Let’s be honest here – it’s
pretty hard damn near impossible to do a 100% perfect whole30, whatever that even means. (Even the Whole30 folks think so.) However. It is totally possible to do a damn GREAT whole30. It’s also possible to do a not-so-great one, when you start making tons of little whole30 mistakes that are derailing you from getting those FANTASTIC results you want so badly.
BUT. Let’s get one thing straight here. I’m not talking about the kinds of UBER huge mistakes like oops, I just faceplanted into a whole pizza and 6-pack of beer on day 11 mistake (which means you’ll have to start the whole30 over.) We’re talking more about the sneaky little things that could be sabotaging your whole30 progress and results even though they’re “on plan”…or not even food-related.These tips will help you whether you’re a whole30 newbie gearing up for or in the middle of your first challenge, you’re a seasoned vet and are brushing up on your whole30 knowledge, or have just finished a whole30 and aren’t totally satisfied with your results.
So if you want to achieve those goals you set at the beginning of your whole30 this round, take note of these little tidbits here. I’ve even included this little cheat sheet at the top because I know if you’re like me, you want to know exactly what these top 6 things are…
#1. You’re OD-ing on nuts.
#2. You’re snacking too much.
#3. You’re not eating enough!
#4.You’re not sleeping enough.
#5. You’re not planning ahead.
#6. You’re bored. (the drooling at the mouth kind).
And now, let’s get to those pesky little buggers.
#1. You’re OD-ing on nuts (and/or nut butters)
This is a biggie (and a hard one to hear) for a lot of people – myself included. My go-to snack on my first couple whole30’s was an apple or banana with almond butter. Which is totally fine once in a while…until it gets out of hand.
This sneaky (not-so-little) category includes nut butters, dried fruit, and dried fruit-and-nut bars (LÄRABARs, RX bars, etc.). Do you find yourself reaching for those delicious roasted and salted nuts or whole30-friendly trail mixes whenever you’re hungry/bored/would normally be looking for your afternoon or nightly sweet treat? That’s when these become a problem on your whole30. Not that nuts and seeds are inherently bad – after all, they are included on the program because they’re whole foods. However, if you’re overdoing it (you know, finishing a whole (5-10 servings) bag of nuts in one sitting or two (or standing in your kitchen eating out of the nut butter jar with a spoon…), it’s probably too much.
Overeating nuts is an easy way to sabotage your progress on the whole30.
That’s why for some people (myself included), the whole30 folks like to call these a potential “food with no breaks” – they’re way too easy to overeat. Those sneaky little delicious snacks can easily prevent you from losing any stubborn body fat or weight if you overdo it with them. They can also promote inflammation in the body by tipping the balance towards too many omega-6 fats (which can be inflammatory and make you break out! Eek.).
Know what else sucks about certain nuts and seeds? They can also upset your hormone balance if you eat too much of them (or are particularly sensitive to them, like myself) due to their phytoestrogen content. Think PMS symptoms – bloating, cramps, anxiety, mood swings, and the like…when it’s not even time for your cycle (if you’re a girl, duh).
WHAT? F that. Some like flaxseeds and sesame seeds are more potent sources than others, but you might wanna check that out if you’re experiencing those symptoms (Source: Paleo for Women) Here’s more on phytoestrogens if you wanna check it out!
#2. You’re snacking too much.
This goes hand in hand with #1, and this was something I really struggled with on my first whole30…and every one after that. (Almost) every night, I would just feel like “eating a little something” after dinner…which would be a little nut butter. Which turned into multiple spoons of nut butter. Which made me feel like bullsh*t and probably wasn’t doing any favors for my end results, even though plain nut butters (besides peanut) are whole30-approved.
If you’re consistently reaching for and relying on whole30-approved “convenience foods” like LÄRABARs, RXbars, smoothies, fruit (or dried fruit), or handfuls of nuts/trail mix to replace your afternoon pick-me-up or after-dinner snack, you’re still feeding your sugar (or snacking) dragon. Using fruit and dried fruit (even though they’re “natural sugars”) to satisfy your sugar cravings…might actually give you more sugar cravings. And aren’t you trying to get rid of those with the whole30 anyway?
It’s also really helpful to give your digestive system and hunger-regulating hormones a break to reset between meals, and not be continually snacking all day. Just follow the Meal Planning Template from the whole30 folks and you’ll be good to go, my friend. Wanna get all science-y with insulin, glucagon, and leptin (your hunger and cravings-regulating hormones)? Check out Chapter 5: Healthy Hormones and You in It Starts with Food.
