Weight loss is an ongoing challenge for many people but nothing brings this to light more than the new year. For many, this is the perfect time to start working on losing weight and having a healthy diet.
This year, one particularly popular option has been the Whole30 diet. There are countless Whole30 diet reviews online and some people swear by this diet.
But, what is it?
More importantly, how well does the Whole30 diet work for weight loss?
What is the Whole30 Diet?
As the name might suggest, the Whole30 diet has a strong focus on whole foods.
Surprisingly, it isn’t actually a new diet. Instead, it’s been around since 2009. But, the diet has become popular recently, especially with the growing focus on whole and healthy food.
Now, the importance of whole foods cannot be underestimated.
Modern diets do tend to heavily rely on processed food, particularly options that are high in sugar and additives. At the same time, many people ignore healthy recipes and functional foods, choosing to focus on fast and easy solutions instead.
For that matter, all of the best diets and lifestyles for weight loss do involve some reliance on whole foods. The low carb and Paleo diets are both examples of this, although people vary in precisely how they follow a given approach.
The Whole30 diet takes the idea one step further.
Specifically, it focuses on the idea that some foods are immensely damaging to health.
In particular, the idea is that these various food groups:
- Are unhealthy
- Unbalance hormones
- Disrupt gut bacteria
- Cause inflammation
By doing so, they have the potential to contribute to a range of health conditions.
With the Whole30 diet, the basic idea is to cut them all out – for 30 days. The argument is similar to that of detoxing. Basically, you’re supposed to be ‘resetting’ your body.
As part of this diet, you’re cutting out a lot of food. You’re also heavily relying on whole foods.
The diet also works differently than most other approaches.
For example, the paleo diet also has you cut out specific good groups, as does a vegan diet and various other examples. But, with these diets, you can make your own versions of conventional food using approved ingredients.
This isn’t an option with the Whole30 diet.
However, the Whole30 diet is considered an extension of the paleo diet. So, it does cut out some of the same foods, it’s just that the Whole30 diet restricts more and has other requirements.
The Whole30 diet is a strict variation of the paleo diet and you cut out a large number of food groups for 30 days
What Can’t You Eat?
The list below highlights the main food that you can’t eat on the Whole30 diet.
At first glance, it might look like a fairly short list. However, the list encompasses entire food groups, including some ingredients that are commonly found in our meals.
So, if you’re following the Whole30 diet, you have to cut out all of the following for 30 days.
- Added sugar (including actual sugar, artificial sweeteners and natural sweeteners)
- Grains (including actual grains and pseudo-grains like quinoa)
- Legumes (including all beans, peanuts and all sources of soy)
- Dairy (including Greek yogurt)
- Specific additives (sulfites, MSG or carrageenan)
Additionally, as I mentioned above, you’re not supposed to try and recreate conventional foods. So, you can’t take the approach that people use when making keto desserts.
There are also some exceptions.
- Ghee and clarified butter
- Fruit juice as a sweetener
- Green beans, snow peas and sugar snap peas
- Vinegar (but not those with added sugar or malt vinegar)
Needless to say, there are some fairly heavy restrictions in place. In fact, the diet can be summarized as:
- Gluten free
- Grain free
- Dairy free
- Sugar free
- Alcohol free
- Soy free
So, you’re removing many food groups at once. Doing so would be especially hard for anybody who relies heavily on some of these types of food. What's more, you're meant to do the 30 days without cheating at all. The official guidelines even state that you should start again if you cheat even once.
The end result also tends to involve a significant amount of meat and fish (much like the paleo diet). Because of this, the diet isn’t a good choice for vegetarians.
To follow the diet, you need to avoid added sugar, dairy, alcohol, tobacco, grains, legumes, and key additives
The Whole30 Diet Meal Plan
With all the limitations, actually following the Whole30 diet can seem incredibly difficult. However, there are Whole30 diet plans out there that can help.
The approach is also a little bit like following a gluten free and dairy free diet. So, you could use that type of diet as a starting point for figuring out what to eat.
With enough planning, you could create healthy and appealing meals. For example, the site Good Cheap Eats covers a number of meals that can be made under the diet, including the following:
With this in mind, the food can be fairly appealing. Additionally, the diet is popular, so there is no shortage of advice about meals to make and tips to stick with the approach.
The Science and Logic Behind the Whole30 Diet
Even at face value, it’s easy to see why Whole30 diet reviews tend to be mixed.
After all, the diet involves cutting out a lot of different types of food. Some of those decisions are logical while others aren’t.
This would also make the diet incredibly difficult to follow, especially for people who struggle with weight loss anyway. But, is it worth it?
Well, let’s take a look at the arguments.
Resetting or Cleansing the Body
The Whole30 diet seems to be popular because the idea is compelling. Many people do feel that the right diet can basically cleanse the body and give you a clean slate.
After all, this is the basic concept behind detoxing – and detox products remain incredibly popular.
Likewise, we’ve got used to this concept from our daily lives. For example, most household appliances need a complete clean from time to time.
So, it’s reasonable to think that we should do something similar with our bodies.
Well… not really.
