Fad diets come, and fad diets go. People will line up to preach the benefits of cabbage soup or high protein, and you’ll undoubtedly find countless before-and-after photo comparisons for any diet out there if you do a little research, but the problem with these diets is that, like the trends themselves, they don’t actually offer long-term and life-changing results.
A person might drop pound after pound very quickly from eating nothing but cabbage soup, but that person hasn’t learned how to keep off that weight in a week or a month or a year. All that they’ve learned is how much (or by the end of it how little) they like cabbage soup.
And that’s what the Whole30 program aims to teach its disciples: not just how to diet, but how to eat better on the whole(30).
What is the Whole30?
Those familiar with the Paleo diet will recognize aspects of Whole30: give up all the things that aren’t 100% natural, and all the things that can’t be hunted or gathered. The long list of things that the Whole30 requires you to surrender include all sugars and artificial sweeteners, alcohol, grains (including the seemingly can-do-no-wrong quinoa), legumes such as beans and peas, dairy, carrageenan, MSG, and sulfites. You’re also expected not to try to recreate your favorite pastry and junk foods using foods on the “allowed” list, so no experimental baking to try to satisfy a sweet tooth on day 15. The “30” refers to the 30-day commitment that you make to follow this program in 30-day increments.
It also requires that you give up your scale and measuring tape.
That’s right: while you’re a practicing disciple of the Whole30, you aren’t allowed to weigh yourself or measure your loss in inches, because the idea isn’t that you’re losing weight; the idea is that you’re training your body not to crave unhealthy food, and you’re working not just on your weight but on your overall health. If you suffer from low energy or headaches or poor sleep, Whole30 professes to be able to help you cure these ailments by removing and then isolating your particular problem foods.
The basic tenets of this food faith are outlined in two books by the Whole30’s primary apostles, Dallas and Melissa Hartwig. The books are The Whole30: The 30-Day Guide to Total Health and Food Freedom and It Starts With Food: Discover the Whole30 and Change Your Life in Unexpected Ways, and they include shopping lists, menus, recipes, and a general guide for how to change your philosophy about food. Additionally, their website offers forums and ample links to social media sites to expand your menu and recipe catalog.
And maybe that’s what separates the Whole30 from other diet fads: it’s not a diet with pre-packaged, calorie-restricting foods, but a whole new take on how to approach food.
At the end of the 30 days, you slowly begin reintroducing the things you’ve eliminated in an effort to see what ails you, whether that ailment is being overweight, having low energy, poor sleep, or even something as difficult to define as “being in a bad mood.” If it turns out that dairy is what keeps you up late, you can isolate that by introducing it separate from introducing sugar.
How Do I Get Started?
Before even getting started with the Whole30, the website outlines the eight steps that all new disciples must be prepared to take.
The Eight Steps
- What is the Whole30? – Discussing a brief history of the program and the possible health benefits, you take a very high-level overview of just what the program entails.
- Read the Program – Familiarize yourself with the Hartwigs’ books and understand the rules that will govern your diet for the next 30 days.
- Commit – Take a look at your calendar, your pantry, and your lifestyle to decide what date works best for you. The Whole30 is a serious undertaking, and potential users need to realize that, for example, this may not be a diet for someone getting ready to take a once in a lifetime vacation.
- Build Your Support Team – Tell your friends, engage your social networking buddies, and join the Whole30 forum so that you have people to cheer for you and help you. The Whole30 highly recommends that people take advantage of social networking, their forums, and the simple fact that having a support group really makes a big difference.
- Get Your House Ready – Prepare to throw away a huge portion of your pantry, since almost everything seems to have sugar or grain in it. You also need to plan the first week of meals and shop to accommodate that menu. For many people, you’ll be the only one in the house undertaking the Whole30, so you can’t just go around throwing out everyone’s favorite snacks. You need a strategy for how to isolate your snacks from their snacks.
- Plan For Success – You need to make contingency plans to address any potential roadblocks, such as a drink out with friends (No alcohol!) or unexpected travel. It’s all well and good to know what you’ll be cooking at home for the next 30 days, but what if you have lunch with a friend? Or what will you do when your toddler gets sick and you need to grab breakfast on your way to the pediatrician’s office?
- Toss That Scale – Don’t step on the scale, and don’t measure your inches. The Whole30 points out that your self-esteem shouldn’t be tied to numbers on a scale, which can fluctuate wildly throughout the day, and that you shouldn’t track the success of a complete change in your diet by how many pounds you have or haven’t lost.Do the Whole30 – Get going and don’t stop.
Is it just that easy? Maybe. It seems like many people comment that the first half-week is the hardest, and that, especially as their energy levels increase, it gets easier from there.
Why is This Any Different From Other Diets?
More and more, people are beginning to understand that losing weight is much easier than maintaining weight loss. People who are successful with long term weight loss aren’t just dropping pounds; they’re reevaluating the way they think about food, and they’re looking for ways to eat healthy all the time, not just when they have access to a pre-packaged frozen dinners.
