We’ve just completed our first week of our Popular Paleo Whole30 Challenge! I hope that it’s inspiring those of you who did not commit this go ’round to considering jumping in for my next one. In the meantime, be sure to grab a copy of It Starts With Food by Dallas & Melissa Hartwig. It’s full of essential information for anyone looking into or preparing to transition to the Paleo lifestyle.
Because anything like taking the leap to Paleo or buckling down for a Whole30 does take a fair amount of focus, effort and resourcefulness, I figured some advice from industry experts would be helpful for all of us. And who better than the guys who send us awesome weekly Paleo meal plans every Friday? PrimalPal! I talk about PrimalPal a fair amount on my blog and Facebook page because I really love their online Paleo meal planning service. Their unique grocery list generator feature has me sold! But that’s not what this post is about. Chris & Chad recently held a Whole30 of their own and are sharing with us some words of wisdom (as well as some very handy resources) from their experience.
I’m personally grateful for their insights and have implemented them for my own Whole30. I hope that you find this information useful — and I REALLY hope you take advantage of their 10-Day Free Trial.
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The Whole30 is the closest thing to a right of passage that exists in the paleo community. It’s 30 straight days of strict Paleo eating. Actually, it’s very strict.
There is no dairy, no legumes, no grains, no added sugars, no alcohol and a list of other additives that you have to avoid. It causes you to evaluate every decision you make regarding food and beverage. The motto is “no cheats, no slips, no excuses.”
I recently completed my first Whole30 and documented my progress. I also provided some Whole30 meal plans for anyone who wanted a bit of support during their own Whole30. More on how you can get access to these meal plans and other goodies below.
When Ciarra told me that she was going to complete her own Whole30, I jumped at the opportunity to share my experience with her and the Popular Paleo community.
The Decision to Do a Whole30
Let’s talk about your decision to do a Whole30. It’s not something to take lightly. Most of the time I adhere to a 95/5 approach to Paleo. I’m not perfect and I don’t expect myself to be. If you think you can go 100% Paleo and never enjoy a non-paleo food again I think you’re making things harder on yourself than they need to be. If you’ve been frequenting the Popular Paleo blog I’m assuming you might already be doing a pretty good job with your Paleo diet.
So the question remains… Why even do the Whole30 in the first place?
The goal for me was to find out how I would feel during a strict Paleo challenge. I wanted to see if it would make a difference for someone like me who already eats clean a majority of the time. I wanted to see if my energy levels would improve, if I would sleep better, and if my workout performance would improve.
If this is your first Whole30 I would strongly urge you to pick up a copy of the book It Starts with Food by Dallas and Melissa Hartwig. The book outlines the Whole30 in it’s entirety and it’s probably the best compiled resource of information available for the Whole30. You don’t have to read the whole book, although it’s not a bad idea. Just read the chapters that are specifically about the Whole30 (Chapters 17, 18 and 19).
The Whole9 website also has some good resources but for a simple one-stop-shop for information I would start with the book. Use their website to refine your knowledge about the Whole30 after you’ve read the chapters I suggested.
One thing that I hope you’ll notice about the Whole30 is that it’s not meant to be a weight loss challenge. I think that this point has gotten lost in the frenzy of people seeing great results with the Paleo diet.
Don’t get me wrong, it is possible that you could lose weight while doing the Whole30. I leaned out quite a bit myself. But don’t make this your sole purpose for doing it.
One of the things I try to stress on our blog is that you should strive to create a lifestyle of good health and fitness. The endeavor of creating a healthy lifestyle for yourself is a marathon, not a sprint.
Too often people want to find the quick fix to their problems. I’m guilty of this too. We all are. But when it comes to health and fitness the only solution is a long-term approach. You can’t expect to be healthy and fit if you’re constantly trying to do it in short sprints of 30 days or less.
This is my overall beef with other 30 day challenges. The focus is too short-term. People will do the 30 day challenge, possibly see good progress, but once the 30 days is over they let the ball drop and go back to bad habits. Then you start seeing things in the forums about how someone needs to lose 10 pounds so they are going to do another 30 day Paleo challenge.
Dallas and Melissa are very adamant about using the Whole30 as an experiment to learn about your body and how the foods you eat affect your health and well-being. I agree that this should be the goal with the Whole30. It’s not to lose 10 pounds. If you go in with a goal to lose weight you are setting yourself up for disappointment and missing the point.