They key to snacking on the whole30 is to only do so if you’re ACTUALLY hungry. When a craving for a snack hits – think: Would I eat some REAL food right now? Think steak and broccoli (or chicken and salsa, or a salad)? If the answer is YES, you’re definitely hungry. Go and eat something, friend. If not, it’s probably just a craving. On the other hand, night/afternoon snacking might be a good option if you’re doing a hardcore morning workout the next morning or in the next few hours that you won’t be able to properly fuel up for! Just watch out for those LÄRABARs, the sneaky, delicious little buggers.
#3. You’re not eating enough!
What?? Dana. I’m trying to lose weight on this whole30, why are you telling me to eat more? Weren’t you just telling me to stay away from nut butters with a spoon? Well, yes. But read on.
Remember those “healthy” whole grains, sandwich bread, bowls of oatmeal, etc. that you were eating before you started this journey? You’ve gotta replace those energy sources (aka calories) with something else, otherwise you’ll be hungry all the time. This is where your healthy fats like avocado, coconut, olives, olive oil, coconut oil, nuts, and ghee come in! Fat is your friend. It’ll help you absorb all those vitamins in the fruits and vegetables you’re eating! Hello, balanced hormones. Everybody wants that.
First of all, ditch the “diet” mentality when it comes to the whole30.
There’s no calorie counting, weighing, measuring, or points here. You’re trying to figure out how to eat intuitively, by listening to your body’s needs. Are you still afraid of eating fats or (*GASP*) carbohydrates? If you energy is dragging during the day, in the gym, or all the time, you need to eat more, my friend. And that should come in the form of healthy fats like olives, avocados, olive oil, coconut oil, ghee, and carbohydrates like sweet potatoes, plantains, and squashes.
Wanna know something crazy? If you’re an active person (or especially if you’re an athlete), cutting calories and restricting your food over the long term can actually make your body hold on to stubborn fat and increase your fat stores.
Yeah. Especially for women (ugh, why always us?), whose bodies are biologically designed to hold onto enough body fat in our waist and hips to bear children (even if you’ve already done so). So why is this, for men and women?
“The combination of exercise stress and calorie restriction puts the body into starvation mode, which makes it more necessary to store fat than to build or maintain muscle.” (Ben Greenfield, Beyond Training, 286)
So, this tip is especially and important and essential for athletes (ahem, my crossfit friends) and active people. You must eat enough to fuel your workouts! I made the mistake of not eating enough my first whole30, and my energy was totally dragging until I started upping my food. If you’re looking for more awesome athlete-inspired meals and fuel strategies, I highly encourage you to check out Steph at Stupid Easy Paleo and her book, The Performance Paleo Cookbook!
For more info on eating for athletic performance…
So how do you figure out if you’re eating enough? Eat when you’re hungry. And if you’re working out, eat a little extra. Duh, right?
Look back on the whole30 Meal Planning Template. In the first week or two of the whole30, your hunger hormones and cravings might be all over the place as you’re getting off the processed carbohydrate and sugar rollercoaster. But these will stabilize, and then you’ll know when your body is actually hungry and when you’re just eating because you’re bored. To be clear here, I’m not telling you to stuff your face all day every day. Eat when you’re hungry. Eat slowly and mindfully. Stop when you’re full, and you’ll be good to go.
#4. You’re not sleeping enough.
Let’s be real here, I don’t need to tell you to sleep more. You already know this, and you probably hear it all the time: adults need 7-9 hours of sleep a night to function optimally. If you’re sick, an athlete, struggling with an autoimmune illness or recovering from adrenal fatigue, you need MORE. But sometimes, sleep falls by the wayside to all the other obligations we have in life. Or TV, you know. As a grad school student and entrepreneur with my own business, I know all too well the feeling of always wanting to do more, and never having enough done. And sometimes that comes at the sacrifice of sleep. But besides that awful, groggy feeling in the morning (and throughout the whole day) you get when you don’t sleep enough, is sleep deprivation really that bad? And why should you be focusing on this during your whole30?
As Robb Wolf says, “If you want to kill someone quickly, take away their sleep.”
(Beyond Training, 226) Extreme? Maybe. But why is that? Because when you sleep, the brain “clears up cellular garbage”, and the body repairs itself. That’s why professional athletes sleep like it’s their job – they need to recover from and prepare for their extremely demanding training sessions. So what does this cellular damage cleanup stuff mean for me and you (normal people)? Well, when you don’t get enough sleep, here’s what goes wrong. According to lifehacker extraordinaire (and coach, nutritionist, triathlete, the list goes on…) Ben Greenfield, you could have:
- problems with heat or cold regulation
- a decline in immune function
- increases in cortisol and other stress hormones (which translates to stubborn belly fat)
- imbalances in appetite and blood-sugar regulating hormones (which also translates to stubborn belly fat and sugar cravings)
- increased levels of inflammatory hormones (Greenfield, 229)
Oh, and about that recovery business? When you sleep, you’re giving your whole body a chance to reset, repair, and recover, including your muscles, your brain, your adrenal glands, your immune system, and your liver. (Greenfield, 229) And a chronic lack of sleep can lead to a significant decrease in cognitive functions like short-term memory retention, attention span, learning capacity, and focus. (Kresser, 233)
YEAH, folks. You read that right. If you don’t sleep enough, you’ll be much more likely to get sick, you’ll be hormonally depleted, you’ll hold on to excess belly fat, and you’ll chronically deplete your brain and muscles. You stay up late? You get late night food cravings. Mostly for sugar. You don’t sleep enough? It throws off your appetite hormones so you’re hungry at weird times all the next day, if not the next couple of days. Sounds great, right? Plus, sleep-deprived people have a lower tolerance for stress (see cortisol, above), anxiety, and general bullsh*t. Meaning on a good day, you can put up with those idiots at the office…but on a sleep deprived day? Watch out, here come those mood swings.
