Since it was created in 2009 as a spinoff of the Paleo diet, the Whole30 movement has exploded in popularity. Chances are you've heard about it from a friend or family member, because it's often the only thing they can talk about for weeks on end.
That's because trying to get through a 30-day program without consuming added sugar, alcohol, grains, legumes, dairy, MSG and junk food—all the fun stuff, basically—can be a task of epic proportions that requires a Herculean amount of self-discipline.
But many who have completed the program swear by it, noting how after little more than a month, their relationship to food and their body has completely shifted.
"The Whole30 is essentially an elimination diet, and it's a reset for your health, your habits and your relationship with food," explained Louise Hatton, a Whole30-certified coach who lives in Whistler. "A lot of people see it as a diet, but it's not really a diet. It's more to figure out what works for you and what doesn't."
After the initial month, participants reintroduce the different food groups one by one, tracking how their body responds. It's a level of control and customization that appeals to many who are used to more traditional diets. Many report higher energy levels, brain function, better sleep, and elevated moods.
While people have flocked to Whole30, nutritionists have been less enthusiastic. A panel of health experts recently ranked it 37th out of 40 diets in U.S. News & World Report. "No independent research. Nonsensical claims. Extreme. Restrictive," read the report.
But Whole30's proponents contend that it should not be lumped in with other diets, as it's not intended to be a weight-loss program. "Everyone reacts differently; people do lose weight off of it, but that's not the main reason people do Whole30," Hatton said. "It's more for how much energy do you have? How's your focus? Joint inflammation, brain fog, eczema—it's all those things."
Those negative assessments have failed to hurt the program's appeal, however, and that's due in part to diets like Whole30 giving consumers a level of certainty they crave in a world of limitless dietary options, according to Sue Roberts, professor of nutrition at Tufts, speaking to Fortune earlier this year.
"Subconsciously, people are trying to assemble a world where there's just a much smaller number of choices," she said. "How to eat and stay in control just gets a lot easier."
Another part of Whole30's allure is that it offers direct, tangible results as compared to longer-term diets in which participants might not see any payoff for months, if that. It also gets people thinking not just about what they eat, but why they eat.
"Everyone just eats their emotions and they don't think about how they're going to feel after downing that bottle of wine or that pint of ice cream. We've all done it," Hatton said. "So it's like, 'OK, why am I eating? Am I hungry? Am I bored? Am I procrastinating? What am I avoiding?' I think it's just an awareness of what you're eating, why you're eating and how it makes you feel."
Hatton also acknowledged the difficulty some have getting through the month, which is why she and other Whole30 coaches offer their services (at a price, of course) to help participants rough it out.
"If they feel like it's worth it, it almost becomes like second nature. For me, it's second nature now," Hatton said. "And that's why they have coaches, to help people through and keep them accountable. The busy mom with two kids, who's like, 'I can't do this.' How can I help her through this? Do you need recipes? Do you need me to help you shopping? That's where the coaches come in; they basically hold your hand through the journey."
Hatton is offering coaching for locals interested in taking part in Whole30 in the New Year, a popular time for people to be thinking about their diet and lifestyles.
"It will include a private Facebook group, and there are busy moms who are like, 'Oh I have this great recipe,' and, 'This is what works for me," she said. "It's a safe area where people can talk about their challenges and celebrate their victories."
For those interested, contact Hatton at firstname.lastname@example.org.