When I told friends and family that I was doing the Whole30® plan, they were a little dismayed. It was during the peak of the holiday season and I was giving up sugar, dairy, soy, alcohol, gluten, grains, and processed foods. It felt as though I was committing social suicide. I won't lie: It was hard. I cooked a lot, but I made it through! The program really helped me become more aware of what I ate and how certain foods affected my well-being. While I'm not ready for my next Whole30® round just yet, I'm really glad that I did it. Here are my top tips and favorite recipes that helped me succeed.

Grilled Lemon Herb Pork Chops
Photo by bd.weld

1. Learn

About a month before you start, find out all you can about the program. You'll have an easier time following the rules when you know the reasoning behind them. Read the books, take notes, mark the pages, and mentally start preparing yourself for the program.

2. Find Your Tribe

When you're supported and surrounded by friends on the diet, it's so much easier. I created a Whole30® Facebook group and invited my friends to join. We shared our experiences and questions, and were cheerleaders for each other. One of the strengths of Whole30® is the community. Be sure to follow Whole30®, Whole30recipes, and the program co-creator Melissa Hartwig on Instagram for daily inspiration, support, and recipes.

3. Start Early

Don't quit all the bad foods cold turkey when the program starts. Instead, a few weeks beforehand, slowly start cutting down on the most "dangerous" food groups. Starting earlier and slower will make your journey easier.

4. Clean Out

Go through your pantry, fridge, freezer, junk drawer, glove compartment in your car, your gym bag, or any other space you might hide snacks, and get rid of anything that's not compliant. This is one of the best things you can do to reduce temptations. You can donate the food to your local food bank, bring it into the office, or give it to your friends or neighbors.

5. Plan Ahead

Planning ahead is critical for your success. This means creating a menu plan for your first week of the diet. You'll be doing a lot of cooking, and might not always have the time for preparing last-minute meals.

6. Stock Up

It can be hard and somewhat frustrating shopping for Whole30® compliant food. You'll soon be reading every label and scrutinizing every ingredient before adding it to your grocery cart. Also, shopping for whole, compliant, ingredients can be expensive. To cut down on costs, I bought bulk items like eggs, avocados, and sweet potatoes at Costco to save some money.

7. Stay Committed

Remind yourself why you chose to do the program in the first place. Stay connected with your tribe. You might go through social-life withdrawal because going for happy hour or a quick lunch is more difficult now. Your supporters know exactly what you're going through, so make plans for a potluck breakfast, lunch, or a picnic.

8. Get Plenty Of Rest

The program will be hard emotionally and physically. Clear your social calendar for the first week to give yourself time to cook healthy meals, do yoga, and get enough sleep. You might also be cranky during the first week as your body is going through a detox, so give yourself extra space to reflect, relax, and keep your crankiness to yourself.

9. Get Cooking

Unless you have a personal chef, you simply won't have enough time to cook from scratch for every single meal. So, you'll need to cook ahead. I made a lot of chicken salads for weekly lunches, soups for dinner, and pans of roasted vegetables. Here are some recipes I used:

Blasted Broccoli & Cauliflower
Photo by Anna Berman
Roast Sticky Chicken-Rotisserie Style
Photo by chibi chef
Coconut Carrot Soup
Photo by Anna Berman

10. Reward Yourself

Rewards are motivating, so sign up for a massage, get a pedicure, or buy a new pair of sneakers to help keep you motivated. When you finish the program, look back at where you started and where you are now. Compare your energy levels, how your jeans fit, your cooking skills, your dependency on a mid-afternoon snack (or lack of it), etc. Your body and your mind have likely changed in both small and big ways during the month, and that deserves recognition.

Slowly reintroduce the banned foods back into your routine, if you wish. You might find out that you are doing just fine without dairy or don't miss sugar at all. And that's great! But if you have missed that glass of wine or bowl of pasta, say hello to your old friends--in moderation. You don't want to overwhelm your body or completely reverse every benefit of the program by going fully back to the way you were eating before.