- The Whole30 monthlong eating plan cuts all sugar from your diet except fruit. The creators say it’s meant to tame your “sugar dragon.”
- People on Instagram clearly have success with the temporary cleanse, showing off impressively sculpted, transformed bodies.
- But the diet may not be the best choice if you’re looking for a more long-term change.
The Whole30 is a 30-day food plan meant to change your relationship with food. But the program, which was developed in 2009, requires a huge dose of willpower and a lot of meal prep.
Think of it like the first step in a 12-step program. Step one: cutting a ton of food groups from your diet. That means no grains, no dairy, no alcohol, and no sweets (except fruit) are allowed in your mouth for 30 days.
The premise of this radical plan is that when it’s through, you won’t be as attached to sugar as you once were, and by reintroducing potentially inflammatory or stomach-upsetting foods into your diet one-by-one after the deprivation month is up, you can better decide which are OK to eat and which make you feel bloated or moody.
A plethora of photos on Instagram suggest that the short-term cleanse can be a great way for some people to slim down and tone up in a hurry:
But as a long-term health reset strategy, it has a few major flaws.
This year, US News and World Report put the Whole30 near the bottom of the magazine’s annual diet list. The panel of nutrition experts that ranked the plan called it “extreme” and full of “nonsensical claims” as well as “the worst of the worst for healthy eating.”
Here are five reasons it’s not the best:
1. It doesn’t jibe with what psychologists and nutritionists know about bad habits and how to break them.
It’s hard to break a habit, because it’s just that: habitual. Social scientists say one of the most proven techniques to change behaviour involves replacing an old behaviour with a new one. Sick of swilling booze? Try drinking something else instead. Cutting back on cigarettes? It may help to chew gum.
But temporarily trying out a new diet, and then crashing hard after 30 days of deprivation, is a nearly sure-fire way to slip back into old ways.
“Things are so much easier when you make those things routine,” a Yale psychologist named John Bargh told Business Insider earlier this year. “Your body is taking its cue from you and what you do.”
It’s admirable to try to shake up bad eating routines, but dietitians say this plan goes about it the wrong way by providing a temporary fix for what is a lifelong relationship with food. Eating habits tend to form over years, not a single month.
2. If you really want to reset your gut and reduce inflammation, 30 days isn’t enough time.
The adage about how it takes 21 days to break a habit is a fallacy.
Habits can take a few days to upward of a year to break, depending on what they are. That’s as true for your gut as it is for your brain. Experts who manage restrictive short-term diets for patients with digestive conditions like celiac disease say one month is not enough to turn off systemic inflammation. It takes about three.
3. Whole30 can be a bad way to eat.
Since the main protein sources on this diet are meat and eggs, it can be a pretty high-cholesterol regimen. The cleanse tends to be high-sodium, too. And it doesn’t allow for any whole grains that can help keep you full or beans, which are a cheap, low-calorie source of fibre, calcium, and protein.
4. It will probably also take up a ton of your time.
Diet researchers know our behaviour is influenced by the people around us, especially when it comes to eating. That can make it hard to stick to a strict regimen like the Whole30, especially if no one else around you is doing it. So if you’re going to try this challenge out, you may want to persuade a companion to try it with you. That way, you can prepare food together and encourage each other along the way.
5. The diet is extremely strict, and there’s no room for error.
If you mess up during this 30-day program and eat a banned food, you’re supposed to start all over again. Back to day one. That strict formula may work for some people, but it doesn’t match what we know about willpower and self-control. Shaming isn’t generally a great tool for long-term change. and perhaps nowhere is that more apparent than in short-term weight loss challenges and reality-TV shows like “The Biggest Loser,” where the majority of dieters eventually end up gaining back any weight they lost and putting on even more.
When Whole30 is over, you’re basically on your own to figure out how to incorporate previously banned foods back into your diet, one by one. The founders say their Whole30 plan is meant as a “short-term nutrition reset” and not something you do forever. That’s unfortunate, because forever diets are the kind that can provide lasting help.
Whole30 may work for some people who are just looking for a quick, temporary way to get skinnier. But if you’re not into it, that’s OK. There are plenty of other eating-in-moderation techniques you can try out. Dietitians often suggest more Mediterranean-style diets centered on filling whole grains and veggies.