A few weeks back, I received an email from an old friend asking me a simple and well-intentioned but rattling question:
“I know you are against dieting so why are you on one?”
For a moment, I had no idea what she was talking about. What?!?! I don’t diet!!!
As many of you know, I’ve dedicated a lot of my professional life to helping people GET OFF the diet train and deep dive into what is underneath their relationship with food so they can experience a whole new kind of freedom. I whole-heartedly believe that treating our bodies with love and respect is the first step for incredible empowerment and happiness in our lives. So, I was more than a little confused by the question.
Then I got it. She was referring to a Facebook post about how my husband and I were on the Whole30 for the month, and it all started to come together. I saw clearly how I gave that impression and how confusing it could have been.
For those who don’t know about the The Whole30 yet, it is 30 days of super clean eating. Participants eat only whole foods and eliminate a lot of preservatives from their diets. Sugar and booze are out the window and additionally, all the big allergens and sensitivity culprits are eliminated (soy, dairy, gluten, grains and beans). Seed oils are also removed. In essence, it is extreme Paleo eating for thirty days. Think lots of meats, healthy animal and plant-based fats, fruits, nuts, vegetables and veggie starches (eggplant, squashes, yams, turnips, root veggies, etc).
Starting to agree with my friend here? Starting to think “Well, that sounds a lot like a diet to me?”
I hear you. It can sound quite extreme. And under certain circumstances, I would also consider the Whole30 a diet. If people participate under those circumstances, I don’t believe they will squeeze all the juice out of the experience. So, I only recommend the Whole30 to my clients at a point in their program when I feel it will truly benefit them, when it can be employed as an investigation and exercise rather than a way to “get skinny fast” or as a quick-fix. Because while it will help them lose weight, it won’t necessarily shift their underlying relationship with food (how they are using it to do things it can’t do). If we treat the Whole30 as a quick fix, that is exactly what it will be.
Under OPTIMAL circumstances, however, the Whole30 is an incredible month-long exercise in commitment, awareness, self-empowerment, follow-through and creativity. Oh, and there are also a TON of health benefits! (Stay tuned for those)
So, first, here is why I think the Whole30 is awesome for habit building and why I recommend it to my clients:
1)It requires taking a radical level of responsibility for what they are putting into your body. Thirty days with this kind of focus on clean-eating cultivates a whole new level of awareness of what is going into their mouths and the impact on their bodies (what I call our “animal”). It is an incredible practice that helps my clients understand on a dropped in level (not just intellectually) what is truly optimal for their unique body because they can FEEL the difference.
2) It requires commitment, even on days when they don’t FEEL like it or their thoughts are telling them to “screw it.”
Commitment is taking aligned action for our deep desires long after the mood in which we made the commitment has passed. It can be really tricky to commit when we are relying on the daily changing weather of our feelings or thoughts. There are many times during any change process when our momentary impulses and urges will try to convince us to stray from our vision. In order to attain the vision, we must practice following the aligned path from a deeper well. Because this is only thirty days and is terminable, clients find it is easier to follow through with the program agreements. Ultimately, it is not important that they continue with the program agreements, but rather cultivate a new relationship with commitment. It is great practice if they can continue to use these tools (even though the rules won’t be as strict) after those thirty days are over. The basic structure and guidelines are then self-created, but they have already started to surprise themselves with how they can follow through.
3) It requires planning ahead of time and setting themselves up for success.
Most people can’t just “wing” it and still follow through with the Whole30 in an empowering way. Most people can’t just walk into a restaurant and succeed or rely on the winds of the day for what they will be eating. They will wind up caving or getting SUPER over-hungry and exhausted. They need to create the time and space to plan ahead, to prep their food, to plan out their options for eating out, to research restaurants and learn how to ask for what they need and want. Again, awesome practice for when Whole30 is through as this is part of any healthy lifestyle; creating the space for it, putting it on the front burner, and taking radical levels of responsibility for that vision.
4) It requires getting super creative and getting out of their comfort zones.
Yes, one can technically follow through with Whole30 by just eating chicken breast and steamed broccolli for every meal, but if this is how they are choosing to participate in the Whole30, it won’t be very fun and they won’t really learn much about expanding their horizons with food they really enjoy. Therefore, it won’t carry through to success on the other side. It has been so cool to see when my clients get out of those comfort zones; using sweet potato slices as a burger bun, easily making their own almond milk, dressings and mayonnaise with approved ingredients, or finding they actually really dig coconut milk and cinnamon in their coffee instead of Coffee-mate. When they find meals, snacks and substitutions they really love, the habit winds up sticking.
5) It requires saying “no” when they would rather cave to peer pressure (that is, if they want to have a social life that month).
This is one of my favorites! So much of the time, in the beginning of working together, my clients hand their personal power away to pretty much any friend, relative or circumstance that asks them to. Life will always hand us a way to do this (weddings, holidays, parties, office treats, happy hours, bachelorette parties, or even just a regular old weeknight dinner). I have seen clients flip this switch in a BIG WAY and exercise incredible empowerment on the Whole30. One client went to a bachelorette (with her college drinking friends), brought a cooler of food with her for the weekend, offered herself up as the DD as her crew visited a schmorgasboard of vineyards, all while sipping seltzer. And here’s the kicker….she loved the feelings it gave her AND her friends were enthralled, wanting to learn all about it. She was super proud of herself. Does she have to do that forever? No. But it was incredible evidence of her own power of choice. The realizations she had on that trip started to inform how she exercised that power of choice from that point forward. She realized she could do whatever she chose to do, throw away all the convenient excuses and live her life on her terms (while still enjoying it).
