Protection against obesity: vegetarians and vegans are healthy and against obesity or not

“During my first vegetarian Whole30, I started to view food differently for the first time in my life. I was breaking away from old habits of wanting to eat to celebrate or chase away every emotion. I saw how what I was eating was playing a huge role in my depression. In my first 30 days my mood was steadily lifting and more stable than ever. My food cravings actually diminished and I couldn’t believe the freedom I was feeling. Prior to my vegetarian Whole30, I was dealing with cystic acne, but during the program, my facial acne completely cleared. I also lost 15 lbs.” —LAURICE B., LONG BEACH, CA e welcome vegetarians and vegans to our program, and want you to reap many of the benefits of our healthy-eating plan while still honoring your ethical or religious obligations. In fact, we’ve had a loyal vegetarian/vegan following for several years now, and we created a special section of our Whole30 Forum just for you. Despite the fact that these lifestyle choices seem in conflict with our healthy eating recommendations (which include a moderate amount of animal protein), please don’t rule our program out! We think the Whole30 has a lot to offer you, even if you choose to avoid animal products, or limit their inclusion in your diet. In fact, let’s talk about all of the things the Whole30 has in common with health-conscious vegetarians and vegans. We are all concerned with sourcing our food ethically, responsibly, and healthfully. We embrace a diet that includes copious amounts of nutrient-dense plants. We avoid fake processed foods with little nutrition but lots of sugar, fat, and salt. Honestly, our approaches have an awful lot in common—and it’s that spirit of positivity and connection that we focus on here. Are You Ready for a Change? If your primary reason for becoming vegetarian or vegan was for health, we invite you to reconsider your approach for the next 30 days. We believe the inclusion of some animal protein (dairy doesn’t count) in your daily diet is necessary for optimal health, and we’ve provided well-reasoned, well-sourced arguments (in It Starts With Food) to back up our position. So if this is where you are coming from, give our plan a try! Consider it a selfexperiment: Go back to eating high-quality animal protein as part of your Whole30. We’d be shocked if your health, body composition, and quality of life did not improve, but if you don’t experience the benefits you hope to see, you can simply return to your vegetarian or vegan lifestyle having learned a bit more about how certain foods work for you. If your concerns are largely ethical—animal welfare, sustainability, your local economy, or global economic factors— know that there are ways to responsibly, ethically source meat, seafood, and eggs. In fact, supporting those efforts sends a strong message (financial and otherwise) to the large corporations invested in factory farming; you’ll have more of an impact voting with your dollar than you will opting out of the system altogether. See Resources for more information on sourcing responsible animal protein options. For those of you who have texture or conceptual issues with meat, but want to try to incorporate it back into your diet, here are our best tips for the “meat challenged”: First, choose meats or cuts of meat that aren’t as “fleshy” or fatty in texture or format. Lighter, flakier fish are often a good, neutral texture choice. Ground beef may be easier to stomach than a steak. Lean cuts of meat may also smell (and taste) better to the meat-shy. Avoid meat on the bone, like ribs or chicken wings—the bone only serves to remind you of exactly what you’re eating. When preparing chicken breasts, pound them with a meat tenderizer so they’re thinner and more tender. Cut your meat into small pieces or chunks before cooking, but don’t over-cook it; that makes it taste rubbery and tough and may prove even harder to get down. You can also play little tricks on yourself to sneak more meat into your diet. “Hide” your meat in other parts of your meal, like mixed up into a soup, stew, curry, slow-cooker dish, or salad. This technique works especially well with slow-cooker meals, as your meat will be both hidden in the mix, and very tender. Finally, start off with smaller portions at first—a 16-ounce rib eye may prove too overwhelming, but a ¼-pound burger may seem manageable. If you’d rather proceed with the Whole30 using your vegetarian or vegan preferences as a framework, here are some tips to help you make the most of your experience. TECHNICALLY NOT THE WHOLE30 Note that the plan as outlined here isn’t technically a Whole30. (You couldn’t do the Whole30 as written as a vegan; you’d have nothing to eat but vegetables, fruit, nuts, and seeds!) Still, we are thrilled so many of you want to join our community. We’ve created these recommendations and changed the rules specifically to make you feel welcome, so our healthy eating plan works with your self-imposed dietary restrictions. But now it’s time for some tough love: this isn’t a pass to do a “Veg Whole30 plus beer.” (Yes, beer is technically vegan, but it’s never Whole30.) We still expect our vegetarian and vegan Whole30ers to follow all of our rules related to added sugar, alcohol, and baked goods or treats, even if you do have to include some grain, dairy, or legume-based protein in your program. Pescetarians and Vegetarians If you’ll eat some animal products (like eggs or fish), we recommend getting the bulk of your protein from these sources and supplementing with plant-based sources as little as possible. Yes, you’ll get tired of eggs, salmon, and cod, but remember, this is just a 30-day experiment. Remember that the information you’ll gain at the end of this experiment is worth a week or two of food boredom. If dairy is a viable source of protein for you (not causing digestive distress, skin break-outs, or other obvious negative consequences) we recommend putting pastured, organic, fermented sources like yogurt or kefir at the top of your list. You could also use a whey protein powder from grass-fed, organic sources, which would provide the protein you need with fewer downsides than other dairy products (including all forms of milk and cheese). Unless you’re really active in the gym or in your sport, aim for the lower end of our protein recommendations (see the meal template). There’s no need to shoot for some arbitrary number like “1 gram per pound of body weight” with such limited protein sources, unless your context and activity level truly demands that much food. Make up for the calories you may be missing from protein by adding a little more fat to your meals. Studies show a higher-fat diet can be muscle sparing, and you need to make sure you’re eating enough calories in general to support your activity levels. DIGESTIVE ENZYMES You could also consider taking a digestive enzyme. The idea that vegetarians permanently lose the ability to digest meat is bunk, but that’s not to say the first few days of meat eating won’t create some digestive distress. The levels of enzymes that digest protein and fat decrease when you stop eating meat, but they quickly rise again once you get back on the wagon. However, when your gut is damaged or compromised, as it often is with a diet containing grains, legumes, and dairy, a digestive enzyme can help until the gut’s own enzymes come back. See Resources for our recommendations. Vegans If this is your context, it’s important for us to be clear in our