Whole30 is a popular diet designed to reprogram your food preferences and eliminate cravings. People are trying the Whole30 because it’s a quick, healthy reset–and it can even alert you to food sensitivities that affect your health and energy levels.
However, like any diet, Whole30 isn’t for everyone. If you’re considering it, knowing the pros and cons before you dive in can save you time and effort.
#1: Getting Acquainted With Your Body
Whole30 helps you understand how different foods affect your health, mood, and energy levels. Because you eliminate potential problem foods for thirty days before you reintroduce them, it can provide helpful insight into how your body responds to your diet.
While not everyone is sensitive to foods like dairy and soy, plenty of people discover they feel tremendously better without them during Whole30. The best part? You get to reintroduce foods one-by-one to determine which ones are causing problems. That means you can limit or altogether remove foods you don’t tolerate from your diet, resulting in better long-term health.
#2: No Weigh-Ins
Stepping on the scale is a no-no during Whole30. The reason is because people often get obsessed with weighing in daily, which can hamper your progress if you end up making changes to your diet each based on what the scale tells you.
It may sound a little scary, but instead of worrying over a number that fluctuates every day try to focus on how you look and feel. You may notice that you develop a level of trust in yourself, some discipline, and a healthier relationship with your body image.
#3: Losing Weight is Common
Although you can’t weigh in during the diet, you can certainly weigh in after, and it’s very common for people to lose weight. This makes perfect sense, because you’re eliminating processed foods and “problem foods” in favor of whole foods.
Even if the scale doesn’t move very much, you’ll probably notice your clothes fit better. That’s because most people experience a “recomp” or lean maintenance effect. In other words, you can lose fat and build muscle simultaneously thanks to a healthier diet–especially if you exercise regularly during Whole30.
#4: Counting Calories is Out
Just like the no weigh-ins rule, Whole30 takes a unique approach to calorie counting. It’s forbidden!
Instead of relying on external guidelines, you’re forced to listen to your body. You can eat or snack whenever you’re hungry, but to avoid overeating, you also stop eating as soon as you’re satiated.
You’ll be eating delicious, filling whole foods that provide lasting energy, so it’s an opportunity to build a more mindful approach to eating.
#5: Hunger Isn’t an Issue
If you’ve ever gone on a very-low-calorie diet and felt hungry and miserable all the time, Whole30 is pretty much the opposite of that.
While starvation diets tends to backfire because they can lead to binge eating, Whole30 addresses this issue by encouraging you to eat when you’re hungry. It’s the perfect way to stop yo-yoing between undereating and overeating.
Because Whole30 includes tons of whole food protein sources and healthy fats, it’s extremely effective at filling you up [1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6]. That means you may be able to achieve an effortless caloric deficit, which leads to easy, sustainable fat loss.
#6: It’s All About Real, Healthy Foods
In modern Western cultures, you could go your whole life only eating highly processed foods that don’t occur anywhere in nature. But on Whole30, the focus is on whole foods exclusively.
That means you get a lot more fiber, micronutrients, and phytonutrients in your daily diet. The focus on real, healthy foods is a significant reason why so many people report better energy levels, improved mood, and an overall sense of wellbeing on Whole30.
#7: There’s No Need to Buy Special Pills or Powders
Eating healthy whole foods can increase your grocery bill, but you may end up saving money on Whole30 nonetheless.
Whole30 doesn’t involve protein powders, vitamins, weight loss pills, or any other type of supplement. You wouldn’t know it from reading supplement product labels, but these products aren’t actually necessary for improving your health, slimming down, or feeling better.
The food you eat daily trumps any supplement you could take. They’re called supplements for a reason.
#8: No Requirement for Meal Timing or Fasting
In keeping with the theme of “listening to your body,” you don’t have to skip meals, schedule meals, or eat a fixed number of meals on Whole30.
This frees you up to focus on eating healthy foods when you’re hungry, period. As with calorie-counting, strict structures around eating and meals can work for some people, but they can be a liability just as often.
If the idea of cultivating a more natural relationship with food appeals to you, you’ll enjoy figuring out the best rhythm and schedule for each day.
#9: Better Energy, Mental Clarity, and Wellness
Because you’ll be replacing processed foods, junk foods, and foods you may be allergic to with fresh, nourishing alternatives, you can look forward to feeling much better overall.
Whole30 boosts your energy and mental function because you eliminate the foods that cause problems, and you add in plenty of foods that solve problems. It’s that simple.
#10: You Can Drink Coffee
Good news for coffee connoisseurs: unlike the Paleolithic diet and some cleanses, you can still enjoy your favorite beverage on Whole30!
You’ll need to skip the cream, sugar, and sweeteners, but you can add coconut milk or almond milk. (Note that if you’re addicted to cream in your coffee, you might want to skip the milk substitutes, because Whole30 is about getting rid of addictive eating patterns.)
#1: Whole30 is Restrictive
Whole30 is restrictive. Very restrictive.
While the ability to eat when you’re hungry and avoid a meal schedule makes it easier, this diet prohibits a lot of foods and ingredients that are hard to avoid. It’s not easy, and at first, it’s not very intuitive.
If you decide to go on the Whole30, you have to educate yourself and commit from day one, or you’ll run afoul of the rules.
#2: Make a Mistake? Back to Day One
Under no circumstances can you cheat on this 30 day program. The best word for this aspect of Whole30 is unforgiving.