So all that hard work you’ve been putting in with cleaning up your diet and won’t be doing all the awesome things it could, and might actually be sabotaging your best efforts to stick to the whole30 plan if you don’t sleep enough. And if you’re an athlete, or have a stressful life (and I mean, who DOESN’T these days??) you NEED sleep to give your brain and body a break, and recover so you can go on kicking a** at whatever it is you do at the next day.
So basically, SLEEP YOU BIG DUMMY. 7-9 hours of it. Per night.
And then you’ll be doing awesome. Easier said than done though, right? But if you don’t want to be sickly, have chronically under-recovered muscles and suboptimal workouts, low energy, crazy cravings, and excess belly fat, here are some great resources to check out to get you started:
Sleep Hacking: How to Get More Sleep More Often
Beyond Training by Ben Greenfield, Chapter 10: Everything You Need to Know to Sleep Better
Your Personal Paleo Code by Chris Kresser, Chapter 13: Sleep More Deeply
8 Tips for Beating Insomnia and Improving Your Sleep
9 Steps to Perfect Health: Sleep More Deeply
#5. You’re not planning ahead.
You’ve heard the saying a million times: “fail to plan, plan to fail.” That’s pretty much a no-brainer on the whole30, when you’re drastically changing your habits and really need to have a plan in place for how you’re going to tackle this beast.
So sure, week 1 you were all ready to go with your grocery shopping list, a handful of meals you wanted to make during the week, and had meal prepped like a boss so your work lunches were all ready to go. And then life hit. And come week two or three, you come home and are like “SH*T. I had a rough day, have no food in the house, and the LAST DAMN THING I want to do is COOK. All I want is PIZZA.”
I’ve worked with many nutrition & health coaching clients who tell me how it is SO much easier to rationalize “oh, I’ll just have a little (fill in the blank)” or totally going off the rails with your diet plan if you come home, haven’t planned ahead, and don’t have food on hand you can throw together really quickly. That frozen pizza and/or delivery is looking really good right now, isn’t it?
Solution: keep EMERGENCY whole30 food on hand.
For those times you come home from work/the mall/working out/whatever and you’re absolutely. freaking. starving. and don’t have time to cook up some chicken or whatever before you keel over from HANGRINESS. It’s a thing, people. And check out Melissa Joulwan’s ideas for having a weekly cook-up on the weekend to get the bulk of your meals prepped before the week even starts!
Make a list of 5 ideas for super quick meals you can throw together in a pinch.
This will come in handy for those days when you get home from wherever, are HANGRY, and literally can’t even think of cooking a whole30 meal. It happens to the best of us. And this is NOT an excuse to plop down on the couch with a jar of almond butter and call it a night (even though that’s “technically” compliant!).
Add a couple of your all-time favorite whole30 meals to that list, even if they’re not so quick to cook. How could you be bored with your food when there’s Secret Recipe Guacamole or Smoky Slow Cooker BBQ Pulled Pork in mind??
Next: Slap that sh*t up on your refrigerator.
Keep the ingredients you need for at least one or two of those things in the house all times, and you’ll never have the “oops I faceplanted into a whole box of pizza” scenario during your whole30. Need some ideas? Check out the Whole30 Guide to Emergency Food.
Another great thing to hit the “real food” scene for the uber-busy people we are is the emergence of great local meal delivery services like Power Supply (in the DC/Maryland/Virginia area and in LA), who have paleo and whole30 friendly meals that you can pick up at your gym or have delivered to you. I’ve tested them out personally and with other people at my crossfit gym – they’re delicious! Check around for ones local to you, and you don’t even have to lift a finger to have your whole30 meals prepared.
#6. You’re bored.
More like EXTREMELY bored and drooling from the face because you’re so fed up with your same, boring ‘ol food choices. Because you’re eating the exact same thing every day.