expectations. We can get you to better health with our Whole30 framework, but not optimal health. The inclusion of plant-based protein sources known to have detrimental effects on hormonal balance, the digestive tract, and the immune system, and the lack of nutrients (like vitamin B12 and heme iron) found only in animal protein sources means, in our experience, that your health potential is limited. In this chapter, we’ll do our best to help you implement the Whole30 framework in a way that makes the most of your dietary choices, but we caution you not to expect the same stunning, dramatic results that omnivores commonly report. That wasn’t meant to sound harsh or judgmental. Please know that even if we disagree on what’s “healthy,” we respect and honor your choice, and will work with you to find a way to become the healthiest version of you. Since you’re coming to us for healthy eating advice, though, we’d be remiss not to share what we believe to be true. So please, keep reading, because we think you’ll like our plan to fine-tune your plant-based diet. First, the idea of “protein combining” (specifically pairing two plant-based protein sources in a meal to achieve a “complete” amino acid profile) is outdated—your body has the capacity to store amino acids from the food you eat over the course of a day or two. Just eat a wide variety of plant-based protein sources, and don’t worry about making a “complete” protein in any given meal. Your best choices are minimally processed, fermented soy products like tempeh or natto, or organic edamame (soybeans). You can also include non-fermented, organic soy (like extra-firm tofu) and various legumes in rotation. Pseudo-cereals like quinoa are another gluten-free protein source, and are less likely to cause disruption to the gut or immune system than other grains. PROPER PREPARATION If you’re going to include grains and beans in your daily rotation, take the time to soak them for 12 to 24 hours, rinse, and boil them for at least 15 minutes to reduce the antinutrient and inflammatory compounds. The Weston A. Price foundation has a good video on proper preparation methods for grains and legumes; watch it at A hemp- or pea-protein powder is also an option for you, although you’d have to include quite a lot of it in your diet to get any substantial amount of protein at all. (Read your labels carefully to make sure these protein powders include as few inflammatory ingredients as possible.) We still highly encourage you to avoid all gluten grain, including seitan (which is made from wheat gluten), nonorganic soy, processed soy products (like soy-based “burgers” and “cheese”), and peanuts. The good news? You can still make our Egg-free Mayo, which opens you up to a world of dressings and sauces to top your veggies. One last thing—aim for as little protein as possible, as we don’t want you eating any more plant-based protein sources than you have to. If you have to track your intake for a few days to see where your numbers fall, that’s okay. Shoot for the recommended amounts as detailed in the United States Recommended Daily Allowance (USRDA): 46 grams a day for women, 56 grams a day for men. You’re probably not going to become a power lifter on these amounts, but it will keep a moderately active vegan as healthy as we can get you. You’ll also need to eat more carbohydrates and fat, to cover the missing calories from your relatively low-protein diet. (The extra carbohydrates should actually come naturally via the plants you’re eating, many of which contain far more carbohydrate than protein.) You can download a free copy of our shopping list for vegetarians and vegans on our website, For support, visit the vegetarian and vegan section of our Whole30 Forum at VITAMIN B12 Vegans are at risk for a vitamin B12 deficiency, as it’s found only in animal products like red meat, liver, dairy, eggs, fish, and seafood. You may have heard that algae and some root crop vegetables contain vitamin B12 , but that’s inaccurate. (Those plants synthesize cousins of B12 , which isn’t used the same way in the body.) Deficiency in this important vitamin can lead to pernicious anemia, heart disease, damage to spinal and peripheral nerves, neuro-psychiatric symptoms, and general fatigue. Your body has the ability to store vitamin B12 , so former meat-eaters can go years without symptoms, but vegans should still consider B12 supplementation. Over- the-counter supplements aren’t effective, as the body’s ability to absorb the vitamin in this form is limited, so your best option is a doctor-administered shot or a prescription gel. Ask your health care provider about vitamin B12 deficiency testing and recommended treatments. troubleshooting your whole30 “About eight months ago, my husband’s health began to falter. At first, it was just superficial with skin inflammation and hair loss, but after a number of biopsies, cultures, and blood tests, the dermatologist uncovered extremely elevated liver enzymes, and nonalcoholic fatty liver disease. By this time, his ALT level was over 600. Three months of a low-fat diet did not help. After doing some research, we started the Whole30. We were hopeful that we’d see some improvement in his liver enzymes at his next doctor’s appointment, but we had no idea his ALT level would drop from 660 to 106 after only 23 days on the program! Even the doctor was surprised at the dramatic drop. This has saved my husband from a life of likely liver failure.” —REBECCA C., CITY/STATE WITHHELD I have some food allergies. How do I work around these in the Whole30? Simple! Just take our shopping list and cross off the foods to which you are allergic. Now, just meal plan from what’s left, choosing dishes that don’t use those ingredients, or recipes where it would be easy to leave that particular ingredient out. (For example, if you’re allergic to nuts, Melissa’s Chicken Hash would be delicious even without the walnuts.) The good news is that some people have reported a reversal of food allergies by healing their gut and calming their immune system with the Whole30. (Don’t try this at home, though—always reintroduce allergenic foods under the supervision of your health care provider.) I feel like I’ve been hit by a truck (the first week). Is this the “carb flu” everyone is talking about? The “carb flu” (a period of headaches, fatigue, cravings, lightheadedness, and “brain fog”) isn’t really a flu—it’s actually an energy issue. Your old diet included lots of carbohydrates from grains, legumes, added sugar, and processed foods. That carbohydrate digests into sugar in the body, and your body then used that sugar for energy. In fact, you got so good at using sugar to keep you running that your body became wholly dependent on it. Now, you start the Whole30. Your carbohydrate (sugar) intake is naturally lower because you’re eating vegetables and fruit instead of bread and cookies. Your body is no longer getting all that sugar it’s used to running on. So what happens? You run out of gas. Without all that sugar (energy), you get tired, you get headaches, your brain is foggy, and you’re hungry. So. Hungry. Mostly for sugar. Some describe it as “withdrawal,” and that wouldn’t be far off. You now have another excellent energy source available to you—fat! Fat from your diet and body fat can also fuel you as you work, play with your kids, study, or run errands. The trouble is, your body doesn’t know how to use it, because you’ve been giving it so much sugar all the time. (Think of your body’s mitochondria—the powerhouses of your cells—like six-yearolds. If