Can you be Anti-diet but still support Whole30?
After years of dieting and calorie counting, I came to a place where I realized it was doing more harm than good and officially called it quits. I started venturing into the world of Health At Every Size (HAES) and Intuitive Eating principles as I worked toward body acceptance and learning what foods actually worked best for me.
There are a few things I still struggle with but I'm constantly working through it and if you ask anyone on an Intuitive Eating journey, they'll tell you the same. Rewiring years (decades?) of thought patterns about our bodies and our relationship food is *hard*.
One of my biggest struggles with the anti-diet movement is that I am still 100% fully in support of elimination diets such as Whole30. Before you come at me, let me explain.
Whole30 and other elimination diets were never designed to be a sustainable, weight loss diet like nearly every other diet out there touts. Do people use them in that manner? Yes. Do I support that? No. Does weight loss sometimes happen as a by product of doing Whole30? Absolutely. But why I think Whole30 is acceptable, even with an anti-diet mindset is that what you can learn from that experience can literally change your life.
Sidenote: even just the word diet is very polarizing! I recently asked the members in my group what came up when the
y thought of the word "diet" and it was overwhelmingly negative. Words like restriction, limitations, misery, defeat and failure all came up. But really, the definition of diet is: the kinds of food that a person, animal, or community habitually eats. Diet culture is just so pervasive that our minds immediately go to the prescribed diets that largely support the pursuit of rapid weight loss.
The trick here is to view it as an experiment, not a "diet". And really, the elimination phase isn't the experiment part - its the reintroduction phase that is, but doing the elimination is a necessary evil to get there.
So let's back up a second. What the heck is an elimination diet?
Basically, you remove highly inflammatory/high issue foods from your diet for a period of time then gradually add them back in a methodical manner that allows you to easily identify trigger foods.
For me, I suffered through digestive issues for years and turned to Whole30 to help me identify problematic foods. As a byproduct of the process, I realized that I had unknowingly been living with brain fog and low energy levels. I just didn't know any better because it seemed like it had always been there! Removing sugar, dairy, and wheat among other things allowed me to experience how good I could feel in my life. Yes, there was the 2 weeks of headaches and restless sleep and cravings to contend with but once you cross that threshold, something utterly new and amazing had awakened within me.
The problem with Whole30 is that a lot of people skip the very critical reintroduction phase to pinpoint what was causing them issues and they end up right back where they were without the added knowledge. But taking your time to go through the reintroduction phase carefully arms you with data on how your body reacts to specific foods. And once you have that data, you can now make more informed decisions about your eating habits moving forward.
I learned that I can tolerate small amounts of dairy, but if I have too much, I suffer intestinal distress and break out.
I learned that gluten gives me an almost immediate low grade headache. Same for corn.
I also noticed that beef sits really heavy in my stomach and I don't love that feeling.
So basically grilled cheese, pizza and cheeseburgers are foods I need to be really careful with. But not because they are "bad foods" - they just don't work well for me.
I learned that sugar really makes me feel like crap when I eat a lot of it, but small amounts in my condiments and dark chocolate don't bother me, and the occasional dessert is totally worth it.
I can use this information to make better decisions on my intuitive eating journey that I don't think I could have without going through this process. The goal of Whole30 is to help you find your food freedom, which is exactly what intuitive eating is.
Now, Whole30 didn't solve all my digestive problems, and I highly recommend working with a dietitian on an elimination protocol when you can, but here's the thing. Whole30 has made elimination diets more accessible to the general population. You don't need medical supervision unless you have health conditions or medications that need to be factored in. There are thousands of free resources for Whole30 online, from the guidelines of the protocol to recipes to symptom trackers.
If you experience digestive distress, bloating, moodiness, low energy, struggle with cravings, skin issues, and sleep issues, then doing an elimination diet may be a great tool for you to learn more about how your diet may (or may not!) have an effect on these symptoms! I think it is also important to note that if you suffer from an eating disorder, or even just have a history of disordered eating, doing an elimination diet can be highly triggering and should definitely be done under medical supervision only when all other options have been eliminated.
I think we should all work to have a better relationship with our bodies and an elimination diet is one tool that shouldn't be overlooked.