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Why I Don’t Recommend Whole30

I’ve been wanting to write this post for a long time, and hearing about/meeting more and more people who are trying Whole30 finally gave me the motivation I needed to put this into words.

I’m just going to say it: I don’t recommend Whole30. Here’s why.

why i don't recommend whole30

If you have no idea what I’m talking about, Whole30 is a 30 day diet program during which participants are instructed to completely avoid sugar, alcohol, dairy, grains, and legumes. It’s very similar to paleo. I get that some people use Whole30 as a way to uncover food intolerances, and that’s not what I’m talking about in today’s post – this is geared towards those who are looking at Whole30 as a diet/weight loss tool.

Is Whole30 healthy? Absolutely. I don’t think eating that way will leave you with any nutritional deficiencies, nor do I believe that humans have to eat dairy or grains to be healthy. I actually love and frequently make/consume a lot of “Whole30 approved” and/or paleo recipes and meals, as you guys know – they are often creative, delicious, and packed with whole, real food.

My problem with Whole30, and other restrictive programs, is the fact that you’re being told you “can’t” eat certain foods. Sure, you might be able to avoid specific foods that you love for 30 days, or even a little longer. But what ends up happening is that when something is off limits, you want it even more. And when you do give in and have it, either during the program or once it’s over, you will likely feel pretty guilty about it.

The guilt/permission is the big problem with any sort of restrictive diet, Whole30 or otherwise, that is being done without medical necessity. Even if you tell yourself that you are allowed to have a certain food again once the program is over, knowing that it was off limits for awhile will give it a sort of “bad/cheat food” type aura. And when you do inevitably have that food again, this guilt will lead to a couple things.

First, you probably won’t enjoy the food because you feel guilty. And second, you will likely end up eating more of it than you need/want, because there’s that sort of “screw it” mentality where you’ve already started eating something you “shouldn’t” have so you might as well keep going. This can often turn into 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”.

Am I saying that no one on earth can do Whole30 without it turning into disordered eating? Of course not. There are some people that will do the program, move on, and be fine, or even benefit from it. But more often than not, at least a little of that guilt will remain, which can lead to something more serious.

Of course, it’s important to be mindful with your food choices and eat in a way that feels best for you – I’m not suggesting making 95% of your diet sugar, processed wheat, and alcohol. But I believe that eating without arbitrary food rules is important. If you want a kale salad, have the kale salad. If you want a cupcake, have the cupcake, but serve it up without a side of guilt. Eat it slowly and mindfully and savor it, then move on.

Another thing to think about – why are you doing a restrictive diet in the first place? Is trying to change/control your body a convenient way to avoid other problems in your life? As I said before, I realize that some people do Whole30 and other elimination type diets to try to determine the causes of gastrointestinal or other health issues. But if you are doing it because you think that your life will be perfect if you could just lose xx pounds, it’s time to consider what’s going on there. You can be happy right now, just as you are – you don’t have to wait until you lose weight to lead a life you love. If you’re interested in exploring this more, click here for a free downloadable worksheet titled “The Thin Fantasy” – it will help you to examine how some of your beliefs about your body may be holding you back from living the life you want to – regardless of your size.

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Comments

  1. 1

    I think you’ll agree with me on this….

    You lose weight by eating healthy, controlling portions, and exercising. Restrictive diets rarely work because your body needs all those ingredients, just in the correct proportion!

    I would say “it’s as simple as that,” but I know lots of people have problems sticking to that type of lifestyle. I lost 45 lbs when I started on my healthy journey. I did it by eating healthy foods and slowly (VERY slowly) dumping the bad habits like Diet Coke, bad snacking, and huge portions.

    Losing weight is about lifestyle and attitude change and I’m happy to see a dietitian ‘not’ support one of these fads. I would hope your readers look at your site as a whole and see that what you’re pushing is a healthy lifestyle that includes good food in manageable proportions and lots of exercise/outdoor activities. Keep up the good work Anne!

    • 2

      Thanks Sean! What you said about very slowly changing habits is important – that’s much more sustainable than sweeping change!

  2. 3

    Thank you for writing this! I’ve received so much about people doing whole 30 that I almost felt like I should try it. But I’m happy with how I eat now, feel great, and am not trying to lose weight, so why?? I agree, I don’t think restrictive diets are a way to be happy or successful.

  3. 5
    Caroline says:

    I love this! I’ve never commented on your blog before but I am a longtime reader. I’m so sick of hearing about the Whole 30. I was headed on dangerous path years ago when I started restricting certain foods. I agree the program has its benefits but I think it sets people up for disordered eating. Thank you for sharing!

  4. 7

    I love you blog but I strongly disagree on this. I completed Whole30 in January. And while it IS a diet (any way you eat is a diet), it’s not meant to be a long-term or quick-fix diet. It’s to teach you what your body can and can’t handle. The reintroduction phase of the diet is crucial to the “diet”. By introducing dairy, I realized that it was not right for me. Other people will discover other things. If you don’t remove these items for a few weeks, you won’t know how you feel without them.

    Whole30 isn’t saying that dairy (for example) is bad. But it’s bad for some people. Not bad in an unhealthy sense, but bad as in it makes them feel bad – whether it’s bloating, digestive issues, etc.

