The Whole30 Truth

Experts offer food for thought on this trendy monthlong diet program.



Some of the foods allowed on the diet.

Roberto Gonzalez

More than a decade ago, the meat-centric, low-carb Atkins diet took the nation by storm. More recently, all the break-room rage has been focused on Whole30, a monthlong diet based on select groups of whole foods.

The Hartwig's book.

Sweeteners—natural or processed—are verboten, along with all grains (including corn in any form), dairy products, alcohol and legumes. Organic fruits and vegetables, pasture-raised and grass-fed lean meats, wild-caught fish, and nuts are permitted. Foods can be prepared with fats such as olive oil, ghee or coconut oil.

“Whole30 is not a diet,” asserts fan Holly Ryerson, 55, of Winter Park. “It’s a reset to help you identify foods you need to be cautious about.” Through the Whole30 program of eating, Ryerson and her husband, Glenn, say they discovered dairy products and sugars were the culprits behind his irregular heartbeat, for which Glenn no longer takes medication.

Whole30 is the brainchild of Melissa, a certified sports nutritionist, and Dallas Hartwig, a functional medical practitioner. Together they wrote a book on the topic—The Whole30: The 30-Day Guide to Total Health and Food Freedom. And the program has a substantial social media girth. Participants are encouraged, via whole30.com, to promote their efforts and develop a public support network. 

For Christy Incinelli, a 32-year-old mother of four from Winter Park, Whole30 was more of a cooking experiment: “I wanted to explore recipes using whole foods. It helped me learn new recipes and actually cook.” In the process, Incinelli dropped 10 pounds and returned to her “wedding weight.”

Though the program achieves weight-loss results in the short run, experts recommend caution. Local dietitian Megan Ware questions the Hartwigs’ exclusion of entire food groups, and she warns that the diet “sets people up for failure.” 

Dr. Andrew Nye of Orlando Health Physicians Family Medicine Group agrees: “It jumps on the whole food sensitivity bandwagon. There’s a very small percentage of the population that would benefit.” People will lose weight simply by the merit of the diet’s unnecessary restrictiveness, he says, and 85-90 percent of those who experience weight loss will relapse.

Nye’s staff dietitian, Ashlee Wright, says, “There are no long-term studies on the diet either, so there’s no science to back it up.” Another flaw, she says, is the duration. “There’s no reason to do it for 30 days. If you’re lactose-intolerant, get off [dairy] for a week and see how you do.”

Wright concedes: “The one point [the Hartwigs] make is they want you to avoid processed food and added sugar, which I absolutely agree with. But if you’re cooking for your family, it can be really challenging.”

Says Ware: “Maybe you lose 5 or 10 pounds, but it’s not sustainable. What I like to ask people is, is this something you want to do for the rest of your life? If not, there’s no point in doing it.” Instead, she suggests, “make goals based on your life and your preferences based on what’s going on in your life, and sit down with a professional.” 

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