The Pancake Rule, explained
Original & Plant-Based Whole30

The Pancake Rule, explained

Why you can’t eat pancakes, tortillas, potato chips, or pasta during your 30-day elimination

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What is the Whole30 Pancake Rule?

What is the Whole30 Pancake Rule?

Since the creation of the Whole30 in April 2009, we’ve had a rule that says, “Do not recreate or purchase baked goods, ‘foods with no brakes,’ or treats made with Whole30 compatible ingredients.”

It’s called the Pancake Rule, because this was the food participants tried to recreate the most often in the earliest days of Whole30. Back then, it was just one egg + one banana smashed together into a pancake-like patty. Now, grain-free recipes are far more elevated, featuring an assortment of alternative flours, baking soda, and dairy-free milk.

While today you can enjoy the egg-and-banana “recipe” on the Whole30, the Pancake Rule itself remains a cornerstone of the program, and plays an integral role in your Whole30 success. Here’s why embracing the Pancake Rule will help you maximize your success on the Whole30.

The history of the Pancake Rule, from co-founder Melissa Urban

This concept originated during my first Whole30 in April 2009. Barely a week in, I noticed myself scheming a way to recreate the sweet hit of my usual Dunkin Donuts Iced Caramel Latte. (Turbo-sized, with skim milk. Don’t judge.) I had been drinking one for breakfast for as long as I could remember, and I was really missing all 69 grams of sugar. After spending far too much time imagining the Whole30-compatible ingredients that could maybe give me a whisper of the same syrupy sweetness I was craving, I stopped and asked myself, ‘Melissa, what are you even doing?’

Up until this point, my Whole30 had already produced astonishing results. My energy was far more consistent. I no longer got hangry after two hours without a snack. I could actually remain alert and productive after lunch. And my sugar cravings (which had the intensity of a fire-breathing dragon) were significantly tamed. Was I really going to work this hard to recreate a drink that I know wasn’t serving me, and won’t even taste that good? Not wanting to mess up a good thing, I decided to learn to love my iced coffee black.

It was deeply unsatisfying—but only at first. By the end of the 30 days, my taste buds had dramatically shifted, my cravings had completely disappeared, and I never went back to sugar in my coffee. (Or my beloved Diet Pepsi, or those 10 p.m. pantry raids.) After this experience, I began to research the psychology of cravings and habits—and the Whole30 Pancake Rule was born.

“Was I really going to work this hard to recreate a drink that I know wasn’t serving me, and won’t even taste that good?”

The science behind the Pancake Rule

The Whole30 is designed for true habit change. If you want to lose your cravings, navigate stress without reaching for chocolate, and confidently choose the foods that work best for you, the next 30 days can be a magical experience. But the fastest way to negate the potential benefits of your Whole30 is to try to satisfy your cravings and recreate your favorite comfort foods with technically compatible ingredients.

Researchers have studied the role environmental cues like smells, sounds, visual cues, and taste can play in triggering cravings and relapses. They’ve discovered that for some alcoholics, smell cues alone may be enough to trigger cravings, and other environmental cues can elicit a conditioned response that likely play a role in relapses.

Many people come to the Whole30 report feeling addicted to sugar. Sugary, fatty, and highly processed foods light up the same reward centers in the brain as alcohol or nicotine, provoking a similar dopamine response in the brain. (Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that drives you to seek more of a reward.) This may make your food cravings vulnerable to the same environmental cues.

Research suggests environmental cues like smell, taste, and visual cues can provoke or promote cravings. The Pancake Rule assumes that during your Whole30, it will be much harder for you to reduce your cravings and change your habits if you spend all 30 days eating foods that look, taste, and smell just like the comfort foods you’ve been relying on.

In a June 2023 survey of more than 1,100 Whole30 alumni, 89% said the Pancake Rule played a significant role in their Whole30 success. Participants said embracing this rule helped them eliminate sugar cravings, break the cycle of emotional eating, and discover new coping mechanisms for stress or boredom.

