20 Tips for Surviving a Whole 30

So, you’re thinking about doing a Whole 30, huh? You know the one: the diet where you eliminate all sugar, dairy, legumes, grains, and alcohol, all while following a strict 3-meals-a-day regimen with zero snacking. Doing so for 30 days claims to reap countless amazing benefits, anywhere from headache relief and clearer skin, to weight loss and joint health, not to mention the fact that you might pinpoint any particular foods to which you may have an intolerance. There are dozens of reasons for wanting to try the Whole 30, but actually completing a W30 is a true feat of willpower, and not something to be rushed headfirst into without full knowledge of what to expect. We recently finished a second W30 in January, and learned some things along the way that you might want to consider if you think the W30 is right for you. Here are our biggest takeaways, in no particular order:

1. Get your doctor’s approval.

As with any other drastic change to your diet or exercise routine, you need to talk to your doctor first. It’s just common sense. Odds are, if you’ve been experiencing problems that led you to be desperate enough to try the Whole 30 in the first place, you’ve already been in constant communication with your doctor anyway. Bonus, if your doc takes all of your vitals and blood work before you start the diet, you’ll have a comparison point for when you complete the round. Because it’s probable that your doctor will not have heard of the Whole 30, you need to do all of your homework before you approach him.

The Whole 30 website has a slew of downloadable PDFs containing everything from the basic rules and meal templates, to shopping lists and travel guides. These are especially helpful if you are already on a specialized diet for other health reasons. It is extremely important that you know the rules, recommendations, and objectives of the program before you start so that you don’t set yourself up for failure.

2. Be prepared to throw everything in your fridge and pantry in the trash.

That’s really your only option. We can almost guarantee that unless you are off the grid and living off the land, every single product you currently own in your kitchen is non-compliant, and you can’t eat it on the Whole 30 diet. We guess you could give it away, but if you recognize the detriments of these products to your own health, perhaps choose to share these non-compliant foods to a person who hasn’t been the nicest to you…? Tough call, but you’re going to need a fresh start.

3. You need help.

No, we don’t mean that something is wrong with you for setting out on this journey in the first place, but you definitely have better odds of success if you are in it with a friend. At the very least, join the forum on the Whole 30 website or one of the Facebook groups. These are great resources for finding recipes and products that are compliant, or for asking questions if you’re not sure about something. Plus, it’s built-in accountability.

I did my first round with a small group of my girlfriends, and I sincerely attribute their camaraderie during the 30 days to my successful completion of the round. We each posted our 3 daily meals to Instagram, and it was so much more bearable knowing I wasn’t in it alone. For my second round, I recruited a bunch of newbies, so I was like the guru… who wouldn’t want to be the guru? – Cindy

If you’re going to post a question on the forum, brace yourself for some serious business. We’re not sure if these people are being paid a salary to memorize and enforce the rules, but they take their jobs as admins to heart. They will show no mercy, and they will lecture you about the lack of protein in a meal picture you post, or warn you of how you’re edging dangerously close to SWYPO (more on this later) by using the word “cereal” to describe your bowl of bananas, almonds, blueberries, and shredded coconut. Whole 30 is a way of life for them, and they’re an excellent resource for newbies; just be prepared for Olympic-level intensity. They want you to succeed, and they will not overlook any detail in ensuring you do.

If you’re not a people person, or even if you are, we suggest getting your hands on a copy of the book, The Whole 30: The 30-Day Guide to Total Health and Food. This book literally walks you through the diet, day by day, telling you what you can expect regarding your body’s physical reactions, and it will become a constant companion during your round. It is chock full of great recipes, too. If you’re curious about the science behind the program, It Starts With Food is another book to throw in your cart.

4. Your only contribution to your book club this month will be ingredient labels.

You will obsess over ingredient labels; prepare to have your mind blown. Soy and sugar are in everything. Every. Single. Thing.

One sad day, I realized that my chapstick’s main ingredient was soy, and I was too paranoid to use it during my round for fear of having to start my round over (I know how cray that sounds, but you’ll get there, too. Trust me).  – Cindy

You’re going to learn synonyms for sugar like your life depended on it; if it rhymes with “gross,” it’s sugar… dextrose, sucralose, glucose, etc. You will see that MSG shows up in very unexpected places. Even things that are supposedly “natural” have artificial ingredients, coloring, or flavoring. Trust nothing, read everything.