    Whole30 also taught me mindfulness. Before the experience, I was reaching for something sweet – even just a piece of gum – after meals. I realized it was routine to do that and got out of that habit. Now I have something sweet when I want it, but that’s not every time.

    I encourage you to read the book and read the details instead of just reading “the rules”. There’s a lot more to it.

    • 8

      Hi Stacey! Thank you for reading my blog and for sharing your thoughts on this! Other opinions are always welcome and I respect that yours is different from mine. I know that there is a reintroduction phase, and that there are definitely some big benefits to Whole30 in terms of understanding which foods feel best for you. That said, I still don’t recommend it because even with the reintroduction phase, I still see it frequently leading to disordered eating and a lot of guilt around food in some people. Not everyone, but some people. I’m so glad to hear you had a great experience with it, though, and again, thank you for sharing your thoughts. :) I love that you are now enjoying something sweet when you want it rather than just out of habit!

      • 9

        That was exactly your point at the beginning of the article — that while it CAN have benefits in terms of rare food sensitivities, it has problems when people are using it to “drop 10 pounds fast.” Thank you for this great, well-reasoned article. My main issues with the Whole 30 is that it can be aligned with and/or support extreme low-carb eating, which in my experience was devastating to my health.

  5. 11

    VERY refreshing to hear your point of view. I only ever see ‘everyone should do whole 30’ type of posts. I couldn’t agree more with you. I really hate any diet that says you can’t eat this– I don’t think it’s healthy for the mind and promotes a binging mindset.

  6. 12

    I do really appreciate your perspective on this (and totally agree that diet and shame etc is so different for everyone and this could certainly become a dangerous area) but I had a totally different experience when I finished my second Whole 30 back in the fall. Around that time I also read Melissa Hartwig’s newest book Food Freedom Forever which is all about breaking this cycle of shame and guilt that you talk about here- the purpose of the whole 30 is to reset, identify how your body reacts to retain foods, and then make informed decisions from there. She argues that it is part of the cycle to notice after a while that you are gravitating more and more towards unhealthy options, you can incorporate another reset (whether a full whole 30 or just a few days) to help get back on track and remind your body how great it feels when you’re eating healthy, whole, nutritious food, then you enter into another period of balanced eating. Eventually that cycle will start over but it isn’t “falling off the wagon”, it’s just the next phase and you are in control of correcting to a more healthy way of living. THAT is what helps me make my food choices moving forward. I can eat a cookie for breakfast and feel absolutely no guilt because I know that overall my food decisions are helpful for my body. But when I notice I just did that for four days in a row, I have a better check system in place to reconnect my eating habits. Whole 30 gave me the language and tools to really take charge of my eating (for six months now!) and make a lot more automatically healthy choices along the way.

    • 13

      I’m so glad to hear Whole30 was a positive experience for you! Like you said, diet and guilt mentality is definitely different for everyone and I know that some people do have very positive experiences with Whole30. I just felt I needed to share this post because I’ve seen a lot of people in my life and private practice that have had the opposite. Thank you for sharing your perspective and for reading my blog! :)

    • 14

      I agree. Eating healthy and controlling portions is not easy for everyone. Some people need a “program” or specific commitment to jump start a behavior change.

  7. 15

    Thank you so much for approaching this head on! I tried to do Whole 30 last fall but ended up quitting half way through because as an endurance athlete I felt like my body was not getting what it needed- I missed quinoa and oats!! My boyfriend and I both agreed that we didn’t like being told not to eat certain things even though we had viewed them as healthy our whole lives. I definitely can see how it can can be useful to some people but as someone who already eats pretty well rounded it definitely wasn’t right for me. Thanks for another awesome post!

    • 16

      So glad that you listened to your body and did what was best for you, rather than trying to stick with it the whole time just because!

  8. 17

    I wholeheartedly (pun intended) agree! I can attest first-hand to the negative outcome of restriction and I definitely fall into the camp of binge/guilt when I try to do a diet that restricts certain groups. I tried the whole 30/paleo diet for one month in January 2014 and honestly ate terrible as soon as it was over. My hubby and I were irritable during it because we felt we couldn’t enjoy so many things, especially when it came to trying to go out to dinner or have a social engagement with friends. Thanks for sharing your perspective!

  9. 18

    Thank you so much for this post! What a fresh, informative perspective from an expert in the field! I agree that this may help some but it hurts a whole lot of others. I was listening to a podcast from FoodPsych and they talked about how these diets should come with warning labels i.e. may develop disordered eating or eating disorders. For me, the risk is too big and not worth any possible gains. Thanks again!

    • 19

      I LOVE the Food Psych podcast – so glad you’re enjoying it too, and that you’re doing what is best for you and not risking the chance of triggering disordered eating!

  10. 20

    Thank you for sharing this! I agree that these types of diets don’t work in the long run (or sometimes even in the short run). It’s nice to hear this opinion from a nutritionist (and blogger), because I feel like everyone I know (and lots of bloggers I follow) have done Whole30 or some variation. Thanks!

    • 21

      That was partly why I felt I should write this – I see it all over blogs nowadays! It can certainly be positive for some people, but the potential for triggering disordered eating is very real in many others!

  11. 22

    But what ends up happening is that when something is off limits, you want it even more.

