Did you overdo it with food and alcohol over the holiday season? Or are you seeing the effects unhealthy foods are having on your waistline and health? If so, the Whole30 diet plan may be right up your alley.
“The Whole30 isn’t a diet, per se, but a nutritional reset,” said Jennifer Oikarinen, a registered dietitian with Banner Estrella Medical Center in Phoenix. “It involves cutting out foods that are super hard to give up and focusing on whole, unprocessed foods.”
If you find yourself in a cycle of eating lots of added sugar, highly processed foods and regularly drinking alcohol, Whole30 is meant to recalibrate your taste buds and body to no longer crave those foods while also getting you in touch with what nutrients your body does need.
According to its founders, Melissa Urban and Dallas Hartwig, Whole30 is designed to “change your life.” They claim the 30-day reset is beneficial for your physical and mental health.
Before you jump into this plan, it’s important to understand the pros and cons. Read on to learn the advantages and disadvantages of the Whole30 plan, what foods you can and cannot eat and if this is the right plan for you.
Overview of the Whole30 diet
The Whole30 plan follows a paleo philosophy but with some extra restrictions. It’s not a diet or a weight loss plan that focuses on tracking calories or counting points. Whole30 much more resembles an elimination diet plan.
“Whole30 focuses on eating foods that are not processed, such as fruits, vegetables, lean meats and eggs, and it prohibits sugar, dairy, grains, legumes and alcohol for 30 days,” Oikarinen said. “As well, you’re not supposed to weigh yourself or take any measurements during the 30 days.”
The idea behind this approach is to reset your metabolism and digestive tract. According to some research studies, elimination diets like Whole30 can be an effective tool to help some people with gastrointestinal issues.
“After the 30-day elimination period, you slowly reintroduce foods you eliminated over a 10-day period, one food group at a time, and monitor your body’s response, like does it make you feel tired or bloated,” Oikarinen said.
Why is it 30 days?
They say it takes 66 days to form a habit, but for many, two months can be really intimidating. Thirty days is easier to digest. It’s just a month, right? You can do anything in a month.
What can you eat?
- Unprocessed meat, eggs and seafood (beef, chicken, turkey, fish, shrimp and mussels
- Vegetables (all vegetables, even potatoes!)
- Fruits (all fruits and 100% fruit juices)
- Nut butter (including almond butter), nuts and seeds (almonds, cashews, macadamia nuts)
- Healthy fats (olive, coconut and avocado oils and clarified butter)
- Black coffee
- Herbs, spices and seasonings (including iodized salt)
- Coconut aminos (to replace soy sauce)
What can you NOT eat?
- Sugar and artificial sweeteners (including no white or brown sugar, maple syrup, honey, agave nectar, monk fruit extract or Splenda)
- Grains and gluten (including barley, oats, quinoa, buckwheat, whole wheat pasta and breads)
- Dairy (including cow’s milk, goat’s milk and sheep’s milk)
- Beans or legumes (all legumes except green beans and most peas)
- Alcohol (including alcohol used in cooking)
- Soy (including tofu)
- Fried and processed foods (including French fries, chips, cookies)
What is plant-based Whole30?
In February 2022, Whole30 launched its new plant-based plan. It has a lot of overlap with the original Whole30, but the main difference comes down to protein and fat sources.
While the original Whole30 focuses on lean animal proteins and excludes legumes, soy and peanuts, the plant-based Whole30 uses legumes, less processed forms of soy, unsweetened plant-based protein powders, nuts and seeds to provide adequate protein. It only includes plant-based fats.
Benefits of Whole30
After reading the no-no list, you may want to click away from this article. However, before you do, there are good reasons why some of these foods are off-limits. The hope is that their absence teaches you something, like whether you have food sensitivities.
“The plan has you eliminate foods that often trigger food allergies, intolerances and sensitivities,” Oikarinen said. “Dairy and gluten, for example, are among the most commonly reported food intolerances.”
Some of the other benefits of Whole30 are that it may also help you:
- Control blood sugar levels, which may allow you to have more energy by preventing sugar spikes and crashes
- Restore your metabolism
- Boost your immune system
- Decrease sugar and salt cravings, as it can reset your taste buds
- Increase focus and alertness
- Heal the digestive tract
- Improve sleep
What are the downsides of the Whole30 plan?
While some people rave about Whole30, the eating plan comes under some criticism for its restrictiveness. Whole30 cuts out two of the five food groups, dairy and grains, which are key sources of vitamins and nutrients with numerous benefits.
“Whole grains have essential nutrients, vitamins and minerals, such as B vitamins, selenium, iron and magnesium, that assist with turning food into energy,” Oikarinen said. “Dairy provides many nutrients including calcium, vitamin A, vitamin D and protein.”
Another downside is that if you lose weight during the Whole30 program, it may return if you don't follow a few rules. Keeping the weight off is a matter of adding foods back into your diet with moderation and balance.
“Most people have difficulty maintaining balance when they go off a restrictive diet,” Oikarinen said. “This is when rebound overeating can occur.”
Is Whole30 worth trying?
The main objective of Whole30 can be worthwhile as a short-term reset and to learn more about how your body responds to certain foods. But the plan can be tough and demanding.
As a rule, it’s important to talk to your health care provider or a registered dietitian before beginning any diet, especially if you have a history of eating disorders.
Sample Whole30 plan
The creator of Whole30 recommends eating three meals a day. Here’s a diet meal template to get you started:
Breakfast: Three scrambled eggs with spinach and half an avocado
Lunch: Cobb salad with eggs, half an avocado and turkey
Dinner: Pork chops with zucchini noodles
You can also try out some of these recipes from Skinnytaste:
The Whole30 focuses on unprocessed, whole foods, such as fruits, vegetables, lean meats and seafood and eggs and cuts out processed foods, sugars, dairy, grains, legumes and alcohol.
In the short term, it can help you identify problem foods and maybe even shed a pound or two, but it’s not meant as a long-term diet plan.
If you’re interested in a 30-day reset, talk to your provider or dietitian.
For more nutrition-related articles, check out:
- Everything to Know About the Mediterranean Diet
- A Beginner's Guide to the Ketogenic Diet
- Is Intermittent Fasting Right for You?