yulkapopkova/Getty Images When consumers look for a weight loss program, they usually look for easy diets to follow. After all, who wants to spend weeks learning…
If you’ve been reading about the latest diet trends, then you’ve definitely heard about Whole30. When you have to say sayonara to pasta, alcohol, dessert, and dairy for a month, it can reveal things about your diet you probably want to change. From uncovering food sensitivities to combating sugar addiction, the Whole30 diet can transform the way you eat—so it’s no surprise people are looking to the Paleo-inspired diet to help them lose weight.
But before you jump on the 30-day train ride for the sole purpose of shedding pounds, know this: At its core, Whole30 is an elimination diet inspired to help you feel your best—it’s not a weight loss plan. So, do you have to count calories on Whole 30? No, there’s no calorie counting and absolutely no tracking of macros, carbs, you name it. People are advised to step on the scale only at the start and end of the program.
That said, plenty of people who try the Whole30 diet do end up losing some weight. “The benefit of Whole30 is that it encourages eating whole foods, which are foods in their most natural state,” says Sara Haas, RDN, a nutrition expert with formal training in the culinary arts. Cutting out sugar means that you’ll probably end up avoiding empty calories from baked goods and alcohol. You might also find that your belly feels flattered as a result of avoiding highly processed packaged foods, which tend to be loaded with sodium.
So, what can you eat on Whole30?
During the Whole30 diet, you’ll give up refined sugar, artificial sweeteners, grains, dairy, legumes, and alcohol for 30 days. That means the vast majority of processed foods—from cookies to ketchup—are out. Yup, no happy hours for a month. Foods that are typically considered good for you, like quinoa, hummus, and Greek yogurt, are also no-gos.
Why so strict? According to the diet’s founders, Melissa and Dallas Hartwig, these are the foods that are most likely to cause inflammation and gut damage. They’re also the foods that the founders say destabilize blood sugar levels and lead to cravings.
But it’s hard to say whether that’s true for everyone. In general, limiting sugar and alcohol is always a good idea. But dairy, grains, and legumes? They don’t trigger an inflammatory response in every person, Haas says.
With sugar, grains, dairy, and legumes off limits, here’s what those following the plan can eat:
- Fresh fruits and vegetables (dried fruit is allowed in small amounts)
- Lean proteins, such as fish, poultry, beef, and pork (preferably grass-fed and organic)
- Healthy fats, such as olive oil, avocado, coconut oil, or ghee
- Nuts and nut butter, such as cashews, macadamia nuts, walnuts, and almond butter
Why is Whole30 a month-long?
That’s the amount of time it takes for your body to reset and start the healing process, the authors say. It’s also enough time to change your tastes and improve your relationship with food, so you naturally begin to prefer whole foods over their highly processed counterparts. After the 30 days are up, you’re encouraged to slowly reintroduce the off-limits foods to see what works for you and what doesn’t.
Of course, a month of eating healthy isn’t enough to guarantee that you won’t boomerang back to your old ways. But it’s enough time to lay the foundation for new habits and reorient your taste buds toward healthier foods, Haas says.
Clean your kitchen.
Planning ahead can help you thrive on any diet, and the Whole30 diet isn’t any different. Before getting started, you’ll want to clean out your refrigerator and cabinets. Nip temptation in the bud by getting rid of the ice cream, cookies, chips, and other junk food. Because out of sight, out of mind, right? Stock up on vegetables, fruits, lean protein, eggs, nuts, and seeds, and approved dairy-free items.
Make a weekly menu and go shopping.
Finding Whole30-approved options at restaurants can be tricky, especially since added sugar is off limits (and seriously, the sweet stuff is in basically everything). This means you’ll be doing a lot of home cooking. Rather than try to figure out meals and snacks on the fly, plan a week’s worth of eats ahead of time. Need some ideas? Try some of these Whole30-approved breakfasts and dinners, pick up The Whole30 Cookbook, or use the Whole30 online meal planner tool.
