Have you heard of the Whole 30 Challenge? It’s essentially an extreme version of the paleo diet designed to “reset” your body on all fronts. The premise is straight forward: by eliminating processed foods, sugar, gluten, grains, legumes, dairy and (sigh) alcohol for 30 days, you can restore your metabolism, immune system and digestive track. Your diet will focus on healthy proteins (meat, fish, eggs), vegetables, fruits, nuts and healthy fats. There’s no cheating. If you slip up, even just a little bit, you have to start all over.
Sound difficult? Well, I can safety say that despite my love of wine, cheese and everything carbs, I just completed my 30 day challenge and it felt surprisingly great! While I’m not willing to swear off all processed foods forever, it’s nice to have a month long detox to boost my energy levels and prove I have control over the foods I’m putting in my body.
In honor of the New Year and healthy resolutions, I’m dedicating the month of January to posting some of my favorite Whole-30 recipes. Keep reading below for some of my tips to completing your challenge.
- Make a Weekly Meal Plan: I’m the type of person who already makes a loose weekly meal plan to anchor my trips to the grocery store. I usually plan my dinners ahead of time with open ended lunches and weekends available for eating out. The Whole 30 Challenge requires you to be more regimented. Since eating out is pretty difficult and scavenging the pantry will turn up mostly processed foods, you need to map out every meal including snacks.
- Cook in Bulk: This goes hand in hand with your meal plan. So you don’t spend your 30 day challenge slaving away in the kitchen, build some bulk cooking into your meal plan. Soups, Salads, Roasted Veg and Mashed Cauliflower were among the easiest for me to make ahead. I’d also double all of my dinners so that lunch the following day was already taken care of.
- Have Shortcuts Available: You are not going to want to cook for 30 days and must have some short-cuts available. My go-to would be the “naked” rotisserie chicken from Whole Foods (be wary of other rotisserie chicken which might have butter or brown sugar!). Chipotle was also an easy staple, where you can get meat and veggies over salad. I bought a lot of pre-chopped veggies to save some prep time and you can find a lot at the Whole Foods salad bar (grilled chicken, eggs, greens, prepared veggies, squash, etc.)
- Limit Social Gatherings Centered Around Food: I will admit the Whole 30 Challenge can somewhat cramp your social agenda. Dinners out (other than Chipotle or Whole Foods) were pretty limited since you never really know how the food is prepared – on the plus side you save a lot of money! Some safe options are vegan restaurants or sushi restaurants where you can order fresh sashimi sans rice (just remember that soy sauce is a “NO”). For social engagements, remove food and drinks from the focus and plan activities like hiking, shopping, getting coffee or going to the movies. It’s fun to switch things up and it’s really only 4 weekends of your life.
- Always have Snacks On Hand: Hunger is the reason most diets fail and the only times I was hungry on the diet was when I forgot to bring snacks to work and no Whole-30 options were available. ALWAYS have something on hand to satisfy your hunger between meals. My go-to snacks included: fresh fruit or veggies (apples, carrots and pears travel well), almond butter (they make travel packets now!), mixed nuts (but no peanuts- they are legumes!), Kale chips (look for store-bought versions with minimal ingredients), Dates, and homemade almond crackers (recipe coming soon!).
- Return to Normal Foods in Moderation: Once you complete the challenge (hooray!) do not go overboard in returning to some of your favorite foods. I had a few glasses of wine the day after completing the diet and I felt like I was going to die- worst hangover of my life! I think the same rule would apply to heavier foods like bread and dairy. It’s probably better to ease your way back to your pre-challenge diet.
Trust me, the diet sounds more difficult than it is. For more information on the diet itself, I recommend reading It Starts With Food. Finally, I’ll leave you with a list of my key Whole 30 supplies that got me through the last 30 days. Good luck and Happy New Year!
My Whole 30 Pantry Staples:
- Coconut Oil: there’s a slight flavor to it so take caution when using
- Olive Oil
- Coconut Milk: for making various vegetable soups extra creamy
- Coconut Aminos: Soy is a legume and is banned on this diet, but coconut aminos make a good substitute. (Available at Whole Foods)
- Fish Sauce: Be sure to get gluten free fish sauce, like Red Boat brand.
- Clarified Butter or Ghee: You can make your own or buy it from Whole Foods
- Almond Butter: Check the ingredients as many brands have added sugars
- Unsweetened Almond Milk
- Unsweetened Organic Cacao Powder: for shakes and other Whole-30 desserts
- Almond Meal/Flour
- Kale Chips: be sure there are no added sweeteners. Salt, spices and nutritional yeast are allowed.
- Nutritional Yeast: To satisfy cheese cravings. Use it like parmesan.
- Mixed Fresh Herbs
- Organic Eggs
- Organic Chicken
- Grass Fed Beef
- Pre-chopped cauliflower (mashed cauliflower is the perfect substitute for mashed potatoes)
- Pre-chopped Butternut squash (have you ever peeled a butternut squash? It sucks!)
- Frozen root vegetable medly
- Canned Tuna
- Nuts: Walnuts, Almonds, Macadamia Nuts, Pistachios
- Fresh Fruits: Apples, Pears, Bananas, Avocados
- Fresh Vegetables: Greens, Asparagus, Brussels Sprouts, Sweet Potatoes