It’s January, and so the diets just keep on coming. Some of them look like they are about mindful eating, but they’re not. Now it’s Whole30 (whole30.com). This is a modified version of Atkins (remember that?), South Beach, “clean eating,” etc. etc. – it has carbs (not grains), sweets (some fruit, but no white sugar) – basically no processed foods. As the “30” implies, the promoters suggest you try this for 30 days as a “reset,” and then see if you want to continue it as a “way of life” (is what you eat a way of life?). Did I mention the tagline says that you can “change your life”? By having winter squash rather than rice? 

As we know, diet plans make money. In Whole30’s case, they offer some online resources free (recipes, podcast). Then, there’s the books, a branding program “Whole30 approved,” which is now being picked up by, you guessed it, Amazon AKA Whole Foods, meal plans ($15/month or $84/year), and more. Now they are certifying coaches ($1000 to certify, $150/year to maintain certification, testing fees). Their CEO and founder, Melissa Urban, does not list any health qualification in her online bio, but rather has written books and is “a prominent keynote speaker on social media and branding, health trends, and entrepreneurship.” Wow.

One question: Do I need to pay all this to get some recipes and eat vegetables?? Really?

Back to the diet: there’s a lot of foods you cannot eat on this diet: sugar, legumes (???? one of the most nutrient dense foods there is!), grains, “junk food,” baked goods, alcohol, and more (or I should say less).

You are not supposed to weigh yourself or take any measurements for the 30 days (a nod to something….)

The belief being promoted by this diet is that eliminating these foods will bring you relief from a whole range of chronic complaints: mood issues, migraines, the list goes on. None of this FDA approved or evidence-based. But, to be honest, if you ate like this _every_single_day_, I have not doubt that you would get some of these benefits. 

However, how would eating like this every_single_day be in real life? Would you spend hours finding and prepping the healthiest foods? Would you have to bring your own foods to parties, or ask your friends and family to meet your food restrictions (if you are Celiac, or have some other genuine food allergies or limitations, you do need to do this and it’s difficult – why do it voluntarily?)? Would you inadvertently fall into an ED known as orthorexia? Could you eat a muffin, or have a piece of birthday cake, like, ever? 

Research shows us, time and again, that restricted eating based on food rules will eventually exhaust our willpower. And so, next January, do we seek the latest, newest approach? Can we “change our life” in 30 days? Thousands of years of human experience tells us that if it were that easy, we wouldn’t struggle with our habits, we’d already have the answers. It does begin to look like different day, same deal.

Dr. Judson Brewer shares that harmful habits (addictions, binge eating, restricted eating, not enough veggies and fruits, a sedentary lifestyle) get us stuck in a habit loop, where we cycle from stimulus (bored, anxious, upset, stressed) – to response (harmful eating habit) – to reward (feel better, temporarily or at least less bad). Mindful eating can take us inside the habit loop and encourage curiosity about how we get caught in habit, which I call “autopilot,” about how we eat.

In our stress-filled society, do we really need to jump at the next promise, like Whole30? Perhaps it’s time to slow down, sit down, and begin to look into how we get trapped in repeating cycles that lead away from balance. All beings seek balance, and we can learn skillful ways to keep us there! Four healthy habits are a good start: exercise, fruits & vegetables, not smoking, moderate to no drinking (see the image). Perhaps the dollars you would send to Whole30 can be used elsewhere, for yourself or for those in need? Food for thought.