No. Say that word out loud. I don’t know about you, but I don’t say it very often. Whole 30 taught me to say “no,” politely, forcefully, constantly. It’s actually really liberating.
Whole 30 is a New York Times best-selling guide that defines itself by what you can’t eat: no added sugar, no grains, no soy or legumes, no dairy and no alcohol. (That last one is the hardest.)
Those who participate in the program for 30 days cook their own meals and squash their bad-food cravings, which forces you to think differently about food. By saying “no” to nearly everything that is bad for you, you learn that food shouldn’t rule your life.
It sounds kind of stupid.
But if you’re like me — wanted to lose a few pounds, bored with my regular dinner routine, energized by a trend that probably will not kill me but sounded really hard — then read a little part of the “Whole 30” book. Authors Melissa Hartwig and Dallas Hartwig drop this truth bomb early on:
“Don’t you dare tell us this is hard,” write the creators of Whole 30. “Quitting heroin is hard. Beating cancer is hard. Drinking your coffee black. Is. Not. Hard.”
Dang, right? You can do this.
Worst case, you hate it. It’s like my ballet teacher used to say at exactly the wrong moment: “It builds character.”
For me, Whole 30 did not become my permanent lifestyle, despite the fact that I lost 10 pounds. I love red wine and french fries and eating dinner in restaurants too much. Still, Whole 30 helped me develop a new relationship with food, and I learned what I can live without. I said “no” to red wine and french fries for one month. And you know what? It did not kill me.
So if you’re hunting for inspiration on a new, healthy-eating plan that’ll challenge you, consider Whole 30. Before you say “no,” consider these tips:
1. Start when you start.
My plan was to kick off Whole 30 in June. No, July. Then Aug. 1 rolled around and I was ready. Until I panicked: I hadn’t gone to the grocery store to stock up, and Whole 30 requires a big, expensive first trip to the store since you’ll be cooking and eating at home almost exclusively. Could I start this thing on Aug. 2? Of course I can; it’s my Whole 30 and it’s my life.
So let me give you permission: You don’t have to start on the first of the month. You don’t have to start in January. You just need to find 30 consecutive days where you can cook a lot and dedicate yourself to trying something new. Don’t do it in a month when you’re drinking daiquiris on the beach for spring break or hosting a cake-decorating party. Pick 30 days that work for you.
2. Stop thinking about food so much.
When you begin Whole 30, you’ll be cooking like crazy. It’s a lot of obsessing over food. If you can handle it, try to obsess less. Make a calendar of your meals at the beginning of the week, buy the groceries and then just stick to the plan.
Eat leftovers for lunch; they’re sitting in your fridge anyhow. You’ll find you’re freed up to worry over other things, like which TV show you want to binge next or how to redecorate your living room. It’s a nice change of pace.
3. Use paper plates.
You have never seen so many dishes in your life as you will when you begin cooking on Whole 30. You’ll use the blender, all your pots and pans, your food processor and that Instant Pot you got two years ago and never opened. And I don’t know about you, but I don’t have a live-in butler, so the dishes were mine to do. Give yourself a break and eat on disposable plates every once in a while.
4. A tip for drinkers.
Make yourself a big, fussy mocktail. I like a refreshing vodka-soda in the evening with a few squeezes of lemon. That’s a no-no on Whole 30. Instead, I’d fill a pretty cocktail glass with ice, Topo Chico, a ton of squeezes of lemon, lime, maybe even orange, and put a pink straw in it. I knew with every sip that the vodka was missing. But it was cute enough that I didn’t care much.
5. Go to the movies more.
What do people who don’t drink and don’t eat in restaurants do for fun? Serious question. When my husband and I started Whole 30, I couldn’t think of a social activity that didn’t involve food or alcohol.
Our answer for date night was to go to a movie, especially a dumb comedy that would make us laugh. Don’t order snacks or soda; you can’t eat them and you don’t need them.
6. Eat these delicious ingredients every day.
Whole 30 proves that the world is full of real and delicious ingredients you can eat raw and cooked every day. Until you learn that, though, you’ll be ticked off that pretty much nothing you used to eat is allowed during these 30 days. Here are some of my favorite Whole 30-compliant ingredients:
Coconut milk. Anywhere you might have used heavy cream — in soups or in sauces — replace it with coconut milk. Note that coconut milk isn’t low-cal, but it is allowed on Whole 30. It’ll feel indulgent to cook with coconut milk, knowing it’s real food that’s also a teeny bit unhealthy.
Red peppers. They’re crunchy and flavorful. Red peppers became my go-to when I was reaching for something raw to snack on at work.
Prosciutto. Many processed meats have small or large amounts of sugar in them, meaning a simple, protein-rich snack of deli turkey won’t work. Check the label at the grocery store deli counter, both for the word “sugar” but also for more mysterious words that mean essentially the same thing, like xylitol, sucrose, stevia, agave, honey and more. Many types of prosciutto (Italian dry-cured ham) do not have added sugar and are salty and satisfying. Buy some and make yourself a charcuterie board or roll it into little pinwheels for when you need a protein boost.
Salt. Salt makes food taste better. You know this. But did you know there’s more to salt than the navy-blue Morton’s box? Go to a specialty grocery store like Central Market or Whole Foods and check out the bulk salt section. Buy a few kinds of fancy salt, and maybe even buy one of those wooden salt cellars that’ll make you feel like a chef when you cook. You’re allowed to salt your food on Whole 30, and it truly makes everything taste better.
7. When in doubt, the answer is ‘no.’
Picture this: Your co-workers are huddled around a big plate of cookies, chatting. You aren’t hungry, but what do you do? You grab a cookie.
Imagine if no part of you ever intended to grab one. Not even for a second. That’s the “no” of Whole 30. The answer to almost anything you didn’t cook in your own kitchen with real fruits, veggies or meats, is “no.” So don’t fight with yourself. Just grab the slices of red pepper on your desk and go eat and chat with your co-workers. You don’t need the cookie.
TO LEARN MORE
“The Whole 30: The 30-Day Guide to Total Health and Food Freedom” by Melissa Hartwig and Dallas Hartwig. $21.49 on Amazon; available at major booksellers. Whole 30 is now so popular that the authors have released several books, including cookbooks and day-by-day guides. Buying a single book will teach you plenty about the program. Follow #whole30 on Instagram for recipe inspiration; there’s a community of people there to cheer you on. The website is whole30.com.