How to succeed on the Whole 30

February 6, 2017

Whole-30-successSo what’s the Whole 30?

It’s a 30-day clean eating plan that eliminates all dairy, grains and sugar from your diet. It’s a way to truly detox without taking any supplements or doing anything except limiting your diet. It’s also meant to change your relationship with food so you can look at it more like fuel than as a way to make yourself happy.

It’s not carb cutting–you can have potatoes. Just no grain of any kind.

Sugar is consumed only if it appears naturally in food, like in fruit. No other way.

And forget grabbing a hunk of cheese out of the fridge to eat on the go. No dairy at all. Yes, it’s extreme. But I’m going to tell you how to succeed on it.

Most people find it intimidating because it really isn’t at all how they eat.  It takes planning ahead, it requires more work and yes, some degree of self-discipline. Of will power.  Because most of us eat mindlessly.

This is mindful eating.

I’m now past the 60-day mark and I know a thing or two about how it works and what it takes to make it through. My relationship with food has definitely changed. Sticking to the eating plan now, heading for 90 days, is easier. And I’m now shopping in the far reaches of my closet, where clothes I haven’t worn in years are hung. Want the same outcome?

Here’s how to succeed:

Buy the book

It’s how I learned to clarify butter, which is the only kind of butter allowed. But it’s also got the whole program and some good recipes. You need the book, even though there are tons of websites about the program.

Find tasty recipes online

You don’t have to deprive yourself of flavor. I have a Whole 30 Pinterest board full of recipes and recipe sites I found that are a mainstay of my eating plan.

Cook ahead

On this diet you really do have to prepare your food. So I make a lot of bison burgers or chicken or whatever my protein is.  I might cook a bunch of brussels sprouts hash so I can eat it for several days. I always have baked sweet potato in the fridge. Once in the fridge it kind of caramelizes and becomes a tasty treat. And I always have on hand tons of apples, pears and bananas.

Fill your plate

Eat all you want of vegetables, fruit, meat, seafood, eggs and healthy fats. All potatoes and root veggies are allowed, unlike on carb-cutting plans.


You’ll wake up hungry. But no more cereal or yogurt or bagels or pastries. I rarely even think about them. Oh and butter? I really don’t like it any more and that was a shock. I accidentally ate something that had been cooked in butter and it tasted…cloying. So only clarified butter for me.

My fast go-to breakfast is a small banana with drizzled almond butter. (No peanut butter allowed!) Trust me, it’s not filling. Just being honest.

If I have more time I’ll make eggs and Canadian bacon. Certain brands of bacon are Whole-30 compliant. To be honest, I didn’t worry much about that because I couldn’t find the right brands. I figured a little lean Canadian bacon wasn’t going to hurt me. But maybe you’ll be able to find the brand.


I always have home-made chicken soup in the freezer. You can also make a huge pot of vegetable soup and eat on it all week. It’s filling. And it’s hard to binge on soup.


Sugar-free catsup and dijon mustard were a godsend for my bison burgers. Oh, why bison? We started eating bison instead of beef because it’s leaner. Condiments make food tastier.

Many salad dressings contain sugar, so it’s best to make your own. I don’t; I use commercial dressing but less of it.

Hot tea

No more Starbucks. No cream in coffee. I bought a half dozen tasty teas and they became my go-to drinks. Chocolate mint tea. Pomegranate. Red Berries. Orange. Oh, I tried them all. I don’t even like licorice and I drank Egyptian Licorice tea and thought it was a treat! I drank my joyless black coffee, which I found far tastier if iced, even in winter. At the 50 day mark I added a little milk to coffee. To tell you the truth, I’ve almost lost my taste for coffee entirely.

Whole Paycheck

How do people afford to shop here? Even so, sometimes I get desperate. The paleo section of the prepared food bar is always there in a pinch, and ingredients are listed so it’s easy to check for compliance. A few of the paleo dishes are sugar-free, grain-free and dairy-free (not all) and if I am really desperate, I empty my bank account to buy them. But you have to be careful what you buy. Sometimes poultry gets old and dry sitting there for hours. I don’t hesitate to return stuff that isn’t good.