The human body doesn’t work in the same way as an appliance. Instead, it’s a complex system that is filled with interrelated parts, backups and redundancies.
In fact, we’ve spent hundreds of years trying to understand how the human body works and there are still some aspects that we don’t fully grasp. This is why research in many areas continues to be ongoing, such as the impact of gut bacteria or how the impact of food can be different from one person to another.
Realistically, there is little evidence that we can ‘reset’ our bodies.
For that matter, the concept doesn’t really make sense.
To start with, our bodies already have processes to deal with toxins and unhealthy foods. Simply cutting some foods out isn’t going to magically make our systems work better.
Now, it is true that some diet choices can contribute to inflammation, including a strong reliance on processed food and sugar. But, cutting out a large number of food groups isn’t the answer to that problem.
The other argument is that cutting out the various foods for 30 days can change your relationship to food and even what you enjoy.
To some degree, this aspect is true.
If you cut a food out completely, like sugar, you can potentially end up liking it less at the end of the period. After all, you do get used to life without it. Still, this is only true for some people. Others may find that they end up just craving unhealthy food more.
Improving your relationship with food is a beneficial practice. But, as Psychology Today points out, there are various ways to do this.
In fact, I'd argue that the Whole30 approach could majorly help some people with their approach to food - but worsen the situation for others. This means that you have to be careful if you're trying out Whole30 and be aware of the impacts it has on you.
Likewise, the eating pattern does teach you to get creative in the kitchen.
Some of those lessons could potentially carry over and help you eat better when you’re not following the Whole30 diet as well. An additional claim is that the diet can give you insight into how your body responds to specific types food.
However, if you want to evaluate your body’s responses, cutting out multiple food groups at once isn’t the best way to go. By doing this, you might see an effect but you won’t know which foods cause that outcome.
The end result is that there are many bold claims about the Whole30 diet but most are somewhat exaggerated.
Realistically, the diet doesn’t act as a reset switch and won’t dramatically change your eating habits overnight. At the same time, it’s an incredibly tough diet and many people would struggle to follow it.
But, that being said, some people do follow the diet effectively and swear by it. The 30 day duration may well be enough to break off some unhealthy habits and get you into better eating patterns overall. Still, if you're going to give it a try, it's critical that you have a healthy eating approach for afterward. Otherwise, you risk gaining back any weight you lose.
The idea of resetting or cleansing the body is mostly hype and myth. While the diet might help you break some patterns, it's unlikely to have the amazing effects that the marketing implies
The Restricted Foods
One of the main ideas behind the Whole30 diet is that all of the foods restricted are unhealthy.
But, that’s a simplistic idea.
For example, there is considerable evidence that dairy is good for you and there are many health benefits associated with yogurt. At the same time, cutting out all grains and almost all legumes seems extreme.
In excess, many of the foods restricted would be unhealthy, sure. But, that’s true of the food allowed as well.
In fact, it’s normally better to balance the food that you eat, rather than trying to cut out food groups. After all, foods vary in the nutrients that they provide, including some that are obvious and others that aren’t.
So, as an example, cutting out all dairy may lead to issues with calcium, unless you carefully account for it. Likewise, legumes can be a good source of resistant starch and dietary fiber, and there seems little reason to exclude them from your diet (1).
There are also many other animal-based and plant-based nutrients that you may not get enough.
With these factors in mind, it’s easy to see how the Whole30 diet may end up being harmful for some people, rather than a way to become healthy.
In fairness, the diet is only 30 days in length and you’re not going to end up with any serious nutrient deficiencies in that time. Plus, if you had unhealthy eating patterns before, the diet could mean you consume more nutrients by following the Whole30 diet.
Plus, the issue with gut health may not be significant. After all, sugar is often associated with poor gut health and the Whole30 diet involves dramatically cutting down sugar intake.
Still, it’s clear that the diet isn’t balanced, which alone is a cause for concern.
The Whole30 diet restricts some foods that are actually healthy and can mean that your intake of some nutrients is limited
Short-Term versus Long-Term
The very nature of the Whole30 diet makes it incredibly unsustainable. Even just following the diet for 30 days would be incredibly difficult and I imagine that many people would fail.
At the same time, the diet isn’t designed to be long-term. If fact, you would put your health at serious risk if you tried because the diet does cut out a wide range of nutrients.
This type of pattern is always problematic.
After all, what happens when the diet is over?
In many cases, people revert back to their previous practices.
Sometimes they may even end up eating worse than they did before, partly because they missed some foods on the Whole30 diet.
This type of pattern is the key reason why diets fail.
Even when people do follow them successfully, most diets simply don’t work in the long-term. Additionally, they often fail to teach the good practices that are needed to stay healthy and keep weight off.
As a result, you need to have a good lifestyle to go back to once the diet is over.
However, the implications do depend on why you're doing the diet. For example, if you're focusing on Whole30 for fast weight loss, you may not experience long-term success. But, if you're interested in improving your relationship with food and eating habits, the 30 days could be valuable.
The diet is specifically designed for short-term use and provides no support for long-term health or weight loss
Does the Whole30 Diet Work for Weight Loss?