Sure, you could do this for every single day of your whole30: Bacon and eggs for breakfast, huge a** salad with tons of veggies and chicken for lunch, sweet potato, steak and green beans for dinner. Not a bad day of eating, right? But guaranteed, by day 15 you’re going to be staring at that plate of bacon and eggs like “if I have to eat this another damn day…”
The problem here is you’re approaching the whole30 too much like something you just need to grit your teeth and get through. Then, halfway through (if you even make it that far), you’ll most likely end up getting so bored you fall of the wagon, or on day 31 you have a total binge-fest including allofthethings you “couldn’t” eat on the whole30. Remember that faceplant into the whole pizza and 6-pack of beer we talked about earlier?
So what do you do?
Let’s change the mindset here. Instead of crying over all the things you can’t eat, think of the new things you get to try, enjoy, eat, rediscover, and experience. And remind yourself. Why am I eating like this again? Oh, right. To make you sleep better, perform better in the gym, be happier, have healthier looking and feeling skin, and having no more digestive issues! Or how about your clothes fitting better and looking sexy as hell? Those are definitely pluses too, and a side effect of eating well and taking care of yourself – which you’re doing by following the program!
A simple solution for food boredom: try out some new recipes and ingredients!
Test your comfort zone in the kitchen and with new (whole30) foods. Scout out the grocery store for new vegetables you’ve never tried like japanese white sweet potatoes or plantains (they’re delicious!), or some whole30 compliant spice blends (try Penzey’s) or sauces (Coconut Aminos and Tessemae’s dressings are my favorite!) I like to mix up (or buy) some sauces on the weekend so I can put them on anything to dress up my meals/leftovers during the week. Try these: chimichurri, paleo ranch dressing, guacamole, or onion slaw.
The first time I did the whole30 back in February 2013, it was (relatively) painless (after I got over the sugar hangover) because I kept my taste buds occupied with inventive, delicious recipes every week I got from bloggers like Nom Nom Paleo, The Clothes Make the Girl and PaleOMG.
Looking for other whole30 recipes inspiration? Try out these cookbooks: Nom Nom Paleo: Food for Humans, Well Fed & Well Fed 2: More Paleo Recipes for People Who Love to Eat, The Whole30: The 30-Day Guide to Total Health and Food Freedom, the 21 Day Sugar Detox and the 21-Day Sugar Detox Cookbook, or Practical Paleo.
Want more? Check out this Top 35 Whole30 Recipes post. Make one of those every day and there’s no WAY you’ll be bored.
You know what also might be your problem with boredom here? You’re being an antisocial hermit. Okay, so maybe this one isn’t going to hurt your progress (in terms of losing weight or staying on plan) from days 1-30. However. This will greatly contribute to feelings of boredom, isolation, and missing your “old life” when you wouldn’t bat an eye before making happy hour or restaurant plans with friends/family/whoever. Now, you feel like you can’t even leave your house or you’ll risk eating something off plan, due to temptation or ignorance at a restaurant.
My tip for this one? Try venturing out into the real world – go to a restaurant with your friends! Newsflash people, it IS possible to dine out whole30 AND have a good time. I wrote a whole article about it just for you and you can find it right here! It’s called the Whole30 Restaurant Survival Guide, and I’ve even put it in PDF form (revised and updated it, of course) if you want to join the Real Food with Dana newsletter community. Aka the cool kids. I’m not like a regular mom, I’m a cool mom…right, Regina? Anyway. Join us and get your free PDF copy! Or, if you’re not up for the restaurant scene, host a potluck with some friends. Or invite them over for dinner. Guaranteed no one is going to complain if you make them a nice dinner that’s delicious and whole30-friendly (shh…even if they don’t know it!)
Remember those sneaky little tricks above, you’re guaranteed to kick ASS at your whole30 and feel much better about all those awesome results you’ll see come day 31. Just sayin’.
THE END. Go rock that sh*t.
Want delicious, whole30 recipes and other tips like this sent straight to your inbox, plus that shiny new PDF copy of the Whole30 Restaurant Survival Guide? Sign up for my newsletter and join the Real Food with Dana community!
Or maybe, you need someone to coach you through your whole30? Contact me and let’s work together, friend!
References: Want More? Here are some great resources to get you started.
- It Starts with Food: Discover the Whole30 and Change Your Life in Unexpected Ways, Dallas and Melissa Hartwig
- The Whole30: The 30-Day Guide to Total Health and Food Freedom
- Your Personal Paleo Code, Chris Kresser
- Beyond Training, Ben Greenfield
- The Whole30 Survival Guide
- Whole30 Restaurant Survival Guide
- Top 35 Whole30 Recipes
- Need extra support? I highly recommend the Whole30 Daily newsletter. Or join the Real Food with Dana community for your copy of the Whole30 Restaurant Survival Guide!
What whole30 tips & tricks are your favorites? Any whole30 mistakes you’ve made? Share in the comments below!