    I just wanted to point out that this isn’t necessarily true. While some people find moderation easier, others find abstaining completely to be easier. I know for myself, it’s easier to make things off limits. Then I don’t even think about them, because it isn’t an option. If that makes sense. :)

    • 23

      Thank you for sharing your thoughts, Laurie! That does make sense, and it’s important to understand and know what works for you personally. Would it be sustainable for you to have those things off limits forever, though? Just curious how it works long term.

      • 24

        Speaking for me personally, yes; it’s easier for me to know if something is off limits forever IF it’s something I really want out of my life. For example, I cut out soda about 10 years ago and I don’t even think about it now, whereas when I tried to moderate it, I ended up wanting it all the time because I knew I COULD have it. It’s easier for me to give myself strict boundaries. I guess I just like rules. :)

        However, in the context of something like Whole30, my understanding is that it isn’t meant to be a permanent diet (unless you figure out that one of the things you cut out doesn’t agree with you when you reintroduce it). I haven’t done it myself, but those I know who have found themselves eating better than they usually would (more veggies, no processed junk) and that carried over somewhat after the diet ended. I think that’s different than cutting out entire food groups permanently, which I wouldn’t agree with unless you really found that one of them was having a negative effect on you.

        • 25

          Yes, Whole30 is definitely not meant to be a permanent thing – and I’m glad that those who you know who have done it have been able to continue to eat better/in a way that feels good for them moving forward. That’s not always what I see happening, hence this post. :)

  12. 26

    Hi Anne! The Whole 30 reminds me of an elimination diet that is recommended to see what food triggers your allergies or intolerances. The difference is that you don’t cut out so many groups of foods with an elimination diet, only the perceived trigger foods and then you slowly incorporate them back in to see how your body reacts. For me, the Whole 30 wouldn’t be sustainable because my body doesn’t respond well to drastic changes. I also love coffee and it brings me joy so I’m not giving it up! :) It works for some people, but I feel like the planning required for it and the discipline would stress a lot of people out.

  13. 29

    I love this post! I used to follow a lot of Whole30 people on instagram, and have since unfollowed many. While there were some that had positive outcomes, I followed so many that didn’t. They were admittedly miserable, and constantly “starting over” because they “were bad” and broke the rules. That’s no way to live!

  14. 30

    I loved reading your thoughts on this. I completed Whole30 at the beginning of the year and literally the day after it ended, I binged on everything I had been denying myself. I have no health issues (thank goodness) so I did the program to lose a few pounds (terrible idea), but I sabotaged myself by eating any and everything the week after I finished. I have actually come to realize that by telling myself I am not on a diet means that I don’t crave or binge on “bad” food.. I simply eat it if I want it and then move on. It feels like a weight has been lifted off my shoulders knowing that I can eat any thing I want whenever I want. I’m not breaking any diet rules because I don’t have any rules! I feel like I have gotten my life back after several years of disordered eating.

  15. 32

    I agree with this completely! I followed a paleo diet for a while and then did a Whole30. It really messed with my idea of what was healthy. My eating became so disordered that I really couldn’t identify which foods were healthy and which were not. I did not feel any better on the Whole 30 and my cholesterol skyrocketed. Now I’m working with a dietitian in my area (Seattle) to undo the damage I did on Whole 30.

    • 33

      I hear from so many people and clients who have had similar experiences to yours. I’m so glad to hear you have taken action and are working towards a healthier relationship with food under the care of a dietitian!

  16. 34

    This is SOOOO true. I think the diet that really worries me is the Adkins diet – the idea of eliminating all carbs from your diet. I see people on these diets consuming plates of bacon, eggs, cheese, etc. It is so hard on your body, not to mention the nutrition deficits from eliminating entire food groups. People then tend to associate bread as BAD, pasta as BAD. I wouldn’t want to know life without bread and pasta! :) Great post!

  17. 35

    I love this so much! I (sort of) did Whole30 in January as a hopeful digestive reset/millionth attempt figure out what causes my stomach symptoms. I say “sort of” because I quit on the 26th day, when my super healthy, balanced meals stopped satisfying me, I didn’t feel any better, and all I could think about were things I don’t even usually eat *not* on Whole30 (Pop-Tarts and potato chips come to mind). For a solid week or so after I quit, I tried to eat healthily, but ended up loading up on processed foods before going back to my normal. My normal isn’t unhealthy at all, and it’s certainly not strict.
    I’m just glad that I’m at a place in my life where I could see that continuing Whole30 for a few more days wasn’t doing me any good and get out of it before I got attached. I know what foods don’t sit as well with me, and I can make the choice to eat them or not based on that… not some external guidelines.

  18. 37

    I love this! I hate the idea of saying I “can’t” have something. There are a lot of things I don’t include in my diet, but I make it a choice- specifically, a choice I have control over- i.e. I “don’t” eat fast food. I could if I wanted to, but I don’t want to because of how it makes me feel. A lot of people give food so much power and that level of restriction and guilt can lead a lot of people down an unhealthy path.
    I get that there will be a lot of people who disagree with this point of view, but from my personal experience, I’ve never talked to someone on a super restrictive diet who was loving life and just couldn’t wait to keep it going. Most of them just can’t wait for it to be over!

