December 12, 2022

Dear Melissa: Empower Yourself for the Whole30

Melissa, a long-haired smiling woman, and text that says Dear Melissa

In a previous Dear Melissa newsletter, I talked about the unexpected benefits of my first Whole30 back in April 2009, and how those 30 days sent positive ripples into every area of my life, giving me a sense of confidence, empowerment, and trust in myself that I had never before experienced. (As I’ve often said of the Whole30, it’s about food, but it’s about so much more than just food.)

If you’re thinking about doing a Whole30 as “just” a 30-day dietary experiment, that’s okay! That’s how I went into my first Whole30, and it still completely changed my life. But maybe with a little mindset shift, you can start thinking about your Whole30 as so much more than 30 days of whole foods. What if this Whole30 could be the vehicle for confidence, self-empowerment, and trust in every area of your life

Today, I’ll share my top three tips for creating that sense of empowerment for yourself as you navigate your next Whole30, from Day 1 all the way through Reintroduction.

Tip 1: Turn in

The consistent message we’ve been hearing our whole lives—whether we’ve learned it from the patriarchy, diet culture, addiction, or trauma—is that we can’t trust our own bodies. The patriarchy says, “Women don’t know what they need” (or worse, “women shouldn’t have needs of their own”). Weight-loss dieting says, “You’re not hungry—tune that out,” or “You are full, you’ve used all your points today.” Addiction made me feel like my own body was betraying me, my first recovery program told me I was “powerless,” and trauma made me want to eradicate my body altogether.

The Whole30 is designed to help you learn to trust the signals your body is sending you. We restore that mind/body connection through nutrient-dense food, no caloric restrictions whatsoever, and targeted mindset reminders through every phase of the program via our daily text message service and The Whole30 Day by Day guided journal.

Food for thought: Create moments (starting now) to turn inward and check in with yourself. How are you feeling? How is your energy, mood, digestion, joint pain, sleep, and cravings? Are you hungry? Are you full? If you waited a few minutes and checked back in, would those signals come through stronger? Can you honor those signals—to eat, to stop eating, to go to bed, to wake up earlier, to work out, to rest, to say yes, to say no—thanking your body for showing you the way? It is a practice, but if you build these moments into your day (try first thing in the morning, around each meal, and then again before bed), you’ll begin to groove the habit of asking your body what you need and trusting the signals it’s sending you.

Tip 2: Build a toolbox

During my first Whole30, I quickly realized that I didn’t have many (any?) coping mechanisms for stress, anxiety, anger, or sadness that didn’t involve walking to the pantry. Yes, I was in therapy, but we hadn’t yet talked about how to handle the loneliness of losing most of my friends after rehab, or the racing thoughts I’d have in the hours before bed.

Those feelings didn’t stop during my Whole30, but the foods I’d normally use to self-soothe weren’t available, so out of necessity, I discovered other ways to make myself feel better. I went back to yoga, because I thought moving like that would feel good. I began journaling again, but less angsty song lyrics and more positive affirmations and therapeutic learnings. I threw myself into meal prep, and discovered chopping vegetables felt oddly soothing and the after-work routine itself was grounding. I went for walks, talked to my sister more, said yes to more work social events (but firmly ordered water), and read more books.

I was proud of seeing myself through those stressful days in a healthy way. The more I learned to sit with my feelings, the more I realized I could handle stress or discomfort without needing to numb, distract, or run away.

Food for thought: Make a list (right now) of things you can do in moments of stress, anxiety, sadness, or fear that would allow you to preserve your Whole30 commitment. Include hobbies like reading or playing music, movement practices like walking or yoga, habits like meal prep or cooking, and therapeutic practices like journaling or meditation. Keep the list in a prominent place, then add to it as you discover new ways to practice self-care as you move through the Whole30. You’ll end your program with a long list, which will make you feel capable, powerful, and centered long after your Whole30 is over.

Tip 3: Practice your growth mindset

Empirical research in a zillion different fields shows that a growth mindset helps people stay motivated and perform better. When I entered rehab for the last time, I unconsciously adopted a growth mindset as a means of preserving my recovery.

  • Fixed mindset: It’s my first day out of rehab, but I’m still a drug addict, and that makes me pretty worthless.
  • Growth mindset: It’s my first day out of rehab and I haven’t used drugs in two weeks, which makes me a healthy person with healthy habits.

I had no idea what it was called at the time, but my growth mindset made all the difference in the earliest stages of my recovery, when I doubted myself the most. If this is your first Whole30 or if you’re still feeling stuck in old dieting habits and a weight-loss mindset, this is the perfect opportunity to practice your Whole30 mindset, and see how it changes everything.

You ARE a healthy person with healthy habits. Like, right now. Not when your Whole30 starts, not when elimination is over—right now. This is you!

Food for thought: When I adopted the mindset that I was a healthy person with healthy habits, I naturally started to actively look for evidence to support that. I woke up early to go to the gym—check! I brought my own lunch instead of eating break-room pizza—check! I saw a shelf full of healthy products every time I opened up my pantry—check! I stayed up way too late watching TV because I was feeling lonely and anxious—but I didn’t beat myself up for it, and the next day I talked to my sister and asked her for support. STILL CHECK! The goal isn’t to be “perfect” at every moment, but to conscientiously seek even the tiniest piece of evidence that this is who you are now—then reward yourself for that.

Let your Whole30 be the start

Over the last 13 years, the Whole30 has proven the gateway to so many healthy habits and practices for millions of people. I’ve heard from community members who moved to their dream city, went on that first date (which led to their wedding), went back to school to become a nurse, and asked for (and received) a raise because their Whole30 gave them the confidence to say yes.

Your Whole30 has the power to improve your health (sleep, energy, digestion, cravings, mood, and focus) and help you identify foods that may have been contributing to asthma, allergies, migraines, anxiety, chronic fatigue, joint pain, and a number of other conditions. But as if that wasn’t enough, your Whole30 can also be the first step in reclaiming your power, learning to trust your body again, and creating a sustainable diet that works for YOU and YOUR definition of health for the rest of your life—what we call food freedom.

Ready to prep for your next Whole30? Sign up for our helpful emails and get your Whole30 Starter Kit. Be sure to tag me (@melissau on Instagram, @melissa_u on TikTok) in your Whole30 posts, stories, and videos. I look forward to following along with your Whole30 journey.