The Whole30 Challenge: Survival Guide

I recently completed the Whole30 program to get prepped for the Tough Mudder.  In addition to training for the event I also wanted to clean up my diet.

In the post I will explain

  • What the Whole 30 is?
  • Why it works
  • Tips for success
  • My Results

Whole30 Program Review

The Whole30 challenge requires that it’s participants avoid added sugar, wheat, dairy, legumes and alcohol for a full 30 days.  No excuses.  The challenge started as a nine-day challenge proposed by the whole9life website authored by Dallas and Melissa Hartwig.  The Whole9life has blossomed into a wildly popular website and even spawned a book entitled, “It Starts With Food” (which is an excellent read).  While the challenge sounds daunting, be assured your efforts will be rewarded.

Why Does the Whole 30 Program Work?

If you are unfamiliar with the Paleo Diet at this point, it is time to do some research.  The Paleo community has exploded in recent years, however accredited scientific research is not wholeheartedly behind this way of eating (yet).  That being said anecdotal evidence is difficult to ignore, especially at the rate that the Paleo eating style is churning out success stories.

Whether you eat meat or not is not the issue.  Many vegetarians have a big hang up on paleo, but the diet’s are somewhat similar.  Do you think you can benefit from eating less sugar ….mainly junk food, and other processed foods?

Do you believe that gluten sensitivity is real?  Seems like the war on gluten is growing by the day.  So maybe consuming less wheat isn’t a horrible idea.

If you love milk and cheese that is cool too, but maybe it’s affecting you in some way.  The only way you will know is to try going without it.  Experiment with your body, its will teach you many things.  You will not die because you ditched your morning bagel, or daily snack from the vending machine.  The most challenging part of the program is wrapping your head around what to eat, and how to prepare it.

The reason this challenge works is because it forces participants to quit their bad habits cold turkey!  The best way to attack anything.  Do your own research, then dive in head first.

Tips for Whole30 Success

The big hurdle for most people attempting the WHOLE30 is food preparation.  If you are not comfortable in the kitchen, now is the time to learn.  I like to cook, but can’t quite call myself Jaime Oliver just yet.

My favourite resources for meal preparation:

  • “It Starts with Food” (the book by the creators of the WHOLE 30 Melissa and Dave Hartwig)
  • Nonnompaleo (probably the best paleo recipe site out there)

My recommendation is that you keep it very basic for a first few weeks than branch out (unless you are an experienced cook).


The Basics

3 meals a day

  • each meal must have a quality protein source (chicken, eggs, meat, etc),
  • fat source (coconut oil, avocado nut butters besides peanut),
  • carbohydrate source (veggies, fruits)

After you get over the hurdle of making your own meals…all the time…next you need to be ready for the social scene.


Learn to say NO!

It’s really not as bad as it seems.  Many diet experts advise their clients to restrict food choices so there is no decision to make, but after a few victories it starts to become empowering.  Saying no to candy, chips, and soda doesn’t sound like fun, but it is a huge mental win for most people, especially myself.

Early and often I was exposed to foods that did not meet the criteria of the WHOLE 30, but I had to be firm.  Much like vegetarians will under no circumstances eat meat, you have to be the same way about non-compliant foods.

Don’t go out with friends or to a gathering where you know there will be off plan foods, without first filling your belly with the good stuff!


This was an amazing experiment, and I encourage anyone to try it.  Not just for the obvious weight loss benefit but for a mental challenge that will help you learn something about yourself, and the effect food has on you (which you will see is quite powerful).

If you want to lose a few pounds, improve your gut health, or just want to test yourself check out for all the resources you will need to complete the challenge!

In 30 days I lost 15lbs while maintaining my strength.  I was also able to say “No” in the face of temptation, which was very empowering.  I wasn’t perfect however.  I did have a few drinks on the night of my sisters wedding.  So even with one slip I was able to achieve amazing results.

[box type=”note”]Note: The first few weeks cause some major disturbances for some people, but if you stay mentally tough and ride it out, the grass really is greener on the other side. Good luck![/box]

Jordan Figueiredo

Physical Education Teacher, Hockey Coach, Fitness Writer, Sports Fan and World Traveller.

2 thoughts on “The Whole30 Challenge: Survival Guide

  • September 22, 2012 at 2:52 pm

    That’s awesome Cass. I am completing another one right now. My wife is on board this time, and loving it. Good Luck!

  • September 6, 2012 at 2:49 pm

    Great summary! I made it through day 28 of my Whole30 challenge before I caved into stress eating at an Engagement Party. I’m doing the challenge again this month and your preparation key is really the most important thing in being successful. I think having a support system, or at least telling everyone you know what you are doing helps to since everyone wants to see your results. Lastly, I refused to discuss the Whole30 while I was eating. I wanted to enjoy all of my meals and if anyone had questions about the program I would address them outside of meal time. Great post, thanks for sharing!


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