  19. 38

    Absolutely 100% agreed. I wrote a similar post about why I don’t recommend elimination diets focused more on the GI Health portion of it. A ton of people decide to do Whole 30 to help with GI symptoms which I don’t recommend either. I’m with you, I don’t think it’s unhealthy to do Whole 30. However, if you have GI symptoms elimination diets are stressful and not calculated in their approach to helping you figure out what is flaring your GI symptoms. For example, you may do Whole 30 and feel a bit better but not sure why. You also might think you have an issue with gluten but it’s actually yeast (I see that all the time, more commonly then gluten.) Okay off my soap box….

  20. 39

    I had bought a couple of Whole30 books and was researching the plan, thinking I should give it a go. Then I listened to an interview with the creators of the plan and heard that some of the “verboten” choices were simply arbitrary and not based in anything scientific, so I ditched my plans.

  21. 40

    Ann, I don’t think if Whole 3O as a diet. That’s not the point of the process. The point is that you are removing foods your may or may not be reacting to, which can ultimately affect your body’s level of inflammation or gut health. If you don’t remove something like dairy or gluten, to give the body a break there’s no way of knowing if a particular food is causing your body irritation. I’m suffering from severe adrenal fatigue and I have a module on my thyroid. I’m certain that most of the foods on the Whole 30 to be avoided list are causing my body problems right now(especially gluten!) And keeping me from healing. I need to determine this so that my thyroid can function and remain healthy. I think the Whole 30 is an excellent tool and resource given the current problems with our food system today.

    • 41

      Hi Aimee! I’m so glad you have found Whole30 to be helpful to you in determining the source of health issues – I hope you find what works for you and helps you heal! I get that many people use Whole30 to understand the source of their health/digestive issues, and that it’s often recommended for that sole purpose. However, most people that I talk to (both personally and in my private practice) have used it as a diet, and that’s what I recommend against.

      • 42

        I understand. I just think it’s causing confusion when you refer to it as a diet. That’s not what it was created for, so no one should be recommending it for that use. It could be that the title of your blog post is misleading. For anyone who has used the Whole 30 as a “diet” to lose weight, please refer to the Whole 30 Web Site and you will see, that’s not why it was developed. (You can read Melissa and Doug Hartwig’s story to better understand why they developed the program. They were having health issues that they wanted to get to the bottom of. Losing weight was not one of the goals they had. In doing the program, their health issues cleared up!)

  22. 43

    I never stick to anything that says “you can’t eat this” or “or you can’t do that.” A great and honest review Anne, thanks.

  23. 44

    I appreciate that this hasn’t been everyone’s experience, but over the last five years, I’ve done five rounds of Whole30 and I can say that rather than creating disordered eating habits in me, it helped me examine the root cause of the disordered eating I already had and learn to eat differently. I learned how different foods affected me and learned how to make food choices based on that knowledge instead of based on guilt, which is how I always ate before. I became so much more aware of how food affects my energy levels, sleep quality, moods, and immune system. I learned not to think of food as good/bad or clean/unclean but as more nutritionally dense and less nutritionally dense.

    That said, I did a couple of my Whole30s with groups of friends and some of them DID go on major binges afterward and feel guilty, just as you described. All the people I know who did that, interestingly enough, did not read “It Starts with Food” or “Food Freedom Forever.” They just found the Whole30 rules online and tried to follow them without understanding why certain foods are cut out, the research that informed the rules, or how to reintroduce food after 30 days.

    I think it mostly comes down to the way people approach it. I’m not surprised that so many people have had the experience you describe. A lot of folks live with food guilt and there’s something in us that thinks we’ll alleviate that guilt by finding the strictest set of rules and following them precisely. If someone goes into it with what mindset, I can see how Whole30 would be damaging. For me, I was able to replace rules and guilt with knowledge and awareness. I’m really grateful for that lesson. I learned it through Whole30, but I’m sure that’s not the only way to learn those lessons.

    • 45

      I totally agree, Lynn – it does come down to how people approach it, and like you said I’m nervous how many people approach it by just finding it online and wanting to do it as a diet/to lose weight, because that’s what I hear most commonly. I’m so glad to hear that you had a positive experience with it and have been able to move on from disordered eating as a result – that’s wonderful!

      • 46

        Thanks, Anne! And even though I had a different experience, I’m glad you are speaking out on behalf of clients and friends who did not have a positive experience with Whole30. Both perspectives are important for people to hear and it’s good for those who had a bad experience to know that they’re not the only ones and they shouldn’t feel any guilt about it. Thanks for the post!

  24. 48

    Thanks for putting into cognizant words what I have felt for awhile. Unlike you, I’m not an RD or an any way an expert so I never explicitly wrote on this but I think your post is so nuanced and thoughtful and spot on. I don’t recommend a “diet” in general and I think that your comments about the slippery slope to disordered eating are spot on. I’ll be sharing this one. Thanks Anne!

  25. 50
    Sandy Hemsher says:

    Ann, thank you for this post I have thought of trying this but giving up major nutrients would not be helpful. I have major anemia and iron issues so will continue to follow your blog. It’s a slow process to be healthy. I lost 60 lbs when I got cancer. It’s taken almost 4 years to gain 13 lbs. My goal is to be healthy. I started with your protein pancake and tuna salad. I am learning lot from you. Thank you for the blog!!!!