The Whole30 diet doesn’t really focus on weight loss. Instead, the idea is more about resetting your body and improving your health.
Likewise, there isn’t much of an emphasis on decreasing calories. Nevertheless, you probably would lose weight on the diet.
This would happen because of all the food that you’re cutting out. So, you’d typically end up eating fewer calories without realizing it.
Theoretically, that pattern would make the Whole30 diet a potential way to jump start weight loss. But, that’s only true if you had a healthy lifestyle to follow afterward.
Additionally, you would still have to be careful on the program.
For example, some members worry that they are eating too much and find the process stressful for weight loss.
At the same time, many people found that they did lose weight through the challenge but not nearly as much as they expected.
Some other people did experience significant weight loss. But, they weren’t typically just relying on the Whole30 diet.
As a result, it’s important to look at the Whole30 diet reviews carefully as they won’t always tell you the whole story.
Even though you could potentially lose weight through a Whole30 diet, there are better options for doing this. In particular, you’re better to look for a diet that targets weight loss specifically. A ketosis diet can work well for that goal and isn’t as restrictive either. Additionally, ketosis tends to be more sustainable in the long-term, as do other effective lifestyle changes.
Following the diet tends to mean that your calorie intake would decrease, so some weight loss is likely. Still, Whole30 diet reviews suggest that the weight loss outcomes aren't especially great
Whole30 Diet Reviews
The Whole30 diet is interesting because the reviews vary so much.
For one thing, many Whole30 diet reviews are extremely positive, with members loving the food they make and their health results.
But, at the same time, other people found that their results were minimal or that the diet was excessively difficult.
So far, these Whole30 diet reviews suggest that success really depends on who you are. Likewise, the diet’s effectiveness would be related to your previous eating patterns and whether you are exercising at the same time.
All of this is true.
Nevertheless, Whole30 diet reviews from experts are less positive. For example, this was the overall score the diet got in a piece from the U.S. News (ratings are given out of 5).
For that matter, the diet was rated as the worst option out of the 38 diets they reviewed (3).
The authors also had this to say about it:
Generally speaking, I agree with these points. The diet is incredibly restrictive and there are few benefits that come from doing it. Likewise, it wouldn’t help most people to eat healthily.
As the U.S. News noted, the approach can also be expensive and time-consuming, especially as the diet heavily relies on red meat and you have to prepare your meals.
Likewise, some Whole30 diet reviews from experts argue that the approach is simply ‘too extreme’ (4).
The diet itself is also lacking in some nutrients. This may not result in nutritional deficiencies because the diet just lasts for 30 days. However, if people use the approach as a guideline for healthy eating or if they do the diet multiple times – nutritional deficiencies become a more likely outcome.
More than anything, the Whole30 Diet seems to work well among people who have some focus on their health and are already actively trying to improve their diet. For people in that position, the approach can work well and teach them new things about their body and eating.
But, for beginners and people who desperately want to lose weight - the restrictive nature of the diet is likely to be overwhelming.
Whole30 diet reviews are mixed but experts suggest that the diet isn't going to be effective, particularly not in the long-term
Side Effects of the Whole30 Diet
Any significant change to diet or lifestyle comes with the risk of side effects, so it’s no surprise that the Whole30 diet has some issues. After all, the diet would be a fairly radical change in eating habits for many people.
One of the most significant impacts is in terms of the way you feel. Often people will find that they are cranky or overly emotional during the diet.
There are also physical symptoms that can be experienced, including fatigue and headaches.
The company claims that this is because your body is dealing with the junk that you’d previously eaten.
In practice, the outcomes are probably connected to the dramatic change in what you’re eating. For that matter, many of the side effects are similar to what you get with a low carb or a ketosis diet and those happen because your body is switching to an alternative fuel source.
The Whole30 diet is associated with some side effects, including impacts on mood and energy, along with contributing to headaches
Should You Follow This Diet?
The marketing for the Whole30 diet makes it sound amazing, yet it really isn’t that great. Instead, you end up with a heavily restrictive diet that is difficult to follow and doesn’t actually offer many benefits.
The most significant reasons for trying the diet is that it may teach you some healthy habits and could possibly help you to break some patterns of behavior (like a reliance on sugar).
Still, for most people, those benefits wouldn’t occur.
Even if you could stick to the diet for the full 30 days, you’d probably just go back to your old eating habits afterward.
The simple truth is that the Whole30 diet simply won’t work for most people, even if you could go through the entire 30 days without cheating.
Instead, if you want to lose weight, it’s often better to focus on a lifestyle rather than a strict diet. With a lifestyle, the emphasis is on finding a healthy approach that you can follow in the long-term.
This will often mean that a lifestyle is less extreme than a diet. As a result, you mightn’t lose weight as quickly with a lifestyle but you have a better chance at keeping it off.
To learn more, please check out my post on Why Am I Not Losing Weight?
But, if you're specifically wanting to learn more about your body or adjust your relationship to food, the diet could work well. Just remember, it isn't a magic bullet and it won't radically restructure your body or your eating habits.
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