As enlightened eaters begin to question the healthfulness of highly processed and fast food, many are turning to the Whole30 Diet as a way to cleanse themselves of the junk. Whole30 is being embraced with a frenzy of fad-like enthusiasm (warning bell!), so several close friends have asked for my opinion.
At first glance, this approach seems to be an exciting way to cut the junk and focus on whole foods. After all, the first rule of the Whole30 Diet is the Pollan-esque mantra “Eat real food.” However, if you dig a little deeper into the rules of Whole30, and you’ll find that much of the “real food” as we know it is expressly forbidden on this diet. Don’t believe me? Here is why the Whole30 Diet is a misguided approach to healthy eating.
Whole30 eliminates all grains: Building on the gluten-free fear mongering of other pop-science books (I’m pointing at you, Wheat Belly), Whole30 eliminates all grains, including healthy whole grains, because of their “problematic proteins,” like gluten.
This in itself is a misguided interpretation of science. Indeed, in people with Celiac Disease and some gluten sensitivities, the body perceives gluten as an enemy, and produces an inflammatory immune response. But for the vast majority of the population without gluten disorders, that’s not what happens. In fact, eating whole grains, is associated with decreased inflammation. In a recent clinical trial, researchers found that eating a cup of whole grain barley or brown rice (or a combination of the two) for as little as four weeks can increase the “good” bacteria in your gut that fight inflammation.
A diet without grains but with unlimited red meat is basically just an Atkins diet. There is no reason for this to be disguised as a “whole foods” eating pattern, when entire groups of whole foods are eliminated. Any diet that bans nutritious whole grains like quinoa and millet, but allows you to survive exclusively off of bacon and Larabars, should make you question the legitimacy of its health claims.
Whole30 eliminates all legumes: Another healthy food group, axed from the menu! The creators of Whole30 warn that legumes (like chickpeas, black beans, or lentils) have high levels of phytates, which can block the uptake of certain nutrients by our bodies. While this might sound alarming, what Whole30 enthusiasts fail to understand is that SO many factors affect our uptake of nutrients (how a food is stored, processed, and cooked, what else is eaten with it, etc) and that the reductionist approach of analyzing foods by the milligrams of nutrients that you may or may not be fully absorbing is an entirely fruitless pursuit.
Additionally, these “nutrition experts” (those are sarcastic quotes) fail to understand that ALL plant foods contain varying level of phytates, and that many of the foods promoted by Whole30 (such as kale) have even more phytates than legumes. Phytates are also found in pasture raised and wild meat, based on which plants animals ate during their lifetime. And on top of everything, phytates (natural plant defenses) are not necessarily a bad thing! These bioactive compounds act as antioxidants in the body, and have been linked to anticancer activity, as well as cholesterol lowering effects. (This should not be surprising – we all know that beans are healthy.) The only way to avoid all phytates is to eat highly processed and synthetic foods – which basically defeats the entire philosophy of Whole30.
Whole30 eliminates all dairy. Plant-based diets that eliminate animal products, including dairy, can certainly be extremely healthy. Indeed, T. Colin Campbell (The China Study) and the Harvard School of Public Health bring up excellent points that are leading nutrition researchers to revisit the connection between dairy and bone health (it’s not as straightforward as we once thought).
That being said, fermented dairy products, such as yogurt, and some raw milk cheeses, are great ways to stimulate beneficial gut bacteria. Everyday new research is uncovering the importance of the microbiome. Already, we are finding that a wide variety of healthy gut bacteria are thought to be linked with everything from infections, to obesity, to allergies. Additionally, if dairy is banned in addition to grains and legumes, there really isn’t much left to eat! What kind of healthy diet eliminates half of the food pyramid?
Whole30 eliminates “psychologically unhealthy foods”: The creators of Whole30 claim that smoothies, healthy baked goods, and basically any recipe resembling something that you might actually want to eat is “psychologically unhealthy,” because it is too similar to the standard American diet. Because, you know, Americans became obese from drinking too many kale smoothies and making too many loaves of naturally sweetened, whole grain banana bread (ahem, not!).
Judging by the no-apologies way that the rules are written up (and by the rules themselves), Whole30 seems to be designed to take the pleasure out of eating. This is a terrible idea. The last thing people need is another fad diet that they stick to for 30 days and then drop. I truly believe that healthy eating is not a punishment – if done right, it can be joyful, delicious, and a lifelong habit. But Whole30 is not healthy eating done right. It is restrictive, antagonistic, and completely misguided.
Additionally, while Whole30 gurus may be opposed to “psychologically unhealthy” foods, they seem to have no problem with physiologically unhealthy foods – in other words, an eating pattern guaranteed to make you feel like crap. While adjusting to a higher fiber diet can take some time (the key to avoid intestinal discomfort is to add fiber slowly over time, and drink LOTS of water!), no “healthy” diet should EVER make you feel “hungover” or like you want to “kill all the things,” which the creators of Whole30 brush off as perfectly normal (it’s not!).