you give your six-year-old the choice between a candy bar and an avocado, which one will they pick? Candy, every single time.) If your body has sugar all the time, it’s going to preferentially run on sugar all the time. Only in the relative absence of all that sugar will it start running efficiently on fat as fuel. In summary, your body isn’t getting the energy source it’s used to depending on, and not very good at running on the more stable energy source you’re giving it now. So for a few days (or maybe even a week), you’re stuck in this no-man’s land that feels like you’ve got the flu. The good news is that this passes fast. The process of “fat adaptation” (being able to use body fat and dietary fat as fuel) begins in just a few days, although it will take a few weeks to fully ramp up. The good news is that you’ll start to feel better really soon (usually by Day 14), and those headaches will be a thing of the past. ✪TIP: Have a good plan for these first few days, because they can be rough. Take time off from the gym or your longer runs, go to bed early, make sure your pantry is clean (because you will be craving), and don’t skimp on the fat! Use our meal template to make sure you’re giving your body enough of the energy source it’s now being primed to use. Why did my digestion get worse during the Whole30? Any significant change to your diet can cause short-term changes to your digestive function. You can easily imagine how eating foods that harm your gut could mess up your digestion, but even removing these problematic foods can create issues, temporarily. It’s impossible to know for sure which dietary changes are responsible for which symptom during your Whole30, but it’s common to have periods of constipation, bloating, and/or diarrhea as your body adjusts to its new diet. These short-term changes are not indications that eating nutrient-dense food is harmful to you! The vast majority of the time, these transitional issues sort themselves out within a few weeks, as your body adapts to the absence of problematic and/or inflammatory food components. Chronic stress also has direct effects on your digestion and can contribute to indigestion and bloating, especially if you are eating more nutritious protein sources and natural fats than you historically have. The great news is that eating nutritious foods during your Whole30 and the benefits that provides (sleeping better, having more energy, and feeling more self-confident) is a big step toward reducing a chronic stress response, and helping your digestion get back on track. ✪TIP: There is a small subset of people who, due to the consequences of their long-term dietary choices and the current condition of their digestive tract, may not tolerate even “healthy” foods very well. These mostly involve fiber-rich and/or starchy foods, typically vegetables and fruit. Cooking your vegetables well and introducing new foods in small amounts over time often helps. In addition, as we already mentioned, nutrition is not the only factor in digestive health. If you continue to struggle with your digestion even after your Whole30 is over, it’s time to recruit a professional to evaluate your diet in conjunction with your lifestyle and current health markers. (See Resources.) Why are my symptoms and/or medical condition getting worse? This answer largely has to do with how your immune system works, and how your immune system “learns” from repeated exposure to potentially problematic foods (or in the case of leaky gut, foods that cross the gut barrier when they shouldn’t). If your immune system has formed antibodies against certain foods, it will take several weeks with no exposure to those foods to allow the levels of antibodies to significantly decrease. If you’ve “dosed” yourself with a lot of foods that trigger these immune system antibodies just prior to your Whole30, there’s often a worsening of inflammatory symptoms between weeks two and three of your program. (Yes, there’s a bit of a delayed response here—it has to do with the way these antibodies and their “triggers” bond and stimulate an immune response over time.) That means your pizza-beer-ice-cream bender the night before your Whole30 could come back to bite you in the gut (and everywhere else in the body) halfway through your program. As the timeline on this type of a reaction is fairly consistent person-to-person, the good news is that symptoms almost always improve around the third or fourth week, but only if you’ve maintained zero exposure to potential triggers (that is, stayed 100 percent committed to the Whole30 guidelines). We told you to take this whole “no slips, no cheats, no excuses” advice seriously. In summary, going on a binge with unhealthy foods right before your Whole30 may seriously hamper how good you feel once you’re on the program, and may actually make the symptoms or condition you are hoping to improve worse before they get better. Please, don’t go junk-food-crazy the day before you begin. (And if you do, don’t say we didn’t warn you.) I was feeling great earlier in my Whole30; now I’m exhausted. Why? This can tie in with the previous “medical symptom” question, since inflammation directly contributes to fatigue and malaise. However, a more common explanation is that you are simply not eating enough nutritious food—particularly carbohydrates. We see this especially with active individuals (those who exercise or participate in sports). You’re taking our “fill your plate with veggies” to heart, and those veggies are nutrientdense for sure, but broccoli, spinach, asparagus, and kale won’t effectively fuel those exercise sessions. Eventually, your low- carb choices catch up with you, and you start to slow down. A lot. The good news is that it’s easy to tell if this is your situation. Eat more carbs! Immediately make it a point to add carb-dense vegetables and fruit to every meal. Have a bowl of berries and a banana with your frittata for breakfast, a baked sweet potato and an apple with your protein salad for lunch, and butternut squash soup and a salad with sliced pears as your dinner sides. You should feel better immediately, and be back to your Tiger Blood self by tomorrow. (Now, keep it up! Your body obviously needs more carbohydrates than you’ve been giving it.) This may also happen if you’re hesitant to add enough natural fats to your meals. (Not enough fat means not enough calories, which means not enough energy.) Review our meal template and make sure you are getting enough energy from nutrient-dense food (protein, carbohydrate, and fat) to fuel your everyday activities and exercise. Finally, if you’re trying to implement other high-tech nutrition strategies into your Whole30 (like intermittent fasting or carb-cycling) please, just stop. Changing too many things at once means you’ll never know what behavior is responsible for which result, and the Whole30 is meant to stand alone as a learning experience and an elimination protocol. Save the other experiments for after your Whole30 is over, when you’ll be better able to evaluate their impact on your health, energy levels, and body composition. ✪TIP: This is more a reminder than a tip: the Whole30 is not a quick-fix weight-loss program. If you’re purposefully restricting calories, carbohydrates, or fat during your Whole30, you will (ironically) only make it harder for you to achieve success with your Whole30 and with long-term body composition management. Just follow the plan and trust that it will work for you, as it has for hundreds of thousands of people just like you.

