I want to start this article by telling you why I’m Melissa Hartwig’s new #1 fan. I think people need to know the kind of person she is. Melissa has written New York Times Bestsellers and was recognized as one of the Top 100 Most Influential People in Health and Fitness in 2017.
First of all, my respect level for Melissa Hartwig is now through the roof. When finding out that I was writing this article on the Whole30, Melissa offered to help me! Not only that, she answered a few of my questions and I’ll post her answers in a few weeks! I want to be VERY CLEAR. In no way did Melissa try to persuade me over to her program, I came to my own conclusions. She simply wanted to help me understand her program. Which is pretty awesome. Melissa caring enough to help me write this article told me so much about her. Melissa has a genuine care for her program, and sincerely wants to help others. I think its important others know that! She won over a new fan. Thank you Melissa! Follow Melissa Hartwig on Instagram for awesome recipes and dieting tips.
If you’re looking for a crash course on ‘clean eating,’ you’ve come to the right place. Let me introduce you to the Whole30. This 30-day dietary reset is all about eating whole, nutrient-dense foods while avoiding commonly problematic foods for 30 straight days. Creators of the Whole30 believe that this 30-day experiment will help you identify foods that negatively affect your health. When you commit yourself to avoid these foods for a full month, they believe you can transform the way you eat for life.
Since I never recommend an eating plan or diet without a full understanding of the program, I’ve done my research, and now reporting back to you! Here’s what you need to know about following Whole30 and how it could change your life.
How it All Started
In 2009, Melissa Hartwig spent 30 days on what she calls a “squeaky-clean” eating program. In an interview with The Fix, she says that before those 30 days, she was using food as a drug. Both food and drugs have the same cycle of craving with the promise of reward, followed by the intense stimulation to pursue this reward.
After 30 days following a heavily regimented diet, Melissa Hartwig completely changed the way she related to foods and she took to her blog to share it with her readers. From that post, Whole30 was born.
Since creating the program, Whole30 has exploded. Melissa Hartwig has written New York Times Bestsellers and recognized as one of the Top 100 Most Influential People in Health and Fitness in 2017 by Greatist. Today, she runs Whole30 with the help of her team, 80 Whole30 Certified Coaches, and trusted advisors in the form of MDs an RDs. She has watched her program grow from an idea to a worldwide movement involving millions of people.
Whole30 at a Glance
Let’s take a closer look at the Whole30 guidelines. If you’re familiar with the program, you know that two lists dictate what participants eat – approved foods and off-limits foods.
The approved foods are common sense. You’re allowed to eat reasonably sized portions of meat, eggs, and seafood. Vegetables and healthy fats, like avocado and coconut oil, get a thumbs up, too. Fruits are also allowed. Food can be seasoned with herbs and spices. As a general rule, they encourage Whole30 followers to keep it simple – fewer ingredients is always better.
The list of foods you can’t eat during your 30-day program is a little more complicated. For people who have been raised to believe that grains, legumes, and dairy are part of a balanced diet, Whole30 might feel like a huge adjustment. In addition to these three foods, any and all added sweeteners are entirely off-limits. Even natural sweeteners, like maple syrup or honey, are a no-go. You can’t drink alcohol while on Whole30 and the rules specifically state that you need to avoid carrageenan, MSG, and sulfites.
Lastly, if you’re tempted to deal with your cravings by recreating your favorite junk foods using the approved list of ingredients, you should know this is against the rules, too. Since the point is to break up with those cravings and old eating habits for good, you can’t even trick yourself into thinking you’re having a cheat day.
Outside of what you can and can’t eat, there are a few other rules. For the entire 30 days, you’re supposed to give up the scale. Even though shedding pounds as a result of fat loss is a benefit for most who follow the Whole30, it isn’t intended to be the focus. Additionally, it’s recommended that you not count calories or track your food at any point during the program. And, if you trip up and eat off the restricted list – game over- you have to restart the entire program from day one.
Why So Strict? The Science of Elimination
Why is the Whole30 program so strict? Often people confuse Melissa Hartwig’s program as being too strict or rigid without understanding the science behind the diet. The Whole30, at its core, is an elimination diet. It’s important to understand this!
There is no ‘perfect’ diet for anyone. We are all created unique and different. Elimination diets are a great way to confirm your food sensitivities and discover your unique tolerance to individual foods. The process works by removing certain foods for a short period and then gradually reintroducing foods back in your diet. The elimination of certain foods helps pinpoint which foods are the culprits for digestive and other health-related issues. When suffering from GI-related problems, elimination diets can be extremely useful. What’s the catch? For the experiment to work, you have to be perfect!
Instead of viewing the Whole30 program as being ‘strict’ or ‘rigid’ think about the program as being a 30-day experiment that requires the elimination of certain foods, so you can learn what your body tolerates and what it doesn’t. Elimination dieting is the foundation on which the Whole30 stands and knowing this process is essential to understanding why Melissa’s program requires you to be 100% perfect for 30-days. To get the maximum benefits, you must commit for only 30 days or the entire experiment is blown!