  26. 51
    Roadrunner says:

    Very thoughtful and well considered, Anne…

  27. 52

    Yes! This is EXACTLY why I haven’t (& won’t) try the Whole 30. It took me YEARS to learn to eat intuitively & without guilt. I eat very “clean” 90% of the time, but when I enjoy a treat or go to a party or out for a special dinner, I eat whatever I want without guilt. I have no doubt that the Whole 30 would bring back all of my previous restrictive eating habits & the old guilt & that is NO BUENO!

  28. 54

    So, looking at your replies to posts, maybe what you should say is “I don’t recommend Whole30 for me, and maybe it’s not for everyone”. Because obviously many have benefited from it, from finally learning how food affects us each personally, and how to be able to eat responsibly. These are the things that Whole30 has done for me. I used to eat and feel guilty constantly. CONSTANTLY. Whole30 has given me the ability to not obsess about food, knowing what I can eat and what I absolutely should avoid. Maybe Whole30 isn’t for everyone, but I disagree that you would give it a blanket thumb’s down and not consider that it has helped many.

    • 55

      Thank you for your thoughts, Shari! While the title does indicate a blanket thumbs down, as I say in the post, I understand that some people do Whole30 and benefit from it/are totally fine after (either because they don’t have any predisposition to disordered eating, or because they are using it specifically to diagnose a food intolerance, etc.) I’m glad to hear you were one of those people!

  29. 56

    Having done multiple successful rounds of whole 30 I completely disagree. This program, which isn’t a diet is what some people need to finally change their way of eating and relationship of food. It has turned my life around. I don’t binge on unhealthy food. If I want a piece of cake I will have it. My food choices are more mindful. I eat what my body needs for fuel, as well I mindfully choose what else I want to eat because I might enjoy it. My general aches and pains are gone, they are no longer part of my daily life. Every person has a different reaction to food and once you figure out what makes you finally take control of what you are eating, you need to do it and make it work for you, without guilt!

  30. 58

    You know I’ve felt the same way about many of the “diets” out there. Unless there’s a medical necessity, everyone needs to learn to eat with real food. It’s a necessary part of life so it crucial to building habits & trust around food.

  31. 59

    Great post! My mom is also an RD, and she has long advocated similar principles. I like how you highlighted that these programs can create negative associations with certain foods. Just wanted to commend you on posting this thoughtful post!

  32. 60

    Thank you so much for sharing this post!
    Izzy | Pinch of delight

  33. 61
    Jeanne Chambers says:

    I totally agree with you that the Whole30 is not for everyone…and that there are better ways to lose weight (such as Weight Watchers or other portion-control sorts of diets, where you learn to eat all things in moderation). However, having done one W30 in September, and another W7 (to reset after the holidays), I found it to provide incredible feedback to me on what makes my body feel the best it can feel. Key to this feedback is doing the reintroduction (which took me 3 weeks) in an honest and controlled fashion, and I journaled my reactions to everything. It was obvious that certain things caused a headache, or digestive issues, or achy joints, or hives, or a runny nose, or acne. So, now that I can eat whatever I want, I know exactly how I will have to pay for it later. I would recommend the W30 to anyone who has inflammation issues anywhere in their body (like perhaps from Lyme Disease ;) or arthritis, or having food intolerances which they don’t know about) OR people whose eating has become so disordered from eating out a lot/eating a lot of junk/having food cravings. For me, the W30 was a game changer and I feel better than I have in years. As a side product, I have also lost some weight…NOT as much as I probably would have on a different plan, but it is staying off with no effort, since I am now not eating those things which triggered my disordered eating in the first place. :)

  34. 63

    Thank you, Anne, wonderful blog post. I went on the South Beach diet a few years ago and it definitely led to disordered eating. I spent so much time trying to figure out what I could eat and what I couldn’t. (Beans! I struggled because I couldn’t find out if BEANS were allowed on Phase 1 – what kind of crazy diet makes you WORK to determine if beans are allowed.) Anyway, that was the only elimination diet I’ve ever tried and it turned me into a crazy lady.

    Keep up the good work.

  35. 64

    I very much agree with all of this :)

    I’d also be curious to hear your thoughts on Carb Cycling and/or Intermittent Fasting…I feel like I’m seeing that pop up all over social media/the fitness world.

  36. 66

    Whole30 is not a weight loss program. A huge rule is that you’re not even allowed to weigh yourself while on the plan. You also don’t count calories, which is what always led to my disordered eating. Counting calories makes me obsessive.

    Nobody is rounding people up and forcing them onto this plan. People make the decision to eat this way to reset their relationship with food. Nobody is a victim here. If people want to blame the program for feeling deprived they aren’t ready to do the plan. And that’s okay. But I never felt deprived. I felt strong, and in control of my life and my health.

    And when the plan was over, I reintroduced the food I eliminated for 30 days. And some days I ate a lot of bread, or sugar. And never once felt guilt, because that’s the point of the plan, to be an adult who is empowered to make the food choices that are best for you. And the creator of the plan is very honest that there are bumps in the road on the way to that food freedom. So, I never felt guilt. What I did feel was bloated, nauseous, headaches, exhaustion, heaviness, mood swings, and itchy, flaky skin. And I got bored with food. And I longed to feel as good and eat as well as I did when I was “depriving” myself.

