September is the new ‘New Year
Another summer is on the books and if you’re anything like us, you felt the crush and frenzy of the past month – a month marked by vacation, travel, outdoor adventures, back-to-school preparations, barbecues, home improvement projects and more.
Along with the physical chaos comes the mental chaos and with that, a tendency to be really lax with diet and regular physical activity. Which probably explains why, when September comes, we feel like we’ve just survived the holidays all over again.
Time to reset
Even we, as dietitians, aren’t immune to the craziness of summer. By the time September rolls around we’re ready to get back into regular meal times and to walk away from the fizzy cocktails and backyard barbecue staples.
Which why we love a good Whole30 to get us back on track.
What is the Whole30?
The Whole30 is a pretty much what it sounds like – 30 days of eating whole foods. The program, created by Melissa Hartwig & Dallas Hartwig, has a set of firm ground rules that guide the way you eat. It’s not a prescribed diet per se, but rather a template into which you plug the allowed foods into to create your meals and snacks. Here we show 18 Dietitian-Approved Whole30 Meals.
The Whole30 has received some serious criticism from dietitians and other health professionals for being too rigid and for its exclusion of grains and dairy. Which is exactly why we wanted to share our thoughts on the Whole30 program. We’ve done several rounds of Whole30 and each time have learned something about ourselves while improving our eating habits, our sleep, our complexion and our outlook on life. Think that sounds too good to be true? It isn’t. But this also isn’t a quick fix program designed to change a lifetime of destructive behaviors overnight. Nor is it meant to be a lifelong eating plan. It’s 30 days of super clean eating combined with self-care and self-discipline that can change the way you look at (and eat) food for better. You can learn more about the Whole30 here.
Why we Whole30?
Jessica did her first Whole30 program in March 2013 in a desperate attempt to find relief from a debilitating autoimmune disease. Though she felt heaps better after that first round, her flare didn’t instantly abate which lead her from Whole30 to the autoimmune paleo (AIP) protocol which ultimately allowed her resolve her symptoms. For her, the prescribed set of ‘rules’ of the Whole30 prepared her for the rigors of AIP and helped her sleep better and dramatically increased her energy and sense of wellbeing. Jessica continues to undertake a Whole30 1-2 times per year when she feels like it’s time to reel in erratic eating behaviors and really dial in her nutrition to meet health and fitness goals.
Stacie first gave Whole30 a go in the Spring of 2014 for a different reason than Jessica. Stacie was fighting a constant battle with digestive issues due to many years of following a low-fat diet filled with artificial sweeteners and ‘diet’ foods. Both of which are very hard on the digestive system. After 30 days on the Whole30, Stacie’s digestion had greatly improved with notably less bloating and gassiness. Her skin made a turnaround too. The adult acne she had been battling, had improved greatly. In addition, it was the Whole30 that helped her discover her sensitivity to gluten. She too continues to Whole30 1-2 times per year as a rejuvenating reset and to tame any food cravings that she might have going on.
Dietitians Thoughts on Whole30 program:
- It’s not forever. It’s 30 days. And you can do pretty much anything for 30 days. You can live without grains, dairy, sugar, chocolate and alcohol for 30 days. You may not love it at first but it’s physiologically possible. And it’s not as harmful to do so as some opponents would lead you to believe.
- It’s not designed for weight loss. When you walk away from a diet that’s high in processed foods and turn instead to a diet of whole or minimally-processed food, most people will lose some weight. Often it’s in the form of water weight in the beginning, but as your 30 days continues fat loss is often a ‘side effect’ of a Whole30 done right.
- When done right, it’s a balanced way of eating. By ‘done right’ we mean 30 days of whole foods combined into meals and snacks that are heavy on the plant matter with meat, fats and fruit used more as enhancements to the meal – not the main focus. When we Whole30 we aim for plates that are more than 75% vegetables to fill us up, provide adequate fiber and micronutrients like calcium, potassium, vitamins and minerals.
- We eat just enough protein to satisfy our hungers and meet our needs for muscle repair and building and a strong immune system – but we don’t overdo the protein. It’s definitely not the main focus of our meals despite what you may have heard about the Whole30. We also include enough fat to ensure we’re absorbing all those nutrients, to make our food taste amazing and to make our meals and snacks intensely satisfying.
- It brings your attention to food quality. “Quality over quantity” should be the Whole30 mantra because when you feed your body the foods it needs, you don’t need to eat as much or all the extras. The non-stop snacking or grazing pretty much goes away when you eat balanced meals based on vegetables, protein and fat. We also love that the Whole30 promotes the use of the most sustainable and clean foods your budget can afford. This isn’t elitism, it’s conscious eating – choosing foods who’s production methods are easier on the environment while offering up more nutrition in the form of vitamins, minerals and important fatty acids also helps you steer clean of mass-produced and highly-refined foods that may be preventing you from reaching your health goals.
