March 20, 2020

Dear Melissa: How Do I Know if the Whole30 is Right for Me Right Now?

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This article is part of our special #Whole30AtHome resources meant to support you during the global COVID-19 pandemic. Click here to see our entire collection of resources.

Dear Melissa,

Should I continue my Whole30 (or start one) during this stressful period of social distancing, self-quarantine, and so much uncertainty?
-Love, Everyone

Dear Everyone,

I wish I could give you a yes-or-no answer, but your context is critical here. This period we’re in is unlike other times of stress and uncertainty, even a death in the family or losing your job. Today, there is less of a guarantee that we’ll have access to fresh food like produce and meat, and even getting to the grocery store is a challenge. Today, it’s not just about our emotional capacity to maintain compliance with the Whole30 rules, it’s also about our physical access to the foods we need to complete the program.

Factors at Play

First, it depends on how familiar you are with the Whole30 program rules. If you’re a veteran and buy mostly Whole30 foods even in your Food Freedom, jumping back into the rules might feel easy and effortless. If this would be your first Whole30 and you’re not coming from a Paleo or Primal approach, you may find it far more stressful to follow all the rules and replace your normal pantry and fridge staples.

I also don’t know your local situation. Some cities are under quarantine with tenuous access to fresh food, while others (like mine) still have relatively well-stocked grocery stores, especially produce. (Plus I’ve got two restaurants providing Whole30 Approved meals via curbside “no-contact” delivery or Grubhub.) And with so many struggling financially after losing work and childcare, maybe eating nothing but Whole30 foods for 30 straight days is outside of your budget right now.

On the other hand, now that we’re all spending more time at home, meal prep and cooking might be more manageable. We’re inspired to be more creative with making what we have work, and using every last scrap of veggies and leftovers. And prepping, cooking, and dining together as a family can provide stress relief and quality time with our loved ones. Plus, the benefits of the Whole30 in terms of our physical, mental, and emotional health are hard to deny, especially when it comes to our immune system!

Your Whole30 Thought Exercise

You’ll have to decide for yourself whether your physical context is such that completing the Whole30 is feasible. (And understand that may change in the coming weeks—so no matter what, we will ALL have to be flexible and show ourselves grace.) To help you navigate this decision, I’ll repurpose the information I shared in Food Freedom Forever about returning to the Whole30 during a stressful time.

First, imagine your life over the next few weeks—as best as you can. You’re home with your family, feeling socially isolated, experiencing uncertainty (and perhaps fear and anxiety). You don’t have access to your gym, normal fitness routine, friends, or office, and perhaps your kids are home and need entertaining.

Now, picture the next few weeks on the Whole30. Do you see yourself feeling happier, more centered, feeling more in control and better able to manage stress? Are you sleeping better, more energetic, and more patient? Are you more confident knowing you’re nourishing your body and supporting your immune system as best as you can? Or do you see yourself even more stressed, worried about not being able to find compatible emergency food in the store, or not able to eat your food freedom staples because of a gram of added sugar? Really lean into this here. What is your gut telling you life ON the reset will feel like in the coming weeks?

Next, picture the next few weeks without the Whole30 framework. Can you see yourself eating popcorn and wine for dinner, snacking incessantly on sugar or carbs, and generally numbing the anxiety or relieving boredom with foods that you know aren’t serving you? Do you imagine feeling sluggish, more anxious, less patient, and more stressed? Or maybe the rules feel too confining in this context, adding to your stress during shopping and meal prep. Do you actually feel relieved because there is one less thing to worry about, confident that you can maintain a healthy balance without the rigidity of the Whole30?

Options and Support—No Judgment

If sticking to or starting a Whole30 during this difficult season will provide you with the healthy framework you need to manage your stress and our current situation more effectively, then go on with your Whole30 planning! Just remember, your ONLY job (especially now) is to put Whole30 food in your mouth, letting good enough be good enough. And if your context changes over the course of the program, leading you to have less access to Whole30 foods, be willing to revisit this thought exercise and ask yourself again, “Is continuing to stick to the program still serving me?” I promise, if at any point you decide to cut your Whole30 short for the good of your mental health, I will support that decision.

If you decide now isn’t the time for a full-on Whole30, you have a few options. First, try a mini-reset, to see if just 5-10 days of Whole30 can bring on the Tiger Blood and help you feel more grounded in your Food Freedom plan. You can also just keep working your FF plan, being conscientious about what you put in your grocery cart, not impulse-buying comfort food you KNOW won’t be worth it once you get home. Finally, re-read Food Freedom Forever during your time at home, to reinforce your growth mindset and remind yourself that you are a healthy person with healthy habits.

Sending you healthy energy during this difficult time. The entire Whole30 team and I are here to provide you with support and resources.

XO Melissa

Got a question for Melissa? Submit it 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 Urban is a Certified Sports Nutritionist, and a 5-time New York Times bestselling author (It Starts With Food; The Whole30; Food Freedom Forever; The Whole30 Cookbook; The Whole30 Day by Day; and The Whole30 Fast and Easy Cookbook). She has been featured in the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Forbes, CNBC, 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