Mark’s Top 10 Tips for Getting Through a Whole30®

Next month, Primal Kitchen® will be teaming up with the Whole30® crew to help support people doing the Whole30 program. The guidelines complement the Primal Blueprint, after all, and the Primal Blueprint is a common after-Whole30 approach to long-term vitality for many folks. The Whole30 itself offers incredibly valuable feedback on the effects of certain foods on your health, and it’s an amazing kick-start for turning your diet (and well-being) around. Today I’m offering up my top tips for a successful Whole 30 experience.

1. Eat Enough Food

A Whole30 typically results in inadvertent calorie reduction for multiple reasons. You’re eating more nutrient-dense food, so your body doesn’t feel the need to cram in empty calories in a vain attempt to obtain the necessary vitamins and minerals. You’re probably also eating more fat and protein than before, which are far more satiating than empty, refined carbohydrates. You have steady, even energy throughout the day from better fat burning, and no longer need those glucose infusions called snacks to stay awake.

There is, however, such a thing as too little food. Micronutrients are great and all, but we must also eat for sheer energetic purposes. Calories matter. Don’t shortchange yourself here.

2. Don’t Worry Too Much About Macronutrients

I’m obviously a low-carb guy. For the past dozen or so years, I’ve eaten in the 150 grams or lower range, give or take a few days. For the past three years, I’ve strayed even lower, spending a fair amount of time in ketosis. Most regular people are eating far too many carbohydrates, more than their activity levels and lifestyles warrant, and they would probably do better and be healthier on a lower carb diet. But for the Whole30, I recommend that people not get too dogmatic in either direction and simply focus on the Whole30 guidelines.

Eat what feels right. Stick to the script Melissa has laid out, avoid the foods you should be avoiding, favor the foods you should be favoring, and let the macros fall where they may. Most people will probably end up eating less carbohydrate and more fat and protein, but that isn’t a given. A Whole30 deserves your full attention. Focusing on other dietary variables just detracts from that focus.

3. Enlist a Friend

Before you actually start the Whole30, get a friend, relative, or significant other to join the party. You can support each other. Help with meals. Trade tips. Exercise together. Keep each other honest and true. Offer a needed pep talk now and then. And most importantly, you’ll have someone who’s relying on you to stick with the program. That can really help when things get hard and you start feeling lazy.

4. Treat the Recommendations As Rules

The Whole30 has official rules, and it has recommended guidelines. The rules you know—don’t eat grains, legumes, dairy, alcohol, or added sugar; don’t weigh yourself; avoid certain preservatives and food additives; don’t recreate junk food with good ingredients, while the guidelines you may not.

They include:

  • Don’t eat too much fruit.
  • Don’t eat fruit and nut bars.
  • Don’t snack.
  • Choose organic and grass-fed.
  • Limit/avoid smoothies.

While these might feel like overly strict guidelines for a lifetime of eating, for the 30 days that you’re doing the Whole30, following them can offer you even more insight into how your body works and what makes you tick. I strongly suggest that you take these guidelines as rules. You’ll simply get better results. And again, it’s just 30 days. You can do it.

Do you have to? No, of course not. For that matter, you don’t have to follow the Whole30 at all. But given that you have agreed to do it, it’s not much more of a leap to adhere to the guidelines as well.

5. Focus On Legit Meals, Not Snack Foods That Technically Qualify

You could eat two cups of mac nuts, a coconut cream latte, beef jerky, and carrots sticks dipped in guacamole for your entire day’s food intake and still be Whole30. Or you could eat eggs and spinach for breakfast, a Big Ass Salad for lunch, and a grilled steak with asparagus for dinner and fresh nectarines for dessert. Which is the better choice?

Make the better choice. Don’t turn Whole30-compliant snack foods into meals.

6. Keep Salad Makings On Hand At All Times

A salad is just the perfect Whole30 (or any diet, really) meal. It’s a great way to get all your vegetables, plenty of meat and protein and fat, herbs and nuts and seeds. You can even throw in some fruit or starchier veggies, like winter squash or purple sweet potatoes if you want. The salad bowl is simply the ideal canvas for a healthy, enjoyable way of eating. But it does take time to prepare.

Greens: lettuces, baby greens, kale, spinach.

Cooked Meat: sliced steak, roasted chicken, grilled salmon.

Preserved Meat: smoked salmon, smoked oysters, canned tuna.

Chopped Veggies: onions, carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, zucchini, garlic

Roasted Veggies: all of the above and some of the below

Whole Veggies: cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, tomatoes

Fruits: berries, apples, dried apricots.

Nuts: mac, almond, walnut, pistachio

Seeds: hemp, sunflower, pumpkin

Dressing: Primal Kitchen varieties, oil and vinegar.

That isn’t an exhaustive list, but it’s a great start. If you have something from every category ready to go, you can whip up a healthy, filling Whole30-compliant meal in under 10 minutes.

