Healthy Eating Do’s & Don’ts from a Whole 30 First-Timer

by Fresh Planet Flavor

Healthy Eating Do's and Don'ts | Fresh Planet Flavor

I started Fresh Planet Flavor back in 2012, in a few months it’ll be this blog’s third birthday! (Check out my very first post if you’re in need of a chuckle… there’s some seriously amateur photography). Hard to believe but in all that time, I’ve never successfully completed a Whole 30. What’s a Whole 30? It’s 30 days of fully-compliant paleo: just meat, vegetables, fruit and nuts. Cut out inflammatory, insulin-spiking, calorie-dense but nutritionally sparse food groups for a full 30 days. If you’re interested in learning the full requirements, read up on the Whole 30 program. Another way to describe it is “strict paleo” since the Whole 30 is actually just paleo eating, without cheating, for 30 days.

As a paleo blogger I eat a minimum of processed food and refined sugar, but some of my favorite cheats include dairy, booze and paleo baking! But after the indulgences of last year’s holiday season, I was at the mercy of cravings, feeling “puffy” and just very much in need of a wellness reset. While they may not be much to photograph, I’m satisfied with the results. I also learned a bit along the way, too. 😉 Read on for the healthy eating do’s and don’ts that I discovered during my first Whole 30.  

Step 0: Customize the Program (No Fruit)

While the Whole 30 program does not exclude fruit, I decided to take a break from this particular food group as a personal choice. From prior experience I know that fruit sets off cravings for cheats in various forms and after I made completing the Whole 30 in 2015 a goal, I knew I’d need to avoid any TRIGGER FOODS. Best to do the program a tad more strictly than required to safeguard against failure… and experimentation is true to the Whole 30 spirit, amiright? The program is intended to be a baseline or “blank slate” on which to test for food sensitivities; my slate would just a bit, um, blanker.  

Healthy Eating Do's and Don'ts | GrokGrub.com

Step 1: Set REALISTIC Goals

In addition to laying the foundation for progress by taking a set of “before” pictures (above), I started with some specific goals. In order of importance:

  1. Eat to support & fuel athletic performance
  2. Eat to stabilize blood sugar & fight cravings
  3. Eat to reduce overall body fat percentage & tone midsection 

The last might seem counter-intuitive, but they say abs are made in the kitchen and that you can’t out-train a bad diet. I personally agree and whatever midsection definition I have is certainly not due to abdominal-specific exercise–since I don’t do any–but rather to body type, age, the effects of the Whole 30 program specifically plus paleo eating generally, and heavy lifting workouts approximately three times/week. I was also careful to set my expectations appropriately for #3, since my goal was to reduce to effects of a December full of cheats meals (that somehow turned into cheat days and weeks!) but not to lose any specific number of pounds or achieve any specific clothing size. 

Step 2: Prep and Plan

This was probably the hardest part, and I only really got into the swing of meal-prepping in the second half of my Whole 30. I now rely 110% on my slow-cooker to churn out low-stress, effortlessly tasty meals during busy days when breakfast is black coffee, lunch is an avocado, and the only chance I have to sit down to a warm balanced meal is dinner! One of my 2015 goals as a blogger is to build up Grok Grub’s slow cooker recipe archive, you can explore what little I have so far on the slow-cooker tag.  

Carb flu and cravings and “crutch foods”, oh my! Because I eat paleo regularly, I was spared any of the dreaded carb flu that folks experience when transitioning from a Standard American Diet to the Whole 30 program. Carb flu is the foggy, fatigued, light-headed, irritable feeling that comes along with removing processed carbohydrates from your diet and forcing your body to rely on something other than that cheap, easy sugar for energy. I have to admit that the sugar cravings came on something fierce, though. It really made me realize how much I was indulging in cheats like nicecream, dark chocolate and honey-soaked paleo baking! But I kept the “don’t get mad, get even” saying in mind, and the strength of the cravings bizarrely resulted in a heightened determination to finish the program without a single lapse. Some strategies to combat cravings (without over-indulging in crutch foods like nuts and bacon) include:

  • Stay hydrated. Sometimes a desire for a snack is thirst in disguise. 
  • Get out of the house and away from the refrigerator. Spend extra time at the gym (prepare for performance variance due to your dietary shift), get coffee with a friend, or arrive at the office early. 
  • Don’t cut calories. You’re already cutting grains, legumes, dairy, booze and sugar, so don’t be afraid to EAT nourishing, satisfying, compliant food. The best steak you can afford, etc. 
  • Get extra sleep. Not only does it shorten your eating window, but it allows the body to rebuild itself and replenish your finite amount of will-power. 

Step 3: Just Do It

There comes a point in the month where the newness has worn off, your cravings have stabilized, your clothes begin to fit differently, your skin is the clearest it’s ever been, the low-grade causeless ennui and mood swings have vanished, and your life is not longer defined by the Whole 30. It recedes back into its proper definition: a nutritional program that you’re complying with at the moment, and that you’ve maintained for the majority of the month, so it’s time to just… Keep Doing What Works. To some people this period may be known as “the payoff”. 🙂

Final lessons learned? Yes, the Whole 30 is doable. Yes, there will be a plethora of positive effects on mood, energy levels, appetite and your waistline. No, it’s not a miracle cure: I still suffered from persistent low back pain, and I’ve caught a cold. My first celebratory bite of non-Whole 30 sanctioned food was amazing. But… after I finished that first bite I remembered that sugar, booze, grains and dairy are like dietary frenemies: so fun at the time, but will ultimately derail your wellness progress.  

