There are many nutrition regimes to follow these days, each claiming to be the best way to drop pounds and live a healthy life. When nutritionists endorse most diets, it can be challenging to determine what to eat with little supporting scientific research to guide you. Hearing about a meal plan focused around whole foods might sound appealing – harking back to the days before processed food and obesity became the norm. In this instance, the Whole30 diet might be for you, but what exactly is it?
The Whole30 diet is a food elimination program developed in 2009. It has strict guidelines advising followers to cut out sugar, alcohol, legumes, grains, dairy, and common additives from their diet for 30 days. The goal is to promote healthy eating while identifying foods that affect your physical and mental health by slowly introducing the eliminated foods following the 30 day diet period. The program is comparable to the Paleo diet; however, Whole30 is far more restrictive.
If you suspect a food allergy or intolerance, then using a stringent elimination diet such as Whole30 might be the right program for you. It may appeal too if you want to enhance your overall wellbeing, reduce fatigue, improve mental health, and assist in losing a few pounds. So, what is involved in following the Whole30 diet?
The Premise of the Diet
Launched in 2009 by married duo Melisa Urban and Dallas Hartwig, a sports nutritionist and functional medicine practitioner, the Whole30 diet is primarily a 30-day elimination diet based around a stricter version of the Paleo diet.
The premise is to eat select whole foods that haven’t been processed or contain additives for a month without deviation. Unlike many other nutrition programs, the focus of Whole30 is not to lose weight, though many followers will see a drop in pounds by inadvertently reducing their calorie intake. Instead, Whole30 is promoted as a way of eating that will reset your metabolism and your relationship with food.
Whole30 Diet Rules
The idea behind the Whole30 program is simple — just completely cut out foods that may harm your health for 30 days. After the initial 30 days, slowly reintroduce the foods you miss while monitoring their effects on your body.
The consequence of going off-track is starting the challenge over from day one. The founders claim that strict adherence allows your body to reset in isolation of certain foods that may cause inflammation, gut disruptions, or hormone imbalances. Unlike other diets, there is no need to track calories, measure portions, or count points. Also, weighing yourself is strictly reserved for days 1 and 30 of the program. Finally, apart from following the forbidden and allowed foods, you must cease smoking for 30 days.
Foods to Eliminate
The basis of the program is to eliminate eating any of the following foods. By doing so, your body will be free of any food triggers. Essentially, by removing the following from your diet, you give your body a clean slate.
- Sugar and artificial sweeteners: raw sugar, honey, maple syrup, agave syrup, and all products containing these sweeteners, as well as artificial sweeteners.
- Alcohol: All types of beer, wines, liqueurs, hard seltzers, and spirits.
- Grains: Regardless of their degree of processing, all grains, including wheat, corn, oats, and rice, are forbidden.
- Pulses and legumes: Most peas, lentils, and beans, including peanut butter, should be avoided. Green beans, sugar snap peas, and snow peas are exceptions.
- Soy: All soy, including tofu, tempeh, edamame, and all products derived from soy, such as miso and soy sauce.
- Dairy: Including cow, goat, and sheep’s milk, yogurt, cheese, ice cream, and other products derived from dairy. Clarified butter or ghee is allowed, though.
- Processed additives: These include carrageenan, MSG, or sulfites. Any food or beverage containing these ingredients is to be excluded.
From the forbidden food list, you might wonder what is left you can eat. Your diet will focus heavily on meat-based protein and as many fruits and vegetables as you can consume.
- Meat and poultry: Beef, veal, pork, lamb, chicken, turkey, duck, etc.
- Fish and seafood: Fish, anchovies, shrimp, calamari, scallops, crab, lobster, etc.
- Fruits: Fresh and dried fruits, although fresh, is preferable.
- Vegetables: All types of vegetables are allowed, and Whole30 followers are encouraged to eat as many as possible.
- Nuts and seeds: All nuts and seeds are permitted – remember that peanuts are a legume, therefore forbidden. Nut milks, nut butters, and nut flours are also allowed.
