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.
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.
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.
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.