February 9, 2015

Second Time’s the Charm? Maybe Not with the Whole30.


Congratulations—you’ve officially changed your life with the Whole30! Your first Whole30 is over; you look better, you feel better, your self-confidence is at an all-time high, and you’ve racked up a number of non-scale victories. You’ve finally found something that works (amen!)… which means at some point you’ll likely come back for another Whole30. Maybe a vacation or holiday throws you off your healthy eating game. Maybe you’ve had some life stress and have been comforting yourself with sugar. Maybe your friend, mother, office, or gym is doing the Whole30, and you want to participate for moral support. Whatever the reason, 85% of people who do a Whole30 come back for more.* But for those who come back for a second round, more than 1 in 4 of you find the second one even harder than the first.* How can this be? You’re a label-reading expert, you know the rules of the program inside and out, and you have a new support network of Instagram friends and Forum buddies to help keep you on track. You make your own mayo and don’t even own a scale anymore, for goodness’ sake. So why would the second round be harder? *According to a 2015 survey of more than 1,800 Whole30’ers.

The Newness is Gone

The first reason is simple: the Whole30 is no longer a brand-new thing. While you did gain valuable experience and knowledge from your first program, the first time through something difficult or complicated can actually be easier, precisely because you don’t know what’s going to happen. During your first program, everything was exciting. Even the hard parts, like figuring out what to eat at a restaurant or dealing with a family dinner. (And when you did figure it out, wasn’t it exhilarating?) You had no idea what to expect from one day to the next, which meant each morning unfolded like an adventure. Yay, Whole30! Okay, maybe every day wasn’t magical, but there’s something to be said for getting through something, looking back, and saying, “Whoa, that actually was really hard!” But as you head into your second round of Whole30, you already know. You know the hard parts, the parts where you’ll struggle, the parts where you’ll be frustrated and cranky. (Plus you know how much work it is, compared to grabbing something semi-Whole30-ish at the deli during lunch every day.) All of these things make the next 30 days far less appealing, which makes it harder to see the full program all the way through. Action item: If this is your context, make a plan for the tough times you know are coming. If late nights at the office, travel days, or family dinners were difficult in your first go-round, figure out how you’ll handle those your second time through, to reduce stress and give yourself a “cushion” for when things get hard and you’re tempted to quit. Also, inject some fun or newness into your second program. Commit to trying two new dinner recipes a week, volunteer on the Whole30 Forum to help some new people through their first program, or grab lunch at that new place you’ve been dying to try and figure out how to Whole30 on the fly.

No Fear of a Restart

During your first Whole30, you were probably really  careful about making sure absolutely everything you ate was compatible, because you took the idea of starting over for a slip or deliberate off-plan choice seriously.  In addition, you really didn’t know what would happen if you got two weeks into the program and accidentally ate soy sauce or regular butter, and you really didn’t want to take the chance of ruining your “reset.” After your Whole30, however, you’re a lot more aware. You know regular butter isn’t a big deal, the cream in your coffee doesn’t impact you much (if at all), and if there’s a little soy snuck into your sushi you probably wouldn’t even notice. This makes it much harder to stick to the program rules, because, at this point, you figure, “Meh, I won’t really have to start over, I know how all this stuff affects me anyway.” Which puts you in the mindset of, “Do I really have to worry about all of these other rules, too?” And failing to fully commit to every aspect of the program makes it so much easier to abandon when it becomes inconvenient or unpleasant. Action Item: Re-read this article, particularly Lesson #4. Believe it when we tell you that what you think is just fine/worth it/no problem may, in fact, be not-so-fine/not worth it/actually kind of problematic from one Whole30 to the next. Each program builds on the last and brings a greater range and depth of awareness when you reintroduce. Commit to treating every program like it’s your first, because unless you’ve lived 100% Whole30 between your last program and this second one, it kind of is like starting all over again.

No More Low-Hanging Fruit

Chances are your first Whole30 was a pretty eye-opening experience and a radical departure from your past diet and lifestyle. Because your diet on the program was such a huge improvement, you saw dramatic results really fast. You lost the bloat, you lost weight (seemingly effortlessly), your energy improved and stabilized, you slept better, your skin cleared up, your medical conditions got better, and your athletic performance improved. You really did change your life! But if you’ve retained most of your new, healthy habits (and 79% of you report either mostly or definitely maintaining your Whole30-ish diet after your program is over)**, your next Whole30 isn’t that radical a departure. Which means you won’t get the same radical results, either. If you get partway through your second Whole30 and feel better-ish, look better-ish ,but get discouraged because you’re not seeing the “miracles” or weight loss you saw during the first round, you may be tempted to quit… and that experience of starting and giving up makes it all the harder to start back up again. **According to a 2014 survey of more than 2,300 Whole30’ers Action item: If this is your context, it’s time to get real. You won’t get the same stunning results the second time through, because the Whole30 isn’t as drastic of a change, and you’ve already made so much progress in how you look and feel. Make a point to make this program about anything other than the scale. Create some goals centered around non-scale victories—things that speak to your self-confidence, other health efforts, cooking competence, or socialization—and decide that your second program will be totally different than the first, but equally rewarding.

