The Whole30 Diet Review

The Whole30 Diet Review
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Whole30 sounds a lot like the Paleo Diet in that it prohibits grains, legumes, and dairy. But it goes further. And further still. And as restrictive as it is, as difficult as you may find it, co-founder Melissa Hartwig says there are far harder things in life and this diet—this 30-day experiment—is worth it, because “this will change your life.” [1] 

Whole30 Claims  

The Whole30 diet is at its core pretty straightforward, though not simple: you strip your diet down to a Paleo-like core (meat, fish, eggs, and vegetables, essentially). You stick to the meal plan guidelines completely; no substitutions, no cheating, no slipping, for 30 days. And if you do that, Whole30 claims your life will change. I keep repeating that claim because Whole30 does.  

So how will the Whole30 diet do that, exactly?  

According to the Whole30 website and Hartwig’s books, blogs, and vlogs, if you “eliminate the most common craving-inducing, blood sugar-disrupting, gut-damaging, inflammatory food groups for a full 30 days” your body will reset and that means your relationship with food will change; the way you think about food, your eating habits, your cravings, even the way food tastes, Whole30 says. [2] 

It will restore a healthy emotional relationship with food, and with your body. It has the potential to change the way you eat for the rest of your life. [1]  

She knows this, she says, because she did it herself. As have millions of others, according to Hartwig. Pretty dramatic stuff. Note the word potential, though, when it comes to eating this way for life; how sustainable can it actually be? Let’s find out.  

So how does Whole30 work?  

I’ve always been a tell-me-the-bad-news-first kind of person, so let’s talk first about what you do not eat. For thirty days you do not eat any sugar at all, including syrups and honey, even artificial sweeteners or so-called natural no-calorie sweeteners like stevia. You may not have any alcohol—don’t even cook with it. And no grains. I repeat, no grains at all. [3] 

Next, no legumes like you-name-it beans: black, red, pinto, navy, white, kidney, or lima. Also no peas (except sugar snap peas and snow peas—the “pod” versions are okay, as are green beans), chickpeas, lentils, or peanuts (which means obviously no peanut butter.) You also may not have any type of soy, be it sauce or tofu. [3] 

And dairy? Nope. None. No dairy products from any animal, cow to sheep; so no yogurt, milk, creams, or cheeses  You may not consume any carrageenan or sulfites; read your labels, she says. (Note: she does allow for ghee, an Indian clarified butter. Not sure why; it’s not clear.) [3] 

And it goes without saying then that any bakery stuff, junk food, sweets, or salty snacks are out. [3] 

So what do you eat? Meat, seafood, and eggs in moderation, tons of vegetables, natural fats and some specific fruits. And that’s it. Oh, plus spices and herbs.  

Now for the weird part. Hartwig says it’s ok to have fruit juices. “Some products or recipes will include fruit juice as a stand-alone ingredient or natural sweetener, which is fine for the purposes of the Whole30.” [1] 

Interesting, because most fruit juices are made from concentrates and concentrates are processed. Hmmm. And she allows you to have most vinegars (to flavor meat and as dressing for veggies) and you can have salt. The latter is mind-boggling. It’s explained this way:  

Did you know that all iodized table salt contains sugar? Sugar (often in the form of dextrose) is chemically essential to keep the potassium iodide from oxidizing and being lost. Because all restaurants and pre-packaged foods contain salt, we’re making salt an exception to our no added sugar rule. [1] 

And then there’s one last rule: Ditch the scale. “Do not step on the scale or take any body measurements for 30 days. The Whole30 is about so much more than weight loss, and to focus only on body composition means you’ll overlook all of the other dramatic, lifelong benefits this plan has to offer. So, no weighing yourself, analyzing body fat, or taking comparative measurements during your Whole30.” You should, however, weigh yourself before and after the 30 days to “see one of the more tangible results” of this diet. [1]  

Got it.  

The Whole30 is, they say, “at its heart, an elimination diet.” So if you cheat even with one bite of prohibited foods, you have broken “the healing cycle” and will have to start over, day one. So it’s probably not a good idea to start this if you are not 100 percent committed. And this diet does mandate not just commitment, but serious and sustained effort when it comes to meal planning, food shopping, preparation and preparing.  

