Fad diets are nothing new. “Get skinny quickly,” “Lose 10 pounds this month,” and various other sayings of the sort plaster magazines at the grocery store and TV commercials for supplements and diets. What a lot of these diets have in common is cutting down on calories with the assumption that less food will equal weight loss. The dangers of such diets can be seen in eating disorders and unhealthy relationships with food.
Not all diets involve cutting down drastically on just calories. The Whole30 diet is aimed at resetting your body to figure out if there are any foods your body doesn’t like that you don’t know about. The premise is that for 30 days, all processed foods are eliminated. No grain products, dairy, starches or processed sugars are allowed. While it seems daunting, the diet suggests replacing these foods with vegetable and protein alternatives. Eggs become a Whole 30 participant’s best friend, along with sweet potatoes, lean meats and fresh fruit and vegetables. Your body may be deprived of processed sugars and complex carbohydrates, but it is not lacking in protein, carbohydrates, sugars or calcium–these are just now coming from more wholesome sources.
In preparation for spring break especially, many people try to adopt a healthier lifestyle to get ready for a week on the beach. Lexie Nixon and Natalie May, juniors at Elon, had read about the Whole30 diet and decided to see how hard it would really be for the month of March.
“Spring break was coming up and I felt like it would be a quick and effective way to get myself ready,” Nixon said. “I felt like I lived a healthy lifestyle before. I don’t indulge in a lot of junk food or fried food. Putting a label on it like Whole30 keeps me accountable and it makes it easier to follow than just trying to ‘eat well.’”
Whole30 does have seemingly strict limitations, and the group said they would indulge in a coffee with milk, granola on a smoothie bowl or a caesar salad once a week. Even though they set out with the greatest intentions, May said the restrictions soon became old.
“I did it for a week and was pretty over it,” May said. “I feel it’s unhealthy to just eliminate things like that, and we’re not doing it to its full effect so for me it wasn’t working. We cheated every day in some way shape or form.”
Nixon disagrees, and finds herself looking forward to cooking with alternatives, like zoodles instead of pasta, salads instead of a sandwich, and snacking on dates and raw almonds instead of Goldfish or crackers.
“ It was difficult to start but now a few weeks in I’ve gotten used to it and it just makes me feel better,” she said. “It’s not so much about telling myself ‘no’ but saying yes to foods that are cleaner.”
The bigger picture
While Nixon has a healthy outlook on the program and realistic expectations, this is not always the case for college students who are dieting. The reality is that these programs are a short term fix, and they’re not always safe.
Hannah Durbin is a junior at Elon who struggled with an eating disorder for five years, and now runs a recovery social media page and works with professionals to promote healthy lifestyle habits that she shares with her followers. While Durbin sees the benefits of cutting out processed foods, it’s the strict rules and addictive traits of Whole30 where her concerns lie.
Industry professionals share Durbin’s concerns.
“There’s no mention [on Whole30] about other important lifestyle factors such as exercise, portion control, a sleep routine or being mindful,” said Amanda Cerra, a registered dietician for Elon University with Aramark. “I don’t see much support for after the 30 days either. The idea is that you focus on real foods for 30 days, but what about after that month? Are you really creating healthy lifestyle changes if they are just for 30 days?”
Cerra recommends replacing processed options with more wholesome alternatives, like swapping white bread for whole grain, choosing a variety of proteins, filling your plate with colorful vegetables and choosing low-fat milk products.
“I think there is a more realistic approach to eating healthy. You can eat a balanced diet without eliminating foods entirely,” Cerra said. “I think avoiding legumes, dairy and grains is too extreme.”
However, Cerra does see some positive benefits of trying the Whole30 diet, especially with how the program urges participants not to check in with a scale everyday. The premise of Whole30 is to focus on the quality of food rather than on the weight loss that may or may not come with it.
“Weight does not define healthy,” she said. “Focus on how you feel or how your clothes fit as a way to measure health. Also, you’re eating minimally processed foods so your relationship with food can change since you’re cooking more and eating things in their natural state. It might make you appreciate your food more.”
Living a healthy life–mentally, physically and emotionally–can seem like an overwhelming task while in college, but it’s possible. Having realistic goals and a balanced relationship between a social life, academics and personal well-being is the key to a healthy, happy mind and body, for 30 days or for life.