Experts Ranked Whole30 as the Overall Worst Diet—How Bad Is It Really?

Updated 02/14/17
Sakara Life

When I first heard about the Whole30 diet—which, according to the website, is "designed to change your life in 30 days"—I was intrigued. I've never been one for playing the long game; I thrive off instant gratification and results I can see in real-time. As a beauty editor, though, I've been taught there's no such thing as a quick fix with dieting. Losing weight (and keeping it off) results from a lifestyle change that stems from healthy, educated choices over a long period of time. Despite that, I'll try anything once, because what if it really does change my life?

I started to deep-dive into research, reading article after article about the diet. Some praised the process, noting the Whole30 focuses on nutrient-dense, "real" ingredients and revamps the way you approach food.

Of the controversial diet, naturopath Taryn Forrelli says, "Some people don't realize how big of an impact a change in eating habits can have until they commit to a regimented plan. [The foods prescribed in the Whole30] encourage the good flora in your gut, also known as your microbiome, to flourish, which can provide a whole host of health benefits for digestion and beyond."

Others weren't sold. In fact, the U.S. News & World Report released a ranking of 38 different diets, and Whole30 was dead last. Dietitian and The Farah Effect founder Farah Fahad, MS, RD, wouldn't recommend it: "I'm not pro removing whole food groups. I subscribe to 'everything in moderation,' including rotating your diet. Would I recommend this? No. We are individuals—we have individual genetic make-up, hormonal balances, metabolisms, food tolerances, lifestyles, and loves of certain foods. Rules are for schools." She continues, "I don't like putting time frames on health. You do 30 days, and then what? That's not how the body works—you have to adopt long-term, sustainable healthy practices."

To get a handle on all the information (more than one million Google searches per month), I read the facts, testimonials, and rules posted on the Whole30 website and talked to a few nutritionists as well. Below, five things to consider before embarking on the Whole30 journey.

It's Meant to Put an End to Your Unhealthy Habits

"Think of it as a short-term nutritional reset," the website reads. "It's designed to help you put an end to unhealthy cravings, restore a healthy metabolism, heal your digestive tract, and balance your immune system."

Bond comments on how it works: "It cuts out the empty calories we've become used to eating, like sugar, dairy, and grains. It challenges your eating habits—it really makes you question why you're eating what you're eating—and it helps you understand what foods fuel your body and make you feel energized."

It's Not for the Faint of Heart

The rules are very specific (you read them all here), but this is the general gist: You can't consume sugar of any kind, real or artificial. So no maple syrup, honey, agave, or Splenda (research shows artificial sweeteners can be dangerous to your health). Next up is cutting out alcohol and smoking—which makes sense—as well as grains, legumes, and dairy. That means no wheat, corn, quinoa, beans, chickpeas, lentils, yogurt, or any form of soy. The last rule, though, is one I can absolutely stand behind: Step away from the scale. The website explains, "Very few people have a healthy relationship with the scale. For 30 days, we want you to focus on the changes in your health, in your mood, and in your relationship with food rather than how much you weigh."

It's Helpful to Focus on What You Can Eat Instead of What You Can't

The founder and president of Nutritious Life, Keri Glassman, MS, RD, CDN, is a fan of the diet overall because it can help you stop eating unhealthy foods. "Not because of any strict dos or don'ts, but because it's not about restriction, and it is about focusing on a diet full of nutrient-dense whole foods," she says. "It's a diet that can help instill healthy eating habits. If you're following a diet of eating lean meats, vegetables, some fruit, and healthy fats, it's a diet I can definitely get behind."

For reference, here's what you can eat: vegetables (including potatoes), fruits (in moderation), and unprocessed meats all get the nod of approval, as well as eggs, nuts (except peanuts), seeds, and coffee. However, if you're a vegetarian living on a plant-based diet, the options are far from diverse.

It May Not Be Sustainable in the Long Run

"I find diets that cut out whole food groups are not sustainable in the long term," says Alissa Rumsey MS, RD, and owner of Alissa Rumsey Nutrition and Wellness. "Many people go right back to their normal eating patterns after the 30 days because they aren't learning how to change their eating behaviors, so this type of diet change doesn't last in the long run."

"Many people won't stick to these severe guidelines," says Amy Shapiro, a registered dietitian, nutritionist, and the founder of Real Nutrition NYC. "This leads to the inevitable 'cheat.' Then, they'll lose the benefits they've worked so hard to gain." She continues, "I like how they recommend slowly introducing foods back in so people can see how things affect their bodies; I just worry that most people will binge soon after completing the 30 days because it's so restrictive."

If You Slip, You Have to Start All over Again

"This isn't us playing the tough guy. You need such a small amount of any of these inflammatory foods to break the healing cycle—one bite of pizza, one splash of milk in your coffee, and you've broken the reset button, requiring you to start all over on Day 1," explains the Whole30 website.

So it seems like the jury's still out on this one. If you have the willpower, feel free to give it a shot—but be careful. Bond explains, "Those who find it difficult, listen to your body. Oftentimes, cravings are rooted in real biological needs. If you're craving french fries or candy, you probably need carbs! Satisfy the craving with a Whole30-friendly carb like fruit or baked potatoes. Fortunately, the internet is full of resources and recipes to help get you through it." For step-by-step guidelines and tons of approved recipes, check out The Whole30 ($15).

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The Whole30 by Melissa Hartwig and Dallas Hartwig $15
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