I’m wrapping up my Whole30 this weekend, and if I’m being honest, I’m so glad it’s coming to an end.
Let me start with what I liked about it.
I love that the program focuses on eating real food and cutting out artificial junk. Especially if you’re coming from a Standard American Diet (SAD), this might be the first time you’re trying out new vegetables, spices, and meats. While I had been cooking at home quite a bit prior to the program, I basically started cooking every single day, and loved it (except for the neverending dishes!). Because I cooked at home, I saved a lot of money by not eating out. My husband and I would spend about $150 on groceries per week, which felt like a lot at the time, but it actually ended up saving us hundreds of dollars because we weren’t going out at all! Previously we would “treat” ourselves to a nice dinner at least once a week, and cutting that out made a big difference to both our health and wallets.
I definitely noticed some physical changes as well. The program encourages you to focus on NSV’s (non-scale victories), such as increased energy, clearer focus, and better skin. I wish I could say that these were true for me, but they’re just not. I struggled with energy the entire time, and while I had less digestive upset, going to the bathroom was actually worse than it was before. That being said, I did lose a total of 6 lbs, and can tell that a lot of it came from belly fat. So for that I am grateful and am loving that my clothes fit better again! I even fit back into my wedding dress after 2 weeks, which was a huge victory for me! I also tried out a bunch of new recipes, and have some keepers for the future.
Now for what I didn’t like so much...
As a Health Coach, I teach my clients that above all, it is important to listen to their own bodies. Not to their friends, their coworkers, or celebrities touting the latest diet (even if it’s a healthy one that focuses on real food!). The truth is that nutrition is complicated, and there is no one way of eating that works for every single person on this planet. While I know this intuitively, I was feeling out of balance before I started the program, and thought that following someone else’s approach would work for my body. I was also inspired by my friends who have done so well on this diet, that I was convinced it would work for me as well. But...
When it comes down to it, Whole30 does not encourage you to listen to your own body.
Some people like to snack, others find that skipping breakfast works for them. Whole30 does not allow for any movement outside its rules. There is no celebration of food, and any sort of indulgence is demonized. Even fruit is off limits if it’s eaten alone as a “treat” or dessert. And anything you might come up with that is enjoyable to you (paleo pancakes on the weekend, anyone?) is expressly off-limits as well. The website reads like something I remember from my strict Catholic high school days: “Don’t you dare try to bend the rules or you will be smitten! Even THINKING about doing the wrong thing makes you a bad person and you will pay!!” Well, in their words it’s actually:
“Do not try to re-create baked goods, junk foods, or treats* with “approved” ingredients. Continuing to eat your old, unhealthy foods made with Whole30 ingredients is totally missing the point, and will tank your results faster than you can say “Paleo Pop-Tarts.” Remember, these are the same foods that got you into health-trouble in the first place—and a pancake is still a pancake, regardless of the ingredients.”
I understand that America has an obesity epidemic, but I really don’t think it got there by sitting around the kitchen table enjoying homemade oatmeal cookies with family and friends. I am a strong believer that life is meant to be enjoyed, and I feel that Whole30 leaves no room for that. Its aim is to break your unhealthy connection to food, but it goes so far as to leave no room for pleasure at all.
Speaking of pleasure, it’s almost impossible to have a social life while doing Whole30. While I was eating out too much prior to the program, cutting that out of my life entirely isn’t a balanced approach either. There were many times over the past month that I was invited out to social events, and turned them down because I knew what a hassle it would be to ask the waiter a gazillion questions, have a special order made, and still stress over whether it was compliant or not. What if they cooked my fish in soybean oil? What if a morsel of gluten made it onto the dish? The mental exhaustion involved in even thinking about eating out caused me to shy away from it completely.
I think for me the biggest downside to the program was the constant mental effort it took to make sure I didn’t “mess up”. While I love cooking healthy meals at home, there was no room for a teaspoon of honey in me tea, a bowl of oatmeal, or even a mixed bean salad. I understand that these foods can cause problems for some people, but the program doesn’t take into account that they’re actually very beneficial for others. You can only listen to your body within the framework of what they deem acceptable. In fact, there’s no recognition of the diet ever being the issue if it doesn’t work for you. This article (put out by the authors themselves), admits that it may not work, but the reasons are summed up as “you didn’t do it right” or “you didn’t give it long enough.” They do concede that you may be looking to food to solve a lifestyle problem (which I give them credit for), but there is no mention that diets rich in grains and beans and low in meat actually work very well for a lot of people - not to mention many civilizations throughout history! Whole30 pits itself as the gold standard against all other diets, and for this it loses my vote.
So, to sum it all up...
I went into the Whole30 because I wanted to bring balance back to my body and had seen other people succeed on it. What I learned (once again) was that following someone else’s guidelines in spite of what my own body is telling me is never going to work. Even when I wanted to listen to my body and eat some good quality yogurt or kefir, I felt like I would be judged by the Whole30 community for falling off the wagon. It’s so easy to get caught up in the hype, that you lose sight of why you started in the first place - to get your body humming at its optimum level, fuelling it with the foods it intuitively knows it needs. While I recognize that Whole30 has helped thousands of people (good friends of mine included), I will continue to eat intuitively and guide my clients to do the same.