The January Whole30®: Progress, Not Perfection

Note: today is the last day to sign up for the Whole30® Daily in time for a January 1st start date. Visit http://daily.whole9life.com for registration, or to preview the content of our daily newsletters.

Welcome to the January Whole30®, kicking off Tuesday, January 1, 2013, with help from our friends at CrossFit Love.

The Whole30 is now in its fourth year, and this January event is our biggest worldwide Whole30 ever—thanks to the enthusiasm of gym owner Joe Petrusky, and the community he’s built at CrossFit Love. Remember to check the CrossFit Love blog every day in January for awesome guest posts, recipes, and helpful hints from your favorite Whole30 and Paleo nutrition experts, and use this article to make sure you are fully prepared for tomorrow’s Day One.

Whether it’s your first Whole30 or your tenth, today we’d like to share with you our thoughts on commitment to the Whole30, versus perfection on the Whole30. There’s often a misconception that we expect your Whole30 to be perfect—the best Whole30 anyone has ever done ever. And that’s simply not true.

When it comes to the Whole30, there’s a difference between 100% commitment and perfection… so let us break it down for you.

Follow the Rules of the Program 100%

You may think this one is a no-brainer, but you’d be surprised how many people go into the Whole30 already compromising the rules. “I’m doing the Whole30… plus red wine when I really need it.” “I’m doing the Whole30, but I have two special occasions in the middle where I’ll definitely treat myself.” “I’m doing the Whole30, but I can’t give up my post-workout whey protein shake.”

These “small” concessions are a slippery slope—one from which your brain may have a hard time recovering. After all, if you allow yourself wine on those bad days, what’s to say a little dark chocolate wouldn’t help, too? And those “special occasions” mid-Whole30 can literally erase all the benefits of the program in one fell swoop—weeks of effort, wasted on one probably-not-even-worth-it meal.

Having “black and white” goals (no slips, no cheats, no excuses) are actually easier for the brain to process, and takes your decision-making out of “effort” territory and into “automatic” (translation: habit-building) territory. Following the letter of the Whole30 law will actually make your program easier, not harder.

In addition, you are selling your results short if you don’t give it 100%. Trust us on this—and if you don’t trust us, trust Whole30 veteran Anne, who found out the hard way that half-assed efforts yield (duh) half-assed results. And why would you put yourself through a program as challenging as the Whole30, only to reap a tiny portion of the rewards?

Need a Whole30 rule refresher? Read Chapter 18 in It Starts With Food for the full program details, or skim the basics on our website.

Don’t Pursue the Perfect Whole30

What? But you just said to follow the program’s rules 100%. What gives?

There are many reasons why you should commit fully to the program’s guidelines and rules—all of them. (We’re talking to you, scale addicts.) But that doesn’t mean you have to pressure yourself into the most perfect Whole30 ever. Here’s what we mean.

The rules are the rules. No grains. No dairy. No weighing yourself. No SWYPO. But we also offer helpful suggestions to make the program as easy as possible, and help you maximize your results. In our free Meal Planning Template, we encourage you to eat three meals a day, and minimize snacking. In our Good Meat Guide, we encourage you to look for animal protein sources raised in their natural environments, and fed their natural diets. In our Pantry Stocking Guide, we talk about finding pantry items with as few whole-food ingredients as possible.

But this doesn’t mean you fail your Whole30 if you have a snack, eat a conventional burger, or buy canned tomatoes with citric acid.

The Whole30 can be intimidating enough in the beginning. Just figuring out what to make for breakfast if you’re not rolling out your bowl of Kashi is tough! So if this is your first Whole30, be patient with yourself. You don’t have to be perfect… just follow the rules.

If you find yourself cracking out on (approved) nut butter or fruit one day, no harm, no foul. Just realize you’re probably trying to satisfy a craving, and make a plan to do better the next time you’re stressed. If you accidentally ate something off-plan (despite your best efforts!), it’s okay. Lesson learned, either move on or start over—it’s up to you. If you can’t afford organic or grass-fed at this time, you’re still nourishing your body with whole, healthy foods—and that’s something you should be immensely proud of.

Follow the rules, but don’t self-impose perfection. Changing your life doesn’t happen in just 30 days, so think about this as “kaizen” (continual progress or improvement), not “flip the switch” to Paleo perfection by Day 30.

Best of Luck on Your Whole30!

From all of us at the Whole9 team and CrossFit Love, we encourage you to learn, share, and most of all, enjoy this life-changing experience! Have a great Whole30!

Are you committing to the January Whole30? Stake your claim and share your reason for taking on the Whole30 in comments.


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  1. Casey says

    Good clarification! I get on the forums sometimes and see people fretting about the details on certain things and start to wonder myself if I missed a rule somewhere. I just reread ISWF and the actual W30 program, so I can clear my head and do this thing right but not crazy.

