Holiday W30

Thinking About a Holiday Whole30®? Think Twice.

As we approach the holiday season, we find ourselves preparing for all kinds of festivities – 97.2%  of which include buffet tables laden with unhealthy food. (1)  We’ll be tempted all season long with breads and cheeses, chips and dips, pies, cookies and cakes – and we haven’t even mentioned the wine, brandy and eggnog.

There’s a reason our January nutrition workshops are so popular – the holidays bring out the worst in us (nutritionally, that is).  The stress of the season, the endless availability of sweet treats and social pressures at holiday gatherings create a recipe for overindulgence, a few extra pounds and a sleigh-full of guilt and remorse.

One counter-strategy is to commit to a 30 day nutrition challenge, and white-knuckle your way past unhealthy holiday temptations.  But we think embarking upon a Whole30® during the holiday season may be exactly the wrong thing to do.  Surprising, coming from the tough-love champions of the Paleo-sphere? Let’s discuss the three reasons why a holiday Whole30 is a bad idea.

Lack of Awareness

First, programs like the Whole30 are primarily about awareness.  The only way to learn how certain foods are actually affecting your health is by paying close attention during the 30 day elimination , and the subsequent reintroduction period.

But during the holidays, really, nobody has time to pay attention to anything.  So why go through all the effort of giving up foods you like if you’re not going to learn anything from the experience?  From an awareness perspective, you simply can’t give this important nutritional effort the energy and attention it deserves during the holiday season.

Too Much Stress

Reason number two:  according to a 2009 survey, 90% of adults said they experience anxiety about the holiday season. (2) People stress about everything from family conflicts to gift purchasing to finances – and that stress can have a seriously deleterious effect on your mental and physical health.  So why would you add to that stress with a 30 day nutrition challenge during the time of the year when it’s most difficult to avoid temptation?  Sounds like a recipe for failure, unhappiness, or both.

The point of any nutrition challenge is to add to your health – not undermine it.  Under normal circumstances, changing your diet can be difficult, especially in the beginning.  But during the craziness of the holiday season, when you’ll be faced with temptation on a near-daily basis, the added pressures of a Whole30 may prove more stressful than helpful.

Special Traditions

Finally, the holiday season is about more than just parties, gifts, and desserts.  It’s also about family traditions, celebrating your culture and heritage.  Often, it’s when Mom, Gram or Uncle Charlie breaks out that once-a-year cake, pie, or gnocchi for which they are famous.  And we think it would be a shame to tell your poor Gram, “Sorry, but your baklava isn’t allowed during my Whole30.”

Some foods hold a significance that far exceeds the sum of its vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients. That kind of food should be honored, savored and shared in the company of those you love.  And in this special instance, in the company of those you love, it doesn’t matter that your Mom uses an entire cup of Crisco in the cake batter. Because that cake is full of memories, history and tradition, and makes you feel as warm and safe and loved as you did when you were a kid.  And there is no way we want you to miss out on that simply because you chose to do the Whole30.

Prepare Your Holiday Game Plan

Now, we aren’t giving you a free pass to go completely off the rails during your holiday season.  (Your Gram’s baklava may be special, but the donuts your co-worker picked up at the grocery store are most certainly not.)  Here are some ways to stay happy, healthy and sane while still enjoying the special offerings of the season.

  • Get your nutrition in line before the madness begins.  Consider a few weeks of the Whole30 in early November to remind yourself how good clean eating feels before the temptations roll in.
  • Try interspersing days of Whole30 in between special holiday occasions. The more you remember how good you feel when you eat healthy, the easier it will be to pass on those things that aren’t special.
  • Plan and prepare. Identify situations where you may encounter peer pressure, stress, or temptation, and come up with a (nutritional) plan to deal with them.
  • Save your nutritional off-roading for things that are especially delicious or emotionally significant.  Ask yourself, is this really worth it?  If not, skip it.
  • When you do indulge, be smart.  Don’t eat things you know will wreck you, or things you’re allergic or sensitive to. (Gram will understand if you’re allergic to nuts.)
  • Eat only as much as you need to satisfy that craving or participate in your family’s tradition. Eat slowly, savor it and share it with those you love.
  • Most important, remember that there is no guilt associated with a deliberately-made food choice.  Don’t add to your stress by making a conscious choice, then beating yourself up.

However, some people may still feel like they need the rules and structure of a Whole30 to see them through these tempting holiday months, and are prepared to deal with the challenges this entails. If you do choose to Whole30 for the holidays, make sure you have the support of friends, family, and a community who understands. Our Whole30 forum is a great place to connect with others for support, advice, and motivation, and the accountability you’ll find in our Whole30 Daily newsletter may just make the difference between staying on track, and falling face-first into a fruitcake.

