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

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

In a word: No.

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.

Is Whole30 a diet? Yes.

Whole30 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.

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 will 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 heavier.

There is not a single scientific citation on the website indicating research to justify the removal of these key food groups from our diets.

There is absolutely no scientific evidence that grains, dairy, and legumes are harmful to health. In fact, there is plenty of evidence that they are beneficial. And even if we consider sugar, which is commonly vilified today, the “dangers” of sugar are dose-dependent, meaning that we don’t have to eliminate the entire element, we may just want to see how different doses impact our body.

It’s useful to note that science never gives black and white answers. Even smoking, which is a proven cause of lung cancer, is not black and white. Some people live very long lives while smoking several packs of cigarettes a day. Meanwhile, some people develop lung cancer even though they have never smoked a cigarette. That doesn’t mean that scientists say we should smoke cigarettes, but it does show that science is not as exact as we like to think it is.

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

Like all diet companies, the Whole30 company promises a solution to fear. And, since they don’t want to market their product as a “diet,” they can’t use the most common fear of weight. Instead, they suggest we are in imminent danger of 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 staples that form the foundation of the global diet? In fact, it’s more than surprising, this is the crux of the Whole30 marketing drive: to convince us that we are dumb and ignorant lemmings if we don’t follow their advice.

One of the most powerful marketing messages that marketers can use is the conspiracy theory: there is a secret, but the medical establishment is keeping it from 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

Whole30 is a marketing machine, and 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 on Whole30

  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.

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 eating disorders?

  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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