- Opens up your food world and expands your palate. This pretty much goes hand in hand with the previous point. When you ditch the processed packaged foods, grains and dairy you leave some space in your diet to try new foods. The Whole30 community is great at sharing new food finds and approved recipes – many of which are heavy on the vegetables or use vegetables in ways that you’ve never thought of (zoodles, anyone?) Another side benefit of passing on hyperpalatable processed foods is that your tastes buds change. Literally. You get new tastebuds daily and the further into your Whole30 you get, the greater your ability to appreciate subtle nuances of flavor in foods that you previously never noticed. And fruit tastes sweeter and more satisfying when you’re not used to everything being super sweet.
- It helps to tame certain food cravings. Doing a Whole30 may not cure you of your sugar or fatty food cravings permanently but it can help decrease them for a couple of reasons: 1) Sugar, fried foods and other highly-processed and somewhat addictive foods like ice cream, candy, energy drinks, onion rings, chips, cookies and other baked goods just aren’t allowed, 2) after a period of abstinence from a certain food you tend to lose interest in it. This, of course, takes some time and ‘skillpower’ to keep you away from the food until it becomes less appealing, and 3) when you feed your body wholesome and nourishing foods that provide ample calories, protein, fat and micronutrients while balancing your blood sugars, you have fewer physiological cravings for certain foods. The ‘mental’ cravings can also be lessened by consuming a balanced, super clean diet though we’ve found that coupling diet with self-care activities like exercise, journaling, meditation and time outdoors helps improve the likelihood of squelching food cravings.
- It can help you identify food sensitivities. If you suspect that a sensitivity to gluten, dairy, soy or other foods are to blame for poor digestion, fatigue, headaches, acne, joint pain, etc. then a Whole30 is a great way to eliminate these common irritants or allergens and allow your body to heal. After 30 days you can slowly reintroduce each food to monitor for a return of symptoms. Critics of the Whole30 often cite the elimination of entire groups of food as being unnecessarily restrictive but we disagree. As dietitians we’ve been using elimination diets with our clients for years to help them improve their health and uncover hidden food sensitivities.
- It’s hard. You have to commit 100%. We’re not going to sugar-coat anything here, doing a Whole30 is hard. But it’s not impossible. With the right mindset (“This isn’t forever”, “My health is important”, “I deserved to feel my best”) and some advance planning you can successfully complete a Whole30. Keep in mind though, that unlike other ‘diets’ (of which this is not) you have to commit 100%. There are no cheats or shortcuts. Failing to stick to your guns will give you sub-par results and won’t help you tame cravings or discover which foods make you feel like a rockstar.
Is the Whole30 for you?
The Whole30 can safely be done by just about everyone. However, you need to be committed. You need to have a greater desire to improve your health than to continue consuming food and drinks that are keeping you bloated, tired and stuck. If you’re willing to set aside grains, dairy, soy, sugar, alcohol, legumes, baked goods and other treats or trigger foods for 30 days then you’re a pretty good candidate for a Whole30. If you’re also willing to put some extra time and planning into your meals and snacks, then you’re even better suited for a Whole30. If you take that one step further and commit to sticking to your guns at parties, happy hours and other social situations for the next month, then it’s safe to say that your chances of successfully completing a Whole30 have gone up substantially.
Who the Whole30 isn’t for:
- History of disordered eating. If you have a history of any kind of disordered eating or food addiction, the Whole30 is not for you. We agree with the program creators that the program rules can worsen disordered or restrictive eating so we can’t recommend the Whole30 to anyone in this situation.
- Looking for a quick fix. As we mentioned earlier, the Whole30 isn’t a quick fix or a weight loss program. It’s 30 days of committed and planned eating. You’ve gotta work for your results and sometimes, even 30 days isn’t enough to reset or relieve nagging health issues like acne, bloating, poor digestion or fatigue. Sometimes you have to go longer and keep evaluating what’s working and what isn’t. So if it’s a quick fix you’re looking for, keep looking. This isn’t it.
- You follow a strict vegan diet. It’s not that you can’t do a Whole30 as a vegan but it is significantly more difficult as the program does encourage animal products to provide adequate fat and protein. With the removal of grains, legumes and soy it’s difficult to get enough protein to meet your body’s needs. In addition, though the program does encourage the use of humanely and sustainably raised animal products it definitely advocates for the inclusion of meat and poultry – so not likely a good fit for a strict vegan.
Interested in doing your own Whole30?
Need support or social accountability for your Whole30?
The official group Whole30 kicks off on September 5th, 2016. You’ll find loads of information, support and recipe inspiration on the Whole30 Instagram feeds (Motivation & Recipes) and Facebook (Motivation & Recipe).
You can also catch us, your beloved Real Food Dietitians, as we takeover the Whole30 Recipes Instagram feed starting Sept 19th. We’ll be sharing our favorite Whole30-friendly recipes 4 times a day! In the meantime, you can check out our stash of Whole30-friendly recipes right here on our blog!
The information shared in this Dietitians Thoughts on Whole30 post is based solely on our own opinions and experiences. We receive no compensation from Whole30 or it’s partners.