By Jennifer Anderson, RD, CDE
Over the last few years I have gotten more questions regarding the Whole30 diet. The more questions I got, the more I wanted to learn about it. For me, the best way to learn a diet is to go on it, so that is what I decided to do.
I started with reading the books on which the diet is based off of, “It Starts with Food and The Whole30.” The Whole30 diet is basically what the name implies, eating only whole foods for 30 days. This is not a long-term diet plan, but rather a short term elimination diet to help a person reset their body so they can ultimately learn how foods are affecting their eating habits and overall health.
The Whole30 diet is similar to the Paleo diet in that it restricts grains, legumes, dairy and alcohol, but slightly more restrictive as eliminates all sugars and sweeteners, natural or artificial. So for most people, it not an easy plan to follow. I learned very quickly, sugar is in everything. As a dietitian, I know sugar is added to foods for many reasons, but even I sometimes forget to what extent. The Whole30 had me looking for added sugars (ie. sugar, words ending in -ose, syrup, juices) in the ingredient portion of the food label much closer than I normally would.
Bacon, sausage, spices blends are foods I have eaten in the past and not really thought about the added sugars. I quickly learned, it’s not easy to find bacon or sausage without sugar. I also learned I didn’t need as much sugar/sweetener as a once thought I did.
Another thing I learned from trying to eliminate sugar, eating out socially is more challenging. Sweets or desserts are typically the go to foods for celebrations and also for when we are feeling stressed, angry, bored or depressed. Eliminating sugar definitely forces you to find other ways to deal with all these emotions, more often than not, without food.
As I mentioned above, sugars is added to foods for many reasons, especially when it comes to restaurants. Besides adding sweetness, sugar helps with texture and mouthfeel. It also helps with fermentation and preservation. Before going the Whole30, I thought eating out really won’t be that challenging on the Whole30 diet because meat and vegetables were allowed. However, I did not think about how often restaurants add sugars to meats, salad dressing and even vegetables. While I did eat out on the Whole30 plan, it was definitely less often due to the lack of options.
Typically I am not a fan of diets that eliminate whole food groups. However, I’ve learned over the years, sometimes people need defined rules. I found this to be true for myself on the Whole30. Moderation is hard to define. Is once a week moderation, maybe twice a week? Often, we tell ourselves we are eating something in moderation but really it’s not. When we have a rule that says you cannot have this food, you cannot have it, end of story. I’ve had patients tell me many times in the past, I know just can’t have this certain food because I can’t have it moderation. Prior to the Whole30, I was drinking diet soda in what I told myself was moderation, however, it was probably more often than I really would define moderation. When I went on the Whole30 and told myself you can’t have it, I didn’t have it at all for a whole month. Sometimes, having a defined rule helps.
Overall, the Whole30 is about eating whole foods. Eating whole foods takes work. One of the reason we eat so many processed foods is they’re convenient and typically quick and easy. To be successful on a plan like the Whole30, you have to plan and prep ahead. This a good thing. For so many of the people I see, food takes a backseat to many other things in their life. How we fuel our body is such an important part of our overall health. As a dietitian, I eat pretty healthy but still fall into some of the same bad habit that everyone else is prone too. Being on the Whole30 did force me to think more about my food choices and spend more time planning and prepping which ultimately lead to consistently better food choices.
With so many typical breakfast options being eliminated, I struggled with figuring out what to eat for breakfast. Like a lot of people, I don’t like to spend a lot of time on breakfast, therefore, I leaned heavily on eggs as my breakfast option. In the most recent version of the dietary guidelines for Americans, they did remove the limit on dietary cholesterol because ultimately saturated fat intake, weight and inactivity have a bigger impact on blood cholesterol. This should mean eating eggs everyday shouldn’t have much effect on cholesterol. Unfortunately, for me, it did make my cholesterol go up about 30 points higher than normal. Since eggs are a great protein source and tend to be fairly quick and easy, I would still be ok with someone eating them frequently in the morning but would encourage fewer whole eggs and more egg whites to cut back on the cholesterol.
So if you are thinking about trying the Whole30, I would say go for it. Just remember it’s the Whole30, not the Whole365. For most people, it’s restricts too many foods to be sustainable for the long haul. Also keep in mind, the Whole30 is ultimately not a weight loss plan, even though you may drop a few pounds. It will help you think more about your food which will probably lead to more planning and prepping ahead. I know it did for me. Also, you may break a few bad habits (like less processed foods) and help you develop a few better eating habits (like eating more whole foods). You can’t go wrong with that!