The black and white rules of the Whole30 program make it pretty clear as to what you can and can’t have while doing it. For some people, okay, a lot of people, this is pretty intimidating. I get so, so many questions about how to just start the program. Even once we get over the shock of the thought “OMG I can’t eat insert-favorite-food-here for 30 days?!”, we’re still wondering how to do it and find success with it. The rules are extremely helpful in laying out the guidelines and foundation for the program. Here, I’m going to list 23 steps to a successful Whole30 and a few tips to make those rules less difficult to stick to because you CAN do this!
First, let’s talk Whole30 for a second. If you’re wondering what the heck I’m talking about, check out my full explanation of the program. In short, the Whole30 is a free program that promises to change your life in just 30 days. Since 2009, it has been teaching people (hundreds of thousands of them) to remove all foods that might be negatively impacting their health and then to slowly add them back into their diets to find out how they affect their body.The goal is to help you discover which food groups may have been problematic to you without you even being aware of it, therefore making you more informed and in-touch with your health and habits. The Whole30 ultimately shows participants just how closely their food choices are correlated with issues such as digestive problems, autoimmune symptoms, trouble losing weight, skin conditions, being tired and sluggish, mood swings, and more. Participants have noted dozens of physical and psychological benefits along with crazy-awesome improvements in health conditions. They say it’s life changing for a reason.. And for me, it was just that.
So, how can you do this? Well, besides strictly following the rules and eating all the good-for-you foods, there’s a few things you can do to make sure that you’re successful and get as much out of the program as possible.
1. Read “It Starts With Food“
I lost count after 2 million of how many times I’ve recommended this book in the last year and a half. Yes, even more than the Whole30 book itself. My girlcrush Melissa Hartwig, the co-creator of Whole30, has made everything you need to know to do a Whole30 completely free (YEAH, I SAID IT. FREE.) on the Whole30 website. There’s so many resources and all of their content on all of their online/social media outlets are 100% geared towards helping you.
Not to say I don’t think the Whole30 book is an important read and a valuable resource to have on-hand, but I personally think “It Starts With Food” is the place to start. This is the book that made me just get it. If you’re only going to get one book – make it this one. It will make completing your Whole30 easier if you understand the WHY behind all the rules.
Knowing why you’re cutting out grain and why sugar affects our hormones adds context to your Whole30, instead of mindlessly following the restrictions. You’ll have a better understanding of what you’re doing and it will make much more sense to do it. I’m not promising that you won’t still want to seriously injure Melissa during the first few days, but I am promising that after reading this book you know that it’s your food-addicted brain that’s making you feel that way.
2. Stop Making Excuses
Excuses are probably the most common reason people tell me they just can’t do a Whole30 or are having a hard time starting. If you look past what your biggest objection is, I bet you it’s not a real reason why you can’t do it. The most well-loved excuses I hear are giving up coffee creamer (pssst.. try nutpods), giving up wine, not having the time or are too busy (see number 6), have a wedding to go to, a birthday coming up, etc., or that it just sounds too hard.
I can’t force you to see how silly these excuses are in the long term. You have to come to that conclusion yourself. To help with that, remind yourself it’s just 30 days. Pick a start date that doesn’t give you a life event such as a wedding or birthday as an excuse. Ask yourself when the last time you prioritized your health was. If it was a long time ago or even… never, maybe you should make that a priority instead of wine or the time you save by making convenience foods for a little bit.
Check out a few other ways to use nutpods besides coffee creamer:
- Slow Cooker Bolognese Sauce
- Shrimp and Kielbasa Skillet
- Garlic and Butter Cream Sauce
- Ham and Hash Brown Quiche
3. Plan Ahead
This one seems like a no-brainer, but it’s worth saying anyway. Unless you’re a seasoned pro, this isn’t something you can just wing. This is a huge change to the way you’ve likely been eating, especially if you’ve been eating the Standard American Diet. Huge. That means you need to think of a plan to make this work for your life and your schedule. You need to take some time prior to starting to find recipes, go grocery shopping and find a day in which your schedule allows for meal prepping. Lots of people do their meal prep for the week on Sundays. I work 12 hour overnight shifts every weekend, so Sundays are obviously out for me. Know your schedule, make a plan and stick with it.
That brings me to #4.
