THE WHOLE30 DIET doesn’t sound too bad…at first. The trendy eating plan detailed in the bestselling book It Starts With Food allows for unlimited amounts of unprocessed food and no calorie counting. But the restriction is in the details. The criteria for what constitutes “whole” food as opposed to “verboten” foods is strict.
Inspired by the paleo eating movement, Utah couple Melissa and Dallas Hartwig, a sports nutritionist and physical therapist, developed the diet. In the Whole30 plan, entire swaths of consumables like dairy, grains and sugar are on the no-go list for the month-long diet “reset.” The Hartwigs maintain these groups disrupt hormonal, autoimmune, gastrointestinal and other processes of the body. None of the claims are backed up by peer-reviewed science, but that hasn’t stopped people across the country from undergoing the 30-day experience and sharing it across social media.
Michele Rizzo of Bellport heard about Whole30 like many, through word of mouth. The 39-year-old theater manager and avid runner didn’t have a history of a poor diet or weight control issues, but wanted to see if tweaking her eating habits would have a positive effect on her energy levels and athletic performance. “I thought it would be interesting to rid my body of certain things to see how I reacted,” she explained. She went the full 30 days this past September and is gearing up for a second round soon.
Rizzo said she didn’t find the diet too difficult to follow, with the exception of missing her beloved coffee creamer. “I loved it; it wasn’t hard. But it’s designed to change the way you think about food and so for people who have bad habits it would be extremely hard.” She added that she didn’t feel hungry, and was even able to eat out.
Besides forbidding all grains, sugar, alcohol and dairy, Whole30 rules also call for eliminating legumes, like all beans, peas and peanuts, and warns against any weighing or body measuring during the 30 days. If a dieter slips up and consumes a black-listed food, the clock resets back to day one and all is lost. Bonnie Giller, MS, RD, CDN, CDE, a Long Island dietitian, points out that the reason behind embarking on the Whole30 may determine its usefulness. For people who may have undiagnosed food sensitivities, the diet could work. But Giller recommends doing the elimination and reintroduction process under the guidance of a nutrition professional. “For those using it as just another diet though, that’s where the danger lies. You will definitely lose weight on it because it’s so restrictive, but what happens when the 30 days is up? Then it’s just another diet,” and a vicious cycle of rebounding, she cautioned.
The Hartwigs, who last year expanded on their first book with a Whole30 cookbook, also discourage followers from using allowed ingredients, like almond flour, to create substitute versions of off-limits foods, like pancakes. The idea is that changing the mental habits around eating is as important for healthful change as just swapping out food items.
Rizzo made some lasting changes based on her experiences. She permanently cut out yogurt, for instance, a snack she was previously eating several times a day, because she found she felt better without it. When the 30 days were over, however, she didn’t strictly reintroduce one banned food at a time to see what affected her specifically, but rather went by overall feel. “On Whole30 I felt less sluggish and I lost belly fat. I don’t like obsessing over counting calories, and after the first couple of days of mental withdrawal, I didn’t feel like I was lacking anything.” When the program ended, she felt she had a new awareness of food, and was more conscious of her choices, reading labels more and moderating her eating and drinking habits.