Whole30 Diet Review: Does it Work? – 80 Twenty Nutrition

Whole30 Diet Review: Does it Work?

The Whole30 Diet is one of the best-selling books in the U.S. and Canada in the health/self-help category over the past year. Lots of Whole30-approved recipes are popping up on social media and I have more and more clients asking about it. So should you try it as a weight loss and healthy eating reset? Here’s my Whole30 Diet Review!

Whole30 Diet Review: Does it Work? The best and worst part of the Whole30 Diet by Christy Brissette, media registered dietitian nutritionist, 80 Twenty Nutrition

What is the Whole30 Diet?

Whole30 Diet Review: Does it Work? The best and worst part of the Whole30 Diet by Christy Brissette, media registered dietitian nutritionist, 80 Twenty Nutrition

As the name suggests, you need to commit to 30 days of eating whole foods such as plenty of vegetables, meat, eggs, fish, some fruit and fats from avocado, nuts and seeds and heart-healthy oils. Sounds pretty healthy so far, right?

So what’s missing? Anything that’s “processed”, added sugar, alcohol, all grains, dairy products and legumes. Sorry, peanut butter lovers. Peanuts are technically a legume.

Basically this diet looks like the elimination diet that naturopaths seem to put everyone on who wants to lose weight, has a digestion issue or otherwise isn’t feeling the greatest. Figuring out if you have food allergies is one thing, but cutting healthy foods like kefir, beans and lentils out of your diet for no good reason has NO evidence to back it up.

[bctt tweet=”Cutting #healthy foods like lentils & quinoa out of your #diet? Whole30 Diet Review:” username=”80twentyrule”]

The Good Aspects of the Whole30 Diet 

Whole30 Diet Review: Does it Work? The best and worst part of the Whole30 Diet by Christy Brissette, media registered dietitian nutritionist, 80 Twenty Nutrition

If you aren’t feeling your healthiest, there’s no question that eating more vegetables, cooking at home more often and going for foods as close to their natural state as possible can make you feel worlds better.

[bctt tweet=”Best parts of the Whole30 #diet: more veggies, cooking & whole foods.” username=”80twentyrule”]

Cutting added sugars and other refined carbohydrates out of your diet will help stabilize blood sugar levels and could improve your energy, mood and more. If you have a sensitivity to dairy products or to gluten, removing these foods from your diet could help improve any symptoms you’re experiencing.

The Worst Aspects of the Whole30 Diet

Whole30 Diet Review: Does it Work? The best and worst part of the Whole30 Diet by Christy Brissette, media registered dietitian nutritionist, 80 Twenty Nutrition

When I work with clients who suspect they have food sensitivities, I’ll take a look at their current eating patterns and identify whether there are certain foods that might be linked to some of their issues. We typically start by doing some diet and symptom journals to see what patterns emerge. 

I feel very strongly about removing things from people’s diets one at a time and only as needed. Overly restricting someone’s diet by taking all types of foods out of it can only add to the confusion and stress for the client. I want my clients to be as well-nourished as possible and that’s why variety is key for a healthy diet.

Sometimes all it takes is identifying a pattern of when symptoms emerge and with which foods, removing those foods from the diet for a couple of weeks, and then seeing if the person feels better. Taking out all potential allergens at once is too extreme and assumes all people have the same food sensitivities. Sorry, nutrition is individual!

[bctt tweet=”Are we all sensitive to dairy, grains, legumes? Whole30 #Diet Review:” username=”80twentyrule”]

No “Cheating” Ever!

Whole30 Diet Review: Does it Work? The best and worst part of the Whole30 Diet by Christy Brissette, media registered dietitian nutritionist, 80 Twenty Nutrition

Another aspect of Whole30 that gets a thumbs down is its all-or-nothing approach. The creators of this diet claim that eating one morsel of food that isn’t “Whole30 approved” is complete failure. This is a huge red flag! Any diet plan that tells you it won’t work if you stray for even a second is total garbage. It’s not like your body is going to go into total health lockdown if a chickpea accidentally touched your salad. Seriously!

Here’s an excerpt from the Whole30 website about how serious “slip ups” are in their eyes:

“The only way this will work is if you give it the full thirty days: no cheats, slips, or “special occasions.” This isn’t us playing the tough guy. This is a fact, born of education and experience.

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, one lick of the spoon mixing the batter within the 30 day period and you’ve broken the “reset” button, requiring you to start over again on Day 1.”

Are you going to go into total hibernation for the next 30 days? Any plan that asks you to do that is a quick fix, not teaching you healthy eating. But we already knew that from the title.

Another rule I find intriguing: no treats, even using preferred ingredients. So how are you going to make this diet fun or even bearable? What if I want to put almond butter on some apple slices? Is that taking food and pleasure too far? After all, the Whole30 website reminds us, “No other foods that are not psychologically healthy.” Somebody has food issues!

Are the Hartwigs “Nutrition Experts”?

Whole30 Diet Review: Does it Work? The best and worst part of the Whole30 Diet by Christy Brissette, media registered dietitian nutritionist, 80 Twenty Nutrition

I’m glad they brought up their “education and experience” as reasons you should follow their nutrition and diet advice. What do Melissa and Dallas Hartwig mean by education, exactly?

Melissa Hartwig has a CISSN, which means she is a Certified Sports Nutritionist from the International Society of Sports Nutrition. Doesn’t that sound impressive? Wow, that must of taken her years of study to achieve (sarcasm).