    Will the daily be the same as it was in August, or have there been changes? The daily is so extremely helpful and I took so much away from it.

  2. Patti says

    I am taking on my first Whole 30 as a way to springboard me into a better lifestyle in general. I have been flirting with Paelo for a moment but wanted to make a full on comittment to see if I can really make some positive changes. I am looking forward to noting the changes, maybe even surprising myself through it all. I want to also explore my changing appetitie as I am finding a more vegetarian lifestyle seems to interest me now (meats are starting to lose their taste and enjoyment for me lately), the Whole 30 had options for that as well. I want to be a person who exercises by habit, and loves the results too much to change that. I never beleive the results people get on any plan, but it doesn’t negate that I want to be one of those people.

  3. Kim Wilson says

    I’m doing whole30 for 2 main reasons: A) to see if stricter adherence to paleo will lead to more energy (constant quest for this tired mama!!) and B) to introduce my husband and daughter to this way of eating. I find it odd that I’ve been feeding myself more healthfully than my daughter. I’ve been eating Paleo for a couple months and love it. I deliberately broke from my guidelines while travelling to family for the holiday & even indulged in Chinese takeout last night that was the opposite of how I eat…. kind of a last supper before whole30 begins… Boy o boy, did that teach me why I choose to eat that other way. Feel lethargic & my gut is unhappy with me. Lesson learned. Bring it, January!!

  4. says

    Casey – The Dailies will have the same content as they did when we rolled them out. if it ain’t broke, y’know. Glad you enjoyed them and we’re excited to see what this January has in store for you.

    Kim and Patti – Welcome!! Be sure to check in on Facebook and the forums for support this month. We’ll do our best to help you get where you want to go!

  5. Susan Mellon Ward says

    I and a bunch of other lunatics on the W390 forums are doing a W100. For me, the food is the easy part. It’s the lifestyle changes that are challenging. No coffee, no tv in bed, no Angry Birds in bed (sigh), eat slowly and mindfully and to enjoy the journey not just the results.

  6. says

    My husband and I are starting tomorrow. 2nd Whole30 for both of us. Happy eating (and living!) to everyone!

  7. Julie says

    I am so looking forward to doing this Whole30 (my second). I’ve done a lot more research this time around and feel so much more ready to improve. I’ve got my copy of Well Fed and doing a ‘Cooking WOD’ tomorrow to help me out when I go back to work on Wednesday. Love your explanation of SWYPO! I’ll never stop learning :)

  8. says

    I love this post–so encouraging, and so true!
    I’m starting my second whole30 after off-roading a little too vigorously during December and have about ten people doing it with me (virtually, of course). I passed this article on to them, because I think finding that balance of sticking to the plan 100%, but also giving yourself grace to work through your emotional issues is a hard one, but so important.

    Thanks for the encouragement, I cannot wait to see what this month has in store!

  9. Brenda says

    I ordered the book but it hasn’t arrived yet and in the mean time I will be doing this plus my coffee creamer until I figure out an alternative for my creamer. Any suggestions would be appreciated.

  10. Cindi says

    I started this morning. Off to a good start. Eggs with an avocado and salsa that is made with only veggies. AWESOME. Now to get the rest of the week planned. I have started the plan but it isn’t completed. I did go to the store and get plenty of good fixings and I’m creative in the kitchen to make it work.

  11. says

    Susan – sometimes it DOES feel like a Whole390, right?! Seriously, though, we’re so proud to have all you crazies as a part of our forum community!

    Second timers – glad you’re back! I think the consecutive W30s have the potential to be more rewarding than the first (if that’s even possible!) because you have a chance to improve your own context with each one.

    Brenda – I’d encourage you not to cheat yourself out of the benefits (mental and physical) of the program by doing it “most of the way”. Maybe look for an alternative to your coffee, instead of an alternative to your creamer? Or give it a try black? It’s only 30 days, but you’ll only get out what you put in.

    Cindi – Breakfast is the KEY to my day. Glad you had a great one!

  12. Valerie says

    Ready to start tomorrow – my co-worker who is doing her second whole30 wants to have black eyed peas today! Will still have it done in January, just a day behind everyone else.

  13. Fran says

    Hey, I have a question. I have no other way to message you privately. There is a group in the city I live in charging people to “help” them with their whole thirty. Is this kosher with you? If you could give me an email address I could tell you more about it. It just infuriates me. I look forward to hearing from you.


  14. says

    This is really a great article. I used to think that I did better with “moderation”, but it turns out I couldn’t stick to anything. But I completed a Whole30 back in Oct 2011 and I realized it was primarily because it WAS so black and white. My brain does work better that way, and it’s easier to make quick decisions, especially while eating out.

    I’m getting back on the Whole30 train today – thanks for the encouragement!

