Orthorexia, Whole30, and Food Sensitivities

Orthorexia, Whole30, and Food Sensitivities
October 8, 2019 Marisa Michael

Whole30 is a crappy diet

The other day I posted something on Instagram about how Whole30 was a crappy diet. And the post just BLEW UP.

People angry that I had said Whole30 was a sham diet, not backed by science. People angry that I said it was harmful and restrictive. People attacking the profession of dietetics itself–a rigorous profession that requires a degree, a year-long internship, adhering to an ethics code, a board exam, and professional continuing education. People challenging me to try Whole30 and just you wait–you will feel so much better!

This was so fascinating to me. Why the anger? Why the fervor?

Because Whole30 uses emotion.

It uses extreme language and buzzwords, such as:

  • Miracle
  • Gut-damaging
  • Inflammation
  • Cravings
  • Whole
  • Clean
  • Sugar
  • Approved
  • Toxic
  • Cheat
  • Incredible
  • Forever

Just a friendly tip:

When you see extreme language, that is a red flag that this is not a credible nutrition source.

Whole30 is not backed by any semblance of biology or science. It is a fad diet designed to make money. The end. It is not a valid, useful elimination diet for those seeking relief from food sensitivities. It is not a weight loss diet superior to any other diet that induces a calorie deficit. It is a sham. End of story.

Actual nutrition science is much more nuanced, and uses careful language to describe what studies do and do not tell us.

Whole30 followers often exhibit signs of orthorexia.

What is orthorexia?

Dr. Steven Bratman coined the term in his book “Health Food Junkies.” There is a self-assessment quiz you can take. Dr. Bratman allows this quiz to be reproduced, so here it is in full:

1) I spend so much of my life thinking about, choosing and preparing healthy food that it interferes with other dimensions of my life, such as love, creativity, family, friendship, work and school.

2) When I eat any food I regard to be unhealthy, I feel anxious, guilty, impure, unclean, and/or defiled; even to be near such foods disturbs me, and I feel judgmental of others who eat such foods.

3) My personal sense of peace, happiness, joy, safety, and self-esteem is excessively dependent on the purity and righteousness of what I eat.

4) Sometimes I would like to relax my self-imposed “good food” rules for a special occasion, such as a wedding or a meal with family and friends, but I find that I cannot. (Note: if you have a medical condition in which it is unsafe for you to make ANY exception to your diet, then this item does not apply).

5) Over time, I have steadily eliminated more foods and expanded my list of food rules in an attempt to maintain or enhance health benefits; sometimes, I may take an existing food theory and add to it with beliefs of my own.

6) Following my theory of healthy eating has caused me to lose more weight than most people would say is good for me or has caused other signs of malnutrition such as hair loss, loss of menstruation, or skin problems.

A “yes” answer to any of these questions means you may have or be developing orthorexia.

I can bet that anyone who has followed Whole30 has had some symptoms of orthorexia. How can you shun grains, legumes, and dairy and also participate fully in normal living? How can you feel so strongly about a diet that if you “cheat” you don’t feel guilt, shame, regret, or disappointment?

To be clear, Whole30 is just one of many forms of dieting that can develop into orthorexia.

If you or a loved one is suffering from orthorexia, please reach out to an eating disorder therapist, dietitian, or treatment center for help. This can turn into a serious life-threatening illness that needs proper care, compassion, and professional help.

What about using Whole30 for food sensitivities?

Food sensitivities are a real thing, and many people find relief when they can identify which foods they do not tolerate. It can be life-changing for the better. Whole30 claims it is a way to identify and alleviate food sensitivity issues. But is it?

Nope, not in my professional opinion. A valid food elimination diet takes into account a person’s health history, medications, know and suspected sensitivities, susceptibility to eating disorders, and more. Whole30 cuts out a whole litany of foods with no rhyme or reason. A true elimination diet, guided by a dietitian trained in gut health, is a specific and personalized affair. It may include eliminating high FODMAP foods, but not all foods in an entire food group as Whole30 does. It also includes a careful elimination and restoration of foods to preserve gut function. Whole30 just whacks a ton of foods out at once, putting you at risk for down regulation of the gut and digestive enzymes. It’s like using a machete instead of a scalpel.

You’d be much better off going to a dietitian and gastroenterologist than to try Whole30 for any gut health issues.

Whole30 is a diet designed by someone who has no knowledge or understanding of basic biology or nutrition science. It is full of claims that are flat out wrong. Don’t fall for Whole30.

For more on orthorexia, visit orthorexia.com

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~This is general information only and is not intended to be medical advice. Always check with your healthcare provider before undergoing any diet or lifestyle change.