What, Exactly, Is the Whole30 Diet?

The Whole30 can be very heavy on the meat.
The Whole30 can be very heavy on the meat.  Getty Images

Diets aren’t fun; they aren't supposed to be, that's the point. Anything that is too easy isn't going to work, and if it does, it won't last. No pain, no gain, and all that jazz.

Whole30 is the latest hot diet celebrities and athletes are swearing by (Kobe Bryant and LeBron James touted its virtues), but is it another fad? Or worth a chance? 

Whole30 definitely isn't easy, but it’s not impossible to pull off. The guidelines mandate giving up most of your favorite foods for a solid month. But it's just one month, right? If you can eliminate all grains, dairy, legumes, booze, and absolutely no added sugars or foods without additives, then you should be fine.

Essentially, you survive on meat, fish, eggs, and vegetables (some fruits and healthy fats are welcome on the program), eliminating processed food from your diet.  The goal is to decrease inflammation and lose weight, but it will also give you more energy and even better skin. If you can pull it off, it sounds like the fountain of youth wrapped up in a booze- and dairy-free grainless package.

Is it for you?
New York City–based writer and editor Lindsay Tigar tried Whole30 when she wasn't feeling right and worried her diet was to blame. "I was 26 and was having to take a TUMS after every meal, and I knew something must be wrong. My roommate had mentioned Whole30, so I read up about it and discovered it might teach me about what my body needs/doesn't need. We decided to go grocery shopping together and cook meals together to save on cost (and have a much-needed support system for when you feel like you want cake, right now, please, thank you)," says Tigar.


Tigar said she appreciated that the diet helped her to realize how much food affects how she feels. "I love dairy, but I discovered it doesn't love me back. Simply taking out dairy after Whole30 not only helped me lose weight, but my skin cleared up, I slept better, I had more energy, I was never bloated. I also learned so much about making smart choices while grocery shopping — basically everything has sugar added to it. So now, I'm smarter about how I shop, careful about what I put in my body, and rarely have packaged goods. Everything I eat now is whole food, natural and not full of chemicals." She goes on to point out that, "While some people say Whole30 is a fad diet, its purpose is to help you discover what your body needs and what it doesn't. By cutting out certain things for 30 days and gradually adding them back in, you quickly understand how food changes you."  

Still, Tigar cautions the hardest part was her social life. "It's tough having sparkling water and lime on your friend's birthday when you really really want some wine. I've done Whole30 twice during the month of January and highly suggest that time of year: Makes it more fun to cook recipes and stay inside. I couldn't imagine doing it in the summer!" says Tigar.

The Whole30 plan gets mixed reviews, though. Sarah Lasry, author of The Dairy Gourmet and The At Home Gourmet cookbooks, admits she was skeptical before starting the diet. "I am skeptical of all diets that cut out whole food groups, unless you're allergic to it!" but she figured she'd give it a try, it was only 30 days. She lasted less than a week. "After five days of no sugar, no grains, and no dairy, I was cranky, snapping at everyone because I was HANGRY. Moderation is key for me. And so I have been counting good old fashion calories, trying to be more mindful of putting the good stuff in vs. the high carbs and sugar stuff… so you can say it rubbed off a little on me. Counting calories, I am averaging three pounds weight loss a month. I'm in it for the long haul," says Lasry. 

But Lasry did take away something good for the plan: "I learned I love zucchini noodles, so I do swap it at least once or twice in a week and eat it instead of bread or pasta for a meal," she says.

How it changes your daily routine
Because the plan does not allow any grains or added sugars, there is a downside, "It is important to be cautious that a person following the plan does not develop nutritional deficiencies, as so many healthful foods are forbidden. However, directing people toward more fruits and vegetables and lean proteins, and away from processed carbohydrates and sugars will have a positive impact on health," says Despina Hyde, MS, RD, Department of Surgery, Division of Bariatric Surgery at NYU Langone Medical Center.


Living your life
The worst part of a strict diet is it getting in the way of living life — how can you go out and live life with such strict guidelines? You're going to have to plan ahead.

"The plan is strict and allows no room for so-called slips. If you have a friend's birthday, company event, or a trip coming up, you will need to learn to say no to foods that are not allowed. The plan claims that even the smallest amount of food from the No List will break the healing cycle of the program, regardless of circumstance. You may want to take a look at your calendar and give some thought to the best 30 days for you to try the program," says Hyde.