds and my cholesterol went way down. I can easily see myself sticking to this way of eating for the rest of my life. Statistics show that plant based eaters have far less diabetes, heart disease, and cancer.

    While I think the Whole Thirty diet is a vast improvement to the typical SAD diet (Sad American diet) which is full of junk food, high in fats, and low on fruits and vegetables, I could never recommend it to anyone because of it’s emphasis on meat, seafood, eggs, and fats.

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  10. Jessica

    09/12/2019

    I’ve done it a four times, first two times only made it to day 17 and day 28. I successfully completed it my third try and did reintroduction correctly.
    I learned that I get brain fog when I eat legumes as well as inflammation. I need to keep pasta (actually I prefer spaghetti squash now) in check it gives me bloat. A little while grain bread is okay for me time to time. But anything heavy in sugar and I become sluggish. Im a marathon and ultra marathoner so I do add a lot more fruit, potatoes and nuts to the diet to my energy levels up. Overall I feel more happy and clear. So I mainly live whole 30 most of the time with a little really good cheese here and there, a square of dark chocolate, rice when not on it, and some red wine. It did change my relationship for the better, and it really helps with my ADHD that I developed after a head injury 3 years ago.

    It’s not for everyone though.

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    Liane Reply:

    Jessica,
    No more running for me at 70 — overuse injuries of knees and hips from many years of skiing pretty much stopped the running but I walk about 3-5 mi. a day. I just started a 16:8 IF regimen and I’ve been eating tons of sweet potatoes (organic) with loads of ghee, and avocados from Calif are in stores so I eat one a day. I’ve been making little grass fed ground beef sliders and wrapping them in lettuce. No brain fog. It’s amazing. The IF got rid of the last 10 menopause lbs I’ve struggled with for 20 years. I’ve learned to watch my macros. One thing Whole 30 does for anyone is its so simple it’s really easy to count macros.

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    Chris Reply:

    We got some ghee for only $1. I had never had it before. It was kind of exciting because it was normally close to $10 but I had to throw it out. It was absolutely disgusting. I don’t know if it was rancid or what. It was still in date. 🙁

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  11. Alison Petruska

    09/12/2019

    It’s just 30 days. It doesn’t mean you can never eat those foods again! The point is to eliminate potential inflammatory foods and then re-introduce them so you can really see what might be causing you issues you thought were “normal”. It’s an eye opening exercise. I have done one Whole30 and found it harder then other elimination protocols like Paleo because of the need to be hyper-vigilant about any form of sugar (not that Paleo encourages sugar either, but honey and maple syrup are allowed). It makes it tough to use any convenience foods. However, there are more of Whole 30 approved convenience foods out now. I was worried about doing it with a 5 and 3 year old but it actually wasn’t bad. I just opted out of the grain that might be with dinner and added extra veggies.

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  12. Alicia

    09/12/2019

    I’ve done 2 rounds of the W30 successfully, and 1 round where I made it to day 24. We are considering starting another round because our eating habits have gotten way off course again. It is a lot of work! But for someone like you who already does so much cooking and prep work, that part would be a breeze for you. The hardest part for me is the first week when I have to get through my cravings. But the benefits for me were worth all the hassle. I lost weight, my husband lost weight, we both felt SO much better, my husband’s excema and allergies cleared up, my migraines went away. It was pretty amazing (and shocking to realize what we were doing to our bodies prior!) But I think the main reason we had such drastic results is because our eating habits had gotten so poor prior to starting . It makes it harder to start a W30, but the results will be more dramatic!

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  13. Kerri

    09/12/2019

    I have done 1 successful round and many unsuccessful rounds. When I’m on it, I feel AMAZING! Lots of energy, better sleep, less pain and inflammation. But…in today’s modern society, it is just SO HARD to maintain.

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  14. Melissa

    09/12/2019

    Yes yes yes! Two of my favorite things together. I’be followed your blog almost exclusively for many years and I did my first Whole30 almost 4 years ago and have done a couple more since then to when I feel like my relationship with food is becoming too emotional.

