The Paleo template centers around eating whole foods, cutting out anything processed. The premise for this is that our bodies are best served by eating the way our Paleolithic ancestors would have. The Paleo diet focuses on eating plant-based meals with high quality proteins and fats.
The whole 30 is often referred to as “a stricter form of Paleo”. While that is true, they both serve different purposes. The Whole30 includes more on it’s off-limits list than Paleo does but is intended as a short reset for your body. The Whole30 is a 30 day “reboot” of sorts, followed by a reintroduction period. During those 30 days you eliminate certain food groups and then mindfully add them back in afterwards.
One difference between Paleo and Whole30 is that the Whole 30 program doesn’t advocate for it’s participants to continue eating according to the Whole30 rules indefinitely. It’s not intended to be a long-term diet. In fact, it’s not labeled as a diet at all. The program provides the vehicle that will get you to a place where you can make more conscious choices after your Whole30 is over by finding out which foods your body doesn’t tolerate, then using that information to help your body feel it’s best. For example, you might find out that dairy causes bloat or acne, grain causes lethargy or auto-immune symptoms and then you can decide to not include them in your meals going forward.
One reason that Paleo is more of a long-term option is because it’s more of a guideline. There’s a Paleo template of what you should and shouldn’t eat, but anyone can choose to eat any “non-Paleo” food at any time if they think it’s worth it to them. Many people eat most of their meals based on the Paleo guideline but may choose to eat pasta twice a week. And that’s fine. Because that’s their Paleo lifestyle.
The guidelines are just that. A guide. Some people may have found out that certain foods that are technically not Paleo don’t bother their digestion or how they feel so they might still choose to eat them. Maybe dairy or quinoa isn’t a big deal to them. Again, that’s fine. Some people may not agree with me, but there’s no right or wrong way to eat Paleo if you’re being mindful of the template while simultaneously being mindful of what works for your body. When you’re doing it for the long term, you’re constantly re-evaluating what does and does not help you feel your best, so the do’s and dont’s of Paleo become more of a pliable guideline to live by.
With Whole30, on the other hand, there definitely is a right and a wrong way. There are hard and fast, black and white rules that must be followed (for your own good, of course) for 30 straight days. You can’t top your egg bake with cheese, say that cheese doesn’t affect your body and call it a Whole30. Nope. The rules are the rules.. and they’re for everyone. The rules are what make Whole30 more strict than Paleo. There’s no Paleo sweeteners such as honey or maple syrup and no recreating Paleo desserts. So no, you can’t add coconut sugar to almonds to make cinnamon sugar roasted almonds and call it Whole30, even if it is Paleo.
The final major difference between Paleo and Whole30 is that the Whole 30 program encourages it’s participants to go through a deliberate reintroduction phase to add the excluded foods back into your diet one at a time. There’s no reintroduction phase with Paleo, the list of foods to avoid are to just simply be avoided. The Whole30 doesn’t require you to never eat the “off-limits” foods ever again. The point of the reintroduction phase is to find out which ones do give you problems and then enable you to make more mindful choices in the future by being aware of how certain foods affect you. Just as the first 30 days of the Whole30, this next phase also helps make you more aware of how your body functions depending on what you put into it.