Despite these shortcomings, there are some important lessons to be learned from the program:
At the heart of it, the elimination of highly processed foods is what makes the Whole 30 diet seem so appealing. Americans (and increasingly, folks in other nations as well) are hooked on snack foods—packaged ‘Frankenfoods’ formulated from the same handful of highly processed ingredients. In contrast, healthy diets should be based on a wide variety of minimally processed plant foods, like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, beans, and fish. While Whole30 creators seem to be confused about what a whole foods diet is, their heart seems to be in the right place (maybe).
The Whole30 regimen also asks participants to abstain from added sugars for 30 days. While a few teaspoons a day isn’t going to kill you, most people could definitely use a break from this over consumed food. After all, the World Health Organization recommends that adults cut back to only 6 teaspoons a day. Additionally, Whole30 urges participants to abstain from alcohol. Moderate alcohol consumption–especially red wine–is shown to have numerous health benefits. But judging from the number of drunken people I’ve seen on the T around Saint Patrick’s Day (or on 6th Street, in college), I’m sure there are plenty of folks that could benefit from a month without alcohol. Bottom Line: If you want to purge your diet of everything remotely impure for 30 days, do just that! But don’t exclude wholesome plant foods, like whole grains or beans.
You wouldn’t get open-heart surgery from an auto mechanic, so why would you follow nutrition advice from someone with zero education or training? While one of the Whole30 cofounders might be a “sports nutritionist,” all that’s required for that designation is to pass one test. No nutrition degree (or even nutrition classes), no supervised practice, and no accredited internship required. The startling nutrition deficiencies in this program are all the more reason to seek nutrition advice from a trained nutrition professional, like a registered dietitian.
68 thoughts on “Whole30: A Wholly Misguided Approach to Healthy Eating”
I was intrigued to try it as more of an elimination diet to figure out what is causing inflammation. I followed it almost to the letter of the law – full disclosure, I drank some wine…and I did weigh myself. The first night, I slept like a baby for the first time in almost a year. After a week, the “fog” was gone. I felt calm and peaceful. I usually call these trendy diets “blue green algae” because I also don’t trust a diet that removes whole food groups. BUT I feel great, I’m not hungry, I lost 10 pounds, sleeping, calm. After the W30, I added dairy back in and within 3 days was miserable. I went back on for a week then added dairy back and…miserable. Soooo, all I would say is: worked for me. I wouldn’t live this way because I love my grains and legumes and I don’t like the reliance on eggs and meat. I did find a lot of things I can live without though. Bye bye sugar and dairy…mostly. It gave me some realignment on my food intake, even though we cook from scratch almost every night with whole organic foods. I would think Fast Food Nation would benefit from the introduction to these healthy foods.
As a senior Dietetics student your points are very accurate. I am into my first week of Whole 30 and am very suprised at how easy it actually is. Everything mentioned here is valid. I at first was confused by the elimination of whole grains and legumes. These are typically essentials in my diet. Whole grains was the biggest confusion to me, but in a way I was not suprised by legumes. Legumes are packed with fiber and many other beneficial micronutrients but they can be hard on the disgestive system. Many people do not know how to prepare them properly and they usually come from a can with added junk. I believe Whole 30 is trying to get people to realize that they can live without certain foods and that cooking can be a fun a creative experience. You also get into a groove of what foods have hidden sugars and soy which can be very beneficial when it comes to shopping later on. I bellieve that this is why the program is only 30 days. You learn a lot in just a week about foods you normally consume. It seems so extreme but I have been very successful even though my house is still full of foods that are “off limits” because my fiancé decided to still eat certain foods. I made it a point to cook meals I enjoy and foods that are seasonal and inexpensive. This has made the tranistion much easier, not to mention I live on a tight budget. I eat a lot of lean protein, a lot of veggies, and egg each day as well as an avocado and these foods have made me feel better than I have in a while. All in all I wouldn’t discredit this program but I always recommend doing your research, talking to a Dietitian, naturopath, and occicasionally physicians (they do not know much about food).
Kelly, I’m confused. With all the savvy responses to your post, you still seem to be missing the real point of Whole 30. It was never intended as a permanent way of eating. It is mainly a way to try to get rid of the unhealthy cravings for things like sugar and potato chips, foods that unfortunately have become a staple in our diets. Also, Whole 30 does not say “Don’t ever eat dairy/beans/grains again.” It simply points out that many people have issues and sensitivities to these foods and don’t even realize it. Whole 30 is an ideal way to temporarily eliminate what seem to be common trigger foods for a lot of people for a short period of time (30 days). After the 30 days these foods are systematically reintroduced so the subject will be able to isolate each food and will know without a doubt which foods are problems and which foods are not. Then, as an adult in charge of your own body, you decide which foods who want to add back in to your regular diet. To me, this seems clever and efficient. I don’t see any problems here.
Many of your points are valid about some beneficial foods Whole30 eliminates. However, you are missing the main point of the Whole30-it’s an elimination diet. After 30 days you add back in the beneficial foods a couple of weeks at a time to see if you have any reactions. If you don’t, you can eat those foods. For example, reintroduce dairy and see if your bloating, gas, fatigue, etc return. Then add whole grains. Then legumes, etc. It’s more like a “diet reset button.”
