Last month on the Whole30 page, our most famous tough-love phrase was taken to task by two Whole30 participants. Today, we’d like to address their concerns, and share our thoughts on taking on the Whole30 while battling an eating disorder or food addiction.
“It is not hard. Don’t you dare tell us this is hard. Quitting heroin is hard. Beating cancer is hard. Drinking your coffee black. Is. Not. Hard. You won’t get any coddling, and you won’t get any sympathy for your ‘struggles’.”
This is by far the most famous line of the Whole30, often cited as the main motivator for getting folks on board. But for two Whole30 participants, this line very much rubbed them the wrong way.
From HillyRu: “Actually, you could not be more wrong. Especially if you understood the complexities of those of us who battle an eating disorder every day. If you look around and notice those with weight problems and consider what the food industry has done to mess with our minds, you might have a little more compassion. You’d think it wouldn’t be that hard to try something new for 30 days, but when sugar cravings come on, I can assure you they’re every bit as ridiculously real as a craving for heroin or cocaine or tobacco.”
From Casey: “To a point, I agree with HilaryRu. I’ve quit meth before, but I’ve also had an eating disorder. Quitting meth took four weeks of withdrawals, including a stroke. Recovering from an eating disorder took many more months and was much harder, even though I didn’t have the extreme physical symptoms. Saying “this isn’t hard” is supposed to be meant as tough love, and for some who don’t have true food addictions, it works. But I also see how to some, it is like telling the alcoholic that quitting isn’t hard – that would not work to motivate.”
First, we’d like to point out that the Whole30 was not designed to help those recover from eating disorders or food addictions. Despite the fact that many have reported it’s been the only program that has helped them kick their addictions and disorders, we designed the Whole30 language to reach and appeal to a broad population. We were targeting everyday folks (athletes to office workers, teenagers to grandmothers), and that population has responded amazingly well to our tough love approach. In general, participants appear to have taken the message as intended – a well-meaning kick in the pants to put our program into perspective, stop complaining, stop making excuses, and start owning the changes you want to make in your life.
However, this language is not right for everyone. We understand why those of you who are battling eating disorders or food addictions would bristle at the idea that it’s really just that easy. We’re sorry if the program’s language offended you, or made you feel even worse about an already difficult and painful situation. But we didn’t write this program specifically for you. If we did, we’d have taken a much different approach.
For those of you with disordered eating histories, this is hard. In fact, it’s even harder for you than it was for Melissa or Casey to kick their drug habits. You know why?
Because we can’t go into 7-11 and buy heroin. We don’t see television commercials of happy families laughing, having fun and snorting lines. We don’t have to use drugs three times a day in a moderate fashion just to survive. But everybody eats.
So for you, the anorexic, bulimic, binge-eater, sugar or carb-addict, this is hard. We’re asking you to do what no alcohol or drug rehab center would ever think to ask their addicts to do – to use in moderation. And yet, you have no choice. You must find a way to come to terms with your drug of choice – hunger, fullness, control, sugar – and make peace. And none of that is easy.
So today, for you, we re-write the tough-love portion of the Whole30, in the hopes that this language will resonate, and encourage at least one of you to give our program a try.
This will be hard. You will not be perfect. Don’t even try to be perfect. No one is judging, no one is keeping score, and there are no penalties for acknowledging that you are struggling. Be kind to yourself, be patient with yourself, and remember that it’s not 30 days – it’s just one day. One meal. One bite. Do this one bite at a time, if you have to, because it’s for the most important and worthwhile cause on earth – you.
Don’t even consider the possibility of “failure.” Right now, you aren’t sure you even want to try to do this program, because you’re not sure if you can succeed. And you would rather not try at all than suffer yet another disappointment – actually trying, allowing yourself to be hopeful, and then failing yet again. But this is not a pass/fail endeavor. This is not a test. It’s just a framework for change. Stop putting so much pressure on yourself, and just try it, for a month, a day, a meal. And if you need to relax the “rules” to get yourself there, do that.
You never, ever, ever HAVE to do something just because we told you to. You know your context better than we do, so if scrutinizing every single label is going to make you obsessive, then don’t. If eating the same healthy foods every day makes things easier, do it. If writing down your meals gives you a sense of pride and accomplishment, keep a journal. But the one rule you must stick to – do not weigh yourself. What the scale says is not important right now. This is not about weight loss, this is about health, sanity, grace. Do not allow the scale to determine your self-worth during this time period. You deserve better.
This does require a bit of effort. Treat this program like you would any rehab program for addiction. We highly recommend seeking professional counseling during this time period; we are not doctors or addiction counselors, and our program was not designed by one of those professionals. Joining a community, whether it’s ours or one in your local town or school, can help, too. And you’ll have to pay attention to other areas of your life – devote time and energy to sleep, stress management, and regular exercise or movement, to better support your efforts to recover and rebuild. Improved health and recovery doesn’t happen overnight – but starting requires just one step forward. Take that step here, today, now.
Share Kind Words
Have you used the Whole30 to help you recover from an eating disorder or food addiction? Are you in the middle of an unhealthy cycle right now, and are looking for a support system to help you through your Whole30? Post to comments, share your words, offer encouragement. We’ll help as much as we can, whether you require tough-love or not.
For other posts in our “Coming Clean” series on addiction, eating disorders and changing your habits, click here.