10 Things to Know Before Trying the Whole30 Diet

Brittany Risher
by Brittany Risher
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10 Things to Know Before Trying the Whole30 Diet

Created by Melissa Hartwig (and her then-husband) in 2009, the Whole30 diet is a 30-day plan that eliminates food groups Hartwig claims are “psychologically unhealthy, hormone-unbalancing, gut-disrupting [and] inflammatory.”

However, US News & World Report ranked it 37 out of 40 on its list of Best Diets (compared to number 1 DASH), in part because there is no scientific research to back up the claims about the plan. Here’s what registered dietitians want you to know before starting Whole30.

1

YOU’LL GET AN HONEST LOOK AT YOUR CURRENT DIET

With no sugar, dairy, grains, alcohol, beans, legumes or preservatives like carrageenan, MSG and sulfites, “Whole30 offers a way to step back and take a look at what types of food you are really eating,” says Sidney Fry, RD and James Beard award-winning food and nutrition author. “It cuts out boxed, processed fare and makes you truly focus on foods in their whole, natural form.” By reading labels and learning about what you’re really eating, you may decide to make some changes even if you don’t continue the Whole30 plan.

2

IT’S A CHANCE TO TUNE INTO YOUR BODY

“By cutting out certain foods, you might notice which ones negatively affect you the most,” says Mascha Davis, MPH, RDN. Any signs something is off — an upset stomach, bloating, gas, fatigue, headaches, etc. — could mean it’s better for you to continue avoiding that food. Still, it’s best to consult a doctor or registered dietitian if you’re concerned about any food sensitivities or allergies.

3

YOU’LL NEED TO PLAN AHEAD

“This program relies heavily on meal prepping and does not lend itself well to being caught off guard, which can be a problem if you travel a lot,” says Fry. She suggests keeping snacks such as nuts, hard-boiled eggs and apples with packets of almond butter on hand at all times.

4

IT MAY HELP YOU CUT OUT SUGAR

The Whole30 plan bans sugar and artificial sweeteners. And while you can find recipes for compliant desserts online, those aren’t meant to be enjoyed nightly. If you crave something sweet, a piece of fruit (maybe with some almond butter) is recommended. “It may take a few days of effort, but your taste buds will slowly start to become more sensitive to sugar, and you may even start to crave it less,” Fry says.

5

BUT YOUR DIETARY CHANGES MAY NOT LAST

Not everyone experiences a “reset” in their taste buds and cravings, unfortunately. Moreover, “This diet is unlikely to build healthy, sustainable habits,” Davis says. “Anytime there is a lot of restriction, that tends to be counterproductive and can cause people to overeat or even binge on the foods they are missing.”

6

SO YOU’LL LIKELY REGAIN THE WEIGHT

Once the 30 days are over, you may maintain some of the positive changes to your diet, but it’s more probable that you revert right back to your original eating habits — or you could even go hard on the ice cream and cocktails you’ve been avoiding. “Whenever people go back to eating normally after restricting, they tend to regain weight,” Davis explains.

7

YOU MIGHT NOT FEEL YOUR BEST

“Many people complain of experiencing hangover or flu-like symptoms or simply just feeling off,” notes Fry. Headaches, fatigue and mood swings are common in the early days of the program, according to the Whole30 timeline.

8

IT COULD LEAD TO NUTRIENT DEFICIENCIES

Beans, whole grains, soy and dairy provide nutrients such as fiber, iron, zinc, phytochemicals, protein, vitamin D and calcium. “Cutting all of these out can cause imbalances. You might lack essential nutrients if you cut out all of those food groups,” Davis says. Talk to your doctor or a registered dietitian to see if you should consider taking any supplements if you decide to do Whole30.

9

IT’S HARD ON YOUR SOCIAL LIFE

“It’s almost impossible to go out with friends and enjoy restaurant meals on the Whole30 diet,” Davis says. That’s because it’s difficult to find items on menus without sugar, grains, legumes, dairy, carrageenan, MSG and sulfites, and you’ll likely have to ask lots of questions. Since alcohol is banned, it’s probably better to turn down happy hour invites for the next month and find a supportive community online.

10

IT’S NOT A PERMANENT DIET

What happens after 30 days? “If you’re feeling great, it’s often unclear as to how or when you should start eating some of the foods you’ve eliminated,” Fry says. “If you choose to continue to avoid these foods, there’s less guidance on how to structure your diet to make sure you’re getting enough fiber, zinc, iron, vitamin D and calcium from whole foods.” Again, if you wish to continue any of these dietary changes, talk to a registered dietitian to be sure your nutritional bases are covered.

THE BOTTOM LINE

Although there’s a lot of social media backing for this diet, there’s not a lot of support from experts. “This diet plan is restrictive, complicated and can’t be sustained long-term — it’s not even meant to be followed beyond 30 days,” Davis says. “I always recommend that my patients find a diet that works for their entire life that can be personalized to them.”

About the Author

Brittany Risher
Brittany Risher

Brittany is a writer, editor and digital strategist specializing in health and lifestyle content. She loves experimenting with new vegan recipes and believes hummus is a food group. To stay sane from working too hard, she turns to yoga, strength training, meditation and scotch. Connect with her on TwitterInstagram, and Google+.

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7 responses to “10 Things to Know Before Trying the Whole30 Diet”

  1. cjennings says:

    The problem here may be that many who start The Whole 30 are not taking the time to educate themselves on what it is. I’ve read the book and it’s authors clearly state 1) this is not a weight-loss diet and 2) this is not meant to be your diet for life. The purpose of Whole 30 is to help you identify and eliminate inflammatory food groups which may be affecting YOUR overall health. You can return to eating those foods which seem to have no negative affect on you after the 30 days are done.

  2. Abby Jones says:

    Whole30 IS NOT A WEIGHT LOSS DIET

  3. Kaleigh Baer says:

    I literally can’t with this woman and her posts. Reading this and her other highly one sided and opinionated posts really sets people up for failure by using generalizing statements and personal opinions. MFP really needs to adjust who writes about diet and nutrition, her sources only ever seem to benefit her agenda.

  4. Amyola says:

    It’s not a diet, Brittany, do better research, read the books! It’s a plan to help you understand how food impacts your body. And there’s plenty of guidance on how to reintroduce foods slowly after the 30 days. I used nearly 3 weeks. It kept me from having to take my meds for Raynauds Syndrome. And I’ve managed to keep off the 12 pounds I lost with smarter eater 6 mos later.

  5. AJJ says:

    Whole30 is a diet reset. It helped me descern the source of a health problem I was expreicining. It changed my eating habits. I view it as a tool rather than a diet.

  6. ElcyIL says:

    So you’re criticizing the Whole 30 plan because it doesn’t fit into the mold of what the founders clearly say it’s not? Did you even read any of the supporting literature? Brittany, you seem like a nice girl, but you are a horrible journalist.

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