Giving up a favorite meal isn’t easy, and yet changing the foods you put on your plate could have a positive impact on your body — not just in terms of weight loss, but also physically and mentally.
If you’ve been feeding your body junk and you’re seeing the effects of an unhealthy diet, the Whole30 program might be the right fit for you. Melissa Urban and Dallas Hartwig, certified sports nutritionists and authors of the New York Times bestseller The Whole30: The 30-Day Guide to Total Health and Food Freedom, created this monthlong clean-eating plan in 2009.
This program, which proponents describe as a nutritional reset, doesn’t promise weight loss, but it does promote self-awareness with regards to how your body responds to food.
An Overview of the Whole30 Program
"You can think of the Whole30 like pushing the reset button with your health, habits, and relationship with food,” Hartwig Urban says. “For 30 days, you’ll eliminate the foods that scientific literature and our clinical experience have shown to be commonly problematic in one of four areas — cravings and habits, blood sugar regulation and hormones, digestion, and immune system, and inflammation.”
This program is popular because it emphasizes eating whole foods. And if you’re living with chronic health issues, this program can help you understand how your body reacts to certain foods.
“Over the course of 30 days, you’ll see what improves when you remove potentially problematic foods,” explains Urban, noting that you could see improvements in energy, sleep, mood, focus, digestion, pain, and athletic performance. In addition, you might have decreased incidences of conditions like eczema, migraines, asthma, and allergies, proponents say.
You follow Whole30 similarly to a traditional elimination diet, where you eliminate foods that may be causing you unpleasant symptoms.
“At the end of the 30 days, you’ll carefully reintroduce those foods one at a time, like a scientific experiment, and then compare your experience physically and psychologically.”
Some people refer to the Whole30 program as a diet, but it’s not a diet in the traditional sense. Rather, it’s a nutritional program. So it doesn't involve exercise, portion control, or calorie or macronutrient (carbohydrates, protein, or fat) counting. Additionally, this program isn’t intended for weight loss, although you might drop a few pounds on the plan.
Precautions to Take Before Trying Whole30
A major plus of the Whole30 program is it isn’t exclusive or limited to one particular group of people.
"While we have hundreds of medical doctors and registered dietitians using our program with their patients and clients, you don’t have to be sick to benefit from the program,” Urban says. “If you want more energy, better sleep, improved digestion, and fewer cravings, the Whole30 is for you.”
But before you dive in, it's important to check with your doctor, especially if you’re on prescription medication, if you’ve been diagnosed with a medical condition, or if you have a history of an eating disorder, she warns. After all, some individuals require certain nutritional plans, and Whole30, just like any eating approach, isn’t one-size-fits-all.
Common Questions & Answers
What You Can Eat on Whole30
Now that you know how this program works and the benefits of a 30-day elimination, what are the basic rules of the program? Let’s start with what you can eat on Whole30:
- All vegetables, including potatoes
- Fruit, including strawberries, watermelon, apples, oranges, and bananas
- Seafood, such as fish, oysters, shrimp, and mussels
- Unprocessed meats, including beef, chicken, and pork
- Nuts and seeds
- Olive oil and coconut oil
- Black coffee
What You Can’t Eat on Whole30
Meanwhile, the following foods are off-limits on this program:
- Grains (corn, wheat, rice)
- Added sugar
- Legumes (chickpeas, lentils, soy)
- Processed additives (carrageenan, MSG, sulfites)
- French fries and potato chips
Potential Challenges When Following the Whole30 Program
Due to the restrictive nature of the Whole30, sticking with the program for a full 30 days can be challenging, and it will likely require advance meal planning and preparation. Also, there’s no wiggle room with the program. This plan calls for 100 percent commitment. So if you fall off track midway through the month, you’ll have to start over from day one.
As you begin your monthlong journey, prepare mentally for the possibility of a higher grocery bill. You’ll eat more unprocessed meats, seafood, and nuts on the plan, and these items tend to be pricier.
A Sample 3-Day Meal Plan for the Whole30 Program
Find inspiration for breakfast, lunch, and dinner with the recipe ideas below.
Breakfast: Skillet eggs with leafy greens
Lunch: Tuna salad with lettuce wrap
Dinner: Grilled shrimp with roasted vegetables and zucchini noodles
Breakfast: Paleo breakfast casserole
Lunch: Chopped salad with avocado and grilled chicken
Dinner: Steamed vegetables with grilled salmon
Breakfast: Vegetable fajita omelet
Lunch: Avocado chicken salad
Dinner: Oven-baked ribs with cauliflower rice
Beginner Tips for Success on Whole30
“Many of The New Primal team members have gone through the Whole30 program and understand how great it is to have convenient and compliant products at your fingertips,” Miller says.
How Much Do You Know About the Whole30 Program?
Touted Advantages of the Whole30 Program
There don’t appear to be any studies examining the health impact of the Whole30 program, but Urban explains that this approach could change your life, your taste, your habits, and your cravings. Once you identify problem foods and remove them from your plate, the physical and emotional benefits you experience could motivate you to permanently ban those foods from your life.
“I think one of the pluses of the Whole30 is that it really helps people eat more whole, nutrient-rich foods like vegetables, fruits, lean meats, and healthy fats, while increasing nutrient and fiber intake and reducing added sugar and unhealthy fats in their diet,” says Amy Goodson, RD, a nutrition consultant in Dallas.
Potential Disadvantages of the Whole30 Program
Still, the potential drawbacks of the program are worth mentioning.
“One of the downfalls is that anytime you take out a whole food group, you take out the main nutrient that food group provides. In the case of the Whole30, dairy is removed, thus removing the main source of calcium and vitamin D in the diet, which are required for adequate bone development and maintenance.”
Goodson also highlights whole grains as another missing link with the Whole30 program, which are an excellent source of B vitamins, fiber, and iron.
Although it’s true that you can receive these nutrients from other sources, Goodson explains that you would have to consume 10 cups of spinach for calcium, 4 ounces (oz) of turkey for vitamin B12, 1.5 eggs for protein, one small banana for potassium, and 3/4 oz of salmon for protein — over 450 calories — to get the nutrients found in 103 calories of low-fat (1 percent) cow's milk (or in only 83 calories of fat-free milk).
Last, there is the fact that the program is only 30 days long, which does not translate to developing lifelong healthy habits. Also, the plan doesn’t address portion control — a major downfall for many Americans. Thirty days of eating better is a great start but in the grand scheme of things will not do much to improve your health if you immediately go back to the way you were eating before you started. Unfortunately, this tends to be a common practice, especially after following a program with as many restrictions as the Whole30.
A Final Word on the Whole30 Program
For many people, the straightforward nature of Whole30 and the supportive resources of the plan are a big draw. And many people do claim to feel better, as if they have essentially reset their health, after finishing the 30-day diet.
But some individuals, like those who aren’t able to stick to a restrictive eating plan, may find following the diet too difficult.
Just keep in mind that the plan is not meant to be permanent. After the program, you can reintroduce foods you eliminated in your diet to determine which are serving you best. The idea is that, with this approach, you’ll come up with your own custom eating habits that you can sustain for life.
Editorial Sources and Fact-Checking
- Should You Try the Whole30 Diet? Cleveland Clinic. January 15, 2018.
- Forum. Whole30.
- Whole30 Approved. The New Primal.