Why has my sleep quality diminished during my Whole30? Having trouble falling asleep is typically a different issue than waking up in the middle of the night, which is different than waking up very early in the morning and not being able to go back to sleep. The issue most likely to be directly related to your Whole30 is waking up in the middle of the night. If you were sleeping fairly well before your Whole30, but during the program find yourself popping your eyes open at 2 a.m., it’s most likely due to blood sugar volatility. (Your body’s still not very good managing your blood sugar, leading to blood sugar highs and lows, even in the middle of the night.) Eating a snacksized portion of protein like eggs, chicken, or salmon about an hour before bed helps to stabilize blood sugar levels over the nighttime hours. (While we don’t typically recommend eating shortly before bed, this is a strategy that helps during your transition period.) Try it consistently for a week, then see if you’re able to sleep more restfully without your pre-bed snack. If this doesn’t help, or if your sleep issues involve being “tired but wired” in the evenings or waking up too early in the morning, here’s some bad news: We’re going to take away your coffee. If you are still consuming any caffeine, these sleep troubles are a good indication that it’s time give it up, at least for a few weeks. Stubborn sleep issues can be exacerbated by even small amounts of caffeine many hours before bed. While it’s not an official Whole30 rule, you asked us how you could sleep better, so we’re telling you. (Are you sorry you asked?) ✪TIP: Nutrition is not the only factor in determining sleep quality. In fact, poor sleep during your Whole30 isn’t necessarily because of your current nutrition choices. Are you worried about finances or an upcoming work project? Do you do intense exercise or run late in the evening? Are you on your computer or smartphone just before bed, or watch TV as you fall asleep? These things can all negatively impact sleep quality. Visit for suggestions on how to improve your sleep. Why is my athletic performance decreasing? This is common in the first week for reasons we’ve already explained. If you’re in your first ten days of Whole30, don’t expect to set any personal bests or enter any big races. In fact, now may be a good time to take a week off, or spend a week focusing on low-intensity activity, skill work, and recovery. If your energy has improved overall but you still struggle with your runs, workouts, or games, we bet you’re not eating enough carbohydrate (or simply enough food overall). We love that you’re eating so much broccoli, asparagus, and spinach, but that’s not going to fuel those hard runs very effectively—highintensity exercise demands carbohydrates. If you’re very active, you have to purposefully incorporate starchy vegetables (potatoes, winter squashes, taro, or yuca) and a variety of fruits into your daily diet to ensure your energy stores are well maintained. In addition, you may notice other benefits before you notice performance gains. Keep an eye on other fitness-related happenings and know that more restful sleep, less muscle soreness, greater mobility, less joint pain, and faster recovery from a tough workout is the Whole30 working its magic, and will translate into improved performance soon enough. I’m a week or two into my Whole30 and I haven’t lost any weight. Why isn’t this working? Before we answer this, we have a question for you: Why are you on the scale? The Whole30 rules explicitly state that you are not to step on the scale during your program, and this is exactly why! You become so focused on that numerical read-out that you don’t pay attention to any other aspect of your program. Scale weight tells you almost nothing about your overall health, and the Whole30 isn’t a weight-loss diet—it’s designed to jumpstart optimal health for the rest of your life. So please, give yourself a much-needed, long-overdue, well-deserved break from a preoccupation with body weight and focus on health instead. Turn to the list of Non-Scale Victories, take note of the things that are working better, and trust that with improved health comes natural, sustainable, effortless weight loss. (Now please get off the scale.) ✪TIP: In a recent survey of more than 1,600 Whole30 participants, 96 percent reported having lost weight and/or improved their body composition. The majority lost between 6 and 15 pounds in just 30 days. So there you go—proof that weight loss is built right into the program, without your having to think about it. I can’t afford to lose any weight. If this is your context, our first tip may seem obvious, but we really do need to explain this—eat more. You may think you’re eating plenty, but you could still be under-fed. Swapping out grains and sugary refined foods for vegetables and fruits puts you at a serious caloric deficit. You’ve got to make those calories up somewhere—namely, healthy fats and starchy vegetables. But if you’ve been a little fat-phobic, adding as much fat as you need to maintain a healthy body weight may be scary. On the other hand, if you’re a little carb-phobic (because someone told you consuming carbohydrates would make you fat and diabetic), you may be limiting potatoes, winter squashes, and fruit on purpose. If you’re already at the lean or downright skinny end of the body composition spectrum, you can’t afford to subsist on leafy greens and low-carb veggies alone. Make sure you’re eating at least three meals a day, even if you feel like skipping meals. If you find you’re hungry between meals, have a snack—ideally including a decent amount of protein and fat. (Snacking on just an apple isn’t doing much for your cause.) Eat more fat, meeting or exceeding the higher end of the fat recommendations in our meal template. Eat more carbs; don’t fill up on bowls of salad and platefuls of broccoli, leaving less room in your belly for meat and fat. Eat more protein, prioritizing protein-dense meat like steak over lower protein items like eggs. And don’t even think about intermittent fasting. Do we really need to explain this one? Other lifestyle factors, like training, recovery, and stress, also play directly into your ability to maintain or gain weight. If you’re running ten miles a day, sleeping six hours a night, and are chronically stressed with work, school, family, or financial worries, your diet may not be the biggest factor in maintaining muscle mass. (Plus, again . . . coffee. Caffeine is an appetite suppressant, so it is not your friend if getting enough nutritious food into your body is a challenge.) Consider asking a functional medicine practitioner to analyze factors like your stress hormones, thyroid function, and gut health to help you address your weight management from a big-picture perspective. (See the appendix for resources.) Is it normal to be very thirsty? It can be, especially in the beginning, but it’s hard to say exactly why. Could be sodium-related: When you cut out all the processed foods, you also cut out a significant amount of sodium from your daily diet. Sodium helps your body retain water, so moving to a