January 24, 2014

Dear Melissa: Pulling Out of a Whole30 Stall


Welcome to Dear Melissa, where we answer your questions about transitioning into or or maintaining a healthy Whole9 life, helping you figure out how to make this lifestyle work in the real world. Today, we’re working with a British man feeling like his Whole30 has come to a major stall on Day 13, and looking for help before he crashes and burns.

Dear Melissa, I’m at the day 13 mark and my body/brain is screaming at me to stop the Whole30. Aside from the cravings for cheese, beer, and rice, I’m hungry but can’t stomach another three meals a day of meat and vegetables! This has become an unsavoury, bludgeoning grind… Is this normal? Can I expect 17 more days of the same? I want to continue, I want the benefits, I want to use the Whole30 to kick on and target optimal health, but I feel like I’m losing the plot. -R.J., Bristol, UK Dear RJ, It may provide little comfort, but according to our Whole30 Timeline, you’re right on schedule. Days 12-15 include “craving all the things”:

All joking aside, this phase gets really intense and for some people. This is the part of the program where our minds try to drive us back to the comfort of the foods we used to know. Our food relationships are deeply rooted and strongly reinforced throughout the course of our lives and breaking through them is really big deal. 

So now we need to figure out whether your brain is actively rebelling, or whether you’re just bored with what you’ve been doing. Are you eating lots of the same things over and over? Are your meals kind of plain or boring? (Think grilled chicken breast and steamed broccoli day. After. Day.) Or is this not about the food at all—is this about cravings and habit trying to overtake the healthy-habit-changing efforts you’ve been making? You can answer that question by imagining that I sent a personal chef over to your house for the coming week. He will make anything you want—any Whole30-compatible food you can imagine, any recipe you see in a cookbook or online, absolutely anything. You name it, he whips it up right there on the spot. Would that make things easier and happier for you… or are you still dying for bread, cheese, and beer? Let’s tackle these perspectives one at a time.

You Are Bored With Your Food

If the idea of a personal chef makes you all kinds of excited to get back to the Whole30, that tells me you just need to add some variety to your meals. Dude, you’re just bored. It’s pretty common around this time, actually—you spent the first week just figuring out how to survive, but now your old stand-by breakfasts, lunches, and dinners just aren’t tickling your taste buds. This is an easy one to fix, even if you aren’t a master chef. The Meal Map section of It Starts With Food contains a huge variety of recipes built off one easy-to-prepare “master recipe.” Take the basics (which you already have down) and transform them into exciting dishes that will make you happy for the next 17 days.

  • Cook a bunch of ground beef, eat it three different ways over the next three days.
  • Cook a bunch of chicken breasts and make Citrus Chicken for dinner, use the leftovers in your frittata for breakfast, and make the rest into a chicken salad for lunch.
  • Make a giant base of green, yellow, or red curry, and eat it three different ways, with three different meat-veggie combinations

You can also try cooking the same foods in different ways, or use dressings or sauces to mix things up.

  • Try roasting, grilling, or stir-frying vegetables, or topping them with one of these 50 sauces from Stupid Easy Paleo’s round-up. (Just make sure you choose a Whole30-compatible sauce. You know enough by now to figure it out.)
  • Eggs for breakfast, again? Poach and top with hollandaise one day, fry and top with chimichurri the next day, and scramble and douse in Tessemae’s hot sauce the third.
  • Still sick of eggs? Make some frittata meat-and-veggie variations from It Starts With Food.
  • Still sick of eggs? Try eggs + fruit, a surprisingly delicious combination. We love poached peaches with spinach, scrambled eggs, and basil; or a thin omelet filled with blueberries, strawberries, and kale.
  • Have the perfect burger down? Top it with one of these ten variations from The Clothes Make the Girl.

Feel like branching out even more? Try these Whole30-compatible cookbooks and recipe sites:

Your assignment, in summary: make some new meals, get your taste buds excited for mealtime again, and enjoy the rest of your Whole30.

You Are Battling Cravings

If, even when offered a personal chef for the week, you are still dying for bread, cheese, and beer… your brain is throwing a rebellion. This isn’t about the Whole30, or being bored with your food—this is about long-standing habits, and your brain trying desperately to get the rewards you used to give it with crappy “comfort” food. Your plan? Show it who’s boss by sticking things out. There is no way around this—you have to go through. So use all of your best craving-busting techniques to ride it out, because it will get better. Every day, every meal, every bite that you resist the urge to eat sugar, carbs, and junk food, the craving gets weaker. You just have to hang in there. Proven craving busting techniques:

  • Distraction. This is your best friend, and a craving’s worst enemy. Habit research shows the average craving lasts just 3-5 minutes, and that those who can effectively distract themselves from the temptation have more success in delaying gratification. So, go for a quick stroll, call a friend, jump on Facebook, pay some bills, do the dishes, make out with your girlfriend, do 20 push-ups… whatever it takes to shift your current context and release the craving’s hold on your brain.
  • Bank your willpower. Your willpower bank is finite, and you tap into the same source for all kinds of things throughout your day. Resisting the urge to snap at a co-worker, seething when someone cuts you off in traffic, ignoring the call of your new email ping, passing on the candy dish at work all use the same willpower stash. If you have too many of these withdrawals throughout the day, you’ll get home tapped—and ready to raid the pantry or call for take-out. Minimize temptation throughout the day as best as you can (even if it means walking the long way to the bathroom to avoid the baked-goods-laden break room counter), and store that willpower until you really need it.
  • Let go of other big “resolutions” for the time being. Your brain can really only handle one big “project” at a time. Split its attention up between too many resolutions (the Whole30 + exercising every day + meditation + no TV after work) and you’ll fail to complete any of them. If the Whole30 is your top priority, let other goals go for now, and focus all of your energy on seeing the program through. You can always do a new 30-day initiative when your program is over.
  • Tell someone, and ask for help. Sometimes, cravings or other problems feel overwhelming when they’re stuck inside our own heads—but once we say them out loud and share them with others, they lose some of their power. Click our support button and connect with others going through the same thing and I guarantee you’ll feel stronger and better prepared to battle those cravings.

Your assignment, in summary, is to tell your brain to suck it and figure out how to get through the next day, the next meal, the next bite without giving into those cravings.

Keep Calm and Whole30 On

If there’s one things that’s constant about the Whole30, it’s that your experience is ever-changing. Sometimes the answer to your problem is as simple as going to bed and waking up to a new day. So use these strategies to help you bust through your Whole30 motivation plateau, and cross off one more day on your Whole30 calendar.

Is this good advice? Do you want to add your two cents? We welcome your input! Share your best advice for R.J. in comments.

Got a question for Dear Melissa? Submit it using this handy form.

Remember, we aren’t answering technical questions via this column, nor are we able to offer you specific advice about your medical issue, health condition, or body composition.

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