Since the creation of the Whole30 program in April 2009, we’ve cautioned against the recreation of breads, muffins, pancakes, and cookies with Whole30 compatible ingredients. In fact, this concept has been one of the cornerstones of the program, specifically requiring the elimination of baked goods, junk foods, and treats* for the duration of your Whole30.
At times, our position that Paleo junk food is still junk food has made us unpopular. However, we’re in the business of changing lives, not winning popularity contests. We know from experience that one of the fastest ways to negate the potential benefits of your Whole30 experience is to try to recreate your old, unhealthy diet with technically approved ingredients. And when it comes to the psychological hold certain foods have over us, the whole (pancake) is far more than just the sum of the parts (ingredients). So today, we’ll share our thoughts on why pancakes, cookies, bread, and ice cream are not everyday food, and why you shouldn’t try to recreate junk food with “approved” ingredients during your Whole30.
Let’s take Paleo pizza as one example. Generally made with an almond flour crust and lacking any sort of cheese, this is one way bread and dairy-avoiding folk can enjoy the concept without the bellyache. But here’s the issue. Have you had Paleo pizza? Yeah, that’s what we thought. Some recipes are pretty good, but it doesn’t exactly taste like the pizza you knew and loved. Case in point…
We want you to think about the best pizza you’ve ever had in your whole life. Picture the crust, light and crispy on the outside, chewy on the inside. Imagine heaps of cheese, just waiting to be stretched and gathered in as you take your first bite. Imagine the smell of it, the feel of a warm slice in your hand, that first. Amazing. Bite.
Now, compare the two.
That Paleo pizza may be pretty good, but be honest – it in no way compares to the best pizza you’ve ever had. And herein lies the problem. To use an analogy we can all (probably) understand, the Paleo-ification of poor food choices is a little bit like having sex with your pants on.
See, given the constructs of your Whole30 program, you’re stuck with Paleo pizza. There’s no gluten-laden crust, there’s no sugary tomato sauce, and there’s certainly no fresh mozzarella. And during your Whole30, eating Paleo pizza is just like having sex with your pants on. It’s good… but it’s not that good. You can tell yourself it’s okay, it’s still pretty good, you’re totally satisfied… but that’s kind of a lie. Because you know exactly how good no-pants sex feels.
And if you continue your Whole30 program eating Paleo pizza, Paleo ice cream and Paleo pancakes, well… all it makes you think about is how less-than-stellar this version is, and how delicious the other version would be. Just like… well, you know.
The problem is, if you continue to have sex with your pants on, it’s inevitable that at some point you’re gonna want to take your pants off. And during your Whole30, that spells trouble.
Create A New You
Do you really want to spend the entirety of your Whole30 obsessed with all the stuff you can’t have, and eating the same foods you’ve been eating all along? We sure don’t! If you come out of your program with the same habits, patterns and food choices you had when you started, what are your chances for long-term, life-changing success? After all, those very same habits, patterns and food choices are what got you into trouble in the first place!
Now, does this mean you can’t substitute a poor food choice with a healthier option? Of course not. To help you critically evaluate whether you’re attempting to engage in The Pancake Rule, ask yourself this question. Am I trying to as closely as possible duplicate or recreate the poor food choice with “approved” ingredients? Will this replacement food satisfy the same craving, because the reward center in my brain can’t distinguish this from the real deal (even if my taste buds can)? Am I trying to perpetuate a bad habit within the confines of my Whole30 rules, like eating dessert every night or comforting myself with food? Or am I merely looking for a healthier, more nutritious substitution for that food?
In the case of Paleo desserts, it’s a straight swap. You’re desperately trying to duplicate the sweet treats you know and love in a way that’s still technically Whole30 compatible. But if you’re looking for a sandwich substitute, and you decide to use a lettuce leaf or a slice of roasted sweet potato, well, that’s a different story. Spaghetti squash for pasta, a portobello mushroom cap for a burger bun, or Prosciutto Wrapped Egg “muffins” for breakfast are all examples of appropriate substitutions during your Whole30. (Another tip: If you’re subbing something unhealthy with vegetables, like a burger bun for a sweet potato round, that’s almost certainly a thumbs-up.)
In addition, context matters. For example, the amazing fried chicken in Paleo Comfort Foods is a perfectly appropriate (and delicious) dinner choice while on your Whole30. However, if you’re coming off a wicked addiction to KFC, perhaps Julie and Charles’ creation isn’t the best choice for you during your program. Make sense?
Not everything that tastes good is compatible with The Pancake Rule. Not everything that’s sweet is automatically “less healthy.” Outside of the foods we have specifically laid out as “off-limits” for this program, you’re going to have to use your own judgment and make your own decisions about what foods are right for you during your Whole30. So think critically about whether the food choices you are making during your Whoel30 fit the spirit and intention of the program, not just the technicality of the rules.
Abstinence. It’s Only 30 Days.
A good rule of thumb? When it doubt, leave it out. Just say no to sex with your pants on during the Whole30. Learn what to serve the kids on Friday night instead of almond flour crust pizza. Boost your nutrition by eating a fresh veggie scramble with eggs for breakfast instead of egg-and-banana pancakes. And during your Whole30, don’t fool yourself into thinking that those flourless brownies are holistically healthier for you than the homemade brownies you used to eat.
Use the Whole30 to change your habits, change your patterns, break unhealthy cravings, and create a new, healthy relationship with food. You won’t be sorry, as those new habits and patterns will stay with you for the rest of your life. And when your Whole30 is over and you feel like kicking your heels up, use our Guide to Nutritional Off-Roading to help you decide when to choose a “Paleo” option, and when to eat the real deal.
Because at that point in the game, pants are optional.
*Some specifically off-limits foods that fall under this rule include pancakes, bread, tortillas, biscuits, muffins, cupcakes, cookies, pizza crust, waffles, cereal, potato chips, French fries, and this one recipe where eggs, date paste, and coconut milk are combined with prayers to create a thick, creamy concoction that can once again transform your undrinkable black coffee into sweet, dreamy caffeine. Have additional questions about whether specific foods are Whole30 compatible? Visit our Can I Have…? page, or search our free Whole30 Forum.
Co-Founder / CEO