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Why Everyone You Know Is Talking About The Whole30 Diet

Women's Health 2 hrs ago Emily Shiffer, Claire Gillespie

If you've tried making changes to your diet, you know it's not easy. The process of adding more fruits, veggies, and protein to your meals while also cutting out sugar and processed foods can be super hard, which is why the Whole30 diet is so popular. Unlike buzzy weight-loss methods that many celebs have plugged like intermittent fasting and the keto diet, you may not have heard of this one and are probably wondering, What is Whole30?

ICYMI, it's a 30-day diet (hence the name, Whole30) that emphasizes eating lots of whole foods and eliminating processed foods to help you feel better. An added bonus? It may also help you lose weight. (Fun fact: It was actually not created as a way to lose weight...but more on that later.)

The Whole30 diet has been around since 2009, and it's been one of those diets that has staying power. You may be curious about it after seeing friends or family posting about it on social media. All you have to do is search for #whole30 on IG, and you will find nearly 4.5 million posts. So yeah...lots of people are hooked on this lifestyle.

But what exactly does it entail? Don't worry—here are all the crucial deets you need to know about Whole30.

Meet the experts: Jordan Hill, RD, CSSD, is a nutritionist and certified specialist in sports dietetics. She has worked with athletes, pregnant and postpartum moms, and those with various GI disorders and chronic diseases.

Bianca Tamburello, RDN, is a nutritionist and nutrition marketing specialist with Fresh Communications.

Alix Turoff, RDN, is a nutritionist who counsels clients on science-based nutrition and mindful eating.

What exactly is Whole30?

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The Whole30 diet is essentially an elimination diet, according to the program's website. It recommends stripping certain food groups from your diet—like sugar, grains, and dairy—to see if they might have a negative impact on your health.

The idea, per Whole30's website, is that by eliminating "blood-sugar disrupting, gut-damaging, inflammatory food groups" for 30 days, you can let your body heal and recover from whatever effects those food groups may have had on you (low energy levels or chronic pain, for example). Once the 30 days are up, dieters are encouraged to use a long-term "Whole30-ish" meal plan to slowly and sparingly introduce some of these foods back on, based on how they make you feel.

Also important: Whole30 wasn't designed as a weight-loss plan, according to the diet's co-founder Melissa Hartwig-Urban—in fact, she calls it the "anti-diet" since there's no counting, tracking, or restricting calories. The diet also urges you not to step on the scale for 30 days. Still, there's no denying that a ton of people do lose weight while they're doing Whole30.

So...where did Whole30 come from?

Whole30 basically started in April 2009 when Hartwig-Urban carried out her own experiment of eliminating anti-inflammatory foods from her diet for 30 days to see if it would help her perform better in the gym.

And Hartwig-Urban says it worked: “I slept better, had more energy, focused better at work, and was happier in general,” she says. “But what the experiment really helped me change was my emotional relationship with food. For the first time in my life, I got off the scale and out of the mirror, and found other ways, besides junk food or wine to self-soothe, reward myself, and show myself love.”

Hartwig-Urban shared her experience on her blog, and, well, the rest is history.

Okay, what foods can't I eat on Whole30?

Brace yourself, because there are quite a few.

On Whole30, you're instructed to give up added sugars—real or fake, per the website. That means maple syrup, honey, and even stevia are off limits. You're also supposed to read the labels of anything you buy since added sugar can sneak in anywhere.

Here's the hard part: You're also asked to give up all grains (wheat, oats, quinoa, etc.), legumes (beans, peas, lentils), and dairy (all cow, goat, and sheep's milk products). That includes any meat alternatives like tofu and tempeh (they're technically legumes, made from soy).

You'll also need to sidestep common additives in processed foods like carrageenan, MSG, and sulfites (you'll have to check the labels again for those).

And don't think you can cheat the system either: You're also not allowed to eat any treats, even made with "approved" ingredients, per the website. So, even if your pancake is made from Whole30-compliant coconut flour, you still can't have it.

Oh, and don't even think about drinking any booze.

Well, what can I eat on Whole30?

The first rule of the program is to "eat real food," according to the Whole30 website. That means meat, seafood, eggs, vegetables, fruits, natural healthy fats (like olive oil and nuts), and herbs, spices, and seasonings. You're also allowed coffee and tea on the diet (just make sure you take it black).

Basically, you're going to want to shop the farmer's market or stick to the outer perimeter of your supermarket. And while you don’t have to buy grass-fed meat or organic produce, Hartwig-Urban says reading labels (and making sure you can pronounce your ingredients) is key, and will hopefully turn into a healthy, long-term habit.

Here's a breakdown of what you can eat on Whole30, according to Bianca Tamburello, RDN, with FRESH Communications and Jordan Hill, RD, CSSD, of Top Nutrition Coaching.

Meat: All unprocessed meat is Whole30-approved. (You can also eat eggs!)

  • Chicken
  • Turkey
  • Beef
  • Pork
  • Lamb
  • Duck

Seafood: All unprocessed fish and shellfish work with Whole30.

  • Salmon
  • Cod
  • Scallops
  • Shrimp
  • Canned tuna

Vegetables: All veggies are Whole30-approved, except for corn and lima beans.

  • Spinach
  • Broccoli
  • Carrots
  • Cauliflower
  • Lettuce
  • Sweet potatoes and squash
  • Bell peppers
  • Asparagus
  • Squash

Fruits: All fruits are okay to consume on this diet.

