Sunday, January 21, 2018


This month, I’ve decided to do another Whole30.  Now, I’ve talked about my take on Whole30 before, and I don’t really want this post to be a regurgitation of that one (although some repetition will be inevitable).  But I think it’s worth delving into some more detail about what I’m talking about when I say I’m “doing” a Whole30.

To briefly recap, the concept behind Whole30 is that you spend 30 days eating a very narrow variety of things—partially to reset your taste buds and digestive tract, and partially to remind you of what real food tastes like—and then you add things back in, slowly, maybe never getting around to adding back in the really bad things at all, like donuts or McDonald’s food.  This works well, but, as time goes on, you will unavoidably start slipping more and more, so it’s a good idea every now and again—perhaps no more than every year or two, even—to start over.  For me, the last six months or so have included three food-centric holidays,1 a pretty stressful family medical procedure, and an atypically intense project for work.  So I’ve not so much fallen off the wagon as been run over by it.  My weight has crept back up, and my digestive system was gradually starting to revolt.  So another reset seemed like a good idea.  Plus, The Mother wanted to do it as well, and, as I’ve mentioned, it’s always easier to coordinate my diet with hers.

But I’m not that interested in being as strict this time around as I’ve been in the past.  I think that’s it’s okay to make small exceptions—or even big exceptions—as long as you’re clear with yourself exactly what the limits are up front.  Where you get into trouble is when you try to leave it “flexible” ... which is code for “I’ll just cheat whenever I feel like it.”  The problem with cheating—even tiny, insignificant cheating—is that it feeds itself.  You cheat a little here, and the world doesn’t end, so you cheat a little there, and, next thing you know, you’re less cheating and more abandoning.  If you set up the modified rules beforehand, and you stick to them, then you’re not cheating at all: you’re just playing a slightly modified game from everyone else.

Before I lay out my guidelines, let me be clear that I don’t recommend something like this for your first Whole30.  The first time around, you should stick to the rules more closely.  Only once you’ve been doing this for a while should you consider deviations such as the ones below.  And of course many will say even then it’s not acceptable.  But I’m a little more open to variations in the core plan.

So let’s look at the broad categories of banned foods for a standard Whole30 and what exceptions I’m personally allowing for this particular reset.  Note also that every exception must have a frequency as well: just because I’m willing to allow something doesn’t mean I think it’s okay to eat it every day.

No grains.  In general, I’m all in favor of this restriction.  I personally find that cutting out grains makes my body much happier.  That may not be true for you—one of the things that makes nutrition such a devilishly tricky thing to advise people on is that everyone is different.  But I definitely do better when avoiding grains of all types, so I’m sticking to that, broadly.  The only exception I’ve made so far is that we cooked one meal which included whole kernel corn, which I thought was okay as long as it wasn’t an everyday thing.  I think it’s worth staying away from the myriad forms that corn is tortured into, in general, and just eating corn straight off the cob does not do my digestion any favors, but a bit of actual corn as part of a larger meal seems okay.  As long as it’s infrequent—I probably wouldn’t want to do this more than one a week, say.

Oh, and I’m still okay with corn starch used to keep my shredded cheese from clumping.  But not for anything else.

No legumes.  So, first of all, it’s fair to note that even rigorous Whole30 allows one exception to this rule: green beans (a.k.a. “string beans”).  This is because, while there’s technically some bean in there somewhere, the vast majority of what you eat when you eat a green bean is the pod around the relatively tiny beans.  The actual legumes you manage to consume are minimal.  But the truth for me personally is that, outside of peanuts, there aren’t really too many legumes I’m even tempted by.  I don’t actually care for string beans, really, and I’ve always been decidedly “meh” on peas.  I like kidney beans, but I don’t miss them in chili, and what’s the point of red beans and rice if you can’t have rice?  I used to enjoy pork-and-beans / baked beans, but that involves sugar.  And I dig refried beans, but you can’t really eat Mexican without corn, so there’s another dead end.  Soy sauce is a bit of a blow, but it turns out that coconut aminos are a reasonable substitute.  And there are other nut butters besides peanut butter, and you can make hummus out of cashews instead of chickpeas, if you’re particularly dedicated to it.  So far I don’t think I’ve consumed any legumes or legume products at all, and I don’t plan to.

