The Whole30 diet – Does it deliver?

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The Whole30 diet – Does it deliver?

It never fails.  Someone always designs a new-fangled diet plan that is supposed to be “the one” diet that will solve all your weight loss woes.  Go back to 2009 when the Whole30 diet was created by Doug and Melissa Hartwig, both certified sports nutritionists.  It quickly became extremely popular for anyone looking to lose a few pounds.  Since its launch, a total of six diet and cook books have been published along with an extensive website offering information about following the plan.

What does Whole30 claim to do for you?

The biggest emphasis this diet purports is that it will change your life over the course of 30 days.  It identifies itself as a program that will “reset” your eating habits, transform your health and “change your life.” It claims it will heal digestive problems, eliminate cravings, treat a variety of conditions from acne and allergies to depression; balance hormone levels, boost immunity and energy and improve sleep. The changes you are supposed to experience are how you think about food, how it will change your tastes, your habits, your cravings, and possibly even your emotional relationship with food.  Basically, in 30 days they claim it has the potential to change the way you eat for the rest of your life.  Very lofty ideology regarding this is all supposed to happen within a month.

Here’s how the plan works

Just like it is named, the eating plan is for exactly 30 days.  Their plan is a strict elimination diet and when they state “strict,” they are not joking.  They say in their book, “Don’t even consider the possibility of a slip.”  If you do accidentally “slip up” eating something on the “avoid” list, you are told to restart the diet at the beginning of day one.

Over the course of the 30 day diet plan, you must eliminate all grains, legumes (dried beans, peas, lentils, peanuts), dairy products, sugar, artificial sweeteners, and alcohol. Whole30’s creators claim these foods are pro-inflammatory, inducing cravings, disrupting blood sugar, and harming the gut. 

What you are allowed to eat are moderate portions of meat, seafood, and eggs; lots of vegetables, some fruit, plenty of “natural fats,” nuts, seeds, and herbs, spices, and seasonings. 

After 30 days you gradually reintroduce foods in groups – similar to how some elimination diets are done if a food allergy or food sensitivity is suspected. The idea is to become aware of which food might be problematic for you. If you haven’t missed a particular food, there’s no need to ever add it back, according to the program’s description, but since so many of the eliminated foods are healthy, never eating those again could mean missing out on important nutrients.

If you follow this plan, you are not required to count calories or measure out food. And there is no plan for exercise.

Pros of Whole30

The fact that it only lasts for 30 days can be considered a good thing because if you had to stick to it any longer, you wouldn’t be able to anyhow. 

Another pro is that it encourages choosing more vegetables and seafood, two food items many people fall short of.  It also completely cuts out unhealthy highly processed foods such as sugary beverages. 

Cons of Whole30

Probably the biggest red flag is its unnecessary elimination of healthful foods.  Restricting nutrient dense whole grains, legumes, and dairy products are not considered pro-inflammatory as they claim. There is no scientific-backed evidenced that they are.  But there is plenty of evidence these foods are actually linked with reduced risks of chronic disease and obesity. 

This diet plan can also be time-consuming for many as it requires extensive meal planning and food preparation.  If you are not someone who is accustomed to planning ahead for meals or have limited cooking skills, you will struggle to follow this diet. 

Further, by design, this diet is not a lifelong eating plan.  To expect to be able to follow this diet for the long-term is unrealistic.  The claim it can restore, heal, or balance anything in the body, again has no merit.

In conclusion

Every year a panel of health and nutrition experts for U.S. News & World Report ranks various diets  in their overall categories of heathy eating, heart health, and easy to follow.  This year, Whole30 diet ranked dead last in the Publication’s Best Diets Overall Category. 

This diet is like all other temporary fad diets – health claims ungrounded in sound science, too hard to follow making it unsustainable, too restrictive telling people to completely eliminate entire food groups, and is gimmicky.  Overall, Whole30 is not a lifestyle eating plan for anyone.