    You’re entitled to your opinion. No plan is perfect, or the solution for everyone. But I do think this article shows a supreme lack of understanding of the program as a whole, and and that the specific criticisms here are due to your short sightedness and not the failings of the plan itself.

    • 67

      I stand by what I said, based on what I have seen from my clients and friends who have done Whole30 as a diet (which, many people do, even if it’s not for that purpose) and had it lead to disordered eating down the road. I’m glad to hear it worked for you!

    • 68

      Hi Carrie,
      I 100% agree with you. Whole30 is NOT a weight loss program, and the “restrictions” (I use that term loosely because, as you know, if you follow the program correctly, you don’t feel as if you’re restricting yourself at all) are not designed to result in weight loss. If someone is approaching Whole30 as a diet/weight loss tool, they’re already approaching it the wrong way and not following the program correctly. Whole30 is not a crash diet or meant to be a quick fix. It is much, much more involved than that and the benefits (identifying food intolerance, reversing auto-immune issues, lessened anxiety and insomnia, to name a few) go much deeper than simply shedding a few pounds. Reading the Whole30 book would be a great start, before denouncing the program completely. In regards to seeing a result of disordered eating, reading the follow-up book, Food Freedom Forever, would answer many questions as well. Could someone approach this program incorrectly, not follow program correctly and perhaps battle disordered eating as a result? Sure. However, that’s a lack of knowledge and research on their part, not the program’s. Nearly ANY “diet” or meal plan can be misconstrued and can lead to disordered eating if the person is already prone to such things. A paleo diet or vegetarian diet, for example, COULD lead to the same thing. Similarly, many workout programs can lead to exercise addiction, injury or unhealthy body image, but that doesn’t mean we should go around denouncing every new fitness plan on the market. My point here is that we’re all responsible for our own bodies. As someone who’s battled an eating disorder in the past, I know my triggers and what works and doesn’t work for me, and that’s my responsibility. I feel like the people against Whole30 clearly either don’t understand the program, or haven’t taken the time to do the necessary research.

  37. 69

    Great post! I love your perspective. You have really inspired me to be a more intuitive and not so obsessive!

  38. 71
    TrackBuddy says:

    I think this is a very well-thought-out, very valuable post – so glad you added this to the conversation, Anne!

    My two cents – when I tried the W30 a few years ago it was more in the spirit of experimentation with”eating healthier” and curiosity if there were any specific foods that were bothering me. My experience was mixed:

    – On the plus side, I gained an appreciation of new ways to sneak more vegetables into just about every meal. These are techniques I still use today, and I think it took the full 30 days of not relying on my usual go-to foods (which are fine, just not all of them amazingly nutrient-rich) to establish some new routines.
    – On the negative side, I felt (and still feel) some residual guilt and uncertainty from this approach around specific foods. I’ve always been fortunate enough to have a peaceful relationship with food so everything’s fine overall, but I think it’s important that you highlighted the potential for feeling guilty that can come with this approach (likely more common for people like me who are very into following rules and prone to feeling guilty over minor infractions anyway lol).

    So, this is why I’m really glad you posted this – I haven’t seen anyone else highlight this as a possible “side effect” if you will of the W30. My experience was probably a slight net positive with little harm done, but still very helpful to know that it’s not just me responding this way!

    • 72

      Thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts! I’m glad to hear it was mostly a net positive – but you are definitely not alone in those guilty feelings. Part of why I wanted to publish this (even though I knew there would be some backlash!) was because I know that it can help to see that others felt the same way – not just you! And/or I hope this will make people more aware of what could happen if they do decide to try Whole30 (or something similar).

  39. 73

    I like the post very much, agree with you. Thanks for sharing!

  40. 74

    Sometimes critiquing a diet gets more response than the actual diet.
    As a dietitian, I back you up. And at the same time tell the people that say that it’s helped them, “Eat what you like and makes you feel good. Just don’t obsess over food.”

  41. 76

    Great post Anne. If there’s a diet out there, I’ve probably tried it! My weight has been up and down since an early age until I recently lost a couple of stone by just being sensible. I guess it came with age, haha. I don’t restrict myself to not eating certain foods though, that’s never worked for me but I guess everyone’s different.

  42. 77

    Very well said! It really really bothers me that so many people turn to restriction for X amount of days in order to lose weight…it will never stick and it makes people feel guilty about foods that they love. It’s sad for me to hear people chatting about how they can’t have this or that…yes, you can people! Have it, enjoy it, move on! Unless its an allergy/intolerance of course but that’s not what we’re talking about…okay I’ll stop now. I’m on your team for this post all the way hahhaa

  43. 79

    I just want to say that as a fellow RD, I am so happy that you wrote this post and that you are taking the time to read the opinions of those who agree AND disagree with you and respond with respect and understanding. Thank you so much for taking the time to write all of this out and respond appropriately – you are a very good role model for other Registered Dietitians.

  44. 81

    I very much value your thoughts and your blog. I so appreciate you taking the time to share about Whole 30 and how it can indeed trigger disordered, restrictive eating. Thanks for being a voice of reason and for advocating for intuitive eating!

  45. 82

    I do think it’s worth mentioning, both here in the comments, and in your blog post, that the creators of Whole30 specifically state that this is not a plan for those with disordered eating. I personally am a fan of Whole30 and have done one (for non weight loss reasons). Regardless of my personal experience I feel this post may have given the program a slightly unfair spin. Melissa Hartwig is very upfront, openly acknowledges and agrees with your characterization that Whole30 is definitely not for those with disordered eating.

