Friday, March 15, 2013

Why We Don't Whole30

The Whole30 program is all the rage right now and for good reason.  It's encouraging people to cut out processed foods and added sugars from their diet and focus on lean, high-quality proteins, vegetables, fruits, and healthy, natural fats.

Especially for people who are used to eating the conventional American diet of convenience and fast foods, this program is probably life-changing, if not life-saving.  I am all for people making better nutritional decisions, regardless of what motivates them to do so.

This post is not a condemnation of the program.  Nor am I going to try to "disprove" the Whole30 science or accuse Whole30 enthusiasts of being "trendy."  I just want to write a post for people out there who think Whole30 might not be something they want to do, especially when we keep hearing about it from every angle.

My husband and I have considered doing the Whole30 challenge, but we have repeatedly decided it is not right for our family, and, just as important, we just really aren't all that interested in it.  Here are some reasons why.

We already eat a diet low in processed foods and added sugars.


Could we still benefit from the strict prohibition of processed foods and added sugars?  Yeah, probably.  But besides a box of Cheerios and sugar in my coffee, these foods aren't really that present in our life.  Could our diet be better?  Sure.  But my husband and I feel pretty good with the balance of whole foods with the very occasional processed food in our diet.

I am skeptical of any dietary recommendation that strictly prohibits any form of real whole foods.


In addition to the wonderful things Whole30 encourages you to eat, it also restricts you from eating dairy, legumes (beans), and grains (from wheat, corn, rice, etc.).  Now I'm all about cutting out "fake foods," but to me, whole foods are whole foods.  I am very much a person who looks for moderation in my diet, and I don't think that demonizing a group of foods is helpful.  Want to eat fewer beans?  Great!  Do it!  But... total prohibition makes me wary (I feel this way about veganism & vegetarianism as well).

Though, I do understand the concern about dairy products.


Short of half & half in my coffee (see, there is my coffee again) and yogurt or milk in the occasional recipe, we don't consume that much dairy around here (well... I guess we do buy cheese as well.  I have a love/hate relationship with the stuff.  That's a different post).  In fact, our toddler only drinks water all the time.  No juice, no milk, just water.

The China Study, which encourages a vegan diet (including healthy grains), discusses the surprising lack of correlation between milk consumption and bone health, suggesting that there may be more effective ways to get calcium.  Again, I don't endorse prohibitive dietary plans, but I think this is a pretty neat resource for deciding what the healthiest diet looks like.

Not all grains are created equal.

First off, I want to say that I do not believe that the traditional USDA food pyramid's recommendations for grains is a good guideline.  I'm not sure there is a lot of support for a diet built on the "foundation" of carbs.  While I absolutely support a diet that is mostly vegetables and fruits, though, I also feel that grains play an important role in our diet.

Refined wheat in white bread is not a good source of nutrients.  True whole wheat bread, on the other hand, has a lot to offer in a balanced diet.  I'll be honest, I don't really think buying bread off the shelf at the grocery store is the best way to consume it (even if it says "100% whole wheat).  In our family, we take the integrity of our bread products very seriously.  We make all of our own sandwich bread, tortillas, flatbreads, and pizza dough.  Not just that, but we mill all of our flour to ensure that the wheat is pure and at the peak of its nutritional value when we consume it.

This is NOT to say that you shouldn't buy whole wheat bread at the grocery store or that you have to mill all your own flour.  By no means!  This is just a decision that we have made for our family.   My point is that there is a spectrum.  Yes, you can make unhealthy decisions about grains, but there are also healthy alternatives.

Now, none of this applies if you or a family member has a wheat allergy or sensitivity.  If you want to try the Whole 30 to see if that sensitivity exists in your family, then I definitely encourage you to go for it!

Beans are not really optional in our family's diet.

Why?  Because we strongly believe in purchasing and consuming high-quality, humanely raised and slaughtered meat.  While there are different ways to purchase meat like this, it's a pretty expensive food to put at the center of every single meal.  We choose to eat less meat at premium prices, which means other meals depend on beans and eggs to provide more affordable protein.

