I had this client — let’s call her Jane — who came to me with the desire to lose a significant amount of weight.
From the initial consultation I discovered Jane wasn’t new to weight loss or the health and fitness scene.
She had experimented with a lot of different diets and exercise routines in the past all with some amount of success, but nothing all that long lasting.
Not an unusual story especially for female clients.
What was unusual is I could sense Jane was extremely motivated and based on her past history of success had quite the ability to be compliant and stick with a plan — at least for some amount of time.
But Jane was very clear that she really only wanted me to help support her exercise and training plan because she already had decided how she wanted to tackle the diet piece.
I was quick to explain to her that while I could certainly write her a great training plan to support her goals and take care of her physical well-being the majority of progress made towards her goal would be driven by the changes she made to her diet.
She assured me that she understood, but felt confident that she had a game plan that was going to work for her on the nutrition front.
I was more than happy to go along with the plan because she believed in it and felt confident about her ability to execute it which are huge factors in any new change being successful.
But I did ask Jane for more specifics on what exactly was this diet plan.
Jane said that it is called the Whole30.
I wasn’t totally surprised to hear this.
I’ve read about the Whole30 and worked with clients previously who enjoyed following their program.
If you aren’t familiar with the Whole30 let me give just a basic crash course.
The Whole30 is a diet born out of a blog post that the creator — Melissa Hartwig — wrote in 2009 about a diet experiment she took on for herself that yielded great results for her.
This blog post inspired many other people — particularly women — to try the experiment out for themselves and unsurprisingly other people had success.
Also unsurprisingly this kind of rule-based approach to nutrition led many to encounter challenges in executing it which opened up many different opportunities for monetizing the diet like cookbooks and meal plans.
Now the Whole30 is not only a diet that a large community of people follow, but also a business and brand.
The Whole30 is based on rules that specifically outline what foods are good and you are allowed to eat and what foods are bad and you are not allowed to eat.
Here are the exact rules below:
Yes: Eat real food.
Eat moderate portions of meat, seafood, and eggs; lots of vegetables; some fruit; plenty of natural fats; and herbs, spices, and seasonings. Eat foods with very few ingredients, all pronounceable ingredients, or better yet, no ingredients listed at all because they’re whole and unprocessed.
No: Avoid for 30 days.
Do not consume added sugar, real or artificial. No maple syrup, honey, agave nectar, coconut sugar, date syrup, stevia, Splenda, Equal, Nutrasweet, xylitol, etc. Read your labels, because companies sneak sugar into products in ways you might not recognize.
Do not consume alcohol, in any form, not even for cooking. (And ideally, no tobacco products of any sort, either.)
Do not eat grains. This includes (but is not limited to) wheat, rye, barley, oats, corn, rice, millet, bulgur, sorghum, sprouted grains, and all gluten-free pseudo-cereals like quinoa, amaranth, and buckwheat. This also includes all the ways we add wheat, corn, and rice into our foods in the form of bran, germ, starch, and so on. Again, read your labels.
Do not eat legumes. This includes beans of all kinds (black, red, pinto, navy, white, kidney, lima, fava, etc.), peas, chickpeas, lentils, and peanuts. No peanut butter, either. This also includes all forms of soy — soy sauce, miso, tofu, tempeh, edamame, and all the ways we sneak soy into foods (like lecithin).
Do not eat dairy. This includes cow, goat, or sheep’s milk products like milk, cream, cheese, kefir, yogurt, sour cream, ice cream, or frozen yogurt.
Do not consume carrageenan, MSG, or sulfites. If these ingredients appear in any form on the label of your processed food or beverage, it’s out for the Whole30.
Do not consume baked goods, junk foods, or treats with “approved” ingredients. Recreating or buying sweets, treats, and foods-with-no-brakes (even if the ingredients are technically compliant) is totally missing the point of the Whole30, and will compromise your life-changing results. These are the same foods that got you into health-trouble in the first place — and a pancake is still a pancake, even if it’s made with coconut flour.
