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The Whole 30 Challenge: Does it actually work?

Stephanie Ashley
by Stephanie Ashley Published on February 3, 2014
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The diet craze everyone is talking about now is the new Whole 30 Diet. For 30 days, you cut out all sugar, alcohol, dairy, grains, legumes, and potatoes and most processed foods. Sounds like hard work? It certainly is, but we’ve got the inside scoop (the good, the bad and the ugly) on whether this diet really works and if restarting your eating habits is actually as healthy as it sounds.

The Whole 30 Challenge is a new diet craze that sounds pretty extreme. The diet promises to restart your metabolism while you abstain from all those yummy, but often unhealthy, foods and ingredients like sugar, alcohol, dairy, grains, legumes and potatoes.

Cutting out so many food groups sounds difficult to do, and certainly difficult to stick to for just 30 days. We spoke to a few women who tried out the diet, and surprisingly, they said it's not as bad as it sounds.

When we asked Cody what she thought about the diet, she said that cutting carbs was the hardest part. "Some parts are really easy; I love steak and other meats, and I don’t have an aversion to veggies. So, all in all, if you can quit those carbs, then I feel it’s pretty easy to stick to.”

Alyson and her husband tried out the diet together and she says the key to sticking with it is being prepared. “Whole 30 is incredibly easy to stick with as long as you plan and are prepared. We would make a meal plan every Sunday, go to the market, and pre-cook a lot of food for the week. Many people would scoff when I told them what we couldn’t eat on the plan, but truthfully, we excelled with the limitations.”

But does cutting out all those food groups do more nutritional harm than good? We talked to nutritionists, personal trainers and authors of The Nutrition Twins' Veggie Cure, sisters Tammy Lakatos Shames and Elysse (“Lyssie”) Lakatos, or The Nutrition Twins, all about how this diet can (and sometimes can’t) work for you.

The Good

While you have to sacrifice a lot of tasty food groups for this diet, Whole 30 does emphasize eating “real food,” meaning meat, seafood, vegetables, some fruits and nuts. With this diet, your body becomes less bogged down with processed foods, and who doesn't love that?

The Twins say another long-term benefit of Whole30 is the elimination of sugar. “The plan helps to make people aware of the sugar they are consuming in their diet as it doesn’t permit consumption of added sugar of any kind, real or artificial.” Because of this, dieters must find alternative sources of sweetness, like fruits, which are much better for you.

The Nutrition Twins say, “[The Diet] forces followers to become savvy and read labels to ensure they are avoiding [sugar], and in the process they will become aware of hidden sources of sugar in their diet.”

Alyson says that after doing Whole 30, her entire outlook on sugar has changed. “Fruit has never tasted so sweet in my life; it’s like my taste buds have adjusted to normal after eating far too many artificially or over-sweetened processed foods over the years.”

The Bad

While this 30-day diet may be sounding like the perfect way to jump-start your metabolism, the Nutrition Twins warn us that there are a few problems with cutting out so many carbohydrates.

Since this diet is a 30-day challenge, and not necessarily a lifestyle change, it does leave followers open to the risk of yo-yoing back into old ways. The Nutrition Twins say, “For other people, completely cutting out all sugar is unrealistic and it will make this plan very hard to follow in the long run. It may set people up for cravings and binges and for a food is “good or bad” mentality, rather than eating foods that are enjoyable in controlled amounts.”

Though we may not want to believe it, there is such a thing as a good, quality carbohydrate, and The Twins warn us that cutting those out entirely can lead to some health gaps. “Research shows that three servings daily (1/2 cup cooked) of quality carbohydrates like oatmeal, brown rice and whole grains helps to reduce the risk of cancer, heart disease and diabetes, so cutting them out of the diet is not necessarily ideal,” they say.

“Abstaining from quality carbohydrates for too long can cause nutrient gaps—such as not enough fiber or B vitamins that lead to constipation and low-energy,” The Twins continue. Other nutritional downsides to this diet can include decreased levels of calcium and a lack of heart-healthy legumes. So, trying this diet over a long-term period, like more than the suggested 30-days, could result in a few issues.

The Not-so-ugly

Cody and Alyson admitted they both felt great - and looked great - while sticking to Whole 30. “Both times I tried it I felt great,” Cody says. “I had a lot more energy. I didn’t get as tired in the afternoons, and I slept better.”

After the first few days, Alyson was feeling more energetic as well. “The first four days were extremely hard,” she admits. “I went through some awful carb and sugar withdrawals as my body got used to having to burn high quality protein/fats/vegetables for fuel…Once we adapted we felt great. We slept so soundly and woke up feeling really refreshed in the morning. Multiple coworkers have commented that my skin is glowing. And probably the best is I have constant energy all day, no more 3:30 p.m. crash!”

A diet that makes you feel and look better? That's a plan we can get on board with.

Should you try it?

This diet has absolutely taken off, and The Nutrition Twins believe it is because today, everyone is just fed up with all the overly-processed food. Whole 30 helps you stick to natural foods and limit your sugar intake, all of which make you feel great!

The Twins warn us, though, not to take this diet to the extreme. There are some healthy food components, like quality carbohydrates that get cut out for this diet, and the challenge really should only be tried for the 30-day period.

So, with all the facts laid out, is this a diet you should be trying? Both Cody and Alyson say absolutely.

“In short—yes. Absolutely recommend,” Cody says. “If you want to lose weight, then you’re cutting out all the carbs and sugar for a high-protein, healthy diet. You can eat like a king and still lose weight! From a fitness/workout perspective, again, high-protein! All the things that make you stronger and gain muscle.”

Alyson completely agrees, “I would definitely recommend Whole 30 to anyone who wants a jump start on a healthy lifestyle. While the things you can’t have may be a turnoff or deterrent for some people (I keep hearing, "I could never live without pasta/cheese/vodka…"), remember it’s only 30 days, and you can do anything for 30 days! Why not try it and see how good you can feel?”

Will you be trying the Whole 30 Challenge? Tweet us @wewomenUSA.

by Stephanie Ashley 255 shares

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