Reading time: ~ 7 minutes, or more time than it takes the average male to orgasm (Sorry ladies..)
“This is the antithesis of a long-term healthy dietary pattern.” US News Nutrition Expert on the Whole30 Diet
“Seven…Minute…Abs…” Hitchhiker, There’s Something About Marry
A decade after a botched prom date, Ted an awkward but kind-hearted Rhode Island man, is road-tripping down to Miami to recover his lost love, Marry, a beautiful-but-down-to-earth ‘girl next door,’ former girl of NFL great, Brett Favre.
Somewhere on the 23 hour drive south, Ted gets bored and decides to pick up a Hitchhiker. The Hitchhiker is obviously insane.
The following conversation ensues:
Hitchhiker: You heard of this thing, the 8-Minute Abs?
Ted: Yeah, sure, 8-Minute Abs. Yeah, the exercise video.
Hitchhiker: Yeah, this is going to blow that right out of the water. Listen to this: 7… Minute… Abs.
Ted: Right. Yes. OK, all right. I see where you’re going.
Hitchhiker: Think about it. You walk into a video store, you see 8-Minute Abs sittin’ there, there’s 7-Minute Abs right beside it. Which one are you gonna pick, man?
Ted: I would go for the 7…
Hitchhiker: Bingo, man, bingo. 7-Minute Abs. And we guarantee just as good a workout as the 8-minute folk.
Ted: You guarantee it? That’s – how do you do that…?
THAT’S A GOOD QUESTION, Ted. And it sort of reminds me of a diet that is now so popular (especially after the holidays) that Chipotle has created a bowl named after it.
The Whole30 Diet.
The Problem with Whole30 Diet
The problem with the Whole30 is similar to that of 8-minute abs, so cleverly satirized by the scene above. Both well-intentioned means of increasing health. Both involving tactics and information that are, frankly, probably very useful. 8-Minute Abs, after all, has been recognized by some fitness buffs as a pretty solid core workout.
But both suffer from a flaw that, more often than not, leads their health-seeking readers astray.
What’s the flaw?
No, it’s not the fact that a panel of nutrition experts at US News ranked it #37 out of 40 diets evaluated. Though, such a premise would probably be a reasonable grounds to doubt the Whole30. To put this in perspective, #27 went to that often satirized 90s relic— SlimFast.
For those interested, the top-ranked diets were the (much more empirically-founded) Mediterranean and DASH diets. Diets that, by the way, specifically focus on Green Light foods— foods like greens, whole grains, beans, fruits, veggies, nuts and seeds.
The evaluation was based on criteria like practicability, heart health, long-term and short-term weight management, and that pesky little thing called ‘evidence.’ The scientists summarize the fate of the Whole30
“Whole30 lacks scientific support and is severely restrictive, according to the experts. Its short-term approach and long-term promises didn’t win over the panelists.” US News
But, again, that’s not the biggest problem.
And no, it’s not because of the fact that they confuse many Yellow foods, or even Green foods, for being Red foods. For example, claiming beans and soy—things eaten by the ton in the healthiest of Asian and Latin cultures— are most likely bad when, at best, the research seems inconclusive.
Lastly, it’s not even the fact that anything they say is entirely wrong (though perhaps it’s misleading).
There’s a larger problem.
The problem with the Whole30 diet is in its name. Specifically, the number: 30.
The problem is we are biologically attracted to the idea of short and easy. Something that number 30, much like the number 8 or 7, seems to represent in this context. ‘Change your life in 30 days’ sounds compelling. But less than plausible, isn’t it?
Upon reflection (and maybe a little research), no one would actually think it takes seven minutes to end up with a six-pack, would they? Abs are, as the saying goes, made in the kitchen, not the weight room.
Similarly, 30 days to be healthy is not believable. We all know that health is long-term and ongoing.
And yet, the Whole30 diet is apparently meant to ‘change your life’ in 30 days. Do they suggest doing it for longer than 30 days? Not exactly.
Their answer to the FAQ ‘Can You Do The Whole30 Forever’:
“we don’t think you should make it a Whole365.” Why 30 and not longer? “We could have made it a Whole66 (or longer), but the idea of changing your diet in this fashion for more than two months would have scared a lot of people away.”
