“Whole30” is a term we’ve all overheard or read in a headline, or been served ads for related to meal delivery… but what really IS the program, and why are people always raving about its “life-changing qualities”?
It’s a popular diet amongst many in the insta-crowd, frequently referenced in wellness posts, and commonly recommended by those in the world of fitness. It’s also likely that one or more of your friends has already declared they’ll be doing Whole30 meal prep as their “New Year, New Me” resolutions.
So, is there something you’re missing about Whole30 meal prep that everyone else seems to know?
You’re not that behind, and we’re here to catch you up so you can decide if Whole30 meal prep should be a part of your 2020 as well.
Whole30 came into existence when Melissa Urban blogged about a dietary experiment she completed in 30 days during 2009. For reference, Urban is a Certified Sports Nutritionist and now four-time New York Times bestselling author, so her Whole30 program wasn’t built on a whim and a craving. It was thoughtful, measured, and the goal was oriented not towards weight loss, but towards personal dietary insight.
The basis of Whole30 is to limit yourself from certain foods or ingredients for 30 days in order to determine what kinds of foods your body works best with.
Though the social posts about Whole 30 will frequently complain about restriction, there are a lot of foods you can eat on Whole30. Meat, seafood, eggs, veggies and fruit, natural fats, herbs, spices, salt, and seasonings. Anything that uses simple or recognizable ingredients is KEY in Whole30.
Many people choose to start Whole30 in the New Year because they recognize the toll their body has taken under the weight of holiday excess. Whole30 can act as a hard stop on eating behaviors you want to make sure don’t follow you into a new year.
Try to think of a Whole30 meal plan as what you want to avoid, not what you can’t have.
What’s the difference? You’re making a choice; Whole30 isn’t being forced upon you. You’ve chosen it as way to gain insight into what your body truly needs to perform it’s best. Whole30 exclusions include items that have long been known to be an issue for some people even in small forms - and in some cases, like alcohol, items that are issues for people due to overconsumption.
With that in mind, with Whole30 you’ll want to avoid the following:
- Alcohol in any form
- Real or artificial sugar (this includes honey, agave, syrup, Splenda, etc!)
- Grains such as wheat, corn, rice, oats, quinoa, bran - all of it. Yes, grains are good for you, but for some people, they are not. For others, it’s a good time to rebalance the proportion of grains you’re eating.
- Cow derived dairy including but not limited to: milk, cheese and Greek yogurt.
- MSG or sulfites
- Baked goods, junk foods or anything that barely fits Whole30 (these miss the whole point of the program and probably got you into health trouble to begin with!) The recipes might look tempting on Pinterest but just because they are technically Whole30 from a nutrient perspective does not mean that they align with the holistic goals of Whole30.
- Nothing that says it has Whole30 “approved” ingredients (pancakes, waffles, bread, brownies, pizzas, pasta, cereal, chips or French fries.) These foods are processed and again - they don’t align with the holistic goals of Whole30.
- A scale or tape measure (you need to look at all the lifelong benefits - not just weight loss.) This is probably our favorite on the avoid list!
Okay, so you know what to indulge in and what to avoid.
In order to follow the Whole30 program, your only responsibility is to stick to this set “have/avoid” rules for 30 straight days without any cheats.
Seriously, no cheats. We don’t typically like diets that don’t have room for being human but because the intention is to determine which foods your bodies perform best with it’s important to keep to the have/avoid guidelines so you don’t ruin the experiment.
The program is grounded in the science of an elimination diet and helps identify food sensitivities, but only if you completely eliminate these possibly problematic items. That means if you slip even ONCE within the 30 days with a sip of beer or a spoonful of ice cream…. you have to start over from Day 1.
Many people lose it when they want to turn to food for comfort. Emotionally, it can be a quick fix for what ails you - at least it feels like it is. In reality, it’s taking you off the path you put yourself on, for a purpose. Better health. Before starting Whole30 consider planning out some others ways to cope when you find your self seeking comfort in food or drink.
What does Whole30 meal prep look like?
Just simply making good food choices without weighing or measuring yourself or your food. We know, it’s a little different than meal prep - but you don’t need to restrict calories or lead with portion control in this (although you definitely could if you wanted to - but again, not the point). We’ve included our favorite recipes towards the end of the post if you want a bit more structure to your meal plan.
Is Whole30 meal prep challenging for beginners?
Yes. It’s a really difficult 30 days to stick with, in all honesty, because it’s a hard departure from most people’s common food behaviors but 30 days is thankfully - not forever. Think about how long and full your life has been, and consider how small of a portion 30 days of your life is.