    I have three kids and have taken a different approach each time. We eat similarly to the way you eat, lots of fresh fruit and veggies, protein and grains and healthy fats. When I’m a W30 I either make an additional grain/cheese side dish for the kids, or if I want the to do it wit me I have a bunch of roasted potatoes or tubers for them to eat with the meal. I’d LOVE to share some of our family favorite recipient with you that we use on the W30! There are a number of casseroles that we still eat, and we grill out often! Many of our W30 staples we eat through out the year even when we aren’t doing a whole30, like sloppy joes, enchilada bake, shepherd’s pie, soups, stews, pulled pork carnitas, stir fry’s, lots of diy chicken nuggets that I triple batch and eat again later that month.

    You are right that it is a lot of hands on and prep work but someone like you could totally handle it! If you do decide to do it and can’t find products at Wegmans, sign up for a free trail of Thrive Market for a month and order your dressings, coconut aminos, coconut milk, and flours from them. You’ll also get 20% off your first order!

    I love making the W30 easy for families!

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  15. Kellie

    09/12/2019

    My husband and I have done 4 Whole30 challenges (not consecutively) when we start to feel sluggish. I will say that many people try it in order to figure out if they have food allergies (we discovered that we do not have any but dairy does make my husband mildly congested). That said, the Whole 30 is a wonderful diet if you’re curious about your body’s relationship to food (cravings, allergies, inflammation, acne). After 4 cycles I can say I’ve given it a fair shake…but I won’t do it again. Why? It IS extreme! And as someone who doesn’t see a significant change after 30 HARD days I personally am hanging it up. Just a quick tip if you’re looking to do a W30 – prepare to cook literally EVERYTHING from scratch! Everything has sugar in it these days and that’s a no-no (think making your own ketchup and mayo from scratch). That’s honestly the main reason why I can’t do it again – I spent 4 hours in the kitchen every day lol. We have many, many friends who’ve done the W30 and “just can’t” anymore because the cooking requirements are just so exhaustive.

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    Liane Reply:

    I’ve made some headway in finding stuff that’s sugar free. Mark Sisson’s line of Primal Kitchen condiments are pretty good. I love his ketchup. I found making ketchup to be aggravating at best. I use avocado oil to make a small batch of mayo for a salad dressing base. It literally takes less time than peeling that plastic seal off the junk dressings from a plastic bottle. Rao’s sauces are sugar free. Believe it or not Taco Bell brand taco sauce is also. I use it in chicken marinades and in dressings. Gordon Ramsay has an immersion blender mayo that takes literally under 3 minutes to make and only 4 ingredients. Cup of light olive oil, an egg, a tbsp of lemon juice and a tsp of white vinegar. Instant mayo.

    But sugar notwithstanding everything I ever cooked in the past was from scratch except I bought pasta in a box. Never ate canned soup or instant mashed potatoes or frozen casseroles and that stuff. It really was no big transition from grilling salmon or steaks or burgers, steaming some broccoli or asparagus and tossing a salad with fresh veggies from my garden. The primary differences were marinades use coconut aminos not soy sauce, salad dressing was made with better quality oils and I buy block cheese and grate it myself instead of buying the maltodextrin potato starch antibiotic laden variety. Bottom line, once my ingredient substitutes were purchased nothing much changed on a daily basis. Bacon and eggs or eggs and avocado for breakfast, same. Salad with a protein like leftover grilled salmon, steak, chicken or a handful of shrimp plus a handful of cherry tomatoes has replaced a sandwich with similar ingredients and a bag of chips. Dinner is actually the most unchanged meal. We don’t care for stews but I make a lot of soups. I still make the same recipe, just omit the beans. Never put beans in chili to start with so I still make it same as always, just use my home grown tomatoes if I can.

    What I don’t prepare any more — my weekly baking of corn muffins, cookies, cupcakes, breadsticks, banana and zucchini bread like I used to. I’ve been learning to bake with nut flours but I don’t make as many deserts since we eschewed sugar. I’m actually saving time.

    I don’t mean this as an attack or assault on your way of eating but I don’t see how there’s any more work involved. Unless you eat many meals at fast food places. Or everything you cook is a frozen or boxed meal like frozen casseroles or hamburger helper. But I do get it. Some people perceive that things take much much longer than they do. Case in point, ask any husband how long it takes to unload a dishwasher. You will get estimates upwards of 10 min. At my house it takes me 4. Ask him how long to peel a carrot or a potato — he may say 5.

    Just about the only think that takes forever for me is cutting hard squash and getting the seeds out. That and squeezing 2 dozen limes to freeze the juice after the wind blows them off the tree.

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