If you’re on Instagram, odds are you’ve seen more than few posts about #Whole30 in the past year. The viral health movement encourages followers to cut alcohol, sugar, grains, legumes, dairy and additives from their diet for 30 days straight — with zero cheat days. That’s right: Screw up, and you start the challenge over.
Sounds like torture? From zoodles galore to plates packed with protein (and only the occasional #needsugar plea), these posts are health food eye candy, not hangry rants. And they’re not going away anytime soon, either. The Whole 30 Guide to Total Health and Food Freedom, by co-founders Dallas and Melissa Hartwig, is on bookshelves everywhere, with the goal of making the program more accessible to everyone.
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“We kind of refer to the Whole 30 as the anti-diet,” says Melissa, a certified sports nutritionist. “It’s not a diet, it’s more of a lifestyle change.” Here’s what you can learn from The Whole 30 book — plus, three Whole 30 recipes worth ‘gramming.
What the Whole 30 Diet Is All About
If dieting tends to turn into a 24/7 pity party for you, Dallas and Melissa Hartwig, also authors of It Starts With Food, are here to snap you out of it. “Don’t you dare tell us this is hard. Quitting heroin is hard. Beating cancer is hard. Drinking your coffee black. Is. Not. Hard,” reads one line from the program.
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“You’re not designed to do Whole 30 for the rest of your life, it’s a short-term learning process, a short-term intervention. It’s a gateway into knowing how foods affect you so you can make more informed choices going forward,” Dallas, a physical therapist and certified strength and conditioning specialist, says.
At its core, Whole 30 is a combination of a strict paleo diet and an elimination diet that focuses on slashing inflammation-promoting foods from your life. “We’re trying to figure out how the foods you’ve been eating impact how you look, and feel and impact your quality of life,” Melissa says. “You have to 100 percent eliminate those foods from your diet in order to do that.” In other words: No slip-ups. “Unless you physically trip and your face lands in a box of donuts, there is no ‘slip,’” the book reads.
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By sticking to the diet for 30 days, Melissa and Dallas hope you’ll be able to identify the foods that make you feel bad. They say they’ve seen and heard of results ranging from weight loss, more energy and improved health to faster recovery from tough workouts. Even better, they believe eliminating bad eating habits can lead to true “food freedom.”
“You’re not eating things [for] emotional reasons, or because you’re of out of control with cravings. You’re not white-knuckling your way through the day resisting every candy dish — you feel in control,” Melissa says. “When you do make a choice to eat something that’s not healthy, but you decide is worth it, you eat it and savor it and there’s no guilt associated with making that food choice. You make a deliberate decision and move on.”
How to Be Successful on Whole 30
You might not be able to wake up tomorrow and start Whole 30 on a whim — nor should you. “Planning and preparation are key,” Melissa says. That’s why their book is packed with more than 100 recipes, tips and cooking instructions on how to prepare your kitchen and a detailed FAQ section to address all your qualms.
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The book also advises you on how to resist temptations (like date nights or business dinners), and how to explain your new lifestyle to family and friends when they’re pushing a glass of wine into your hands. “It’s not just physical, we also talk about getting emotionally and psychologically ready for a dramatic life change,” Melissa says.
After your 30 days is complete, you’ll get advice on how to slowly reintroduce each food group into your diet (and determine if there’s anything you want to eliminate for good). Also important: Building a support network, either of friends, or among other Whole 30-ers online, so you’ll have a community to prop you up when sugar carbs start calling your name. Start combing those Instagram posts for potential pals.
Whole 30 Recipes You’ll Love
1. Romesco Garlic Shrimp with Zucchini Noodles
With no grains allowed, the Whole 30 diet relies on zoodles (zucchini noodles) to help you get your spaghetti fix. If you don’t have a spiralizer, simply use a peeler to make your veggie strands instead. Short on time? Get your meal prep on by making the sauce for this dish a few days in advance. Kitchen newbies, there are tips on how to not overcook your shrimp. But there’s no shame in buying this shellfish cooked, instead of raw, either! You’ll get all the great taste of an Italian dish, without the carb-induced bloat.
2. Eggplant Buns
Just because you can’t have a real bun on Whole 30, doesn’t mean your burger should be bare. Sandwich that beef patty between two slices of veggies, instead. This eggplant bun will add a delicious (and nutrient-packed) burst of flavor to each bite. Not a fan of this nightshade? You can always substitute sweet potatoes or portobello mushrooms as the shell. (Bonus: Your veggie buns might even hold up better than bread, which tends to get mushy.) Pop your veggie of choice in the oven and dinner will be ready in no time.
3. Chimichurri Beef Kabobs
If you need proof the Whole 30 diet isn’t about deprivation, take a look at this plate. Hearty chunks of meat, skewered alongside chunks of bell peppers, onion and zucchini, combine to make a dinner that’s truly filling. Don’t have a grill? You can broil or use a grill plate to make this dish, too. Don’t skip the marinade — it adds a flavor to the meat that’s worth the extra time.
Recipes and Photo from THE WHOLE30 by Melissa and Dallas Hartwig. Copyright © 2015 by Whole9Life, LLC. Reprinted by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.
Originally posted April 2015. Republished in January 2016.