5. Eating out becomes a horror show.

For some of you, this one is going to be the thing that gets you. Eating out on the W30 is close to impossible. Only a few places have menus that offer compliant options, and even then, you’re going to have to build your plate out of hodge podge items a la carte. So, unless you live across the street from a Chipotle, wrap your mind around not eating much out for a month. And another thing, you are going to have to have a will of steel if you go to the movies, because popcorn is made from corn (duh), which is a grain, so it’s off limits. And when Mema offers you a piece of her world famous chocolate pie, you have to reject it and break her old Mema heart. Essentially, what we’re trying to get through to you is that doing the W30 has the potential to turn you into a hermit food snob who can’t go anywhere or do anything without killing the mood. But it’s only for 30 days… probably… more about that in a bit. And you are going to feel so much better that it will all be worth it!

6. The grocery store is even less fun than it was before.

For the love of all that is holy, do not bring your kids with you when you go W30 grocery shopping. Trust us. The first few trips to the grocery store are going to take you twenty hours because you’re literally going to pick up and turn around every single item on every single shelf, only to sigh deeply and set it back down, dejected because it’s non-compliant. We highly recommend going to the forums and looking through everyone’s “must haves” from whichever store you’re headed to before you set out on these acquisition adventures, but at the very least have the PDFs handy on your phone while you shop. And once you find a compliant brand of something, sear it in your memory and buy it in bulk. You can also find a good deal of compliant goodies on Amazon, which saves you the headache of schlepping through the store.

7. Find some recipes for homemade condiments.

This diet is not for the faint of heart. Unless you just love eating bland, dry food, you’re going to have to make your own mayo, ketchup, salad dressing, BBQ seasonings, etc., because as mentioned above, sugar and soy are in everything. And if you love butter, you’re going to need to either buy or make some ghee, which is essentially butter with whatever makes butter naughty removed from it. Don’t do what we did, which was to ignore this step, only to realize that you pretty much need all of those things if you’re going to, you know, eat anything at all that tastes good. Baked potato, chicken salad, tuna salad, salad salad. You need ghee, mayo, and salad dressing. Trust us. Plus, making your own mayo is oddly gratifying, and should be on everyone’s bucket list.

8. Quitting sugar is torture.

If you’re doing it right, about five days into the diet, you’re going to feel like you’re dying. Your head will be pounding, and you’re going to want to kill anything that makes noise or moves in your vicinity.

I felt jittery and miserable for two days of the first week of my first round, and I couldn’t focus on anything for more than a couple of minutes at a time. Which was really unfortunate for me because this all coincided with the first and second day of this school year, and I’m a middle school teacher. Fun times. – Cindy

Once the withdrawal phase begins to wane, you’ll likely experience some pretty intense sugar cravings from time to time throughout the month, but if you survive that first week, you’ll be able to make it.

9. Everyone Poops. Especially people on the W30.

There really is no delicate way to say this, so we’re just going to say it: you are going to poop… a lot… and you’re probably going to only get one warning from your colon before it becomes an emergency situation. It’s like you’re a newborn all over again, and you’re going to have to go immediately after eating every meal. Yup. And if you’re not used to a high fiber diet, you’re also probably going to have some intestinal distress in the beginning while your body adjusts.

I know all of this is gross, but I wish someone had warned me. Nothing like being in the middle of a grammar lesson after lunch and being acutely aware of your bowel’s intentions of ruining your life and reputation in front of a group of teenagers. – Cindy

10. People will not get it, and you’re going to get flack.

I’m naturally slender and athletic, but I had gained about 20 pounds over my first year of teaching, and I felt like I was on the verge of narcolepsy for months. I had to stop running because my knees and hips were causing me agony, and I was getting frequent headaches. I knew I was eating way more junk than I should, and stomach aches had become my norm. Someone mentioned the Whole 30 as being a potential remedy for all of those issues, so after I got the thumbs up from my doctor, I didn’t expect any pushback from the people in my life. Boy, was I wrong.Here are a few of my favorite phrases, plus the responses I either gave out loud or in my head:

“Why are you trying to lose weight? You’re already too skinny.” (I lost 12 lbs on the diet during my first round, which is barely half of what I had gained in the previous year, but I’m content with where I’m at now. I lost another 5 lbs during my second round in January, and I had maintained my first round’s loss. It’s not all about weight loss, but I really like being able to button my jeans without crying, thank you.)

“So, what CAN you eat on this diet?” (Basically any fruit, vegetable, or meat, plus healthy fats.)

“Aren’t you starving all of the time?” (No, not really, because I don’t have to measure how much I’m eating. I just eat until I’m full. I just stick to the template with compliant foods. I was actually surprised to find out that when I eat this way, my body stays satiated between meals and I don’t feel hungry at all. In fact, many times I have to make myself eat a small meal because I’m just not hungry.)

“I could never eat that rabbit food. I need meat.” (Like I said, you can have meat, you weirdo.)