- Some fats: Healthy plant oils, coconut oil, duck fat, clarified butter, and ghee can be utilized during The Whole30 Diet.
The Pros of the Whole 30 Diet
It might be challenging to understand why this would be a popular diet due to its restrictive nature. However, many benefits can make this the correct eating pattern for you.
No Claims of Weight Loss Outcomes
There is no set weight loss goal with this diet, so you’re not going to feel like a failure once it is over. When you start a diet that claims you will lose 10 lbs. in two weeks, and you lose 2 lbs. – you might feel discouraged. Whole30 doesn’t make any such promises, so there is no pressure on what the scale says during your journey.
No Calorie Counting
Most weight loss regimens are centered around some method of calorie counting. Whole30 does not do that, mainly because it is not focused on achieving a quick, unsustainable shedding of pounds. As there is no calorie counting, there also isn’t any measuring, making it one of the easiest diets to follow once you have the right foods.
Eating Whole Foods
As the name suggests, Whole30 is about eating natural, whole foods and eliminating anything processed. In developed countries, many people are forced to eat convenience foods due to busy and multi-layered lifestyles. As a result, many people have inadequate nutrition that does not provide sufficient vitamins and minerals to function correctly. By switching to eating unprocessed food, your nutrition will improve.
Forced to Read Nutrition Labels
As the diet is restrictive, you need to read every food label to ensure you are not eating anything forbidden. For some, starting this diet may be the first time they’ve paid attention to nutrition labels beyond a cursory glance at the calorie count and maybe a peek at the sodium content. By eating such a restrictive diet, you will passively learn about nutrition as you navigate the principles of The Whole30 diet to find foods you can eat and understand why others are forbidden. A positive side-effect of this is that you will be left with a life-long knowledge of what foods contain that will help you navigate your nutrition goals in the future.
Cuts Out Sugar
A doctor may have advised you to limit your sugar intake if you’re prediabetic. Following The Whole30 Diet forbids sugar and can be an excellent tool to restructure how you eat to reverse your diagnosis. Sugar is not allowed in The Whole30 diet as it is a high-calorie substance but lacks any nutritional value. Luckily, you can use fruit juice as a sweetener, though, so there are tools to make the transition easier.
Understand How Your Body Reacts to Foods
The purpose of any elimination diet is to assess how your body tolerates certain foods, and The Whole30 Diet is no different. Once you begin reintroducing food groups, you can learn what foods make you bloated, tired, unfocused, irritable, etc. Discovering this can help you determine which foods to eliminate permanently to lead a happier, healthier life.
The Cons of The Whole30 Diet
No diet is perfect, meaning there are always drawbacks. The Whole30 Diet is highly specialized and won’t be suitable for many people – even those that require an elimination diet to find the source of their food intolerances. Below are some disadvantages to consider.
Other than making adjustments to a limited set of foods, there are other issues you may face while following The Whole30 Diet. Social situations can be challenging, and you may find it is easier not to eat out during the 30 days you undertake the program. Therefore, many users opt to undertake this regime during the winter when it’s easier to control food intake. However, the summer months can make it easier to follow as many fruits and vegetables will be in season.
Minimizes Cultural Diversity
Following Whole30 is a difficult task – especially for a month. During this time, you may find your diet bland and isn’t a program that will suit many cultures. You will find it challenging to live outside the realms of the “meat and vegetables” culture of Anglian foods.
Depending on your location, eating whole foods can be an expensive luxury that many cannot afford. Processed foods are far cheaper, hence their popularity. Many families cannot make a food budget that would support switching to cuts of meat daily. Even for a wealthy singleton, it can be hard to make the financial adjustment – especially if you tend to live off ramen. You can expect to spend $300-400/month per person to follow this diet.
