Paleo or Whole30: Which is better?
It’s a question I get a lot. I’m answering it for you today so that you can go forward with confidence and select the best nutrition approach for yourself—especially if you’re planning to kick off the New Year with a renewed focus to eat better.
A Bit About Paleo First
Paleo is a way of eating focusing on real, whole, minimally processed foods. Foods that support gut health, hormonal balance, stable energy, and lean body mass. The stars of the show are meat, seafood, and eggs; veggies and fruit; and healthy fats. Most people start with a yes and no list of foods to eat and avoid, respectively.
Yes: Meat, seafood, and eggs; veggies and fruit; and healthy fats.
No: Grains, legumes, dairy, added sugars, processed foods, and salt. (There are others.)
Five years ago when I first started eating this way (on January 10, 2010 to be exact), the list of what was and wasn’t Paleo was pretty fixed across the board. It was easy to find a lot of consistency from book to book or website to website.
My, my…how things have changed.
Now it’s anyone’s guess, especially when every nutrient-poor baked good under the sun and processed / packaged food is now labeled with the “P” word because it’s “technically” Paleo. It’s kind of a mess, especially for newbies.
One site says white potatoes are okay. Another says to avoid them like the plague. One book says never, ever salt your food. The world replies back with, “But some salt makes food taste good.” Confusing, right?
While a yes / no list is a decent way to start your Paleo lifestyle and wrap your brain around it, it’s no way to live the rest of your life.
And, it’s not the smartest idea either. Why? Here’s an example.
Athletes need more carbohydrate than sedentary folks. By adhering to extremely low carbohydrate Paleo approaches and training extremely hard, many athletes have gotten into hot water with their cortisol levels, thyroid health, and poor performance (to name a few). Applying one Paleo protocol across the board where everyone eats the same exact thing—with disregard for life context, goals, health history, etc.—can have negative implications over time.
Another example. My husband’s been Paleo since 2007, but in the last couple years, he’s battled skin irritation like eczema around his eyes and elbows. Trial and error seemed to link it to certain foods like beef and eggs, but after much research, he narrowed it to a histamine intolerance. Eating a lot of fermented veggies, kombucha, leftover meat, bone broth and even certain vegetables—all foods widely lauded and encouraged in a Paleo diet—actually made his symptoms worse.
Long story short, you are an individual and context matters, which is why you need to learn about yourself and your relationship with food. That’s where Whole30 comes in.
Get Your Learn On With Whole30
[Note: I am an Envoy Extraordinaire for Whole30, which means I help educate the community and answer questions about the program.]
Whole30 is a month long elimination plan that’s been described more than once as “squeaky clean Paleo.” Dallas and Melissa Hartwig created this strategy to help people learn about their relationships with potentially problematic foods, then develop a plan for which foods to avoid long-term and which to reintroduce.
You see, we don’t all react to foods in the same ways. Me? I had a really tough time with sugar. Even after 18 months of Paleo eating, I couldn’t shake it. It consumed me. I wanted to stop eating sweets and craving junk food, but I was stuck. Even notoriously “healthy” foods like dried fruit were irresistible to me. I could slam back a whole bag of Trader Joe’s dried mango in about 10 minutes, then go back for more.
In 2011, I did my first Whole30 which required me to cut out all added sugar. (And, I avoided dried fruit because I knew it was a trigger food.) By the end, I had broken the cycle. Something I struggled with my WHOLE LIFE no longer had a grip on me.
Was I allergic to sugar? No. Do I have a sugar sensitivity? Maybe, but it depends on how you define that. Did I have a bad psychological relationship with it? Eff yeah, I did. What you learn about yourself during and after a Whole30 might surprise you.
So, completing a Whole30 will give you valuable, personalized feedback about which foods affect you positively / negatively, then allow you to make informed modifications to a Paleo approach for life. Sounds cool, right? You get to drive your boat based on how foods make you feel, not because of what some yes / no list you read five years ago told you to eat.
Paleo or Whole30: Which is better? The answer is neither. They’re just different. They both serve their own purposes and have distinct goals.
The simple solution: Do a Whole30 at the start of your Paleo journey so you know how to better eat Paleo for life.
Paleo is a long-term nutrition and lifestyle strategy where nutrient-dense foods are encouraged, but inflammatory, nutrient-poor foods are avoided.
Whole30 is a short-term, very strict program designed to help you learn about which foods may be problematic for you. You can then apply what you learn to a slightly looser, less strict (but very much informed) Paleo approach to eating for life.
Whole30 Resources To Help You Plan for January 1
1: Get a copy of It Starts with Food. It’s really easy to read, and it’ll set clear guidelines for you. (Plus it has a ton of tasty recipes from Mel Joulwan of Well Fed and Well Fed 2.) No time or dinero to get one? You can read about the program on the Whole30 website here. Not sure if you should get the book? Check out my review here: 5 Reasons to Read It Starts with Food.
2: I’ve tagged every recipe from the blog that’s Whole30-friendly (over 100 to date) for easy searching in the Recipe Index. If it says W30, it’s made from Whole30-friendly ingredients. There are hundreds!
3: My Whole30 Pinterest board. Love to pin? You can find all my Whole30 recipe pins (plus other photos and videos) by clicking here: Stupid Easy Paleo Whole30 Pinterest Board.
5: Other awesome bloggers who’ve written about Whole30: Nom Nom Paleo and The Clothes Make the Girl just to name a couple rockstars! Click on their blog names for kickass Whole30 posts, including recipes. Mel’s got another newly updated post here: 30 Reasons to Whole30 with lots of good stuff AND her Week 1 Meal Plan with yummies like her famous Chocolate Chili and Sunshine Sauce!
6: The Whole30 forum. A free forum dedicated to all topics Whole30-related. Click here to join.