“I would die if I had to eat like that.” (You might die because you’re not eating like this, but that’s none of my business. *looks on while sipping green tea like Kermit*) – Cindy

11. Save time by shopping the frozen aisle.

At the beginning of week three, I was sick and tired of chopping onions and peppers and broccoli and potatoes and everything else that needed chopping. On more than one occasion, I didn’t move through the produce fast enough, and I’d reach into the drawer only to grab a mushy squash or slimy asparagus. I don’t know why it took me so long to figure this out, but on one particular trip to the store, I wanted green beans, but the store was out of fresh ones. Canned green beans are inedible and full of sodium, so I went to the frozen aisle. Hello! There were frozen bags of diced cauliflower, chopped peppers and onions, zucchini and squash, even cubed potatoes! I might have done a happy dance when it dawned on me that I could buy frozen produce, but I’d never admit it. Yeah, it costs more than fresh produce, but the convenience of the pre-chopped food alone saved my sanity, and I wasn’t wasting food that spoiled before I could get to it. – Cindy

12. Say goodbye to your scales.

While you’re on the W30, you are forbidden from weighing or measuring yourself, and it’s also a big no-no to count calories! Obviously, you might want to know your beginning weight and measurements so at the end of this whole thing you can see how far you’ve come. Do this the day before you start, or you can just snap the ubiquitous bikini-shot-in-the-bathroom-mirror on your cell and pray that your toddler doesn’t share it on social media by accident. The whole point of the diet, according to its creators, is to develop a healthy relationship with food and to overcome sugar addiction. Losing weight is often a natural consequence of eating according to the plan, but your focus should be on non-scale victories.

For example, that one time that I turned down a Little Debbie even though every fiber of my being was ugly-crying because it was a Swiss Roll and everyone knows that God Himself blesses those with deliciousness. Or, you know, all of those other days that I didn’t feel like I was going to pass out and die from sheer fatigue around 2:30pm. Toe-may-toe, toe-mah-toe. – Cindy

13. Meal prepping will make you a nicer person.

The more you do ahead of time, the better. And make gigantic portions of each meal so that you can take left-overs with you for lunch the next day. Remember up on point #7 when we told you to do this with a friend? We said this because we’re not deranged enough to believe that the majority of our husbands and kids are going to be on board with eating this way alongside us.

For me, this diet meant fixing my husband a meal that I couldn’t eat because of its non-compliance, a second plate of food for my child to push around for an hour while we yelled at him to eat, and a meal for myself that was on plan. Every.Day. After a week of pretending to be a short-order chef, I finally figured out that I could prep the major components of a few recipes on Sunday, and then construct simple meals out of different combinations of those throughout the week. – Cindy

There are endless meal planning options and ideas on Pinterest and in the forums.

14. Eating healthy is expensive.

I was flabbergasted at the first grocery bill while I was on the W30. Granted, I was buying for two very different menus, mine and my husband’s, but holy cow.  – Cindy
  • Regular nut butter = $2.50 for a jar
    W30 compliant nut butter = $10 for a jar half that size
  • Gallon of milk = $4
    Pint of coconut milk = $3
  • Regular ground hamburger meat = $5/lb
    Grass-fed hamburger meat made from a cow named Sugarbelle = $9/lb

All we can say is coupon where you can, price match when it’s allowed, and use every bit of what you buy so that nothing goes to waste. And don’t forget that in reality, you are probably not spending any more than you normally do if you factor in the money you spend eating out… which you won’t be doing much of during the W30.

15. Black coffee is gross, but you get used to it.

I love coffee. I love the way it smells, and the way it makes me a better human being. But I’ve always paired my morning pot of brew with flavored, delicious creamers. I think the biggest slap in the face when I was on the W30 was the fact that I would be drinking my coffee sans creamer. Not going to lie, it took all thirty days and then some to grow a taste for black coffee. Two things that helped in case you’re now thinking about tucking tail to run in the opposite direction: using a lighter roast bean (and brewing it a little weaker), and adding coconut milk. Delicious? No. Doable? Just barely. I’m now so used to it that most days I don’t add the coconut milk any more. – Cindy

16. Sex With Your Pants On isn’t allowed.

Otherwise known as SWYPO; this means you aren’t allowed to recreate non-compliant, cheat foods by using compliant ingredients. So none of those miraculous desserts conjured up with coconut milk, pumpkin puree, and prayers. No pancakes means no pancakes, period. And even though potatoes are on plan, french fries are not. The point is to avoid the foods that got you into the mess you’re in, whether they’re technically on plan or not, because consuming them jacks with your mental attitude toward food. Ironically enough, the W30 rules do allow you to pulse steamed cauliflower in your food processor and call it “rice”, or use a spiral cutter to create “noodles” out of zucchini, or use romaine leaves as hamburger buns or taco shells… but we’re not bitter or anything.