The Rules Are Annoying

For those of you who have been living mostly Whole30-ish since your first program ended, choosing foods with no grains or soy, selecting products with little to no added sugar, and skipping on things that just aren’t worth it are easy for you. You “treat yourself” with hummus, dark chocolate, and maybe a little pastured, organic heavy cream in your coffee. So when you go back to the rigid rules of the Whole30, it can be kind of annoying. Really, can I not have the hand-made corn tortilla with my tacos? Do I have to clarify my butter, when I know for sure that plain old butter is fine for me? Do I have to go without my local, pastured, organic (but sugar-cured) bacon for 30 days? At this point in your healthy-eating game, it all may seem kind of silly, and provoke a mini-rebellion in your head. Action item: If this is your context, take a deep breath, remember that you’re choosing to commit to the Whole30, and the rules are the rules. We still want you to complete the program exactly as written, and you may be surprised at how these little concessions you’ve been making have actually been impacting your health. You can wrap your taco in lettuce, drink black coffee, and skip the bacon for 30 days, and when you reintroduce those things, you’ll have a new level of awareness as to have these off-plan foods have been impacting how you look, feel, and live. (This is especially important if you’re doing the Whole30 again in support of a friend or family member. Set a good example.)

Your Ride May Be Rough

If you had great success with your first program but haven’t been eating Whole30-ish between programs, you may think a return to the Whole30 will be nothing but sunshine and rainbows, like a reunion with a long-lost friend. And you may be very unpleasantly surprised when the first 10 days of your second program are way harder than you expected. There are physiological reasons why the act of trying to restore hormonal balance, heal your gut, and fire up your immune system makes your symptoms worse before they get better (we explain in our new book, The Whole30), but if you’re not prepared for this, it might prove such a shock that you abandon your second attempt altogether. Your Sugar Dragon might roar and promote nasty cravings. Your headaches may return. You may find it hard to crawl out of bed on Day 3, and even harder to face your cheerful co-workers for the morning meeting on Day 6. In summary, it could get ugly, and you could deal with that by simply quitting. Action Item: If this is your context, and you know you’re coming back to the Whole30 after a few weeks (or months?) of less-than-stellar habits, brace yourself. Review our Whole30 Timeline and remind yourself of some of the less-than-pleasant moments. Accept that the more immune triggers in your diet before you start your second round, the longer it will take to get you back to “Tiger Blood.” Take it one week, one day, one meal at a time if you have to. And create a good support network up front, so when the going gets tough, you have plenty of options besides bailing.

Quick Fixes

These aren’t the only reasons your second (or subsequent) Whole30s are harder than one of your prior programs. Here are a few additional common scenarios (as provided by our survey participants) in abbreviated form, with some quick fixes. Timing: Maybe your second Whole30 falls during a busy school semester, lots of business travel, or a stressful family event. Action Item: Grab a calendar, look at the challenges you’ll face in the coming 30 days, and ask yourself whether the Whole30 will add more stress than it takes away. If now’s not the time, you can always eat Whole30-ish (without the pressure of a full program) until you decide you’re ready.

Preparation: Are you just under-prepared? For those who have been in the community for a long time or have your weekly meal prep down pat, you may not prepare for this program, thinking you’ve got this Whole30 down. But a few days in, you find you’re struggling with breakfasts, post-workout meals, or on-the-go foods. Action Item: Remember that whether it’s your first or fifth Whole30, planning and preparation are key! Run through our veteran’s checklist at https://whole30.com/veteran to make sure you’ve got all your bases covered before Day 1… and if it’s been a really long time since your first program, consider starting with our newbie checklist just to refresh your memory.

Commitment (part 1): You could simply be not fully committed to this second program. This is especially common with those who agree to do another Whole30 to support a friend or family member without really feeling like you need one, or people who schedule annual “resets” automatically. Action Item: When offering moral support to a friend or family member, ask yourself whether you’re really all-in before you commit. You can help them just as much by being their daily check-in or “can I have…” resource, and you really don’t want a negative attitude about your second Whole30 to impact their enthusiasm for the program. 

Commitment (part 2): You could simply be not fully committed to this second program. This is especially common for people who schedule annual “resets” automatically, like doing one every September because your first one was in September and once a year sounds about right. Action Item: If you want to do the Whole30 on a regular basis, great! But keep the frequency and timing fluid, based on what’s going on in your life and how you feel. Don’t let an arbitrary date (not even January 1st!) dictate when it’s time for you to do a health, habit, and food-relationship reset.

Flying Solo: If your first Whole30 was with a group (like your gym or co-workers) and you’re doing this one alone, you may find those tough days even harder without that built-in support system. Action Item:  Run through our “I Need Help!” checklist on the website, and check out our article about doing the Whole30 without the support of friends and family members.

Coming Back to the Whole30

For the 74% of you who found the second Whole30 about the same or even easier than the first, fantastic! Maybe you can use these tips to help coach a friend feeling stuck on their second attempt, or make your family members or gym read the article in preparation for your second official group Whole30. For those of you who have been struggling to complete a second program, does this help you understand why, and make you a little less self-critical for not being able to get back on the horse? We certainly hope so!

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