In general, the best diets reflect healthy, sustainable eating practices based on sound nutritional principles more than short-lived, extremely restricted “crash diets” meant to induce rapid weight loss. Any diet that’s too limiting or too restrictive will be impossible — and perhaps unhealthy — to maintain in the long term, meaning you’ll be at risk of reverting back to your former eating behaviors and potentially regaining all the weight you temporarily lost.
With that said, there are certain circumstances under which following a specific diet for a deliberately short time can be beneficial. For example, if you’re experiencing digestive issues routinely after eating, with no known cause, trying an elimination diet and recording your symptoms and reactions as you reintroduce foods can elucidate your potential food sensitivities. After the potential culprits are identified, you can resume a more liberal, diverse diet with just the exclusion of the trigger foods. Similarly, some guys may find a short-term, squeaky clean diet can help them reset their brain and appetite to be keener with healthier eating habits after an extended vacation marked by indulgent eating or weeks of enjoying rich foods over the holidays.
The Whole30 Diet is designed for exactly these types of scenarios. Though highly restrictive and therefore not an easy diet to implement and stick with, the results can be rather transformative for those who are able to diligently adhere to the diet program for its entire 30-day duration. Fortunately, 30 days come and go fairly quickly, and if you are experiencing symptoms of food sensitivities, the Whole30 Diet just might be the dietary reset you need to start feeling better and making progress toward your health goals. However, it can also be a controversial eating plan, and there are plenty of registered dietitians and nutritionists who take issue with some of the “rules” and exclusions set forth by the diet, so it warrants careful consideration of both sides before you jump in.
Curious to see if you’re up for the challenge and in need of rebooting your dietary habits and digestive health, or if you fall more in the camp that the Whole30 Diet is a fad diet with little merit? Keep reading to learn all the need-to-know information about the Whole30 Diet.
What Is the Whole30 Diet?
Created in 2009 by the married couple and sports nutritionists Melissa Urban and Dallas Hartwig, the Whole30 Diet is a 30-day dietary reset eating program designed to help people identify food sensitivities and triggers of inflammation, cravings, low energy, hormonal imbalances, and digestive dysfunction. Adherents of the Whole30 Diet are asked to fully buy-in for the entire 30 days, abiding by all the explicitly stated rules without slip-ups. Should a rule be broken, the dieter must restart their count from day one.
The Whole30 Diet focuses on consuming whole, unprocessed foods, which is certainly a sound eating principle, but because the list of rules is extensive, the actual diet is highly restrictive. Because the primary purpose of the diet is to remove trigger foods, the Whole30 Diet eliminates many major food groups, including dairy and grains. After the 30 days, the foods you miss eating can slowly be re-introduced one at a time while you’re expected to note any adverse reactions. If the food does trigger cravings, inflammation, bloating, low energy, sleep disturbances, etc., then you are supposed to permanently eliminate it from your diet.
Unlike most other popular diets, the Whole30 Diet actually prohibits weighing yourself except for on the first and thirtieth day of the program. Dieters are also asked to not track calories, but to instead focus on eating to satiety.
The Whole30 Diet allows certain whole, natural, unprocessed foods. While the diet does have a very specific list of exclusions, among the foods you’re permitted to eat, there are no stipulations about how many servings you are allotted or how often you can consume them. The individual person is able to make their own meal choices as long as they are eating only Whole30-approved foods. The following foods are allowed on the Whole30 Diet:
- Meat: All real meats are permitted, but processed and cured meats are not
- Poultry: All poultry is allowed as long as it does not contain additives
- Nuts and Seeds: All except peanuts and peanut products, as peanuts are legumes
- Fruit: Fresh and canned fruit is allowed, but fruit products with added sugars are not
- Healthy Fats: Examples include avocados, olive oil, and ghee
Read more: Best Vegetables
What Foods Do You Have to Avoid On the Whole30 Diet?
The list of foods you need to avoid on the Whole30 Diet is rather extensive. Here are the highlights:
- All grains, even whole grains.
- All dairy, including cheese, yogurt, milk, ice cream, sour cream, and butter, among others
- All soy, including soy lecithin, tofu, soy milk, and soybean oil
- All legumes, which includes peanut butter, nuts, beans, peas, lentils, chickpeas, hummus, peanut oil
- All sugar, even natural sugars like honey, maple syrup, and agave
- All artificial sweeteners like Splenda, xylitol, or stevia, even in gum
- All alcohol, even if cooked off
- All processed food additives, such as carrageenan, sulfites, and MSG
- All sweet treats, even if you bake it up prepare alternative versions made only with ingredients approved on the Whole30 Diet
There are no scientific studies to date examining the benefits of the Whole30 Diet, so all the cited benefits are merely anecdotal. With that said, the Whole30 Diet creators say that people who successfully complete the diet program experience impressive and significant changes in their health, including weight loss, fat loss, better sleep, clearer skin, more energy, lower blood pressure, fewer food cravings, and less bloating and gas. Because the Whole30 Diet does have quite specific rules, it also forces people to be more mindful and cognizant of the foods they put in their bodies, which can be helpful moving forward beyond the 30 days. Lastly, many people enjoy the freedom from the scale and focusing on how you feel rather than how much you weigh.
Read more: Best Foods for Healthy Skin
Why Is the Whole30 Diet Controversial?
Many nutritionists and registered dieticians take issue with aspects of the Whole30 Diet or even the diet in total. The primary complaint is that to date, there have been no research studies conducted on the diet, so there is no evidence demonstrating its efficacy, health benefits, and safety, meaning it’s all based on anecdotal evidence and conjecture. Additionally, the Whole30 Diet removes certain foods and food groups that many experts consider to be nutritious, including whole grains and legumes. Lastly, from a behavioral perspective, some people take issue with the cult-like, militant vibe induced by the rules, the need to restart if you’re not perfect, and the extreme strictness of the diet, which can make it too difficult and impractical for many people who would otherwise be served by following a less severe version but end up abandoning ship due to the expectations.
Curious what a day of eating might look like on the Whole30 Diet? Below, we share a sample meal plan:
- Breakfast: Two scrambled eggs with green and red bell peppers, onions, and mushrooms, side of hash browns cooked in olive oil
- Snack: Apple slices with almond butter
- Lunch: Lettuce wrap with chicken salad made with chicken breast, homemade mayo, celery, and carrots.
- Snack: Mixed nuts (no peanuts) and an orange
- Dinner: Pork chop with a baked potato, salad, and Brussels sprouts
- Snack: Honeydew
Read more: How to Meal Prep