If you eat a non-compliant food, or accidentally consume an ingredient that’s not allowed, you have to go back to day one to restart the diet. That means you have to be vigilant 24/7 about what you eat. And if you prefer “cheat days” or “cheat meals,” Whole30 definitely isn’t for you.
To avoid getting stuck in an infinite loop of restarting, check in with yourself before you begin. If you aren’t organized, willing, and committed, get your ducks in a row first or choose an easier diet.
#3: You Can’t Afford to Ignore Food Labels
Calorie counting is out, but you can’t afford to ignore food labels on Whole30. Specifically, you absolutely must review each and every ingredient in any food you eat.
Watch for dairy, sugar and any zero-calorie sweeteners, grains, gluten, alcohol, soy, sulfites, MSG, and carrageenan (typically found in almond milk).
If you aren’t completely certain about an ingredient, look it up on the spot, because sometimes these ingredients can go by other names.
#4: That Meal Prep and Meal Planning Life
Forget about “winging it” on the Whole30. Do you really think you can find legit Whole30 compliant meals on the go? (Spoiler alert: not likely!)
At the very least, count on making a couple of grocery store trips per week and spending some time in the kitchen.
If you have the luxury of working from home or a flexible work schedule, you can cook healthy Whole30 meals on demand. For everyone else, it’s necessary to set aside time each week to meal prep.
Start by planning your meals ahead of time, at least two or three days in advance. Meal planning makes your grocery store trips more efficient. Once you have the ingredients in hand, you may as well prepare meals in bulk. A slow cooker, one pot meals, or simple combinations like baked meats and veggies can cut your total prep time to less than an hour.
Don’t forget to use glass storage containers to refrigerate or freeze your meals for later, and a portable cooler is a great idea too.
This can make or break your entire Whole30 experience, so if you can’t embrace thirty days of meal planning, the Whole30 probably isn’t a good fit.
#5: It Can Be Socially Challenging
The Whole30 can disrupt your social time. Because sharing and enjoying food together is often an important part of relaxation, you’ll need to factor this in before you begin.
Willpower is a must, because you’ll probably be offered foods you can’t eat when you’re hanging out with friends or family.
Luckily, you can address any temptations by planning ahead. Eat a filling Whole30 meal before you go out, or bring your own food to social gatherings if you prefer. It’s also a good idea to let people know in advance that you’re switching up your eating habits for a couple of weeks so that you don’t offend anyone.
If you feel awkward being the black sheep who can’t eat what everyone else is having, weigh that against the benefits of Whole30. It may be worth the trouble, but if not, plenty of other diets allow more flexibility for social events.
#6: Weight Loss May Be Temporary
It’s sad but true not everyone keeps their Whole30 weight loss results.
The reintroduction phase is usually where problems occur. If you reintroduce tons of carbs and processed foods, it’s more likely than not that you’ll regain some of the weight you lost. If you discover you’ve lost, say, 10 pounds on Whole30, you can’t expect to go straight back to your old habits and maintain a slimmer physique.
On the other hand, Whole30 isn’t a permanent diet. It’s a highly structured but temporary approach to eating. Some people find it’s the perfect reset to eliminate bad habits, but if you want a longer approach that retains structure, look elsewhere.
#7: Cravings and Food Withdrawal Will Probably Happen
Most people feel better during Whole30, but sometimes it gets worse before it gets better.
When you eliminate alcohol, sugar, and processed carbs, it can take some time for your body to figure out what the heck just happened. Like any dependency or addiction, cravings and withdrawal can occur.
Usually these difficulties happen in the first week or two. Unless you’re physically dependent on alcohol (in which case a cold turkey or Whole30 approach would be unsafe–talk to your doctor instead), they’re harmless and temporary, but they can still make you question your commitment.
Before you start, take a look at your personality and decision-making history. If you like to face your problems head-on, Whole30 will probably work great to reprogram your habits. But if your willpower isn’t the greatest, you could be setting yourself up for failure.
Similar Diets and Whole30 Alternatives
Shopping around is always a fantastic idea, and diets are no exception.
Think of Whole30 a short-term experiment to reset your body, change your preferences, and identify which foods adversely affect your energy levels, mood, and health. If those benefits sound appealing, don’t forget that it’s strict with no room for error, and it’s only temporary.
Whether you’re already set on Whole30 or totally undecided, consider these other diets before you commit:
- The paleo or hunter-gatherer diet has a similar focus on healthy whole foods, and also eliminates unhealthy processed foods. It’s also backed by plenty of solid peer-reviewed research, which Whole30 lacks [7, 8, 9].
- The primal diet is similar to paleo, but more inclusive. It encourages full-fat dairy, for example, while paleo doesn’t allow any dairy.
- The ketogenic diet is far less restrictive than Whole30 except for the fact that you eat 30-50 grams of net carbs each, max. Studies show that keto works great for weight loss, reverses insulin resistance, and can even reprogram your preferences [10, 11, 12].
- If you want to identify food allergies and sensitivities without all the restrictions of Whole30, you can use a standard elimination diet . A dietitian or nutritionist can help you construct an elimination diet that’s easier to follow than Whole30.
Whole30 is unique in that it only lasts for 30 days. You can use alternative diets if you want to make a permanent switch, or you can try them after your Whole30 experience for a long-term dietary solution.
If you haven’t had the best track record with strict diets, or you want a long-term structured weight loss solution, primal or keto might suit you better.