Deciding to commit to the Whole30 diet for a month has some major benefits: Not only does it help you figure out what foods your body doesn’t exactly play well with, it hacks your brain for cutting cravings. Chances are, by day 30 you’ll feel better than ever. But first, you have to get there.
Nixing sugar, legumes, grains (including—gasp!—quinoa), and dairy all at once can be overwhelming. Sure, some days you might have it totally down: You meal-prepped and you’re ready. But what about when your friends invite you to that new trendy restaurant downtown? Or it’s 8 p.m. and you really want some chocolate?
Here, Whole30 co-founder Melissa Hartwig gets real about the toughest parts of sticking with the reset. (Yes, she’s struggled just like everyone else.) “The key when it comes to overcoming any [Whole30] obstacle is planning and preparation,” she says.
Keep reading for her advice—you got this!
Here are the 5 biggest obstacles to sticking to Whole30—and how to overcome them.
1. Eating out
Just because you’re doing the Whole30 doesn’t mean you have to spend the entire month eating at home. The key is all in the preparation. “Look at the menu online in advance to see what’s compliant,” suggests Hartwig. “You can even call the restaurant and ask about modifications they could do—pretty much every place will be happy to do it.” That way, when you’re out with your friends and it’s time to order, it won’t be a big deal or a game of 20 questions with the waiter.
Hartwig’s restaurant hack? At most places you can order a burger (no bun) with a side salad. “Or, you can ask for plain-broiled salmon and [have them] throw it on top of a garden salad or a spinach salad,” Hartwig says. “Those are both completely normal orders anyone could ask for.”
2. Getting home late
You could be on your Whole30 game all day, but getting home late while ravenous can derail everything—you’re hungry and you want something now, compliant or not. “Again, it comes down to planning and prep,” Hartwig says. “So ideally you have some emergency protein in the fridge, like chicken salad, tuna salad, or hard boiled eggs.” Then, you can just throw your protein on top of a quick salad, and voila—dinner in less than 10 minutes.
“I also recommend everyone make a list of three super easy, compliant dinners you can make using ingredients you almost always have at home,” she says. “Maybe it’s scrambled eggs, steamed spinach, and hot sauce. Or it could be the salmon cakes in The Whole30 Cookbook because you always have sweet potatoes and canned salmon on hand.” That way, when you get home late and exhausted, you can pull out your cheat sheet and you’ll know exactly what to make.
3. Sugar cravings
You might not even realize you’re addicted to sugar until you’re forced to give it up. And even if you’re not, almost everyone craves something sweet every once in a while, whether it’s at work around 3 p.m. or after dinner. One problem: Cutting sugar is a big part of sticking to the Whole30.
“My biggest advice is to not satisfy the craving with something sweet, even if it is compliant, because then you’re not teaching your brain anything new,” Hartwig says. “Your brain doesn’t care if you’re eating a Snickers bar or a Larabar.”
So how does she deal? First, Hartwig asks herself if she’s actually hungry or just missing the taste of something sweet. And if she’s hungry, she eats a mini-meal, like two hard boiled eggs. If it’s a craving, she makes herself a cup of tea instead. “There’s something about the ritual of picking out the tea, brewing it, and then sitting and savoring it that is really satisfying. The other day when I was craving sugar, I made myself some tea, curled up with a book, and I was perfectly happy.” She points out that cravings tend to only last between three and five minutes, so the key is distracting yourself while also treating yourself in another way.
4. Not drinking—while maintaining a social life
If you’re used to bonding with your friends over free-flowing bottles of wine or your fitness class crush finally asked you to drinks and you’re wondering what to do, Hartwig offers up this advice: “You have to wrap your head around the fact that the experience is not about the alcohol; it’s about the social engagement, blowing off steam, connecting with people, and the environment,” she says. “And you are just as fun whether you’re drinking a glass of sparkling water as you are sparkling wine!”
Or maybe you like to have a glass of wine to unwind at the end of the day. “People tend to use a glass of wine to serve as a transition between work life and home life, so you need to find a new way to transition,” Hartwig says. For some people, it’s going for a 20 minute walk. For Hartwig’s sister, it’s chopping vegetables (seriously!). “It’s her reminder that work is done for the day and now [she’s] about to nourish [herself] and [her] family,” she explains. “You just have to find something that has that same purpose, that same good feeling, without the wine.”
5. Maintaining close relationships
Hartwig often hears from Whole30 followers that the meal plan can get in the way of their relationships with family and friends—something they totally didn’t see coming when they started the diet. “For so many people, food is bonding and love,” she says.
The key to making someone feel a part of your diet change instead of a total outsider is bringing them into the conversation from the start. “Tell the main support people in your life why you’re doing it and what it personally means to you,” she says. “Then they’ll feel like they are helping you accomplish your goals instead of the Whole30 thing being divisive.” And at the end of the month, you can celebrate together—glass of champagne optional.
Traveling can also be hard on the Whole30. Here’s a list of compliant snacks to stash in your suitcase. And after you make it through the month, here’s what to do next.