Wayne’s Whole 30 Controversy

The sun is shining, small plants are creeping out of the ground, and Wayne is ready to get his healthy lifestyle back on track. As a competitive varsity athlete, Wayne raced track and field like his life depended on it. He was young, fit and at the top of his game. Fast-forward 20 years and Wayne’s top priorities look quite different, namely balancing long hours at work with the needs of his family. He still makes time for gym sessions but knows his once “clean diet” is trending to more convenience, quick meals. He’s been gaining a bit of weight over the years and with spring is ready to get on track. After chatting with friends at his local gym, Wayne decides to give the Whole 30 a try.

What is the Whole 30?
The Whole30 diet was founded by a husband and wife duo claiming they can help you improve your metabolism, weight loss efforts, relationship with food, unexplainable aches and pains, energy levels, skin, fertility, digestive and inflammatory issues, seasonal allergies. How do they propose you do this? “Eliminate the most common craving-inducing, blood sugar disrupting, gut-damaging, inflammatory food groups for a full 30 days. Let your body heal and recover from whatever effects those foods may be causing.” What’s left on the menu once these have been eliminated? Mainly meat, seafood, eggs, vegetables, fruit, nuts, seeds and oil. After the initial elimination phase comes the reintroduction phase of introducing one food group at a time over ten days to determine what has been causing your unwanted GI upset.

I’m going to dig into the pros and cons of this diet trend I’ve seen growing in popularity to give you all the facts before trying it out for yourself.

First, although it’s very restrictive, it’s not meant as a lifelong eating pattern and they don’t suggest it is followed for more than 30 days. Instead, they have a Whole 9 focusing on nine factors for optimal health to include in daily life. Additionally, they have a very weight-neutral approach, suggesting not weighing yourself for the entire month and instead focusing on your changes in sleep, skin, energy and overall wellbeing. This holistic approach to nutrition is more in line with my personal views, focusing on healthy diet and lifestyle habits rather than the number on the scale.

The Whole 30 diet is ultimately just that, a diet. It contains quite the restrictive list of foods that must be avoided, as previously mentioned. Once you start creating a set of rules regarding “good” and “bad” foods, you’re heading down the dangerous path of developing an unhealthy relationship with food. The obsession with eating strictly clean foods sounds like a path towards developing an eating disorder. This may sound extreme, but the language used in the book makes it clear that there is no room for mistakes.

“Unless you physically tripped and your face landed in a box of doughnuts, there is no ‘slip.’ You make a choice to eat something unhealthy. It is always a choice, so do not phrase it as if you had an accident.”

Ouch! I understand that adopting healthier eating habits can be tough, but this is downright offensive. Eating is more than just fuel; it should be a source of pleasure and socializing. When we start associating these healthy foods with guilt and shame, we’re setting ourselves up for the yo-yo dieting cycle of restriction and binging.

Another problem is the lack of plant-based protein options. The diet clearly recommends some animal proteins are to be included in your diet daily. This means that unless you’re willing to include some animal proteins, you’re unable to follow the Whole30. This high intake of meat products could be harmful to not only the environment but our bodies as well. Graciously, they’ve included a vegetarian option, however, the only protein sources allowed are eggs and fish, at every meal, for a month.

Finally, there are diet facets associated with the Whole30 that I can’t stand by as a dietitian, namely the lack of scientific evidence for the claims made. These include promises to detox your body, the ability to cure health ailments from digestion to mood swings, and of course how expensive it can be.

The bottom line? The Whole30 includes strict guidelines about which foods you’re allowed to eat. This is paving a path towards unhealthy relationships with food and removing the innate pleasure and excitement associated with eating. I don’t believe in a need to suffer to reap the health benefits of eating properly and enjoying food without obsessive rules.