Going out to eat

I’ve been out to eat a bunch of times. I’ve traveled. Still on the program.  Make sure the bread is somewhere else on the table. Check the menu to find salads or plain meats you can eat. It’s possible to go out to eat on this diet. You just have to read the menu and ask questions.

Pay attention to your body

Because this is such a change from how most of us eat, your body may not like it at first. Pay attention to signals that you are not getting the nutrients you need. You might have to modify the plan somewhat.

Dietary imbalances

Leg cramps happen with an imbalance of mineral electrolytes:  too little calcium, potassium or magnesium in the diet and in fact, I started getting them in Week 5. I remember them from going on the Atkins diet all those years ago. I now take a multi-vitamin. Which is always a good idea, anyway, No more leg cramps.

Recognize you’ll be hungry 

Look, I’m not going to kid you. Unless you eat like crazy, you’ll get hungry the first month. At least. Drink some hot tea. Eat a piece of fruit or part of a sweet potato. And think about how much fat you’re burning with those hunger pangs.  At about Week 6, my cravings departed. Mostly.  I’d established new eating habits. I didn’t get hungry very often. But it took that long to stop wanting what I couldn’t have. Except for Half and Half in my coffee. Oh, did I want that. Because I loved a good cup of coffee. But not straight up. No, I never developed a taste for black coffee.


When I reduced carbs significantly years ago on the Atkins diet, I got a major energy rush and many Whole-30 eaters report this. But alas, I didn’t get additional energy, myself. But I didn’t lose any energy, either. About Week 7 I noticed I was more clear-headed. I’m not sure how else to describe it. Just had more clarity of thought and still do.

Weight loss

It isn’t why I did it, but it was a major benefit. On this plan, you’re not supposed to get on the scale, so I didn’t, until the end of Week 5, when I saw that I’d lost at least 20 lbs. It’s fast, I know. But without sugar or grain or dairy, it just dropped off.

Let’s be clear: You can exercise all you want, but weight loss happens in the kitchen. And this plan is proof.  But do NOT get on the scale because it’s not about weight loss. Don’t obsess over weight loss, the founder says, it can demotivate you if you feel you are not dropping quickly enough. And that’s why she tells us NOT to weigh. I haven’t been on the scale since that one time. But I can certainly track what’s happening by how my clothes fit. Being in the dark end of my closet feels GREAT!


Look, I get it. Detoxing for our health isn’t much motivation for most of us healthy folks. Since you can’t get on the scale (which I find a punitive experience, anyway) I motivated myself to continue by trying on clothes. As I got to the very back of my closet, where my smallest size clothes were, and found the gap between button and closure narrowing significantly, that became motivation. When clothes got too big, it was motivation. Real motivation.

Relationship with food

Actually, my relationship with food did change. I do love to cook and I love to prepare pastas and other things that are not allowed on this plan. So I had to change my orientation and challenge myself to cook Whole-30 instead.  And even though I’d like food to be the pleasure it once was, it isn’t, and at this stage of my life, that’s ok. Because food and I were way too close. Wayyy to close. Especially me and carbs. We were tight. Too tight.

I got through 60 days eating this way, till I had to go away to school and worried that I couldn’t totally control my meals. So I carried with me some unsweetened applesauce, fruit, chicken broth and hoped for the best. Turned out it wasn’t a problem. Tomorrow I leave for Antigua and I’ll stick to the program as much as possible.  I’m not obsessing about it–I just know I won’t eat bread, dessert, snacks, etc.  I won’t drink.

I’m planning to keep eating on this basic plan as long as I can because I do think it’s healthier.  We leave for France near mid-May and at that point I will drink wine and eat a little more normally. After all, it’s France!  But I hope that by then moderation will be ingrained and I won’t go overboard.