4. Be Prepared
Planning ahead helps you be prepared for times when your day may not be going according to plan or for times when you already know you won’t have access to your own kitchen for meals. Each week I look at what I’ve got going on and make sure I have meal prepped a portable recipe or stock up on stuff I can just eat on the go.
Unexpected things come up. That’s life, right? That doesn’t mean you have to let that blow your chances of completing a Whole30. Put something to hold you over until you can get to a proper meal in your car, your purse and your desk at work. I even have Whole30 “emergency snacks” at my boyfriend’s house.
My favorite Whole30 on the go options:
ZÜPA NOMA Whole30 Approved Soups (code “PALEOBAILEY” saves you 15% at checkout)
Almond butter & apple or banana slices
5. Don’t Over-Complicate It
There’s so many fancy-pants Whole30 recipes out there and it’s a bit overwhelming at first if you’re not the cooking type. Even if you are, I suggest staying away from recipes that have tons of ingredients or require kitchen tools or appliances you don’t already own. Complicated recipes will do nothing but make you dread cooking and be frustrated at the time you’re spending in the kitchen. I’ve heard so many people say that their number one complaint about Whole30 is how much time it takes. Well, it really doesn’t need to.
I didn’t buy any new kitchen tools until I knew this was something I was going to stick with or the kitchen tool would be something I would get a lot of use of. Don’t feel like you *need* a spiralizer just because there’s one or two recipes you saw that you think you might like. You’ll end up spending even more time getting used to using it when that time could be better spent utilizing the things you already have. If a recipe you find calls for something you don’t own (example: instant pot, immersion blender, food processor), don’t make it! Or, find an alternate way to cook/prepare it.
Keep it simple. Google “easy Whole30 recipes” and you’ll find enough to get you through 36 years of Whole30s. Or, don’t go with recipes at all. A majority of the meals I ate during my first round was just a protein, healthy fats and veggies. That doesn’t have to be boring either! Marinade your meat in different spice blends or sauces and you have a new dinner every night. You’re already making so many changes, you don’t need to add becoming a professional chef to the list too.
My favorite Whole30 dressings to marinate meat in:
Primal Kitchen Greek Vinaigrette (use GROK15 to save 15% site-wide and get lots of Whole30 stuff!)
Saucy Lips Tangy Mango
Easy spice blends that you can put on any meat to simplify cooking:
Butter Herb Steak Sheet Pan Meal
Slow Cooker Lemon Thyme Chicken
6. Don’t Binge Before You Start
“I’ll start my diet on Monday” is something we all say to justify eating whatever we want. I’ve found that this is especially true for those who know they’re going to be doing the Whole30 and have set a date. While it’s not a diet, it does still give people the feeling the world is ending and they need to cram as much food that they won’t be eating into their mouth as fast as possible before they start. Don’t do this. Just don’t.
Trying to fit in every single one of your favorite foods in the weekend before you start or going out Sunday night “one last time” will not help you get into the mindset you need to be in. If you do this, the next few days are really going to suck and you’re going to feel like you’re punishing yourself. You’re not. This is probably the best thing you’ve ever done for yourself and you should be excited about it! Your favorite foods aren’t banned forever. No need to make yourself feel like they are.
For more on binge eating, read this post!
7. Do Make a Few Freezer Meals Before You Start
I’m not saying slave away in the kitchen stock piling freezer meals for all 30 days, but I do think having a few things ready to go is beneficial. If you have some spare time, make a casserole or meatballs and put them in the freezer for your Whole30 days when you get home late, didn’t get to the store or simply just don’t feel like cooking. For even less work, throw a soup in the crock pot and freeze it in individual portions when it’s done. Make sure you’re freezing things correctly to avoid freezer burn so you don’t get to it on day 10 and have it not look at all appealing.
Soups you can freeze:
Slow Cooker Italian Tomato Chicken Soup
8. Raid Your Cabinets
Junk food sitting around is junk food just waiting to be eaten. If it’s within sight or within reach you’re just asking for unnecessary temptations and tests of willpower. Before you start, go through your cabinets, cupboards and refrigerator. Toss out, freeze, pack away or donate anything that you don’t need this month.
If you live with someone or have children that makes this not an option, just reorganize! I have a cupboard with just my boyfriends food and one with just Whole30 items. I don’t go in his because I know what’s in there are things I want to avoid.
