hole 30 has gained in popularity over the last few years. Touted as “Paleo’s stricter sister,” the diet makes multiple claims. But there are also health professionals that speak out against Whole 30. So what do you need to know when deciding whether to try it or not?
- What is “Whole 30?”
- Is it worth it?
What is “Whole 30?”
The Whole 30 Diet is an elimination diet-- by which we mean it starts with eliminating certain foods and types of foods from your meals completely, and then slowly add them back in after a period of time has passed to see what food sensitivities arise.
Whole 30 was created by Melissa Hartwig as a body reset-- the idea behind the diet is to cleanse the body of all toxins and nasty stuff and reset its digestion and metabolism like a clock during Daylight Savings Time. It’s called “Whole 30” because you eat “whole” foods-- nothing processed or fake-- for 30 days-- just long enough to take effect.
There are specific rules to follow, and one of the rules that sets this diet apart from others is the “start over” rule-- if you make a bad choice, you need to start over completely on Day 1. Creator Melissa doesn’t believe in “slip-ups,” simply bad choices. You don’t “have” to eat cake because you’re at a wedding and it’s expected-- friends and family shouldn’t peer pressure you, and you should stick to your guns! You don’t “need” to eat chocolate or drink wine because you had a bad day-- you should take better care of yourself and choose a healthier option.
As we mentioned, Whole 30 is an elimination diet. So what, exactly, are you eliminating?
- No sugar
- No alcohol (even for cooking)
- No grains
- No legumes
- No dairy
- No carrageenan, MSG, or sulfites
- No junk food, even if it has “approved” ingredients
- No scales or body measurements and no calorie counting
That’s a lot of “no-no’s” for anyone, and some of them may give you a start. Why no legumes or dairy, for example-- aren’t they healthy? And naturally, that’s where the controversy starts. More about that later.
So for 30 days, you eat whole foods that get you cooking and resetting your system. There are lots of benefits to the program, so let’s get into those now.
Benefits of Whole 30
Like all diets based on eating healthier foods, there are some undeniable benefits to the Whole 30 diet. Participants have reported everything from weight loss and an improvement in some health conditions, to clearer skin and loads of energy. Many report better sleep, and most find that at the end of the reset they can identify-- and therefore avoid-- foods that trigger them to feel worse.
Some may even identify foods to which they are sensitive or even allergic. Participants also noted that their food cravings were reduced-- most likely this is due to the addictive nature of sugar, and breaking that habit solidly for 30 days loosens the hold of the addiction.
With your body processing better quality foods on a regular basis-- and possibly getting improved sleep-- it’s not surprising that Whole 30 participants also reported better workouts. It could also be argued that the Whole 30 emphasis on NOT counting calories or weighing yourself helps to create a better attitude towards working out-- after all, you’re no longer motivated by the guilt of eating cake (because you’re NOT EATING IT) nor are you motivated by weight loss.
That’s another benefit to this program overall-- the Whole 30 attitude towards measuring and counting calories and body fat is a healthier one overall than other diets. The emphasis isn’t on creating a negative attitude towards foods-- rather, it’s about resetting your body’s systems and finding the foods that tailor your health like a well-fitted suit.
This diet also feels different, and not just because of its attitude towards calories and weight. There are also no points to add up-- so there’s not only less confusion about what to eat and how much, there’s also no frustration or feeling the need to steal from Peter to pay Paul. With the emphasis returned to cooking and eating three square meals a day-- and no restrictions on how much of the “yes” foods you can eat-- you shouldn’t ever feel hungry or deprived.
So what does a Whole 30 meal plan look like? Proteins like chicken and fish, vegetables, fruits, seafood, eggs, nuts, seeds, and healthy oils and fats. One of the benefits that participants often describe is the introduction to really good recipes! Think Broiled Ginger-Lime Chicken, Apple-Peanut Butter Smoothies, Zucchini Noodles with Pesto & Shrimp, and Kale & Gruyere Paninis. If recipes begin to feel overwhelming, think of creating food using this formula: protein + 2 or 3 veggies + healthy fat + spices or herbs = delicious.