  15. Alisha says

    Taking on a Whole30 again because I’ve been slowly falling into bad food habits due to the mega-stressful job I have and my craptastic schedule. Not letting my tired, cranky self continue to make poor food choices for myself. Using 2013 to make myself and my health and fitness more of a priority than other people. :)

  16. Carrie says

    At my brothers suggestion I now put 1 tsp of coconut oil in my morning coffee — it helps smooth the acidic nature of the coffee. Yes, it’s a little oily, but nothing too awful — after the first cup it didn’t bother me anymore. It makes black coffee more than tolerable!

    I had eggs seasoned with salt, pepper & turmeric, avocado, a bit of bacon, cilantro and a big pile of spinach sprinkled with adobo seasoning and topped with a drizzle of balsamic vinegar and a honeycrisp apple.

    Meal 2 was green beans with seared tuna topped with adobo seasoning and a pear.

    I love adobo seasoning and put it on almost everything.

    Tonight hubs is having spaghetti sauce with pasta, I’m putting the sauce on roasted butternut squash.

    It’s challenging to plan two different eating styles into workable meals, but doing the Whole 30 (or 45 or 60) is the first step in my proactive plan toward optimal health. Thanks!!

  17. Hilary says

    I’m starting my first Whole30 today. I have flirted with the idea for a few months, and decided that 1/1/13 was a great day to commit. I really don’t eat wheat because of stomach upset, but “treated” myself to pizza last night. Boy was that a mistake!

    This afternoon for lunch, I had the “Morning Mix” – ground turkey, apple, cinnamon, and nutmeg – with a side of avocado. Yum! It was great. Tonight for dinner is steak, sweet potato, and salad with homemade dressing. I’ll be having raw nuts and a few clementines if I need a snack.

    Last night I made a chart, planning all of my meals for the week: morning mix, deviled eggs w/ homemade mayo, breakfast hash, scrambled eggs, trout, roasted veggies, chicken curry, homemade bbq sauce with chicken, nuts, apples, clementines, bone broth, sweet potatoes. I think planning is going to make this whole thing go down much easier.

    A good Whole30 alternative to creamer is coconut milk. It mixes into the coffee much better than coconut oil. But, personally, I’ll be skipping coffee this month in favor of green tea or yerba matte.

  18. Kristi in LV says

    Day one is so far a success! I am excited to see if I can come off of daily allegra and sudafed! Also how much fat I lose. I won’t be doing grass fed beef until next week as I already did my shopping for the week.

  19. Wendy says

    Day 1 in the books. Eggs fried in grass fed ghee for bfast, bison burger with portabella mushrooms, guac and pico de gallo for lunch with an orange for dessert, chicken in a homemade tomato sauce with veggies and evoo for dinner.

  20. says

    This is my second Whole30. I tried back in August but couldn’t seem to stick with it. Originally I wanted to try it to find out which foods I need to avoid to help with my fibromyalgia pain. Well this time I’m ready because I finally read “It Starts With Food.” What a difference it makes. Now the Whole30 isn’t just a list of foods to avoid but I really understand why I need to let me gut heal. No more, “well it’s just one bit.” I’m really committed to controlling my fibro pain and not letting it control me.

  21. says

    I am doing the whole 30 for the first time, because I was paleo-ish for a year and lost sixty pounds but gained back about ten over the past few months due to far too much holiday indulgence. I vowed to get back on track in the New Year and this seemed like the best way to do it!

  22. Meghan says

    I am doing my second whole 30, and have my hubs and both parents on board this time around. The first time I did it (November), it felt like the missing piece in my struggle with emotional eating. Going paleo/primal last year was a HUGE step in my progress, but it all just clicked with the whole 30. I am coming off six years of night shift next week onto full time days (woot!) and think this will be the greatest gift to myself in a time of transition. Time to clear the fog! Thanks for all you do to support us :)

  23. Julie says

    I am starting today. I’ve been a single parent for 6 months, and instead of losing weight from the stress of finances, separation, and moving, I have gained weight! Ugg! I will turn 45 in March. I work from home and have two children, ages 9 and 11. I cook two meals a day for them/us, so it will be tough figuring out a menu. Regardless, I’m determined to figure it out! I desparately need to improve my physical and mental health, and lose 15-20 lbs. I want my kids to have a positive role model and a mom they’re proud of. :)

  24. Heather V says

    I started my third Whole 30 today, and I am taking this on as a complete lifestyle change indefinitely. I have had awesome successes with my previous travels through the Whole 30, however, I didn’t do reintroduction; and was not able to prevent myself from sliding all the way back into my bad habits once I “allowed” myself to have this and that treats. I am looking to go Paleo for this entire year; doing a Whole 100 starting today, and commiting to the Whole 30 “just for today”.