Whole30 is also not a full-time dietary change. Its purpose is to show you which foods your body isn’t a fan of, and therefore fix your diet and lifestyle going forward! After Whole30, you’re guaranteed to feel healthier and more self-aware.
This isn’t meant to be a permanent behavior, but rather a temporary process that will affect your personal choices afterward.
Alright, great. So now we know about Whole30… but isn’t that similar to Paleo?
“Paleo” is another word we’ve often heard in choices of diets and healthier eating. How is Paleo different than Whole30, you ask?
Paleo diets are designed to mirror what our earliest hunter-gatherer ancestors ate thousands of years ago during the Paleolithic Age. Researchers have determined that many diets were originally composed of whole foods, paired with ample physical activity. Because of this lifestyle, these humans had low rates of diseases such as obesity, diabetes and heart disease. They were more likely to die from an animal attack or infection.
So, does that point to a belief that the current human’s diet might be creating our current health problems? Oh, definitely. Along with increasing movement on a daily basis, our modern diets could use a serious upgrade - and the Paleo diet is a potential solution for some people looking to make a long term diet change over an experimental dietary stint like Whole30.
What to know about the Paleo Diet
There’s no one correct way to eat in a Paleo diet, mainly due to the large geography of our human ancestors and the wide variety of foods each area provided. However, basic food groups included meat, eggs, fish, veggies, fruits, nuts, seeds, herbs, spices, and those healthier fats and oils.
We can guarantee you that paleolithic humans did not have access to processed foods, sugar, soft drinks, grains, dairy, legumes, veggie oils, margarine, and trans fats. That means those items have GOT to go when following the paleo diet. However, within recent years, many people have chosen to follow the Paleo diet but add some personal adjustments such as including gluten-free grains.
Items such as tea, coffee, red wine, and dark chocolate weren’t around thousands of years ago, but in small amounts, these items can be reasonable and even healthy. Many people following the Paleo diet regularly indulge in limited portions of these foods and drinks!
Another diet description in the bag… feeling overwhelmed?
The main difference between Whole30 and the Paleo diet is that Paleo permits natural sugars like honey and syrup. If you’re a sugar fiend, you may find you’re better sticking to a Paleo diet. However, it’s important to remember that Whole30 is NOT a lifestyle, but rather it is to be used as a “reset” on healthy diets and lifestyles. Both of these programs encourage simpler eating and usually lead to healthier lifestyles and bodies, so it’s crucial to decide what kind of eating plan is most appropriate for you.
If you enjoy Whole30, trialing a paleo diet directly afterward could be a great way to ensure you’re easing back into a still healthy diet.
Paleo first? We still think Whole30 is really beneficial as a jumping-off point. You’re likely to benefit from Whole30 if you are looking to lose weight, improve your health conditions, clear up adult acne, fix digestive problems, increase your natural energy, actually satisfy your cravings, sleep better, know which foods to avoid…
We’re pretty sure everyone falls into at least one of those categories.
The Whole30 meal plan is for everyone.
Whole30 meal prep Week 1 can be daunting but since we always want to make the transition as easy as possible for our ThinkFit community, we put together our go-to recipes to get you started!
As a bonus - all of these as single servings fit perfectly into 1 of our 1.5 or 2.5 cup pre-portioned containers.
Here are 7 of our favorite Whole30 recipes to follow under the program.
This Super-Green Smoothie Bowl is full of nutrients and is SO good for both your Instagram feed and your stomach. Spinach, bananas, and ginger give this breakfast lots of flavor - just be sure to leave out the honey!
This Potato Boat Power Breakfast tastes just as good as it looks. You truly can’t go wrong with bacon, a fried egg, and avocado for a filling breakfast - but follow our link to check out some lunch and dinner potato options, too!
This Roasted Broccoli Salad with Celery and Apple is both fresh and robust once the white wine is replaced with Whole30-approved mustard. If you’re feeling really hungry, feel free to pair it with grilled chicken and feel content with another successful Whole30 escapade!
Loaded Guacamole Sweet Potato Fries are a sweet and savory combination you’re sure to love at first bite. Though they can also be eaten as an appetizer, everyone needs a cheat meal… that is, within those Whole30 boundaries.
These Crisp Sesame Fish Fillets add crunch to your Whole30 diet without all that gluten. Fish makes for a light dinner and its sesame seeds fight inflammation - double win!
This Sweet Potato Chili is spicy, sweet and even hearty, so it’s sure to please all types of eaters. Don’t worry, this recipe doesn’t include beans - but it does include lots of veggies and protein.