whole foods–based low-sodium diet may cause your body to make some adjustments to your intake. It may be that you’ve eliminated non-compliant beverages from your diet (like juices or soda) and haven’t replaced those liquids with water. In addition, changes in both dietary intake and metabolism of carbohydrates and fats may lead to a short-term drop in how much water your body is storing. Oh, and if you’re not eating as many vegetables and fruit (“wet” foods) as we encourage, you may be missing out on hydration there, too. Regardless of why it’s happening, listen to your body here. Make a conscious effort to drink more water and compliant beverages throughout the day, eat your veggies, and please add some table salt and/or sea salt to your cooking or food. And don’t worry— the body will generally sort its water balance out quickly, so you shouldn’t have to carry that gallon jug around for long. My sugar cravings are killing me! What do I do? Step one: take a deep breath. First, let’s figure out if you’re craving, or just hungry. Here’s our favorite trick: Ask yourself, “Am I hungry enough to eat steamed fish and broccoli?” (If that would never sound appealing, pick another straightforward protein source, like hard-boiled eggs.) If the answer is yes, then you are legitimately hungry! Time to eat your next meal, or grab a snack to tide you over. If the answer is, “No, but I’d eat (fill in crunchy/salty/sweet food here)” then it’s confirmed: you’re having a craving—but there is no need to panic. Based on studies of smokers resisting the urge to light up, the average craving lasts just three to five minutes. Your brain will be screaming that you really need sugar, but if you can distract yourself briefly, you’ll find that craving will pass. So go for a quick walk, phone a friend, check the sports scores, or throw in a load of laundry—whatever it takes to get you through. Whew. Here’s what not to do: reach for a Whole30-compliant sweet treat to satisfy your sugar craving. If you’re used to something sweet every day at 3 p.m., your brain has come to expect that reward. But your brain doesn’t know the difference between a candy bar and a dried fruit-and-nut bar. All your brain knows is that it’s 3 p.m., and here comes the sweet reward! This behavior doesn’t help you change your habits—it actually reinforces them. Remember, every time you resist a craving, your Sugar Dragon gets a little less fiery, so don’t use fruit or nut butters as a sugar crutch. ✪TIP: Do you find yourself prowling through your pantry after dinner looking for “a little something?” We’ve been so conditioned to eat dessert, and while subbing your ice cream for a bowl of blueberries in coconut milk is a healthier choice, you’re still giving your brain that after-dinner treat. One lovely postdinner ritual that won’t feed your Sugar Dragon is brewing a cup of rooibos herbal tea. It’s naturally decaffeinated, has a naturally sweet taste, but isn’t anything like the treats you’re craving, so it won’t act as a “sugar crutch.” I finished my Whole30 and my digestion is still unhappy. There are other food groups that may potentially be inflammatory or digestively disruptive. Two of the most common are high-FODMAP foods and high-histamine foods. FODMAPS: This stands for Fermentable Oligosaccharides, Disaccharides, Monosaccharides, and Polyols—a collection of fermentable carbohydrates and sugar alcohols found in various foods, like grains, beans, vegetables and fruits. FODMAPs include fructose (found in various amounts in all fruit), lactose (found in dairy), fructans (found in wheat, garlic, onion, artichoke, asparagus, and the sweetener agave), galactans (found in legumes, cabbage, and Brussels sprouts), and polyols (found in many fruits like apples, pears, and peaches; and sweeteners like sorbitol or xylitol). These FODMAPS are not well absorbed, and can “feed” bacteria in the intestinal tract when eaten in excess. In sensitive individuals, this fermentation causes gas, bloating, cramping, and digestive distress, unbalances your gut bacterial population, and promotes systemic inflammation. HIGH-HISTAMINE FOODS: Certain foods either contain a naturally occurring chemical called “histamine,” or stimulates the body’s own natural release of the chemical. Histamine is also released in the body as part of an allergic reaction, causing the typical allergy symptoms, like itching, sneezing, wheezing, and swelling. (Many over-the-counter allergy medications contain an antihistamine.) When sensitive people eat too many histaminerich foods, they may suffer allergy-like symptoms such as headaches, rashes, hives, itching, gastro-intestinal upset, asthma, or eczema. This is called histamine intolerance. Your digestive distress may also be the result of an undiagnosed food sensitivity (or multiple sensitivities) not included on this list. If you’ve been following the Whole30 protocol for 60 days and are still experiencing digestive issues or other immune-related symptoms, it’s time to work with a functional medicine practitioner (see Resources) to help you build a treatment plan (including diagnostic lab work and supplementation) that will work for your particular condition or symptoms. ✪TIP: A food journal can also help you identify potentially “healthy” foods that may be triggering unpleasant symptoms. Write down all the foods in your meals and snacks for a week, and note the severity and type of symptoms you experience after each to try to pinpoint the culprit(s). This information will be especially helpful if you choose to work with an expert. If you want to experiment with a low-FODMAP or low-histamine diet on top of your Whole30 elimination, you can download customized shopping lists at What if the Whole30 doesn’t work for me? You may have wanted to see improvements in a particular area (a medical condition, athletic improvement, a specific area of your body composition, or your hot flashes), but on Day 30, you’re just not seeing it, and you’re really disappointed. We understand, and we’re really sorry. While the program works amazingly well for the vast majority of people who take it on, the Whole30 isn’t perfect (no diet is, universally), and it doesn’t fix everything for everyone. The one thing we want you to take away from this experience is that if the Whole30 didn’t work for you, you are not a failure, and there is nothing wrong with you. We hope by now you recognize the other benefits of the program (the things that did improve for you), and can see all the progress you’ve made over the last 30 days. Take a minute to be proud of yourself, and celebrate how far you’ve come! Now, let’s talk about why the Whole30 may not have worked as well for you as you had hoped, in whatever area you hoped to see improvements: YOU DIDN’T DO IT RIGHT. Tough love time: this is the hardest one to hear, but also the most common reason for the failure of elimination diets like the Whole30 to provide results. You followed the technical letter of the rules, but didn’t embrace the spirit or intention of the program. You “slipped” or “treated yourself” or modified our rules because you had to/wanted to/figured it wouldn’t really matter. You