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Is the Whole30 diet safe for people who have/had an eating disorder?

the whole 30 diet is not safe for people who have eating disorders

In a word: No. Whole30 is a restrictive diet, and therefore not safe for people with an eating disorder.

Whole30 and all diets are extremely unsafe for those of us who have/had an eating disorder. Sure, Whole30 positions itself not as a diet but a “lifestyle program,” but make no doubt about it: Whole30 is a restrictive diet.

Any program that restricts entire food groups in exchange for “goodness” or “health” (Whole30 does both) is dangerous for someone who has experience with an eating disorder.

The verdict: keep your kids (and yourself) away from the Whole30 program. The Whole30 diet is not safe for someone with an eating disorder.

Is Whole30 a diet? Yes.

Whole30 positions itself as a lifestyle company, but it is absolutely a diet. No doubt about it. It involves eliminating entire categories of foods (sugar, grains, dairy, and legumes). This is most definitely a diet. The program is very strict, saying that the only way to “let your body heal and recover from whatever effects those foods may be causing” is to stick to the diet with 100% dedication.

There are no excuses. If you take just one bite of lentils BOOM! you have to start all over again because it destroys all your progress so far. Oh, and it promises to CHANGE YOUR LIFE! Wow. That’s a big claim.

For those of us who have eating disorders, Whole30 could definitely change our lives by getting us right back on the restrict-binge-purge cycle.

Here’s how we know Whole30 is a diet:

  • Eliminates whole food groups
  • Takes a perfectionistic/zero mistakes attitude
  • Tells you you can improve your health by following its rules
  • Turns a profit for a company (vs. being freely available to anyone)
  • No scientific evidence of health improvement
  • Promises a simple solution to a highly complex situation

Does the Whole30 fall under the “diet industry”

Yes. Absolutely. Even though you may have heard about the Whole30 from a friend on Instagram, which makes it feel “authentic” and “not a diet,” Whole30 is a company, and it is absolutely a part of the diet industry.

If you go to the website (don’t bother), you will note that there are numerous revenue streams enjoyed by the Whole30 company, including books, coaching certification, meal plans and an affiliate marketing program.

The diet was created by a health blogger in 2009 who blogged about a “health challenge” she completed, and a business was born. The diet has been extensively marketed using peer-based marketing techniques and social media to spread the word in a way that feels authentic and real. But the marketing model on the website is unmistakable. Whole30 is a diet company.

What is the science behind the Whole30 diet?

There is none. Like all diet products, Whole30 is not required to provide us with actual scientific data regarding efficacy. It promises to change OUR WHOLE LIVES based solely on the author/business owner’s personal experience and customer testimonials.

From the website: “I did it, and millions of people have done it since, and it changed my life (and their lives) in a dramatic and permanent fashion.”

Gee! That sounds exactly like the 100 other diet programs I’ve tried!

None of the claims made by the Whole30 company need to be substantiated by science, facts, or research. Like all diets, Whole30 may result in short-term changes. But it has a 95% chance of leaving you right back where you started. And you may even be less healthy and/or weigh more.

There is not a single scientific citation on the website indicating research. They provide no justification for the removal of these key food groups from our diets.

There is absolutely no scientific evidence (barring allergies) that it is healthy to remove staple foods like grains, dairy, and legumes from your diet. In fact, there is plenty of evidence that they are beneficial.

Whole30, like all diet products, is selling a solution to fear

Like all diet companies, the Whole30 company promises a solution to fear. It doesn’t promise weight loss. Instead it sells “health.” Whole30 suggests we are in imminent danger. We risk sacrificing our health if we consume basic food staples including legumes, grains, and dairy products.

From the website: “Certain food groups (like sugar, grains, dairy, and legumes) could be having a negative impact on your health and fitness without you even realizing it.”

Do you see the catchy part of “without you even realizing it?” That is the key to this marketing approach. Whole30’s marketing team is suggesting that there is a “secret” that has been kept from all of us. Whole30 is the only company that knows about this secret. But they are nice and friendly enough to share it with us.

Isn’t it surprising that the medical community has not alerted us to the damaging effects of these foods? In fact, this is the crux of the Whole30 marketing drive. It convinces us that they have the secret to health. And this secret is being KEPT FROM US!

One of the most powerful marketing messages that diet companies use is the conspiracy theory. There is a secret, but the medical establishment is keeping it from you! I will share the secret with you. It worked for me! It will work for you!

As consumers, we are very susceptible to marketing messages that suggest we have been hoodwinked or are being lied to by people who we perceive are more powerful than we are. Whole30 executives know our weakness and exploit it for their gain.

Whole30 leverages social media very effectively

This company was started by a blogger and it is an Internet marketing machine. It is extremely successful with social media marketing. Psychologically, we are very susceptible to social media marketing by peers, who we inherently trust more than companies.

The Whole30 company knows this and has created graphics and hashtags to help people promote the fact that they are “good” because they are on the Whole30 diet. They also leverage their Whole30-certified coaches on how to use social media to promote their coaching services and events. This peer-based marketing is extremely effective and we are very susceptible to it.

Here is just a small sample of the types of Instagram posts that promote Whole30 products and services:

Our position is very clear that Whole30 is a diet and therefore not safe with an eating disorder.

  1. It is a diet.
  2. The company makes money by selling the dream of achieving “goodness” by eliminating dietary staples.
  3. It is extremely dangerous for anyone with an eating disorder.

Ginny Jones is on a mission to empower parents to raise kids who are free from eating issues, body shame and eating disorders.

She’s the founder of More-Love.org and a Parent Coach who helps parents navigate eating disorder recovery and other challenging emotional and behavioral issues.


Jessi Haggerty RD

If you would like to listen to an excellent podcast episode from a Dietician about the challenges involved in the Whole30, please listen to Ep. 049 on The BodyLove Project with Jessi Haggerty, RD.

2 thoughts on “Is the Whole30 diet safe for people who have/had an eating disorder?

  1. […] book joins a long line of pseudoscience (e.g. ketogenic, intermittent fasting, zero grain, Whole 30, etc.) that encourages the disordered idea that our eating directly results in a particular body […]

  2. […] programs that we can adopt with the claim that we are pursuing health. Clean eating, Keto diets, Whole 30, Noom, Intermittent Fasting, and Weight Watchers are all excellent ways to get started with an […]

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