At the beginning of November, a friend and I sat down together and pledged to give the Whole30 food plan a shot. We both wanted to eat more consciously, and consume fewer carbs and less sugar. Whole30, with its focus on vegetables and stringent rejection of carbs, sugar, alcohol and processed foods, seemed to be the answer.
Well, a mere ten days into the program I realized that it was not going to work for either my appetite nor my budget.
For those unfamiliar with the Whole30 diet, let me explain the rules a little more clearly. It’s the current food trend de jour, a diet that people are supposed to undertake for 30 days.
From their website, here’s what they list as ok to eat: “Eat meat, seafood, eggs, tons of vegetables, some fruit, and plenty of good fats from fruits, oils, nuts and seeds. Eat foods with very few ingredients, all pronounceable ingredients, or better yet, no ingredients listed at all because they’re totally natural and unprocessed.”
Here’s what they say not to eat: Sugar (real or processed), alcohol, tobacco, grains, legumes (including all beans), no peanut butter, dairy, sulfites, MSG, or carrageenan.
At first glance, I was totally on board. I try not to eat dairy and to limit my carbs as is. With a little nudging I thought I could kick my peanut butter habit. With a little planning, I thought I could build my meals around the meats I do eat (chicken and tilapia) and just up my veggie intake.
But you know what happened? I broke. I broke hard, and I broke pretty fast. I went from being excited about Whole30 to feeling it’s elitist, snobby, and way too restrictive. I am no longer even remotely trying to follow the plan.
It wasn’t just my raging addiction to peanut butter that broke me. I was leaving a lot of food I’d already spent money on to gather dust in my pantry. Trying to keep up with the restrictions of the diet was busting my food budget.
This diet is not really for those who stick to a strict budget. My budget for food each month is $60. I know that’s crazy low, but it works for me. Let’s remember, I’m working with a take-home paycheck of roughly $22,000 each year.
I have a Costco membership. A few months ago I shelled out for a large package of quinoa, gluten free pasta, black beans, and chickpeas. I mean, it’s a substantial amount of food. And none of it was listed as ok to eat on the Whole30.
So I was forced into the grocery store to load up on produce. Now, I’ll be the first to admit that by and large, produce is way cheaper than packaged food. (In most places. I know in food deserts and higher cost of living areas food is much more expensive than my area.)
Produce doesn’t last unless you’re freezing it. I live in a small apartment without much dry storage and a freezer I split with two other people. I don’t have a ton of space to be socking away bags of frozen peas or broccoli crowns.
So you can very easily run out, spend a ton of money on produce, and watch it rot before you get the chance to eat it. There’s not an easy way to store it. Plus, my shelves were already stocked with all those grains and beans that I couldn’t eat. Never mind that beans are an excellent source of fiber, iron, and protein. All of which my anemic, non-meat eating self needs!
Besides the space issue, Whole30 also presents a time issue. The program assumes you have the time to be cooking either large batch meals once or twice a week, or that you have the time to cook three fresh meals a day. Now, I work from home and usually make myself a hot lunch every day. But I’m not going to make myself three hot meals and be stuck hand washing my one pan three times a day.
Finally, Whole30 depends very heavily on meats. I don’t eat most animals, so a lot of my diet is made up of grains, beans, and legumes. There’s a serious protein deficiency waiting to happen to non-meat eaters who can’t eat beans, or tofu, and who don’t want to eat ten pounds of broccoli at each meal.
While I haven’t tried any other food trend, I suspect many of them come with the same problems that Whole30 does. It simply leaves those of us who are short on income and time out in the cold. These kinds of plans kill me. They are handed down by a slim, attractive person or couple, and are more about making money than about helping people actually achieve better health.
I don’t have the budget for it. I don’ have the patience for it. Last night I had a cheese-less pizza covered in sauce, mushrooms, broccoli, and orange pepper. It broke at least three of the Whole30 rules. It was also delicious, filling, and got rid of one of the Costco pizza crusts I’ve had in my freezer for EIGHT MONTHS.
So tell me y’all. Is there a food trend that you’ve found to be budget and time friendly? Have you had success with Whole30? I’m curious if anyone has made it work!
For ways to actually save money on your grocery bill check out these awesome articles.
Kara Perez is the original founder of From Frugal To Free. She is a money expert, speaker and founder of Bravely Go, a feminist financial education company. Her work has been featured on NPR, Business Insider, Forbes, and Elite Daily.