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Whole 30 Diet: Review from a RDN

One of the diets that I’m still so surprised to see frequently and hear questions about is the Whole30 diet. Similarly to most diets out there, it has become another bandwagon diet/weight loss craze that a lot of people have hopped on. In this blog post, we will breakdown the background of the Whole30 diet as well as list some concerning factors.

What is Whole30?

Whole30 is a 30-day, elimination diet that emphasizes whole, unprocessed foods. With it being an elimination diet, it eliminates and excludes quite a few highly nutritious foods! This diet was created to be a “reset” for your body. Once you’ve eliminated a whole bunch of different foods for 30 days, you are then supposed to reintroduce them to see which of those foods you should eliminate completely and which of them you can continue to eat. This “reset” is to be done at least once a year to “reset” your body, whatever that means.

The Whole30 diet has extreme, strict rules. The developers of the program demand “no cheats, no slips, no special occasions” for 30 days straight. If you slip up, you have to start the 30 days all over again. That’s EVEN if you are on day 28 or 29 of the diet. This thinking not only fosters an incredibly harmful mindset towards food but also leads to an incredibly damaging messaging towards positive self-worth and body image (more on that later).

As mentioned previously, this diet excludes some incredibly important food groups and nutritious foods in general! Per the Whole30 official website, those on this diet are not allowed to eat any dairy, most legumes (including beans, edamame, tofu, peanuts, etc), or grains (no bread, pasta, rice, quinoa, wheat, buckwheat, etc.). These foods are incredibly nutritious and provide us with important vitamins and minerals! Excluding them completely means eliminating important food groups that provide impactful nutrition and beneficial nutrients for our bodies! One of the other things that this diet asks for is no baked goods or anything resembling a “treat.” However, you are not even allowed to eat these treats if they are made of Whole30 “approved ingredients.” Which logically, makes no sense at all.

Background behind Whole30

Whole30 was originally created in 2009 by Melissa Hartwig Urban and Dallas Hartwig. Since then, Melissa has written 6 books on the topic. The first book being It Starts with Food was released in 2012. This book is supposedly the backbone and science behind the Whole30 diet. However since then, this book and the science in it has been completely torn apart. You can see more on this here.

In terms of education and training, Dallas has a BS in Anatomy & Physiology, MS in Physical Therapy and a Functional Medicine training certification. Although his MS and BS are legit, they do not necessarily indicate any formal nutrition education. Melissa has a MS in Health and Nutrition Education from Hawthorn University. Upon further research, one would find that this program is not accredited per the US Department of Education (accreditation basically ensures quality standards for institutions of higher education). With that being said, this program was created and developed by individuals with limited formal nutrition education training. This should definitely make you wary to consider giving this diet a shot.

Why You Shouldn’t Try It

Nutritious foods excluded

Grains, legumes, and dairy are on the no no list on Whole30. Here are reasons why they are important in your diet.

Grains: Rich in B-vitamins and fiber

Legumes: rich in minerals and fiber

Dairy: good source of calcium, vitamin D, potassium and phosphorus

Incorrect Claims

One of the most incorrect things about Whole30 is its claim to “magically eliminate” a variety of diseases and symptoms. Historically, they even claimed that Whole30 would help “magically eliminate” or “cure” diabetes, endometriosis, celiac disease, depression, infertility, fibromyalgia, lyme disease, ADHD, and eating disorders. Yes, eating disorders too (yikes! Not entirely sure how you plan to cure an eating disorder with an extreme list of restrictions and rules.) Let’s fact check these claims further. Celiac disease is not curable. It is manageable and symptoms can be lessened through nutrition therapy, but it cannot be cured through elimination diets. Autoimmune diseases are also not “magically” curable either. These symptoms can be managed, but to claim that it will “magically eliminate” or “cure” anything is completely inaccurate and harmful.

Mental Health

The psychological damage behind the messaging of this diet is insanely harmful. Even the wording used in their website completely disregards people’s mental and physical health. In fact, an incredibly restrictive diet can lead to one’s worth being more tied to weight, appearance, and one’s ability to resist certain foods, which is not healthy. It encourages people to believe that they are not “good enough” if they “slip up.” You accidentally drank whole milk in your coffee instead of almond milk? You fail. You eat carrots and hummus over something else at a party? Fail. This messaging is essentially encouraging a mentality that shames you for not being able to follow someone else’s silly, strict, and incredibly restrictive rules.

With all that being said, the Whole30 diet has questionable roots and promotes diet culture while disguised as “health.” If you or someone you know is struggling with food and wants to break free of the guilt ridden cycle of dieting, contact us to learn more.

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