The new year is the perfect opportunity to revamp your eating habits. And while there are many diets to choose from, if you’re looking to make wholesome, healthy foods your main focus, Whole30 may be on your radar.
So, what does the eating plan entail exactly? “Whole30 is a two-phase diet that consists of 30 days of elimination, and 10 days of reintroduction,” explains Roxana Ehsani, RD, CSSD, LDN, a board-certified specialist in sports dietetics. In the first half, you mainly consume protein, veggies, fruits, and healthy fats. But there is also an extensive list of foods that are considered off-limits, such as sugar, alcohol, lentils, soy, and dairy.
Meet the expert: Roxana Ehsani, RD, CSSD, LDN, is a board-certified specialist in sports dietetics.
Since Whole30 has so many limitations, meal prepping is key to staying on track. “This diet is quite restrictive and it may be challenging to try to follow the diet if you’re eating out at a restaurant or fast-casual place,” says Ehsani. “Therefore, if you want to successfully stick with it, preparing foods at home ahead of time will help you succeed.”
Curious about how this works IRL? We asked real women who have done Whole30 multiple times for meal-prep tips that helped them make it through the 30 days.
Have a great grocery list and cook multiple meals at a time.
Erica Nkansah-Therman (@thisafricancooks), 39, has done Whole30 at least eight times. The Michigan-based registered nurse credits her success to writing a comprehensive grocery list with a wide variety of protein, vegetable, healthy snacks, and dressings. “Don’t start Whole30 unless you do your research. I made sure I knew what I was getting into. I bought the Whole30 book so I would have a good understanding of what I was trying to do, what to expect. It helped me stay on track, that way nothing was a shock or confusing for me,” she says.
Prepping at least two to three meals at a time also made it easier for her to follow through with the eating plan. “As someone who works 12-hour shifts, I can’t come home and cook dinner every day,” Nkansah-Therman says. “By meal prepping, I was able to have food ready to go. I brought breakfast, lunch, and dinner with me to work. I wasn’t starving while at work.”
Work leftovers into your weekly meal plan.
Erica Winn (@realsimplegood), 37, did her first Whole30 unintentionally, but felt so good she turned it more officially into a Whole60-90 as she worked through reducing the symptoms of her autoimmune disease.
One strategy that’s helped her stick with the eating plan is making a big casserole on Sunday for dinner. That way she got to have leftovers in the fridge for lunches during a work week. “Finding ways to use leftovers and prepping some things over the weekend are a game-changer when doing Whole30, so when you’re in a pinch during a busy week (because you know it’s going to happen), you’ve already got something on hand ready to go!” the Oregon-based food blogger says.
Lean into simplicity.
Stephanie, who has tried Whole30 10 times, says the plan changed her life. “It reminds me time and time again that I am a better person, mom, partner, and friend when I am taking the time to prepare and enjoy food that fuels my life,” the 37-year-old Whole30 coach (@cookbycolor) says. “It taught me that what I eat really impacts the way I feel.”
Being a mom, wife, and business owner is a lot of work and consumes much of her day. “I can show up for all those things and this commitment to fuel with Whole30 food when I keep it simple,” she says. “Your food doesn’t need to be curated from a recipe, cookbook, or Pinterest-worthy.”
Her advice: Avoid burnout and think about each meal like a puzzle with three pieces: protein, carb, plated fat. Simple is sustainable and delicious, so start there and rotate in some recipes throughout the month.
Make something extra in your kitchen whenever you can.
Autumn Michaelis (@wholefoodfor7), 40, has done Whole30 10 times. The only meal prep approach that has worked for this mom of five is putting together extra meals whenever she’s in the kitchen and had the time to do so.
“It didn’t work for me to meal prep all at once for the week for four to six hours on the weekend,” she says. “It made me grumpy to have to give up part of my weekend for it. Instead, when you are already in the kitchen, make something extra: a breakfast for tomorrow, a few sauces, or even just double the meal you are making for leftovers for lunches. Sounds easy, but if done regularly, it allows you to stay ahead of your family’s food needs without spending any extra time in the kitchen!”
Put your air fryer and slow cooker to good use.
As a physician, Karen Onyirioha (@blackgirlswhowhole30), 34, knows what you eat can affect you physically, but Whole30 has shown her exactly how food affects her health. She started 10 Whole30 challenges, and successfully completed six. As much as she enjoys cooking, it can get very tiring after a long day at work. Her secret weapons? Appliances like an air fryer and a slow cooker. “I have made a full meal of steak, potatoes, and roasted cauliflower with just my air fryer. The joy of having minimal dishes after a great meal is always a win,” the pediatrician says.
Have on-the-go options on hand.
Lola Owolabi, 35, who is also part of Black Girls Who Whole30 (@blackgirlswhowhole30) has developed a better appreciation for the taste of food and noticed an improvement in her health after doing Whole30 five times. One of her biggest obstacles is the unpredictability of her schedule.
“When I am at work, I don’t always know when or how long I will have to eat lunch,” the pediatric hospitalist says. “Quick, portable options that I can eat on the go work well for me. Such items include cherry tomatoes, sweet bell peppers, cashews, or, when really in a pinch, RX bars.”
Also, it’s important to keep in mind that takeout days might be necessary and ordering out doesn’t mean you failed. “You can find Whole30 dishes at a restaurant if you are mindful about where you go,” she adds.
Make tweaks and swaps to cuisine you already love.
To better manage the complications of her polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), Priya Anavarathan (@masalapaleo), 44, tried Whole30 twice. There’s no need to overhaul your diet completely right away. “Stick to the meals which you are the most comfortable with for the first few days, as familiarity to what you are used to will set you up for better success,” she says. “I stuck to my Indian cuisine by making them Whole30-compatible, at least for one meal a day. I also loved experimenting and creating new recipes to make it exciting.”
Stock up on tons of spices and seasonings.
Whole30 has also helped Deepshikha Ganjoo, 41, who founded the Masala Paleo food blog with Anavarathan, control the symptoms of her Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, which causes low thyroid hormone levels. “I was able to reduce inflammation, had fewer mood swings, and developed a healthier relationship with food,” the Texas-based director of product management says.
To cut down on cooking time and effort, Ganjoo always checks which seasonings, spice mixes, dressings, and dips she has in her pantry that are Whole30-compatible before starting. “I order my favorites like Whole30 ranch, taco seasoning, garam masala. I love having these flavor enhancers at hand, which I can add to any protein and veggies to transform these into a delicious meal that can be put together in minutes.”
Emily Shiffer is a freelance health and wellness writer living in Pennsylvania.
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