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We live in the day and age of diets. With the breakdown of any sort of unified, heritage-based cuisine to maintain sanity in the US food scene, the people comprising its melting pot have migrated through the decades from one dietary fashion and fad to another. The 1960s and 70s especially ushered in the era of unending dietary upheaval. Macrobiotics, low fat, vegetarianism, veganism, whole wheatism, and the list goes on and on to the present day.
One of the latest newcomers to the scene, introduced in 2012, is the food philosophy known as Trim Healthy Mama. While not noteworthy enough to make US News top-ranked diets (like the Dash Diet, #1 for 7 years straight), this weight loss approach has a pretty fair sized following. So let’s take a look at THM in depth – its creators, rules, benefits, and pitfalls.
The Trim Healthy Mama Dynamic Duo
Trim Healthy Mama – usually referred to as THM by most followers – is the brainchild of Pearl Barrett and Serene Allison. The sisters at one point practiced veganism! After experimenting with numerous different dietary systems trying to find something healthy and workable, they ultimately developed their own approach to healthy eating.
After a number of years of research and personal experimentation, they self-published their first successful book in 2012, Trim Healthy Mama. They followed up with the THM Cookbook, the THM Plan, and THM Table to provide support for their rapidly growing following.
What Exactly is the Trim Healthy Mama Diet? (basic rules)
The THM diet has a number of good facets. In a nutshell, there are two main kinds of meals on the diet. The first is an E meal – e for “energizing.” These meals are high in carbs and contain little to no fat (5 grams or less). The other type of meal is an S for “satisfying. These are moderate to high fat (above 10 grams), low carb meals.
Both meal types encourage significant protein intake – usually in the form of meat, nuts, eggs, or dairy. Beans are also consumed, but only with E meals because of their carb content.
THM does not encourage soy consumption.
Two other meal types are worth noting. The first is a “fuel pull” (FP). This does not contain enough fat or carbs to count as an E or an S. It is a high protein, low carb, low-fat meal. The second is a “crossover” (CO), which contains higher amounts of fat and carbs. These are either used for an extra weight loss boost, for pregnant and nursing moms or once you reach your goal weight. Neither of these secondary meal types is the norm.
These are the basic rules, but there are a number of nuances, caveats, and qualifications that go along with them.
Trim Healthy Mama Meal Plans: Traditional or Modern?
The books all talk about good sourcing and proper preparation. At the same time, there is a great deal of leeway given and an overall lack of emphasis/push for people to obtain ingredients from the best possible, preferably local sources. Most of the THM products (more on these below) seem to be carefully sourced – grass-fed, non-GMO, etc.
The books discuss the benefits of raw milk, soaking nuts, legumes and grains, sourdough bread, fermented vegetables, bone broth and a number of other traditional food approaches and principles. Yet, there is also a fair share of recipes in the Trim Healthy Mama Cookbooks that are based more on convenience foods and quick, easy preparation.
In essence, the Trim Healthy Mama Diet is a bit of a “ride the fence” approach, casting a wide net to gain popular appeal but perhaps diluting itself in the process.
THM Cookbooks and Products
As THM caught on, more books followed. After that, a line of THM products was introduced. It appears the authors have set aside and replaced the original book with a smaller book (the first was over 600 pages!). This smaller book focuses on the diet, menu plan, and principles. Then, Trim Healthy Mama cookbooks (which are far more user-friendly) fill out the approach.
The main difference between the original book and the cookbooks is a greater inclusion of a large number of THM branded ingredients. Examples include:
- a baking blend (a flour substitute)
- pressed peanut flour
- sunflower lecithin
- psyllium flakes
- konjac noodles
- stevia sweeteners (3 or 4 total), among a few other items.
Is THM a traditional foods diet?
There is no doubt that Trim Healthy Mama is not even close to a traditional foods diet. Followers can (sort of) make it a traditional food diet if they have the knowledge and desire to do so.
However, many of the recipes in the THM cookbooks are flat out incompatible with ancestral eating.
Is THM a whole foods diet? For the most part, yes.
Heavy Reliance on Pseudo-Sweeteners
One of the main issues with the diet is the heavy use of what they call “stevia-based sweeteners.” The problem is, these are really alcohol sugar sweeteners that contain stevia. Swerve would be a common example available at the health food store. Moreover, the stevia is also not whole leaf stevia, but a stevia extract.
