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The Whole30® and Weight Loss

Since the inception of our Whole30® program in April 2009, we’ve made one thing abundantly clear: This is not a weight loss program. It’s not a diet, it’s not a quick fix, and it’s certainly not a “17 Day Get Skinnier Than Your Friends” kind of approach.

But that doesn’t mean we don’t recognize or value your weight loss goals.

Weight, Body Image, and Health

We know you want to lose weight. That’s why 90% of people undertake a new diet or exercise program in the first place, and that’s where 95% of our consulting clients are coming from (among other goals).

And hear us clearly–wanting to lose weight or change your body does not make you shallow. It’s no more shallow to take on the Whole30 for weight loss than it is to use the program to clear up your acne, heal your psoriasis, or reduce the perpetual belly bloat you’ve been experiencing.

Body image, as a dear friend recently mentioned on her blog, is a complex issue. Maybe you want to lose weight to improve your health. Maybe it’s for your self-esteem. Maybe it’s to feel more socially accepted, or loved. But for now, for our purposes, your reason doesn’t matter. It’s your own, and who are we to tell you it’s invalid, or less than worthy? Simply put, you’d like to lose weight. And we want to help you do it—healthfully and sustainably.

So why do we spend so much time telling you we don’t care if you lose weight?

The Whole9 Perspective: Health First

The above is one famous example of a line straight from It Starts With Food (page 210): “We don’t care if you lose weight on your Whole30.” And if that was all we wrote, we’d see why you might be frustrated. But there’s more. The very next line in the book says, “We know you care, though, and we do care about you. So, please, hear us out.”

From our perspective, we have to position the Whole30 as far away from “weight loss” as possible, for a few reasons. First, we will not allow our program to be lumped in with programs like “The 17 Day Diet,” “7 Pounds in 7 Days,” or “I Can Make You Thin.” These quick-fix programs all have three things in common: they focus only on weight and looks, they’re spectacularly unhealthy, and they all fail long-term.

But more importantly, we come out hard against weight loss as a primary goal for your Whole30 because if we didn’t, here’s what we’d see: I’m doing the Whole30, but low-calorie. Or, I’m on the Whole30, but super low-fat. Or zero carbs. Or while drinking a Whole30 meal replacement shake for breakfast, another for lunch, and a light Whole30 meal for dinner.

We already see these examples from some of you who come to the Whole30 with a weight loss focus, despite our efforts to redirect you towards health, changing habits, and improving your quality of life. You know why this happens?

Because we’ve all been dieting our entire lives in an effort to lose weight. And the message we’re sold is that weight loss = restriction. So if your focus is solely on weight loss going into the Whole30, what will you do? Alter the plan to make it even more restrictive.

And that, friends, defeats the purpose and the magic of the Whole30 altogetherand likely roadblocks your weight loss efforts, too.

Coming Out Swingin’

So we come out strong against focusing on weight loss during your Whole30. We don’t allow you to weigh or measure yourself during the program, citing five reasons you should dump your scale for good. We give you 174,203 things to measure besides weight loss to evaluate your Whole30 progress. We encourage you to focus on your health, because when you make yourself healthier from the inside-out, improved body composition, self-esteem, and happiness generally follow.

And most importantly, we tell you, “Scale weight fluctuates… And it’s one of the parties holding you hostage to your unhealthy relationship with food. So give yourself a long-overdue, well-deserved break from your preoccupation with body weight. You deserve it.

However, make sure we’re clear on one thing: We also want you to change your body.

We have to go above and beyond to tell you not to focus on weight loss during your Whole30, because (a) we know you’re probably going to anyway, to some degree, (b) we need to buffer your temptation to restrict, calorie-count, weigh yourself daily, and beat yourself up over the results and (c) we are desperately trying to change an obsession with body weight to a big-picture grasp of what it means to be truly healthy, and the radically improved quality of life that follows. But we do want to help you lose weight, healthfully and sustainably. Which is why our original meal planning template has safe weight loss built right into the design. And why we talk about other lifestyle factors like exercise, recovery, sleep, and stress—all of which play a huge role in weight loss and body composition.

And more recently, why Dallas has been learning, studying, and working with test clients in a brand new, groundbreaking functional medicine training program—so that we can help those of you who need more than simple lifestyle interventions to restore your health and lose weight.

But that doesn’t mean we’ll ever turn the Whole30 or our consulting program into a weight loss-focused effort.

You want to lose weight, and we’re here to help—but the only way we’ll do that for you is by improving your health, in a sustainable fashion that you can maintain for the rest of your life. It’s what we do, and it’s what you need.

So go ahead and continue your healthy efforts with weight loss in the back of your mind. Just don’t allow that focus to take you to a place where you start contemplating less healthy behaviors to get you there. Be patient. Find the right people to work with. And understand that you are worth more than the number on the scale—although we understand that the number is important to you.

And for those of you who already get it – who have been living this way for long enough that a return to your old, unhealthy, restrictive habits solely in the name of weight loss isn’t even an option (but yes, you still want to lose weight!), keep up the good work, and keep reading. We are hard at work on new, groundbreaking protocols to help those of you who have discovered that lifestyle interventions are just not enough to achieve your big-picture health goals. (And yes, that includes healthy weight loss.)