adjusted the program to suit your cravings, your social life, your idea of “healthy.” You only gave it two weeks before deciding it wasn’t working. THIRTY DAYS WASN’T LONG ENOUGH. While radical health improvements can take place in just a month, when you put it into context, decades of less-than-healthy behavior often can’t compete with 30 days of Whole30. Overcoming chronic stress, medical issues, and years of unhealthy cravings, habits, and emotional ties to food are often the longest battles. Many Whole30ers with this history report that they didn’t feel or see “the magic” until day 45, 60, or beyond. YOU STILL HAVE FOODS IN YOUR DIET THAT AREN’T HEALTHY FOR YOU. It’s possible that some “healthy” foods included in the Whole30 aren’t right for your context. Undiagnosed food sensitivities or a FODMAP or histamine intolerance may require you to eliminate even more foods to identify the triggers for your symptoms. Now is the time to work with a functional medicine practitioner (see Resources) to help you create a specific plan for you and your individual health situation. YOU AREN’T PAYING ATTENTION TO THE RIGHT STUFF. You really wanted to lose weight on your Whole30, but you didn’t (or you didn’t lose as much as you had hoped), so you deemed the program a failure. But were you paying attention to what else happened during your program? Did your sleep, energy, athletic performance, recovery, medical symptoms, cravings, mood, or self-esteem improve? A smaller number on your scale’s digital read-out isn’t the only measure of Whole30 success—in fact, we’d venture to say it’s pretty far down the list of potential life-changing results. (See our very long list.) YOU’VE GOT OTHER LIFESTYLE FACTORS IMPEDING YOUR PROGRESS. Not even a Whole365 will completely resolve your issues if you’ve had years of physical, mental, or emotional chronic stress. Under-sleeping, under-eating or being undernourished, over-exercising (or not exercising at all), a chronic medical condition, financial stress, marital stress, job stress, unresolved trauma . . . they all take a massive toll on your hormones, your gut, and your immune system. If the Whole30 didn’t take you as far as you hoped to go, then diet may not be your biggest issue. As we have said at dozens of seminars, “don’t look for a nutrition solution to a lifestyle problem.” It’s time to work with a professional (see Resources) to see what other lifestyle factors and/or medical issues you need to prioritize to get things moving in the right direction. (But please, continue with your Whole30—the first thing any good functional medicine practitioner is going to talk to you about is your diet, and they usually love our program.) whole30 reintroduction FAQ “When I started the Whole30, I weighed 415 pounds. I couldn’t walk longer than five minutes without my lower back cramping and feeling like it was on fire. For as long as I can remember my body has hurt with the lightest pressure. I had many other issues such as PCOS, irregular periods, bloating, and constant fatigue and headaches. I started my Whole30 on May 5, 2014. Just four months later, I can walk more than five miles with no pain at all. I have even started jogging in 15–20 second spurts during my walk. I have lost 65 pounds and have more energy than I’ve had in twenty years! I feel alive today. This has changed my life!” —ANN MARIE L., FREDERICK, MD I’ve just spent 30 days without some of my favorite foods. Now you’re telling me I need to continue eating (mostly) Whole30 for another ten days? Yep. You’ll thank us for it, too. The point of the Whole30 is to figure out how the foods you used to eat are actually affecting you—your digestion, energy, sleep, mood, focus, cravings, athletic performance, and the symptoms of your medical condition. If you stuff your face with pizza, beer, and ice cream on Day 31, how will you know what food caused what symptoms later on, when you feel like junk? (And you will feel like junk.) Careful, systematic reintroduction is the key to identifying which specific foods aren’t okay for you (and the effects they have on your body and brain), so don’t skip this step, or try to speed it up. You’ve spent this long working so hard to change your life—what’s another ten days? ✪TIP: Reintroduction is actually a lifelong process. The more you pay attention to how you look, feel, perform, and live after eating certain foods, the more you’ll notice their subtle effects. For some, gluten makes them sad. For others, dairy makes them break out—but not until two or three days after exposure. In other cases, eating one piece of bread has few discernable side effects, but eating bread three days in a row makes people look three months pregnant. You should continue to pay attention to your body, brain, and symptoms when you eat off-plan foods, even after your official reintroduction period is over. Do I have to reintroduce food groups in the order you’ve outlined? You don’t have to, but we recommend it. We’ve arranged your reintroduction food groups in the order of least likely to be problematic to most likely, per the scientific literature and feedback from thousands of Whole30 participants. Gluten comes last because it tends to have the most serious and longlasting effects on your body and brain. If you start with gluten grains, you may have to wait a few extra days to let your system settle back down before reintroducing your next food group. It’s three days later, and I’m still feeling like junk from my last reintroduction. Should I wait even longer before eating my next food

group? Yes, you should. The point of reintroduction is to carefully evaluate the effects of one food group at a time. If you still have hives, allergies, or stomach bloating three days after exposure to dairy, that means your gut and immune system are still fired up —and dumping even more potentially inflammatory foods on top of an already inflamed system isn’t a good idea. Stick to Whole30 eating until you no longer have symptoms, then wait one more day and reintroduce your next food group into a “clean” environment. You only get one shot to reintroduce and evaluate the effects, so be patient and do it right. What about reintroducing sugar? This is a tough one, because many of the foods in the other food groups will also contain sugar. If you choose to reintroduce pancakes on your gluten day, for example, you may have a hard time knowing if the lethargy, crankiness, and brain fog are from the pancake, the maple syrup, or (most likely) the combination of both. It’s safe to say that reintroducing sugar in significant quantities usually brings back cravings and energy slumps—but you probably won’t notice the three grams of sugar in your ketchup at all. If you want to specifically evaluate sugar by itself, do this first, and add a step (and another three days) to your reintroduction schedule. Keep the rest of your food Whole30-compliant, but add sugar to your morning coffee, drink a sugary fruit juice mid-morning, top your lunchtime sweet potato with ghee and honey, and pour a generous amount of maple syrup over poached peaches after dinner. See how the added sugar makes you feel—evaluate