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What Is the Whole30 Diet, and Why Am I Seeing It Everywhere?

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Ben Fink Photography

This article originally appeared on MyRecipes.

By Hannah Burkhalter, RD

The creators behind the wildly popular Whole30 program don’t promise weight loss, but they do promise that the diet will change your life. It’s a program that doesn’t count calories or portion sizes, but heavily restricts the categories of foods you can and cannot eat. There are no exceptions, special circumstances, or cheats. That being the case, if you’re game for it, we’ve got what you need to get started.

I’ll begin with this: If you’re going to follow the Whole30 diet, follow it to reset the way you eat, therefore allowing it to reshape the way you cook and think about food. That is the program’s intended purpose.

Do not follow the Whole30 diet for a fast-track to weight loss or to learn long-term eating habits.Whole30 is essentially a month of restriction, even from entire food groups (multiple foods groups) that offer real health benefits. And cutting foods out entirely simply isn’t a sustainable (or necessarily mentally healthy) eating plan for life. That said, if you are the type of person who needs or craves structure, and you are looking for a way to “reset” the way you eat, then Whole30might be a great fit for you. Just think of Whole30 as a planned, purposeful month of dietary restriction, rather than a model for the ideal way to eat 365 days a year.

Whole30 can teach you more about diet and food through the program’s inherent nature of forced awareness, label-reading, and meal-planning… which is exactly what a lot of people are seeking this time of year (and explains why you are seeing the Whole30 pop up frequently in your news feeds this month). For the average American, the dietary restrictions of the program are very intense, and those seriously considering giving it a go need to keep in mind that they may likely experience noticeable physiological and/or emotional effects throughout the month because such a drastic change in diet is prone evoke change in every part of the body. Just remember the “30” days in the name, and know that 30 days is as long as this diet reboot should last.

If you are set on trying Whole30, here are the rules and exceptions, a few tips, and recipes for conquering your goal.

The basic rules of Whole30:

• No sugar. This includes sugar alternatives such as Splenda or natural sources like honey.
• No alcohol. Even in cooking.
• No grains. None of any sort.
• No legumes.
This includes all beans, soy, and peanut butter.
• No dairy. No cow or goat’s milk, or products made from it, such as yogurt or cheese.
• No carrageenan, MSG, or sulfites. This rule helps further eliminate processed, packaged foods.
• No recreating baked goods, or junk foods with healthier ingredients. This means no pizza, not even if you use cauliflower to make the crust. This means no pancakes even if you use almond flour and bananas.
• No scales or measurements. Though they do encourage you to weigh yourself before and after the program, you are not allowed to weigh yourself during the program.

Don’t miss the exceptions to the rules above. You can have:

• Clarified butter or ghee. The butter restriction is related to the milk proteins in NON-clarified butter.
• Fruit juice as a sweetener. It’s cool if there is natural fruit in a product to sweeten it.
• Select legumes.
This includes green beans and snap peas because they’re mostly “pod.”
• Vinegar. Just make sure theres no added sugar or gluten.
• Salt. This is allowed even though iodized table salt often contains sugar to preserve the potassium iodide

Tips for actually following Whole30:

• Know that it will take effort. This diet is restrictive to a point where there’s no way it won’t change your current food routine. Be prepared to read, learn, plan, and prep. Most people who are experience with and adamant about this program will tell you, there’s not much point in doing it if you’re not going to go all in and really do it. As in, cheating, even just a little, kind of defeats the purpose.
• Cook at home. When you order food at a restaurant, you’ll never truly know what ingredients you’re consuming. You will need to prepare your own meals to prevent accidental cheating.
• Read nutrition labels. Embrace nutrition labels your best, informative friend. The most important part? The ingredient list. If there is a word you aren’t familiar with, Google it. More than likely, you will not be allowed to consume that food. Some packaged, grocery store items that sound 100% Whole30-friendly, but actually aren’t include: bacon (unless it’s uncured), broth, mustard, spice blends, deli meat, and almond milk. Read the labels and purchase brands that are compliant with the diet’s guidelines.
• Learn to say no. You can turn down food from friends. If it isn’t on your diet, then it isn’t on your diet. This is going to happen with Whole30… often. That is, unless all of your friends are doing it, too.
• Think about what you can have. Your diet will consist of meat, fresh vegetables, fruit, nuts, and seeds. Cook using fresh herbs, fruit, peppers, onions, and other foods with inherently strong flavor notes to season your food. Think natural, whole foods.

Some legitimately delicious recipes that comply with Whole30:

Herb-Rubbed New York Strip with Sautéed Peas and Carrots (check the package of bacon for ingredients that aren’t allowed, eliminate the bacon if you can’t find a brand that complies)
Four Citrus Herbed Chicken
Filet Mignon with Fresh Herb and Garlic Rub
Chicken Tacos with Mango Avocado Salsa (skip the tortilla and eat over a bed of lettuce)
Spanish Omelets (omit mozzarella cheese)
Salmon with Walnut Avocado Guacamole
Grilled Salmon with Garlic, Lemon, and Basil
Chicken with Brussels Sprouts and Mustard Sauce (you’ll need to make your own chicken broth. Store-bought varieties typically contain MSG)
Heirloom Tomato and Beet Salad (check whole-grain mustard for sugar)
Roasted Cauliflower with a Fried Egg
Lemon-Herb Sheet Pan Roasted Vegetables
Roasted Broccoli
Winter Fruit Salad
Simple Salad with Lemon Dressing

Whole30 may very well be a much healthier diet than what you eat now. And after completing it, you may find that you no longer crave processed foods or that you have fostered a real love of cooking and can save money by embracing it. But keep in mind, grains and dairy aren’t the path to your dietary demise. Focus on the over-arching themes of the Whole30 experience: Caring about what you put in your body, choosing to change, backing your cooking with intention, and focusing on health rather than the number on a scale.

All information reported here regarding the rules and regulations of the Whole30 diet can be found online at whole30.com and The Official Whole30 Program Rules.

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