Got questions? I’ll answer them. Have you done a Whole 30? Tell us about it.  Want some Whole-30 recipes? I had a few yummy Whole 30 meal ideas in THIS POST.



56 comments on “How to succeed on the Whole 30
  1. ryder ziebarth says:

    First of all, congratulations, Carol for your incredible stick-to-itivness. What an fantastic accomplishment both physically and mentally to stay with Whole 30 for 90 days.You have achieved true change in your life and the is rare. The most important message in your post, for me, is about “using” the scale VS eating healthy foods to manage weight loss.The scale is like a drug. Having weight rise and fall from our frame naturally comes from eating correctly and is the only way we should be measure our body weight, not by an arrow under our feet.WE KNOW when we aren’t eating well–every one of us; and we knew when we make smart choices.
    When I started Weight Watchers last March, I had to convince the leaders NOT to reveal my weight losses or gains to me–they were skeptical.It wasn’t program acceptable.So I obtained a note from my doctor , who completely agreed with me, so I could be allowed so I could stay in the program.
    Knowing my weight DE-motivates me. If I loss weight, I relax my eating…if I gain, I stress eat. Its a no win for me. The woman weighing me each week said to me only this: ” Good Job!” That was all I needed to hear. I knew I was eating better, making good choices, staying away from my demon sugar. My clothes no longer pinched me, I woke up clear headed, slept through the night, felt happy with less depressed days. Changing your habits is key. WW is not the best at doing teaching full change, but Whole Thirty is. However, what ever program one choses, ditching the scale is a good idea for the sake of your mental health if nothing else. Again, I’m proud of you. What a great example for your readers.

  2. Rachel says:

    I’m impressed. But what do you suggest for someone that doesn’t eat meat?

  3. Carla says:

    I live close to this daily – –but not quite. The husband has expressed recently he would love to shed a few pounds and see if it helps with his snoring. The child might find it helps her get stronger for gymnastics? I swear the only thing I keep wondering if there would be a grand rebellion over here is the catsup.
    I can’t stand the stuff 🙂 but no sugar? I wonder if they’d discern the difference.

    • The sugar free catsup is easy to get used to. i think at first it’s a surprise and then like anything else, it’s the default taste. Like how I grew to dislike regular butter, which I loved.

  4. Barbara says:

    I still believe everything in moderation is the way for me. I eat to live, as opposed to live to eat but, I love to cook. You won’t find much processed food in my house, if any, and that’s usually where the sugar hides. So, for me it’s about real food, variety, and awareness of what’s going in your mouth.
    Congratulations on your dietary achievements! It’s a very personal thing, as it should be.

  5. pia says:

    I congratulate you too.How did you have the motivation to stay on it the first month? Asking for a friend

  6. Haralee says:

    Congratulations. 20 pounds is a lot to loose even if weight loss wasn’t your objective, just being lighter is terrific. I am on a similar diet, but no potatoes and no tropical fruits.I have to have the 1/2 and 1/2 in the coffee and Heinz Ketchup, these are not negotiable to me. There are studies that say eating as close to organic, at least no antibiotics in the feed of eggs and meats, your cholesterol is not elevated. Brussel sprout hash sounds interesting.

  7. quin B. says:

    I so needed to read this! I’ve been struggling with eating right since the beginning of the year. You’re so right when you say weight loss starts in the kitchen (even though weight loss shouldn’t be the principle concern). That’s where I’ve had issues and it shows.

  8. Your discipline is amazing, Carol. When I was first diagnosed with coronary artery disease, I went completely vegan, plus no oils. I lasted for 6 months (and now eat more of a Mediterranean diet) but know it CAN be done. Whatever motivates you, well, brava!

    • I’m only ready when I’m ready. I was ready. 25 years ago I quit smoking same way. Done. Cold turkey. Knew i could have even a puff or I’d be back at them. Done done done.
      I hope this sticks as well as that did!

  9. I am staying away from animal fat, so this would be a bit difficult for me. I am doing so because of family genetics which lean to heart disease. I admire your will power!

