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How Healthy Are You?

Whole30 Diet Feeds Doubts

Discipline Required for Uncertain Results

Whole30 Diet's effectiveness feeds doubts.

By John Hand –

It seems like just about everyone is ready to start a new diet, especially in the first part of the year. There are plenty to choose from, but with 4.4 million people posting on Instagram about Whole30, this regimen has become one of the most popular dietary protocols.

The approach is unique because it’s a diet that doesn’t focus primarily on weight loss. Rather, it aims to reshape a person’s relationship with food. However, as is well-documented, popularity in dieting doesn’t always equate to effectiveness. Consequently, the weight-loss jury is still out on Whole30. 

One reason for the uncertainty is that there are no published scientific studies backing the diet’s claims. There is, however, lots of anecdotal evidence that the diet can improve a person’s well-being. These stories all have common themes: the individuals involved are committed to living a more disciplined lifestyle and improving their general well-being. They also all have a good support system. The combined impact of these conditions makes the Whole30 diet a unique challenge that is perfect for some and torture for others. 

The approach isn’t new, having been founded in 2009 by Melissa Hartwig, a former drug addict who became a certified sports nutritionist. Since its inception, the Whole30 brand has been part of major licensing deals with top companies such as Whole Foods, described in best-selling books and rocketed to notoriety on social media. 

Ultimately, the process, described as a “cult diet” by some, may not be for the faint of heart. 

“Whole30 takes an elimination protocol one step further by combining the benefits of an elimination diet with the science of behavior change, helping you reconnect with your body, improve your relationship with food and build self-efficacy,” the Whole30 website reports. 

The elimination protocol demands cutting sugar, artificial sweeteners, alcohol, grains, legumes, soy, dairy and processed additives from their diet for 30 days, leaving vegetables, meat and other fresh, minimally processed foods on a person’s plate. After the first 30 days, the eliminated foods are slowly added back into a person’s diet to discover how they react to certain food groups or whether they are sensitive or allergic to various products.

Participants who complete the protocol report higher energy levels, better sleep, loss of fat and reduced food cravings. Based on its own internal studies, Whole30 also claims that these individuals also lower cholesterol, blood sugar and blood pressure. The group reports some people even reversed prediabetes. 

The regimen, nonetheless, requires an extreme level of discipline. Participants can find support for maintaining their staying power through a variety of tips and tricks to stay on track. 

The Whole Smith Food Blog, for example, suggests: “Avoid meal fatigue. It’s not all about sweet potatoes, bacon and avocado. Do some pre-work and save Whole30 recipes so you aren’t stuck eating the same thing every day. Keep it simple. Don’t plan overly ambitious meals. Find recipes with 3-4 ingredients that you can mix-n-match throughout the week.” 

The process, not surprisingly, has its critics. Whole30 is routinely ranked as one of the worst-rated diets by U.S. News & World Report

MedicalNewsToday.com adds that some of the food groups eliminated, such as legumes (beans, peas, lentils) and dairy (milk, yogurt and cheese) provide necessary vitamins that are part of a well-rounded diet. In addition, cooking meals or eating out on meals that meet Whole30 requirements is extremely time-consuming. Beyond this, if someone slips up on the diet, they are required to restart the diet from day one. 

“The Whole30 program encourages whole foods, meal planning and preparation—all beneficial habits for a healthy lifestyle,” nutritionist Adiana Castro told Self. “That said, I’m not a fan of ‘food rules,’ because they trigger negative connotations and can lead to disordered eating patterns.” 

Yet reshaping a person’s unhealthy approach to food can have substantial benefits. Whether the Whole30 approach is the appropriate way to reset is debatable. Converts do abound, however. 

“I didn’t eat pizza. I ate the roasted vegetables,” reported Lindsey Lanquist, a writer for Self who tried Whole30. “And guess what: It did make a difference. I felt the results. I’ve never had more energy—or fewer digestive issues. And even though Whole30 isn’t a weight-loss program, being more mindful about the foods I ate did carry the added benefit of me dropping a few pounds, as well.” 





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