The Whole30 embraces this idea of changing the way people approach food, offering eight steps to get people started with their program. The idea is that, after removing “bad” foods from your diet for 30 days, you will feel more energetic and healthier, and your body will naturally begin to crave these things less and less. Essentially, you’ll be teaching your body not to want these foods while improving your health and your attitude about food (and yourself).
Take a look at a Lean Cuisine meal list of ingredients, which includes countless things that would go against the tenets of the Whole30: high fructose corn syrup, partially hydrogenated soybean oil, caramel color, and modified corn starch, among a long list of ingredients. While this is an easy diet food for someone looking to count calories, it won’t teach you how to make a chicken meal that’s healthy, one that will help you maintain a healthy attitude about food.
Remember, this isn’t just about losing weight so much as it’s about rethinking food.
How Hard is This Going to Be?
Any diet can be as easy or as difficult as you make it. If you clean all the snacks out of the pantry and hide the car keys from yourself, you can still probably order a delivery pizza when you really feel a craving. The question is whether or not you can fight that impulse.
There are some things you’re going to have to live without for the entire 30 days if you want to make it, so ask yourself a few key questions.
- Can you give up alcohol entirely?
- Are you prepared to have no dessert? And not just no dessert, but no sugar in your tea, no creamer in your coffee?
- Do you dine out frequently? If so, can you find things on the menu that you can eat and know don’t have anything processed?
- Do you like to cook? (If not, then this really won’t be the diet for you!)
- Are you on a tight budget?
That last question bears repeating for most people: Are you on a tight budget? The Whole30 is going to ask you, for 30 days, to shop primarily at the meat section and the produce sections, which typically aren’t the cheapest regions of the supermarket. If you’re going to follow the letter of the law, you’ll probably need to shop in the organic sections, which can add a significant increase to your receipt’s bottom-line.
Is the Whole30 Healthy?
The paleo diet on the whole hasn’t had a massive number of studies conducted to support or deny its potential health benefits, and the Whole30 is essentially a metered version of the paleo diet. It’s important to understand that any diet can have both adverse and positive effects. No matter how many times the Whole30’s advocates and creators stress that it’s not a diet, it is.
di·et – ˈdīət/ (noun): the kinds of food that a person, animal, or community habitually eats.
Following the Whole30 may not be a diet in the sense that you weigh and portion every meal, or that you eat sugar free cookies and fat free milk (especially since you can’t have either of those things on the Whole30), but it is still a regiment of food.
That said, if you approach the Whole30 not like someone on a diet but someone who is looking to rethink the way they approach food, you can expect to see positive results in terms of weight loss, energy levels, and your general sense of well-being. Over time, understanding food and feeling more confident about how you approach it, you can gradually reintroduce some things that the diet considers verboten, such as yogurt and maybe even a little cream for your coffee (which, yes, you’ll be giving up entirely while you’re a practicing Whole30-ian).
Keep in mind that you’ll be giving up dairy and grains entirely, and that you’ll be eating a lot more meat. You need to select that meat carefully, or you might wind up with a lot more fat and cholesterol in your diet than before you started this program.
How Does It Stack on the Food Pyramid?
The Food Pyramid is the well-known, government-suggested breakdown of how much of each type of food that people should be eating. Considering you’ll be taking out dairy and grain entirely, there’s no way you’re going to be able to stick to these guidelines.
Food Pyramid Comparisons
- Fat – You’ll probably wind up with more fat in your diet than recommended, based on some of the sample menus, but not significantly more. Additionally, the question of whether or not low-fat or low-carb diets are a better solution may render the fat intake issue unimportant.
- Protein – Without a doubt, you’ll be way over the recommended 10-35%. Most of your menu is going to be some sort of meat with some sort of vegetable.
- Carbohydrates – The sample menu clocks in at about 25% carbohydrates, which is significantly below the suggested 45-65%. Again, though, the question of just how healthy all those carbs really are comes into play: is it really a bad thing to be well below the food pyramid’s suggestion?
- Salt – This really shouldn’t be an issue, even for people with high blood pressure (who are recommended to stay below 1,500 milligrams daily). Sure, you can try to amp up some of the food flavor with salt, but it would be really difficult to exceed those numbers.
- Fiber – As long as you stick with eating the recommended fruits and veggies (which shouldn’t be too hard, since fruit will be the only sweet you’ll be getting), you should be fine.
- Vitamins & Nutrients – Because you’ll be giving up dairy entirely, you might find it necessary to supplement your Vitamin D intake. The same for calcium. On the upside, you should get an excess of potassium and Vitamin B-12.
How Can I Find Out More?
- Your first stop really should be Whole30’s website, where the entire program is outlined (and where there are plenty of links to purchase the books).
- Once you’re into step five (Plan For Success), you’ll want to collect more recipes. BuzzFeed has a collection of 37 recipes that look promising.
- You can also explore the Paleo Diet to get a better understanding of the fundamentals of the Whole30 diet.