Not Yet Familiar with the Whole30?
This whole-food eating plan was co-founded in 2009 by Melissa Urban, and it’s taken off in popularity ever since (did you see it on Orange Is the New Black?). It prescribes 30 days of eschewing grains, dairy, legumes, alcohol and sugars in favor of vegetables, fruits, meats, seafood, nuts and seeds.
While it’s not meant as a diet or prescriptive for any disease, participants have had life-changing results including weight loss, reduced inflammation and a better relationship with food. In fact, the latter is one of the goals of the program: to hit the reset button and help participants reconnect with their food choices and their impact on the body. Many people choose to do the Whole30 program in January, but you can choose any time that’s convenient for you. Or, if you’re not interested in taking the plunge fully, the recipes are still wholesome and delicious and can be enjoyed outside of the program as well.
So you’ve started a Whole30, and it’s going great. You planned, you cleaned out your kitchen of non-compliant foods, you meal prepped – you got this.
And then life happens. You get roped into throwing a last-minute baby shower for your sister-in-law; your sweetie invited people over for Sunday brunch; it’s your turn to host book club. Normally, these are the moments when you might relax and indulge a bit – but you’re doing a Whole30. Now what?
“I think social situations are one of the most commonly overlooked challenges,” Melissa Urban, CEO and co-founder of Whole30, tells Clean Eating. “When people read the rules of the program and see what’s entailed, they instinctively think about things like cleaning out their pantry, planning some meals, going to the grocery store. They’re really focused on the food, which is great – planning and preparation are key. But they’re not thinking about what some of the challenges might look like in terms of social settings.”
Urban’s new book, The Whole30 Friends & Family (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2019), is designed to help with these challenges, offering menus and recipes for various social situations including “Friendsgiving,” date night, tailgating and more (check out some of the recipes on page 42). Along with offering foods everyone will enjoy whether they’re doing a Whole30 or not, the book is also an effort to combat the feeling some participants have that they have to hole up and be a hermit to stick to the program. “The whole point of the Whole30 is to get you to food freedom, feeling in control of your food as opposed to food controlling you,” Urban says. And that means being able to enjoy foods you love and having some flexibility around social events, while also being true to your personal needs and goals.
The goal of food freedom is also an answer to one of the criticisms of Whole30: that it’s too restrictive. “I don’t want you doing the program for the rest of your life,” Urban says. “I want you to do the Whole30, learn how food impacts you, what works for you and what doesn’t, and then take what you’ve learned and create the perfect food-freedom diet for you.”
That’s why Urban, herself, after doing multiple Whole30s, doesn’t plan to do another one anytime soon. “I would say 85% of my day-to-day food is still Whole30 compliant because that’s what I’ve figured out works the best for me,” she says. “It helps me feel my best and have good energy and sleep well and all of that jazz. The vast majority of my meals are Whole30 compliant, then I include things on a pretty regular basis that I’ve figured out work really well for me in my food freedom. I eat white rice every single day because I’m really active and the extra carbohydrates do well for me. Coconut-cassava tortillas are part of my food freedom. I’ll do some turkey wraps or chicken wraps with them. I eat hummus pretty regularly. I enjoy Justin’s peanut butter cups, and I know how often I can eat those and not get thrown off my game in terms of how good I want to feel and look.”
Speaking of treats, The Whole30 Friends & Family includes some fruit-based desserts, a departure for the program. “[On a Whole30] we’re trying to break the habit of needing something sweet in the evening or needing something sweet after a meal to feel like it’s complete,” Urban explains. “But at the same time, when you’re talking about a really special event, like a child’s birthday party or a Super Bowl tailgate or a baby shower, there’s nothing wrong with enjoying the natural sweetness found in things like fresh fruit. We thought we would provide a happy medium, where we’re honoring the specialness of the occasion while still allowing you to stick to your Whole30 commitment.”
Of course, even when you make dishes that are Whole30 compliant but delicious and fun for everyone, you’ll still encounter naysayers. Whether it’s a coworker who wants to ride you about not drinking at an office event or a family member who heard something negative about Whole30 on a podcast, you may face some scrutiny. Just as you plan and get your kitchen ready for a Whole30, Urban recommends doing the same in your dealings with the people in your life.
“I think upfront communication is the biggest and most often overlooked tool, in that before you even begin the program, you can start laying the groundwork for why you’re doing what you’re doing,” she says. “Having a solid understanding of why you’re taking it on will make you more confident when you’re communicating to others about the program and how you hope it will benefit you. Then, when people ask what you’re doing, you can simply share from as personal a place as you feel comfortable.”