No added sweeteners.  If you’re doing a strict Whole30, all your sugar has to come from fruit: whole fruit, dried fruit, or fruit juice.  99% of the time this is plenty for me.  However, I do allow just a few exceptions here:
  • Honey is very natural and I don’t have anything against it.  Still, I hardly ever use any.  One exception is that, once a week, I make a big batch of smoothies, mainly for my kids.  But you can bet I’m having a big ol’ cup myself as well.  And sometimes (not every time), my taste testers inform me that whatever particular combination of fruits I’m using that week is too tart.  And the answer to that is honey.  And I’m not going to make them drink smoothies that they think are too sour, and I’m not going to skip a delicious smoothie just beacuse there were a couple of squirts of honey in 8 cups worth of the finished product.  So, while I try to use sweeter fruits to avoid needing honey at all (bananas and pineapple are the best options there, if you’re curious), if I have to, I have to, and I don’t beat myself up about it.  Also, I’ve been experimenting with making my own Whole30-safe granola, which I’m supposed to make with date syrup.  But, really: is honey any worse than date syrup?  I don’t think so.
  • I make my own Thousand Island dressing, which has no explicit sugar and isn’t particularly sweet.  But it does have ketchup, and ketcup contains sugar.  You can’t have ketchup without sugar ... trust me, I’ve tried.  Again, this is more of a once-per-week type of thing rather than an everyday one, but, as long as I stick to that frequency, I think it’s okay.
  • Did you know that even low-carb diets such as LCHF and Atkins will let you eat chocolate, as long as it has no less than 85% cocoa solids?  It’s like their only exception to the absolutely-no-carbs rule.  That’s good enough for me, man.  Most days the tiny amount of sugar in my preferred brand of 85% dark chocolate is often the only actual sugar I consume in a day.  And the taste is strong enough that I don’t want to eat too much of it at a time.
  • As a super-special exception, I allow myself a small glass of eggnog no more than once a week.  I stocked up on the stuff at Christmas, but it ain’t gonna last forever, and it’ll probably all be useless right about the time I’m done with my 30 days.  And I love me some ‘nog.  So I cut myself some slack here.
Even with all those exceptions, though, it’s still a pretty radical reduction over the amount of sugar and other sweeteners I’ve been consuming lately.

No dairy.  Okay, so this one is right out the window.  The only benefit I ever got from this part of Whole30 was my introduction to ghee (ghee is the only official exception to the “no dairy” rule), which I now use almost exclusively instead of butter.  These days all our milk (for both drinking and cooking, although I rarely just drink it) is lactose-free, because our middle child is even more lactose-intolerant than I am, weirdly.2  But even that’s a small amount of my dairy intake.  Mainly, for me, it’s all about cheese and yogurt.  Cheese is excellent in salads,3 and it’s a decent late night snack instead of the usual chips or cookies or candy.  And yogurt is simply awesome, if you can find any without any added sweeteners.  Toss in some of your own fruit, or some of that homemade granola I was talking about, and it’s amazing (and filling).

No alcohol.  I’m really irked about this one.  Multiple studies suggest that avoiding alcohol entirely may actually increase your chance of heart disease, and I’ve yet to hear any cogent defense of the no-alochol rule from the Whole30 folks.  So I have a very simple rule: I will allow alcohol as long as whatever it was originally made of, before it was fermented, would be allowed under the plan.  So the number one thing that allows is wine; I’m not much of a wine drinker, personally,4 but it’s nice to be able to allow good wine sauces or good dijon mustard.  But if you can track down good vodka, that’s made from potatoes (cheap vodka is made from grain, so I stay away from that crap).  And good vodka is a pleasure to drink, so that’s nice too.  Gin works as well, although it’s defnitely a distant second in the liquor department as far as I’m concerned.  And I think tequila might be okay by my rule, but I don’t really like tequila, so I’ve never bothered to do enough research to verify that.

No chips or fries.  I’m pretty down with this rule.  The only real exception I allow is roasted plantain chips, which I think are significantly different from fried chips.  First of all, they’re not particularly good to just eat a handful of, so they’re no replacement for potato chips (or even fried plantain chips).  But they’re perfectly good to double as crackers with some cheese, or to crumble on a salad instead of tortilla chips.  So, since they enable me to avoid two things I really don’t want to make an exception for, I voted them in.

No sulfites or other preservatives.  The official exception to this is balsamic vinegar, and I extend that to wine, reasoning that, if it wasn’t already banned by reason of being alcohol, it should be allowed under the same logic as vinegar.  I also eat a braunschweiger which contains sodium nitrite, but A) that’s more of a curing agent than a preservative, and B) I don’t eat braunschweiger that often.  Other than that, I’m pretty religious in following this one.

So that’s my version of Whole30(ish), and I try to stick to it.  Anything outside these explicit exceptions I consider cheating, and I feel appropriately guilty about it, and vow to do better.  But I’ve only cheated a couple of times so far, and I expect to make it to the end with the total number of cheats enumerable on the fingers of one hand.  And I can live with that much.  Perfection is a nice goal to aim for, but it doesn’t make much sense to beat yourself up if you don’t achieve it, because you never will.  The most important thing is to see a big improvement in your diet, and this represents that for me.  And that’s good enough.


1 Yes, I include Hallowe’en.  If you’re not binging on crappy candy as part of your Samhain tradition, you’re doing it wrong.

2 I say “weirdly” because lactose intolerance is commonly something that gets worse with age.  But if the Smaller Animal’s condition gets any worse he may not be able to look at a milk carton without having to run to the toilet.

3 I talked about my favorite cheeses for salads in my Saladosity series, specifically when I went shopping for meat and cheese.

4 My alcohol of choice is beer, but that’s just liquid bread.  So that’s out.