Welcome to Dear Melissa, where I answer your questions about transitioning into or completing a Whole30, successfully sticking to your new Food Freedom habits, and figuring out how to make a healthy, sustainable lifestyle work in the real world. Today, I’m helping people in the middle of their Whole30 identify, obtain, and sustain the famous Whole30 “Tiger Blood.”
I’m on Day 14/20/27 of my Whole30, and I’m generally feeling better/looking better, but so far, there’s been no REAL Tiger Blood. Help? -Lots of you
I have a LOT to say on this one, so buckle up. The first thing I’ll mention is that maybe your definition of Tiger Blood needs a reframe. It’s not always like flipping a switch into “Energize Bunny Mode.” Before you proceed here, make sure you’ve read our updated thoughts on what Tiger Blood COULD mean to you. Maybe it’s as simple as redefining the concept!
If your expectations are well-managed and you’re still feeling like you’re missing out, it’s time to talk about is why you may not, in fact, be feeling the “sangre del tigre,” and what you might be able to do about it.
Problem #1: Not eating enough
If your energy isn’t high or steady, your workouts are dragging, or your focus is meandering, it might be you’re just not eating enough. Specifically, enough carbohydrate. It’s really common for people to under-eat on the Whole30, and it tends to catch up with them towards the end of the second week (or in the third). You’re probably eating lots of nutrient-dense veggies (leafy greens, broccoli, cauliflower) but they’re not very energy-dense. And maybe you’re still a little fat-phobic, unwilling to add a half an avocado to any given meal? (Lots of you are, understandably.)
Depending on activity levels, it’s possible that all you need is a bump in meal size and/or more carbs and/or more fat. If that’s the case, it’s a fast and easy fix.
IF you’ve been super low-carb and/or you’re very active, start adding some healthy carbs with every meal (potatoes, winter squash, whole fruit—not juice or smoothie). Start with about a fist-sized serving per meal, more if you’re active.
NOTE: If you get carb-crashy after a meal like this (dragging and foggy-brained), that tells me something about where you are in the fat adaption process. Translation: your mitochondria are taking a bit longer to catch up to your new diet, so keep reading, make sure you’re eating enough fat and don’t start piling on the fruit, plantains, potatoes, and dates or you’ll only make things worse.
IF you’re on the lower end of our fat recommendations (regardless of activity levels—everyone needs to eat at least the minimum!), add a little more to each meal. You don’t have to quadruple your portions; try two tablespoons of dressing instead of one, or half an avocado instead of a quarter. If you start feeling better, feel free to continue ramping this up slowly.
NOTE: Many people think they’re getting enough fat because they add a tablespoon or two of cooking oil to the pan before roasting their veggies or frying an egg. But much of that oil is left in the pan, and you may be making 2-4 servings of food with that same amount of fat. If the added fat in your meal is JUST coming from cooking oil, I’m betting you’re not getting enough, so start adding an oil-based dressing or sauce, some mayo, olives, nuts and seeds, avocado, or coconut flakes to your meal.
Summary: If not eating enough is what’s holding you back, you’ll feel better in just a few days—sometimes immediately.
Problem #2: Life stuff is getting in the way
When people start the Whole30, they tend to make everything in their life about the Whole30. I have a headache—Whole30-related. My skin broke out—Whole30-related. I got a flat tire—damn you, Whole30. (It’s why I wrote a whole article on the likelihood of your “side effects” being Whole30-related.) But step back and take a big-picture look at your life right now: Are there other lifestyle factors that could be impeding your progress here? (True story: I went back and forth on Facebook a few times with a woman who wasn’t feeling the Tiger Blood, trying to troubleshoot. All my ideas came back negative… until she casually mentioned she was six months pregnant. Um. That’s kind of important information.)
