My husband and I recently got back from vacation, and let’s just say we weren’t especially virtuous in our food and beverage choices. So we thought we needed to do some penance and get our nutrition back on track.
I had read about a program called the Whole30 through acquaintances over the past couple years, and recently one of my coworkers had recommended it.
If you’ve never heard of it, Whole30 is a program created by nutritionists and fitness specialists Melissa and Dallas Hartwig. It requires you to cut sugar, grains, dairy, legumes and alcohol completely out of your diet for 30 days. You are also supposed to avoid foods with certain chemicals and preservatives. That means meat, eggs, vegetables, fruit (in moderation) and water for 30 days.
The idea is that the “off-limits foods” are the food groups that are most likely to be adversely affecting most people’s health and energy levels, and that by cutting them out, you give your body a chance to “reset” and undo your craving cycles.
There aren’t any cheat days, and you have to do it 100% for 30 days or you’re supposed to start over. It is… challenging.
After the 30-day period, you can re-introduce those food groups into your diet, one at a time, and monitor how they make you feel. The experience has been called “life-changing” by so many online reviewers that I’ve lost count.
I assumed at first that Whole30 was like any other fad diet, and went to their website thinking they’d want me to pay for access or order some kind of subscription. Being cheap, I thought I’d be clever and just figure out the basic tenets and try to copy it as best we could.
Instead I was surprised to discover that not only was there no paywall, ALL the information that you need to start the program is available right there on their website. You don’t have to buy their books or even give them your contact info so they can bombard you with emails. This was not what I expected.
Upon even further research, I realized that, in general, Whole30 has done an exceptional job with their content across the board. They have created a fantastic collection of resources online, as well as support networks for people who complete their program.
Here are a few of the resources offered by the Whole30 team:
The Whole30 website is a wealth of information, all of which is available to everyone, without a login, for free. Here you can find detailed rules for the program, recipes, approved brands, testimonials, FAQs, and even a popular timeline called “What to Expect,” which I have found eerily accurate.
The website also features a forum, which is a great place for users to support each other and ask questions that are specific to topics like allergies, pregnancies, vegetarian options and body building. I noticed that the moderators (who all have personal bios on the site so they feel like “real people”) do a good job of staying on top of questions throughout the website and forum.
I think what most impressed me about their website content was the no-nonsense yet friendly and conversational voice with which the web copy is written. For example, when discussing the importance of NOT trying to recreate “problem foods” that might keep you from overcoming sugar/junk cravings:
“…[O]ff-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.”
The copy is just irreverent and clever enough to sound real without being combative or uber-edgy. In general, there’s a supportive, informational tone that gives the whole site an air of transparency and accessibility. There’s none of the “snake oil salesman” language that’s associated with many fad diets.
Whole30 has all the major social media bases covered. From the Instagram hashtag #whole30 where people show off their Whole30 foods (or sadly display things they can’t eat) to Twitter chats with founder Melissa Hartwig, the company offers a variety of content that’s appropriate for each channel. A personal favorite was a video series called “Ask Chef Richard,” wherein said chef discusses how to prepare different Whole30 approved foods like beets, radishes and bell peppers.
The Whole30 team offers two newsletters. The bi-weekly, unpaid one is called Wholesome, which offers recipes, Q&As, tips and social media highlights. The paid newsletter, called The Whole30 Daily, offers “Support, advice and tough love in your email, every day for 30 days.” This paid product is tailored to the day you’re on, and offers advice that’s relevant to where you are in the process.
Again, I’m cheap, so I didn’t sign up for this service, but I checked out the free sample and was surprised that it actually offered helpful content!
For example, to deal with cravings on Day 4 (when the sugar fiending is at its worst for most people), ask yourself, “Am I hungry enough to eat steamed fish and broccoli right now?” If the answer is yes, go have a healthy snack or meal. If the answer is no, your hunger is probably more mental than physical. The Whole30 team really seems to get that if you want people to pay for your content, you have to offer quality, targeted stuff.
As mentioned, you don’t HAVE to buy either of the Hartwigs’ books to complete a Whole30. But both books (It Starts With Food and The Whole30) are beautifully illustrated and offer helpful additional content like recipes, personal stories and background into the “scientific principles” behind Whole30.
These New York Times bestselling books (and the success of the overall program) show you don’t have to be stingy with your content. I think there’s a temptation nowadays to make everything proprietary and to squeeze every possible dollar out of consumers. But now that we live in a digital age where free content is everywhere, companies must re-navigate how they monetize content. And Whole30 seems to be setting a great example.
My husband and I are currently on day 22 of our Whole30 and I absolutely see results. My clothes fit better, my skin looks better and I have more energy. Yes, it’s been hard, and the food preparation takes a LOT of time, but I think it’s been worth it. I’ve definitely benefited from the informative, supportive content that’s available from the Whole30 team.
I think Whole30 has found the Holy Grail of web content strategy: they’ve struck a good balance between paid and free content, and in doing so, they’ve created a strong online community of dedicated brand supporters. I recommend the program to others who might have…. overdone it a bit with the carbs recently. It’s honestly a breath of fresh air.
But I’m still really, really looking forward to some cheese and a glass of wine.
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