The first time Ronny Joseph did a Whole30, it was completely accidental. He had struggled with his weight and his relationship with food for most of his life and was starting on, what he calls, his health journey. He was determined to eat more healthily and get to a place where he could feel better. For a few months, he experimented with random diets before a friend turned him onto paleo. He was doing a very strict paleo diet when he realized, what he was actually doing at the time, was a Whole30.
He’s since done a second Whole30, lost all the weight and figured out that real food can taste good and shouldn’t make you feel bad after you’ve eaten it. He talks about his journey and shares all his recipes on his popular blog, Primal Gourmet. (Note: Many of his recipes are Whole30 friendly!)
He currently follows the paleo diet, but we figured he was the guy to go to for help with Whole30. Here, he talks about how it compares to paleo, his go-to recipes for a Whole30 stint, dealing with cravings and more.
You follow a paleo diet but you’ve also done Whole30. In a nutshell, what’s the difference between the two?
There’s a lot of overlap between paleo and Whole30. But there are a few differences that distinguish them. Whole30, first and foremost, is a 30-day elimination protocol. So it only lasts for 30 days, whereas paleo is, for the most part, considered a lifestyle because it’s something that people strive towards for the rest of their lives. Ideally speaking, of course. The big picture with Whole30 is to break old food-related habits and figure out the culprits in your diet that negatively affect you.
And then there’s a reintroduction phase after that 30 day reset?
Exactly. Whole30 lasts 30 days, but then there’s a really important reintroduction phase after the program. It’s meant to allow people to figure out what sorts of things their body reacts to in their diet. You’ve just gotten through 30 days of getting rid of so much stuff from your diet—things like wheat, legumes, corn, soy, dairy, sugar, and alcohol. Now it’s time to figure out what you should stay away from and what you can live comfortably with going forward.
You do it slowly, one thing at a time. Meaning, you wouldn’t just jump right back in with a grilled cheese sandwich. Because, let’s say it makes you feel lethargic, you wouldn’t know exactly which part of the sandwich was having the effect on you. So that reintroduction period, after you’ve wiped the slate clean, is really important, because it allows you to play around with what works for you, individually.
How many times have you done Whole30?
Technically twice. The first time I did it was when I first started my health journey and I didn’t actually know I know I was doing it. I was just doing a very strict paleo diet.
Have you learned anything surprising about your own diet after a Whole30?
Absolutely. For a long time, I struggled with potatoes. I got rid of them because they were high in starch, they were high glycemic, and I thought they made me gain weight. Then after Whole30, I reintroduced potatoes and I learned they were totally fine for me. I had no negative side effects whatsoever. Now I eat them all the time. On the other hand, rice is a huge problem for me. The moment I have a bowl of rice, I need to take a nap. It just does not sit well with me.
People who’ve done Whole30 often talk about the cravings and the grumpiness that seem to hit them during the program. Did you have any issues?
The first time I did Whole30 unknowingly, I was grumpy like everybody. I needed certain foods and I wanted certain foods. Or so I thought. When I finally did Whole30, officially, I didn’t go through a lot of the craving issues because I had been eating clean for so long at that point that my body was just used to it.
Of course, I still do get cravings even when I’m not on Whole30. If I absolutely have to have something, I’ll grab a handful of salted almonds. (I go to Costco and I buy a large bag.) They’re really filling and crunchy and they hit the spot. Plus, maybe a date or a slice of prosciutto. Hydrating is really important, too. Luckily, there are so many great sparkling waters on the market now that are Whole30 compliant. They can really help you if you’re craving a cocktail.
Let’s talk about snacking on Whole30. Ready? Discuss!
A friend of mine actually just did a Whole30 and he was asking me about snacks: “I’m so hungry throughout the day. What do you snack on?” If you’re hungry, it could be a few things. It could be that you’re actually not hungry—that your mind is just bored and you need to occupy it. So it could be that you’re just eating out of boredom or it could be that you’re emotionally distressed and maybe you’re looking for some comfort.
I would take a second and figure out what exactly is going on in your mind because, unless you have a rumbling belly and you’re ready to eat a bowl full of raw broccoli, you’re probably not hungry. And that’s something that Melissa Hartwig, the co-founder of Whole30, talks about—the idea that if you’re hungry that means you’re physically hungry. It means that you’re willing and able to eat an entire bowl of something that you otherwise wouldn’t want. So assess whether or not you’re willing to eat a big bowl of raw broccoli, and if you are, then you should probably be eating a full meal—not snacking. It’s so important to have a really well-rounded breakfast, because that’s going to set the rest of your day.