  10. These are some awesome tips! cooking ahead saves so much time and when you are crazy hungry just run to the fridge not the fast food store.

  11. Sondra Barker says:

    What a great clean eating meal plan! This seems to definitely require will power, but I’m sure the outcome and the way you feel after makes it all worth it. Giving up cheese would be my downfall!

  12. Amber Myers says:

    I’ve heard about this. I’m not sure if I’d ever be interested in trying it out, but I know a lot of people have found success with it.

  13. Ghastly Girl says:

    I tried to do the Whole 30 with a friend last year and failed miserably lol. It really was cutting everything out of my diet that I love. Cookies, CHEESE. oh my gosh. It is so important to look at it as a lifestyle change rather than a diet though, and I just couldn’t do it at that point. Congrats on making it so far, that is awesome. It sounds as though you really have made it a lifestyle change!

  14. Jolleen says:

    This sounds HARD! lol. Especially the no sugar part. I’m such a sugar addict, but I know that doing something like this would be extremely good for me. Maybe I’ll give it a try..

  15. Krysten says:

    I’ve been thinking of doing Whole 30 since I’ve heard so much good about it! It seems like it would be a lot of work that I don’t have. Like, how do you meal prep? I have a 1.5 year old and i feel like he won’t give me time to meal prep. What about whoever else lives at your house, do you have to do two separate meals? Sorry for all the questions, I just want to do it and be successful if I do.

  16. I haven’t heard of the Whole 30 before so thanks for the heads up. I’m bookmarking this post so I can comeback and follow up after I give this a try.

  17. I think I could do it food wise, but giving up my sweet tea. Oh my!

  18. Crystal Gard says:

    This looks like a very interesting diet to follow. I’m going to look into it more

  19. I can never do this diet but I have a friend who does it once a year.

  20. Congrats on losing 30 lbs. Tha’s amazing! I find it hard when you are making meals for someone who doesn’t go with the program. They buy tempting stuff at the store like cheese. My downfall.

  21. Beth says:

    I love the whole 30 and try to do it a couple of times a year. Along with the book the schedle of what to expect day to day is important. congrats on 60 days,

  22. Sounds like the Whole 30 is really working well for you! I’d love to try it one day myself, but I haven’t yet because I’m pretty sure my kids would balk, and I refuse to cook two different dinners. But I have been slowly working toward that sort of “clean” eating concept, one family-accepted recipe at a time.

  23. Elizabeth O. says:

    I love your discipline and determination to go through a diet like this. Health and fitness is always 75% to 80% of what you eat and less of the exercises. I think it’s awesome that you’re promoting this because it also promotes good health.

  24. Jennifer says:

    Congrats on being able to do 60 days so far. I’m not ready for the whole 30, but I have been eliminating things from my diet starting with HFCS, which is in so many processed food items.

  25. Ellen Dolgen says:

    30 pounds! Wow……..Congrats! I think it is good to find what works best for you. Some people need to be on a specific plan, some need their food delivered so they have no choices, others do well when they just eat in moderation but not a diet plan. I used to go on and off all kinds of diets….but the problem was when I went off I just gained the weight back. I do well with a small amount of protein and lots of vegetables and fruit and good carbs. To stay away from sugar, I always have frozen grapes on hand. They are a great late night snack.

  26. I am so impressed. I think I need to try deprivation too because I am not disciplined enough to moderate either. I am going to order this book and give at least 30-days a try.

  27. Kelly Reci says:

    im impressed! you are so motivated and very determined! i wish i have the same determination as yours hehe lol

  28. Milica says:

    I’m not sure if this would be a option for me. I wish I could, there is so many benefits tho.

  29. Entrepremom says:

    I have stopped eating rice (all kinds) and drinking sodas since September of last year. And so far I lost about 25lbs.

    I still couldn’t convince other people to watch what they eat because I still eat pasta from time to time and meat for my protein fix.

    I salute your cause and efforts hun.

