Whole30 Doubts and Concerns

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So, having done some reading and thinking about the Whole30 diet, there are some things that rub me the wrong way about it. I’m sure there are rebuttals to each and every one of these points, and I strongly believe that as a whole, this diet is almost guaranteed to be positive, but I wanted to express the doubts I’ve had about it before starting.

  • The all-or-nothing approach. OK, it’s just supposed to be for 30 days, but I’m generally in favor of diets that can easily work as long-term lifestyles as well, and that allow for human weakness and minor slip-ups. The site states: “The only way this will work is if you give it the full thirty days: no cheats, slips, or ‘special occasions.’ This isn’t us playing the tough guy. This is a fact, born of education and experience. You need such a small amount of any of these inflammatory foods to break the healing cycle—one bite of pizza, one splash of milk in your coffee, one lick of the spoon mixing the batter within the 30 day period and you’ve broken the ‘reset’ button, requiring you to start over again on Day 1.” 30 days is an arbitrary amount of time, and the idea of one little slip-up ruining everything is very discouraging. I suppose if you really have an undiagnosed food allergy, eating something you’re allergic to will mess things up for you temporarily, but I do not believe the body runs on exact 30-day reset cycles, and I don’t see any evidence for why this hardline attitude is necessary aside from the Whole30 team saying in an authoritative voice that This Is How It Works. I guess this helps people who aren’t able to take a shades-of-gray approach to diets, who need hard-and-fast, black-and-white, all-or-nothing rules, but I resent and chafe at this type of approach unless it’s scientifically justified.
  • Privilege. This diet, like so many others, comes from a place of unthinking socioeconomic privilege. In preparing for this, we spent $10.50 on a jar of organic coconut butter. We bought a little tub of fresh-ground almond butter that cost about four times as much as the fresh-ground peanut butter. We made ghee from grass-fed butter that cost about four times as much as the regular store-bought butter. We spent fifteen minutes looking at the labels of various nut, coconut, and hempseed milks at the co-op looking for one without carrageenan. (I still don’t really understand why carrageenan is banned–off to research this after this post.) I’m well aware that I am lucky enough to have the spare time and money to do this experiment. “Uber-restrictive diet aimed at reducing inflammation in the body because maybe you are sensitive to some of these common food allergens,” or whatever the actual narrative is for the Whole30 diet, may relate to food, but it’s actually somewhere way up at the top of Maslow’s pyramid. No, it’s not impossible to follow the Whole30 on a limited time/money budget, but I’m basically eliminating every convenient, cheap food I have ready access to if I don’t feel like cooking, ignoring half my pantry, and putting myself in a position where I need to buy expensive, hard-to-get substitutes for cheap staples like flour and milk in order to follow the diet more easily. Sure, eggs and potatoes and vegetables are cheap, but you also need the time to cook these things, and if you’re working two jobs or you have a picky kid you need to cook something else for, or any number of other reasons, that may not be feasible. Because we live in an unfair world and I already live in a privilege bubble, I guess this isn’t really a problem so much as something that sort of bothers me and that I feel obliged to point out.
  • The profit motive combined with some seemingly arbitrary restrictions that place the Whole30 team in a position of authority. I pretty much fully understand the reasoning behind vegan, raw vegan, or paleo diets. I do not fully understand all the reasoning or guidelines behind the Whole30 diet, and that makes me uneasy, because by deciding to follow the diet, I am now beholden to an authority figure that doles out rulings on what is OK and what isn’t. Yes, I know that the basic Whole30 is free, but as rulers of the Whole9 media empire, the Whole30 team has a vested interest in being able to tell people that potatoes are banned one day and OK the next, like parents or popes. BECAUSE I SAID SO, THAT’S WHY. Follow my blog and buy my book to always have the latest and greatest!
  • This whole “sex with your pants on” thing/”following the spirit of the guidelines”. As a corollary, mushy guidelines based on psychological control rather than nutritional realities. Although they claim the ban on “imitation” foods is in order to breed a healthy relationship to food, to me, it actually smacks of orthorexia and an unhealthy relationship with food, as well as a reliance on the Whole30 plan as arbiter. This part of the diet actually really bothers me. Part of the Whole30 diet involves cutting out Paleo substitutes for unhealthy foods, even if they’re made with “approved” ingredients, in order to eliminate cravings and allegedly reset your relationship to food. They state that a portobello mushroom cap instead of a burger bun is an OK swap, but a paleo-style coffee creamer is not. “Regarding “Paleo” coffee creamer… sigh. We know there’s a recipe out there where eggs, coconut milk, dates, and some voodoo magic are combined with prayers to create a thick, creamy concoction that can take the place of your cream and sugar (or Coffeemate) and once again transform your undrinkable black coffee into sweet, dreamy caffeine. This is not okay–sugary creamer substitutes fall under the SWYPO rule. Instead, we’d encourage you to take a look at why you need this at all. Do you really like coffee, or are you drinking it for the hit of sugary flavor?” I never sweeten my coffee, but let me ask: is this diet actually about eliminating foods that have a certain physical effect on your body? Or is this a diet that’s actually about the virtues of self-denial according to a set of semi-arbitrary rules? They also state on the SWYPO page: “In addition, context matters. For example, the amazing fried chicken in Paleo Comfort Foods is a perfectly appropriate (and delicious) dinner choice while on your Whole30. However, if you’re coming off a wicked addiction to KFC, perhaps Jules & Charles’ creation isn’t the best choice for you during your program. Make sense?” I suppose I understand this in the context of individual people’s cravings and what foods might make them, personally, most likely to cheat on their diet–and only in that context–but banning all dessert substitutes is a one-size-fits-all approach that annoys me. I feel that it’s healthy to enjoy your food, and if you must give up an entire category of foods that brings you pleasure, with foods you enjoy more being even more off limits, something seems wrong to me about your relationship to your food at that point. First of all, I’d prefer to see a purely nutrition-based approach to which foods are allowable, but secondly, I would prefer to see a focus on really learning to enjoy healthier versions of foods rather than denying any food that might possibly remind you of another food that’s even better. To put this in a personal context, there’s a dessert recipe I really like to make sometimes, a chocolate chia seed pudding topped with whipped coconut cream. I’m pretty sure this is banned on the SWYPO principle, and because it contains agave, but for argument’s sake, if I were to add dates to sweeten it instead: why can my desire for this food not be seen as healthy enjoyment of a delicious food for its own sake rather than unhealthy cravings for a “better” dessert? I feel that this approach sets up a framework where a food is bad if you like it too much–a sort of guilt-based metric that rewards self-denial, and I don’t think that idea is healthy at all.

Anyway, bottom line: I do believe this is a healthy diet on the whole, or I wouldn’t have agreed to try it. But the points above gave me pause, and will probably continue to do so as I embark on my 30 days. Follow my whole30 tag or just follow along with the blog for the next 30 days if you want to read more.


Written by orata

May 31, 2015 at 1:39 pm

Posted in whole30

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