The Whole30 Diet has become all the rage in recent years. It has been touted by many as nothing short of a miracle diet that gives relatively quick results and introduces dieters to a new relationship with food - but is Whole30 bad for you? Are quick results better than more gradual, long-range weight loss? Is a new relationship with food always a better relationship with food? Many have cited numerous downsides of Whole30, and if you're thinking about embarking on this diet, it's important to consider its potential drawbacks carefully. Going on a diet and reclaiming your health are commendable - just make sure you have all the facts about the Whole30 diet before you commit.
Developed in 2009 by sports nutritionists Melissa and Dallas Hartwig, Whole30 espouses a more whole-foods approach to eating and dieting. It requires vigilance and planning, and, like any "extreme diet," prospective dieters should do their homework before starting on the plan. While some have celebrated Whole30 and regard it as nothing short of a breakthrough in modern dieting, others have encountered problems with it, not the least of which is the criticism that the diet is simply unhealthy and unsustainable.
Let's learn a bit more about this diet and what it entails. Below, we share what to know before trying Whole30 so you can make informed decisions about your diet, your approach to weight loss, and your health.
Whole30 seems to place an inordinate amount of importance on red meat, as it figures prominently in the diet. One of the diet's creators, Melissa Hartwig, has challenged this assumption. "To say we're a meat-heavy program is inaccurate," she told Cosmopolitan in 2017. But the facts speak for themselves: Whole30 incorporates a relatively large amount of animal protein, and red meat consumption is not only allowable, but encouraged. Red meat has long been a hot-button issue in the diet and nutrition communities, and there have been countless studies of how eating red meat affects one's health both in the long and short-term. Some research has shown that the more red meat you eat, the greater your likelihood of dying from eight different diseases.
Because Whole30 is such a restrictive diet, it can complicate a dieter's already-fraught relationship with food. Whole30 tells us to cut out all sugar, which can be a very positive step to take. Unfortunately, telling everyone to cut out sugar doesn't account for each dieter's unique food struggles. If you have an unhealthy connection with food or have had an eating disorder in the past, Whole30 may not be the best approach for you as you could slip into a cycle that alternates between following the diet's restrictions and binging on "forbidden" foods after minor slip-ups. It can easily cause a dieter to engage in "a sort of ongoing restrict/binge cycle over time, where you limit certain foods and then end up overdoing it on those foods later, before going right back to restricting/trying to be 'good,'" according to one dietitian.
Any nutritionist, dietitian, or doctor will tell you that the key to optimal health and healthy weight loss is a balanced diet. When you cut out entire food group like Whole30 does, you are denying your body some of the basic building blocks it needs to thrive. For example, Whole30 removes all grains from your diet, but grains are beneficial so long as you don't have celiac disease or certain gluten/grain sensitivities. Similarly, Whole30 prohibits all kinds of legumes, even though we know that beans are high in protein, have strong antioxidant properties, and can even lower cholesterol. Once you eliminate a food group en masse, you may be compromising your health.
No dairy. No grains. No legumes. No natural sugars like honey or maple syrup. For people whose bodies are accustomed to a more balanced diet, getting rid of these foods can be a jolt to the system, both literally and figuratively. When you don't have sensitivities or allergies to the restricted food groups and you cut them out anyway, you are taking away vital nutrients your body needs. This can cause long-term issues, like nutritional deficiencies and an unhealthy gut microbiome.