    With that said, I fully understand why someone in your field would dislike the program and respect your opinion. I just would like to see credit where credit is due! The creators of Whole30 are not blind to the concerns you raise. If you read into the website they clearly state this in numerous places. (Fully admit this could be made clearer in the initial reading material though)

    • 83

      That’s awesome that they state it’s not for those with disordered eating – I didn’t realize that, so I appreciate you bringing that to my attention. That said, I believe that Whole30 and other similar diets (when, as I mentioned, they are used as diets vs. as a way to figure out food intolerance) can TRIGGER disordered eating. So while I love that they have that disclaimer, and I’m sure it does lead some people to avoid it, I don’t know that everyone going into it would see that and realize they shouldn’t do it – they may be susceptible to disordered eating and not yet realize it or want to admit it. Does that make sense? Anyway – thank you for your thoughts, I appreciate it! :)

  46. 84
    Rose, RD, LD says:

    Anne–you are preaching to the choir with this post! I wish people who know I was an RD would stop telling me they are doing this diet. I am so for everything you wrote about in this post and 100% agree that while doing something like this can have its merits for some people, that at the end of the day food should not be dichatomized as good vs. bad.

    Because sometimes I have a habit of being too close minded on things like this, I thought for the sake of relate-ability with clients, I’d try to eat whole 30 for as long as I could last to see if maybe this was one situation where the science wasn’t 100% there. I ate that way for 3 days before I went absolutely insane. I was eating way more fruit than normal, went through a jar of almond butter in 3 days, and even though I could eat as much as I wanted I for the life of me could not stay satisfied. The 4th day, I had a donut for breakfast and tortilla chips with dinner and satisfied those cravings. I probably ate less food the day I went off whole 30 than the 3 days I tried it out.

    From doing that “trial” I now have even more proof and perspective as to why I wholeheartedly DO NOT recommend this diet for any of my clients (or friends for that matter!).

    Thanks for sharing.

  47. 85

    I appreciate that you want people to avoid disordered eating, but I think this article really misses the mark. Have you read “It Starts With Food” or “Food Freedom Forever” or followed Melissa Hartwig on social media? Your comment on the kale salad and the cupcake could have come right out of her mouth. The whole program is about redefining your relationship with food, not just the “rules” that get all the attention.

    You don’t count calories or weigh yourself on the W30. I also think that if you have developed disordered eating patterns then you are not truly doing the W30 and quite possibly have not read the books and/or have other underlying issues. I don’t think the W30 is any more outrageous than expecting people to be able to eat mindfully in a society that bombards us with unhealthy options.

    Our society is all about quick fixes and the fact that people incorrectly follow the W30 is not the fault of the program. This negative publicity from someone who has a pretty wide audience is unfair to the true spirit of W30.

    • 86

      You are right that if people follow Whole30 incorrectly, it’s not the fault of the program. But I still stand by what I said because I see people using it incorrectly often with adverse affects, and felt it was worth talking about. Thank you for sharing your thoughts – I appreciate it!

  48. 87

    Hi Anne- thanks so much for sharing your honest opinions about this diet. I am also a dietitian and it is sometimes hard to feel like I need to filter myself or else I will offend someone if I disagree with their diet. Seeing this post was like a breath of fresh air :)

  49. 89

    Thank you for writing this. I’ve thought about trying Whole30 several times and what puts me off is the restrictive nature of it. I’d end up obsessing over every little thing I eat instead of enjoying food and eating healthy.

  50. 90

    Excellent post, Anne! You hit the nail on the head for me with my experience with Whole30. Did I learn a bit more about reading ingredient labels? Yep. Did I pay more close attention to what foods made me feel my best? Yep. Did I uncover some causes of digestive distress? Yep. But, I also felt very guilty (and sometimes still do!!!) eating something not whole30 approved. I am a rule follower through and through, so completing the Whole30 also taught me that doing something like that is NOT the best option for me or my personality type. Love your messaging and what you are doing :)

    • 91

      Thank you Tara. :) I’m sorry to hear you still have some of that lingering guilt, but being aware of it is a big step towards changing it.

  51. 92
    Corinne Morris says:

    Elimination diets have been around a long time. They do contribute to binge eating and anorexia. Younger women have turned it into a food religion. It’s not magical. The results only last as long as you do, able to stick it out. The minute you step away from the rigid rules the weight comes back and other symptoms do, too. Mini resets are used to compensate for the mini binge and those who are secretly led by the scale. Why do you need a mini reset if you eat off plan ingredients. Eating one bite and throwing the rest in the garbage. That’s not food stability.

  52. 93

    I tried Whole 30 and had to stop because of the emphasis on meat. I’ve never eaten much meat and making it such a large component of my diet was something I wasn’t comfortable with.

  53. 94

    Hi Anne,
    I was wondering if you read the books for that go along with the plan? I believe there are a couple, one that goes into detail about the research behind the plan, why to try it, and how to follow it. Then there is a follow up called Food Freedom, that sounds like a great read.

    • 95

      No, I haven’t! Thanks for the heads up!