17. Pinterest will save your life.

First of all, Pinterest is the best thing ever since (whatever you can eat now instead of) sliced bread. Toward the end of the 30-day diet, you’re going to have a handful of go-to recipes that you make over and over and love, but for the most part, you’re going to have eaten every combination of meat and vegetable you can imagine, and you will need new ideas. Sometimes we would look through the pantry and see what we had, then type those few ingredients in the search bar along with “Whole 30,” then say a little prayer before hitting enter. We were never disappointed. Recipes galore, including stuff that doesn’t require cooking. If you happen to have a crock pot or pressure cooker, there are endless recipes for those two contraptions, too, as well as Facebook groups!

18. Your taste buds will change… drastically.

As the month goes by, you’re going to start appreciating the actual flavor of real food so much. We barely even season anything any more, mainly because we genuinely love the way that the food tastes on its own. You get to experience the natural deliciousness of vegetables without dips and dressings… and without being battered and fried. And when you eventually do end the diet and get the courage to take a bite of something sweet, it’s going to gag you with how overly sweet it is… plus, you’ll probably get a massive headache an hour or two later.

Pre-W30, I had a major sweet tooth and craved cakes and cookies and chocolate all day, every day. Not that I ate them that often, but I sure as heck wanted to, and I would never turn down anything if it were offered. Now, and I’m not joking, all I want to satisfy those cravings is fruit. Not fruit inside of a pie filling, not fruit covered in sugar or cool whip, but plain ol’ fruit. – Cindy

19. When the 30 days are up, you have to do Reintroduction.

This is the part we didn’t realize until we were well into our first round, so we want to make sure you get this: one doesn’t simply eliminate major food groups from her diet for a month, then leap back into those food groups all willy nilly on Day 31. If you do, prepare for misery. First of all, you’re going to feel incredibly amazing by the end of the diet, and you might not realize how yucky some or all of those foods have made you feel in the past. But as soon as you get a belly full of beans or rice or bread… you will be more than aware of the power those foods have held over your well-being.

This is why you do a gradual, calculated reintroduction of each of the forbidden food groups over the couple of weeks after your round is over. You can do this quickly, in about 10 days, or you can take your sweet time doing it over the next month or two, but you can’t just bury your face in a pizza on Day 31.

During my reintroduction period, I discovered that gluten makes me physically ill and bloated, and that MSG and certain beans give me headaches. Without doing the proper reintro, I never would’ve figured out what my food triggers are. – Cindy

20. We don’t want to quit you.

As hard as it was to start the Whole 30, I personally had an even harder time quitting it. You mentally wrap your mind around this diet, and it becomes all-consuming. I ended up going 45 days straight for my first round because I was too afraid of going off plan and feeling horrible again. I did eventually reintroduce most of what I’d avoided for a month, but several months post-W30, I find that my diet is now about 85% compliant all of the time… and I like it that way. I did another strict W30 in January for the New Year, and it wasn’t a big deal at all. Now that I’m eating those food groups in moderation, or not at all, I rarely have the headaches that plagued me before, I’ve maintained the weight loss I achieved, I have had much more energy throughout the day, and I haven’t had any back or joint pain in months. And another major victory: both my husband and son have started eating this way, too! – Cindy

So, now that you know what to expect, are you still thinking about starting a round of Whole 30? You could always do a W7 or a W14 to get a little taste of what you’re up against, but we suspect once you’ve invested a week or two, you’ll be compelled to just keep on going. And just think, you will be able to shock and amaze people with your amazing willpower once you finish a round! Heck, there may even be a bumper sticker out there for those of us who’ve completed a W30 akin to those that runners put next to their stick families to brag about having run 13.1 miles or whatever. Whole Thirtians, unite!

Interested in reading more about Whole 30? Try our 5 Steps to a Successful Whole 30 for the Whole Family!

This post is meant for educational purposes only. It is not intended to replace medical advice from your physician, doctor or health care professional. Please read our terms of use for more information.


Photo credits: Doctor’s Office adapted from annekarakash (CC0 Public Domain), Dani Nicole Photography, JessicaN, KristenL, Sugar adapted from Andrei Niemimaki (CC), Rocky Mountain Bliss

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Cindy Haley

Cindy is the mom to Wyatt, the wife of Jason, and a lover of Jesus. She teaches middle-school English in a tiny town in northeastern Oklahoma, and has a long list of hobbies, including photography, reading, cooking, and gardening.

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