Instagram is basically my favorite place and I love to follow food bloggers and home cooks. I even tried being a food blogger once, and all it got me was too many mac and cheese recipes. But in the past few years, I saw a new diet with absolutely glowing reviews start spreading. Stories of weight loss, mood boost, clear skin, control over harmful eating habits and "tiger blood" energy had me intrigued. And it all got me thinking, should I do the Whole30?
Fast forward to now, I've attempted three Whole30's and completed two rounds successfully. And now friends have started asking me all the questions so they can do it themselves. But I've found even after I've shared resources for getting started with people, the entire concept of Whole30 is complex and confusing and people aren't completely clear on what they're committing to which doesn't lead to success.
So here I am, hoping to clarify what exactly it is, what you're signing up for, and if you should do a Whole30.
What is Whole30?
Before we start you may be asking, "What is Whole30?" The Whole30 is a reset cleanse that focuses on removing inflammatory foods from your diet for 30 days. Deep in the Whole30 online community they avoid calling it a "diet" for many reasons, but essentially it's a way of eating that eliminates a ton of foods for 30 days so you can then re-introduce them to see if you are intolerant to them.
Specifically, the Whole30 team defines it as such:
"...the Whole30® is designed to change your life in 30 days. Think of it as a short-term nutrition reset, designed to help you put an end to unhealthy cravings and habits, restore a healthy metabolism, heal your digestive tract, and balance your immune system."
Wait, you thought you were here to read about weight loss, didn't you? While many people start the Whole30 for weight loss purposes it is not, in fact, a diet marketed for weight loss. It actually is ranked #37 out of 40 diets by US News of diets for weight loss. Now that's not to say you won't lose weight. That article shows just how much of a misconception there is around what the Whole30 is. My experience did include weight loss, but weight loss is not the GOAL of Whole30. The goal of Whole30 is to eliminate any non-whole food to allow your body to heal. And for many people, healing will include weight loss.
What Can I Eat on the Whole30?
The full long and short of it can be found in this Whole30 resource, but the quick and dirty lists of food rules you're following are:
- No Dairy
- No Soy
- No Legumes
- No Grains
- No Added Sugars
- No Carrageenan, MSG, or Sulfites
- No Alcohol
But honestly, the foods that are off limits are really the tip of the iceberg of the program. Technically you could not eat any of the above and not do a Whole30 according to the rules.
The Rules of Whole30
Okay, this is what people don't normally understand about the Whole30. In order to reap the full benefits of the program, there are rules that don't involve food. These rules are just as important in changing your food habits as taking out the above foods. Again, the full rules are in this PDF. But in short, along with not eating the above foods, you should follow these rules:
- Do not weigh or measure yourself for the full 30 days
- No Paleo treats or compliant junk foods
- No snacking between meals
You may think these are optional, but in reality, they are three rules that really shape the mental and emotional relationships we have with food and our health. Which in the end, rank above weight loss as a goal of the Whole30. The Whole30 program is looking to change the way we interact with food and our understanding of what being healthy really feels like.
Exclusionary Diet Reintroduction Phase
When you boil down Whole30, the main goal is to find out what habits and foods are hurting your health, and learn to live without them. After the 30 days on Whole30, you're asked to reintroduce foods that have been excluded to see how you actually feel when you eat them. Because honestly, Whole30 will make you feel like you're on drugs in the best possible way. The energy is limitless, your skin freaking glows, and bloat is non-existent. But the program is meant to teach you what keeps you from not feeling your best all the time.
Does wine give you headaches? Does gluten give you breakouts? (That's me!) Does cheese make you itchy? Do you get brain fog after eating a sugary treat? Working to discover how your body actually reacts to the items you've removed is a part of the process. And if you skip that process, you will gain back the lethargy, the breakouts, the bloat, and the weight.
The Whole30 Lifestyle
In reality, the Whole30 is a gateway to a new way of eating. The gimmick, the hook, is that it takes 30 days. But in reality, the Whole30 is a reset. It's for when you have taken the habits you learn from doing the full Whole30 into your life, but when those habits start to fade, you return for another round of 30 days following the above rules. It is not a magic pill. It is a cleanse, a reset, a routine you return to until the habits you've learned become second nature. If that means 10 rounds until you have food freedom, or that means 3 rounds a year for life, it depends. But it is a lifestyle.
In conclusion, non-scale victories will happen more than weight loss. But if you're paying attention, they'll be more worthwhile. Our obsession with losing weight is such BS. We forget that there are so many other markers of health. Good sleep, sustainable energy, mental clarity, clear skin and smooth digestion are all signs of optimal health, along with a healthy weight. Shouldn't you be looking for a way to feel better as a whole person, a whole body?
If you're looking to lose a quick ten pounds, then Whole30 may not be for you. But if you're looking to understand how specific foods impact how you feel, experience your body with more clarity and to break unhealthy food habits, emotional and mental, then the Whole30 is something you should consider doing.