6) It requires they find “non-food related ways” of dealing with difficult or negative emotional states that arise during that time.
A lot of of my clients say that while they are on the Whole30, the food, surprisingly isn’t the trickiest part. What is truly difficult is that they don’t have their normal crutches to numb out on. Yes, they could binge eat avocados or pulled pork, but most people tend to numb out on foods that turn to sugar pretty quickly. So, when they don’t have their normal pleasure fixes or numbing agents, they have to be present with what their emotions are telling them (and there is IMPORTANT information in there). While that can be uncomfortable, this also creates an incredible opportunity for them to 1) Start being present with what isn’t working for them in their lives anymore. 2) Find non-food related activities that help them to cope in those moments.
7) Discovering unique food-sensitivities and allergens. Knowledge is power.
The Whole30 eliminates all of the big food sensitivities and allergens. Yes, we can go to allergist’s office to find out what our allergies are, but oftentimes our food sensitivities affect our bodies in less obvious ways (increased inflammation, poor digestion, excess mucus, bloating, gas, low-energy levels, holding onto to excess weight) and won’t show up on those tests. We may even just be so used to feeling a culmination of these symptoms that we think it is normal and just “how we are.” It is not until we remove them from the diet that we notice how amazing we CAN feel in our own bodies.
There is an additional re-introduction period after the thirty days where participants can bring in each potential food sensitivity one by one and see how it affects things like their energy levels, bloating, breaking out, etc, which gives them super valuable information. They may still choose to include these foods in their diets but they are making that choice from a more conscious and aware place.
8) Oh, and then there’s the physical benefits….
- Breaking sugar addiction and stabilizing blood sugar.
- Increased levels of energy.
- Reduced cholesterol and triglycerides in the blood (even when eating “cholesterol rich” foods like eggs and red meat).
- Weight-loss (between 5-20 pounds depending on the amount of excess weight).
- Reduced inflammation in the body (the external example would be clearer skin).
- Balanced gut bacteria (leading to strengthened immunity and improved digestion).
- Isolating food allergies or sensitivities.
- More restful and satisfying sleep (even with less hours).
When we FEEL good in our bodies and are experiencing “success” in the weight-loss arena, we are much more inspired to continue following through with what will KEEP us feeling that way. Once clients start to get what they are wanting with their bodies, they can take a look back at what they take from the experience that they can CONTINUE and maintain in their everyday lives. It doesn’t have to be an all or nothing. They can start to build THEIR IDEAL healthy life-style.
So, when is the OPTIMAL time to take on the Whole30?
When someone is already in a pretty awesome place with food! This is a way to UP-LEVEL their understanding of what serves their body while practicing skills that can support them long after the Whole30 is over.
Is Whole30 right for YOU right now?
Depends. If you is are currently an all or nothing type, hopping on diet trains left and right, who hasn’t really addressed HOW you are using food in a limiting way, this will be more of the same. The optimal time to do the Whole30 is when you have already been LEANING into a lot of these habits already and they are becoming more and more concrete for you; eating a vegetable based diet, eating mostly whole foods, lowering the amount of sugar in your diet and most importantly, you are finding support for your emotional relationship with food. This could look like a health-coach, a therapist, or a group program. This goes largely unaddressed in mainstream nutrition and fitness, which is why people keep returning for quick-fixes time and time again. This is what keeps the weight loss industry a $60 billion a year industry.
If you aren’t in an a great place with food but for medical reasons, your doctor or health professional is recommending it, it makes sense to go for it. The Whole30 is a high-impact way to break sugar addiction, get results fast and get your systems on track but I highly suggest you have support both during and coming out of it to learn how to implement what you are learning from your experience into a livable and maintainable lifestyle while addressing the emotional relationship with food. Most people cannot maintain the Whole30 for life, even the creators.
If you are interested in starting to LEAN in so that you can take on the Whole30 and get big results later on, I encourage you to check out these resources.
After checking these resources out, choose one area at a time to start to focus on to build healthy habits: increasing vegetable intake, increasing whole-food intake while decreasing processed food, replacing dairy with Whole30 compliant alternatives, increasing vegetable starches while lowering grains and beans, focusing on new healthy fats, or cooking Whole30 recipes. Then, choose a date in a few months to start. By the time you get there, you will be much closer to breaking sugar addiction and adopting a lifestyle resembling the Whole30 and it won’t feel like a crazy leap, but rather a stretch. Then, at the end, and after re-introducing allergens, you can conduct an in-depth analysis. Really ask yourself what negatively affects your body, what you really missed, what you really feel like you need to bring back in and what you could mostly live without. Then, you can start to create agreements with yourself about food based on your own self-knowledge and empowerment.
Rock On & Be Well,