9. Don’t Put Yourself in Tempting Situations
I’m not asking you to be a hermit and tuck yourself away in a dark basement for a month, but I am telling you to be cautious of the situations you willingly put yourself in. That means don’t agree to go to your favorite restaurant where you always get fried chicken and waffles and think you will eat Whole30. Even if you might be able to, it’s a risk that’s not worth taking yet.
That means avoiding the break room on days where there’s a potluck for Jessica’s baby shower or Adam’s retirement or the boss catered in food. Find somewhere else to eat, socialize and take your break. Go outside, go to the lobby, sit in your car if you have to. But don’t leave yourself in a break room with dozens of non-Whole30 options for a half hour.
10. Have Strategies in Place for Your Social Life
Like I said, I’m not asking you to be a recluse. You don’t have to avoid leaving the house, you just have to be smart about it! If you want a date night with your significant other, great! Do your research first and find a place you’ll both be happy eating at. Read my tips for eating out and just go prepared. Know ahead of time what you can eat at places like Chipotle and Five Guys or the local steakhouse.
If you know that going out for drinks twice a month with your best friend is something you look forward to and are dreading giving up? You don’t have to. Turn it into a coffee date instead. You’ll still get that rare time away from your kids with your friend, which is more important than what you’re drinking, right?
If a friend’s birthday or celebration of some sort is coming up, instead of declining the invitation to a party/dinner/bar, suggest you pick a different time to do something just the two of you. Offer up an activity or even a walk around the park. It might seem like you’re missing out, but having one-on-one time with them may lead to stronger relationships in the long run and help you stay the Whole30 course. It may even inspire them to join in on it with you!
11. No Fake Treats
No recreating desserts or chips or cake or whatever. I just saw a pin for a Whole30 mocha and the article suggested adding ungodly amounts of cacao and using coconut milk to make froth to recreate your chocolatey, sugary morning drink at the coffee shop. Ummmmm no. While yeah, you *can* do this and have it technically be compliant, you shouldn’t if your sugary coffee habit is strong. Melissa talks about SWYPO (sex with your pants on) in depth, but basically, no continuing your old bad habits by replacing them with approved ingredients. Pizza, chips, pancakes.. you get the point.
On that note:
12. Identify Your Personal ‘Food With no Brakes’ and Avoid Them
What foods are triggers to old binging or mindless eating habits are different for all of us. While some people are totally fine having almond butter here or there on fruit, it’s a food I couldn’t keep in the house when I first started with my Whole30 adventures. I end up standing over the sink piling it in by the spoonful at 11 at night.. Or at any time of the day for that matter. Another example of this is how I can eat a bacon wrapped date no problem while my best friend ends up eating 5 of them in 10 minutes. Compliant? Yes. Good for her Whole30? Probably not.
Know which foods leave you wondering “what the hell just happened” after you eat them or which foods you most crave or turn to for comfort.. And then don’t Whole30-fy them. Melissa often talks about a good example with fried chicken. Fried chicken may be fine for some people, but if you have a stressful day and drowning your sorrows in a bucket of KFC was your thing, put Whole30 fried chicken on the off-limits list too.
13. Leftovers, Leftovers, Leftovers
Leftovers will become your best friend. If you want an easy way to meal prep, doubling the batches of dinners you make and making that be your meal prep is a good way to go about it. It will help you reduce time spent on the whole one day meal prep strategy. Other than that, leftovers take the thinking out of what you’re going to have for lunch tomorrow and make life (and decision making) a lot easier.
Recipes that are easy to double:
Chorizo and Butternut Squash Chili
14. But Don’t Always Eat Leftovers
While leftovers are awesome and come in handy, don’t overdo it and meal prep every. single. meal. Cook a hot and fresh meal at one meal time a day. That way you won’t get sick of eating out of Tupperware or get bored with routine. This is also how you can stay on top of meal prepping because when you make a large freshly cooked dinner, you can use the leftovers to replace the meal prepped meals you’ve used up recently.
It could be any meal you make and then eat right away. I’ve found that for me, I really like to make breakfast everyday as opposed to meal prepping breakfasts. That’s because a) I really don’t like reheated eggs all that much and b) my schedule allows for it. I usually eat the same staple things every day, varying what veggies or protein I use so I still save myself from food boredom. You might enjoy making dinner hot and fresh instead. Find out what works but don’t feel like all of your food needs to be microwaved all of the time.
