Rebooting Your System through the Whole30® Diet
Many people who go on diets are trying to lose weight and improve their appearance. Others focus on specific, serious health issues such as diabetes or high cholesterol.
But not all of them. I recently stumbled across a diet that goes beyond weight loss or life-threatening illnesses: the Whole30 diet. The theory behind it is that your body could have a problem with common foods, and that by eating them, you could be triggering allergies, joint pain, inflammation and other ailments. These problems may be mild and manageable, but the drag you down and have a negative impact on the quality of life. The tricky thing is that different foods cause different reactions in different people, so a food that causes problems in one person may not affect another. This makes a single, long-term diet plan impossible. Intrigued, I decided to look more deeply into this diet and share my findings.
Segment on Whole30 Diet on ABC's Nightline
The Whole30® Diet
The diet caught my attention with a big promise: to change your life in 30 days. How? By eliminating all foods that might contribute to inflammation or other health problems for a period of 30 days. After that, you re-introduce them, one-by-one, and observe the results. If a certain food type is causing you trouble, you’ll figure it out and can keep it out of your long-term diet.
The appeal is understandable. The Whole30 website summarizes the point of the diet in a simple, understandable way: "Think of it as a short-term nutritional reset, designed to help you put an end to unhealthy cravings and habits, restore a healthy metabolism, heal your digestive tract, and balance your immune system."
The woman behind the Whole30 diet knows her stuff. Melissa Hartwig, a sports nutritionist, co-founded the program in 2009. The program has been steadily growing ever since, with diet advice complemented by books, an online community, and a newsletter.
What is Inflammation?
Whole30 targets food that could be causing inflammation. If you don't know what inflammation is, don't stress. Inflammation is what it sounds like – tissues that become irritated and swell up, for example, around a cut as it heals. Usually inflammation is a normal tool of your immune system: it is a sign that your body is protecting itself and fighting disease. It is an important part of the healing process.
But sometimes inflammation kicks in when there's nothing to fight against. It never goes away, and becomes chronic. This can lead to many unpleasant conditions, for example:
- Joint pain, arthritis
There are other, more serious ailments that can result from inflammation. For any problem you experience, it is best to consult your doctor for a professional opinion. But your doctor may bot pick up on a mild ailment. These are something the Whole30 diet might help you catch.
Implementing the Whole30 Diet
The Whole30 diet is straightforward and doesn’t involve calorie-counting or food-weighing – two tasks I find odious. Instead, you completely cut out the following foods for 30 days:
- Sugar, and also artificial sweeteners
- Anything made from grains, including bread, cake, rice, and pasta
- Legumes – we're talking beans
- Dairy products – say goodbye to ice cream
- Alcohol – cry me a river on this one
- Chemicals such as MSG and preservatives
Whole30's website provides more detail on what is allowed and what is not. Another recommendation is that you do not get on a scale or measure your waist size for the entire 30 days. That sounds harsh, but the main idea is not to lose weight - it is to eliminate foods that cause your body harm.
A Whole30 Meal
What You Can Eat
You might be thinking that there's nothing you can eat on the Whole30 diet. Not true! Your choices are limited, but that makes following the diet easier. Chow down freely on these food items:
- Veggies: You can go to town on vegetables. My advice: stock up on frozen vegetables, especially spinach, broccoli, cauliflower, and green beans (these do not count as legumes).
- Potatoes: You can eat potatoes! Just don't fry them or eat fries or potato chips. Bake them, boil them, but try to eat them with the skins, where the nutrients are.
- Coffee: Without this Whole30 would fail, so enjoy! Just avoid milk and sugar. Once you go black, you'll never go back.
- Meat, fish and poultry: All these are fine and in fact critical. Best to eat lean cuts, e.g. chicken breasts or lean meat.
- Fruit: Yes, you can eat fruit. Just don't go crazy on it. You can also use fruit juices as a sweetener.
Why would you consider going on a diet?
Main Challenges and How to Handle Them
Cravings. In the beginning, your body craves food it’s not getting. One theory of cravings is that bacteria in your gut feeds off certain foods. When you stop giving it to them, they send signals to your brain that trigger cravings for that food. Not satisfying these cravings is the main reason diets fail. Fortunately, this is easy to combat. First, remember that the bacteria sending the signals will die off for lack of the food in question. The cravings will then stop. Second, you can fill up on a health food, like broccoli. This may not be fully satisfying but your stomach will eventually inform your brain that it is full, which dampens the effect.
Social. Another huge problem with restrictive diets is the social side. If you live and eat alone, this may not be a problem. But many people will eat with family who don’t go along with the Whole 30 concept, and if you want to go out with friends you’ll be faced with many opportunities to cheat. The short answer to this issue is not to start if you don’t think you can do it. Nothing’s wrong with that — you have simply decided that your social life is your priority. And that’s fine. But you will also find that explaining what you’re doing will generate understanding and sympathy. You might even find a friend or two who would like to join you on the Whole 30 challenge.
I Need My Booze
What to Expect
If the diet is successful, you will have lost about 7 lbs after 30 days. Many people report that aches, especially, in joints, disappear. Energy levels will be higher. Confidence boosted. Does this mean you should keep on the diet forever? No. The diet is too restrictive and could be denying your body nutrients it needs. However, if you feel much better then there’s a high probability that something you were eating was not good for your body. Now the challenge is to pinpoint what that was.
After the 30 days, you add one ingredient back into your diet every week. So, for example, you might add back dairy. You can even do it more slowly: for example, add only milk, then yoghurt. If you have the patience, this is a better approach. If no ill effect result, that food can remain in your diet. Then move on to the next food. Like beans.
My Whole30 Challenge
As a service to my readers who are intrigued by the Whole30 diet but not ready to take the plunge, I will embark on the Whole 30 Challenge immediately upon publishing this article. I will document the experience and post the results in a follow-up story. My stats:
- Weight: 189 lbs (81 kg)
- Belly circumference: 42 inches (107 cm)