I think everyone in my office is doing Whole30 or has just finished one. I have the cookbook sitting on my shelf. My facebook is flooded with posts about friends’ experiences with the diet. And almost everyone raves about it.
I don’t. I hated it. I felt sick for days. Even at the end when I was supposed to feel better, I still felt sick. I wondered if it was because of the medications I take for my nerve condition making me feel weird or if it wasn’t that uncommon – so I did a bit of searching.
Whole30, the worst fad diet?
Is it really worse than the Master Cleanse? US News & World Report ranked Whole30 as one of the worst diets you can do. It’s overly restrictive (one mistake and you have to go back to day one). It makes outlandish claims about health and nutrition that aren’t backed by science. It also isn’t designed to help you lose weight, so if that is your goal, you can stop reading now.
Some critiques included that it unnecessarily restricted healthy food groups. Whole grains can reduce inflammation in the gut, but they are all verboten on this plan. The plan also bans legumes on the basis of their phytate content, but kale has a higher phytate content and is in the plan. So, it’s inconsistent. But worse, it’s wrong to be afraid of these compounds. They are in all plants and even act as antioxidants in the body.
The avoidance of dairy isn’t as problematic – the link between dairy and bone health isn’t as clear as we were taught when we were young. Dairy can also lead to an increased risk of ovarian cancer. But it isn’t all bad. Fermented dairy products such as yogurt or kefir can be helpful for the gut. Treating all dairy the same isn’t a good way to eat healthier either.
The experts also said that it may help with short-term weight loss, but it won’t help you keep it off.Their experts said that Whole30 and the raw food diet were the 2 least healthy of the options that they evaluated.
But, can it make you sick?
It promotes meat consumption, which can increase cholesterol, and it can be quite low in calcium. Neither of which get us off to a good start.
It’s not a good idea to start any diet without talking to a doctor first, but that is especially true when it comes to elimination diets. This isn’t a diagnostic tool (it can’t diagnose you with a sensitivity or problem with certain foods despite its claims). Elimination diets when done properly can find foods causing you problems. I discovered my wheat allergy after an elimination diet I was on while trying to identify a trigger for my migraines.
It can also be problematic for people with a variety of medical conditions who are particularly at risk for nutrient deficiencies. This is likely what happened to me when I tried it – I made myself sicker when I wasn’t getting enough of a few nutrients that my medications deplete.
Does it promote disordered eating?
Friends recovering from eating disorders have drawn a comparison between this diet and restrictions they used to put on themselves. As I looked closer, it made a lot of sense. Whole30 also tells you to avoid “psychologically unhealthy” foods. Coconut milk ice cream or banana nice cream aren’t allowed.
You’re punishing yourself with food. You can’t have kale smoothies. You cut out whole groups of food that are perfectly healthy. You’re adding restriction after restriction to your diet. It’s not hard to see the leap from restrictive diet to eating disorder. Although I’ll stop short of calling the diet disordered eating. It goes beyond food bt restricting your social life with complicated food and makes eating on the go nearly impossible. Any diet can start off feeling like it hinders your social life a bit, but critics of the diet say it encourages people to go too far.
I’ll find other ways to be healthy
This diet just has too many pitfalls for me. From making me sick when I tried it once to the phony pseudo-science behind it, I can’t believe people are doing this diet in droves. I’ve been seeing positive changes just by doing things such as using superfood pastas. Or making my meals ahead of time with grain bowls for lunch. If I decide I need structure, I can always try the Dash Diet, Weight Watchers or Noom.
Mary Fran Wiley is a well known gluten-free and positive living blogger from Chicago where she writes Curiouser and Curiouser, maintains the Chronic Positivity Project, and has been featured in Allergic Living Magazine, Care2.com and Today.com.