15. Budget and Shop the Sales
It’s no secret that healthy food is more expensive. It sucks, I know. I hate it too. But there’s smart ways to shop so eating well doesn’t have to break the bank. Some staple items like ghee, flours/starches, coconut aminos, and high quality oils will be necessary expenses but don’t let the sticker shock scare you. Most of these things will last you a while. You can join online discount sites like Thrive Market to get these items at a discount (think Costco meets Whole Foods).
Check out my Whole3o Thrive Market Staples!
Produce and meat is a little different though. There’s definitely ways to purchase these things on a budget! For these items, you’re going to want to buy what’s on sale and check out discount food stores like Aldi and Trader Joe’s. They have tons of organic produce at way cheaper prices. Aldi (at least the ones here) have grass-fed ground beef HALF the cost of Target and Whole Foods. But, that being said, I can get a carton of cage-free eggs sourced from a local Minnesota farmer at Whole Foods for $3.00. Much cheaper than other stores.
It’s also important to know what produce you should always buy organic and what you can save money on by safely buying conventional if cost is a concern for you. Check out my guide for buying organic produce to save yourself some money to put towards other things, such as higher quality meat.
When meat goes on sale, buy more than you need and freeze it. Make sure you’re freezing food items correctly so it’s still fresh when you use it! Use coupons and apps like Target’s Cartwheel to save you some money on top of the sales and spend some time figuring out what place has things cheaper or on sale before you start meal planning for the week. Utilize CSA boxes offered in your area and visit farmer’s markets. Feeding yourself and your loved ones a whole foods based diet is totally do-able when some effort is put into it.
16. Physically Move Your Scale Out of Eyesight
So many people struggle with the rule forbidding you to weigh yourself. Even if you think you won’t be tempted, you totally will be when day 20 rolls around and you’re feeling ahhh-mazing. To avoid this problem all together, just do yourself a favor and put your scale up in a closet or in the trunk of your husband’s car or on a high shelf in the garage.. anywhere but on the bathroom floor where you’ve weighed yourself everyday for years.
We all know that the scale doesn’t say anything about your overall health and we definitely know it doesn’t measure your worth. So just give yourself a break from it for a bit and focus on other successes and victories.
17. Do it With a Buddy
Recruit your BFF, spouse, mom, work friend, sister, neighbor or Lisa-down-the-street for all I care. It’s so fun to go through the stages together. And okay, lets be honest, it’s awesome to have someone to complain with when all you want is a bag of mini doughnuts, you know, the ones with the white powdered sugar on them? But it’s equally as awesome to have someone to support you and talk you down from your mini doughnut ledge, too. That’s not to say you can’t do it by yourself because you totally can do this! It’s just an added bonus if you have someone experiencing the program with you.
18. Don’t Make Weight Loss the Main Goal
If you’re overweight, then yes losing weight is going to help make you healthier in the long run. But you shouldn’t start this program with weight loss being your primary desired outcome. Health first, weight loss second. You can lose weight in an unhealthy way without even touching real food. Being healthy first, feeding your body whole, unprocessed foods and working the program is going to give you lessons and tools to carry that over into healthy, sustainable weight loss. Working on the nutrition aspect, becoming more in-touch with your body’s needs, along with addressing your psychological relationship to food and habits will give you better results after the program than just getting through the 30 days hoping to lose a few pounds. Remember, weighing yourself isn’t even a part of the program and you’re encouraged to celebrate the non-scale victories instead.
19. Involve Your Kids
I’m not pretending to be an expert in anything child related and I don’t have any of my own. However, I was an overweight kid who wishes she would have had more positive experiences with food when she was younger. I think that the Whole30 is a great way to introduce or continue to teach your children about healthy habits. You don’t have to put them on a strict round but you don’t have to totally exclude them either. From grocery shopping for real food, helping in the kitchen to create healthy meals, to feeling a sense of pride in the food they helped make – involving your children can show them by example what it means to be in control of their health and their body. If they see you making health a priority, they will grow up knowing that it is.