These alternative sweeteners are used in all the sweet recipes, but also in many other surprising places. For example, the meatloaf recipe includes 2 teaspoons of the “super sweet blend.” Why does meatloaf need sweetener?
My wife actually likes a number of their main dishes. Unfortunately, many of the bread, shakes, desserts, and other items are heavily dependent on the THM products some of which are not traditional.
Trim Healthy Mama vs. Real Food Diets
There are a few other issues with THM that are best described in contrast with other dietary systems that truly are traditionally based such as the 21-day bone both diet or the Zoe Harcombe diet.
The Harcombe diet, in particular, serves as a great comparison with THM. First, note that my wife and I have tried both diets extensively. Also, note that we have read multiple books from both systems, so we are not speaking out of a lack of firsthand experience!
On the THM side, we have read three of the four books (all but one cookbook). On the Harcombe side, Zoe has produced an incredible amount of material. We have read or reviewed four of her books as well. In addition, we’ve read numerous articles and other materials she has produced.
What makes the two diets similar? Both seek to segregate carb and fat consumption. So you will have meals that have carbs and protein or meals that have fats and protein, but rarely a meal that has BOTH. Meals are generally either low carb or low fat in both systems.
But how they achieve this differs dramatically at times. Why? I think it is because the two diets have a very different focus and overall goal. This is also in my view the best way to contrast the two diets.
Harcombe focuses on helping people to eat REAL FOODS in wise ways to produce health. Her three main goals are helping people to overcome food intolerance, deal with candida overgrowth and gut dysbiosis, and resolve hypoglycemia. Fixing this has the end result of helping people reach vibrant health and healthy body weight.
Alternatively, THM appears to focus on GETTING PEOPLE TO LOSE WEIGHT and providing all sorts of compromise and semi-real foodways to do so. Again, you can follow it using fewer cheats and more healthy, whole, traditional foods, but there is an emphasis that you do not have to do it that way.
For Harcombe, the goal is to teach people to eat and enjoy foods in their natural and traditional form. THM wants to ensure that people do not feel like they are deprived or “missing out.”
Trim Healthy Mama is Less “Real Food” Based
Ultimately, these two diets have very, very different objectives. With Harcombe, there is freedom, but the diet itself isn’t built on and around pseudo-real foods – erythritol, xylitol, oat fiber, the baking blend, protein powders – so prevalent on THM. Instead, the goal for Harcombe is to learn to enjoy real food itself.
Traditional sweets are allowed in moderation and on occasion, especially as you reach your goals under Harcombe. On the other hand, THM talks about “eating cake for breakfast.” This isn’t encouraged every day, but frequent sweets are a main part of the diet for most people who follow it.
In the THM books, there is an emphasis on making sure you don’t “feel deprived.” Thus, they include large numbers of recipes under the headings “more sweet treats,” “desserts,” candies and bars,” “cakes and muffins,” “cookies, brownies, and pies” (sweetened with THM sweeteners) “shakes” and the like.
In one of the THM cookbooks, the number of pages devoted to veggie sides (15 pages) is tiny compared to the number of pages (175 or so) devoted to categories of sweet recipes. Now, there are many veggies included in the main dishes, but the imbalance and emphasis on sweets, shakes, etc. are still concerning!
Trim Healthy Mama: A Step in the Right Direction
Overall, THM is a step in the right direction. It is worlds better than the Standard American Diet (SAD). In the hands of the right person – who uses the principles of real foods, properly prepared and carefully sourced – THM would possibly be an effective and healthy way to lose weight.
However, for someone without knowledge of traditional foods and preparation methods who simply dives in and tries it, THM would likely not bestow lasting health and vibrancy at a satisfactory level.
Have you tried THM or know people who have? What are your thoughts or experiences?
Some great comment reviews, too, here! Our long-term experience is that there’s really no need to overcomplicate traditional eating to stay fit or trim. I can’t add extra food rules to my busy family schedule! But I think it’s awesome when family members have picked up this book and followed it. It IS a giant step in the right direction, especially since foods like raw milk are still rare and unknown around here!
