The Problem With Chipotle's New Keto, Whole30, & Paleo Bowls

Photo: Courtesy of Chipotle.
Just in time for everyone's new year's resolutions to peak and then plummet, Chipotle has announced a new collection of "diet-driven" bowls and salads: the Whole30 Salad Bowl, Paleo Salad Bowl, Keto Salad Bowl, and Double Protein Bowl.
The goal of these new menu items is to make it easier for people to order "delicious bowls that only contain the real ingredients permitted by certain diet regimens," according to a press release from Chipotle. Considering lots of people are attempting to make changes to their diet and lose weight around this time of year, the fast-casual chain's timing is riper than the perfect avocado.
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It makes sense why Chipotle chose these particular diets to highlight: the ketogenic diet was the top trending diet search of 2018, Whole30 was also especially popular last year, Paleo hasn't gone anywhere, and lots of people assume that more protein is automatically healthier. But another thing these diets all have in common? They involve overly restrictive rules that are usually not sustainable long-term.
"We've watched guests custom create lifestyle-specific bowls when ordering in our restaurants, so it made sense to offer delicious options via our online channels that help people easily order bowls with real ingredients that fit their wellness goals," Chris Brandt, chief marketing officer at Chipotle, said in a press release. Chipotle even worked with Melissa Hartwig, the creator of Whole30, to develop the bowl that "meets our program guidelines," she said in the press release.
Per the Whole30 guidelines, the Whole30 Bowl contains no processed foods, added sugars, alcohol, grains, legumes, or dairy — just romaine lettuce, carnitas, fajita veggies, tomato salsa, and guacamole. Similarly, the Paleo Salad Bowl, which only permits foods that were available during the Paleolithic era, contains romaine lettuce, barbacoa, fajita veggies, green salsa, and guacamole. The ketogenic diet, on the other hand, is a no-carb high-fat diet, so the Keto Salad from Chipotle offers romaine lettuce, carnitas, red salsa, cheese and guacamole. And the Double Protein Bowl is a regular bowl with sour cream and a full portion of both chicken and steak.
In truth, these "Lifestyle Bowls" might not be that far off from your usual Chipotle order — they just have a new name, which is part of the problem. Seeing buzzy diet words like "keto" or "Paleo," signals to people that they're automatically making a healthier choice. And at a restaurant like Chipotle, where there are endless opportunities to customize your meal, that can seem like a nice shortcut. But many people will just choose these options without knowing how to contextualize what "keto" even means. (BTW, "keto" refers to the state of "ketosis," in which your body is burning its stored fat as a source of fuel. For some people, ketosis can be dangerous, which is why the diet needs to be medically monitored.)
The thing is, any diet that has in-depth regimented guidelines, labels certain foods as "noncompliant," or demonizes entire food groups is probably not going to be maintainable long-term, or even short-term. In past years, Chipotle has been criticized for offering calorie-dense offerings, so this could be their way of catering to a new audience and capitalizing on diet trends. But time will tell if these diets — and corresponding bowls — have staying power.
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