      • 96

        Hi Anne,

        I appreciate your thoughts, and you certainly are entitled to your opinion, but I can’t imagine saying that you can’t recommend this diet if you haven’t even read the books to understand what the diet is actually about. Sure, it won’t work for some, but it’s each person’s responsibility to go into a diet educated about what they’re actually doing. It seems clear to me from the comments above that most people didn’t bother to do that. I’ve done 3 Whole 30’s over the past 2 years, and it has been life changing. I also have Hashimoto’s (thyroid issues), and this helps tame the beast. Your post should have come with a disclaimer that you haven’t researched this diet and it was based solely on the opinions of other people’s experiences who may or may not have had a full understanding either.

        That being said, I’m not trying to be all rah-rah Whole 30. I hope that everyone finds what works for them, and I can see you want that too!! :) So, let’s just say we can agree to disagree?

        • 97

          Yes, let’s agree to disagree. I appreciate and respect that your opinion is different from mine, but I stand by what I said. And as I noted in the post, I didn’t write this post geared towards those with medical concerns or food intolerances. For Hashimoto’s in particular, a gluten free diet tending towards paleo is absolutely helpful, and I realize that. This post is for people doing Whole30 as a diet/weight loss tool, and yes, people should read more about the diet and its actual intentions before they actually do it, but that doesn’t change the fact that they aren’t always. I have been in private practice for 4 years now and I see this all the time. Therefore, I thought it important to share this post, because like you said, all I want is for people to do what makes them personally feel their best and happiest, and if this post helps anyone, then it was worth it. Thanks for your insight – glad you have found what works for you!

          • 98

            Thank you, Heidi! I am actually familiar with the whole30, which I did for medical reasons. As much as that type of eating has been helpful for me and my health, it has also been a constant struggle because I have experienced some of what you discuss as well. There is a VERY rigid culture surrounding whole30, especially in their forums that is very much a morally good or bad foods type of culture (though they would say that is not the case). I have seen people call out literally anything that a person enjoys as being “swypo” like food is never supposed to taste good or be enjoyable. There is definitely a fine line and whole30 crosses it sometimes. I think you’re right not to recommend this particular diet, but I do hope you share the benefits of paleo, AIP, or similar with your clients/patients who could benefit from removing inflammatory foods in a more gentle and less rigid way.

  54. 99
    Corinne Morris says:

    I have read all of the books, including FFF.

    Taking one bite and throwing all of the rest out into the garbage is not food stability. It’s disorder. If you go on a mini jaunt and have to immediately start a mini-reset, that’s not stability either.

    If it’s impossible to maintain after 30 days, with a need to constantly keep starting over again – hence, the need for a mini reset for the mini binge; when do you ever learn to be comfortable eating your food and simply moving onto the next meal. If the punishment for eatiing off plan ingredients is quickly, quickly a mini reset is now required – that’s creating more disordered eating. Guilt with price of penance looming, always in the back of your mind. Hit the mini reset. I ate a gluten free muffin top, gluten free donut or easter egg, with full confession and absolution for my food sins.

    If it’s so worth it in the heat of the moment to eat the one bite, why is there a mini reset immediately following that event. That’s confusion and doublespeaking, what kind of food freedom is that?

  55. 100

    I love that you approached this from the emotional eating perspective! I think so many people forget that underneath the dieting and restricting is actually some negative thinking patterns and attitudes towards eating. I’d love to see/read more about this from an RD’s perspective. I’m a therapist and see my clients struggles frequently with disordered/emotional eating.

  56. 102

    I went several years thinking foods were “bad” like dairy and potatoes and rice etc. I actually ended my paleo journey when I did a whole 30 with my crossfit gym. I was disgusted by the end. I was up 15 lbs, eating a lot of fat to compensate for my lack of acceptable carbs.

    I was fatigued from obsessing about everything I ate, stressing about eating out, having a beer with friends because it would somehow lead to disease, sickness etc. I guess I am one of those people who does take elimination diets too far. I quit completely and went back to eating the diet I had before which was what I was craving, some processed foods but mainly healthy ones, including grains, beans, etc.

    The weight came off after 3 months, down 15 lb. And it never came back. My body definitely preferred the higher carb lifestyle! I don’t ever want to be in that mindset again where I obsessed about every.single.thing.

  57. 104
    Corinne Morris says:

    Xtina, I am so with you.

    Playing with a donut by your bedside for days on end, should I or shouldn’t take one bite, battling it out with the donut only to feel victorious when you’ve thrown it into the trash is not my idea of a lifestyle way of eating. Giving that much attention to a single bite and then working it off in the gym for hours on end until that 1/2 lb. is gone, I’m over it.
    There’s more to life than juggling with one bite down and another 18 hrs of outexercising it.

    I’m through now. Thanks for being a voice of reason in a nation obsessed with clean eating- contributing to so much disordered thinking and eating.

  58. 105

    Great post, Anne! I love and agree with every thing you said here. Great job pointing out sneaking forms of diet mentality. <3

  59. 107

    I completely agree with everything you wrote here except that the Whole 30 is a “healthy” diet. It’s focused mostly on animal protein and avoids foods with the highest amounts of fiber. Animal products the #1 source of toxins while fiber helps feed our microbiome and rid our bodies of excess hormones and toxins. There isn’t anything healthy about that.

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