30 January 2018Whole30 Diet

Can you change your life by changing the food you put on your plate? The Whole30 program claims you can! Following the plan for 30 days will push the reset button on your eating habits and your relationship with food. Whole30 is an eating plan that emphasizes eating whole foods, cooking from scratch and avoiding processed convenience foods. The founders state that the plan will restore healthy eating habits, decrease cravings, improve digestion and promote long lasting changes to eating habits. They share that 96% of participants who followed the program lost weight and improved their body composition.

What is the Diet:

The Whole30 program is not a diet at all. It is prescriptive eating plan that allows followers to press the reset button health, habits and relationship with food by changing what they eat. It is a plan that has been around since 2009, is still popular today and was designed by Melissa and Dallas Hartwig. In January of 2018 U.S. News and World Report ranked it #37 out of 40 diets in the category of Best Overall Diet plans. The diet plans were evaluated on several factors: ease of following, short-term and long-term weight loss, nutritional completeness and ability to prevent and manage diabetes and heart disease.

What will you be eating on this diet:

  • Meat such as pork, chicken, beef (organic/grass fed)
  • Seafood
  • Eggs
  • Vegetables
  • Fruit
  • Healthy fats such as avocado, certain oils
  • Clarified butter or ghee
  • Certain nuts and seeds
  • Unprocessed potatoes

What foods to avoid:

  • Added sugar (real or artificial)
  • Alcohol
  • Grains
  • Oats, wheat, gluten, rice, corn
  • Legumes or dried beans/peas (including peanut butter)
  • Soy
  • Dairy
  • All snacking


You do not have to weigh or measure your food or count calories. You are encouraged not to step on the scale during the 30 day plan. However it is recommended that you weigh yourself before and after following the plan. The books written by the Hartwigs provide ample menus and tips to increase success with sticking with the plan.


The plan is potentially difficult to follow as 3 major food groups are eliminated: grains, dairy and legumes. If you think the Paleo diet is limiting, this is even more restrictive which simply means in order to be successful you'll need to plan out your meals ahead of time and get creative.

Eating out may involve researching menus ahead of time and steering towards simply prepared meat entrees and veggies. Be ready to ask questions of your server to fine tune the details of your order, such as what oils are used during cooking and what side dishes such as grains, may need to be omitted.

This plan may not work for people who are very active and need a pre and post workout snack. Since carbohydrate fuels workouts, severely restricting carbohydrate intake may result in limited glycogen stores which translate to a lack of energy during an intense or lengthy workout.

A word of caution to individuals after they finish the 30 day active phase. Some individuals I have worked with in the past, are focused and committed when engaged in an eating plan. However, after the "reins have been lifted" they struggle to find a happy medium of what to eat and what to avoid, once the active phase is over. This can be prevented by knowing yourself and know your patterns. If you are at risk of eating the prohibited foods with abandon, once the program is over, follow the Whole30 reintroduction phase, have a plan and find support ahead of time.

Finally, my literature search did not result in any peer reviewed studies looking at weight loss results following this eating plan or compared to other diets. I would anticipate weight loss would result for those individuals who ate a lot of processed foods, quick and convenience items and snacks prior to starting the plan. Also, a proven strategy to weight loss is to eliminate entire food groups since it significantly reduces calories intake. This plan does just that, so one would anticipate weight loss would result. However, weight loss is not guaranteed. Especially since tracking, weighing and measuring of portions are not required.

A final consideration for folks who like to know where they stand with regards to weight loss: the eating plan discourages tracking body weight or progress on a scale in the middle of the plan. You are encouraged to weigh yourself on Day 1 and Day 30. Thus you may find that you follow this plan diligently for 30 days and yet the scale never reflects your hard work.


Purchasing organic, grass-fed meats and organic vegetables can be expensive. But if you eat out less frequently, your total food cost might actually be lower, even with expensive food from the grocery store.

What do I think about the diet:

The typical American diet is high in refined sugars, unhealthy fats, salt and processed foods. If your old diet included a lot of these items you may find you lose weight simply by cleaning up your food choices. Because the diet is restrictive, one is at serious risk of gaining their weight back as they return to a more liberal eating plan. I would not recommend this plan for someone who wants to lose weight and keep it off for the long haul. Due to the highly restrictive nature of Whole30 it may be too difficult to follow for the long term, even if you add back in foods that don't upset your gut such as quinoa, brown rice, and lentils (after the 30 days). The rest of the plan is quite restrictive which means it has a greater chance of backfiring.

Social Support:

Support when following any plan is paramount. Check out these resources for support around Whole30:


Does it work:

There are many claims that the Whole30 has helped people change their relationship with food and eat a cleaner diet. To find out if it works for weight loss, make sure you aren't overdoing the portions and give it a try! Losing weight is an art and a science and there isn't one weight loss plan that works for everyone.

Who would benefit most from this diet?

This plan is best for people who enjoy the process of shopping, cooking and eating whole foods. It is also a solid option for someone who has a strong sense of their own internal hunger and fullness signals. Since the diet does not include any structure around portion control, it is important to listen to body cues to avoid gaining weight, by overeating on the plan. Yes, it is possible to gain weight eating avocados, meat and nuts! Finally, people who enjoy structure and who find it easier to stay on track if they have a clear list of the foods they can and can't eat will enjoy the boundaries set by this eating plan.

Is it viable long term?

After 30 days the authors of the plan provide guidance around food reintroduction. They encourage adding back food groups systematically and only adding back foods that you miss eating. For example, if you don't miss yogurt and cottage cheese, no need to experiment with seeing how your body responds to these foods. If you are careful to make sure you are meeting your micro and macronutrient needs (for example, if you don't do dairy there are plenty of other sources of calcium) and you are motivated to continue, yes it is viable long term. I truly believe that human beings are incredibly dogged and can do anything they put their minds to doing.

Do I like this diet?

For various reasons, I snack between meals. Because the plan forbids snacking, I would not be able to follow this plan. As a Registered Dietitian, I pay attention to EVERYTHING I eat. I find that I feel good when I eat large amounts of fresh vegetables, organic meats, eggs, nuts, and healthy fats. I enjoy eating beans, low fat dairy and baking paleo style muffins as well. So, while I might not personally follow the Whole30 plan, I already incorporate a lot of the principles into my daily food practices. For someone who eats a lot of convenience, processed foods and wants to press the reset button on their eating habits, I think this is a great place to begin!

Resources online:



The Whole30 Cookbook by Melissa Hartwig
The Whole30 Fast and Easy by Melissa Hartwig
It Starts with Food by Dallas and Melissa Hartwig

Joanna Kriehn is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and Certified Diabetes Educator with a passion for supporting individuals as they move towards a healthier lifestyle. You can learn more about Joanna by visiting her LinkedIn page

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Disclaimer: The information provided here does not constitute medical advice. If you are seeking medical advice, please visit your healthcare provider or medical professional.


Weight Loss/Diets

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