The Whole30 diet is not easy to follow, and you will need to pay considerable attention to nutrition labels, recipes, and be constantly mindful of what you are eating. As processed foods are forbidden, a lot of time cooking, meal prepping, and shopping will be necessary. Such intensive effort might not be sustainable for a month, depending on your schedule and lifestyle. It would be best if you were prepared to make a considerable change in your life to follow this diet.
It may seem counterintuitive that eating only whole foods doesn’t lead to you getting complete nutrition, but it is true. Your body will lack certain things over the 30 days. Of particular concern is the elimination of dairy – as many people who have followed The Whole30 diet have struggled to consume enough calcium. Insufficient calcium intake can be detrimental to bone health. It’s worth noting that unless you have an allergy or an intolerance, there is no medical evidence for eliminating dairy from your diet. To help counteract nutritional deficits, taking a multivitamin is essential during the Whole30 program.
Missing Whole Grains
The Whole30 Diet excludes whole grains, including wheat, rye, corn, and rice. Whole grains are good for you and have been linked to a lower risk of heart disease, cancer, diabetes, chronic inflammation, and stroke. They also contain many nutrients and fiber that help our digestive system work effectively. Eliminating whole grains could have serious knock-on effects on your health, even during the short 30-day elimination period. The only reason Whole30 demands eliminating whole grains is due to their gluten content.
Any time you change your diet significantly, you are likely to see effects in the bathroom. The Whole30 Diet eliminates beans and other high-fiber foods. Fiber (both soluble and insoluble) is vital to keeping your gut full of good bacteria (fiber is their food) and keeping your bowel movements regular. So, why does Whole30 ask you to eliminate them? Well, the diet’s curators seize on the little evidence that the phytates in beans can block the body’s ability to absorb iron, magnesium, and calcium. However, phytates can be destroyed through food preparation methods, so the diet is unnecessarily restrictive. Therefore, you may encounter digestive issues because of foods you aren’t allowed to eat, rather than the ones you are.
If you have ever experienced caffeine withdrawal, you will know what to expect when starting The Whole30 Diet. Removing sugar and artificial sweeteners from your diet will lead to headaches, agitation, and irritability. You may also experience disturbances in your sleep while your body adapts to its new nutritional fuel. In rare circumstances, you can feel lightheaded and undergo “the shakes.” Therefore, it is always wise to consult your doctor before starting a new diet – especially one as extreme as this.
Can Cause Food Sensitivities
The purpose of the Whole30 eating system is to help you determine what your body does or doesn’t need. Unfortunately, your body may adjust to eliminating foods and reject them once they’re reintroduced.
For example, your gut has enzymes that deal with dairy, and they are plentiful enough to break down that cheese you are eating on your crackers. Then, you go a month without eating any dairy at all. In that time, your gut has adjusted, lowering the concentration of the dairy-digesting enzymes. Therefore, when you reintroduce dairy, you might get bloated or feel unwell as there are insufficient enzymes in your gut to process it. Immediately, you may think that the food insensitivity you’ve been looking for was dairy, but this is a red herring.
After the 30 Days
Once you have completed a consecutive 30 days of the Whole30 Diet, you will slowly reintroduce foods to your diet, comprehensively documenting their effect on your mental and physical wellbeing. The purpose is to identify foods that contribute to lethargy, weight gain, digestive issues, or whatever ailment made you consider the diet in the first place. It is vital to introduce tiny amounts of each food (one at a time) to avoid a reaction that isn’t misleading.
You may also notice other changes, including your relationship with food. Cravings for processed foods should have been eradicated, and the hope is that everything from energy to sleep has improved. Depending on your nutrition before starting the diet, you may have dropped a few pounds by eating vegetables as a snack instead of pretzel bites. However, weight loss is not a goal nor guaranteed.
The Whole30 Diet is an extreme nutritional regimen that will help a limited number of people. It is hard to follow, expensive, and unsustainable. However, it may be a good tool for those with detrimental food intolerances to find a healthier life.
Before embarking on The Whole30 Diet, consult a medical professional to determine if it’s the right nutritional path for you.