I don’t think there’s one way everyone should eat. Some may be sensitive to certain food groups. Someway not. This is one way to help people find out.
Thanks for reaching out! Indeed, “diet reset buttons” can be helpful for many individuals. That said, I find a problem with diets that portray many of the healthiest foods (like legumes) as “off limits.” I appreciate your feedback and insight!
It’s not portraying them as unhealthy, it’s just temporarily eliminating them from someone’s diet. You fail to understand the difference.
Thanks for reaching out! I think that by instructing dieters to eliminate foods from their diet (temporary or not) the creators of the diet are inadvertently portraying these foods as unhealthy. If foods like quinoa and black beans are good for us, then why go to such great lengths to avoid them? While that might not be the intention of the creators of Whole 30, it is often a result.
It was only by doing Whole30 that I found out how my body reacted to certain foods, it’s only 30 days, it’s not that big of a deal to eat other things so you can understand exactly how the foods you eat make you feel. I never got the impression that the foods that were “off limits” for 30 days were unhealthy.
Also, kale smoothies are not discouraged, what’s discouraged is dressing up a health food to make it appear or taste more like the real thing. I agree that it is unhealthy psychologically – CALL IT WHAT IT IS AND LEARN TO ENJOY IT because otherwise you can’t stick to and you’ll continue to tempt yourself into getting the real thing. It’s important to know the difference. Sorry, but no matter how many vegan burgers I have, they will never replace the taste of greasy cheeseburger.
I have a hard time with legumes, my body doesn’t process them as well so I have to find other sources of protein. I wouldn’t have known what was making me feel that way if I didn’t take a break from it to find out. I think your criticism is a little limited.
Good thoughts, but you’re presenting the facts like Whole 30 is meant to be followed your entire life. The purpose is to eliminate foods that could potentially making you feel a certain way or preventing you from losing weight. When you introduce the foods back in, each individual can make choices as to how their body is feeling. As someone who has eaten clean for over a year with little to no results, this has been a lifesaver in helping me pinpoint what has been wrong. Much better than when my doctor just told me that I should “eat less” and that would fix the problem.
Thanks for reaching out! I totally see where you are coming from. That said, I tend to be weary of short term solutions, choosing instead to direct people to more long-term eating behaviors. I appreciate your insight!
Right! I have done the whole30 multiple times and find myself unable to find balance in my diet now: life after the whole30. It’s supposed to be a 30 day cleanse/challenge but how does that translate to changing your life. I am a year out from my first round and feel more unhealthy than ever. I now have anxiety and fear of food where I really didn’t before. I felt great during my whole30…..but now what?
Exactly! Cleanses and challenges can be a great way to hit the reset button, so to speak, but it is the day to day eating patterns over time that are going to affect your health the most
Thank you! You have the credibility that I lack in trying to argue against this fad. I am a happy, healthy vege/pescetarian who knows that moderation in all things is the key to keeping this machine running long term. The elimination of grains and legumes shows itself as ludicrous when you back up and realize that most people in the world subsist on the combination of those two with a lot of leafy green and more spice than we know what to do with.
You’re so welcome! I totally agree — this diet fails the logic test.
You have answered a lot of my questions on this diet that I thought of too, thank you.
You’re so welcome!
Hi, Kelley. I was VERY glad to find your site. I’ve gone ahead and started Whole30, and have just completed Day 4, although with many reservations and doubts about the program. So I Googled something about a “review” or critique of W30 and got here. I was beginning to think I was the only doubter. Well, I’m of a mixed mind as to whether or not to complete all 30 days. Its not “hurting” me, but I do miss my rice and beans, and am definitely not going to be eating cattle flesh as I’ve been off that for many years. So I’m doing a lot of fish. I’ll see how it goes, and I’ve said that I can do “anything” (within reason) for 30 days. If I stick with it for that long, I’m certain I won’t be continuing their program after that.
Glad you’re here. Are there also other supportive and informational links you could point me to? Thanks.
Thanks for your comments! The best eating patterns are ones that incorporate a variety of minimally-processed, plant based foods. Any diets promising a “quick fix” are likely not the best tools to balance a lifelong eating pattern on.
I’d been vegan for 18 years and doing Crossfit for 3 or 4 years. I put on 25 pounds of muscle in a relatively short period of time. As a long-time vegan, this is something that everyone told me I could not accomplish. My gym recently held a “Paleo Challenge” where competitors had to comply with the Whole30 regimen. I wanted to do the challenge to prove a vegan could do it…and win.. but I have to say that so many of the rules seemed like dogma based in allergy fear-mongering. Sure, eliminating sugar and pastries was something I thought would be good for me, but legumes?! Seitan? Quinoa? I do not have any sensitivities to soy or gluten… so I left them in my modification of the Whole30 challenge. But the Whole30 folks are SURE to tell you on their website that you can not do this as a vegan and in fact, they think a vegan diet is dangerous. I just can’t wrap my head around all the inconsistencies and contradictions. If you’re going to eliminate foods based on common allergies, shouldn’t shellfish be eliminated? And why are legumes like snap peas and green beans given a pass, yet if you eat a chickpea you have to “start over” with the Whole30? I can’t help but see Whole30 as part of a machismo ploy to make meat products seem absolutely essential to survival. It is Atkins with better marketing! I’m sure if we dig a little, we’ll find that the Weston A. Price Foundation is somehow behind this, no?
