While I’m not doing a Whole30 this January, I’ve done several rounds of the nutrition challenge in the past, and one of my favorite parts of the experience is the planning process! For those of you unfamiliar with Whole30, it’s a 30 day nutrition challenge created by Melissa and Dallas Hartwig, which focuses on eating unprocessed whole foods, and cutting out inflammatory foods such as sugar and alcohol. For more information, go to Whole30.com, and make sure to get a copy of their book “It Starts with Food”.
1. Plan, plan, plan! Go into your challenge with a plan in mind. I actually use a Google spreadsheet – here’s my sample Whole30 template, feel free to copy and make your own – to plan my month in advance. I’m flexible as I go along, but having done some of the heavy lifting before I dive in really helps me to stick with positive choices.
2. Batch cooking is your friend. Every weekend on Whole30 I plan an afternoon where I make a few staples for the week. I hard-boil a dozen eggs, roast a tray of vegetables, bake some sweet potatoes, and grill a few pounds of chicken or other meats to keep in the fridge. I like also making a sauce of the week, such as mayo, romesco, or chimichurri. Overall I spend about two hours in the kitchen – so I can cut my daily cooking time down to a minimum!
2. Whole30 should NOT be a consistent test of your will power. Build yourself up for success! Clear your house of treats you know you won’t be able to stay away from. If you go consistently to social events, prepare by eating in advance, keeping a compliant snack in your bag, and stay prepared! If you happen to live in a place where social life seems to revolve around alcohol (ahem, Washington DC?), go to the bartender and order a soda water with a lime. (Pretend it’s a gin and tonic if you are tired of explaining Whole30 to people.)
4. Make a list of restaurants where you can get a Whole30 compliant meal, and schedule in at least a weekly dinner out. Eating at home for thirty days can be exhausting if you haven’t gotten used to it. I like having a few options in my back pocket where I know I can get meals that fit with the program. In the past, I’ve done Chipotle, and one of my neighborhood restaurants where I can order a steak or roast chicken, potatoes, and greens with minimal fuss.
5. Make a list of easy pantry meals that you can fall back on if you don’t want the meal that you’ve planned for the night. This is crucial if you aren’t used to sticking to meal plans. Some nights things change – be it your schedule, the weather, your mood, and you find yourself wanting something different. I keep a list of pantry meals or quick fix meals for these evenings so that I’m not left making a bad choice. Breakfast for dinner is often a solution for us. I always keep a bowl of chili in the freezer to pull out in an emergency.
6. Find support. Whole30 can be mentally challenging, and it always helps to do it with a friend. If you don’t have friends or family on board, there’s a great community out there – Instagram (#Whole30) and Pinterest are both good places to find people on the program.
7. How can I Whole30 with a family? This can definitely be a challenge, but it’s doable! The challenge is certainly easiest if everyone in the house is eating the same meals and your spouse is on board – but you can still do it if they aren’t! I’ll usually make a main dish that works for everyone, with optional non-compliant sides for those who aren’t participating in the challenge. Encourage family members to eat treats out of the house, or if they’d like to eat them at home, don’t feel like you have to sit there suffering and watch them while they do it! Take some me-time!
8. A Whole30 challenge does not need to be boring! If you are worried about eating boring chicken breasts and broccoli for thirty days, I promise you, the Whole30 does not need to be that! Many cuisines are naturally Whole30 friendly. I do a lot of Mediterranean tray bakes, Mexican inspired meals, Italian, and Middle Eastern meals. Spices are your friends – stock up at Whole Foods or Penzey’s before your challenge.
9. Rely on some template meals. You do not need to plan elaborate meals each night of your Whole30. Mel Joulwan champions the “Hot Plates” – Protein + Veggies + Fat + Spices + Sauce = Meal. (Lots of good stuff in her cook book Well Fed!) I like doing theme days for inspiration: “egg night”, “soup night”, or “meat + two veg night”.
10. Whole30 does not need to break the bank. Eating organic meat and vegetables and cooking all of your meals at home can be expensive, but it doesn’t have to be. I practice this year round: find your sales and purchase in bulk. I ask the butcher to package meats in pound increments so I can freeze each separately and defrost as I go along. Trader Joe’s Organic Free Range chicken thighs are delicious. Make use of the frozen vegetable – they can be great convenience foods, and are often riper than out of season vegetables. I subscribe to a CSA farm share in the summer time, and a meat CSA all year long to help lower the cost of these higher quality foods. (Plus, you’ll likely be saving money by not drinking alcohol and avoiding treats.)
11. You do not need fancy appliances to do a Whole30. A good pan, sharp knife, a roasting sheet, and a dutch oven are what I use most often. If you do want to get a little fancy, I love my spiralizer for making vegetables for salads, crispy fries, and vegetable noodles.
12. Know what to expect. It helps to go into the challenge with the right mindset. Whole30 isn’t a crash diet, it’s a way to reframe your eating style, and form new healthy habits. That said, it can very be challenging. Cutting sugar and alcohol cold turkey can be difficult. Be prepared to notice your feelings, acknowledge them but don’t fight them, and persevere. It will be hard, but you can do it!
13. Commit to the month. You can do anything for a month! If you find yourself frustrated, take solace in the fact that this is a finite challenge, and you will definitely learn things about yourself along the way. Choose a few new recipes each week, commit to learning some new cooking techniques, and have fun!
For more Whole30 resources, check out these resource posts on a few of my favorite blogs:
- Mel Joulwan, author of Well Fed and Well Fed 2‘s post: Whole 30 Resources Roundup
- Michelle Tam of Nom Nom Paleo and author of Nom Nom Paleo: Food for Humans post: Doing a Whole30 this January
- Holly Would if She Could: a month of Whole30 dinner ideas
If you are interested in any personal coaching to support your Whole30 (or gym nutrition challenge) – I do schedule one-off consultations to help you strategize your month of good eating in compliance with the program! Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.