January 16, 2017

Whole30 101: Tiger Blood!


There is always a lot of buzz about the term “Tiger Blood,” as used in our Whole30 Timeline (spelled out in detail on page 38 in The Whole30). (For those of you wondering where the phrase originally came from, it was Charlie Sheen, in an interview with Esquire Magazine. We co-opted the phrase for our own use and gave it our own definition—’cause to be honest, it’s a killer phrase, but we still don’t know what he was talking about.) Here’s what our original Timeline said:

Days 16-27: Tiger Blood. Goodbye cravings, hello Tiger Blood! This must be what everyone is talking about. You’ve hit the downhill slope of your Whole30 and life is beautiful. Your energy is through the roof, you’ve kicked the cravings, you’re experimenting with new, delicious food, and you’ve finally got the time to notice that your clothes fit better, your workouts are stronger, and you are generally more awesome.

Tiger Blood, Circa 2009

So where did the concept of Tiger Blood come from? The idea of Days 16+ being “magical” started with Melissa’s original experience with the Whole30, back in April 2009. Melissa says, “For me, it was like I woke up one morning and a switch had flipped. I was no longer dragging, cranky, or foggy. I had energy! I was strong! I felt unstoppable! And that magical feeling continued for the rest of my Whole30.” For Melissa (who was already exercising regularly, eating a Paleo-ish diet, and generally feeling good), omitting the last few “less healthy” items from her diet made a dramatic change in her energy, body composition, and performance in the gym. Many of Melissa’s blog readers and fellow CrossFit enthusiasts shared this experience during their first Whole30, too—so for this population at this time, we defined Tiger Blood as flipping a switch and turning on “Energizer Bunny” mode.

Today’s Tiger Blood

Since that very first Whole30, however, our audience has expanded tremendously, and we’ve come to realize that the program doesn’t always provide dramatic “light switch” moments. Not everyone feels like the Energizer Bunny, grins like the Cheshire Cat, or wakes up feeling unstoppable during their program, especially if you’re recovering from decades of poor eating habits, a sedentary lifestyle, or chronic health conditions. This isn’t news to our readers, either. From the feedback we’ve received from our community, you already knew this. Here’s what you say about the Tiger Blood phrase:

“I feel that the ‘Tiger Blood’ expression is a little misleading because if people don’t feel like superheroes after a certain amount of time they think they’re failing or doing something wrong.“– MsPefy13

 “Lots of people never get that awesome feeling that everyone is bragging about, though they experience all kinds of other beautiful things and shocking transformations.” –LadyM

“Forget ‘tiger blood.’ Go for actually feeling better.” – AmyS

So a few years ago, we expanded our definition of Tiger Blood, because even if a “switch” never “flips” for you, your Whole30 will still bring you a wealth of benefits, and THOSE all add up to Tiger Blood too.

What Does Tiger Blood Mean to You?

Knowing we wanted to revise this portion of the timeline, we asked our Facebook community members whether they experienced “Tiger Blood” during their program, and what the phrase meant to them. People shared a diverse list of results, but were pretty consistent in theme.

“I had more energy than before and noticed that I was doing tasks instead of putting them off.” – SharynF

“I felt steady continuous energy throughout the day. I wake up more easily and earlier on a regular basis, sleep through the night more often, and don’t run out of energy or feel like I’m going to crash every afternoon.” –Khhdesign

“I feel calm and content, just being. This is huge for me! Before the Whole30 I was exhausted & had very low energy… literally, chugging coffee all the time, prying my eyes awake at 3pm to last the rest of the work day, falling asleep on the couch by 7pm. Now I’m slowly becoming ‘me’ again… and ‘me’ means eventually working past equilibrium & having more energy to exercise & move more!” -Skepticallytrying

“Tiger Blood means that chunk of brain and emotion that was always worrying about monitoring myself to make sure my blood sugar didn’t bottom out and my pain level didn’t explode is suddenly free to deal with normal day-to-day challenges that used to keep me exhausted. I can DO again!” -Diannah R.

“For me, Tiger Blood means laser-like focus. Decision making became simpler, clearer. And days where I am up at 4 am and still going strong at 8 pm. Amazing.” -Jessica H.

A Newly Defined “Tiger Blood”

So, let’s recap: nearly all Whole30’ers generally experience most (if not all) of the benefits we mentioned, but it’s not always a light-switch experience, and the change might not be as dramatic originally portrayed.  Your “Tiger Blood” may not qualify as heavens-opening-angels-singing-beam-of-light eureka moments—the benefits may show up gradually, or appear in a form you weren’t expecting based on what others report. So here is a NEW definition, based on the experiences of the folks in the trenches, slugging it out one day at a time (and sometimes for 45 or 60 days instead of 30).  We hope this new definition accurately reflects the benefits you’re going to see, while offering hope for those who don’t experience “Energizer Bunny” or “light-switch magic” in the typical time frame:

Days 16-27: Tiger Blood!

You’ve hit the downhill slope of your Whole30 and life is beautiful—which means different things for different people. For some (generally people who came to the program eating well, exercising regularly, and feeling pretty good to begin with), Tiger Blood means we flipped a switch and turned on the awesome. Energy is through the roof, cravings are under control, clothes are fitting better, and workouts are stronger lookout, world, you’re on fire.

For others, this Tiger Blood stage feels more like a real sense of self-efficacy. It doesn’t mean things are perfect (or even easy), but you’re proving to yourself that you can do this, things are getting better, and you’re seeing improvements almost daily. Your energy is steadier, you’ve got a firmer handle on cravings, and you’re experimenting with new, delicious foods.  You may notice that your ability to focus is keener, your body composition is changing, your moods are more stable, you’re stepping up your exercise, or you’re just plain happier these days.

Of course, this may not happen like magic at the halfway point. There are a huge number of factors that influence which benefits you see and when. If you’re one of those folks who has hit the halfway mark and isn’t seeing or feeling the dramatic changes others have reported*, know this: You’re not doing it wrong. If you began the Whole30 with a medical condition, a long and rooted history of unhealthy food habits, or a chronically stressful lifestyle, your “magic” may take longer to appear, and probably won’t be a “light switch” moment. Lose your expectations of what “Tiger Blood” should feel like—be patient, and be on the lookout for small, gradual improvements to keep you motivated. Slow and steady still wins this race.

*There really is no such thing as a “typical” Whole30. Honestly. There are just trends and common occurrences.

So there you have it, “Tiger Blood” redefined our way… but feel free to re-redefine it YOUR way! As you go through your #JanuaryWhole30, stay on the lookout for those small wins, the #NSV (non-scale victories) you’re seeing, and the improvements you (or your friends and family) are noticing in your health, habits, and relationship with food. Share your Tiger Blood experience with us on social media by tagging #Whole30TigerBlood, and we’ll continue to expand and revise our Timeline based on your feedback.

A postscript: no Tiger Blood at all? Sometimes (albeit rarely), we hear from people who tell us that the Tiger Blood phase—either some or all of the descriptors—never happened for them at all. Sometimes they’re just expecting the magic to happen earlier than is reasonable. But often they’ve done everything they know to do, and still haven’t seen the benefit. That doesn’t mean their Whole30 was unsuccessful or that they did something wrong. In fact, there are several legitimate reasons why that may be the case: pre-existing medical conditions, lifestyle factors, under-eating, and more. If that’s you, please don’t be discouraged. You may just need a little more time and a little more support on the program, or you may need to take your efforts up a notch and find a good functional medicine doctor to look more specifically into your hormones, gut, and adrenal function. Image credit: Photoblog is a Perfect Name

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