Thanks for sharing! I agree that there are a lot of contradictions in the Whole 30 plan. Healthy eating does not require a complicated set of rules — just creativity, common sense, and lots and lots of plant foods!
Agreed! I have just started the Whole30 Challenge with a group from my gym and have been feeling unsettled and couldn’t quite put my finger on what is bothering me. After reading these reviews I don’t feel so paranoid! I hate the “allergy fear-mongering” that seems to have taken over. I feel like good nutrition and a healthy/active lifestyle should be the pillars of “health”. By making a list of ridiculous rules (and setting many “beginners” to healthy eating up for failure) this diet does not teach sustainable healthy eating habits. I have been following the diet “with modifications” and trying to use it as a loose guideline to teach me creative ways to not overindulge in grains and dairy. The “break the rules and you have to start over” is an awful way to give people food shame or guilt when they are in an active pursuit to become “more healthy”. Moderation is key – I don’t want my children adopting an “I CAN’T eat that” approach to food. I want them to be able to make healthy decisions for themselves based on moderation, not based on a bunch of rules they’ve been taught or told. I have also found (like thediscerningbrute) that it’s very meat-heavy at a time in my life when I am trying to cut down and gradually eliminate meat consumption.
@THEDISCERNINGBRUTE you nailed it with “it is Atkins with better marketing ” and I say the same for the fad Keto diets. There is zero logic in their elimination of foods and those they keep in. I had already decided they were a joke when they called quinoa and amaranth “new grains”. Not a lick of science in the diet, just a way for the authors to sucker people for a fat payday. A true “reset” would never be handled this way by a reputable doctor or licensed nutritionist.
How do you know that you don’t have sensitivities to soy/gluten if you’ve never eliminated them and then added them back in??
I’ve done a Whole30 in the past and became suspicious of their reasoning behind the program. I decided to review their citations provided in the book, It Starts With Food, (over 450+ total citations) and see if they were being honest in their interpretation of the scientific literature.
A majority of the cited claims were either misleading or false (links below). An unskeptical reader would finish this book incredibly misinformed about food and health.
I’ve done a Whole30 in the past and became suspicious of their reasoning behind the program. I decided to review their citations provided in the book, It Starts With Food, (over 450+ total citations) and see if they were being honest in their interpretation of the scientific literature.
A majority of the cited claims were either misleading or false (links below). An unskeptical reader would finish this book incredibly misinformed about food and health.
Thanks for sharing!
I would love to hear more about the pros/cons of the oils that Whole30 focuses on. I’m almost done with the Whole30 (we are using it as an abbreviated way to find out what is causing my 4 year old’s daily tummy aches), and I have a cabinet full of “noncompliant” oils that I miss cooking with, such as sesame and grapeseed. The Whole30 claim, if I remember correctly, is that these oils begin to oxidize before you even consume them, and that causes damage to your body. Can you tell me if this is true?
Hi thanks for your thoughts. Have you read the Book It Starts with Food? If so, what do you think of all of the scientific literature they cite?
Thanks for reaching out! No, I haven’t read that book, so I can’t say one way or another.
Hi Jay, I have read the book and can say that the papers they cite do not support the claims they are making. You can read my reviews here – http://nutritionasiknowit.com/whole30/
Thanks, I was considering trying whole30, but as an omnivore, beans are a huge part of my diet. Also, I can see giving most grain products, but I would have a hard time not eating Ezekiel 4:9 bread. That bread is the healthiest whole grain product I eat.
Loved this! Very well explained and put. As a fellow RD, I appreciate you trying to clear up such a huge fad diet. So many around me are following it and struggle because it is just is not possible for most people to live on all the given food restrictions.
I’m glad you found this helpful! It’s certainly a hot topic in our field.
I have several friends who are dietitians and nutritionists who agree this is a standard elimination diet which is prescribed by many health professionals. The point of a Whole30 is to learn about your body, instead of just taking information (such as well meaning blogs and internet sites) at face value. To learn about your body by slowly reintroducing foods after 30 days is the actual key to really eating healthy for the rest of your life. The argument that this is a quick fix or a 30 day “fad” is honestly just an emotional argument, with no basis for fact.
This isn’t for everyone, much as is why other people find a healthy way of eating by other programs (Read: vegetarian, vegan, paleo, raw, etc…). People who do well with stopping “cold turkey” and are “all or nothing”, thrive on this program! There is so much support for what to do after you have eliminated certain foods (and might I add, there is no fear or risk of nutritional deprivation, which SHOULD be a red flag, if that were the case). I would encourage you to take a look at the PDF for “What to do after a Whole30 is over” It encourages people to really figure out if they are eating foods to enjoy (as life should be done!) or if they are to binge just for the sake of boredom (Which we can all agree, tends to be the downfall for people’s health goals).