I’m taking my healthy eating month to heart. Hope you’ve learned something from my first Whole 30!

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26 comments

Trisha February 2, 2015 - 3:55 pm

Great advice & very realistic!

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Michele Spring February 2, 2015 - 4:58 pm

Wow Rachel – you look great! Way to stick with it and thanks for sharing the advice.

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Grok Grub February 2, 2015 - 6:45 pm

I like it so much I may stick with it for this month!

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Angela Privin at Paleo Kitchen Lab February 2, 2015 - 10:56 pm

I didn’t realize this was your first whole 30. I am so proud of you. I’ve only managed the Whole 12 and it was an amazing experience but your blog post has inspired me to try again. You look great by way. I see a noticeable difference in the after shot, especially in your abs.

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Grok Grub February 3, 2015 - 1:30 am

Yep, 1st one! And day 31 was… not all that. At all. I’m debating doing another one for February (been clean the past two days).

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Emily February 3, 2015 - 8:41 pm

on my last day of MY first Whole30 (doubt I could have done it without fruit though…) and I’ve accomplished my goal of undoing the sneaky holiday cheats and resetting my cravings. Not sure what tomorrow will bring- maybe a margarita, lol. My crockpot worked overtime too! Good job, sistah!

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Grok Grub February 3, 2015 - 9:31 pm

Crockpots FTW!

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stacey February 4, 2015 - 4:18 am

I need to do this again after having possibly a few too many paleo holiday treats.

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Grok Grub February 4, 2015 - 5:42 am

That was me! Just so tired of it, ready for a reset.

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The Food Hunter February 5, 2015 - 7:34 pm

I think the prepping and the planning are huge in this

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linda spiker February 5, 2015 - 8:13 pm

My husband and I did two Whole 30’s. he lost 20 lbs and the inflammation in his knee disappeared completely. He had been scheduled for knee replacement surgery and now no longer needs it! It’s a miracle really:)

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Grok Grub February 5, 2015 - 9:13 pm

Wow, no longer needs surgery? Great results!

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Megan Stevens February 5, 2015 - 8:35 pm

WOW! Here I am sitting with my autoimmune disease and feeling a world apart from your world. What a paradigm shift. I like your approach to enjoying nutrient-dense steaks and full-fat foods. I hope one day to be able to exercise again. I’m so happy for you. It feels great to find what works for you, set a goal, work hard and achieve as much or more than you had hoped for. Thanks for sharing your experience and insights.

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Grok Grub February 5, 2015 - 9:08 pm

Working out is a luxury that I am so lucky to be able to enjoy! I have been injured before plus suffered from chronic pain and it’s made me super grateful for where I am now (even though things are not perfect, but when are they ever). Thank you for your comment and hopefully you will be back to exercising soon!

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Anna @Green Talk February 5, 2015 - 9:04 pm

Wow. You look amazing. How much weight did you lose?

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Grok Grub February 5, 2015 - 9:38 pm

No idea (I don’t own a scale). Probably none!

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Jessica February 5, 2015 - 9:05 pm

You look great! Planning is key for me on any plan. Great post.

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Krystal February 5, 2015 - 9:08 pm

Some really good tips here Rachel! I have completed the wole30 once and felt so great. You have motivated me to try it again… maybe after Valentine’s Day.. 😉

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Emily @ Recipes to Nourish February 5, 2015 - 10:43 pm

I’ve never done the Whole 30 but have heard lots of great things about it. I appreciate your tips on realistic goals and prepping and planning. Thanks for sharing your experience.

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Renee Kohley February 6, 2015 - 2:35 pm

You look great girl! I am SO looking forward to weaning when I can hop on this train again 😉 Great tips! Planning makes all the difference!

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Grok Grub February 6, 2015 - 5:26 pm

Thanks! Yep, planning makes it doable.

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Rachel @ day2dayjoys February 6, 2015 - 3:09 pm

Great tips! You looked great before and after! But I still love how whole30 is great for your body and making healthy habits!

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Grok Grub February 9, 2015 - 2:26 am

Making healthy habits, yes 100%!

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Chloe @ How We Flourish February 6, 2015 - 4:45 pm

Great post and tips! You lookgreat!

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Candace Cee March 3, 2015 - 3:26 am

Hmm. Am I on the whole 30 all the time? For Lent I gave up coffee, as usual … with the lovely whipping cream. Because I took some mineral and b vitamins the lack of coffee was no big deal this time but the lack of the cream made me ravenous! I do eat a couple of tablespoons of sheep ‘s milk yogurt with my nuts in the morning. I don’t look as good as you do, though. MY injuries are still keeping me from sculpting exercises but I’m easing back into them ; )

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Grok Grub March 3, 2015 - 8:05 pm

Dairy isn’t part of the Whole 30 but you always eat pretty clean. 🙂

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