Aww, i LOVE the THM way of eating and i love the THM girls too! That’s too bad John Moody doesn’t agree with it…i like a lot of Sarah Popes articles…but weird….that is not her article….it is written by John Moody…i didn’t realize there were articles by other people, i thought they were all from Sarah….hmm….anyways….i think the THM girls have done a great job with their healthy eating plan….and they have even helped TONS of women overcome infertility, just by changing their diet which is pretty cool….so that definitely says a LOT about the diet! There are so many good recipes in all their books and my kids even make a lot of them and we all love them! THM girls have done years of research on all of their food recommendations and i fully trust them!
I have had guest authors for over 10 years. Here’s the list. https://www.thehealthyhomeeconomist.com/about/
As a mother of six who did and still does some THM stuff, I can say this — first of all, I don’t make my family do it. I got their whey and collagen because I couldn’t find it cheaper anywhere else, and the sunflower lecithin because I couldn’t find it anywhere else either. But if I can find something at Walmart, you’d better believe I’ll get it there.
I was also struck at the number of recipes for sweets they have. Here’s my theory. As a homeschooling Mom of kids, with a demanding schedule and a boatload of pressure, I can understand why they would start craving chocolate, sweets and goodies of all kinds. I can so relate. And from the looks of things, especially with the gargantuan families and homeschooling and the pressure to be perfect (Nancy Campbell is their mother, after all), who wouldn’t start craving some sweets? That cookbook had WAY more sweets than I’d feel comfortable with, but that’s their choice.
I like a good shake once in a while, or smoothie, and I have a terrible weakness for ice cream. I also started having joints creaking as I aged, and I have a mother who has terrible arthritis and osteoporosis. She can barely walk. I don’t want to end up like that, so I figured collagen was a worthwhile investment in myself. Yeah, I know it’s expensive, but back surgery is more so. So I bought some of their products, but definitely not all. I can buy spices and extracts at Walmart, and if there’s something I’d like to get, I shop around for the best price. Always do a cost comparison. And space out the things you’d like to have — this month, plan for this, next month plan for that, so you don’t spend too much.
My weakness for ice cream was easily satisfied by one of their “fuel pull” smoothies or thin thicks. If everyone is having ice cream for dessert, I whip up one of the THM smoothies. I’m also super busy with the kids, so having a smoothie to sip on is a help and keeps me from being ravenous and tempted to get carry-out when we are en route to some activity or program. I find I just can’t eat like I did at one point in my life.
Also, I that the goal of THM seems to be to lose weight. Again, I think that has some roots in the way Serene and Pearl live. The philosophies of people who seem to subscribe to Nancy Campbell and such is that wives are to be always attractive to their husbands, and the husbands want thin wives, even if they are churning out children every year. It is not easy to remain thin and still give birth every other year at least. So I think Pearl and especially Serene needed to come up with a plan that would help them shed baby weight quickly after each pregnancy. I can see how the fuel pull meals can do that pretty quickly.
I have to agree. I truly loved reading the book. It was very insightful and helped me shed some pounds and pinpoint some gut issues. I have been very hesitant to consume sugar alcohols. I also cut my Stevia consumption because I begin to suspect allergy issues. Apparently it is in the ragweed family. I was able to take the principles of pairing food wisely and have success. I now want to refine and begin to really focus in whole foods without all the substitutes. I just need to be healthy. Keeping the weight off would be a nice byproduct of putting the right things in my body.
My wife became a devotee of THM over a year ago. She borrowed and read the first book. As she read, she would say things like, “This seems really sensible. You eat eggs, bacon, sausage and use real butter and cream.” It sounded OK to me so I didn’t discourage her. After all, this was just the next fad she got suckered into. (Don’t let the title on the book fool you – this diet is a fad, and an expensive one at that.) She bought two books and studied them religeously. The next thing I know, the fridge is filled with cartons of egg whites, almond milk, and bottles of strange supplements. The pantry is overloaded with powders from South America and bags of different mixes. The cupboards are also overloaded with all the different spices needed for the recipes in those books. I see charges (some quite large) for stuff ordered from the THM store – stuff she admits she could buy locally.