Once you’ve got your meals and snacks mapped out, make a grocery list, and hit the store. Doing one big shop ensures that you’ll have everything on hand for the week, so there’s no last-minute scrambling. Be sure to read ingredient labels carefully in the packaged foods you buy. For example, some almond milk have carrageenan, an unapproved emulsifier, soy sauce has traces of gluten, and deli meats have preservatives.
Do some meal planning.
Wash and slice veggies, make a batch of Whole 30 salad dressings or sauce, bake or grill proteins, and portion out snacks in grab-and-go bags. The more that you meal prep ahead of time, the less likely you’ll be to find yourself starving with nary a Whole30-friendly option insight.
Keep approved snacks on hand.
The good news is that you’ll find yourself craving your junky favorites less as time goes on. But that first week can be notoriously tough as your body transitions to a cleaner way of eating. Now more than ever, make sure you’re eating regular, balanced meals and keeping approved snacks like plantain chips with salsa and celery sticks with almond butter on hand. It’s always easier to say no to cookies or chips when you’re satisfied with eating something clean and delicious—or have another snack or dish to look forward to.
Do your homework.
Even if you try to eat homemade as much as possible, unavoidable situations—like a client dinner—are bound to pop up. When that happens. Scope out the menu or call the restaurant ahead of time to figure out what you can order. Or, if it’s a situation where people are less likely to notice that you’re not nibbling (like a cocktail party), just eat before you go and sip something Whole30-approved that could pass for a mixed drink, like seltzer with lime.
Find new ways to socialize.
It’s especially hard saying no to drinks or a trip to the ice cream parlor when friends are involved. Rather than hole up like a hermit for the month, try taking food out of the social equation. Ask friends to go for a hike, see a movie, or meet at a café and sip black coffee or tea. Your loved ones have the power to seriously set you off course when it comes to dropping pounds.
Accept slip-ups and move on.
So you realized the bottled salad dressing had sugar in it, or you broke down and grabbed a cookie from the break room. It’s not ideal, but it’s not the end of the world either—as long as you get right back on track. “Just accept the mess up, and promise to move forward and not look behind,” Haas says. Don’t use a slip up as an excuse to throw in the towel.
That’s Whole30 speak for “Sex With Your Pants On.” Basically, it’s a silly name for the idea that recreating treats with Whole30-approved ingredients—like cauliflower pizza crust or sugar-free butternut squash brownies—isn’t worth it. Like trying to have sex with your pants on, these sorts of treats are never as good as the real thing, so you might as well avoid them altogether.
But more importantly, they go against the spirit of Whole30, which is all about learning to enjoy pure, simple fare and improving your emotional relationship with food. So if you’re gorging on a coffee cake made with zucchini, you’re kind of missing the point. “The plan is only 30 days. Just focus on eating whole food, and enjoying it while you do,” Haas says.
Reintroduce foods one at a time.
Congrats! You made it through Whole30 and are feeling pretty darn great. So great, in fact, that you’re ready to celebrate with some pizza and beer. But you might not want to do that just yet.
Yes, the Whole30 diet encourages you to reintroduce off-limits foods. But the purpose of an elimination diet is to discover which foods do and don’t work for you. Add everything back in at once, and you won’t be able to tell which ingredient may be causing a problem. Plus, after 30 days of squeaky-clean eating, gorging on junk will probably leave you feeling pretty crummy.
A better idea is to reincorporate small amounts of non-Whole30 foods one at a time, waiting a few days before adding something else back in. For instance, after day 30, continue to follow the diet, but have yogurt for breakfast and add some cheese to your salad. Do this for a few days and see if any symptoms pop up. If they do, you know that dairy is problematic for you. Then, try the same thing with another food group, like gluten-free grains. Reintroducing gluten-free and gluten-containing grains separately can help you determine whether you have a gluten sensitivity.
And if there’s something not-so-healthy you find that you just don’t miss very much? No one says you have to eat it again. Getting to know your body better is one of Whole30’s biggest benefits—so go ahead and reap those rewards.
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