One last and final rule:
Do not step on the scale or take any body measurements for 30 days. The Whole30 is about so much more than weight loss, and to focus only on body composition means you’ll overlook all of the other dramatic, lifelong benefits this plan has to offer. So, no weighing yourself, analyzing body fat, or taking comparative measurements during your Whole30. (We do encourage you to weigh yourself before and after, so you can see one of the more tangible results of your efforts when your program is over.)
As you can see from reading the rules this diet is really focused on food quality and sets a lot of rigid and prescriptive rules about what is and isn’t allowed.
Granted I have some issues with the rules and don’t see a ton of sound logic supported by scientific evidence in many of them, but this post isn’t a critique of the Whole30 so I’ll save those specifics for another time.
What I did like about the Whole30 was that Jane was excited about it and believed in it.
My concerns however were that while the diet focused on high-quality food it didn’t offer a ton of advice related to the quantity of food that should be eaten.
It discouraged the measurement of any outcome metric (like weighing yourself) to judge progress, and in reality this kind of rigidity was only really designed to last for 30 days and Jane’s goal was going to take a much more longer sustained effort than that.
And because Jane’s main goal — as is most people’s — was to lose a large amount of weight I felt that it was important that we be paying close attention to Jane’s energy balance, using regular weigh-ins to assess if adjustments needed to be made, and creating the most sustainable plan possible.
However I did not share my concerns with Jane because I did not want to undermine her enthusiasm or confidence and felt that her engaging in this diet risked her no real harm.
We got to work and in no time we had made it through the 30 days and at our next appointment we decided to do another evaluation.
Jane was excited.
She felt great and was really happy with all the effort she had put in to making the diet work and exercising regularly.
I think she was super confident that the scale was going to read well in her favor.
Unfortunately. . . that wasn’t the case.
The scale was basically right where we started.
I tried to soften that blow by measuring her body fat % and showing her that despite her weight not moving her body fat % had improved which meant she had lost some fat and weight, but had replaced that with some muscle which was a good thing.
She was still disappointed though.
She wanted to see more pounds down especially because of all her hard work.
I can’t blame her either.
And this isn’t to say that the Whole30 failed her.
I’m sure it made her feel better and improved her health, but it just didn’t assist much with tackling her main goal which was weight loss.
My underlying suspicion for this was that despite improving the quality of her food and nutrition the quantity of the food she was eating was still too much to allow her to lose weight.
I asked Jane if she would be willing to write me a three day food log and bring it back for me to review.
She obliged and what we discovered was exactly what I suspected.
Her food choices were awesome, but her quantities were off.
On average for all three days she was sitting right around her maintenance calorie needs.
That explained the last month of minimal weight loss.
And it brings me to the whole point of telling you this story.
I believe that when it comes to nutrition and weight or fat loss goals the quantity of your food has to take precedent over the quality of your food.
I kind of look at it like triaging.
If someone (like Jane) shows up asking to lose weight my first goal should be to “stop the bleeding” so to speak by preventing any further weight gain and ideally beginning the process of losing weight.
The best way to do this is to find out how much this person should be consuming to maintain and lose weight and begin working with them to eat that quantity consistently.
I prefer using macros and calories to quantify, but if you want to use servings or a type of MyPlate system that is cool too.
You could also think of this as addressing the actual root cause of the weight issue.
The reason someone wants or needs to lose weight isn’t because their food quality sucks (granted it may not be helping), but rather it is because they are over consuming food.
Sure poor quality food can drive that over consumption, but even a calorie controlled poor quality diet is going to lead to weight loss or weight maintenance.
Only after we have successfully addressed the food quantity issue first do I start discussing how we can incrementally improve the quality of the food over time and within the constraints of their lifestyle.
That may seem like a counterintuitive approach given the current trends today, but it’s what I’ve seen work time and time again.
And it’s way better than saying “I’m just going to try to eat clean,” crossing your fingers, holding your breath, and hoping for the best.
Happy moving and heavy lifting!
Practical, Purposeful, Effective Training