That’s probably one of the best benefits about the Whole 30 diet-- it gets people dedicating time to meal planning, prepping and cooking. You really do need to commit to at least some time in the kitchen every day in order for this diet to work, and that’s a healthy habit to have whether you’re Whole 30 or not!
Rebuffs/Controversy: The Downside of Whole 30
There are some serious cautions and side effects to consider though.
Whole 30 is-- at its core-- an elimination diet. All elimination diets fall short on something. Many nutritionists lament the complete lack of grains and legumes, which are sources protein and healthy carbohydrates, as well as fiber. Beans are essential to your stomach’s microbiome and overall gut health because they feed the good bacteria in your system.
The reason the Whole 30 diet bans legumes and beans is because they’re touted as contained “anti-nutrients” like phytates-- chemicals that block the absorption of crucial minerals. What Whole 30 fails to take into account is that these are largely destroyed by the cooking process. What little phytates and “anti-nutrients” are left are nominal and ultimately don’t have an effect. Ultimately, there’s no scientific reason to get rid of beans and legumes.
There is some science that supports the idea that elimination diets can induce food sensitivities you never previously encountered. Why? The lining of your gut and the enzymes that break down your food for your body’s use have shifted. It’s not even a matter of your system being unprepared-- it’s a matter of your system changing so that it’s not suited to digesting those foods at all anymore.
Therefore, someone who previous to the Whole 30 diet wasn’t sensitive to gluten or dairy may in fact-- by virtue of eliminating them for so long their digestive system changes-- create a sensitivity to it that never existed before in the form of bloating and other unpleasant side effects.
The program’s food restrictions are also unsuitable for those who struggle with their mindset, attitude, and relationship with food. For example, a recovering anorexic or bulimic patient should not undertake the Whole 30 program because it can encourage the very mindset and behaviors they’re trying to change.
Whole 30’s lack of plant-based proteins can actually exacerbate some chronic health issues. Unlike animal proteins-- such as red meats-- plant proteins haven’t been associated with heart disease and diabetes.
And lastly, the Whole 30 diet is just that-- a diet plan. It’s temporary. Once you begin to reintroduce foods, weight loss (and some other benefits) you enjoyed while on the diet will fall the wayside. Cravings can return full-strength. The brakes you applied to eating junk food ease up, and the gas pedal gets hit instead.
So... is Whole 30 worth it?
Honestly? Not for most people. U.S. News & World Reports ranked it one of the lowest on their 2018 Best Diets List because of it’s elimination of legumes, grains and dairy and severe lack of scientific support. As we mentioned previously, people who struggle with their relationship with food should probably avoid it for mental health reasons. Plus, it’s not sustainable-- nor is it encouraged to be.
Instead, look at the healthy principles it promotes and apply those to your life: eating more veggies, cooking every day (or at least more often), and spending time being thoughtful about your food choices. Reducing sugar and alcohol are good ideas, too-- but you already knew that. The point is to make the choice, and follow through.
As always, talk to your doctor before you begin any diet regimen. If you feel frustrated and like you’ve “tried everything and nothing works,” then Whole 30 and it’s black-and-white rules may be the reset that your individual body needs to kick-start weight loss and healthier habits.
However, we encourage you to start small and create healthier habits one meal at a time. Start by making at least one meal at home every week. Do this for a month. Then make two meals, and so on and so forth.
Do get rid of your junk food, though-- try stocking frozen fruit, and eating that instead of junk food when cravings hit. The texture and sweetness of frozen fruit often satisfies the same flavor and sugar cravings as “sweet,” and is healthier for you.
Overall, don’t bother with the Whole 30 itself. Instead, try to embrace a better relationship with food-- and get in the kitchen!
What are some ways you suggest creating healthy eating habits? Got any fantastic healthy recipes to share? Comment below, and help each other!