It continues to baffle me that blogs and others form opinions about subjects that they have not done their homework in. It isn’t enough to take a glance and sway others in another direction, without letting the reader decide for themselves! I would highly recommend you do a Whole30, (and obviously do more extensive research other than just bullet points you googled online) then take a revisit with your findings. How can you offer an educated opinion on such a program, but not actually go through it to find yourself?
Your readers will thank you, for encouraging them (Just as a Whole30 encourages) to find true health by doing it themselves. If after 30 days, you realize you can handle good, fermented & organic dairy, that’s really great! If you find that you can handle legumes without any issue, I say go crazy with the beans! If you find, that gluten doesn’t agree with you, now you know. In order to leave an educated opinion piece, you must leave the emotion out of it to remain authentic to your readers. I know, that if you were to read an article that swayed in the opposite direction with your beliefs, you would state the same thing.
I’ll just end it with this: You don’t know, until you know. We can’t keep encouraging people to read an opinion piece and then not take some responsibility when we hinder, rather than help with their health journey. Let others give it a try and decide for themselves. Encouraging people to get out of their comfort zone and journey on self-discovery is empowering and that is where we will see real change.
Thank you for sharing!
I am a medical specialist (consultant physician) currently on the whole30. I instinctively distrust fad diets changing your basic healthy lifestyle, but after recent weight gain and unhealthy habits I decided to give whole30 a go. My daughter wanted to do this, and she is so supportive that the whole family is embarking on this. My husband and myself use too much alcohol and refined starches and sugar, and attempts to cut portions and change to healthier choices have failed recently. I distrusted the elimination of legumes and healthy grains and realised whole30 is not evidence based. Because of multiple ill defined symptoms (fluid retention, mood, concentration, brain fog etc) I decided to trial it as an elimination diet despite misgivings.. This is day 9 and I feel wonderful. Brain fog has lifted and perception and awareness is wonderful. bloating and swelling gone, lost 2 kg in first week (mostly fluid losses).I am 55 and I experience emotions and perceptions that I last had as a 30 year old. I feel like a changed person. this has persisted for the last 3 days (I thought initially it was too good to be true). I specifically mistrusted whole30’s advice to not go for delicious smoothies with fresh fruit and seed, because you have to “break physiologically) with sweet products. I feel that you have to have a healthy diet that you enjoy, and avoid deprivation.I limit my fruit intake, however, to 2-3 portions per day, but have them for breakfast in smoothies with coconut milk, almonds, frozen cherries and banana. DELICIOUS. I also mix and chill chia seeds and coconut milk, and have it with fresh fruit in the mornings. I am using legumes in low quantities (soy in sauces and hummus) but I have totally excluded diary. I am restarting a very small quantity of sugar in my coffee today. I do not agree with the failure message of whole30 (fail in the minutest and have to start all over). Failed diets have so many “failure and despair” issues associated, and the message of total failure and disregard of the successful completed days is not positive. Take home message: I feel WONDERFUL and will advise whole30 to my patients, because instructions are clear and easy to comprehend. I will advise a few changes: Enjoy baked food or smoothies made with allowed products. Use legumes if you are convinced no past issues, or add back after just a couple of weeks. Use unrefined grains in controlled portions.
Thank you Ruth for your comment, I couldn’t agree with you more.
I took the Whole30 challenge because of health issues; by eliminating certain foods and slowly adding them back to my diet I was able to determine what foods do not work well with my body. It has been 5 months, I feel wonderful and am inspired to continue on with my Whole Food journey and make it a permanent part of my life. It’s 30 days without grains, dairy, legumes and processed foods. In that time I learned to cook delicious, nutritious meals with whole food and do not miss sugar or dairy now, I never would have believed it one year ago. It worked for me.
I am so unbelievably appreciative of this post. Whole30 seemed like a really great idea to take control of my hormones and poor eating habits. However, I am on Day 9 and have been really frustrated. I’m from Austin, TX and my husband is a huge foodie (I’m a wanna-be foodie). I just don’t enjoy food anymore. I realize this is only 30 days, but I think the SWYPO concept is ludicrous and that certain amounts of all the eliminated items are definitely healthy in moderation.
I am also frustrated by how angry and strict the people in their Facebook “support” group appear to be. I find comments that condemn your opinion of this diet to be very enlightening too. I don’t want someone, when I’m truly struggling to make good decisions, condemning me and shaming me anytime I slip up. For example, I work from home most of the time. Today, I went into the office and wasn’t even thinking and popped a piece of Trident gum in my mouth. Realizing what I had done, I spit the gum out immediately.
For less than 30 seconds of gum chewing, I’m expected to restart the entire 30 days? Tough love my ass – that’s STUPID.