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Comments

  1. Mark says

    Another problem with focus on weight loss is that it’s hard to set a realistic target and know when you’re ‘done’. Having completed a Whole30 earlier in the year and reached what I thought was my ideal weight I had my bodyfat percentage checked. While I appreciate this isn’t the be all and end all either, it was still really high, and having done another 30 day challenge at my gym I’ve lost another 8 pounds so far without restricting quantity.

  2. Susie says

    After, oh about a year of reading this site, I FINALLY got rid of my scale. I really didn’t think it would make a difference, but once I got rid of it, I realized what a negative impact it had on my day. Every day.

    Also, I think body weight is a poor way to measure progress in many people, myself included. In June of this year, I set out to lose some body fat with the help of a pretty dialed-in trainer. We used paleo with some macronutrient parameters, smart training, and lots of sleep/stress management. I lost 7% body fat, but literally lost no pounds on the scale. I am so much happier with my body now, I think I look great. But if I was still going based on body weight, I would be completely frustrated.

  3. says

    It seems like I am constantly telling people that skinny does NOT equal healthy. There are plenty of sick thin people in the world, so that should not be the primary goal.

  4. sara kate says

    it took me a few weeks into plan to finally ditch the scale. my life feels so much better without it. today is 45 days into plan. i have never felt better. it has been the perfect progression from my first readings about the paleo lifestyle 3+ years ago. bit by bit it has all added up. i can’t believe i’m going to say this, but i never thought i could successfully give up dairy, but to my surprise i don’t even miss it.

  5. says

    Thanks for your observations, all. We’re glad our “health first” focus has resonated! (And it should, as we’ve hammered it to death in articles, Facebook comments, and in our book.) I guess the main point of this article is to back off that just for a moment, and let those of you who do want to lose weight know that there is nothing wrong with that goal – and we fully support your healthy efforts to get there.

    A few friends of late have mentioned they feel judged (or shallow) for even mentioning they still want to lose weight amongst those in the Paleo community. We do take the message of “health first” seriously, but we also wanted to let you know that we understand and want to help those of you who are taking steps to improve your health, but also want to lose weight for your own individual reasons – be it health, fitness, vanity, or self-esteem.

    Best,
    Melissa

  6. says

    There is a lot of mention about “sustainability” in this post. My blog post for today was all about “maintenance”, because I’ve lost weight before and I always struggle to maintain that loss. Of course, I feel like this time will be different, but if you have any advice for people who have gotten to their goal weight (or body fat percentage, or jean size…etc.) and are just looking to maintain that along with their new found health, I would love to see a post about it! I already plan to do at least Whole30s per year with the intentions of each one being “better” than the last, but what else can I do to be sure that I don’t go totally off the rails?

  7. says

    Well, I definitely did lose weight, unfortunately as I sit here drinking my mid-afternoon diet coke, I gained about 4 of those pounds back. I am also back on the cheap lean cuisines and whatever the heck I want on the weekend, so I am not sure if I should even call myself a success story, but it certainly made me more aware of what I put into my body, so there is that.

  8. Karen B. says

    I’m one of the people who started the W30 primarily to lose weight and did feel judged and shallow when ever I mentioned it on the boards. I did lose some weight and pinpointed some problems with foods when I finished W30. I eat much better now, only weigh 1 pound more than when I ended W30 and even joined a gym! I’m staying Paleo and plan to do a W30 if and when ever I feel like I’m falling off track. Having the primary goal to lose weight led me in the right direction and I plan to keep going this way. Thanks!

  9. Heather says

    I started my real food journey at the beginning of this year and started “paleo” somewhere in the middle of the year. I started out with weight loss as my motivator but would easily get discouraged as my weight kept fluctuating. I only reached my goal weight after I turned my focus more on health rather than the number on the scale. When I did my Whole30 in September I really became in tune with my body and what makes me feel good and didn’t care what the number was going to be on the scale. (I didn’t expect to lose any since I felt like I was eating a ton!) I occasionally step on the scale out of curiosity, but I don’t let that number define me or my health. It is so freeing to be able to just eat good food and feel better than I ever have and to be happy even though I have a little pudginess on my belly. I am happy to continue in a paleo lifestyle and to sleep well and feel good. Weight is what it is and being comfortable with who I am is the key.

  10. Fitness Wayne - Paleo and Exercise says

    I just finished reading your book and I really appreciate great articles like this one. Although I have never formally done the whole 30, every day my diet is slowly becoming closer and closer to the whole 30 except that I have not been able to eliminate alcohol completely. I can understand why you want to separate the whole 30 from crash diets but personally I think it’s okay for a person to weigh themselves.

  11. says

    Thank you for this post. I’ve dealt with an eating disorder for over 11 years and am finally getting treatment–and beating it! However, I first began paleo as another way to have more rules around food and restrict further. I know now that I can’t ever be on any kind of “diet”, and that’s why I love this post and your message behind it.

