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What is the Whole30 Diet?

The Whole30 diet is one of the more intense nutrition plans, with regards to requirements and limitations.

Of the diets we have featured, the time frame of Whole30 is potentially the shortest. Where Paleo and IIFYM dieting are more lifestyle choices, and the keto diet is an on-and-off continuing plan, Whole30 is a 30-day commitment from start to finish. It’s right in the name!

So what is Whole30?

Whole30 is focused on “real foods,” which are essentially foods that can be grown or found in nature, without being processed by humans. It also cuts out added sugar, and limits the participant to only a few food groups. It is technically a Paleo diet, with more restrictions than the simple Paleo guidelines.

The groups that are probably toughest to cut out of one’s diet, when on the Whole30 plan are:

  • Dairy
  • Legumes
  • Grains
  • Alcohol
  • Added sugar
  • Junk food

A notable aspect of the diet is that it draws a hard line on cheating.

This is not the diet for you if your problem has been willpower. You are not going to have “cheat meals” during this 30-day adventure in natural, unsweetened foods. There is absolutely NO slipping up. The diet considers any mistake to be a complete reset button. One sip of wine, a bite of pizza, a teaspoon of sugar.. all of the above mean you will have to start your thirty days over entirely. As the Whole30 official website phrases it: “You must commit to the full program, exactly as written, 100% for the full 30 days. Anything less and you won’t experience the full benefits the program has to offer. Anything less and you are selling yourself—and your life-changing results—short.”

The potential benefits of this diet are absolutely tremendous, if you can stick to it. Co-founder Melissa Hartwig has this to say:

              “Are your energy levels inconsistent or non-existent? Do you have aches and pains that can’t be explained by over-use or injury? Are you having a hard time losing weight no matter how hard you try? Do you have some sort of condition, like skin issues, digestive ailments, seasonal allergies, or chronic pain, that medication hasn’t helped? These symptoms are often directly related to the foods you eat—even the “healthy” stuff.”

Imagine seeing changes in those ailments in only 30 days.

Most of us fit into at least one of the categories that Melissa describes in the above quote. We’ve all fought fatigue at our desk or place of work. We’ve all gotten up in the morning feeling like an absolute soup sandwich after a night out. No more nights out over-imbibing, no matter the occasion. There are no excuses.

Side note: soup sandwiches are in violation of the Whole30 program, even if you can figure out how on earth to make one.

Bet you can’t wait to get cracking and watch those pounds slip off your frame by checking the scale every morning! Don’t. Whole30 is about more than losing weight, and the program is unique in that it is a requirement to avoid the scale. Any type of weighing-in, or body measuring of any kind, is in violation of the rules of the nutrition program. One would have to assume that a violation of this rule is a violation of the whole (30) operation and merits a total restart. We didn’t make the rules.

You will just have to be patient and weigh yourself AFTER the 30-day commitment.

We’ve spent plenty of time discussing all the things that the diet does not allow you to eat. Here comes the list of exceptions, along with some bonus news.

The following are exceptions to the rules regarding sweeteners and dairy.

  • Ghee and clarified butter are allowed. Ghee is a food that is popular in India and is derived from boiling butter, then skimming the surface to remove the liquid impurities. The fat that is left over is okay under the Whole30 guidelines. It would be prudent to stick to ghee you’ve purchased from a store, rather than trying to make it yourself and accidentally violating the program rules.  It isn’t likely you’re going to experience a SWAT style midnight raid over it, but it’s better not to risk it.
  • Vinegar, other than malt vinegar, is okay to have during the Whole30 program. Malt vinegar contains gluten and gluten is not allowed under the rules of Whole30.
  • Salt is also allowed. This is because dextrose, a form of sugar, is found in almost all salt-containing foods. The creators of Whole30 anticipated this question from the more chemically-savvy consumer, and they figured a line needs to be drawn somewhere. So many foods contain salt and, therefore, dextrose, that it simply wouldn’t be reasonably to cut it out of your diet entirely. The diet is restrictive enough as it is. It needs to be doable, or nobody will reap its benefits.
  • Coconut aminos. Even if the ingredient is described as “coconut nectar,” it is okay to have it while on the program.

“Now,” you’re unquestionably thinking, “I was told there would be bonus news! When was the last time I had ghee? I wasn’t even clear on how to pronounce that until I Googled it just a minute ago!”

Do you want the good part or the bad part first?

Because there is no way to reply, let’s assume you want the good news. You can have coffee.

But we hope you like it black.

Black coffee is allowed on this diet. At least you don’t have to give that up! Hey, we needed to save something for Lent, right?

Let’s get into some pointers and best practices for succeeding at the intimidating Whole30 diet.

You’ll want to prep your meals. Figure out a day or two in advance what your plan is for breakfast, lunch and dinner. If possible, take the time to cook, portion out, and set aside your meals so that there isn’t any guesswork involved on the day of. Whole30’s website also offers the opportunity to sign up to receive a meal plan that will help you succeed at your diet.

On-the-go snacking is helpful to maintaining the diet as well.

The most obvious reason for this is the fact that little preparation is involved, and it saves time and money to have something ready and nearby. Look for the “Whole30 approved’ logo on packaging, or you’ll have to read the nutrition information. Remember to check thoroughly, because one slip-up mean starting over.

Whole30 is not boot camp. It is easy enough to accomplish and you can absolutely do it. However, if you’ve got a bachelor party or a twenty-first birthday coming up, or if you simply cannot help yourself around grandma’s Christmas cookies, this is not the plan for you. Now put your head down, square your shoulders, get in the game, come up with as many additional clichés as you like and get it done!