Anyway, I sincerely appreciate this post and hope I can convince my husband to support me in making healthier decisions. Additionally, this was an eye-opening experience and maybe I can work a little harder to exercise and focus on portion size and moderation.
You are so welcome. Healthy eating is a journey. And believe it or not, it can actually be quite pleasant! 🙂
Thanks for this! I started a healthy eating pattern at the beginning of this year & have been making sure I get in various food groups and eat well overall.
I started the whole30 a few days ago and at the end of day 2 I felt like I was in hangover hell! I got the most massive headache, started throwing up and when I couldn’t fall asleep due to a throbbing head, I stayed up obsessing over what foods were “bad” or “good”.
My husband promptly made me quit the Whole30 and I realized that the diet easily promotes a harmful relationship with food by removing major whole food groups like dairy, grains & legumes.
I did feel like a major failure and that made me think about what such a restrictive diet can do to a person. I’ve decided to stick to my “healthy eating” of plants, fruits, meat, dairy & grains which helped me lose 10 pounds in the first place!
Thank you so much for sharing your experience! A healthy relationship with food is essential for a healthy life.
I am skeptical of such absolute diets, too, but thought we would try it, and we’re on it right now. I think the appealing thing about it is it has absolute rules, such as absolutely no sugar, dairy, chemicals, etc., so it’s easy to tell yourself “no”. Of course it’s not sustainable long-term, but it’s a good way to eliminate problem foods. For instance, our son was making poor food choices – even things that were good, like Greek yogurt (with added sugar) – and it was clear he was having issues with sugar and dairy but wouldn’t give them up. The “kill all the things” stage is only the first few days as your body adjusts to no sugar. And I was surprised how much sugar I was consuming as well, as we thought we were healthy eaters! All that being said, we all feel great on the diet and I’ve lost weight for the first time in years. Since we were mostly pescetarian before and now are eating a bit more chicken, but still no red meat, we are going to add legumes back in since none of us have an issue with them. I can see permanently reducing dairy and flour, but adding in good grains like brown rice. Overall, I think with the diet, you really take a look at exactly what you are eating and following a plan, in a way that “eat more vegetables” fails to accomplish. I appreciate your thoughts. Please keep in mind that it isn’t a permanent eating plan and has helped lots of people with medical issues like diabetes, who also apparently need strict rules like I do because they couldn’t follow a more general healthy eating plan.
Thank you for your perspective. I agree that some people tend to gravitate towards structure in their diet, and that it can be easier to follow a prescribed set of rules than to weigh out decisions and choices. However, I’m hopeful that as people progress further on their journey of healthy eating, healthy eating won’t seem as complicated, and that people understand the “why” behind the “what”
Thank you so much for this post. I have only been trying the whole30 for 5 days now and I hate it, as I am an avid runner and yogi PLUS I am breastfeeding so I felt starved the whole time, never satisfied, and felt in a funk. The die hard whole30 folk would say I didn’t give it a good enough chance, but it’s not worth it to me. It’s refreshing to see an article from someone who didn’t have their life miraculously “changed” by the program. And I admit I felt guilt for not sticking to something and giving up so early. The whole30 poisons your mind and tells you you’re a bad person if you decide to put cream in your coffee, which I did, and in my whole life I never felt guilt for putting cream in my coffee until today when in reality it really isn’t a bad thing.
Thank you for sharing your experience. I certainly believe that one bite or one meal certainly isn’t going to make or break things, but rather, it’s the overall diet that counts.
I’ve been on this diet for 21 days and I hate it. I thought it would help me loose the last bit of weight I want to take off but it’s killing me. I always have a bit of dark chocolate (85%) after dinner, now I don’t I’m eating tonnes of nuts and sultanas to replace the sweet craving. I thought my sugar cravings would have left by now. I do feel a bit lighter on this diet, not sure it’s worth it though. I’ve done the primal diet for two and a half years keeping full fat diary and fresh baked bread on Saturday morning breakfast and home made cake after Sunday lunch and felt great. I just don’t on this diet. I’ve had carb flu but what I feel now is just rough, lethargic and horrible. I’ll see it out to the end just in case tiger blood is around the corner. I am getting weird about licking my fingers after touching my daughter’s honey on toast so I don’t have to reset – can’t wait to stop that!
“A diet without grains but with unlimited red meat is basically just an Atkins diet….Any diet that bans nutritious whole grains like quinoa and millet, but allows you to survive exclusively off of bacon and Larabars, should make you question the legitimacy of its health claims.” I don’t think this diet is for everyone. But I don’t believe this is what it is about. They don’t encourage unlimited red meat and certainly don’t want people surviving on Larabars. They suggest keeping those on hand for emergencies or for the occasional snack, not making them a regular part of your diet. They also constantly say “you are grownups” and can do what you want, but here is why we think you should restart the diet if you slip up. It is, essentially, an elimination diet. Though I have started it to get out of some bad habits, like relying on breads and pastas too often, snacking on cheese too much, grabbing a granola bar when I could grab a piece of fruit. Trying to change my habits. I think you can use this diet for different purposes.