If you’re only sleeping five hours a night, under a ton of stress, pregnant or nursing, recovering from an injury, or have been living with chronic illness (fatigue, pain, autoimmune), that WILL impact what you see with the Whole30. Dietary factors can bring tremendous improvements to stress levels, sleep, energy, and symptoms… but it may take longer, and diet alone is often not enough to totally overcome big life challenges. If this is your context, revise your expectations, and start looking for the smaller victories (I’m falling asleep faster, I’m handling my stress better, my baby is less fussy, or some of my symptoms are improving) instead of a massive rush of Tiger Blood.
Problem #3: Your mealtime habits
Here, I’m going to ask that you take a good, hard look at your Whole30—not the technicalities (because I’m sure you’re following those 100%), but the spirit and intention of the program. It’s not against the RULES to eat two Larabars in a row or graze between 6 and 11 PM… but it might not be helping your Tiger Blood cause.
Are you overdoing the sugary compliant stuff (dried fruit, fruit and nut butters, fruit and nut bars), or still continuing to graze/snack habitually? I’m not talking about those few times your meeting ran late or you got stuck at the airport… I’m talking to those of you who are still eating every 2-3 hours or those of you who reach for fruit or other compliant “sweet stuff” when cravings or emotions hit, because that’s what you’ve always done. That really might be holding you back from getting into fat adaption as quickly as you might otherwise.
Adjusting this at this stage of the game might be rough, as you’ve only delayed the “Hangover” and “Kill All the Things” stage of the Timeline… but you should adjust quickly, and that Tiger Blood could be right around the corner once you do!
Problem #4: Patience, grasshopper
Some people just need a bit longer for the magic to kick in. Remember, you’re not done yet. If you’re noticing good progress, then you’re on the right track.
This is especially true if you have a history of chronic pain, fatigue, or an autoimmune condition. In that context I’d not at all be surprised if it didn’t take longer than 30 to really start seeing the benefits pile up. Your immune system has been angry and reactive for a long time. In fact, with these medical conditions, it’s not unusual for symptoms to get a little WORSE (generally in the third week) before they start improving again. Especially with autoimmune, it’s not unrealistic to suggest someone needs 90 days on any anti-inflammatory protocol before they really start feeling better.
I know. Sorry.
The good news is that if you’re feeling better in some areas (energy, sleep, focus, mood, digestive stuff, pain, or seeing even a small improvement in other symptoms) it’s confirmation that you’re on the right path. See where you are at 30 days, then decide if going a little longer is the right decision for you. (There may also be things in your Whole30 diet, like eggs and nightshades, that are holding you back, but let’s not worry about that yet.) If things are getting better, even slowly, that’s a great sign, and you have plenty of time to see even more important.
The Last Word: Context Matters
The last word: Sometimes, people don’t think they’re feeling that much better until they start feeling worse again. Like, you’ll get to Day 31 and think, “I feel better but nothing ah-mazing,” but then you start to reintroduce and you’re all “OMG THIS FEELS LIKE CRAP! Is this (tired, foggy, craving, achy, blotchy, bloated, sluggish) REALLY how I used to feel?”
Sometimes, you need the comparison for clarity. Just something to think about.
Tiger Blood in 3, 2, 1…
Whether it’s redefining your idea of “Tiger Blood,” making some tweaks to your Whole30 meal plan, or being more patient, one thing is certain: your Whole30 experience IS changing your health, habits, and relationship with food! Stay focused on the positive benefits you are seeing, and let go of any preconceived notions of what this day of your program should look like. The fact that you’re still here working hard to change your life is one NSV each and every one of you can check off today!
Best in health,
Got a question for Melissa? Submit them here.
Remember, we aren’t answering questions about the Whole30 rules via this column (use the forum!), nor are we able to offer you specific advice about your medical issue, health condition, or body composition.
Melissa Hartwig is a Certified Sports Nutritionist, and the author of the New York Times bestselling books It Starts With Food and The Whole30: The 30-Day Guide to Total Health and Food Freedom; Food Freedom Forever; and The Whole30 Cookbook (coming December 6, 2016). She has been featured in the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Details, Outside, SELF, and Shape as the co-founder of the Whole30 program. Melissa lives in Salt Lake City, UT.
Photo credit: Marie Carmel Photography