Scared us away?
“Is It All Bad?” No.
Don’t get me wrong, there is a lot that is good about the Whole30.
– It get’s people to see some benefits of eating “healthier” (however short-lived).
– It gets them to see they can do it (albeit for 30ish days).
– And, for sure, if you were eating anything close to the Standard American Diet prior to this, you will likely feel and look better at day 31 (though this is true for nearly all diets).
But the downside, and the downside of many diets like this, is that the title the book and the message are often perceived (despite possible intentions of its creators to the contrary) as short-term fixes. This kind of perspective is what leads to the following empirical fact.
Most diets work up until a year, and then fail. The dieter typically reverts back to pre-diet weight, or worse. For example, researcher Traci Mann found that for all well-tracked diets she could find that actually followed up after two ears, nearly half of the participants actually gained weight. ( Secrets from The Eating Lab).
“But My Goal Is Short-term”
But let’s even assume that you are seeking a short-term fix.
Maybe you went a little crazy on the potato latkes or Christmas ham over the holidays and you’re looking to ‘detox.’ Maybe you’re only months from what will be a heavily photographed event, like a wedding or spring break. I still see two glaring issues with the Whole30.
First, it doesn’t seem to be the best option for short-term. In that same US News evaluation, It ranked 30/40 in short-term weight loss.
Second, you’ve likely heard about the potentially deleterious effects of ‘yo-yo dieting’ on your long-term heart health. In case you aren’t familiar, in recent years, highly accredited institutions like the NYU School of Medicine and the American Heart Association have studied heart patients with varying degrees of weight fluctuation over their lives. The ones with the greatest fluctuation (the so-called Yo-Yo Dieters), had nearly double and triple the risk of cardiac incidents (like heart attack) and all-cause mortality.
The Bottom Line
Look – it’s not that I have a major issue with these folks. Their intentions, I am sure, are great.
They want people to experience what healthier feels like and they want to show them they can do it. Both noble pursuits.
And I agree with much of what they say about food and nutrition. Or at least, I feel it is a big step up for anything that looks like the Standard American Diet.
Truth be told, my friends who made it to day 30 typically did feel better.
Most had been, by their own admission, eating poorly prior to it, and so this was a large step up. Not only that, they also felt a sense of accomplishment after finishing. And for the next couple months, they had a better experience with “healthy” food.
But this didn’t last.
Because the reason that I and you and they were attracted to the Whole30 was likely the number 30. That alluring glimmer that this might be the easy short-cut to health.
But, if you’re like most people, by day 90 or 120, or certainly by day 360, you’ll likely all but forget you were ever on this diet. Your diet will, over the course of the year, slip, slowly back to normal. Until the end of this year when you look at your significant other and say something like: “I think it may be a time to do another Whole 30.”
The Point: If you want to feel good for 30 days, or get in-shape for your wedding— hey, go nuts.
But If you’re interested in becoming sustainably healthy, and getting the most out of your brain and body, a short-term, detox outlook rarely sticks.
So what really works?
I will explain my (research-based) theory over the coming weeks.
But, for now, according to the Hitchhiker, at least we can rule out 6-minute abs…
Hitchhiker: If you’re not happy with the first 7 minutes, we’re gonna send you the extra minute free. You see? That’s it. That’s our motto. That’s where we’re comin’ from. That’s from “A” to “B”.
Ted: That’s right. That’s – that’s good. That’s good. Unless, of course, somebody comes up with 6-Minute Abs. Then you’re in trouble, huh?
Hitchhiker: No! No, no, not 6! I said 7. Nobody’s comin’ up with 6. Who works out in 6 minutes? You won’t even get your heart goin, not even a mouse on a wheel.
Ted: That – good point.
Hitchhiker: 7’s the key number here. Think about it. 7-Elevens. 7 dwarves. 7, man, that’s the number. 7 chipmunks twirlin’ on a branch, eatin’ lots of sunflowers on my uncle’s ranch. You know that old children’s tale from the sea. It’s like you’re dreamin’ about Gorgonzola cheese when it’s clearly Brie time, baby. Step into my office.
Hitchhiker: ‘Cause you’re fuckin’ fired!