  30. Robin Rue says:

    I have no idea if I could do something like this but congrats on keeping up with it. I hate hunger pangs and I would give in way too easy Im sure.

  31. Wow, congratulations for making it six weeks and making so much progress! You are doing some great thinking and growing in the right ways! Keep up the good work! Can’t wait to hear more of your journey down the road!

  32. You’re doing a fantastic job! Keep it up! I’m trying to cut back on caffeine as well so now I’m stocking up on tea at home. 🙂

  33. I’ve been considering Whole 30. I want to succeed at it so I’ll use all of your tips to try to it.

  34. I love your ideas for the 30 day. I have to get myself motivated and set to try it. Will save your post for when I am ready to give it a try.

  35. Maria Han says:

    I love reading a success story like this, I’m planning on my weight loss journey but It’s so hard for me especially I’m getting tired so fast.. Thanks for the good motivation

  36. Wren says:

    This has been very helpful! I have considered trying this, as I have a horrible relationship with food. You make it sound easier then It sounded before. Thanks!

  37. David says:

    That’s great you were able to make it so long on this diet. I’m not sure I will do this one, but it’s an inspiration to stick to diet and health goals for myself.

  38. Diane says:

    So excited about this, Carol! Been following it since October 4 and the weight just dropped off! I don’t think I’ll ever go back. Food is definitely fuel to me now!

  39. I have always wanted to get into the whole 30 diet. You have great tips in this post

  40. Boy, Carol. You have done so well on this! I have your Brussels Sprouts hash on the menu for this week. This is a great post and really honest about the time and commitment it takes. Once I started buying our meat at Whole Foods, we have a hard time eating meat from the regular grocery store. Especially pork for some reason. I’ve found some great Paleo/Whole 30 recipes on Pinterest. Have a great trip!

  41. Did the whole 30 a few years back and it was a great way to discover I was eating some food that were actually irritating my body. I was also shocked at the reaction my body had to sugar withdrawal. It was really hard to stay on long term but I think it is a great reset, especially after the indulgent holiday season.

  42. Hi Carol! I’m just catching this post after seeing in on Tom Sightings Boomer Roundup. I’m so glad I came by because I remember chatting with you over a month ago about the “food experiment” that my husband and I were going to “try.” We were determined to just give up all grains and added sugar for a month to see what that did–yours sounds SO-O-O much harder! We are now about 45 days into our experiment and can attest to how your attitude about food and what you think is good or not changes. We don’t have scales but know we have lost weight–although like you said it wasn’t our goal. We also didn’t give up alcohol — wine and margaritas–nor cheese…but even just giving up potatoes, rice, all grain and any added sugar was enough to convince us it wasn’t that hard. Good for you for deciding to make it a lifestyle choice. I think we have found what works for us. Oh, did your husband do it too? That has made all the difference in our house! ~Kathy

  43. Sue says:

    I like your point about mindful eating. Too often we don’t even taste what we eat because we are hungry or bored or emotional. This would be difficult at the beginning but if you are organized in the pantry or refrigerator it makes it easier to stick to it. Great going bring in the 90 days!

  44. Amazing tips! And what great progress you have made!!! How difficult is it for you to keep it up on your many travels when you do not have access to your kitchen? So glad you have found so much success, and proud of your dedication that I definitely lack. 😉

  45. Tony says:

    I love seeing a real review, not a flowery Instagram-esque snapshot of perfection and butterflies. Making this work for you on your terms and still being successful is what makes a healthy way of eating into a permanent change!

  46. Silly MUmmy says:

    Impressed you have stuck to this – it sounds hard! Well done! I don’t do any of this type of thing simply because I am a recovered anorexic, and it is safer for me not to get into habits of eliminating food groups, or dieting or detoxing in any way. But it’s great for people it works for. I’d be devastated if I couldn’t eat wheat, dairy or sugar so you have my respect!

  47. I’ve heard a lot about whole30 and known people who followed it. You have done a great job explaining it and how it has affected you and it is the first time I’ve been tempted to try it. That is going some, Carol!

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