It’s no secret that the food we eat impacts our entire body. Inflammation, diabetes, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s; I could spend an entire day talking about the impact sugar has on our bodies! We know that certain foods are much harder on our body than others. Many people experience fatigue, weight gain, mood swings, digestive issues, and even chronic disease because of the food choices they make.
The main benefit of Whole30 is that it’s a break from all the junk that is so prevalent in Western diets. This program is a chance for your body to reset and heal. If you think you’re eating clean, I challenge you to give this program a chance. I’m going to bet that your version of clean eating is much different than the Whole30’s version of eating clean!
For others, the Whole30 is a chance for you to experience what life is like without the symptoms that come with a poor diet. In a day and age where we rely on the technology of our smartphones, I’m sure you can relate to how annoying it is when they don’t work correctly. When I’m having problems with my phone, I usually call Apple Care and their standard, go-to solution, is for me to do a ‘hard reset’ on my phone. I say all of that because that’s the way I see the Whole30. Think of the Whole30 as a ‘hard reset’ for your body and for your eating habits!
The founders of Whole30 promise that a month of following their rules will help decrease food cravings and change your food preferences. They believe that 30 days following their rules will give you more energy and trigger a complete lifestyle change. Anecdotally, people who finish the Whole30 program have experienced a ton of different benefits. They have lost weight, seen their skin clear up, slept better, felt more energetic, and developed a greater appreciation for healthy foods.
The research I’ve done on the Whole30 has completely won me over. This might even be my new favorite diet. Let me tell you why.
For starters, I love the fact that the Whole30 doesn’t fixate on the scale. As someone who has been working as a trainer since 17, I know from experience that weight isn’t the best indicator of fitness progress, fat loss, or your health. I’ve written about this many times in previous blog posts. I also know that focusing on ‘the number’ on the scale can have a lot of adverse psychological effects and can trip people up, discouraging them when they don’t see their weight drop as quickly as they would like. We live in a world of instant gratification, but fat loss just doesn’t work that way! Like anything else significant in life, transforming your body takes effort, time, and dedication. The same is true for the Whole30.
I believe Melissa Hartwig is right on when she compares the similarities between food and drugs. This is backed by research. The U.S. National Institute on Drug Abuse performed a study using brain scans, and determined sugar affects our brain similar to the way cocaine and alcohol create addiction.
Right now, it might be trendy to follow Whole30, but there is nothing about the Whole30 program that screams fad-diet. The science behind the Whole30 plan is solid. It’s what I would call ‘intuitive eating.’ The Whole30 program preaches the dangers of sugar and grains while incorporating healthy fats, a stable dose of vegetables and a sizeable amount of protein. It’s all about eating the foods that are going to fuel your body and avoiding the foods that are going to keep you from optimal health.
What I Love Most About Whole30
Let me tell you my favorite part of the Whole30 program. This is one of the only programs I’ve found that addresses how people feel and think about food. This is a big deal. The Whole30 program is more than a set of rules, it’s a deep dive into shaking up your relationship with food. When you stick to the rules, you will be forced to address the emotional and psychological factors that have been keeping you from sticking with healthy eating and achieving your fitness goals. Whole30 spells this out clearly on their website:
“The program is designed to help break unhealthy patterns of behavior, stop stress-related comfort eating, and reduce cravings, particularly for sugar and carbohydrates.”
Each week, I spend 60 hours as a personal trainer. Every day I see firsthand how much power emotional attachment to food or stress eating can have over my clients, even those with a comprehensive knowledge of nutrition. It’s one thing to know the rules of a diet, it’s another thing to stick with those rules when you’re having a hard day, or you’ve let yourself get too hungry or you just really want a large order of french fries! The rigidity of Whole30 addresses your temptations head-on with their policy that cheating means starting over from day one.
For the scope of this article, it’s just too much to cover. BUT if you want to learn more about how to follow the Whole30 or what foods you can and can’t eat, I encourage you to follow my blog over the next 30 days. I’ll walk you through some of those foods. I also recommend you visit the Whole30 website. They have all sorts of helpful materials to guide you along your 30-day journey.
I Don’t Have Many Downsides…
When it comes to the downsides of this diet, I don’t have a lot to say. It’s no wonder that Whole30 has two million fans on social media!
The Whole30 is an elimination diet. It’s strict, but it’s strict for a reason. I’ll note this as a concern because some may struggle with the rigidity of the program. I believe that understanding the science behind elimination dieting will help many who view the Whole30 as being rigid without cause.
Certain personalities may thrive within the rules, they may find that this is the program that finally gets them on-track. Others may hate the rules and need more flexibility. One round of Whole30 might be it for that person, and that’s OK. Try thinking about the Whole30 as an experiment for your individual body. It’s a 30-day period of discovery to figure out which foods your body tolerates best. I’m a big believer in finding the program that feels right, that really motivates you to stick with it, and helps you reach your health goals.
Starting next week, I will be doing the Whole30 program and blogging about my experience at the end of each week. I encourage you to join me on this 30-day health journey!