Recently I read the idea that it takes approximately 30 days to establish a new routine then another 30 days to reinforce the routine before it becomes a habit. This would be a good mindset to have for the Whole30.
Take the first 30 days to cut out foods that the Whole30 suggests. Cut out the added sugar, the processed garbage, grains, gluten, legumes, alcohol and dairy. After your first 30 days use the next 30 days to continue to avoid the big non-Paleo foods like grains, legumes and processed foods. You can start to reintroduce foods you think you would like to have occasionally like dairy and adult beverage. This will help you reinforce the good habits of cutting out certain foods permanently and allowing you some flexibility so you can make these lifestyle changes stick for the long-term instead of just 30 days.
Of course, if this is your first ever go at Paleo and you want to see what will happen if you reintroduce gluten into your diet… be my guest. It won’t be pretty. But don’t say I didn’t warn you.
Dealing with Social Situations and Peer Pressure
Much to my surprise the biggest challenge wasn’t cutting out certain foods. The challenge was handling outside pressure from friends and social engagements. A good tip is to try to plan your Whole30 during a month where the calendar is light on social events.
If this isn’t possible then you’ll need to mentally prepare to handle weird questions, looks and jokes at your expense. Even if it’s not malicious, peer pressure can cause you to doubt what you’re doing and even to make a mistake during your Whole30.
To handle these outside forces with dignity and grace the best thing you can do is be selfish. Yes, just be concerned about yourself during the Whole30. You have your own personal reasons for doing the challenge and you don’t owe anyone an explanation or excuse. So don’t give them one. You’re not responsible for other people’s actions and decisions so don’t feel like you need to eat or drink certain things to make other people feel comfortable.
When passing on certain foods or drinks just simply say, “no thank you.” If you get pressed further you can always tell them you’re experimenting with cutting gluten out of your diet or anything else for that matter. Here’s the formula…
“No thank you, I’m experimenting with cutting ______ out of my diet.”
This was the hardest part for me. At some level I think all of us are people pleasers, some more than others. But just stay focused on the reason why you’re doing the Whole30 and it will help you get through these tough situations.
It’s promising to see that personal experimentation and personal challenges are becoming more acceptable. So don’t be too scared about peer pressure. Just know it exists and have a way to deal with it before you come face-to-face with it.
Tracking Progress with the Whole30
The way I kept track of my progress was just to take one day at a time. I had a blank calendar with 30 days and at the end of each successful day I have myself a big red X. After the 30 days I had a string of 30 big red X’s.
This system has been attributed to Jerry Seinfeld. The whole idea is to avoid breaking the chain. Your brain over time will attach to the idea of keeping the string of successes going. It will become hard for you to break the chain.
It’s also a nice reminder when you get 15 days in that you are halfway home. I found this to be a great way to reward myself for sticking with the Whole30 and to see that I was approaching the finish line.
Have a Plan for the Whole30
You absolutely have to have a plan for your diet during the Whole30. Even if you don’t use a Paleo meal planner like PrimalPal, you still have to plan.
There are a ton of resources to help you. Visit your favorite Paleo recipe and lifestyle blogs like Popular Paleo. Take their recipes and make a meal plan for each week of your Whole30. Once you have your meal plan made just print it out and keep it where you can see it. Put your shopping list together and get to the store to stock up.
The Whole30 is a great time to experiment with new foods and new recipes. You don’t have to feel deprived. I ate all sorts of great food during my Whole30 and you can too. I put together a special resource for Popular Paleo readers. I packaged together a full four weeks of Whole30 compliant meal plans and shopping lists, a paleo food guide PDF, and the Find Your Why audio program and worksheet. Plus a couple other bonuses. You can get these goodies right here.
Success with the Whole30 boils down to five important steps.
1. Have a strong reason “why” you’re doing the Whole30 beyond just losing weight.
2. Know how you’ll handle social events and peer pressure before you come face-to-face with it.
3. Track your progress in a simple way. Use a blank 30-day calendar and give yourself an X.
4. Have your meals planned out each week of the challenge.
5. Use the first 30 days of the Whole30 to establish good routines and use the following 30 days to reinforce those routines and create good habits.
I wish you the best of luck on your journey of optimal health and fitness. Make sure to go here and get the special Whole30 resource package I put together for Popular Paleo readers.