energy, mood, hunger, and especially cravings. Going forward in your reintroduction schedule, don’t stress about a few grams of sugar here or there (like in your condiments, chicken sausage, or salad dressing). However, it’s still good to be aware of how often companies add sugar in places you wouldn’t suspect, so continue with your label reading. ✪ TIP: If adding sugar back into your coffee makes you want to drink a lot more coffee, ask yourself, is that a good thing? What kind of alcohol can I reintroduce in the first stage? First, if you’re not missing it, feel free to skip this step—many Whole30ers have commented how little they actually missed drinking. If you choose to reintroduce alcohol, avoid glutencontaining alcohols (like beer, rye, scotch, or whiskey) during this stage, as your goal is to evaluate the alcohol, not the gluten, and experts aren’t sure whether distilled grain-based drinks are really gluten-free. Save those other drinks for your gluten reintroduction days, if you choose. (You’ll already know how the alcohol makes you feel, so if you get a new symptom, like bloating, digestive upset, or skin breakouts, you’ll know to blame the gluten and not the alcohol.) You can drink things like wine, tequila, or potato-based vodka in this stage to evaluate how the alcohol makes you look, feel, and live. Pay extra attention to whether you’re tempted to make poor food choices under the influence. The “reduced inhibition” that alcohol promotes is important to recognize! ✪TIP: If you drink wine, you are also getting a dose of sulfites, unless you specifically choose wine that is organically produced. If you end up with a headache, flushed skin, or other unpleasant effects, it may be difficult for you to tell whether it was the alcohol or the sulfites responsible. You could always test this further by drinking a non-sulfite beverage (like 100 percent agave tequila) and comparing effects. Just be sure to wait at least three days between experiments. Can you separate these foods out further, like breaking out soy from the rest of the legumes? You don’t have to, but the more carefully and systematically you approach reintroduction, the more you’ll gain awareness of an individual food’s effects. If you already suspect you have a sensitivity to a particular food (like corn, soy, peanuts, etc.), consider breaking that food out and adding one step to the standard reintroduction schedule. That would alter the original schedule to look like this if you were evaluating corn on its own: DAY 1: Evaluate non-gluten containing alcohol (optional), while keeping the rest of your diet Whole30-compliant. DAY 4: Evaluate legumes, while keeping the rest of your diet Whole30-compliant. DAY 7: Evaluate corn, while keeping the rest of your diet Whole30-compliant. DAY 10: Evaluate other non-gluten grains (rice, certified glutenfree oats, quinoa, etc.) while keeping the rest of your diet Whole30-compliant. DAY 13: Evaluate dairy, while keeping the rest of your diet Whole30-compliant. DAY 16: Evaluate gluten grains, while keeping the rest of your diet Whole30-compliant. You can also “test” certain foods later if you continue to eat mostly Whole30 meals, just by paying attention when you eat them. (This doesn’t work so well if you’ve gone back to eating meals with gluten, dairy, soy, etc. on a regular basis, however.) I’ve had allergic reactions to a particular food (like oranges, avocado, or eggs) before. Can I try to reintroduce these foods now that my gut and immune system are healthier? First, before reintroducing any food to which you have had an allergic reaction in the past, you must consult with your health care provider. Allergies are not to be taken lightly, so don’t go this alone. Second, 30 days probably isn’t long enough for your immune system to have calmed down enough to reintroduce a food to which you have had a serious allergic response. Our general rule of thumb is that you must go one full year without any exposure to that food before you can even consider reintroduction. (And we do mean zero exposure—don’t eat even a tiny bite of that troublemaking substance all year long.) If you’ve been working hard to heal your gut and avoid the trigger for a full year, only then is it time to talk with your doctor about reintroducing, if it’s that important to you. ✪TIP: If you don’t have a diagnosed allergy but have experienced negative effects when eating certain foods (like bloating when eating certain fruits, or hives when eating eggs), your health care provider may decide there is more leeway to re-test these foods. Note, however, that it still might require more than 30 days of gut healing to notice a difference, and you still may find that large quantities or repeated exposures to that food is not okay. What kinds of things should I be looking for when I reintroduce foods? It’s hard to come up with a comprehensive list, because everyone has a different experience when eating foods that their bodies don’t tolerate well. However, here are some general things to look for when you reintroduce off-plan foods: DIGESTION: Are things moving too fast or too slow? Do you have gas, bloating, pain, or cramping? Has your heartburn or GERD returned? ENERGY: Are you back to a 3 p.m. slump, dragging yourself out of bed in the morning, or just feeling lethargic? Are your workouts suffering, or have you lost motivation to exercise? SLEEP: Are you sleeping more restlessly? Do you have a hard time falling asleep? Are you waking up in the middle of the night, or too early in the morning? CRAVINGS: Is your Sugar Dragon back in full effect? Are you having a hard time resisting the pull of sugar or carbs? Are you now eating foods just because they’re in front of you? MOOD AND PSYCHOLOGY: Are you cranky, moody, or otherwise less happy than you’ve been? Have your anxiety, depression, attention deficit, or compulsive habits returned? BEHAVIOR (ESPECIALLY IN KIDS): Do you notice more tantrums, talking back, inability to control emotions or behaviors, or a lack of focus or shortened attention span? SKIN: Did you break out, get a rash or hives, or see a reappearance of eczema, psoriasis, or other skin conditions? BREATHING: Are you congested or having sinus pain? Have your “seasonal allergies” reappeared? Are you experiencing shortness of breath or asthma? PAIN AND INFLAMMATION: Have you triggered a migraine or headache? Has your chronic pain, fatigue, tendinitis, or arthritis returned? Are joints more sore, stiff, or swollen? Do you have other tangible symptoms of inflammation? MEDICAL CONDITIONS: Have your symptoms reappeared or gotten worse? Some effects will be impossible to ignore, while others are subtle and may require a few more “tests” before you can reliably attribute the cause with the effect. Awareness is key— make sure you actually pay attention to all of these areas immediately after eating the food, later on that day, and in the days to come. I used to eat (fill in food) just fine, but now it makes me feel terrible. Did the Whole30 create a sensitivity? The Whole30 will not create a sensitivity. There are a few reasons why this food may bother you now in ways (you think) it