June 29, 2015

Dear Melissa: Where’s the Support in my Whole30 Support Group?


Welcome to Dear Melissa, where I answer your questions about transitioning into or completing a Whole30, successfully sticking to your new healthy habits, and figuring out how to make this lifestyle work in the real world. Today, I’m talking to a woman who relied on a Facebook Whole30 support group for help, and was left feeling out in the cold.

Dear Melissa, Today in my “Whole30 support” group I got torn into because I weighed myself on my journey. This is something you are not supposed to do (as part of Whole30 rules), but I’m not one who cares or obsesses over those things. I think it had been a year since I last weighed myself before I started the Whole30 journey. I even told them I could toss my scale today and not have a care in the world. They were so disrespectful to me and so harsh. They said because I did not follow every rule I did not have a true Whole30 and I can’t claim that I did, and they would not recognize any of the work I put into my Whole30. I believe doing this program is about learning to understand yourself, and the parts of yourself that you struggle with. Since I did not struggle with excessive weighing, I omitted it. I tracked it out of fun, not obsession. No one would listen, and instead I was booted because I wasn’t compatible with the rules you set out. Your rules are creating cliques. It’s making others treat people disrespectfully and diminishing people’s efforts. It’s disappointing because it’s been such a wonderful thing for my family and me. I feel like when someone makes a mistake or chooses to omit something they know they are safe with, that it should not result in anyone mistreating you, but understanding that you’re on a different walk. Is that not what this is about? Is that not what this is for? Changing your life? Getting rid of our obsessions, addictions, and unhealthy habits? Please find a way to help (other Whole30’ers) see the light… help them be encouraging and not penalize others. I felt happy and good about my work, and I still do. –Kara G, Oregon Dear Kara, This is a pretty meaty discussion, so I’ll do the best I can to address all of the factors in play here. Most important, I want to apologize on behalf of the Whole30 support group members who treated you unkindly. That kind of behavior is never within the spirit or intention of our program.

The Spirit of the Whole30

First, I’ll remind you that all of the Whole30 support groups that you see on Facebook are unaffiliated with the official Whole30 program and community. We have absolutely no involvement in how they are run, what gets posted, or how people are treated. These groups all have their own culture, their own practices, and their own way of managing the group itself. You were not participating in our Whole30 community, you were participating in a group of people who came together on their own for a purpose only the group administrators can define. Next, you said in your letter, “Your rules are creating cliques… making others treat people disrespectfully.” To be blunt, your experience was not a result of the Whole30 rules, and we are not responsible. That responsibility lies solely with the people who treated you in that manner. The program itself may provoke strong feelings, deep commitment, fervent opinions. But that is never an excuse to shame, denounce, or mock someone for politely and constructively sharing their beliefs, efforts, or actions. I’ve seen people with the best of intentions offer “support” or “tough love” in a way that is designed to be helpful, but only comes across as off-putting, divisive, or just plain rude. I’ve spent more than ten years (in university, through self-study, and in practice while leading the Whole30 community) learning how to communicate with people effectively, talking to them the way they need to be spoken to. It’s an art form, to be honest, figuring out how to communicate your message in a way that it’s actually heard. While I wield tough love often, I also wield it very carefully and deliberately. Not everyone needs tough love, and for some, taking the wrong “supportive” approach can be devastating to their commitment, efforts, and self-esteem. The people who run and participate in these support groups don’t have anywhere near the same training or experience and are simply doing the best they can out of love for the Whole30 and a desire to help others. They may have felt an obligation to make sure you knew the rules or thought their “tough love” would help you achieve your Whole30 goals. Hard as this may be, with as hurt as you were, see if you can give them the benefit of the doubt. Can you find a way to see their actions through more benevolent eyes? Could you see that they may have legitimately been trying to help you, as clumsy as their methods were? I’m not suggesting you stay in that group. I’m simply asking you to believe that people do the best they can, and to assume that these folks were coming from a place of good intentions, as more often than not that’s what I have observed in cases like this.

Because Rules

However, had you come to our Whole30 community (our Facebook page, Twitter feed, Instagram page, or Whole30 Forum) and said, “I don’t have a problem with the scale, so I’m just going to weigh myself,” I would have told you flat out: That’s not the Whole30. I would have been respectful, inviting a constructive dialogue and making you feel welcome. But I have a responsibility to tell you the program you were doing was different than the program we created, clearly explain our rules, and share the intention of our “no scale” directive. Can you imagine if we actually encouraged people to take their own “different walks” on the Whole30? We would have to condone folks saying, “I know bread is okay, so I’m doing the Whole30 plus toast,” or “I’m sure wine is fine, so I’m just going to keep drinking it,” or “I don’t have a problem with brownies, so I’m going to make them anyway.” If you come to our house, we will politely but firmly ask you to play by our rules. In fact, we have an obligation to do so, because these are the rules that we believe with all our hearts are the most effective for the vast majority of people, and each and every one of them are critical. (Not to mention that hundreds of thousands of people visit our website each week looking for accurate information, and our voice and message needs to be 100% consistent to ensure no one is confused.) However, I would not have disrespected you, made you feel like your efforts didn’t count, or otherwise expelled you from our community. I would have asked you to consider why you felt this rule wasn’t necessary for your journey, and perhaps tough-loved you a little (“If the scale is really not such a big deal, why not just leave it out like we ask you to?”), but I would have done so in a way that brought you closer with our community, not left you feeling like an outsider.

Support Group Guidance

This “Dear Melissa” has prompted me to write some guidance for Whole30 support group administrators, as well as provide some tips for those looking to join an online group outside of our own community, so they can be supported in the manner that’s right for them. (Look for that next Monday, during the first week of our official July Whole30.) In the meantime, I hope your experience hasn’t soured you on the Whole30, or our community. I encourage you to stay connected with us, but also to leave behind any online groups or friendships that aren’t supporting you in the way you feel is best for your physical or emotional health. Best in health, Melissa

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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 the author of the New York Times bestselling book It Starts With Food and The Whole30: The 30-Day Guide to Total Health and Food Freedom. She has been featured in the Wall Street Journal, Details, Redbook, and Woman’s World as the co-founder of Whole9 and the Whole30 program. Melissa lives in Salt Lake City, UT. Photo credit: Marie Carmel Photography

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