Whole30 and Paleo are hard, right? Well, maybe not.
The Paleo diet is inspired by what the early humans ate before we invented agriculture.That is, the hunter/gatherer diet. To eat “Paleo,” you’re only supposed to eat what the hunter/gatherers had access to—meats, vegetables, fruits. You are allowed no sugar, no dairy or legumes, breads, grains, or other types of carbs. Absolutely no overly processed foods that barely resemble the food they were supposed to be. No alcohol. I tried this last year, and took several liberties: red wine, because it was kind of still like fruit, and dark chocolate, because it was pretty much sugar free. This time around, I’m taking it seriously, and also kind of hacking together an eating plan from Paleo and Whole30. For one, Whole30 allows white potatoes, and Paleo doesn’t—I’m cutting them out, because I can’t get on board with a diet that allows french fries. Paleo allows honey and other natural sweeteners, but Whole30 forbids all forms of sugar.
It sounds painful, and you’re right, it is. My favorite things to eat are Italian and Mexican food, and by that I mean pizza, cheese dip, burritos, and pasta. It’s tough. But I’ve made it 15 days without breaking—I’ve actually lost some significant weight, and feel amazing. Here are some of the things I’ve stuck by to make it through:
1. Plan Ahead, and Pre Cook Whole30 Meals That Need to be Prepared
Paleo means most of your food has to be made from scratch, since there’s added sugar and preservatives in almost everything (seriously, there is sugar in bacon and turkey burgers, as well as coconut water and mustard). There is nothing more frustrating than coming home hungry and realizing there’s nothing ready to eat in your fridge (like there would be if your roommate had some leftover pizza). Make your meals ahead of time so you can quickly toss something in the microwave and heat it up. You lose some of the presentation quality, but it’s quick. Don’t have the attention span to plan out meals? Cook everything individually and mix it up—I pre cooked kale, turkey, spinach, zucchini fritters, cauliflower, sausage, and a whole mess of things that I could assemble in a hurry (also: stock up on tupperware).
2. Be Mindful of Pre-Cooking/Variation
The first two Sundays I spent four hours in the kitchen pre cooking all of my food for the week. I bought some tupperware that resembled lunchables for adults and distributed a little of everything I’d made into five of them, one for each work lunch. By the fourth day of mashed cauliflower and tasteless turkey, I felt like I was going crazy. I threw my lunch into the trash and went to Chipotle for a steak salad. And after 9 days of steamed broccoli, I’m pretty sure I can never eat it again.
3. Spices Are Your Friends—Use Them
You can’t have most condiments on Paleo/Whole30—no ketchup, or Worcestershire Sauce, or soy sauce, or sriracha (but mustard is debated). You can’t slather your chicken wings in Sweet Baby Ray’s, and you can’t dip your veggies into ranch. You have to get creative—instead of sauce for wings, I tossed them in olive oil after they were cooked and let them sit in some poultry seasoning until lunch. I made Paleo chili and added basil, parsley, oregano, paprika, garlic powder, and most importantly, cayenne pepper. Instead of just meat and red sauce, it became a flavorful explosion and I forgot there were no beans.
4. Make Dessert Fun
It is definitely possible to eat sweet-ish things with Paleo. My favorite dessert is to blend up frozen strawberries with coconut milk in my magic bullet. It’s frothy and delicious. I think next I’ll add cocoa powder. Freeze grapes and eat them. Don’t eat dark chocolate or make sweets with Paleo-approved ingredients (honey, cocoa powder, etc).
5. Don’t Just Drink Water at Bars, People Think You’re Weird
I used to bartend while I was a college student in Athens—one time, a woman came up to me and asked me to make her a club soda with lime and two cocktail stirrers, because she didn’t want to drink but didn’t want people asking her why or thinking she was pregnant. It was our little secret, I’d even go so far as to mime putting vodka in her drink if there were friends nearby. I’ve started doing this during Whole30, and it works wonders. I can still hang out with my friends and have a good time, but don’t look sad for just drinking water. Plus, it’s delicious, and kind of like La Croix.
6. Servers Really Hate When You Try to Make Their Meals Fit Your Paleo Diet
Seriously, don’t do this. Find something on the menu that fits, even if it’s not the best idea—make one change if necessary, two if your life depends on it. Never request more than two substitutions, because then you’ve just become the biggest jerk in the bar. Your meal should resemble the original—if you want a burger, ask for it without a bun and sub a salad for fries. Don’t sub the burger for chicken, extra lettuce instead of a bun, caesar salad for the fries and hold the dressing and cheese. It’s no longer a burger, it’s an extra large salad. Just order that.
7. Keeping Up With the Spirit, not the Rules
Darcy and I really got into it when we were visiting in Birmingham—apparently, pork rinds count because it’s just pork skins fried in olive oil. She also argued that homemade mayonnaise counted because it’s just egg whites and oil. Sure, it may follow with the “rules,” but I’m also hesitant about a diet where you can eat pork rinds dipped in mayonnaise. Whole30 is not about the loopholes, it’s about the spirit.
To be fair, pork rinds dipped in mayonnaise are really, really delicious.
8. Tell Your Friends and Family, Even Tell Strangers
If you make it a group effort, it becomes more fun for you, and ultimately everyone else. Your friends will love to wag their fingers at you and take the popcorn away so they can eat more of it. They will love that you’re the default designated driver. If you try to do this alone, there’s no accountability or motivation. It takes a village to raise a child, and takes a network to get you through a diet. This also helps when going out—if you explain to people you can’t drink for 30 days, they’ll be more accepting of you drinking club soda.
9. No Cheating, Really
This is about breaking bad habits and building good ones. Swap nasty cheesy carby lunches out for steamed veggies and grilled meats. Sure, the former is more delicious, but you’ll start to realize that the instantly gratifying and sinfully delicious foods are the worst for you. Learn to love healthy foods, and start reasonably. Snack on dried apricots and raisins for your sugar fix. These things are sweet and satisfying and absolutely legal. Instead of a mindset where the things you love aren’t allowed, trick yourself into thinking you didn’t want them anyway. I learned to hate funnel cakes and icing, and I’m a better person for it.
10. Be Mindful of Imitation Paleo Foods
This goes hand in hand with the above point—if you skate to close to the edge, you’ll fall off. Why try to eat imitation pizza with just cauliflower flatbread and unsweet tomato sauce? It’s not pizza, it never will be. Don’t try to swap out all the ingredients of your favorite foods with Whole30-approved ingredients. It might look like a cupcake and walk like a cupcake, but is not going to have the same effect as eating a real cupcake. Which will cause you to desire one even more. Learn to love alternative foods like you might love coconut milk—it’s not milk, you can’t compare it to milk. But as a separate entity, it’s delicious. This is the same with alternative pastas, like those made out of cucumber and sweet potato and zucchini. They taste and feel differently, and you can learn to love them as a whole new, more delicious food.
What are your tips and tricks? How did you get through the 30 days?