Since there is so much confusion around Whole30, I’ve decided to put together a Short Guide to Whole30 focusing on what the Whole30 protocol is, what are the benefits of completing a Whole30 and how you can implement it correctly and in a healthy way.
What is Whole30?
Whole30 is an elimination and reintroduction protocol that focuses on real food to get you healthy and happy again. The goal of the program is to help you put an end to unhealthy cravings, unhealthy habits, restore a healthy metabolism, heal your digestive tract, balance your immune system and get back to having a healthy relationship with food. The Whole30 protocol was initially created in 2009 by Melissa Hartwig and since then it has helped tens of thousands of people change their relationship with food.
There are so many diets out there and, while most of them will focus on counting calories, Whole30 will teach you how to appreciate real food while paying attention to the foods that trigger various health problems (allergies, chronic pain, etc). You’ll do this while eating as much as you want from the list of approved foods for 30 consecutive days. Sounds simple, right?
Whole30 is not a diet
Whole30 is not a diet, but a protocol that you have to follow for 30 consecutive days. It focuses on eliminating some of the foods that are considered problematic for health (things like dairy, legumes, refined oil or sugar) for 30 consecutive days, in which time your body should be free (or almost free) of pain, allergies, and other health problems. After these 30 days follows the Reintroduction phase, where you add back the foods you’ve been avoiding and see how they impact your health.
Here’s in a nutshell how the Whole30 program works:
- Elimination – Eliminate foods that are known to have a negative impact on health.
- Note the changes.
- Reintroduction – Reintroduce foods carefully and systematically.
- Note the changes.
- Food Freedom – Now you’re able to make educated decisions about how food impacts your health and create your Food Freedom.
In our modern world eating real food has become such a rarity that we need to learn how to do it again. And talking about eating, the list of “allowed foods” is really big so you can be sure that your food plate will always look rich, colorful and savory.
You’ll get to eat only real food, home-cooked meals prepared using natural ingredients. Your plates will get very colorful while the foods you’ll be eating will always be fresh, tasty, and from natural sources. If it looks hard, remember that it’ll only be for 30 days and you’re doing it for your health.
The Whole30 Reset
The Whole30 program is made of 2 distinct parts: the Elimination phase and the Reintroduction phase. The Elimination phase is the main part of the protocol and lasts for 30 days. The reintroduction is the part that follows after the initial elimination (usually 10 to 30 days) and can only be completed after you’ve completed the Elimination phase successfully.
The Reset – Elimination
The Whole30 reset focuses on improving your health; it’s not in any way focused on counting calories, macros or any measurements (weight, body, etc). The Elimination phase will help you identify what foods are ok and which aren’t so great for you to eat After the initial 30 days, you’ll be ready to move on into the Reintroduction phase.
The Elimination phase of your reset will help you create healthy eating habits that are also sustainable for your health. It will transform your relationship with food in ways that you can’t even imagine right now. You’ll start feeling the taste of real food again, you’ll lose the appetite for sugar and you’ll transform your body to a totally new you. Yes, Whole30 can also help you lose some of the weight you’ve been struggling with, but that’s not its main focus.
The Reset – Reintroduction
Moving to the Reintroduction phase, it’s safe to say that by now you’ve lost all the cravings. You’ll slowly start to reintroduce all the foods you’ve been missing on, paying special attention to any symptoms you might have. The goal is to identify what can trigger your health problems and immediately stop eating those foods (or eat them in moderation).
You can now make conscious decisions related to what foods you’re eating. By now you should know what foods make you sick and what are the foods you thrive on. If a food makes you sick, you’ll know you have to eliminate it or avoid it as much as possible. If a food is good for you but it wasn’t on the “allowed list”, you can safely add it back in moderation if you feel it’s worth it. This is called your “Food Freedom” and I’ll tell you more about it later.
One thing to note, eventually you’ll slip back into the dark side. This can happen after a stressful period or even after a sunny vacation. Regardless the case, know that it’s totally ok because you now have Whole30 under your belt. If your Food Freedom fails, the only smart thing to do is to start another Whole30 reset. With Whole30, you can always go back in reset mode and start again from there. After 30 days, you’ll be back in shape.
Food Freedom doesn’t demand that you eat perfectly – Melissa Hartwig
In a nutshell, Food Freedom means you’ve discovered what foods make you sick and what foods work for you. You can safely eat all the foods that don’t make you sick because you now have a template of how certain foods impact your health. You are in total control of your cravings; you know if a certain food is worth eating even if it can negatively impact your health. Food Freedom means you are in total control of what and how you eat.
The idea of “food freedom” means different things to different people. If you ask me, I’d say it means finally feeling in control of food, instead of food controlling you. It means indulging when you decide it’s worth it, savoring the experience without guilt or shame, and then returning to your regularly scheduled healthy habits. That’s real food freedom. – Melissa Hartwig
Food Freedom means you are in control of what you eat, instead of letting food and emotions control you through uncontrolled hunger or cravings. Food Freedom means that it’s ok to eat some of the foods that aren’t allowed on the Whole30 because you know they don’t negatively impact your health. But it also means that if you decide one cupcake it’s worth all the risks, then go ahead and eat it. As long as you are in control of your decisions, as long as you know how your decisions impact your health, it’s totally ok to slip from time to time.
Food Freedom is not about judgment. Food Freedom is about making conscious decisions about what you should eat or avoid, or when you should eat it. Food Freedom is about getting in control of your health through the foods you’re eating.
