The Whole30 diet is the first 30 days of the rest of your life. Whole30 was created to help you discover which underlying food choices are causing chronic health struggles by eliminating the “most common craving-inducing, blood sugar disrupting, gut-damaging, inflammatory food groups for a full 30 days,” explains Melissa Hartwig, Whole30 Co-Creator.
You’ll spend 30 days without foods that are likely: disrupting energy levels, causing unexplained aches and pains, halting weight loss attempts and much more. That’s not all. The benefits of the Whole30 diet are two-fold, boosting your health and your accountability. On the other hand, there are a few drawbacks, and knowing both sides of the story will help you decide if you want to try Whole30.
Here’s what you need to know before you get started.
The Body Benefits: The Good and Bad
The first, and likely most often discussed benefit is the boost your body gets from experiencing this elimination-style diet. Removing foods that are dangerous to your long-term health, like preservatives and sugar, is a very good thing. However, not all health professionals agree with some of the eliminations:
“I think it's great that Whole30 emphasizes a clean diet free from processed foods and dairy, both harmful to our bodies and overall health in the long term. However, eating a diet with a significant focus on meat/poultry and eliminating whole grains and beans/legumes is not supportive of optimal health,” says Lauren Kretzer holistic chef and wellness professional.
Other nutritionists have expressed similar concerns, however, this style of elimination—while extreme—has been helpful for many people: “By eliminating so many foods and food groups and gradually adding them back in, some Whole30 followers have been able to self-diagnose food intolerances after following the Whole30,” says Jenna Gorham, registered dietitian nutritionist. Still, she warns, final decisions about intolerances and food allergies should be diagnosed and confirmed by a professional.
Ultimately, it’s important to remember: the elimination is only for 30 days, not forever. Removing foods for a short period of time can be important for uncovering the many ways foods that you eat every single day are disrupting your health.
Some people find this restricting, some find it empowering—check out a few personal experiences:
- Whole30 Changed My Life: But Not in the Way You Think
- My First Whole30: The Month That Changed My Life
- How Whole30 Changed My Life
The Accountability Benefits: The Good and Bad
The lesser-discussed benefit is the support network you’re automatically entered into as a Whole30 participant. This is almost more important than the diet itself because support drives accountability, accountability drives empowerment and empowerment leads to lifelong changes that keep you healthy well after the diet is done. This support network includes their book, their resources and their massive following of supporters who have fallen in love with how Whole30 makes them feel.
If you haven’t yet, start by reading the New York Times Bestseller It Starts With Food, which outlines the science and research behind the diet. This helps you understand why every guideline is important to the health of your body.
There's also a long list of resources you can use to learn about the program and prepare for your first few days, including:
The program features more than 10 downloadable guides in total, and you can find all of them here: Whole30 Downloads.
Some health professionals have expressed concerns with their “scare tactics” and motivational style; what the makers of Whole30 call tough love, which may or may not be helpful for you:
“Don’t you dare tell us this is hard. Beating cancer is hard. Birthing a baby is hard. Losing a parent is hard. Drinking your coffee black. Is. Not. Hard.”
“Unless you physically tripped and your face landed in a pizza, there is no “slip.” You make a choice to eat something unhealthy. It is always a choice, so do not phrase it as if you had an accident.”
Slip-ups are a part of regular life. Yet they can lead to negative internal dialogue when prefaced with “tough love” like that which is given by Whole30. This is the main concern of Laura Morton, MS, RD, LDN. “A a slip-up leaves dieters vulnerable to feelings of extreme guilt frequently followed by an 'already blew the diet, better go all out' binge period,” says Morton.
Her recommendation: “If you've already delved into Whole30 and know all there is to know, apply some of the principals, like including a lot of fruits and vegetables and avoiding excess added sugars, to your normal way of eating—but leave behind the rigid list of foods to avoid.”
If you’re not quite there yet, and still want to try the Whole30, turn to one of their many supporters on Instagram, where you’ll find a seemingly endless amount of recipes, tips and support on your hardest days. Here are a few Instagram accounts to follow:
The Food: Your Whole30 Adventure
Whole30 isn’t about what you can and can’t eat. It’s about optimizing your body and mind, giving it only the foods that make it run seamlessly every single day. As such, there are many things you can, should and will eat, but what you must avoid for the duration of the 30 days, includes:
- Added sugar (real or artificial)
- Alcohol (drinking or cooking)
- Grains, legumes
- Carrageenan, MSG, sulfites
- Baked goods, “junk food,” or treats with approved ingredients
Want to know why you can’t eat these? Check out the Official Program Rules resource (shared above) for a detailed explanation of every list item. You may be especially curious about the last guideline, which is one of my favorites. The explanation is simple and all about the psychological changes you’re undergoing:
“Recreating or buying sweets, treats and foods-with-no-brakes (even if the ingredients are technically compliant) is totally missing the point of the Whole30, and will compromise your life-changing results. These are the same foods that got you into health-trouble in the first place—and a pancake is still a pancake, even if it is made with coconut flour,” explains Hartwig.
The list of what you are encouraged to eat, however, is long, with options for every palate. Here are a few meal ideas to get started with.
- Scrambled eggs with bell pepper, onion, kale + bowl of strawberries + green tea
- Ground turkey sausage + over-medium eggs + fresh-squeezed orange juice
- Bacon* omelet + ½ banana with almond butter + coffee
- Blackened salmon + green salad + homemade dressing + can of seltzer
- Kale salad topped with pepitas, roasted butternut squash, artichoke, dried cherries* + homemade dressing + roasted turkey (optional)
- Chicken salad and roasted sweet potato: roasted, pulled chicken + dijon mustard* + sliced grapes + green onion + side of cubed roasted sweet potato
- Pistachio crusted pork chop + baked squash
- Bowl of potato leek soup*
- Taco-less chicken tacos: Seasoned chicken, sautéed peppers and onions, topped with homemade pico de gallo and cilantro
*Remember to check labels for anything pre-made or processed, like bacon or mustard. There are a lot of food items with sugar and additives in them, including many that you wouldn’t suspect. Use the Whole30 Grocery Guide when shopping to make sure you follow all the guidelines.
The Last Step: Get Started When You Can Truly Commit
The best part about Whole30 is you can start whenever. You may even be able to make a variety of Whole30-approved meals with what you already have in your kitchen. The key is choosing a time when you can stick with the plan for the full 30 days, without any exception. Take a look at your calendar and mark the 30-day period, get to the grocery store (and vitacost.com) for the essentials and get ready to enjoy a healthier, happier body.