Okay then, what’s your go-to breakfast when you’re doing a Whole30?
It’s really simple: scrambled eggs, usually, because they’re really quick, or maybe a breakfast hash that I’ve prepared the day before. I’ll sauté onions, peppers, mushrooms, potatoes, and I’ll just make a big sort of hash. Then I’ll put that into a container and into the fridge—then every morning, I’ve got the base for an omelet. Or maybe I’ll just have leftovers from dinner the night before. I also ate a lot of soup for breakfast on Whole30.
Are there any store-bought snacks that helped you get through Whole30 or stick to the paleo lifestyle?
Whole30 has a program that vets products and gives them the stamp of being Whole30 approved. Those products take the guesswork out and you can totally have them. Then there’s also Whole30-compliant snacks, and can find those by reading the labels, which is really an art form. If I see something like cane syrup, I just put it back on the shelf right way. I really love salsa and put salsa on everything, so I’m always looking at those labels. And I recently bought a bunch of RXBARs. But to have an RXBAR every day for breakfast kind of defeats the purpose of the program. They’re more like emergency foods.
On your site, you talk about cheat meals. Obviously they’re not really allowed during Whole30, but why do you like them for other points in time?
Cheating is this taboo word; it has these negative connotations to it. And I don’t think that I like the word so much as I like the idea that you’re aloud to reward yourself, but as long as you understand what you’re doing and why you’re doing it. In the beginning of my health journey, one of the things that really helped me was that I had a special meal to look forward to every week. When I was really, really strict, that one meal was enough for me to convince myself that I can do six days of eating clean because I had that meal to look forward to at the end of the week. It’s all totally manageable if you start to think about things in terms of little blocks of time.
What’s your best cooking tip for people who are about to start a Whole30?
Plan in advance. Prep the stuff that takes a bit of time. If you can, carve out a block of time on a Sunday to prep things. If you peel the sweet potatoes, dice them up, throw them in some Ziploc bags, toss them in the fridge, you’ve got your carbs ready for the week. Prep an entire butternut squash on a Sunday and you’ve got it ready to go for a weeknight sheet pan dinner. Throw some chicken thighs on there and, all the sudden, you’ve got the base for a really fulfilling dinner. If you prep all the ingredients you need, then you can dump them in the slow cooker before you go to work and you have Wednesday night dinner.
Ah yes, the good old slow cooker. What are some other tools and gadgets that you couldn’t live without during Whole30?
Well, actually, the Instant Pot, which performs the same function as the slow cooker but also has the added benefits of being a pressure cooker. (I was a skeptic at first and now I love it.) And a good, sharp knife. There’s nothing worse than trying to prep with a dull knife. I like the Zwilling Pro series because it’s really durable. And obviously a big chopping board. Get the biggest one you can, so you have the most space possible to work. Oh, and glass storage containers—like Pyrex, because, if you’re prepping things, you need to have something to hold them.
These Greek Burgers are the most popular recipe on my blog and for good reason. They’re bursting with flavor and have a few unexpected ingredients that I think set them apart from others. I love using ground lamb, but you can substitute beef, pork or even a combination of the two. The patties can be formed and frozen ahead of time for quick-and-easy dinner options throughout the week.
This Chicken Shwarma takes less than 20-minutes to prepare, start to finish, and doesn’t require roasting the meat on a spit (not that there’s anything wrong with that). It is the ultimate back-pocket, weeknight dinner recipe. Serve with chopped salad and roast potatoes. Just be sure to set some shwarma aside for lunch the next day and don’t skimp on the bootleg garlic sauce!
This is my mama’s recipe for Chicken Soup. It just so happens to be Whole30 compliant. Growing up, she made this (and still does) at least once a week and on every holiday. It is the best chicken soup in the entire world and that’s not up for discussion!
Any last words of advice for people who are thinking about starting Whole30?
Just take things day-by-day. Thirty days seems like a long time, but it’s really not. And it’s kind of like you’re investing in yourself for the rest of your life. You’re doing this for yourself. You’re not doing it for anybody else, so just take it day by day. Be very patient with yourself, allow yourself to grow—to realize that maybe that you’re really reliant on sugar or alcohol, and maybe you don’t need to be.
Approach it with an open mind. A lot of people focus on a specific goal, like weight loss, for example. That seems to be a very common thread for people who are starting Whole30. And it’s not necessarily a bad one. It’s a good place to start in terms of making changes, but that’s not usually what happens. You may lose some weight, or you might not lose any weight. It really depends on the person and the most important thing is making sure you don’t lose sight of what really matters—and that’s rehabilitating your relationship with food.