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Get Healthy Series: The Whole30 Program

May 3rd, 2016

By: Alison Dale, YPAL Intern

Fad diets come and go, but the Whole30 program may be here to stay. Since it is not considered a diet, but an elimination program, many people have taken the challenge to complete the 30 days of the strict Paleo-style meal plan. Whole30 has grown in popularity over the past couple years so I decided to get the details from a pro, Michael Strawser, a two time finisher of the Whole30 program. Michael is an assistant professor and instructional designer for online projects within Bellarmine University’s School of Communication.

Can you give some background of the diet for people who many not know what it is?

At its core the Whole30 is an elimination program (the word diet is rarely used by the program creators). The creators believe, and I think rightly so, that food has a significant impact on our bodies (both positive and negative).  Whole30 was established as a program that would allow participants to “press the reset button” and become familiar with how foods affect us on a daily basis. In general, meat, seafood, eggs, vegetables, choice fruits and good fats are allowed while participants are encouraged to avoid added sugar, alcohol, grains, legumes, dairy, MSG, etc. for 30 days.

What was your experience during The Whole30 program?

I have completed the Whole30 twice. It’s difficult but the end result is worth it.  Overall, I had two extremely positive experiences.

What were your results?

Remember, this is an elimination program first and foremost, not just a diet to lose weight quickly. The creators of Whole30 even encourage you to avoid a scale until the program is complete. After completing the program I found out that I am lactose intolerant and have a mild gluten allergy. These results were confirmed by allergy tests, GI scopes, etc. Also, I did lose between 12-16 pounds during each program, but results may vary.

What were the biggest challenges?

By far the most difficult aspects of the Whole30 revolve around food prep and cleanup. The program itself may become taxing, especially if you do not have a history of successful diet completion, but the biggest challenge for my wife and I was the time spent fixing meals and snacks that were Whole30 compliant. Be prepared to spend more time than usual in the kitchen.

What was your favorite part?

Energy! I had so much energy. I am a coffee fanatic and, thankfully, you can have black coffee on the Whole30, but after 10-15 days my body stopped craving and relying on caffeine. I also found myself falling asleep and waking up on a more consistent schedule, often without an alarm. My body truly did feel different when I was avoiding the “negative” foods. Also, we found a lot of new recipes that we love.

Did you ever have any intense cravings? For what? How did you combat them?

I love grains and my favorite food, by far, is pizza, so I would often find myself craving anything with dough, sauce, and meat. That wasn’t my only craving though. When you drastically change what your body takes in, there will be cravings for old foods, consistently. I tried to substitute Whole30 foods when I had cravings. For example, instead of pizza, we would make spaghetti squash with marinara meat sauce. Also, instead of potato chips we would do cashews (you can eat any nuts but peanuts), etc.

What was your biggest takeaway?

Food does have an impact. We need to be careful with what we put into our bodies.

Was it easier the second time around?

It was easier the second time because I already knew I could do it and I saw the benefits of finishing first hand. I underestimated the mental toll of the first few days but the second time I was prepared and knew there were certain hurdles that I just need to push through. The second time I actually continued the Whole30 for an additional 10 days. We also knew how to cook for the program the second time around. We already had recipes and knew that it would take time. The first completion was a “big deal”- I would tell people I was on the Whole30, complain about not eating my favorite foods, etc.-but time two was much more laid back and low-key.

Who should or should not do the diet, in your opinion?

I would probably disagree with the creators here, but I do think anyone who is looking to lose weight could complete the program and would benefit. However, the purpose is not a quick-fix weight loss program. If you read the book It Starts With Food (Doug and Melissa Hartwig) you will see that the Whole30 is designed to teach us how certain foods interact with our body. If you believe you may have a food allergy I would highly suggest that you complete this program. Also, if you notice that you are fatigued, sick on a consistent basis, have trouble losing weight, etc., then you should try the Whole30 at least once. It’s only 30 days and may give you a new perspective.

Did your eating habits differ from after the diet compared to before?

Fair warning, the Whole30 may not be a sustainable lifestyle choice for everyone. While some of my eating habits have changed I have reverted back into some old (bad) habits. But, I drink less coffee, consistently eat at least 1-2 Whole30 meals a day, and do eat more fruit and vegetables-so those benefits have had a lasting impact. Also, I am more attuned to foods that may cause allergy-based symptoms.

Do you have any advice for those wanting to try it?

  • Before starting the Whole30 read It Starts With Food
  • Research recipes before starting the program and make freezer meals. Also, familiarize yourself with your crockpot.
  • Lower your expectations. You may not lose a lot of weight but you will feel better.
  • Make sure you have a realistic timeframe for completion. For example, avoid 30 day stretches where you may be going on vacation and that include holidays, etc. Find a solid 30 days where you can fully commit without driving yourself crazy and becoming a food martyr. 
  • Find someone to do the Whole30 with and avoid complaining about the program.
  • Remember, the food you crave doesn’t own you.  


About the Series
The YPAL Get Healthy Blog Series, sponsored by Norton Healthcare, will focus on the health and well-being of our Louisville Young Professionals. This blog series will feature various young professional bloggers in our community sharing their stories on health, wellness, nutrition, fitness and healthy lifestyles. Want to write a Get Healthy Blog Post? Email for details! 

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