So this holiday season, Whole9 encourages you to eat, drink and be merry – and to create your own set of healthy holiday guidelines.

  1. We just made that up – but if you’ve ever been to a holiday party, you’ll know we’re right.
  2. We did not make this up.

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  1. heather says

    Thanks for the advice! Have put off doing Whole30 because I live with my mother and daughter, so the temptation foods are always in the house, Mom was just told by her doctor to cut down on the carbs and sugar, so I am hoping to get the entire house on Whole30 starting January 1st!

  2. says

    Boom! I am half way through – ending Nov 20th. Halloween candy does nothing for me anyways, so why not get everything in line! Thanks for the validation.

  3. says

    This is great information…so many people try to do some sort of program during the holidays to “stay on track” but more often than not it just leads to a guilt ridden holiday season full of stress about food! This is what I love about the Whole 30 program…balanced and realistic but hard-assed when necessary.

  4. Olivia says

    I’m looking forward to my first Paleo (though not Whole30) Thanksgiving! Veering too far off the Whole30 path causes me severe problems (with food intolerances to gluten/dairy/soy/corn) but if I want to treat myself, I indulge in a quasi-“Paleo” almond flour dessert!!! Or make a raw cacao milkshake with almond & coconut milk! DELISH!!!

  5. says

    Excellent! I just came here wondering what to do now that I’ve finished my Whole30 – I want to continue eating this way and wondered if it was OK to intersperse the kinds of foods/traditions you describe in the article. I’m looking forward to the holidays even more now and to January 1 and my next full-fledged Whole30!

    I had a great experience with Whole30, and I look forward to more now. Thanks for an article that put a big smile on my face.

  6. Tabitha says

    I am going on day 8 of my 2nd Whole30. I wasn’t even tempted by trick or treat candy last night! (I can buy chocolate anytime, I am a grown up!) :)
    I decided to take this one right before the holidays for the very reason you stated. I want to have it fresh in my mind how AMAZING I feel eating well. I want to feel confident that I can participate in the holidays fully without feeling stressed about food or like I am going off the rails.

  7. says

    DUDES. I started a Whole30 on October 22 not remembering that November 22 was Thanksgiving.
    Thank goodness I didn’t get that same wild hair on November 28th.

  8. says

    @Claudia: Sorry about last year’s meltdown, but as long as you learn from that and adopt a better strategy this year, you’re doing all right! It’s all just a big, long, learning process, right?

    @Heather: Just because you have challenges doesn’t mean you can’t start making changes now! Get your habits headed in the right direction and plan and prepare, so when January 1st rolls around, you’ll be ready and raring to go!

    @Ruthie: Well done! You can have Halloween candy any time you want – yawn. Save your splurges for the good stuff!

    @Andrea: Thanks for the kind words. We do our best to strike the right balance for the majority of our readers – and all of this is based on our own experiences, too!

    @Olivia: That’s our strategy too – a “treat” isn’t much of a “treat” if it makes you feel like junk. Finding ways to indulge and share in family traditions in ways that won’t totally mess you up is a smart move.

    @Amy: One of the things we try to remind folks is that it doesn’t always have to be the Whole30. Once you’ve done the program once, you can remind yourself of how amazing you feel on the program with a Whole15, a Whole7… sometimes even a Whole3 (weekend)!

    @Tabitha: Well done! Let us know how your plan works out during the holidays.

    @Denise: I don’t think anyone would fault you for cutting your Whole30 short if you wanted to enjoy the holidays… but then again, Thanksgiving is one of the easiest holidays to Whole30. Turkey, butternut squash, sweet potato, green beans, our faux stuffing, and a delicious fruit-based dessert… easy!

    @Isha: Aw, thanks!


  9. Jessica says

    Wow, this post surprised me and is making me think. Since I went Paleo in April and did my first W30 in May I felt amazing. I’ve lost 30 pounds, stopped taking allergy meds, more energy, better sleep, etc… So good in fact, that I decided to keep W30 as my general eating. But that means that I’ve cut wine, honey, and anything treat-based out of my diet, lest I wanted to cheat myself with a SWYPO. I’ve had some down-falls in the past number of months and I’ve kicked myself for days afterwards and gone on a salad binge to make up for it. Now I see that Melissa has a crisco cake and enjoys it?! I really don’t know how to react, or what to think.
    One of the things that you talk about in the W30 is that one bite of something will start the inflammatory cascade all over again. My husband and I got into a discussion the other night (we LOVE to cook) about adding a tablespoon of corn starch to a large cut of meat to help brown it up and thicken the sauce. I was adamant that it would ruin my entire digestive system and that it would take weeks to recover. (I don’t have celiac, or IBS or anything) But then how do you rationalize a slice of cake?
    So what is the right amount to say, ok, I’ll have this and enjoy it, but not set my body back a year?

