What’s Whole30 and is it for you?

Have you ever wondered why so many challenges last for thirty days?

Whether it’s a popular fitness regime like the 30-day ab challenge or a lose-ten-pounds-in-30-days type of plan, it seems a month is often touted as the optimal time frame for getting the results you desire.

There is however reason behind this trend. Experts have agreed that most habits can be broken if you can at least go 30 days without them. 

So it seems the month is the magical amount of time!

If you’re the kind of person who loves a 30-day challenge, then you’ve probably stumbled across the whole30 program before.

Ultimately marketed as a diet “reset” for better health, the whole30 program promises more energy, elevated mood and near-perfect digestive health.

Other benefits have also been reported, including:

  • Better sleep
  • Reduced anxiety levels
  • Mental clarity
  • Healthier skin
  • Flatter tummy
  • Weight loss

Most enticingly of all, the whole30 program claims to ‘change your life.’ All in the space of thirty days.

Sound too good to be true?

A lot of these 30-day challenges often do, but if the science stacks up…then there’s no reason why thirty days of healthier habits couldn’t change your life.

But how does this program work exactly and why is it so popular?

Before embarking on any lifestyle change, it’s important to consider if a mass-marketed program can help you achieve your individual goals.

The philosophy

The purpose of whole30 is to introduce more whole foods into your diet, and as a potential result, remedy any of your existing health issues.

Once you finish the whole30 program, you’re advised to slowly reintroduce eliminated foods into your diet. This enables you to identify any sensitivities you might have to individual ingredients or foods, for example, gluten, dairy or soy.

So it follows that the proponents of this program believe that many health issues are caused by the dietary choices we make on a day-to-day basis. And scientists tend to agree on this.

Over the years, we’ve learnt how gluten and dairy can act as inflammatory agents in the gut, exacerbating health problems like digestive issues, high body fat and low energy levels. Excess sugar and alcohol intake have also been proven time and time again to compromise our general wellbeing.

But does this mean we need to cut them out altogether? According to Melissa and Dallas Hartwig who introduced the whole30 challenge in 2009, the answer is yes. At least for thirty days.

After this period, the whole30 promises to ‘put an end to unhealthy cravings and habits, restore a healthy metabolism, heal your digestive tract, and balance your immune system.’

What you decide to do after the thirty days is completely up to you.

What do you need to do?

All you need to do is follow the whole30 guidelines for just thirty days.

As is the case with most diet plans, there is a list of foods you can eat and a list of foods you can’t eat. The whole30 plan is relatively low in refined carbohydrates, gluten-free, dairy-free, sugar-free and encourages its followers to completely avoid all processed foods. 

This might sound normal to the average nutritionist, as it isn’t far off the current Australian government guidelines for diet. 

So what’s so challenging about it?

Well, for those of us who aren’t gluten-free or dairy-free, cutting out those foods can actually be quite difficult. No bread, no pasta, no rice…what does that leave? Lentils?

Apparently, not so. The whole30 program also discourages consumption of legumes, which excludes natural foods that many would consider to be healthy, such as peanuts, beans and lentils. 

Take a look at a snapshot of the guidelines below.

What you can eat:

  • Meat
  • Seafood
  • Vegetables
  • Eggs
  • Fruit
  • Herbs and spices

What you can’t eat:

  • Dairy
  • Sugar
  • Legumes
  • Grains
  • Alcohol
  • Carrageenan
  • MSG
  • Sulfites

There’s a bit of fine print to these rules. For example, ghee or clarified butter (technically dairy products) is allowed as an exception. And sugar is a broad category, meaning that even natural whole foods like honey or coconut sugar are strictly not allowed.

If you’re planning on doing the whole30 program, it’s advisable to visit the official website to read up on all the specifics.

What’s the point?

Many of us are willing to give up ice cream or bacon and egg rolls for the sake of a short-term diet. Basic everyday foods like whole grain bread, milk, peanut butter or tinned beans? Well, these could feel like unnecessary sacrifices.

But the whole30 program is adamant in pushing an ‘anti-inflammatory’ approach to diet. This means avoiding any potential aggressors that could be causing you grief. Research has demonstrated that certain foods, even the seemingly innocent ones, can cause inflammation in a number of individuals. On top of that, inflammation has been linked to cancer, type 2 diabetes, heart disease and a number of other health problems.

If after the thirty-day period, you reintroduce gluten and experience no issues, then it’s highly likely that gluten wasn’t a problem for you. But you may experience the opposite with sugar, bread or dairy. Most people, particularly those suffering with unexplained health issues, want to know this kind of stuff.

Perhaps you do too. And this is what makes the plan so popular.

Essentially, the whole30 program can help you to identify what foods your body likes, and what foods it doesn’t, so that you can continue to eat in a way that works best for you.

In its purest form, the whole30 program is simply an elimination diet.

So are you willing to experiment for thirty days?

It’s worth noting that, despite glowing reviews on social media, not all nutritionists are supportive of the whole30 approach and some have called the diet “baseless.”

As with any eating program, it’s a good idea to consult your GP beforehand. We’re all different, and not all diet plans work for everyone. But it never hurts to do your research and give something new a go.

After all, if it truly does change your life, then it hardly seems like a worthless endeavour.

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