When we decide to lose weight, our first step is to look for a suitable diet which has one primary goal – weight loss.

We often expect our weight loss plan to tell us what to eat, how many calories to consume daily, and how many pounds we should lose each week (so that we have something to look forward to!).

But what if we approached weight loss as an opportunity to heal our gut and body? To get a better understanding about which foods help us function well, and which foods don’t? What if we used it as an opportunity to heal our bodies and treat things like bloating, bad skin, and headaches?

“Food is thy medicine,” a popular saying goes. And that’s precisely what the Whole30 diet is about. Whole30 is a nutritional program which isn’t about merely shedding unwanted pounds: it’s about pushing the reset button on your body, health, habits, and relationship with food. Weight loss is just a bonus.

So, what does it involve, is it effective – and how do you begin Whole30 diet? Read on to find out!

What is The Whole30 Diet?

Created by Melissa Hartwig, a Certified Sports Nutritionist, and a 5-time New York Times best-selling author, the Whole30 Diet is an eating program which focuses on improving your overall health, rather than just weight loss. The program has been increasing in popularity since 2009.

On the program’s website, it is described as “a short-term nutrition reset,” which ends unhealthy habits and cravings, restores a healthy metabolism, balances your immune system, and heals your digestive tract. It is an elimination-style diet, which aims to find out which groups of foods affect your body in negative ways. You can then decide to cut those products out of your diet completely.

Even though the program isn’t primarily focused on weight loss, that and change in body composition come as a result of a healthier gut and body, as well as a complete transformation of your relationship with food and our eating habits.

The program involves eliminating certain types of foods from your diet entirely for 30 days. It is particularly important, according to the creator of the program, to stick to the rules of Whole30 for exactly 30 days, and not to allow yourself to “slip”.

The foods you need to eliminate are thought to be responsible for cravings, disrupting blood sugar, gut damage, inflammation, and other common ailments. Stripping them from your diet completely allows the body to heal and recover from the effects those unhealthy foods were causing.

The co-founder of the Whole30 Diet, Melissa Hartwig, writes:

“Push the reset button with your health, habits, and relationship with food and the downstream physical and psychological effects of the food choices you’ve been making. Learn how the foods you’ve been eating are affecting your day-to-day life, long-term health, body composition, and feelings around food.”

How Does Whole30 Diet Work?

As mentioned above, the Whole30 diet is about eliminating certain “bad” foods from our diets for 30 days – and only eating “good” foods, such as:

  • Moderate portions of meat, seafood, and eggs;
  • Plenty of vegetables and some fruit;
  • Natural fats, herbs, spices, and seasonings.

Those following the Whole30 diet are also encouraged to eat foods with very few ingredients – or no ingredients at all because the food is whole, natural and unprocessed.

And now, which foods will you need to cut out for 30 days?

  • Added sugar: During the Whole30 diet, you’re not allowed any added sugar – real or artificial. This means no honey, maple syrup, coconut sugar, agave nectar, stevia, date syrup, Splenda, Nutrasweet, xylitol, and others. Some products may contain sugar without it being obvious, so you may have to do some decoding of product labels for hidden sugar.
  • Alcohol and tobacco products: Alcohol is strictly off limits – not even for cooking. Also, try and avoid all tobacco products.
  • Grains: Grains are also not to be consumed during the 30 days, including (but not limited to) wheat, barley, rye, oats, rice, corn, millet, sorghum, bulgur, sprouted grains, quinoa, buckwheat, and amaranth. Also, beware of grains like wheat, rice, and corn sneaking into your food as ingredients (bran, starch, germ, etc.).
  • Legumes: Avoid all kinds of beans (red, black, pinto, white, navy, kidney, fava, lima, etc.), chickpeas, lentils, and peanuts (including peanut butter). This includes soy in all forms – soy sauce, tofu, tempeh, miso, edamame – and even lecithin.
  • Dairy: Avoid all dairy, including cow, sheep or goat’s milk products like milk, cheese, cream, yogurt, kefir, ice cream, or frozen yogurt.
  • Carrageenan, MSG, or sulfites: These ingredients are often on the labels of processed foods or beverages. Do not consume any foods that contain these during your 30 days.
  • Baked goods: All baked goods should also be packed away during your 30 days of the Whole30 diet. These products include junk foods, or treats (even if they only contain “approved” ingredients). According to the program, consuming any treats, sweets or other foods we normally crave is “completely missing the point” of the Whole30 diet – and will most likely compromise your results. The foods that are off limits include (but are not limited to): waffles, pancakes, tortillas, biscuits, muffins, cookies, cupcakes, brownies, pizza crust, commercially prepared chips, fries, etc. So, hide the baking tray and avoid buying treats and junk food for 30 days – if you want to succeed with Whole30.

Are There Any Other Rules?

Finally, it is strictly forbidden to weigh yourself or take any body measurements for 30 days.

That’s because, according to the founders of the program, the Whole30 program is about so much more than weight loss.

Focusing only on shedding unwanted pounds means that you will be more likely to miss any other positive dramatic changes in your body (like having more energy, feeling less bloated, and more clear-minded, for example).

Therefore you shouldn’t be stepping on the scale, or analyzing your body weight and fat during the 30-day program – only weigh yourself before, and once the program is over.

What Happens Once You Finish The Whole30 Diet?

What you do immediately after you finish your Whole30 diet is very important.