The CISSN is not regulated by states or the federal government. You don’t have to have any background in nutrition or sciences whatsoever to take the exam. So you have a 4 year arts degree in basket weaving? You too can memorize some facts, write an exam and be a CISSN and write nutrition books!

Dallas Hartwig is also a “Certified Sports Nutritionist” like Melissa. Dallas is also a licensed physical therapist, so he might throw in some sweet shoulder stretches for you too! 

[bctt tweet=”The real “credentials” behind the Whole30 creators:” username=”80twentyrule”]

Just like as a dietitian, I wouldn’t go outside of my professional scope of practice and try to help someone reduce pain and improve their motor function after a car accident, it’s highly unprofessional for a physical therapist to tell you what to eat.

The Whole30 Diet also doesn’t seem to be geared towards athletes, now does it? Studying for a sports nutrition exam is one thing, but what does that have to do with digestive healing, weight loss and maintenance and preventing and healing chronic disease? Absolutely nothing. The Hartwigs may have learned how to help you refuel after a run but that has nothing to do with weight management and medical nutrition therapy.

Basically, the Hartwigs had zero nutrition credentials so decided to do an online exam to seem more legitimate. Mission accomplished. 

Hating on Grains

Whole30 Diet Review: Does it Work? The best and worst part of the Whole30 Diet by Christy Brissette, media registered dietitian nutritionist, 80 Twenty Nutrition

Why give up grains? Sure, refined grains or “fast carbs” such as white rice, white bread, etc. have had most of their nutrients removed and aren’t healthy from a weight loss or chronic disease perspective. But why should non-GMO whole grains be lumped into the same category?

There is no evidence that cutting whole grains out of your diet is good for your health. Whole grains are loaded with fiber and phytochemicals and eating them regularly is linked to a lower risk of heart disease, cancer and being overweight or obese. 

[bctt tweet=”Why is everyone hating on grains? Find out:” username=”80twentyrule”]

Check out my longer discussion of carbs and weight as well as diabetes, heart disease and cancer and my thoughts about another controversial book, Wheat Belly. I called the post, “Grains are Killing You, Wheat is Killing You, and Other Lies that Sell Books“. I had just done an interview with Wheat Belly’s author, William Davis, and I was pretty heated by his lack of research to back up his claims.

Penalizing Pulses

Whole30 Diet Review: Does it Work? The best and worst part of the Whole30 Diet by Christy Brissette, media registered dietitian nutritionist, 80 Twenty Nutrition

What’s the rationale for leaving out legumes such as beans, peas and lentils? These foods are excellent for your health to the point that 2016 was declared the “International Year of Pulses” by the World Health Organization.

Pulses are loaded with fiber, resistant starch for colon health, plant protein (which is linked to living a longer, healthier life) B vitamins, iron, zinc, potassium, magnesium… need I go on? They’re also important for crop rotation. They put nitrogen back into the soil so we can grow other crops and keep the soil healthy.

If you feel a bit gassy after having beans, try adding some seaweed sprinkles to your chili. This can really help boost digestion! Also, try having beans and lentils regularly in smaller portion sizes. They may just take some getting used to!

Another issue that results from leaving pulses out of your diet: what about fantastic fermented soy? Miso and tempeh contain probiotics for a healthy digestive system and can potentially boost your immune system. Concerned about soy and cancer? Decades of research suggest you can safely have 2 servings of soy a day and it may even help lower cancer risk.

Where’s the Science? 

The worst aspect of the Whole30 Diet is it makes big promises without any evidence to back them up. For example, the authors claim the Whole30 Diet can treat or cure diabetes. Has it ever done that? Are there any research studies on it? Does the American Diabetes Association endorse it or recommend people with diabetes cut grains out of their diets? (Here’s a hint. They’re all a firm NO).

Whole30 Diet Review: Does it Work?

We don’t know because you aren’t supposed to weigh or measure yourself over the 30 days!

In all seriousness, if following the Whole30 Diet for 30 days is a challenge you want to take on, speak to your doctor and a dietitian first to make sure it’s safe for you and you’re getting all the nutrients you need. Then give it a try and see what you think.

Or… why not start with limiting added sugars, eating more vegetables and choosing whole foods? That’s a challenge worth taking on!

Have you tried the Whole30 Diet? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

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  1. Christy, I was delighted to read your informative blog and views on the Whole 30 Plan. I tried the plan for 3 wks. in March and I found it very challenging to say the least. Yes, I will be honest that I have a sweet tooth and giving up sugar was difficult but also dairy and grains (bread) was also a challenge. The whole plan made me anxious, depressed, I was craving all the foods I could not have. Honestly I felt like I was having withdrawls just like an addict. I did lose 4lbs. but was cranky, unhappy, just miserable. Once I reintroduced some carbs like (bread) I calmed right down it was just like I took drug to settle my nerves. I thought this plan is not for me… Yes, I’m all for clean eating but I’ve decided to eat well of everything in moderation and listen more to my body instead. I have a couple of friends who did the plan & lost big time and swear by it but I don’t feel the plan works for me. Just wanted to share this with you. Thank you!

    1. Hi Carmen, thank you so much for sharing your experience with Whole30. It definitely isn’t for everyone! Any eating plan/diet that makes you feel cranky and horrible just isn’t worth it. It sounds like you’re figured out a more balanced approach that works for you. Sending you hugs for that!

      That’s great your friends have seen success with the Whole30 Diet. It can be a good jump start but it’s good to eat a bit of everything as a long-term approach. Thanks again for sharing 🙂