In Defence Of Doing The Whole30 Diet

06/01/2017 17:51
Xsandra via Getty Images

So... this is awkward.

A month-long 'diet' I tried in November has been slated as 'the worst fad diet' and 'one to avoid'.

As a lifestyle editor who is supposed to report responsibly about food and diets, as well as champion body positivity and self-love, to be tarred with the 'fad diet' brush is far from ideal.

It's not the first time Whole30 has raised eyebrows. When I started the diet I had well-meaning friends corner me and tell me that I didn't need to diet and that they were worried about me.

But hear me out. Whole30 is no fad diet, at least not in the traditional sense.

Yes, it has had a surge in popularity of late and is a restrictive, short-term overhaul of your eating and drinking habits. But it isn't like the Master Cleanse/Lemon Diet - where you drink lemon juice, cayenne pepper and maple syrup.

On Whole30 you cut out sugar, alcohol, gluten, grains, dairy and legumes. But rather than focussing on what you can't have, let's focus on what you can have: meat, fish, eggs, fruit, vegetables, nuts (plain, of course) and various oils for cooking (such as extra virgin olive oil or coconut oil). It's basically super, super Paleo. Yes, you have to cut lots out but it's hardly unhealthy.

The major issue taken with Whole30 - which I admittedly had and still do have - is that, while the list of food you can eat is healthy, the idea of cutting out entire food groups might foster an unhealthy attitude to certain foods.

Because unless you have a health reason - an allergy or intolerance - there is no need to cut out certain food groups. And while the rise of free-from food is great for those who need to avoid those foods, it is fuelling yet more misunderstanding about nutrition. (For most of us, gluten-free brownies are no better than regular brownies, OK?)

But Whole30 is far from a diet. In fact, you're forbidden to weigh yourself during the 30-day period. The onus is not on losing weight, but resetting your relationship with food.

This is exactly the reason I did it. Most of the time, I am healthy: I eat mainly plant-based, natural and whole meals, cooking everything from scratch. But I drink too much alcohol, eat biscuits every day at work and can't control myself the second the crisps and dips roll out.

These may not seem like the biggest vices, but everyone has their own personal goals and, as someone who has tried cutting down on the above multiple times (and failing), I figured following the extreme rules on Whole30 might help me break my habits. And it did.

I haven't gone a week without alcohol since before I was 18, but here I was going for dinner and out to birthdays (and DANCING) without touching a drop. I also stopped the saying "oh, go on then" whenever the biscuit drawer opened in the office.

I did lose weight, over half a stone to be exact. I also lost inches off my waist, hips and thighs. I have more muscle definition. But the biggest change was my renewed attitude to food and booze.

As soon as I finished the month, I went back to eating most foods I'd cut out again. I started eating grains and legumes, which I missed the most on Whole30. But now, I only drink alcohol or eat biscuits if I want to, not because I'm stuck in a bad habit.

Sure, I drank booze in December, I ate too many pigs-in-blankets over Christmas and I consumed a lot of cheese. But, that's because I approached the so-called 'fad diet' in a measured and realistic way.

I reserve the right to eat what I want, to make my own decisions and to try out something new without having to defend it every two seconds to people who can't and won't understand.

For me, 'diet' has always been a dirty word, 'fad diet' even more so. I was raised by a mother who was (and still is) perpetually on a diet and have as such endeavoured to live a relatively healthy, yet balanced, lifestyle that focuses on making informed food and exercise choices (most of the time).

Whole30 enabled me to step back from habits and food ruts, giving me the space to say no to myself and others.

I think I gained a lot from Whole30, so to have it written off as a 'fad diet' is a pretty black and white way of looking at things.

As with so many lifestyle choices there is a fine line between being healthy and being obsessive - just take clean eating, for example. The key difference is doing your research and being realistic.

Here are some tips if you want to try it for yourself:

Read Up: Swot up on Whole30 way ahead of starting. There are many resources (many of which are free and online; I didn't spend a penny). Check out Instagram, Pinterest and Facebook for inspiration too.

Plan Ahead: Don't ever end up caught short or hungry with an empty fridge, because that's where temptation will set in. Make sure you plan your meals (even meals out) well in advance.

Snack: Don't deny to aid sugar cravings so keep plenty of fruit, nuts and nut butter to hand (Pip & Nut sachets are a life-saver if you're on the go).

Buddy Up: I didn't have a friend to do it with, but other people I knew who had done it were able to keep me motivated and give me tips. The three women (two Americans and one Brit) are all people whose attitude to food and fitness I admire, so I figured it was a safe thing to do.

Don't Hide It: The night before I started I told two of my closest friends (and drinking buddies) that I was not going to be drinking alcohol for a month. While it was awkward to explain, I needed to tell them ahead of time so that they didn't offer me booze during the 30 days. This limited the amount of time I was tempted.

Get Creative: Don't stick to boring recipes, as this will only make the diet harder to stick to. There are so many things you can make, including salad dressings, sauces and many alternatives to everyday meals.

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