by Melinda D. Maryniuk, MEd, RD, CDE
We review several different eating approaches in our “Dietitian’s Review” series with the goal of helping people who are looking to evolve their eating style towards better health. It’s important to emphasize that “going on a diet” is very rarely associated with long-term success with weight. We provide these reviews for anyone who wants to improve their health and is looking for an eating approach that will best fit their lifestyle and preferences.
What is it?
This popular meal planning approach is described as a short-term nutrition “reset”, designed to help end unhealthy cravings and habits and (according to the website) “restore a healthy metabolism, heal your digestive tract, and balance your immune system”. According to one of the co-founders, Melissa Hartwig, by very strictly limiting “inflammatory” foods for only 30 days (with no cheating, or you have to start over again), you will change your relationship with food, thus be on the path to healthier eating. It’s popularity over the past decade has increased in part due to several best-selling books and a large internet and social media presence. The Whole30 plan does not involve counting calories, weighing or measuring foods and there are no special foods or products to buy.
What do I eat?
The Whole30 plan focuses on whole, unprocessed foods with minimal added ingredients. While on the 30 day plan, the diet includes: meat, seafood, eggs, vegetables, fruit, plant-based oils. It omits all sugar (real and artificial), grains (wheat, corn, rice, oats, etc), legumes (beans, peanuts, soy),dairy (yogurt, cheese) and alcohol. The website and books go into great detail about specific foods that are and are not allowed (butter is not allowed, clarified butter or ghee is ok; soy sauce is not allowed, coconut aminos is ok).
Is it effective?
There is no published research in the medical literature that supports the effectiveness of this approach. However, the internet abounds with testimonials of people reporting how much those who have successfully completed the 30 day challenge love it. While it is not presented as a weight loss diet – and in fact, you are not to weigh yourself during the 30 day period, people report weight loss as well as improvements in many conditions including chronic pain, fibromyalgia, allergies and low energy. Whole30 offers a program to “certify” coaches – some of whom are Registered Dietitians, so you might find it helpful to engage a coach who is also a RD.
What are some pros and cons?
Pros: Short term. Only 30 days. Losing weight is expected when so many foods are restricted. No harm from omitting what are traditionally recognized as important food groups (dairy, grains, legumes) for a short time. Does not involve buying special products.
Cons: No medical basis for recommendations. Not good if you are a vegetarian as traditional protein sources (tofu, beans, dairy, peanuts) are omitted. No published research that this actually works.
Note: There are many approaches to weight loss that can be successful for people. My Weight– What to Know does not recommend a particular diet, but is happy to share facts about a variety of approaches. As with all meal planning approaches, regular exercise is recommended.
Eating a healthy diet and being active are both really important for being healthy, but for many people diet and exercise alone aren’t enough to help them reach their weight-loss goals. If this sounds familiar, read this fascinating article about what to do when diet and exercise aren’t getting you to where you want to be.
UPDATE: A recent study from the NIH suggests that a diet high in ultra-processed foods led to overeating and weight gain. Watch a Facebook Live episode that covers what to know about ultra-processed foods here:
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