There has been a lot of buzz lately about what is called the Whole 30 Program. Clubs are forming of individuals who are guiding one another through the 30-day journey, your friends are sharing results on social media and maybe your interest is piqued. But really, what is it? I will break it down for you then weigh the pros, cons and really try and get to why it is so popular and/or effective.
The idea behind the Whole 30 is to completely eliminate particular foods from your diet for 30 straight days. The goal of the challenge is not necessarily to lose weight (though hopefully that’s a good benefit), it is to heal your body’s digestive system, reduce systemic inflammation and change your relationship (emotional and physical) to food. Essentially, it is a glorified elimination diet to see which foods are causing fatigue, skin conditions, weight gain, difficulty sleeping, increased stress or digestive discomfort and stomach pain.
An elimination diet is a great idea if you have been living with the symptoms listed above. Really, think hard. It is highly likely that we are all experiencing some form of discomfort, fatigue or increased bodily stress on account of our diet, but chances are we are so used to it that we don’t necessarily put two and two together to see the truth: that food does effect every part of our emotional and physical function. Which foods are the culprits? The following foods are included in the elimination diet for the reasons provided:
Sugar. Increased sugar intake can lead to higher levels of inflammation, which in turn leads to forms of cardiovascular disease and even various cancers. On a basic level, fructose disrupts our feelings of hunger, often leading us to crave more food after eating sugar instead of feeling full and craving less.
Alcohol. Alcohol effects our liver’s ability to quickly detoxify our bodies. When the liver slows down, the body can’t get rid of toxins quickly enough, opening the door to disease. Also, alcohol often contains or is mixed with a high amount of sugar and grains; the combination of the two causes high blood pressure, leading to heart problems down the road.
Legumes. Legumes include all kinds of beans, peanuts (even peanut butter) and all forms of soy. Though these foods are typically seen as “healthy,” they contain a high amount of phytic acid, which bonds nutrients to the food and makes it difficult for your body to absorb the actual nutrients. This can cause inflammation and digestive discomfort in many people.
Grains. Grains are on this list because they are a form of carbohydrate. All carbohydrates effect the hormone insulin in our bodies which helps regulate the levels of sugar in our blood. If our insulin levels are off or the amount of sugar in our blood is irregular, it can lead to obesity, type II diabetes and, in turn, a higher risk of heart disease. Not to mention grains are associated with many digestive problems and could likely be causing you some discomfort.
Dairy. This includes butter, yogurt, ice cream and cheese. About 75% of us can’t digest the lactose found in milk. This is called lactose intolerance. Milk is also full of sugar and saturated fat which is linked to heart disease.
MSG or sulfites. These are preservatives that can cause diabetes, adrenal gland malfunction, seizures, high blood pressure, excessive weight gain, and even strokes.
As you can see, the above foods are obvious choices when it comes to beginning your elimination diet. By removing these foods entirely from your diet for 30 days, you can observe the positive shift in brain and body function. You’ll also greatly reduce sugar cravings, increase your ability to focus and, of course, likely lose some weight. To adhere to the program, however, you have to devote yourself to it entirely. Even a small amount of any of the above foods will overturn your body’s detoxification and healing process.
Here’s the deal. The Whole 30 program is an excellent concept and will help anyone feel great if they can stick to it. This program requires a lot of discipline, something our society does not necessarily promote when it comes to weight loss and better health. However, the Whole 30 program attempts to be a “one size fits all” diet and the simple truth is that every body is different. Those participating in the program are not required to meet with a health professional to discuss their symptoms or goals before starting the program; this is unwise because nutrition experts can help you really pinpoint the foods causing the most problems in your lifestyle. They can also look at your pre-existing health conditions and assist you in the severity of your elimination diet. By eliminating grains and legumes, you will need additional sources of fiber. By eliminating dairy, you will need additional sources of vitamin d and calcium, and so forth.
Another downside of the program is that it will be very difficult to maintain once your 30-day milestone is attained. The theory in itself is perfect: you will build up a mental resistance to these foods so you can turn down the free donuts at the office or the after-work cocktails, but in reality, how long can you put this into practice? Unfortunately, studies prove that even if we have habits built up over a long period of time, we can easily revert back to our old ways if we aren’t careful. I’m not saying it is impossible to maintain the diet, but I am saying it may get tiring and may not even be your best option.
The bottom line is this: the Whole 30 program is founded on an excellent premise. It promotes whole, clean eating and forming a new relationship to food, which is 100% necessary if you want to live a healthy, long life. However, this program is not the only way to attain these results. I recommend you meet with a professional about your dietary concerns, current health conditions, and lifestyle goals. As a wellness profesional, I am more than happy to guide you through nutrition plans, the incorporation of wellness in your routines and the start of a workout program. And if you are on the Whole 30 program (or one like it), I would love to hear about your progress!
Best of health,
Dr. Chad M. Hoffman