Food Freedom refers to your own personalized way of eating, based on your own avoidance of the foods that make you sick. Maybe dairy is ok for you, in which case you can safely eat it even if it wasn’t allowed on the Whole30 list. Maybe a cupcake a day it’s worth it for you, in which case be my guest. Food Freedom is not about restricting some of the foods; it’s about understanding how certain foods impact your health and making informed decisions.
When you feel that your Food Freedom has gone too far, you’ll know that it’s time for another reset. And that’s what I love about Whole30 – this simple idea that, as long as you know how to get back on track, it’s ok to slip from time to time. Instead of eating on autopilot, you will learn how to understand food, how to eat certain foods in certain situations. You’ll instinctively know how to leverage food to your advantage instead of being the slave of food cravings.
What’s allowed on the Whole30
The Whole30 protocol allows you to eat only whole foods, while you’ll be eliminating all processed foods, refined oils, added sugar and basically all the foods that make you sick. Here’s an overview of the main categories of foods you’re allowed to eat while doing the Whole30 reset.
- Nuts and seeds
- Lots of vegetables
- All kinds of fruit
- Plenty of natural fats
- Herbs, spices, and seasonings
As a general rule, try eating only 3 whole meals a day. Eat foods with very few ingredients, all pronounceable ingredients, or better yet, no ingredients listed at all because they’re whole and unprocessed foods.
To make things even more clear, I’ve put together a list of general recommendations to help you make the most out of your Whole30 meals. Check out the next section for more details.
Need some cooking inspiration? Browse through my collection of vegan and vegetarian Whole30 recipes.
Whole30 Eating Bonus Tips
- Choose organic vs conventional raised.
- Choose wild-caught or sustainable seafood vs farm raised seafood.
- Choose free-range eggs if possible.
- Meats and fowl sources include ruminants, non-ruminants and poultry.
- Choose meats and fowl from animals that were raised outside on green pastures (100% grass fed).
- If the source of meats can’t be verified, or it’s not responsibly raised, try choosing the lean cuts with skin removed (toxins usually accumulate in the fat layer).
- Choose fruits that aren’t too sweet (shoot for berries and low carb fruits).
- Nuts and seeds (and their derivative butters) should be consumed in moderation because these are nutrient-dense foods and their omega3 to omega6 ratio is usually bad for one’s health. Ideally, this ratio should be 1:1 to 3:1 but with nuts the ratio is the other way around.
- Smoothies should be consumed in moderation.
- Try to make room on your plate for as many foods as possible – eating too many nutrient-dense foods (like nuts and seeds) will not allow you to eat many other beneficial foods.
- Use only healthy saturated fats for cooking. This includes: animal fats, ghee, coconut oil, coconut oil, extra virgin olive oil (no heat, salads only).
What’s not allowed on the Whole30
The whole point of Whole30 is to nourish your body with healthy foods while you identify and eliminate the foods that make you sick. Here’s a complete list of foods that you’re not allowed to eat during your 30 days reset.
- Do not consume added sugar, real or artificial.
- Do not consume alcohol in any form, not even for cooking.
- Do not eat grains.
- Do not eat legumes.
- Do not eat dairy.
- Do not consume carrageenan, MSG, or sulfites (they are usually added into meats or packaged foods).
- Do not recreate and/or consume baked goods, junk foods, or treats with “approved” ingredients (this also includes all forms of bread or Paleo approved pancakes or muffins).
- Not a food group but very important: Do not step on the scale or take any body measurements for 30 days.
- Pay attention to vegetable oils (they are only allowed because restaurants used them for cooking).
As a general rule, make sure you read the labels. These ingredients could be hidden and you wouldn’t know it if you don’t take time to read the labels. If you’re not sure of something just leave it out of Whole30 until you’ll be sure, this way you won’t compromise your elimination program.
The fine print on what’s allowed
As with everything in life there are a few exceptions from the “not allowed” list and I’m briefly explaining them below:
- Ghee or clarified butter are the only source of dairy allowed. Note that plain butter is not allowed.
- Fruit juice is allowed but only as an added ingredient to something else (usually in the form of sweetener).
- Certain legumes like green beans, sugar snap peas, and snow peas are allowed.
- Vinegar is allowed in all forms except malt vinegar (since it contains gluten).
- Coconut aminos (a brewed and naturally fermented soy sauce substitute) is acceptable.
- Salt is allowed even if it contains sugar in the form of dextrose (sugar is chemically essential to keep the potassium iodide from oxidizing and being lost).
Want to read more on the Whole30 Protocol? Check-out my tips on how to complete your first Whole30 in style.
Whole30 is not a diet, and doesn’t require counting calories or macros. Whole30 is an elimination and reintroduction protocol meant to help you gain control over your eating habits.
Here’s how it works in a nutshell:
- In order to be able to make educated decisions about what foods help or break your health, you’ll first need to clean your diet of the foods that are considered problematic – This is the Elimination Phase and lasts for 30 consecutive days.
- What follows is a period of 10-30 days where you carefully reintroduce back all these foods, one by one, observing any changes related to your health – This phase is called the Reintroduction Phase.
- By now you already understand what are the foods that make or break your health, or if a certain food is “worth-it” to try from time to time. This last phase is called Food Freedom and it’s simply a template that can guide you towards making conscious food choices in the long term.
What do you think about the Whole30 protocol? Would you give it a try? Please let me know what you think in the comments section below
- Whole30, Whole30 101
- Whole30, What is Food Freedom?
- Whole30, The Whole30 Rules
- Whole30, Whole30 Official Books
- Whole30, Whole30 Shopping List (pdf)
- Whole30, Official Whole30 Program Rules (pdf)
- Instagram, Official Whole30 Recipes
- Instagram, Official Whole30 Account
- Instagram, Melissa Hartwig