This one comes to us from Charlotte Donlon

d36de2307441d4e49a926cc8cc70e6d2My friend Jen is telling me about the Whole30 eating plan. We’re sitting in lounge chairs by the pool on a hot and humid afternoon while our kids are swimming and engaging each other in water gun battles. She rattles off everything that’s not allowed on Whole30: “No sugars or artificial sweeteners. No alcohol. No grains. No legumes including beans, soy, and peanuts. And no dairy.” When our kids come ask us for snacks, she hands out baggies of grapes to her two boys. Her kids are doing it, too. I give my kids money to get processed junk out of the vending machines.

After we return home, I spend a good chunk of time Googling and reading about Whole30. I have just entered recovery for an eating disorder, so I’m wary of this much restriction. But the promises of the plan are appealing. An article at quotes Melissa Hartwig, one of the Whole30 founders, about the benefits of following the plan. “The program improves energy, sleep, digestive issues (gas, bloating, pain, constipation, or diarrhea), skin, joint pain/swelling, asthma, migraines, and biomarkers like blood pressure, cholesterol, and fasting blood sugar.” She also says 96 percent of participants lose weight on the program without counting calories or weighing food.

I mention Whole30 during the next appointment with my nutritionist who’s helping me learn how to nourish myself in healthy ways instead of falling into cycles of bingeing and fasting that I have done during different seasons throughout my life. She shakes her head from side to side while telling me, “This would not be good for you. Restricting whole food groups in the name of detoxing and re-setting your body is not healthy. Especially with your history.” Since my track record isn’t very good, I choose to heed my nutritionist’s advice. I make my own list of things to avoid and add Whole30 to it.

Over the past two years since I first heard about the diet, I’ve had countless friends and acquaintances commit to it for 30 days. Every time I hear someone mention it, I feel a pang of desire. I want to be whole. I want to eat clean. I want to detox. I want to experience wellness.

And, I want to lose some of the enormous amount of weight I’ve gained since I entered recovery for my eating disorder.


I try to find lists of clean and unclean animals in the Bible, but it’s all very confusing. Leviticus is too dry and hard for me to comprehend. I find a website that lists the clean and unclean animals based on scripture. I learn crickets and grasshoppers are clean. Pigs, armadillos, and camels aren’t clean.

Of course these lists don’t matter because Jesus declared all foods clean in Mark 7:18-19, right? Those verses in the English Standard Version say:

And he said to them, “Then are you also without understanding? Do you not see that whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile him, since it enters not his heart but his stomach, and is expelled?” (Thus he declared all foods clean.)

And all Christian bacon lovers join me in saying, “Amen.”

Jesus didn’t know about processed foods at the time. There were no Swiss Cake Rolls when He was declaring all foods clean. There were no Cheetos. There were no sodas. So, would Jesus have a caveat if He were here today? My guess is no. I’m sticking with the words I see in front of me. It’s all clean. It’s all good. All foods—even processed foods—would be clean according to Mark 7:18-19. But we’re just talking about spiritual cleanliness. What about physical cleanliness? What about all of the damage Swiss Cake Rolls, Cheetos, and sodas cause to our bodies?


Our bodies were designed to process and expel the bad things. We may feel tired and lethargic and generally crappy due to eating too many processed foods that have no nutritional value, but our bodies aren’t necessarily being negatively impacted by those chemicals and ingredients we can’t pronounce. I present the human digestive system. One role the liver performs is detoxifying harmful chemicals that we ingest. We eat a few handfuls of Cheetos, then it all travels through the digestive system and all of the potentially destructive chemicals and coloring agents are detoxified. God knew a brilliant individual would eventually invent Cheetos.

It makes sense to eat a diet of mostly whole foods, limit processed foods, and avoid pesticides and instead choose organic produce when it’s available and affordable. It makes sense to eat desserts and overly salty items in moderation. But having some Cheetos because a lovely soul brought a bag of them to a cookout isn’t going to harm my body and make me “unclean.” It won’t require a 3-day juice fast to un-do the “damage.”

Still, the idea of dietary wholeness is attractive. Maybe achieving a higher level of wholeness would erase some of the brokenness and discord that prevents a full integration of my body, mind, and spirit. I bet it could help me be closer to the version of myself that I want to be—a version of myself that I want others to see. And if I can reduce it to eating clean for 30 days, that’s a very doable way to achieve it. Of course following that type of restrictive diet is difficult for many people—I’m sure I’d have to start over with Day 1 many times if I were to attempt it. But, if I tried hard enough and put my mind to it, I could eat the foods I’m supposed to eat and avoid the foods I’m not supposed to eat according to the Whole30 rules.

butter-adThe verses that follow Mark 7:19 present a version of wholeness and holiness that is a lot harder to swallow. Verses 20-23 in the English Standard Version state:

And he said, “What comes out of a person is what defiles him. For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness,deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. Al these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.”

If I truly want to be whole and holy, why don’t I spend more time worrying about the things Jesus says defile me? Why am I not examining my conscience and thinking more about repenting of my sin? Why do I spend so much time focusing on the size of my thighs and the nutrients in the grain-free protein bar I just ate? Why do I want to achieve a surface level of wholeness that can supposedly be obtained through eating clean and avoiding certain foods?

Maybe I’m a Pharisee. In Matthew 23:27-28 Jesus says, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness. So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.” (ESV)

I know my righteousness is found in Christ. I’m declared whole and holy because I’m a Believer. And God sees me the same way He sees His Son. But knowing these truths doesn’t mean it’s easy to believe them. Knowing them doesn’t mean it’s easy to live a life of faith, fully dependent on the Triune God. Seeing my sin for what it is—disobedience against a Holy God that impacts my relationship with Him, my relationships with other people, and my relationship with myself—requires a posture of honesty and humility that I’d rather not fold myself into. It’s easier for me to scroll through recipes on paleo-friendly food blogs, to keep track of how much water I drink each day, and to plan and prepare Whole30 approved meals and snacks.

It’s easier for me to be a whitewashed tomb.