Nearly every year, somewhere in the weird limbo land between Christmas and New Years, I get these strong put-my-life-back-together pangs. I think about January, the new year, and how I’m going to finally fix everything I’ve been doing wrong. Eat less, exercise more. Stress less, sleep more. Waste less, wash my sheets more. My internal monologue is filled with lots of LESS-of-this and MORE-of-that, and visions of me emerging from January skinnier, shinier, and noticeably more muscular than I entered it.
You feel me?
The last few Januarys I’ve succumbed to this self-imposed pressure by voluntarily committing to a January Whole30. For those who aren’t familiar, Whole30 is a nutritional reset program. Thirty days of super clean eating to help you cleanse your body (and your mind) and get your eating habits back on track. The simplest, shortest way to explain Whole30 goes a little something like this: a lot of vegetables, meat, and healthy fats and… nothing else. That means no grains, no beans, no sugar, no dairy, no processed what have you’s, no Paleo baked goods (or other technically-Whole30-approved “junk food”), and NO BOOZE for thirty days.
That’s right, just vegetables, meat, and healthy fats. There’s just one problem. Over a year ago, I quit meat. It wasn’t planned, and it may not last forever, but for the foreseeable future, I won’t be putting any land animals in my mouth. So, what happens when you take meat out of the Whole30 equation, and all you’re left with is vegetables and fat?
According to the official Whole 30 book It Starts With Food, you can’t really do a vegetarian Whole30. Pescetarian? No prob. Vegetarian though… First, the authors do their best to convince vegetarians to just “give up” their meat-free ways for 30 days, like it’s as simple as deciding you’re not going to eat ketchup anymore. If you aren’t up for such a sacrifice, a vegetarian diet will require some Whole30 modifications to ensure your food intake is balanced and wholesome. It’s called Veg Whole30.
Here’s what you get to swap in for all the meat when you do a Veg Whole30:
- Limited dairy from pastured, organic, fermented sources (like yogurt and kefir)
- Minimally processed, fermented soy products like tempeh or natto
- Organic edamame
- Nonfermeted soy (extra-firm tofu)
- Legumes (soaked for 12-24 hours, rinsed, then boiled for at least 15 minutes to reduce anti-nutrient and inflammatory compounds)
- Whey protein powder from grass-fed organic sources
- Hemp or pea protein powders
The authors caution to avoid all grains and grain products, including seitan and quinoa, while doing the Veg Whole30. Likewise, they suggest eating beans and tofu in rotation (i.e., not eating them every day).
When you quit meat, people often wonder how the heck you get your protein in. It’s a good question, though, I think most people are eating way more protein than they need each day. I recently read a series of posts on No Meat Athlete, which argue that only 10-15% of our daily calorie intake needs to come from protein. Say you eat about 1800 calories a day. That means at least 180 should come from protein, which is the equivalent of at least 45 grams of protein a day.
Here’s an example of how to easily hit 45g of protein by lunch time under Veg Whole30:
Breakfast: 2 eggs* + 1 cup sauteed kale + 1/2 cup lentils = 23g protein
Lunch: 3 oz tempeh + 1 cup broccoli + 1 med banana + 1 tbsp almond butter = 24g protein
*Note that if you don’t eat eggs, you could easily double the kale/lentil combo and exceed the 45g protein goal.
At risk of sounding crass, Veg Whole30 isn’t really that hard. Sure, it takes dedication, planning, and more time spent cooking than most folks are used to, but I actually enjoy all that stuff. I like the excuse to get into the kitchen, and I think it’s fun to make every darn thing from scratch. Whole30 isn’t meant to be a long-term “diet” — it is a 30-day reset. Which, in January, feels especially welcome after weeks of holiday overeating under our bulging belts. Speaking from the other side, Whole30 will change the way you eat (and drink) long term, far past the end of January.
Some links that may be useful: