Today’s post was inspired by a comment from MJ on the Whole30 post. MJ wrote, “Here’s something I didn’t expect: I’m kind of dreading the end of the Whole30. I know there’s nothing forcing me to go back to my old habits when day 31 rolls around, but I feel like I’ve been in a little protective bubble and all my decisions have been easy. ‘Sorry, can’t – not Whole30 approved.’ Now, the responsibilities (of making good food choices) fall back on my shoulders. It’s fine, they’re strong. But I enjoyed my little bubble much more than I anticipated.”
The Whole30 Training Wheels
This isn’t the first time we’ve heard the sentiment that making good food choices is easy when you’re following our “rules”, but much harder out there in the real world. We’ve talked to many a workshop attendee about this very topic (usually after they’ve fallen face-first into a box of doughnuts post-Whole30).
The rules of the Whole30 program are very specific, and completely non-negotiable. They narrow your (food) world, and remove some of the stress of making your own food choices. The program also gives you an easy fall-back when faced with social or peer pressures, as MJ alluded to above. Yes, for many, the rules of the Whole30 function much like training wheels on a bike, giving you all the support and back-up you need while forcing you to actually complete the program under your own power. But are you prepared to ride your big-kid cycle when your 30 days are up?
Let Us Run Your Life…
For many – especially those who have bounced in and out of different dietary plans in the past – the strict confines of the Whole30 program is comforting. It takes all the guesswork out of our expectations and your goals, and gives you clear objectives to achieve along the way. (“Start eating healthy” is a far more difficult challenge to wrap your arms around than, “Eat no added sugar, alcohol, grains, legumes or dairy in any form for 30 days.”)
Your buy-in to the program also affords you a sense of community on our site and Facebook, even if it is virtual. You feel stronger, braver, more committed to your efforts when you know there are thousands of people doing the program with you, overcoming the same challenges you face. In addition, you’ve got a built-in excuse for why you don’t want that piece of cake or a glass of wine. “I can’t, I’m on the Whole30″ is your quick-draw response, your get-out-of-jail-free card when faced with social pressures. Yes, for 30 whole days, you get to give up the responsibility of making good food choices to us, and the rules we’ve set for you during your program. And for some, that feels wonderfully freeing.
Now Let Us Give It Back
But what happens when your 30 days are up? All the comforts of our rules, your built-in excuses, your sense of being a part of something bigger than yourself disappear with the end of your Whole30. Which leaves you with the desire to continue to eat healthfully, but no clear plan to make that happen. In many cases, nervous about re-entry into the “real world”, people decide to extend their program to a Whole60 or Whole90 – we’ve even heard of a few Whole100′s or more. But we’d ask you to think twice before making that decision.
Sometimes, extending your Whole30 is the right thing to do. For those who haven’t yet banished serious cravings, or who are coming out of serious metabolic derangement, injury or illness, we often encourage them to take their Whole30 just a bit further, to allow ample time for the body to right itself again. However, extending your program is NOT the right choice for those who are simply nervous about handling real life all by themselves. You can’t – and shouldn’t – live within the strict parameters of the Whole30 forever. Yep, at some point… you’ve gotta take the training wheels off the bike.
Ditch Those Wheels
The point of the Whole30 is to gain awareness – figure out how foods you used to eat are actually affecting you; create new habits, patterns and relationships with food; and learn to apply that knowledge in everyday, real-life scenarios for the rest of your life. The program isn’t meant to continue forever – it’s a tool to give you the knowledge and confidence to make good choices on your own. Think of the Whole30 like your dietary training wheels, giving you the support and structure you need while learning. And as for MJ: despite the fact that it’s scary to lose the structure and comfort of our “rules” and take on the big, bad, sugar-laden world all on your own – it’s time.
It’s Okay To Be Not Perfect
Here’s what most of you Whole30’ers can expect after your program is over. (Note, this is generalization, but also based on feedback from hundreds of people.) You’ll probably wait a day or two before reintroducing anything off-plan, nervous about taking that first step. Eventually, you’ll reintroduce some not-so-healthy foods, feel like crap and easily set them aside in favor of the usual Whole30-ish foods for your everyday meals and snacks. But slowly, eventually, inevitably, old habits and poor choices will start to creep back in. It might take a month, or two, or three… but eventually you will wake up and realize that (a) you’ve somehow slipped back into so-so eating habits, (b) you don’t feel very fantastic any more, and (c) it’s really time to clean things up.
Does that mean you’ve failed your post-Whole30 test? Not at all! Habits are hard to break, pressures are hard to resist and the temptation of delicious, unhealthy foods are everywhere. In the real world, it’s easy for things to backslide from “awesome” to “so-so”, and it happens to everyone – even us. And it will, at some point, happen to you.
Just Jump Back On
So there you have it – the worst thing that could happen post-Whole30. You eat some crappy food for a while, and feel not so hot. Big deal! All you have to do to regain that awareness, reset those good habits and remind yourself how amazing clean eating makes you look, feel and perform is to jump back on the Whole30. And contrary to popular sentiment, you don’t always have to do the progam in full! There’s no reason why you can’t jump back on for a weekend, a week, two weeks… just long enough for your body and your brain to remember how good you feel, how delicious healthy food tastes, and how easy it is to feed yourself well. Once you’re back on solid ground, kick off your training wheels again. See? Easy.
It Gets Easier
One of the best parts of our program is that each one of your Whole30′s build on top of the last one. This means as you stay connected with our program, your awareness and your food choices, your periods of slipping back into bad habits will grow shorter and less frequent, and your clean-eating adventures will grow longer in duration (and easier). Your “cheats” will become more benign (think hummus and white rice instead of pizza and beer), your everyday meals and snacks will be effortlessly clean, and when you do choose to go off the rails, it will be easy to immediately right yourself and get back on track. And of course, should some special occasion, vacation or stressful event push you right off your bike, the Whole30 will always be there to give you some support and get you riding again.
So for all you Whole30′ers, be prepared for us to push your bike on down the road. You can always come back and see us if you should happen to fall down. For those of you who have done a Whole30 program, does this resonate with you? Can you testify to your progress from one Whole30 to the next, and offer some advice to those who are doing their first program now? Post thoughts to comments.