But the Whole30 provides tools to help. Like meal plans, called Real Plans, help with your shopping list, the Whole30 newsletter, forums that include the Whole30 community including social media from Facebook to Twitter, even the Dear Melissa column blogs, plus helpful articles, recipes, meal templates, and downloadable guides  including: how to find fruits and veggies that are cheaper, in season and fresher; a pantry stocking guide; dining out and travel guides; and more. And, there’s a Whole30 app for your smartphone or tablet. [4] [5] [6] [7] 

When you sign-up you receive a Real Plans subscription, Whole30 resources, and more than five hundred Whole30 recipes. Pay for a month at $30, a quarter at $49, or a full year for $99. [8] The prices go down after your first month, quarter or year. Pay an additional $15 to receive daily emails. There’s a 10-day money back guarantee—not very long. 

This diet is strikingly similar to the Paleo Diet and in fact, like the Paleo Diet, the website offers Whole30-approved food vendors to sell their meats grass-fed meats and ghee and juices that are called soups. Called Whole30 Approved, the website “store” is essentially a page full of vendors who sell Whole30-approved “curated kits” that contain Whole30-compliant foods. [9] 

Like the website BarefootProvisions.com, which sells curated packages like the “Whole30 Mega Kit,” which appears to include twenty-three approved products including coconut “foodstuffs,” dried fruits, jerky, trail mixes of seeds and nuts, dressings, snacks, bars, and sticks. It costs $99. [10] 

Whole30 Ingredients  

You prepare all your own meals with meat, fish, eggs, vegetables, seeds, some nuts, some fruit and seasonings. As mentioned, the Whole30 “store” provides access to approved food product vendors like ButcherBox.com, which sells Whole30-approved, Paleo-like, grass-fed animal products—beef, chicken and pork—delivered for $6 per protein per meal. [11] 

The Science (or Lack Thereof) Behind Whole30  

I could find no study specific to this diet, but paleo diets tend to be frowned upon by some in the research and medical communities. The Mayo Clinic does not reject diets like this out of hand, but does caution people about what they’re missing nutritionally; specifically,  

…the absence of whole grains and legumes, which are considered good sources of fiber, vitamins and other nutrients. Also absent from the diet are dairy products, which are good sources of protein and calcium. [12]  

Then again, this is a 30-day program and as we know, time flies. You are not married to this diet, although there’s plenty of advice about repeating the thirty days time and again.  

US News & World Reports Best Diets says Whole30 is, in fact, the worst diet. In the Overall Best Diets category, of 38 diets ranked, Whole30 came in dead last. In its findings, US News & World Report says experts gave Whole30 only 2 stars out of 5: 

Of greatest concern to most experts was the Whole30’s elimination of dairy, grains and legumes, as well as its “extremely restrictive” nature. They also complained that it hasn’t been studied independently in peer-reviewed journals. While the diet is not particularly unsafe and is relatively likely to spur temporary weight loss, “this is the antithesis of a long-term healthy dietary pattern,” one expert put it. [13] [14] 

Word on the Street About Whole30  

A few more words about the Best Diets report: Whole30 scored low—and even very, very low—marks in all categories: Best Diabetes Diets, Easiest Diets to Follow, Best Heart-Healthy Diets, Long-Term Weight Loss, Safety and Nutrition. Where it performed well, however, was in the Short-Term Weight Loss category. Its antithesis, the Mediterranean Diet, was named the second-best diet.  

Interestingly, while US News & World Report and experts say this is the worst diet, Whole30 reviews on Amazon.com are, in a word, amazing. Of almost three thousand reviews of the original book, 78 percent gave it a 5-star rating. That’s pretty wow. It’s among the most popular low-carb diet books on Amazon, with a 4.7 rating and 2,189 5-star verified purchase reviews. Impressive. [15] 

I must share part of a review by “Melanie Johnson” (April 2016, 5 stars). It was deemed helpful by almost 1,700 people and sums up what more than two thousand people shared about the diet and Hartwig’s book.  