How the Pancake Rule helps you succeed

Embrace this rule and rack up the non-scale victories (NSVs)

Recognize emotional eating

Recognize emotional eating

Gain awareness of your habits by eliminating the foods you’ve been automatically reaching for to numb, distract, or avoid your feelings.
Pick up new tools

Pick up new tools

Discover new, effective ways to relieve anxiety, self-soothe, navigate stress, and show yourself love.
Reduce cravings

Reduce cravings

Cravings are the number one reason participants come to the Whole30—and fewer cravings is one of the most common non-scale victories reported on Day 30.
Identify food sensitivities

Identify food sensitivities

Eliminating grain-free foods made from alternative flours (like cassava, almond, or tapioca) can reduce gas, bloating, and other digestive issues.
Eat more veggies

Eat more veggies

Eliminating bread, rolls, muffins, and other baked goods encourages you to add more vegetables and fruit to your plate.
Discover lasting food freedom

Discover lasting food freedom

The Pancake Rule is the key to changing your habits and learning new tools to navigate stress and discomfort. This will serve you long after your Whole30 is over.

In a 2023 survey of 690 Whole30 participants, 94% of those with a goal of reducing cravings said they achieved that goal by Day 30.

reducing cravingsreducing cravings

The Pancake Rule

Do not recreate or purchase baked goods, ‘foods with no brakes,’ or treats with Whole30-compatible ingredients. Here are the specific foods that fall under this rule.

Bread and other baked goods
Bread and other baked goods

Any baked goods made with alternative flour. This includes bread, tortillas, wraps, crackers, pizza or pie crust, biscuits, pancakes, crepes, waffles, muffins, cupcakes, cookies, and brownies.


This includes pasta or noodles made with alternative flour.


This includes cereals made with alternative flour.


This includes potato, sweet potato, tortilla, plantain, taro, or cassava chips.

French fries
French fries

This includes French fries (from white or sweet potatoes) or tots.

change your life

It’s time to change your life

You’re ready to break the cycle of craving, overconsumption, and the stress that usually follows. You’re ready to develop other techniques for self-soothing, showing yourself love, navigating stress, and relieving anxiety. You’re ready to change your taste buds, have more energy, and sleep more restfully.

We want to help you achieve all of those non-scale victories you’re after—eliminating cravings, improving digestion, increasing energy, sleeping better, reducing pain, improving mental health, and feeling more self-confident.

The habit research built into the Pancake Rule is just one of the ways the Whole30 has changed millions of lives since 2009. Our welcoming community, library of free resources, thousands of delicious Whole30 recipes, eight Whole30 books, and hundreds of Whole30 Approved partner products are also here to support your journey.

Join our community and start changing your life with the Whole30. We can’t wait to hear your success story!

Pancake Rule FAQs

Learn more about the Whole30 Pancake Rule with answers to these commonly asked questions

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This came from our first book, It Starts With Food, originally published in 2012. “Foods with no brakes” describes hyper-sweet/salty/fatty, calorically dense, nutrient-poor foods. These are foods that scientists have designed to make you overconsume, with all the pleasure and reward signals to keep you reaching in for more, but none of the satiety signals to tell you to stop. (Potato chips are a great example.)
That’s not really a question, but we know what you mean. The Pancake Rule eliminates baked goods, foods-with-no-brakes, and treats, even if they’re made with technically compatible ingredients. Remember, the program isn’t just about identifying food sensitivities. It’s about creating new healthy habits, and examining your emotional relationship with food. You may not turn to all of the foods that fall under the Pancake Rule, but we ask that you eliminate them anyway. Think about it this way—if you’re not that into pancakes, tortillas, or potato chips, it should be easy to avoid them for 30 days.

In general, if the food in question is just vegetables or protein, you’re in the clear when it comes to the Pancake Rule. That means your jicama taco shells, apple chips, zucchini noodles, or egg white wraps are A-OK. These aren’t recreations, they’re whole food substitutions for corn tortillas, potato chips, traditional pasta, and whole wheat wraps. The same goes for egg “muffins,” sweet potato “waffles,” or salmon “cakes.” The Pancake Rule isn’t about the shape of the food or what you call it. Meatloaf cupcakes with mashed potato “frosting” is a delicious, kid-friendly Original Whole30 dinner.

You can cook veggies at home any way you choose; air fry them, pan fry them, roast them, or grill them, in whatever shape you want (including rectangles). Your homemade sweet potato spears aren’t the same as those deep-fried, 19-ingredient fast food fries we call out in the Pancake Rule.


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