never did before. First, after 30-plus days on the program, you have so much more awareness about how food affects you. It’s highly likely that this food used to upset your digestion, make you break out, or bring on sinus issues, but you just didn’t notice it. (It’s like a smoker asserting he feels great. Is he really feeling great, or have the effects of the smoking on his lungs become his new “normal,” where he doesn’t even notice them anymore?) You’ve been feeling so good these last few weeks that any disruption to your system is a definite diversion from your new normal—one that cannot be ignored. So when reintroducing this food upsets your digestion, skin, or sinuses, you really notice, because you’ve been without these effects for some time now. Second, when you’re eating foods your body doesn’t like, it creates all kinds of defense mechanisms to help protect you. Your gut bacterial population changes, you build up a bigger mucosal lining (a “buffer zone”) in your gut, and your immune system goes on high alert. When you remove these triggers, the body adapts again. It no longer needs to protect you from the food you’ve been eating, so your gut and immune system are able to “relax” and begin to recover. This is a healthier state of being, but it also means these same defenses aren’t in place when you reintroduce the food. It’s like this: If someone kicked you in the shins every time they saw you, you’d probably put on some shin guards, right? But if they stopped kicking you for a month straight, you’d probably relax and think, “Great, I can take these shin guards off now.” Imagine how much more it would hurt if they came along the very next day and kicked you again, after your shins had time to (partly) heal from the damage! In summary, the Whole30 only showed you what was already there, magnified so you’ll really pay attention. If a reintroduced food negatively impacts you now, you can be sure it was doing that all along to some degree. I’ve noticed when I eat (fill in food), I get (fill in negative side effect). Does this mean I can’t eat this food anymore? We can’t answer that for you—that’s something you’ll have to decide for yourself. We will say that if your body is clearly telling you, “I don’t like this food!” you’d be wise to listen, and leave that food off your everyday plate. After all, ignoring these signals is what led you toward all the symptoms and conditions you’re now trying to reverse with the Whole30. However, if you discover ice cream gives you gas and bloating, but you really love ice cream, you’re free to eat it anyway. Only you can make that call—but remember, you also have to own the consequences. I’ve noticed when I eat (fill in food), I get absolutely no negative side effects. Does this mean this food is healthy for me? Maybe. Remember, reintroduction isn’t just a ten-day process, and sometimes it takes more time (or more exposure) for us to notice the negative effects foods have on our system. For example, Melissa can eat a small piece of bread with dinner and not notice any issues, but if she has three pieces of bread, she gets lethargic and kind of depressed. In other instances, the negative effects of these foods are cumulative—you don’t notice their effects on the first day, but by the fourth day in a row, you’ve got symptoms. You may also experience “silent” consequences (at first)—nothing noticeable on a moment-bymoment basis, until one day a week later you wake up and you realize your energy levels are in the tank and your knee hurts again. The lesson? Continue to pay attention to how off-plan foods make you feel (both physically and psychologically), and err on the side of caution when it comes to reincorporating these foods into your everyday routine. ✪TIP: The scientific literature against gluten, peanuts, and added sugar (specifically) is so convincing that we think these should be off your everyday plate whether you notice symptoms or not. You don’t have to stress about a few grams of sugar in your ketchup or the once-a-year Christmas cookies your mom bakes, but in general, we believe these items make everyone less healthy—so read your labels even after your Whole30 is done, and indulge with caution (if at all). Can I include “paleo” foods desserts or treats in my reintroduction too? Absolutely, although we’d encourage you to separate these foods from the rest of your reintroduction schedule, and pay just as much attention to how these make you feel. For example, when your general reintroduction is over, go ahead and have pancakes made from bananas and egg for breakfast and almond flour cookies after dinner, but be just as rigorous about evaluating how you look, feel, and live after eating these sweet treats. For many, they’ll reawaken your Sugar Dragon in a major way, leading you to crave off-plan foods that you’ve already decided aren’t good for your everyday plate. Others find the extra sugar in their day (even if it is from a “natural” source) negatively impacts hunger, mood, and energy levels. I’m leaving for vacation/getting married/on my honeymoon on Day 31. How do I handle reintroduction? This is a tricky one, because we would have wanted you to plan your Whole30 a little differently from the get-go. (Go back to Getting Started with the Whole30 for help with planning your Whole30 start date.) Ideally, you’ll have time to get through both the program and your reintroduction before you are thrown into a situation where you’ll be tempted to Eat All the Things. However, that’s not what happened, so now we have to deal with the situation at hand. If we’re being honest with ourselves, you’re not going to complete the reintroduction as outlined while traipsing through Italy. You’re just not. And that’s okay. We would never want you to miss out on a once-in-a-lifetime experience for your Whole30 reintroduction—but that doesn’t mean you have a free pass to mindlessly inhale gelato. If you eat everything you haven’t been eating all at once, you will likely ruin your vacation (at least for that day), so tread with caution. Try to keep treats to one food group at a time, if possible, and only eat as much as you need to satisfy your taste buds. (You don’t have to eat four slices of freshly baked bread if one will do.) Pay attention to how foods make you feel, and choose your next meal based on the consequences of the last. If gelato makes you feel like junk, there’s no need to retest that particular experiment. Finally, plan on getting back on the Whole30 (even if it’s just for a week or two) as soon as you get home, because your brain will probably be back in full-on “old habits” mode—and you don’t want your “vacation” from healthy eating to continue months after your trip is over. ✪TIP: Many people report the bread in Europe isn’t as disruptive to their systems as the bread in the U.S. Some theorize that the strains of wheat overseas aren’t as hybridized, which makes the gluten less troublesome in our guts. We don’t have any scientific evidence of this, but take heed—just because you eat bread in Italy with little consequence doesn’t mean you’ll have that same experience when you’re back in the United States.

Back to top