I was starting to feel like nobody else thought about the bad sides to Whole30! Thank you for posting this!
They won’t let you eat any type of sugar, even raw honey, because it’s not “good” and you should NOT put anything “bad” into your body. Nothing processed, no sugars, no chemicals. But when users complain of having week-long diarrhea spells they tell you to take an anti-diarrhea pill. Aren’t those things full of the chemicals they’re so afraid of? What kind of logic is that?
They also advise you can’t have too many nuts or fruits because it’s somehow cheating but they fully endorsed Larabars which are only fruit and nuts. I think they had a sponsorship with them to boost sales.
Another thing I did not understand was the “you can’t have ‘fake’ versions of food like mushroom cap pizzas because you’re supposed to eliminate them from your lifestyle” concept, but they advise you nonstop to make fake noodles from zucchini and fake rice from cauliflower.
I started the diet because it seemed simple enough, and I already didn’t eat processed foods, but after day 2 and doing a lot more digging I found out these people are idiots. They’re constantly making rules up as they go along and I’ve seen more warnings on this diet plan about developing anorexia and bulimia than any other diet I’ve looked into. It obviously is NOT a healthy choice to make if it has a high rate of creating ED’s and other bodily issues.
I’m wondering if you’ve ever heard of The Abascal Way TQI (To Quiet Inflamation)? It seems similar to The Whole30 but I’ve been unable to find much in the way of online critiques of The Abascal Way. It is still an elimination diet, and in some way is more restrictive than The Whole30 but in other ways it is less restrictive (allows legumes for example). Meal templates are fairly easy 1/3 protein/grains and 2/3 fruit/vegetables so I feel it would much easier to sustain long term.
I’m an engineer, which for me means I want a science based healthy diet, but because I’m not a dietitian, nutritionist or other expert in those types of areas, I find it difficult to accurately assess the validity of many diet claims. Plus I don’t have the time to fully educate myself and chase down every citation in a “science-based” diet book. And even then, it’s hard to tell when new information is found that contradicts old information and trying to weed out motivational bias in studies.
Thanks for any comments you might have.
I was soooooo happy to read something mentioning Dr. CAMPBELL!!!!
I was skeptical right off the bat, and once I read about it entirely, I can’t say I agree that it’s healthy. Maybe for just 30 days but bacon over beans? That’s an effing joke.
Plant-based-whole-foods or BUST!!!
Thanks for the article – I just wanted to find someone else who was reluctant!!
I really appreciate your post about Whole30. I tried it at the beginning of this year. My reasons were for cleansing, and to actually see if I had an ounce of discipline in my body. (I’m a mother of 3 young children, and work part-time. Snacking on goldfish is a regular thing in my house!) While I did learn that I could be disciplined when needed, and that my energy level increased overall, I did not care for the food-obsessed feeling I had the whole time. It was interesting to confront my relationship with food and the habits I had around it, and I suppose from that standpoint it was worth the experience. But I am suspicious that it may have impacted my menstrual cycle, and honestly, felt it negatively impacted my emotional state. I have found my desire is more around continuing to learn about and implement healthy recipes into our family’s meals and snacks, rather than this approach. I’m happy to happen-upon your website!
I think you may be surprised if you try it yourself 🙂
The placebo effect should never be underestimated. thanks, Kelly, for a rational response. When did we start to reject facts in favor of opinion or perceived individual experiences? Antidotal reactions are always more widely varied than systemic research.
I think the word diet is throwing people off. When people hear diet they think long term. Whole30 has 30 in the name meaning 30 days (limited) and it is an elimination diet not a weight loss diet. During those 30 days you learn your habits, cravings, what you can and can not live without, if food is negatively affecting your health and much more. Yes it is not for everyone but I for one did it and learned that I was sensitive to grains. I now eat very little grains, even though they are healthy, and my stomach issues are so much better and my constant pain in my joints has decreased to occasionally and not constantly. If you would have asked me before Whole30 what foods were causing my problems I would have told you dairy. But I was wrong and it was during the second phase where you REINTRODUCE the foods is where I learned what my body could not process. So although you are telling me healthy grains should be in my diet and that is why the Whole30 is bad, that would be a false statement for me. Yes they are healthy but my body for some reason reacts to them. I also have a very difficult time with beans, once again healthy but not good for me. So be aware that everyone’s body is different and people with chronic health problems can sometimes cure themselves by eliminating certain foods (even healthy foods). And isn’t it better to change your diet than going to the doctor and taking expensive drugs? Someone may have considered doing the Whole30 that could of cured themselves of ailments but because of your article chose not to, so be careful what you write and how you use give advice on health.
thank you for this article and your opinion. I needed a big restart and while extremely restrictive, the Whole3 knocked off 12 lbs and helped me discover that Soy and Black beans were what was tearing up my insides, not dairy as I expected. I have continued trying to avoid certain things and when I do, I sleep better, my skin is clearer and over 6 months I am down 2 lbs. I have 30 more to go but know that portion control and putting better things in my body than junk is truly the key.