  • Apples
  • Bananas
  • Grapes
  • Pineapple

Natural fats:

For cooking:

  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • Ghee
  • Clarified butter
  • Lard or tallow
  • Coconut milk or coconut oil

In foods and as a dressing:

  • Coconut milk
  • Avocado or avocado oil
  • Sesame oil
  • Light olive oil

Nuts and seeds:

  • Almonds, cashews, walnuts, pistachios
  • Pumpkin seeds and sunflower seeds
  • Almond, cashew, and sunflower seed butters

Herbs, spices, and seasonings:

  • Salt
  • Black pepper
  • Garlic powder and onion powder
  • Cinnamon
  • Paprika, sage, rosemary

Pantry items and condiments:

  • Almond flour
  • Cocoa
  • Mustard
  • Pickles
  • Kimchi
  • Sauerkraut
  • Hot sauce

Beverages:

  • Coffee and tea
  • Club soda and seltzer water
  • Vegetable and fruit juices
  • Kombucha

Will I feel any side effects from Whole30?

Before you go ahead and start Whole30 (or any diet, for that matter), it's wise to check in with your doctor, says Hartwig-Urban—especially if you’re on prescription meds or have an existing medical condition.

She also warns that “not every day on the Whole30 will be easy-breezy.” Common initial side effects include tiredness, crankiness, and headaches, and you’ll have to find other ways to deal with stress than succumbing to cravings. But Hartwig-Urban insists most of these issues clear up in the second week, when you should be rewarded with an energy boost and improved sleep.

So, will Whole30 help me lose weight?

Again, Whole30 isn't intended as a weight-loss plan—but it might still help you drop pounds. That's likely due to reduced calorie intake (you're restricting whole food groups, so you're bound to see a dip in calories), says Alix Turoff, RD, CPT, the owner of Alix Turoff Nutrition.

“If you're consuming fewer calories than you usually do while following Whole30, as well as cutting out a lot of processed foods, alcohol, and added sugars and instead eating lean protein, fruits, and veggies, it's very likely that you will lose weight,” she says.

You may also lose weight on the diet if you find yourself having more energy and feeling healthier overall. But remember: That could also mean you'll gain that weight back if you revert to your old eating habits once Whole30 is finished.

What do people who’ve tried Whole30 have to say?

Tiffini from San Antonio, Texas, tried the Whole30 diet and only lost two pounds in her 30 days on the diet. However, she noticed that she had "less bloat, better digestion, significant increase in energy, better sleep, and even better skin."

Nicole from Michigan shared that she started Whole30 not to lose weight. "First and foremost, I did not complete this challenge to lose weight. I did this to gain control of my cravings, reduce inflammation and attempting to control my autoimmune issues," she says. However, after 30 days she lost 14 pounds.

Kara from Maryland completed her seventh round of Whole30 in January 2022 and lost seven pounds. "I am way less tempted to snack if I eat meals that fill me.. especially when it has lots of veggies, healthy carbs, and protein! I ate large portions, but loaded my meals with extra nutrient dense low calorie foods," she shares.

Kacey from Florida lost 70 pounds on Whole30, which she has done four times. "I have lost 70 pounds from truly just clean eating and working out four to five times a week. Whole30 just gives me a better perspective on what I am putting in my body. As we get older, our metabolism switches gears and can sometimes work against us. It’s our responsibility to figure out our body and move forward," she says.

Should I give Whole30 a try? And if so, how do I start?

Overall, feedback on Whole30 is mixed. The U.S. News & World Report’s most recent ranking of diets puts the program at #37 out of 40, with an expert panel of registered dietitians, academics, and medical doctors throwing shade at it for being unsustainable and potentially unhealthy.

That said, millions of people have followed the program and loved the results, according to Whole30's website.

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"We know that a diet full of heavily processed foods is linked to chronic diseases and poor health outcomes, so limiting these foods, as Whole30 encourages, is good for overall health," notes Tamburello.

If you think you can live without carbs for 30 days, Whole30 might work for you. But you may want to steer clear if you have a history of disordered eating—making entire food groups off-limits could trigger it again, warns Turoff. The plan may also be tough for vegans and vegetarians because dietary staples like legumes and grains aren’t permitted.

"When we eliminate grains and legumes from our diet, we are also eliminating nutrients like fiber, B vitamins, iron, folate, potassium, and magnesium," says Hill. "These nutrients are important for a variety of reasons: digestive health, heart health, metabolism, muscle and nerve function, etc."

And there are also negatives with eliminating dairy. "We are also eliminating nutrients like protein, calcium, vitamin D, and potassium," Hill points out.

Otherwise, Whole30 could be a healthy choice for many people, as it provides all the nutrients your body needs. It may not be sustainable as a long-term plan, but it’s a no-brainer that 30 days of eating unprocessed, fresh, high-quality foods comes with some benefits.

"In short, I would recommend folks adopt a Whole30-esque approach that promotes the consumption of whole foods such as lean protein sources, fruits, vegetables, and healthy fats but one that also incorporates whole grains, legumes, and dairy (assuming the individual has no allergy or medical contraindications)," says Hill. "Lowering consumption of processed foods, added sugars, and alcohol while also forming healthy habits around sleep, stress management, movement, and hydration has the potential to lead to positive health benefits and sustainable weight loss over time."

If you want to get started, go ahead and download the Whole30 Program PDF. For an even deeper dive into the diet, you can also snag The Whole30 and its companion The Whole30 Day by Day, which are both available on Amazon.

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