These Chicken Banh Mi Meatballs are a flavorful Asian take on dinner, typically served as a sandwich on a baguette. However, even without all the bread, this meal is sure to excite your taste buds for an enjoyable meal likely different from your other Whole30 meals.
Looking for a Whole30 meal prep Grocery List?
Here are some of our top recommendations to include in your shopping cart:
- PROTEINS: We like to stick with eggs, chicken, turkey, and some sort of seafood. Our favorite is salmon, but others at ThinkFit prefer shrimp or tuna.
- VEGGIES: The ThinkFit team enjoys vegetables such as asparagus, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, peas, sweet potatoes, tomatoes and greens such as kale, romaine or arugula.
- FRUITS: All fruits are allowed on the Whole30 diet, but we enjoy apples, bananas, grapefruits, mangoes, berries, and pineapple to give our diet sugar… without being, you know. Sugar.
- FATS: Though you want to limit the amount of fats, we recommend items such as avocado, olives, almonds, cashews, sesame seeds and almond butter in your diet. For cooking, try to stick with extra-virgin olive or coconut oil.
- SPICES: You can include as many spices as you want in all Whole30 meals - that’s why we recommend every bottle on the shelf. Our personal favorites: allspice, cayenne, paprika, cilantro, and ginger.
- DRINKS: Coffee. Just…. Coffee. Or Green tea, but we mostly run on coffee. And water! Don’t forget water. ThinkFit includes a 23 oz. shaker cup with each of our meal prep lunch boxes to make sure you have the tools you need to stay hydrated - so you have no excuse!
If you need more structure, an official grocery list for a Whole30 diet can be found here!
Okay so now it’s starting to sound amazing, right? All these options and health benefits are SO WORTH IT! But…
How do you really live out a Whole30 lifestyle?
Here are ThinkFit’s top 5 tips to sticking with a Whole30 meal plan:
1) Don’t even think about letting yourself slip.
Slips are an intentional choice, and exceptions aren’t a thing with Whole30. If you consume something off the list, you’re choosing to start it all over again and delay or possibly bail from transformative results.
2) Plan your meals.
Sound familiar? We at ThinkFit are clearly all about meal prep, and Whole30 is no different. If you already have your meals prepared, you won’t have to worry about cravings, wasted time or spoiled ingredients.
3) Watch your timing.
Maybe DON’T start Whole30 during the holiday season with all the fun meals and desserts around. A month of dietary change is a huge commitment, so make sure your Whole30 diet is during a time of year where you can authentically stick to the plan without too many distractions or temptations.
4) Look at those nutritional labels.
Not all Whole30-non-compliant foods live in junk food aisles. Added sugars hide in items from processed meats to fancy coffee drinks. If you’re ever unsure, check Google - or just stay away from ingredients you can’t pronounce.
5) Try new foods.
30 days is a short amount of time - so why not try new foods or recipes to make life a little more exciting? With new and interesting flavors, you won’t even think about all the items you’re excluding from your diet. Plus, you’ll be more likely to enjoy what you’re eating!
Looking for additional resources to pair with our post? Look no further.
Our favorite Whole30 cookbook is Whole30: The 30-Day Guide to Total Health and Freedom. Unsurprisingly, it’s written by the ingenious Melissa Urban and co-author Dallas Hartwig so this information comes STRAIGHT from the source… and is so, so, so yummy.
The two’s book even includes healthy eating tips and information the Whole30 program to ensure a carefree and slip-free 30 days and a successful and enjoyable post-Whole30 lifestyle!
Our favorite Whole30 website is Tastes Lovely from Natalie Gruendl, who follows a clean, Keto, Whole30 diet! Though that may sound intimidating to some of our readers, all of her recipes are delicious and safe for consuming.
Since 2017, all recipes are Paleo, gluten-free, dairy-free and refined sugar-free. Almost all of her recipes are Whole30 and Keto, but make sure to press the Whole30 filter when sifting through her delicious and beautiful website (we don’t want anyone restarting their 30 days because of an accident!!).
She also includes grocery store guides and weekly menus which we adore!
Okay, our last word on Whole30:
If you’re a social media-savvy eater, try following the hashtags #whole30 and #whole30approved! Though it may seem obvious to some, following hashtags like these on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook can make it ultra-convenient to discover new recipes and find inspiration in your 30 days and beyond.
Have you ever tried a Whole 30 diet or lifestyle? Are there additional Whole 30 tips or resources you love?
Connect and share with us below and be sure to bookmark our post so you always have access to our top meal prep resources lists!