My understanding is that Whole30 is an elimination diet. I tried it, felt great and lost 13 pounds. If you suspect you have a food allergy or sensitivity, any licensed dietician would recommend an elimination diet, but they’d likely not think to check things like legumes and quinoa. This is why I think Whole30 is smart.
Today will be my 7th day on the Whole30 diet. I did it because my daughter suggested I should and she is doing it along with her boyfriend. I miss my stevia, sugar, with my coffee more than anything. I miss my glass or two of wine at dinner. I don’t miss grains or legumes. I sleep better than ever. Have stop taking the blue pill for heartburn,(been taking it for years). When I am done I will reintroduce one envelope of stevia instead of three. will drink a glass of wine instead of two or three. will read every label for hidden sugar, and will eat beans and brown rice whenever. Still will try to keep away from other grains. Eat corn and look like corn beaf.
If there’s one thing that this diet has given me is awareness of what I am eating. Read labels. Sugar is one of the worst things you can consume. But then so is too much red meat.
Eat consciously and enjoy the process.
Kelly, Thanks for your post. I like what you wrote. I did think the the Whole30 seemed overly opinionated and that they were saying grains and beans are not good for you. I totally get elimination diets but that is not really how they say it. Bacon makes me feel awful and they recommend eating that over beans. Hmmm. Common sense people.
I LOVE this article! I’m a personal trainer and Metabolic Effect nutrition consultant and find the Whole30 needlessly restrictive and believe it often does more harm than good, especially in changing people’s attitudes towards food. Eating real food should be – like you said – a positive experience. Whole30 demonizes foods and paints very broad strokes, like assuming gluten is a problem for EVERYONE. They say it’s meant to be an elimination diet so you can add foods back in after the 30 days, but after you’ve been brainwashed for 30 days that the only way to REALLY eat healthy is to eat things that are “Whole30 approved”? I work with a lot of women who now have anxiety and fear around food after spending too much time trying to adhere to the Whole30 way of life (if you could call that “life.”) Great article and would love to share this on my Facebook page!
I do think you miss the point of the Whole30. I am currently on my 2nd one. The idea behind it is to completely change your associations with food (eating for comfort etc) and changing the way you approach meals, really thinking about what you are putting in your body (and reading labels and seeing how much sugar etc is in the foods you buy regularly). It is also a great elimination diet, and has a process at the end for reintroducing foods and finding out which foods create a systemic reaction in your body that might be contributing to disease or the inability to lose weight. I have celiac disease that went undiagnosed for 30+ years, and I might have caught it early if this had been around when I was in my early 20’s and looking desperately for answers to why I was so miserable and tired all the time. It is the START to changing over your diet to a healthier diet. I am doing it for a 2nd time because the first time I found out I have a problem with dairy, but even limiting it severely I was still having a lot of issues. I am doing it longer this 2nd time, and will probably do the reintroductions over a much slower timeline, to try to find out what else I am better off without. In the meantime, I am trying fruits and veggies I’ve never tried before, googling how to cook, pick out and store various fresh fruits and vegetables, all of which are great skills going forward.
I loved this article and agree whole heartedly. Eliminating oats and quinoa and legumes which are healthy doesn’t seem like the way to go. I understand that you will reintroduce them in the end but this does seem like another fad diet to me.
Sheesh! Thank you so much for this post. My sister was raving about this diet to me on the phone today and demanding I try it. And I was like….umm, no. I’ve been eating a healthy diet based around fruits, veggies, whole grains, natural sweeteners, yogurt, lean meat and fish for a little over a year now, and I’ve so far lost 105 pounds…so obviously eating whole grains, dairy and legumes isn’t hampering my weight loss. I’m going to toss this article her way. I too, get a red flag whenever a diet or supposed health plan outlaws an entire group of healthy foods. The added sugar I have no problem eliminating, but whole grains? yogurt? legumes? Even quinoa and chickpeas? I live off my carrot sticks and hummus!
After several rounds of Whole 30, I’m seen the light. The 10 lbs I lost came back faster than a lightning bolt. I’m won’t be doing one ever again.
Everyone has allergies and food sensitivities? Really? I don’t think so. Without an actual food allergy, what’s the point of eliminating several food groups. I did it for weight loss and that’s what everyone on my facebook group was doing it for, too.
We could be upfront and honest on facebook, it was all about the weight loss but it didn’t last. When we started eating anything that had carbs, all weight loss went out the window.
Thanks for the article. Like yourself, I do have some issues with the Whole 30 philosophy. I agree, cutting out entire food groups is unnecessary and unnatural. However, I can stick to something for thirty days and do see some value in the program. Honestly my biggest peeve is their adamance to eliminate any replications of things. For example, I love nice cream (bananas and almond milk), I love on the go homemade protein bars, I love flour-less pancakes. They do not allow these replications, BUT in the name of irony allow “Whole30 Mayo” and the like. Contradicting and non conducive to creating a healthy relationship with food. Food should be enjoyed, pain does not equal commitment. You can be committed to a healthy, balanced diet and not suffer in your day to day.
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