One of the critical stages of the diet is the reintroduction phase. This phase involves adding some of the forbidden foods back into your diet gradually – and monitoring how your body responds. You should be noting down any side effects and using this phase to learn about what types of foods your body responds well to, and which groups cause negative effects (e.g. foggy head, bloating, headaches, etc.). You can also learn more about the side effects of reintroducing certain foods on the Whole30 forum.

According to the creators of the program, the group of foods you should reintroduce back into your diet first is legumes, followed by gluten-free grains, then dairy, and gluten-containing grains. You should add a few servings of foods from each group each day – then go back to the Whole30 diet for a couple of days – and observe how these products affect your weight, your energy levels as well as overall health.

Is The Whole30 Diet Effective?

While the program has risen to popularity worldwide in the last ten years, measuring its effectiveness isn’t straightforward because no independent research study has ever been carried out.

Also, the results of the program are likely to vary person to person and will depend on various factors like how healthy they were before they began the program, whether they do any physical exercise, and other.

However, the official website of the program offers many testimonials from those who have completed the diet. Many users have praised for the program and claimed that it has had tremendous positive effects on their health, such as:

  • Healthier, glowing skin
  • Less bloating
  • Higher energy levels
  • Better cognition
  • Some weight loss
  • Whiter eyes
  • Better sleep
  • A balanced mind

As with all nutritional plans and diets, since the reviews are on the program’s website, they should be treated with a degree of caution.

How Much Does The Program Cost?

One of the best things about the program is that it can be completely free! You won’t need to sign up to an expensive meal plan or pay a monthly subscription fee, meaning that it can be accessible to all.

There are plenty of resources online which are accessible to all who are interested in learning more about the program. You can also sign up for a free newsletter which delivers exclusive tips, advice, and recipes directly to your inbox.

However, if you do want to get to know the program better or need more guidance – you can invest in one of the seven books written by the creators of the Whole30 diet, download an app or subscribe to one of the three daily meal plans. In other words, there are ways to follow the program for free or invest more in it if you wish.

The Pros and Cons of the Whole30 Diet

Before you commit to this diet plan, make sure you have considered all the pros and cons.

Pros:

  1. You decide how much you spend (or if you spend anything at all!). As there is no need to sign up for the program, it is easily accessible to those who may not want to invest a lot of money into it. There are plenty of free resources on the official website, as well as on other sites – so you could be going on the Whole30 diet completely free. However, if you wanted to invest more in the program, there are books you can buy, as well as meal plans and even coaching.
  2. 2. It’s fairly straightforward. There’s no complicated calorie counting or food portioning. All you have to do is make sure you don’t eat any of the forbidden foods – and eat “good, whole food”.
  3. 3. The program is short-term. Even if you find it difficult to only consume the foods that are allowed, the program lasts only 30 days – and then you begin introducing the forbidden foods back into your diet.
  4. The program aims to boost your health. Since the program isn’t focused on weight loss, it aims to generally increase your health and wellbeing. Those who have followed the plan have reported plenty of positive effects on their overall health.

Cons:

  1. It requires quite a lot of effort. Just like any diet, cutting out certain foods requires effort and determination. You’ll have to plan your meals carefully and make sure that you don’t consume any of the forbidden ingredients when you’re having a meal out. Plus, cutting out sugar entirely can be really difficult.
  2. Some of the restricted food groups are considered healthy. The Whole30 diet restricts your intake of grains and dairy. Grains, especially whole grains, are nutritionally-dense and contain fiber, vitamin E, magnesium, B vitamins, and folate. They have also been linked to a lower risk of cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and other illnesses. By not consuming any grains in the 30 days you’ll be depriving yourself of all these nutrients. Similarly, legumes (e.g., edamame, tempeh, tofu, etc.) have various health benefits too – and, according to health experts, are considered part of a healthy diet.

How Can I Start The Whole 30 Diet?

The best way to start the Whole30 Diet is by getting to know the program either on the Whole30 site or by purchasing one of the books about Whole30.

On the site, you will find plenty of information about the program, how it works, what to expect – as well as many inspiring stories and testimonials.

While the Whole30 diet is mostly self-guided, there are also certified Whole30 coaches who can make it easier to succeed on the program.

The coaches can guide you through the process of elimination and make it easier to stick to the strict eating rules. You can get personalized advice and recommendations for prepping your meals, managing cravings, food on the go/ travel, and other tricky situations. They can also encourage you when things seem to be getting out of hand, and your temptations hit. Most importantly, they will understand what you are going through better than anyone else.

Many of the coaches also have professional designations like a registered dietitian, naturopathic doctor, physical therapist, medical doctor, and other – so you know that you’re in good hands.

Conclusion

Whole 30 Diet is a popular nutritional program for those looking to reset and cleanse their body – and to gain a better understanding of what types of foods to eat going forward to maintain a healthy body.

While it has received a lot of praise for its health benefits, there hasn’t been an independent review of the diet, making it difficult to evaluate its effectiveness objectively. The diet also encourages you to steer clear of certain healthy foods (like grains and dairy), which is one of its main drawbacks.

However, the program can be completely free to follow, since plenty of information about the Whole30 diet readily accessible online. That’s a huge benefit since a lot of other diets, and nutritional programs can be quite expensive.

If you’re looking for a way to reset your body and find out which foods may be causing specific ailments, the Whole30 diet may be just the right program to try.

Kath Ross, PhD
Kath Ross, PhD
Health Editor at DietProbe
Kathryn is a Ph.D Health Editor here at DietProbe. She specializes in diabetes and weight control research and in her spare time she's a professional cat lady and wine connoisseur!
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