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  • Writer's pictureDerrick W. Spell, MD FACP

Don't Waste 1 Day on the "Whole30" Plan!

Many overweight people try to lose weight at the beginning of each year. A new year frequently means another fad diet. A current, trendy option is an extreme form of the “low-carb” Paleo diet called the Whole30 Program. I was recently asked about my thoughts on this program. Since I did not specifically discuss this diet in The Bite-Sized Guide to Getting Right-Sized, let’s learn more about it and why I do not recommend it for weight loss.

The Whole30 Program is a restrictive diet with many rules. The premise of this diet is that not all humans have the ability to properly process and digest certain foods. The plan requires you to eliminate specific foods for thirty days and then bring back each food individually and in a meticulous manner. (This process alone could take many weeks or months!) Authors of the program proclaim that one may potentially identify the foods that are causing health problems like digestive issues or inflammation. This may allow individuals to determine their most appropriate dietary regimen. Weight loss is not the primary goal with the program, though some people may weigh less after 30 days.

The Whole30 Program boasts that you consume “real” food. You may eat meat and seafood. You are also permitted to eat fruits and most vegetables. However, there are a lot of “whole” foods that are forbidden on the diet! (Yet, the plan is still called “Whole”) For example, you are not allowed to enjoy any beans or legumes. This includes red, black, navy, white, lima, kidney and pinto beans. The legume limitation includes peas, lentils, peanuts and chickpeas. You cannot consume any product containing soy. (This one step alone is more complicated than expected!) In addition, you are also not allowed to eat whole grains. This means no wheat, rye, barley, oats, corn or rice!

On the other hand, you may eat meats (like beef, chicken and pork) that are high in both calories and saturated fat. As noted in previous blogs, the long-term consumption of foods high in saturated fats increases the risks of heart disease and stroke. Other potential health risks with the Whole30 plan include micronutrient deficiencies (from the lack of beans and grains) and bowel problems, varying between diarrhea (from the fatty meats) and constipation from the overall lack of fiber (no beans or grains). There are added non-dietary health concerns about the Whole30 Plan. The plan has no official recommendation about fitness. In fact, exercise is not even mentioned in the official Whole30 Program Rules. However, the most disturbing feature is that the plan specifically instructs you “do not step on the scale or take any body measurements for 30 days.” Self-monitoring is an essential skill that one must learn and practice, especially during the first thirty days of any healthful journey.

There are some aspects of the Whole30 Program that are respectable. You are essentially forced to cook at home with fresh products to ensure compliance with program rules. This by itself encourages healthier food choices with fewer calories. Avoiding foods and drinks with added sugar is always a great idea! Added sugars are known to increase risks of obesity and certain cancers. Dialing back the dairy products also makes sense, since milk and cheese are high in both fat and calories. In addition, many people are lactose intolerant and may not be aware. I am also in favor of eliminating alcoholic beverages as you begin your healthful journey. Alcoholic drinks add unwanted calories and increase the chances of making poor eating decisions. (Alcohol reduces self-consciousness which facilitates overeating.) I agree with the concept of eating whole foods; however, my definition of whole foods includes all fruits, vegetables (especially beans and legumes) and whole grains!

We discover in The Bite-Sized Guide to Getting Right-Sized that nothing in the realm of good nutrition resembles a fad. The Whole30 Program is simply the newest craze on the long list of diet fads. (Elimination diets have actually been around for one hundred years!) In addition, the Whole30 Program promotes six different books along with dozens of food promotions and official products. (RED FLAGS!) You can build a strong foundation of nutritional knowledge from my book, without having to purchase special cookbooks or official diet products! You can also learn about the importance of regular physical activity, routine self-monitoring and other useful psychological strategies. Fad diets avoid topics like these, yet they should all be used in combination for successful, long-term weight control!

There are literally thousands of dietary strategies that one can use to temporarily lose weight. The biggest obstacle for most people is the long-term commitment to any plan, especially for the rest of your life! We have all seen friends or family members lose weight successfully for a short while but then gain the weight back (often with more!) over time. This “yo-yo” effect is the main reason I don’t recommend any rigid eating plan. Most people prefer flexibility and autonomy with their meals, otherwise a diet is just not sustainable over time! In addition, you can’t follow any “low-carb” plan long-term without potential serious health risks.

You will only learn to develop your own autonomy if you can make your own food choices! If you want to learn more about autonomy along with useful psychological strategies for successful weight loss, please check out my book The Bite-Sized Guide to Getting Right-Sized!

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