The worst aspect of this diet is: the food is terrible – the recipes are terrible! Statistically speaking, in a book of several hundred recipes I would expect to find at least a few which I like (the main goal of a good cookbook should be for most of the recipes to be good.) There are a small handful of dishes I don’t mind eating. The rest are quite distasteful. When someone asks me about the THM diet, my explanation is simply: The two worst cooks in New Zealand moved to America and started publishing cookbooks. My wife would like me to believe I am just picky. I’m the one who likes more and different foods than she does, so I’m not a finicky eater – until it comes to the quality of the food. Since starting THM, I don’t look forward to coming home to a delicious meal anymore. She does her thing and I do mine.
One would save a lot of money by following a couple of simple guidelines, to which THM boils down:
1. If it tastes good, it’s probably bad for you. Don’t eat it.
2. If it tastes bad, it’s good for you. Eat that, instead.
So basically this guy feels that you either follow the rules of a diet and if you can’t baby step your way onto the plan to heck with you. This is a very slanted review of the THM plan well ideally it would be nice that everyone was a food purest THM is kind enough not to reject those who are just trying to baby step their way towards healthier eating either because they struggle to afford higher quality foods or simply have scheduling challenges and are just finding their way into healthier so basically this guy feels that you either follow the rules of a diet and if you can’t baby step your way onto the plan to heck with you. This is a very slanted review of the THM plan well ideally it would be nice that everyone was a food purest THM is kind enough not to reject those who are just trying to baby step their way towards healthier eating either because they struggle to afford higher quality foods or simply have scheduling challenges and are just finding their way into a healthier Way of eating. Of all the dates that are available there these are the only women I know who take a personal interest in all of their official Facebook groups to ensure that women are welcomed, Encouraged and genuinely loved. Unlike other groups where women are ostracized for making the slightest mistake or compromise as this author puts it or worse yet completely harassed if they did or disagree or do something a different way. THM is about food p encouraged and genuinely loved. Unlike other groups where women are ostracized for making the slightest mistake or compromise as this author puts it or worse yet completely harassed if they did or disagree or do something a different way. THM is about food Freedom yes you heard it the word freedom! That means you can make a plan your own if you want to be a vegetarian and still do THM you can do that. Got food allergies you’re welcome to we’re not going to Sean you and send you away we’re gonna stand are you in support you encourage you and help you find alternatives that work for you! Need to be dairy free come along you won’t be teased. Are you a food purest you’re welcome as well as long as you got a positive attitude and you’re willing to stand by your sisters who might not see things or be able to do things exactly as you are. Are you a drive-through Sue no need to be ashamed were here to walk alongside you and celebrate every victory whether it be on the scale or other areas of your life. I would encourage anyone who is doubting THM to simply check out the book for free from your library and join a few official THM groups and form your own opinion since this author considers it to be a high carb diet which is nowhere near ( evidently he didn’t get that far into the book)… just know all are welcomed And if you make a mistake that’s OK we’re going to keep Tryan without pastor sid and if you make a mistake that’s OK we’re going to keep trying… No time for all the negativity other groups and diets want to use to shun members into submission.
I have to agree with your findings completely! Each and every substitution recipe failed. It was as if I was compelled to create something faux from something authentic. Too wordy and time consuming for me, a considered chef in my own circle of influence. Therefore, I will continue to be mindful of meal combining or consider a macro approach. Just keeping it real.
THM encourages to eat more veggies. And my kids love all the recipes (soups, stews, baked, etc), which they othwiese don’t like. I get to introduce them to kale, okra and cauliflower. Win win in our household.
I have been following the THM way of eating for 4 years and this is the first time in years I’ve been a healthy weight! I also follow THM Facebook page and see many success stories including posts of inproved blood work numbers and doctors reports. Most importantly this is the only eating plan my family and our frequent dinner guests can ALL ENJOY together. It doesn’t break the budget and I don’t have to go to half a dozen different places to shop ingredients. For the first 3 years on this plan I never bought a single THM product or special ingredient as the recipes give you grocery store options. I encourage people to try it as it is a not a baby step but a giant step up from the standard American diet.
I lost my last comment some how. As a mother of ten I think THM is quite budget friendly and realistic. Yes a lot of desserts (like stated) but with a pile of birthdays and potlucks they are nice to have. I don’t use their products, but enjoy a lot of the recipes especially the purist ones!