“This book has simply changed my life. I know that you aren’t supposed to weigh yourself on this program, but weighing myself is a motivator so I decided to skip that rule. It’s only been two weeks and already I feel so much better. I am more alert in the mornings and my acid reflux is gone. In addition, my migraines seemed to have disappeared entirely. What is really motivating me is the fact that I lost 15 pounds and 10 overall inches in two weeks. I also love the fact that I have the energy to exercise again. I look forward to continuing this program even after my 30 days are up. I just feel that healthy and energetic! I’ll post an update once my 30 days are complete.” [16] 

Melanie updates the review over the course of her first go-round on the Whole30 diet, but I will share her final results. 

“So I just finished my first whole30 round and I have to say that I’m super excited by the results. When I hopped on the scale today, I noticed that I had lost 26.6 pounds. I then measured myself and noted that I lost a total of 31.5 inches (-5” from chest, -2” from right arm, -3.5” from left arm, -8” from waist, -5” from hips, -4” from right thigh, and -4” from left thigh). I am really excited by my results!” [16] 

I’ll say. That’s pretty incredible. And so review after review sings the praises of the Whole30, with many reviewers pointing out that while it was difficult and involved a lot of preparation and planning and cooking, it only lasted a month so many people were willing to go for it.  

A review from an “Amazon Customer” (September 2017, 5 stars) seems to capture what many say:  

I am enjoying the great eating, has been challenging at times but it is absolutely worth the effort and energy and bad mood, etc. that you go through. I do plan on making this a life style. [17] 

There aren’t many 1-star reviews, but this one by  “Purchaser” (September 2016, 1 star) sounds like something I might conclude:  

Meh. Sure, it’s good if you don’t know how to quit the sugar addiction, but this is just another fad. Here is what the book tells you: don’t eat junk, eat food—mostly vegetables, lean meat, avoid the sugar, read labels, ditch the alcohol for a while, exercise. [18] 

An atypical reviewer, “Angela A,” (December 2016, 1 star) regrets having done on the diet:  

“Be very careful with this diet. I had my blood drawn after being on this diet for 4 months. My triglycerides tripled, cholesterol is the highest it has ever been. My insurance company has me going with a health coach to help me lower all my levels. I lost weight and inches, my outside looks good but it has destroyed my perfect fat levels and my insurance went up because of this diet! Wished I had never done this diet! I was told to throw this book out and use common sense eating.” [19] 

The Bottom Line: Is Whole30 Worth a Try? 

Risky (low-to-mid risk).  I will say that—as an avid reader who encourages people to read more—I like the fact that this is all books. Hartwig has written six and she says that two more are coming in December of 2017. Reading is so very good. [20] [21] 

However, I think the “life changing” claim of the Whole30 is a bunch of malarkey. The whole diet is, frankly. In my humble opinion. Then again, thousands and thousands disagree. I do know that cutting sugar and junk and processed foods is a smart way to get on the right track to not just lose weight but reclaim your health. But this Whole30 diet is just silly, too restrictive, not anything close to balanced nutrition and certainly not sustainable.  

And here’s why I say low-to-mid risk: If you want to drop a chunk of weight—which will, as sure as the sun will rise, come back—and like trying the latest fad diet, this one could be interesting. But heed one warning even some 5-star reviewers brought up: you’ll be in a bad mood the whole 30.  

Review Sources

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  • JP

    The Whole 30 is not a DIET. It is not a program to help people lose weight. It is a program to help people change the way they eat and to get processed foods out of their diet to help our bodies function the way they were designed to. This is not a program that you buy, it is a way of life.

  • Thirty_three

    Misleading analysis. The authors do not “call for some pretty obscure lean proteins such as ostrich, buffalo, lamb, goat…” Beef, eggs, chicken, and pork are staples. They DO recommend grass-fed, finished, pastured meats and eggs. Those ARE expensive. But they do not “call for” exotic meats. They are optional. They also continuously express that this is not a weight-loss diet first and foremost.

  • Iva m

    It doesn’t require you eat those expensive hard to find meats. To say that it does is misleading and ridiculous. It just says those are options for you to eat.

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