You’ve heard it all before – it isn’t a diet, it’s a lifestyle. We will change your life in thirty days. Read like an infomercial? These are the promises behind Whole30, a nutritional program currently setting the fitness world on fire. Rabid supporters from all over the globe have touted everything from weight loss to clearer skin. Some even go as far as to say the Whole30 diet has helped them manage symptoms for diseases such as multiple sclerosis, Crohn’s and lupus.
Is Whole30 the real deal? Hundreds of thousands of testimonials, many from doctors and medical professions seem to indicate yes. But don’t be fooled – Whole30 isn’t a miracle worker or get-fit-quick scheme.
First Things First, What is Whole30?
Whole30 is the brainchild of Melissa and Dallas Hartwig. The Utah-based couple founded their company, Whole 9 in 2009. They formulated Whole30 the same year.
In their first book, “It Starts With Food,” the Hartwigs break down the Whole30 program. So first the no’s – no grains, no sugar, no alcohol, no dairy, no carrageen or MSGs, no sulfites, and no legumes. They program also strictly outlaws trying to recreate any sort of “healthy” versions of unhealthy foods – think Paleo pancakes or zucchini muffins.
So just who are these Hartwig people and where do they get off telling you to give up your protein bars and Diet Coke? Melissa is a certified sports nutritionist whereas Dallas’s credentials include being a certified sports nutritionist, a functional medicine practitioner and a licensed physical therapist. A.K.A. these guys probably know what they’re talking about.
But instead of encouraging participants to focus on the “no’s” of the program – and there are plenty – the Hartwigs encourage participants to instead focus solely on making good food choices.
“Your only job during the Whole30 is to focus on making good food choices,” the Whole30 website says. “You don’t need to weigh or measure, you don’t need to count calories, you don’t need to stress about organic, grass-fed, pastured or free range. Just figure out how to stick to the Whole30 in any setting, around every special circumstance, under any amount of stress… for 30 straight days. Your only job? Eat. Good. Food.”
Sound intimidating? It probably should. Whole30-ers are also not allowed to weigh or measure themselves at all during the process. And if you do by chance put a toe over the metaphoric line by giving into a food temptation, you start over.
“The Whole30 program guidelines are very clear: any off-plan choices during your Whole30 calls for a restart,” the website says. “We understand that no one’s Whole30 is perfect, but we really want you to have 30 full days, start to finish, with 100% compliance to the rules, spirit, and intention of the program. Why? Aside from the potential physiological impacts of your off-plan food choice, because you made a commitment to yourself, and breaking the rules sends the message from you to you that you are not important enough to honor that commitment. This message stinks, and will permeate every area of your life, whether you understand that or not.”
The Whole30 Basics
So, I Want to Do Whole30. What Now?
Calling the Whole30 website simply a website is a little misleading. Instead, picture a plethora of Whole30-related information – you can find everything from testimonials to entire forums dedicated to questions about specific products. It’s updated daily by the Hartwigs and their staff and although most things are explained in crystal clear detail, you can even post questions that the Whole30 staff will answer personally.
The first recommended step is reading “It Starts With Food”. This book goes into great detail not only about the Whole30 program, but why you shouldn’t eat those foods. It’s a lot of science, but it provides a solid understanding of things like systemic inflammation, gut health and why you shouldn’t weigh yourself during Whole30.
The Hartwigs also released a second book in April titled simply “The Whole30”. The book re-breaks down the program with lots of added information that’s been developed since the program’s inception in 2009. It also includes a section of recipes along with meal templates and shopping lists.
According to “The Whole30”, once you’ve completed the book, you should choose a start date. Ideally, you want to start soon to capitalize on your motivation, but not so soon that you don’t have time to make preparations such as purging your kitchen of unhealthy foods and doing meal prep.
Let your friends and family know what you’re doing. Even if they don’t want to participate, it’s important to have a support system. Make sure you know what to do in situations like working late or having a family dinner. Lastly, toss that scale in the trash or at least put it away for thirty days. You are now ready for the Whole30.
After receiving feedback from thousands of participants, the Hartwigs were able to establish a timeline of what to expect. Don’t let it intimidate you – it includes headings such as “the hangover” and “kill all the things”. However, most seem to agree that cravings, agitation, tiredness and just general blah-ness seem to wrap up as early as day ten and no later than day 15.
Whole30: My Personal Experience
The Whole30 is undoubtedly the only program of its kind, but it scores some extra cool points on several different fronts.
I decided to do Whole30 in March 2014 because I just wasn’t getting anywhere. I’d started working out regularly a year earlier and although I was a little lighter and a little fitter, it didn’t feel like enough. I wanted more.
That, and I’m a masochist.
When I tell you that the first eleven days of my Whole30 were some of the worst of my life, I wish I was exaggerating. I cried. I threw tantrums. My depression and anxiety spiraled. And then, I woke up on Day 12 and all was fine.
More than fine actually. I had so much energy and I was hitting PRs in the gym like crazy. My skin literally glowed. And then of course, Day 31 came and I rejoined the real world with lots of valuable life lessons under my belt.
I took away a lot from the Whole30–mainly that I had been using food to punish and reward myself for a long time. Whole30 was also my first step in cutting alcohol and soda out of my life for good and figuring out exactly what type of healthy eating “worked” for me.
You can read more about my personal experience with Whole30 here.
The founders are involved in the process. During my Whole30, I suffered a severe wrist sprain and was placed on pain medication. I immediately started experiencing some huge stomach issues. I inquired on the forum about it and received an email from Melissa Hartwig herself within a few hours explaining that my gut problems were totally normal.
The social media game is off the chain. Melissa’s personal Instagram posts range from comical to informational and include everything from rants about “Whole30 friendly pancakes” (hint: they don’t exist) to book recommendations. Her posts make her relatable – it often feels like support from a friend instead of a stranger half way across the country. Also, her hair is incredible.
You’ll never run out of recipes. There are entire Whole30 Instagram accounts dedicated to recipes and tips for a successful program that feature new chefs on a weekly basis – many of which are notable in the Paleo and nutrition community. The program recently celebrated over 1,000,000 posts hashtagged with Whole30.
Make your friends suffer with you. The program is also something that’s easy to do with friends, gym mates or family, and accountability always makes things easier.