TRUTH: For many years I flat out ignored people when they talked about the Whole30 eating plan – I’m not into trends and because it seemed like everyone was doing it, I didn’t want to go there.
But then I had to cut dairy because I was nursing newborn Blakely and it seemed to be bothering her. I thought avoiding cheese and other dairy products would be the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do, but I quickly realized that there were so many good recipes out there that didn’t require dairy in order to taste good. And then I started to notice I FELT better not eating dairy. That’s when I had a turning point and decided to do a little research on the Whole30 eating plan last year.
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Honestly, as an outsider/newbie, Whole30 can be extremely intimidating. Even for me, someone pretty well-versed in nutrition, it was almost overwhelming trying to plan for a round of Whole30. But I decided to go for it – and in the end, I lasted maaaaybe 7-10 days before I refused to drink sad coffee (aka, with coconut cream) ever again. But I did continue eating dairy-free and (mostly) grain-free and still do!
That’s the thing about Whole30, though – it’s meant to be a strict 30 days of eating clean with zero wiggle room – and there’s a reason behind it (to identify foods that may be bothering you, things that you may be sensitive to and didn’t realize it). And I 100% get it. In the time I followed Whole30 to the T, I realized that dairy and grains really did affect me negatively and so I decided to cut them both out for good. But, I also wasn’t looking for a diet and restriction isn’t my thing, so I set out to determine how I could make a lifestyle shift toward a more Whole30/Paleo-ish diet.
It’s actually been about a year since I first began changing my diet and what I’ve come to realize is that it’s been SO much easier to approach a diet change by understanding how certain foods make me feel rather than just view it as ‘depriving’ myself of things. Instead of being bummed about skipping a slice of cheesecake or an appetizer loaded with dairy at a party, I remember how those things make me feel the next day and it becomes easy to pick an alternative.
Anyways, the point of this post is to share a few of my thoughts on how to approach the Whole30 eating plan as more of a lifestyle shift than doing a strict 30-day round as a ‘diet.’ Of course, it’s still important to understand what foods trigger negative reactions in your body, but maybe after a solid round of Whole30, you want to continue eating the same way but not feel guilty about the occasional treat – or not feel guilty about using your favorite creamer in your coffee. Here’s how I approach it:
1. Always remember WHY you chose to make a change in your diet. I initially cut dairy for breastfeeding reasons, and who knows when I would’ve made the change otherwise – but what I learned what that my body felt so much better without consuming dairy (and grains, too). Because of how much better I feel, I really never feel deprived when I avoid these foods. To me, a slice of pizza loaded with cheese is not worth feeling lethargic the next day.
2. Find some dietary substitutes that work for you. If you’ve read anything about Whole30, you’ll know that the purpose is to eat whole foods/nothing processed and even making baked goods with compliant ingredients is off-limits for the 30 days. However, since we’re talking about making a lifestyle change, if you really like pizza and want to enjoy it from time to time, find a non-dairy cheese (I really like Daiya brand) and use it in place of regular cheese. Can’t give up coffee creamer? Neither can I. However, I did find an almond milk creamer that I love even more than the dairy kind I used to use and I happily choose it every time. I also get almond/coconut/soy milk at Starbucks when I go instead of my old go-to of nonfat milk – yes, I hate paying the extra 80 cents for milk, but it’s worth it when it comes to how I feel. Also, I’ve recently started ordering iced Americanos plain with NO milk at all and they’re surprisingly good!
3. Get creative with meal planning. One of the most intimidating parts of Whole30 is coming up with recipe ideas. I have actually found a majority of my recipes on Pinterest – there are SO many out there! And I’ve also borrowed a few Paleo/Whole30 recipe books from the library to try some new ideas. If you’re new here (welcome!), I share my weekly meal plans on the blog to provide y’all with some inspiration, too 🙂
4. Don’t worry too much about labels. Yes, it’s important to know what you put in your body and I still always check labels before I buy something new. BUT, Whole30 is really big on ‘compliant’ foods and ingredients and honestly, it can get really expensive to buy a $7 bottle of ketchup or salad dressing. For a 30-day round of Whole30, yes, it’s doable, but for a lifestyle shift, maybe not. The occasional recipe I make will call for a condiment like ketchup or mayo, and I tend to just use what I have on hand, regardless of whether it’s considered ‘compliant’ or not. We don’t really use ketchup other than for the girls, so I can’t justify buying a grossly overpriced bottle for one recipe!
5. Consider a Whole30-Paleo hybrid diet. Once I got a good handle on Whole30, I started reading more about the Paleo diet. In my opinion, opening yourself up to Paleo options allows you to get more creative in the kitchen and come up with more substitutes for your favorite meals. For example, my girls love pancakes (but don’t we all?!) so I found a Paleo recipe that allows us to all enjoy the same meal. If you’re following Whole30 religiously, you know pancakes (even with ‘compliant’ ingredients) are off-limits, but we’re talking about a lifestyle change, and inevitably, pancakes are going to happen sometimes – so why not make them as healthy as possible?! And the best part about this Whole30-Paleo shift we’ve made is that everyone in my house eats the same food. Even my picky 3-year-old eats almost everything I make (most nights)!
6. If something makes you truly happy, enjoy it in moderation. Yes, I gave up dairy in nearly all forms – BUT I absolutely love Ghiradelli Dark Chocolate Chips. If I were strictly following Whole30, these would be a huge no-no, but this is real life and I don’t want to give up something I truly look forward to. Some nights, I just need some dark chocolate – it’s like my version of ‘a glass of wine’ after the kids go to bed. Worth it. And there could be worse things than dark chocolate…just saying. So if there’s something you really enjoy, don’t give it up completely, just enjoy it in moderation. After all, depriving yourself usually ends badly – in the form of binge eating!
I hope that these tips can help you if you’re looking to make a shift to a more healthy, well-rounded diet without giving up everything that makes you happy. Ultimately, I see a HUGE benefit in giving Whole30 a try and would recommend it to everyone. But when the 30 days are over, think about how you can make a lifestyle shift and avoid going back to your previous eating habits. After all, did you know that some 95% of diets fail over time? But making small changes and substitutes (almond milk instead of dairy milk, cauliflower crust pizza instead of a flour crust, etc.) can add up to a big reward over time, allowing you to eat a healthy, balanced diet while not giving up foods you love. I’ve also been reading this book by the co-founder of Whole30 and I love her perspective on making Whole30 work for your lifestyle, too!
Have you tried Whole30 or the Paleo diet? Likes or dislikes about either of them? I’d love to hear your thoughts!