scorecardThe grueling diet Instagrammers love has 5 big problems that make it almost impossible to stick to
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The grueling diet Instagrammers love has 5 big problems that make it almost impossible to stick to

The grueling diet Instagrammers love has 5 big problems that make it almost impossible to stick to
LifeThelife4 min read


  • The Whole30 month-long eating plan cuts all sugar from your diet, except fruit. The creators say it's meant to tame your "sugar dragon." 
  • People on Instagram clearly have success with the temporary cleanse, showing off impressively sculpted, transformed bodies.
  • But the diet may not be the best choice if you're looking for a more long-term change.

The Whole30 is a 30-day food plan that's meant to change your relationship with food. But the program, which was developed in 2009, requires a huge dose of willpower and a lot of meal prep.

Think of it like the first step in a 12-step program. Step one: cutting a ton of food groups from your diet. That means no grains, no dairy, no alcohol and no sweets (except fruit) are allowed in your mouth for 30 days. 

The premise of this radical plan is that when it's through, you won't be as attached to sugar as you once were, and by re-introducing potentially inflammatory or stomach-upsetting foods into your diet one-by-one after the deprivation month is up, you can better decide which are OK to eat and which make you feel bloated or moody.

A plethora of photos on Instagram suggest that the short-term cleanse can be a great way for some people to slim down and tone up in a hurry:


But as a long-term health re-set strategy, it has a few major flaws.

This year, US News and World Report put the Whole30 near the bottom of the magazine's annual diet list. The panel of nutrition experts that ranked the plan called it "extreme" and full of "nonsensical claims" as well as "the worst of the worst for healthy eating."   


Here are five reasons why it's not the best: 

1. It doesn't jibe with what psychologists and nutritionists know about bad habits and how to break them.

It's hard to break a habit, because it's just that: habitual. Social scientists say one of the most proven behavior change techniques involves replacing an old behavior with a new one. Sick of swilling booze? Try sticking something else in your mouth instead. Cutting back on cigarettes? It might help to chew gum.

But temporarily trying out a new diet, and then crashing hard after 30 days of deprivation is a nearly sure-fire way to slip back into old ways. 

"Things are so much easier when you make those things routine," Yale psychologist John Bargh told Business Insider earlier this year. "Your body is taking its cue from you and what you do."

It's admirable to try to shake up bad eating routines, but dietitians say this plan goes about it the wrong way by providing a temporary fix for what is a lifelong relationship with food. Building new eating habits tends to take years, not a single month. 

2. If you really want to re-set your gut and reduce inflammation, 30 days isn't enough time.

The old adage about how it takes 21 days to break a habit is a fallacy.

Habits can take a few days to upwards of a year to break, depending on what they are. That's as true for your gut as it is for your brain. Experts who manage restrictive short-term diets for patients with digestive conditions like celiac disease say that one month is not enough to turn off systemic inflammation. It takes about three. 

3. Whole30 can be a bad way to eat.

Since the main protein sources on this diet are meat and eggs, it can be a pretty high-cholesterol regime. The cleanse tends to be high-sodium, too. And it doesn't allow for any whole grains that can help keep you full or beans, which are a cheap, low-calorie source of fiber, calcium and protein. 

4. It will probably also take up a ton of your time.

Diet researchers know that our behavior is influenced by the people around us, especially when it comes to eating. That can make it hard to stick to a strict regimen like the Whole30, especially if no one else around you is doing it. So if you're going to try this challenge out, you may want to convince a companion to try it with you. That way, you can prepare food together and encourage each other along the way.

5. The diet is extremely strict and there's no room for error. 

If you mess up during this 30 day program and eat a banned food, you're supposed to start all over again. Back to day one. That strict formula may work for some people, but it doesn't match what we know about willpower and self-control. Shaming isn't generally a great tool for long-term change. and perhaps nowhere is that more apparent than in short-term weight loss challenges and reality TV shows like "The Biggest Loser," where the majority of dieters eventually end up gaining back any weight they lost, and putting on even more. 

When Whole30 is over, you're basically on your own to figure out how to incorporate previously banned foods back into your diet, one by one. The founders say their Whole30 plan is meant as a "short-term nutrition reset" and not something you do forever. That's unfortunate, because forever diets are the kind that can provide lasting help. 

Whole30 might work for some people who are just looking for a quick, temporary way to get skinnier. But if you're not into it, that's OK. There are plenty of other eating-in-moderation techniques you can try out. Dietitians often suggest more Mediterranean-style diets that center around filling whole grains and veggies.

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