  25. says

    Welcome to all the Whole30’ers, new and returning! We’re happy to have you here, and hope this month kick-starts the best year ever for all of you!

    @Casey: You can renew your Whole30 Daily subscription for just $4.95, you know, if you’d like the messages and accountability again on your next go-round! Just visit http://daily.whole9life.com/renew for the special rate.


  26. says

    I’m starting my first Whole Thirty today on January 2. I have been mostly Paleo for a year. I started it to help with reactive hypoglycemia and to compliment my low oxalate diet for numerous other symptoms. But the past six weeks have been extremely stressful and I’ve started eating all kinds of yucky foods again. Big mistake! I’m doing the Whole 30 to jumpstart my New Year and get back in control. I also thought it would be beneficial to take my previous Paleo diet (which included some dairy) up a notch and see if I could feel even better.

    BTW, I really liked this article. I imagine stress will not be my friend during this month (since stress is one of my triggers for poor eating), so giving myself permission not to stress about what is better or best and just concentrate on the absolute rules is going to help me to at least not stress the diet. Thanks.

  27. Erin@Whole9Life says

    @Heidi: Wonderful! It sounds like you really “get it”. Keep Calm and Whole30 On!

  28. Adam says

    Just started the Whole 30 again yesterday. I already noticed I slept a lot better last night.

  29. Julie says

    I posted this in the other January Whole30 post but wanted to share here as well. Hopefully it’s helpful to some!

    Following the directions from Melissa Joulwan’s “Well Fed” cookbook here is the “Cooking WOD” I did yesterday.

    As a working mom, I don’t get to spend a lot of time with my kids as it is, so in the interest of saving time but still putting in the effort to get as much of my meals prepped for the week ahead, I did a “Cooking WOD”. I chopped, cooked, grilled and sauteed as much as possible in 60 minutes – just like a Crossfit WOD. I managed to get the following done:

    2 pounds chicken thighs roasted
    Roasted spaghetti squash (at the same time as the thighs)
    browned 1 pound ground beef with onion and garlic browned
    Steam sauteed:
    baby bok choy
    1 head red cabbage
    1 head broccoli
    1 bag baby carrots
    made homemade olive oil mayo
    boiled 1 dozen eggs

    Having all of this on hand will save me between 30-60 minutes of meal prep most nights this week (I use the ideas from “Well Fed” to do hot plates most nights. I can also use these pre-prepared ingredients for breakfast and lunch as well!

  30. Caroline says

    This was a well-timed article. There are so many things that are just out of our control, and it would be easy to go off the rails with the ‘failure’ mentality. I had re-read ISWF and had it in my head it had to be perfect for it to work, but happy to know that if I end up having something that is out of my control (eg sulfite in red wine vinegar), I haven’t ‘failed’.

  31. Melonie says

    Whole30 – commenced on Jan 1st – feel great today – though the first 3-4 days were not so easy! Made a big batch of shrimp bisque last night with LOTS of shrimp, coconut milk, diced red bell peppers, diced carrots, diced onion, and lots of tiny cubed sweet potatoes – some Chinese Five Spices, and a dash of zesty lemon pepper – very pink! My hubby loved it…oh my gosh, truly to die for – but it actually makes living SO much better. This is NOT a diet – it’s a lifetime thing – I know that weight loss is not the primary impetus for Whole30 – but hope that will be a nice side benefit while I enjoy all the other benefits! Will know more about that in about 25 days =)

  32. ginap says

    I found Whole30 a few days after the Jan 1 start date, but I started that day. A FB friend had liked the page and it showed up in my feed. I have to say the timing was absolutely perfect. I was ready and ripe for a change and didn’t know how to implement it on my own. My family ate fairly “clean” previous to this. I hardly ever consumed dairy, ate no soy in any form and only used 1 tsp of sugar in my am coffee. I am allergic to soy, so most of our food was homemade. Not a lot of restaurant eating. I was aiming to cut out wheat, but hadn’t been able to do it 100%. I was a carb-o-holic. I suffered daily stomach aches, cramping and bathroom emergencies (IBS). Also, have had an incurable case of jock itch in my groin and armpits since June 2012 (GONE!).

    Enter Whole30. I started strong, and now on day 17, I feel the best I have ever felt in my 32 years of life. I have not had a stomach ache or cramps, my head is clear, my body and mind have energy throughout the day AND I sleep wonderfully (with some crazy dreams lately).
    I know I have lost weight-pants fit me now that didn’t fit a month ago. I have been taking it easy on the exercise during this period of time – working on healing my body. Swimming or running only twice or 3X a week and yoga. I can’t thank this program enough.
    This is a life change! I can see myself occasionally eating a Tostito chip here and there, but honestly, this has been so easy and the benefits are so great, there is no reason to return to my previous eating habits.