    Thank you

  12. Carrie RD says

    Great article. Weight loss and vanity can be a good initial motivator for people to make a behavior change. Transitioning them to that no weighing, measuring, or recording way of thinking takes time. Those are behaviors that many have practiced for decades and like any behavior change it takes time. This article really encompasses what I like about the whole30 program, it is a lifestyle that focuses on health and I truely feel it is a realistic lifestyle. I tell my clients that weight loss is a side effect of a healthy lifestyle. I am completing my first whole30 challenge now and I am curious to see what the scale says, but I hold myself back. I have made my goal list from the “174,203 things to measure besides weight loss to evaluate your Whole30 progress” and those goals are the most important. But I would be lying if I said that i don’t hope for a few of those extra pounds to come off and to see a decrease of my body fat% when I am done. Love your articles.

  13. says

    I like the health-first approach. Before I started the Whole30 in July, I was having so many stomach issues that I was loosing weight without trying. I did have extra weight to loose, but it was scary because I knew it wasn’t healthy. Post Whole30, it seems that gluten was the main culprit in my stomach woes. I’m so glad to be healing from that! What’s frustrating and sad to me is that more than one person has commented to me that they wish they would get sick so that they could loose weight. Really? That’s not cool. I mean, I’m not going to lie – Now that I’m feeling healthier, I don’t mind being a smaller pant-size… but I don’t wish bad health on anyone. A smaller pant size pales in comparison to the fact that I don’t have to fear food anymore!

  14. says

    @snicci: We address this concept of sustainability in our book, It Starts With Food (http://bit.ly/whole9iswf). It’s not really about maintaining your healthy weight, but maintaining your new healthy habits and relationship with food. We like using the Whole30 in some format throughout the year to help reinforce those new habits, and pull you back to good health when you find you’ve gone off the rails. Check the “life after your Whole30″ chapter of the book for our full plan.

    @Lauren: This is a process, not a quick fix. We fully expect people to do well, fall back into old habits, and then (hopefully) use the program and what they’ve learned on the Whole30 to help them gradually, at their own pace, in their own time, transition into healthier and healthier habits. The more you work the program, the better it works – you’ll feel better, and be less likely to compromise how amazing you feel with a less healthy food choice. At some point, if you’re ready, the Whole30 will be there to get you back on a path that you can feel good about.

    @Karen B: I’m sorry you felt judged on the boards. It’s really hard for us to push our health first agenda without accidentally (and unintentionally!) slighting those who really do want to lose weight. We are hoping this article and post helps to address that, and make those of you who think about your body weight as part of your overall health feel welcomed and valued in our community.

    @Heather: Well said! (And thanks for sharing that perspective – we’re thrilled you’ve arrived in this place.)

    @Wayne: We’re glad you enjoyed the book, and that you’re getting inspired!

    @Chuck: Thank you for sharing. We try really hard to be aware of how our program and rules may affect those with ED, and to address those as carefully and compassionately as we can. This is an area of interest for me, and I’m working hard to connect with people who can help me help others use our program and message to help them continue their recovery. I wish you ongoing success!

    @Carrie: Thanks for weighing in from an RD’s perspective. I think everyone who comes into the program hoping to lose weight does have that “back of their mind” thought that they want the number on the scale to come out a certain way on Day 31. But we really, really hope that if that number is not exactly what they had hoped, they can look at that in the context of the rest of their success, and be proud of their efforts.

    @Janelle: I think that comment (“I’m one flu away from my goal weight”) just speaks to how desperate people are to lose weight, how they’ve essentially resigned themselves to battling weight their entire lives, and how they don’t really believe that lifestyle or dietary changes will make a sustainable difference. My plan is to show them all that the Whole30 is the way!!!

    Best,
    Melissa

  15. Shiba says

    I just have to defend the scale a wee bit. I think it can be a great tool when used appropriately. I definitely agree with all the reasons not to use it–and mostly I don’t–but sometimes I break it out just to have some ammo for the naysayers. One example: I recently did a whole 45. I felt and looked amazing, yet I had to defend my actions from friends, family and coworkers every single day. When questioned I always had a zillion reasons why I was doing it, but they were all “feelings” based and thus not quantifiable. Sadly, they were all really excited when I decided to have a binge day between my first whole 45 and my second. (I’ve been paleo for years, so I didn’t feel the need for a reintroduction phase. I know what bogs me down.) I had comfort foods for all three meals one day. When I weighed myself the next morning I had gained 4 pounds. Now, I know it wasn’t real weight, and I didn’t let it get me down. I had calculated that binge day, totally enjoyed eating old faves, and then felt really gross and bloated. But that 4 pounds is now my proof that my body freaked out. Within 2 days of being “whole” again I was back to my pre-binge weight. My friends eyes bulge when I tell them that I lost 8 pounds in 45 days and gained back 4 (in bloat and inflammation) overnight. I don’t need the scale to prove to myself that this way of eating is healthier, but so many who are still stuck in the traditional health trends do. So I’ll use the scale to get people to your website, then you can convince them to throw it away…