June 27, 2016

Whole30 101: Is This Normal? (A Guide to Whole30 “Symptoms”)

Whole30 Symptoms Header

Heads up: there’s no such thing as “normal”. Every body is different. Everybody’s Whole30 is different. While the symptoms listed below are commonly experienced during the Whole30, the only person who can figure out whether or not they’re “normal” for you is you – and maybe your doctor.

“I’m on Day 6 and I’ve been throwing up all day. Is this normal?”

“It’s Day 16, and my sinuses are so clogged, I can barely breathe. Is this normal?”

“I’m on Day 22; I am having the worst hair day, and I got a flat tire on the way to work. Is this normal?”

Okay, maybe that last one sounds far-fetched, but we hear questions like this all the time. You do the Whole30, experience some unpleasant symptoms along the way, and assume they’re Whole30-related. But still… they’re not exactly what we outlined in our Whole30 Timeline (page 32 in The Whole30), so you hit us up on Instagram or TikTok to see if it’s a common occurrence on the program.

Of course, we’re not doctors, and we can’t accurately medically diagnose your symptoms in 140 characters or less. But there’s one thing you absolutely have… and that’s an Attentional Bias.

Attentional Bias

An Attentional Bias is the tendency of your perception to be affected by your recurring thoughts. Psychologists say an effect of this bias is that you can become overly focused on a single stimulus, neglecting to notice other aspects of the situation. (Translation: you think what you see is the whole story.) So what does this have to do with the Whole30?

You’ve spent the last several days or weeks planning and preparing for your program. It feels like everything is all Whole30, all the time, especially if it’s your first program. It can feel like the Whole30 is present in your thoughts, words, or actions every waking minute. Plus, you’ve been super focused on the physical benefits of the program (crossing your fingers that energy bursts/restful sleep/clearer skin/a flatter stomach happen to you) while steeling yourself for some of the not-so-pleasant side effects we warn you about.

So of course when something unusual or unpleasant happens in your body during those 30 days, you assume it’s because of the Whole30. Because isn’t EVERYTHING about the Whole30 right now? This is why, when you get a headache, throw up, feel your eyes start to itch, or break out in a rash, the first thing you do is ask us, “Hey, is this normal?”

Sometimes, yes. Lots of times, no. Here’s a general guide of what’s normal(ish) and not-at-all-normal when it comes to the Whole30.

Normal. Sorry.

Here are some very normal (although not super pleasant) symptoms you may experience on the Whole30, especially in the first 14 days. (We explain these in detail in the Whole30 Timeline and the FAQ section of The Whole30.)

  • Headaches (dull)
  • Lethargy
  • Sleepiness
  • Crankiness
  • Brain fog
  • Cravings
  • General malaise
  • Breakouts
  • Mild digestive issues (bloating, irregularity)

These are particularly common if, pre-Whole30, you’ve been eating a Standard American Diet (S.A.D.), are coming off a major Carb-a-Palooza binge (starring Sugar ‘n Gluten), or have been following conventional health and fitness recommendations to eat lots of whole grains and low-fat-everything every two hours, six times a day.

In addition, if you have an autoimmune or chronic health condition, it’s not unusual for your specific symptoms (arthritic joints, psoriasis, fatigue, etc.) to get worse before they get better. (This usually happens around the third week of the program; again, we explain why in The Whole30.)

Not It. (Not Normal.)

Outside of these general symptoms, it’s probably not normal… which means it’s probably related to something other than the Whole30. Let us tell you a story:

During an event in San Diego, Whole30 co-founder Melissa Urban was approached by someone on Day 2 of her first Whole30. This person mentioned things were kind of rough; her eyes were itchy and she was really congested, but she was hoping it would pass once she got further along in the program. Melissa gently asked, “So, it’s spring. And the trees are all in bloom. And there’s pollen covering every car windshield right now. Do you have any seasonal allergies?” And the girl looked startled, saying, “Oh, well, I actually do. I didn’t even think of that!”

Not everything is about the Whole30. Specifically, the following symptoms are indicative of something else going on—and you should immediately call your doctor instead of Tweet at us for help.

  • Nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain
  • Serious vertigo, dizziness, fainting
  • Rashes or hives
  • Sinus congestion, runny nose, coughing
  • Fever

If you experience any of these symptoms (or anything we haven’t listed here, but feels concerning), it could be food poisoning, an environmental trigger (like pollen, your new detergent, or air quality), a cold or flu, a bacterial infection, or some other sort of medical issue… but it’s almost certainly not because you’re doing the Whole30.

When In Doubt…

The Whole30 can come with some less-than-fun side effects, but they’re not anything that would stop you in your tracks. If you call in sick to work, experience a dramatic downturn in how you feel, or just wonder if what’s happening to you is normal, it’s always a good idea to check in with your doctor. (Ideally, they’ll already know you’re doing the Whole30, because you spoke with them ahead of time.)

If you’re in the middle of one of the less-pleasant-but-still-typical Whole30 Timeline stages , you can still check with your doctor, but you can also check our social media feeds* for help. We’ll give you our best advice to see you through, reassure you that this, too, shall pass… and remind you to keep going!

*Find us on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and TikTok (@whole30).