  10. Daniel says

    Well… another good post that also made me think. I completed my first Whole30 on September 24th. I continued on doing a W45 before “off-roading” with some success. I do find that this program keeps me feeling good, in control of my eating and able to achieve my fitness goals with minimal side effects (gas, bloating, etc.) from non-W30 fuel sources. As such, I appreciate your advice on “relaxing” Whole30 during the holidays but I am currently on day 15 of what I plan to be “Whole 60”. For me, eating on plan gives me control and peace like no other plan, program or supplement I have ever participated in previously. With an intense workout program, my cravings and control are so much worse when I go “off-roading” from the program.

    As such, I feel such peace when I follow this program. I will continue (my planned W60 ends on December 20th) but if I slip up, I will not beat myself up too much over it. I understand that there are strong influences over the holidays but I have one advantage, being Canadian… Our Thanksgiving has long passed (but I ate W30 anyways). Keep writing intelligent posts and I will keep reading. Know that your program and your advice are appreciated.


  11. Nichele says

    First, I love this post and totally understand the reasoning behind not doing the Whole30 through the holidays.

    However, I am planning on starting mine Nov. 23rd (after my birthday and Thanksgiving) through Dec. 23rd (right before the holidays). I never have the temptation to stuff my face into a pie or cake to begin with since I’ve been eating relatively ‘clean’ and counting cals/macros/micros for a while now. I found out about the Whole30 program and have been reading It Starts With Food and I just can’t wait to start. January sounds great but I really need this for my health ASAP. I don’t plan to go crazy for the end of the year festivities but finishing the Whole30 by then and being allowed a few non-approved food items will be okay for me personally.

  12. says

    @Jessica: That’s a really great question, and one I think we can do a better job of explaining. I’d like to turn this into a web article, so pleas give me a week or so and I’ll have this answer for you in great detail.

    @Daniel: It sounds like you are going into this prepared, and for all the right reasons. Bravo! I encourage you to think about it in terms of making deliberate decisions instead of “slipping” – you don’t want to succumb to pressure to eat something you don’t really want (or isn’t really worth it) in the moment, but if your Mom bakes her famous fill-in-the-blank dessert for the holiday party, it’s okay to make a deliberate choice to indulge and share in that family tradition.

    @Nichele: It sounds like you, too, have given this a lot of thoughtful consideration, and are fully prepared to deal with the holiday pressures and the Whole30. Bravo to you as well!


  13. Syd Faassen says

    My doctor recommended the Whole 30 plan to me on Halloween. I read what she gave me (the free part of your site) and thought “I need to do this NOW. November has 30 days. I will always find an excuse to put this off.” I started Nov 1st and am so pleased by the changes I’ve already seen. I am a chronic throat clearer. Allergic to some foods, I’m certain. That’s improved considerably. I’m also sleeping better than I have in forever. I’m not looking at this as weight loss. I need to get my blood pressure under control. That’s my focus. I know it’s only been a week but I am really excited about the changes I’ve seen. I’m looking forward to the holidays as I think I have a better chance of getting through them healthfully!

  14. says

    @Syd: First, thank your doctor for us! (Any chance you’d let me know who you are working with, and in what city? We LOVE connecting with docs who use our program.) I think it’s great that you decided to jump right in, and I think it’s also great that you’ve read this article, and now know a bit more about what pressures you might face around Thanksgiving (if you celebrate). Preparation and planning are key, so keep up the good work, keep focusing on the positive changes you’re seeing, and make a plan for any stressful events that might come up during the 30 days, so you’ll be able to easily stay on track. Good luck!


  15. Emily says

    Oh, I like the idea of starting the day after Turkey Day and then ending right before Christmas. That’s a great idea. Most of the things I look forward to eating are on Thanksgiving and Christmas in my family there’s only one thing I really like, and that’s the sausage at breakfast. :) Plus I’m in a wedding on the 28th. Even if I can’t go the whole month, something’s better than nothing, right?

  16. says

    @Emily: Something is always better than nothing, in this case! Getting even a few weeks in will really help you keep those Christmas treats in perspective.


  17. Tom Wargo says

    I work in a clinic that could realy use the whole 30 program. Do you have a DVD that
    explains the program?

    Thanks – Tom

  18. says

    @Tom – we don’t have a DVD, but we do have a Nutrition Partner program that allows wellness facilities to license our program and distribute a custom-branded guide to their patients. I’d be happy to send you more information – just shoot an email to!
    – Robin