Happy New Year; now let's lose weight! Ugh, it seems like so many people assume the two go hand-in-hand. Wanting to lose weight is such a common new year's resolution, and one popular plan to jumpstart weight loss is for people to hop on the Whole30 train. Before you embark on this 30-day plan for the sole purpose of losing weight, we asked dietitians to tell us if Whole30 is the best approach.
What is Whole30?
If you're unfamiliar with Whole30, for 30 days straight you eat whole, unprocessed food including meat, seafood, eggs, veggies, fruit, and natural fats, and you avoid dairy, added sugar (real or artificial), alcohol, grains, and legumes (which includes peanuts and all forms of soy). You also can't have any baked goods, junk food, or treats made with "approved" Whole30 ingredients, so no vegan "nice cream" or baked sweet potato fries. Oh, and did I mention, if you "cheat" then you have to start back at Day 1?
Will Whole30 Help You Lose Weight?
Whole30 can help with weight loss as it restricts many foods that most of us tend to overeat, such as sugar and refined carbs. You'll also feel full on less overall calories since this plan focuses on eating protein and vegetables. "However, it all comes down to how many calories you're consuming. If you end up eating just as many calories as you currently do, then you may not notice a significant change in weight," said registered dietitian Kelli McGrane, MS, RD, for the food tracking app Lose It!. You may also eat more fat like avocados and nuts, and complex carbs like sweet potatoes and bananas, which could make you gain weight.
If a person does end up losing a few pounds, said registered dietitian Jessica Levings, MS, of Balanced Pantry, "the weight loss is unlikely to be sustained when they go back to their normal eating patterns at the end of the 30 days."
What Dietitians Think of Whole30 For Weight Loss
Registered dietitian Jackie Ballou Erdos, MS, RD, CDN, owner of Balancing Act Nutrition, warns that although Whole30 makes a lot of claims — with weight loss being one of them — and you may feel desperate to make a change, not everyone will experience what Whole30 promises.
"Like many wellness trends these days, Whole30 is marketed as a sustainable, positive lifestyle change; however, it's really a diet in disguise," Jackie said. It asks participants to restrict certain foods, and it labels some foods as "approved" and others as "off-limits." For those people struggling with body image, their relationship with food, or with other disordered eating behaviors such as binge eating, such a restrictive diet could make those issues worse.
That's not to say you shouldn't try Whole30. It can be great for people who want to get started eating more whole, unprocessed foods, or to figure out if certain foods are triggering certain issues like digestive or skin problems. People rave about how good they feel after the 30 days. But it's not the best approach if you're only doing it to lose weight.
A Warning About Diets in General
We know from research that diets don't work. Although people may lose weight at first, if that way of eating is unsustainable (as most diets are), people will inevitably regain the weight back. This typically begins the vicious restrict-binge, yo-yo dieting cycle.
Jackie shared that literature shows weight cycling — losing weight, gaining weight, repeat — is actually more harmful to our health than just staying at a higher weight. One research article that reviewed over 30 studies on dieting concluded that dieting is actually a predictor of weight gain.
"I worry people are setting themselves up for restrict-and-binge cycles, weight cycling, and feeling guilty and ashamed and like they failed, when in fact it's diets that fail us; it isn't us who fail on diets," Jackie said.
If Whole30 Isn't the Answer, How Should People Lose Weight?
"Just because something helps you lose weight does not mean that it is healthy in the long run," added registered dietitian nutritionist and NASM-certified personal trainer Whitney English Tabaie, MS. Focusing on eating to change how your body looks can only make you feel bad about yourself and lead to harmful eating habits. So skip the dieting-for-weight-loss mentality! She added, "for optimal health, you should focus on a long-term sustainable way of eating, which emphasizes whole, healthy plant foods," and that makes you feel energized, happy, confident, and healthy.