7. Show, Don’t Tell

The Whole30 works really well, which make sense as it’s like distilling ancestral eating practices. And when things go well, we want to tell the entire world. Right around the 2-3 week mark is when the lips start flapping of their own accord. It’s hard not to, when you feel so good and (despite dutifully avoiding scales and body fat measurements) look so good.

Feel free to answer questions like “Have you lost weight?” or “Why did you just eat half a roast chicken for breakfast?” or “What’s with all the avocados, dude?” You shouldn’t ignore people. But refrain from actively converting those around you. Don’t stand on street corners with flyers and placards. Don’t take every opportunity to hold mini-lectures at business lunches and midday meetings. This stuff works, it’ll show, and they will come to you. And if they don’t, they aren’t interested, and you should accept that.

Your focus for the 30 days should be on yourself and your progress.

8. Don’t Get Cocky

Stick to the script. You might be feeling good midway through. You might be looking leaner, feeling stronger, like nothing can get you down. You might decide you have some latitude here.

Maybe you need a reward for all your hard work. Maybe you should have a slice with your friends at happy hour. I mean, it’s just pizza, and you’ve come so far in just two weeks, and I bet your gut is healed and tight junctions all secure. Right?

Don’t do it. Stay with the protocol. Follow the rules. Two weeks isn’t enough to “clear the system.” You’ll start back at square one and squander all the hard work you’ve done. Thirty days is not too much to ask, and the amount of data you can gain from doing the full Whole30 as prescribed can have positive reverberations for the rest of your life.

We’re all adults here. Exert some free will (or act as if you have free will, if you’re the deterministic type)

Don’t get cocky (yet).

9. Stock Your Pantry, Fridge, and Freezer For Emergencies

Disaster strikes, and we need to be ready. I’m not even talking about true disasters—hurricanes, earthquakes, zombie apocalypses. I mean traffic jams, 5 o’clock meetings, parent-teacher conferences, after-school gymnastics classes, and the simple crushing weight of banal responsibility that can impede our ability to get fresh meals on the table. It’s good to be prepared with something healthy and fast. And sure, a growing number of restaurants and grocery stores are offering convenient Primal-friendly fare, but eating out adds up quickly. Here’s what I suggest:

In your freezer, keep some frozen ground beef, a few quarts of bone broth, a medley of frozen veggies, and a few filets of frozen fish.

In the pantry, keep sardines, tuna, smoked oysters, beef jerky.

In the fridge, keep cooked (and cooled) potatoes and yams, peeled winter squash, asparagus (lasts about a week if fresh), and a hearty leafy green (kale, chard, etc). Eggs, too, and maybe a roasted chicken or roasted leg of lamb.

With those foods, you can have a solid meal on the table in 10-15 minutes.

10. Don’t Neglect All the Other Stuff

The Whole30 is all about diet. It’s a complete overhaul of how most people eat, so it pays to make that the entire focus. But the other stuff, the various lifestyle factors that we talk about all the time on Mark’s Daily Apple, don’t stop affecting your health. Heeding the other variables will make your Whole 30 experience go more smoothly anyway.

For example, your Whole30 will go better if you get to bed at a reasonable time each night and practice good sleep hygiene.

Your Whole30 will go better if you move every day and train hard a few times each week.

Your Whole30 will go better if you spend time with friends, family, and loved ones. Enjoy good Whole30 meals, but also don’t forget to enjoy life.

That’s it for today, folks. Those are my tips for making the most of a Whole30 experience. What are yours? Take care.

TAGS:  whole30

About the Author

Mark Sisson is the founder of Mark’s Daily Apple, godfather to the Primal food and lifestyle movement, and the New York Times bestselling author of The Keto Reset Diet. His latest book is Keto for Life, where he discusses how he combines the keto diet with a Primal lifestyle for optimal health and longevity. Mark is the author of numerous other books as well, including The Primal Blueprint, which was credited with turbocharging the growth of the primal/paleo movement back in 2009. After spending three decades researching and educating folks on why food is the key component to achieving and maintaining optimal wellness, Mark launched Primal Kitchen, a real-food company that creates Primal/paleo, keto, and Whole30-friendly kitchen staples.

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14 thoughts on “Mark’s Top 10 Tips for Getting Through a Whole30®”

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  1. All sound, solid advice! Looking forward to the Whole30 event 🙂

  2. These are good! I think the most important part for me has always been the days right after – maybe you’ll have a role set of tips like these for the reintroduction chapter of the journey…

    I’d also recommend moving toward Whole 30 mode, at least with the item that seems hardest, in the week before. It helped me to have road-tested strategies when the going got rough – even on our 4th or 5th Whole 30.

  3. I never have a problem doing an elimination diet … it’s the tedious food reintroduction process that I always bail on. Because if you’re trying to pin down food sensitivities, it CAN start to feel like you’re going to have give everything up forever. Would love a post on that!

    1. Yes! I have done a couple of Whole30+ (one was 50 days and the other was 90) and it does really feel like I react to literally everything I reintroduce. Maybe not horribly, but enough to really notice. I even asked on the Whole30 forum once if it was possible to create food sensitivities by avoiding food for a period of time because it was so incredible to me. (They said no, but I really wonder).