As with any conversation, context is key. “Keep it very simple and about you – make sure it’s clear that you don’t expect them to change the way they eat,” Urban says. Setting boundaries is key as well. “Create a rule for yourself that you never talk about food around food,” she advises. “It can be a very charged environment. Just say, ‘Let’s enjoy the meal, and if you have questions, I’m happy to chat with you afterwards.’ ”
If you still encounter resistance from people in your life, keep in mind that it’s probably not about you. “It’s really common with the Whole30, and I say this all the time: You can make people feel bad about what they’re doing just by doing what you’re doing, without saying a word,” Urban says. “It’s just their own defensiveness, and it may be the realization that your behavior is shining a spotlight on something that they might think they need to look at but they aren’t. If someone doesn’t understand what you’re doing, and they aren’t trying to understand, or if they feel defensive, that’s not something that you have to own or respond to or carry.”
Get to Know Melissa
Fun facts about the woman known affectionately as Whole30’s “headmistress.”
I’m inviting you over for a Whole30 potluck – what will you bring?
Probably some sort of bacon-wrapped appetizer. There’s a Devil on Horseback recipe in the new book that I like a lot. But anything that involves crispy bacon wrapped around dates, shrimp or scallops is always popular.
What’s your favorite breakfast?
What I eat every day for breakfast is ground beef with mixed veggies – peppers and onions and mushrooms and yellow squash and zucchini – over some kind of rice or cauliflower rice or butternut squash, with hot sauce. Not an egg in sight.
Describe your perfect Friday.
Waking up and hiking, and then coming home and eating a great meal, and then working for a couple of hours, and then taking my kid to a museum or a movie.
What do you do when you’re feeling stressed?
Talk about my feelings to another human being, preferably in person.
What is something most people don’t know about you?
I’m a natural blonde.
As a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?
Still or sparkling water?
Current fitness regimen?
Heavy lifting, plus yoga and hiking.
Favorite TV show?
Parks and Recreation. We throw quotes from that show around the office all day long.
Music you have on repeat right now?
Chet Faker [aka Nick Murphy].
Favorite travel destination so far?
Vitamin D3. That’s it.
Book on your nightstand?
Quit Like a Woman by Holly Whitaker.
Doing the Whole30 properly means following the rules. Here are the don’ts of the program to help guide you through your 30 days.
Do not consume added sugar, real or artificial. No maple syrup, honey, agave nectar, coconut sugar, date syrup, stevia, Splenda, Equal, Nutrasweet, xylitol, etc. Read your labels because companies sneak sugar into products in ways you might not recognize.
Do not consume alcohol, in any form, not even for cooking. (And ideally, no tobacco products of any sort, either.)
Do not eat grains. This includes (but is not limited to) wheat, rye, barley, oats, corn, rice, millet, bulgur, sorghum, sprouted grains and all gluten-free pseudo-cereals like quinoa, amaranth and buckwheat. This also includes all the ways we add wheat, corn and rice into our foods in the form of bran, germ, starch and so on. Again, read your labels.
Do not eat legumes. This includes beans of all kinds (black, red, pinto, navy, white, kidney, lima, fava, etc.), peas, chickpeas, lentils and peanuts. No peanut butter, either. This also includes all forms of soy – soy sauce, miso, tofu, tempeh, edamame and all the ways we sneak soy into foods (like lecithin).
Do not eat dairy. This includes cow, goat or sheep’s milk products like milk, cream, cheese, kefir, yogurt, sour cream, ice cream or frozen yogurt. (The only exceptions are ghee and clarified butter, which have the milk solids removed.)
Do not consume carrageenan, MSG or sulfites. If these ingredients appear in any form on the label of your processed food or beverage, it’s out for the Whole30.
Do not consume baked goods, junk foods or treats with “approved” ingredients. Recreating or buying sweets, treats and foods-with-no-brakes (the ones you just can’t stop eating), even if the ingredients are technically compliant, is totally missing the point of the Whole30 and will compromise your life-changing results. These are the same foods that got you into health trouble in the first place – and a pancake is still a pancake, even if it is made with coconut flour. Some specific foods that fall under this rule include: pancakes, waffles, bread, tortillas, biscuits, muffins, cupcakes, cookies, brownies, pizza crust, alternative- flour pasta, cereal and ice cream. No commercially prepared chips or French fries, either. However, this list is not limited strictly to these items – there may be other foods that you find are not psychologically healthy for your Whole30. Use your best judgment with foods that aren’t on this list but that you suspect are not helping you change your habits or break those cravings. Our mantra: When in doubt, leave it out. It’s only 30 days.
One last and final rule: Do not step on the scale or take any body measurements for 30 days. The Whole30 is about so much more than weight loss, and to focus only on body composition means you’ll overlook all the other dramatic and lifelong benefits this plan has to offer. So, no weighing yourself, analyzing body fat or taking comparative measurements during your Whole30. (We do encourage you to weigh yourself before and after so you can see one of the more tangible results of your efforts when your program is over.)
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