Recipes your kids can help make:
Slow Cooker Pulled Pork and Pineapple Coleslaw
Moving around just helps us feel better. It relieves stress and boosts our mood. Even if it’s just for a short walk outside, getting your mind off all things Whole30 in a way that benefits your body can be really helpful. Or, in the later stages of the program, take advantage of all of that Tiger Blood and make exercise part of your day.
21. Or Don’t Exercise
I don’t need to tell you that exercise plays a role in overall health but it is worth mentioning that it’s not all that matters. If you’re coming into Whole30 from a previous sedentary lifestyle and poor eating habits, working out and drastically changing what you’re eating might be a lot to take on at once. If you’re overwhelmed at the thought of having to start a new exercise and eating routine, it’s okay to just focus on the food first. I didn’t start exercising until a few months after my first Whole30 (read about how I started incorporating exercise). I knew myself well enough that too many of these HUGE changes were going to be too much for me all at once and I wouldn’t stick with it. As the book title says, it really does start with food.
22. Change Your Mindset
Think positively going into this. This is something to celebrate! No grumbling before even starting. Celebrate and get excited about the fact that you’re taking control. You picked YOU and that’s super awesome. No more passively letting things happen to you anymore. You’re now in the front seat.
Change your mindset from thinking about all of the things you can’t have to all of the things you can. Not only the foods you can have but all of the health, energy, better sleep you can have. Allow yourself to be open to the lessons you may learn and allow yourself to listen to your body to understand what it may be trying to teach you. You’re making a step in the right direction. Go you!
23. Find Motivation
The motivation, inspiration and support from the Whole30 community is truly something else. There’s forums on the website you can find, blogs you can read (Hi!), Facebook pages and thousands of Instagram accounts dedicated to Whole30. The Whole30 team, and Melissa Hartwig herself, is extremely active, available and engaged with Whole30er’s on all of their platforms. So get involved and use these resources to help you get or stay motivated.
A few of my favorite Whole30 Instagram accounts:
That’s it! There ya have it, 23 steps to a successful Whole30. An incredibly long, but hopefully helpful list of things you can do to make sure you crush the next 30 days. I wanted to make sure I was as thorough as possible because I know how challenging and overwhelming it can be. These steps will make it easier on you!
Did I miss anything you would add? Have a story about how any of these made your Whole30 more do-able? I’d love to hear from you!
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Reader Reviews & Comments
Sarah Stallings says
Somewhere I thought I read you could not have caffeine on whole 30. Is that true?
It’s not – you can certainly have caffeine!
This is what I needed to read today—- seems so overwhelming.
Patricia Cosenza says
Hi & thanks for your tips! I’m finishing up DAY 29! I appreciate your ideas thought I can say it was truly ONE that was my motivating factor – MINDSET! I found the program in an interesting & serendipity way – “tomato sauce”! I tried & found a jarred sauce #CucinaAntica & fell in love. Cleaning my 3rd jar for recycling, I noticed their website & typed it in Google. I was excited to see other sauces they offered; then saw a list of some that met the #Whole30 program guidelines. Hmmmm; what’s that? Never heard of it. I’m a life long best friend of chocolate. Just before this I was consciously working towards better control. I’ve sworn off sugar successfully, twice in my life (again the KEY was my “state of mind”). This time was dramatic as also NO Carbs NOR Dairy – Yikes my hot tea without honey or milk? Well, I clicked the link, read the info & in that moment said YES! I cheered myself on & am very proud! I successfully ignore with more ease than I’d have guessed the temptations all around me. Sure makes you take notice of all the “temptations” jumping at you at the Grocery Store! I did it! YOU CAN TOO : )
I LOVE this story, and hearing about your success with the program!! Congrats, Patricia!! Thanks for sharing!
MARTY KOWALSKI says
Thank you so much, I am about to do my first Whole30, and we started prepping today by finding the pantry items at a local store. My husband made the best comment: “Remember that there’s a whole lot of things we won’t be buying anymore, and if you need something to do this right, paying a bit more is offset by all the things we won’t be paying for!”
Cristina Curp says
What a fantastic and comprehensive post! Keep up the great work Bailey!
Cate Lawrence says
Great post, I’m struggling to get on board with round 2 as I am stuck in the mindset you mention in #6. argh!
It’s a tough road sometimes but it get’s easier I promise!