      1. I wonder the same thing. My kids are all gluten free and my 2-year-old reacts terribly to it–it just goes in one end and out the other really fast. I am curious about whether this would happen if I had introduced gluten when he was 6-months-old (some studies say it’s best to introduce everything early). I have not been able to tolerate gluten since my first pregnancy and that daughter is highly sensitive to gluten/gliadin. My middle daughter seems unaffected by it. Once I take a lot of things out of my diet for “gut-healing” the reactions after introduction are more noticeable.

    2. +1 I suck at committing to the reintro. I need to call it a Whole45 or something so I actually commit to the actual time frame necessary to do the reintroduction protocol.

  4. Buy good ingredients but don’t plan all the meals. Feeling like you HAVE to eat something that doesn’t appeal right now is NOT a good thing. This is one time when it is good to play with your food–mix and match until your heart’s content.

  5. And when I had difficulty with #7, I would think about the vegans and how annoying they can be. 🙂

    1. As the joke goes, how can you tell someone is a vegan? They’ll tell you.

  6. I think the Whole30 has a lot of great lessons and one that’s inferred but not stated directly is that taking the time to plan healthy ‘real’ meals instead of snacks or smoothies or bars is a sign of self-care to our bodies. Not only is the food good for my body but the fact that I know I have a crockpot full of grass-fed stew waiting for me when I get home is nourishing to my psyche. I feel ‘cared’ for, by me! 🙂 I think it’s also about setting ourselves up for success. I watch my husband, who eats paleo with me at home but never takes time to plan meals or eat ahead when he has to be out, and constantly finds himself starving in the middle of the bakery aisle in the grocery store or near a bunch of food carts and making choices he’s unhappy with later. I personally feel that our brains aren’t really wired to be presented with a vast array of food options while also super hungry; it’s very hard to make the right choice in the moment – much easier to plan ahead.

  7. I’m somewhat surprised you’re hooking up with W30 because your current advice seems so different from their program. W30 is training wheels. I read the book and enjoyed the discussions in their forum, there are some really great people there. But I never actually did one. I never force fed myself breakfast (spoiler alert, I’m 22/2 IF). I never ate a potato because somebody else told me I could, it just didn’t seem to make sense unless I was planning to run after a sheep for dinner.

    Once I read Robb Wolf, I got a better understanding about what Melissa was trying to accomplish, without the science-y warnings that made my eyes roll, and that led me through about 20 books ranging from Gundry to Hyman to Fung to Mercola, even into the deep end of the pool with a series of mitochondria, DNA, and metabolic pathway books. Yeah, and Blueprint and Connection.

    Still, I have to credit W30 for exposing me to a large population of people willing to make a major change to the way they eat such that people ask them, dude, what’s up with ____? Training wheels or not, ISWF is 100% responsible for getting me to daily 22/2 IF and something sort of keto-like that puts my ketone readings sort of where I want them sort of most of the time.

    It’s the structure of W30 and keto, the rules and the belief that such hard numbers actually matter that turned me off. If I don’t make my own rules based on what makes sense from a variety of advisors, if instead I follow potatoes and butter are ok together, but you can’t make pudding with heavy cream and avocado, I end up feeling like I’m in a rat maze with lab coats overhead and I bust out.

    Daily IF and modified, flexible keto are a wonderful place to be, they helped me lose 150 pounds, they power my 3 resistance workouts per week, my cycling HIIT sprinting one day a week, and CC be damned, give me my 60 miles on a bike one weekend day every week or I feel no mas Grok.

    It started with food, but for the long haul, W30’s three meals, protein focus, high fat low lactose dairy elimination and the inevitable SWYPO adaptations that dominate paleo recipes just don’t seem as sensible to me as a self-calibrated keto/IF lifestyle.

    I wonder why people agree to subject themselves to something that’s “only for 30 days” because it implies a dramatic shift during reintroduction that I believe is more likely to feel like a lid removed from a pressure cooker allowing the dieter to reward themselves for following the program. W30 self-admits it’s only viable for 30 days. So as Jason Fung puts it, it’s squarely aligned with the 99.2% of dieters that bounce. Without a long term vision, I don’t think there is any point to a behavior modification program.

  8. Thanks, Mark, for sharing these 10 tips to getting this Whole 30 program and its guidelines. This post guideline of primal blueprint helps anyone to stay fit and active.

  9. Amazing article, the one on calorie myths. I am week 2 feeling good and maybe cockey.I appreciate this as an area where I fall off. I am trying to get newsletter and it will not allow me to. I’d love to continue following these great articles. They are comprehensive! Thank you Mark.

    1. Lynn, my apologies for the issue with the sign-up form. I’m assuming you tried to use the form at the bottom of the blog post? We’re having difficulties with this particular one and are working to resolve it. (Other forms on the site appear to be working.) I’m happy to add you to our list but will need your email, as the email listed with your comment isn’t being accepted by our newsletter provider system. Thank you for your comment and interest. And good luck with your Whole30 experience. – M