Beans and grains are present in almost every ethnic cuisine.

In my opinion, the problem in our country isn't America's unhealthy food culture... it's that America doesn't really have a food culture.  I think there is wisdom in looking at traditional food cultures around the world to see what people have been eating for hundreds, if not thousands, of years.  What choices have worked over time before processed foods and other technologies came on the scene?  Ethnic groups have developed rich food traditions based on what was available in their region, and these traditions are still in full swing today.

Italian cuisine has pasta and bean soups.  Mexican food includes black beans, pinto beans, corn, and flour tortillas.  Chinese food features rice and edamame.  Middle eastern cuisine is heavy on chickpeas, lentils, hummus, and pita bread.  The list goes on.  I'm personally not willing to dismiss these food traditions as "unhealthy" for including foods that have been basic staples for millenia.  Current wisdom changes all the time, but these traditions have remained constant.

Make a choice that is right for you.

I want to reiterate that I am not trying to pass judgment on people who eat this way.  Nor am I trying to build a case against the program.

I am writing this just to say if you aren't interested in trying the Whole30 program, that's okay!  It need not be an issue of willpower or self-discipline.  It doesn't mean you aren't making good food choices if you don't do it.  There are lots of good reasons to do it, and there are good reasons not to.  You don't need to justify your decision to say "no thanks."

Some people say that Whole30 has changed their lives.  Great!  I always encourage people to carefully assess their dietary habits and make changes when necessary.  But if that doesn't look like Whole30 to you, I want you to know one thing:

You aren't the only one.

Do you Whole30?  Why or why not?  I'd love to hear your thoughts!


  1. The main goal of the whole 30 is to eat anti-inflammatory foods. That is why the restrictions are there. Also, its not forever, its 30 days. You slowly reintroduce foods that you have be "restricted" from eating, access how your body reacts and change your diet accordingly. If you don't feel inflammation in your body, your lucky. However, there are so many reasons to do the whole 30. I understand its not for everyone. I understand everyone doesn't want to do it. So no shame in not, but why not try? See how it changes you. You'll feel differently.

  2. As soon as I reintroduced beans into my body, every old injury started acting up. That is why there are no beans on the Whole 30. Beans can be inflammatory. It's perfectly fine NOT to do the Whole 30 if you don't want to, but for people who struggle with autoimmune disease, acid reflux (which I think is most people), or aches and pains...the Whole 30 can be life changing.

    1. YES! The beans! Going into it, I knew that gluten and dairy were already problem foods for me, but I had NO IDEA those stinkin' legumes (beans, peanuts, soy, all of them) were giving me such problems! I'll take a gluten hangover over a legume reaction any day!

  3. Thank you for this post! I thought I was the only one! I wrote my own and found yours! I added a link to wrote it so well and explained exactly what I was thinking....

  4. I did find in my first 10 days on the whole 30 I was low in calcium. I could not eat enough to make up for it and ended up having to supplement.

  5. I'll be doing it. I am interested to see if it will help me cut my sugar cravings, which are way out of control. I have a few friends who have done it and loved it. It's the first and only thing like this I've ever considered because it's not a "rest-of-my-life-strict-and-miserable-diet" that I have to adhere to, it's simply 30 days.

    I have begun prepping for my Whole30 by cutting back on certain foods. I cut out legumes about 3 weeks ago, and I don't know if it's coincidence or not, but my joints are feeling fabulous, and I haven't changed anything else in my diet or exercise. In the book It Starts With Food, they mentioned that legumes are often connected with inflammation. We'll see how it all works out after I've completed my 30 days. Really looking forward to it.

  6. The whole 30 is not for people who are already eating a low processed and sugar diet. For me personally, I struggled with an eating disorder in which I made every attempt to overcome. I paid a lot of money to doctors and experts who are qualified to help and none of it worked. After doing the whole30, I was finally healed. What I learned is that this method teaches you so much more than losing a few pounds. It's way too much for me to even try to explain here, but why write a post with a negative connotation to it? Let people make their own decision based on what they feel is best for them as I see, you have already turned a few away from something that could potentially heal/help them.