February 12, 2018

Dear Melissa: After My Whole30, Do I Have to Give Up My Friends?

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Dear Melissa, I have done a few rounds of Whole30 and I am finally confident in my Food Freedom, making some pretty big changes in my diet and lifestyle over the past year. Throughout the process I have been very open with my close friends, and while they seemed to be supportive, lately it is more challenging to maintain our friendship. For instance, I suggested a yoga class rather than going to a bar, and while they participated, I was met with gripes and complaints. While I am perfectly happy to choose from a limited menu, they often suggest places like bakeries or ice cream shops which do not have even one option that will work for me. Despite having had the difficult conversations and making alternative suggestions, we are kind of stuck. Is there a point at which you need to just let your former friends go? –Sara, NY Sara,

This is a tough one, and I’ll warn you in advance there are no easy answers. On one hand, it’s important for you to surround yourself with people who support your growth mindset and healthy lifestyle. On the other, you’d hope the strength and loyalty of old friendships would transcend what’s on your plate or in your glass. In looking at my own circle of friends, I don’t have any who don’t practice some form of healthy eating—and even if they don’t eat the same way I do, they’re at least conscientious and supportive of my preferences when we socialize—and vice-versa.

Because that’s what friends do, right?

Option 1: Be more assertive

You have a few options here. First, be even more assertive about what works for you. If they suggest going out for drinks and you know they don’t want to do yoga, is there another activity you can all agree on? Or if they suggest a bakery for brunch, you can say, “I don’t love that place; how about XYZ?” naming a spot where there is something for everyone. (And be considerate here—the spot with the grass-fed bone marrow may be your favorite, but if your friends want beer and wings, find something in the middle.)

You might be tempted to compromise by giving into the group’s desire every time, but that may actually backfire. If everyone really wants to hit the ice cream shop, you can decide to go with them, but just not eat anything… and that has a very good chance of making them feel judged, defensive, or put down. (Not your intention, but you sitting there being all healthy in front of them while they inhale ice cream can lead to some major tension.)

This period can also serve as a test for you… because if they’re NEVER willing to compromise so you can be included and feel comfortable, are they really good friends?

Option 2: Make other friends, too

Your other option is to see your old friends when it suits you—skipping the night they hit the bars, but joining them when they’re going on a hike—and be proactive in making new like-minded friends with similar interests. Talk to the nice couple in your yoga class, join a personal training facility, find a hiking group, or strike up a conversation with the person eating burger-no-bun at the café. You don’t have to totally ditch your old group, but you can find people to spend time with who will support your healthy efforts, introduce you to new activities or events, and reaffirm your growth mindset.

Option 3: Cut your losses

Last option: If you find the relationship with your old friends only growing more contentious, to the point where their bad attitudes are undermining your health efforts, it may be time to cut your losses and officially move on. It doesn’t have to be a big, dramatic scene—it’s common for friends in the middle of personal growth periods to casually drift apart, no hard feelings.

If their behavior is very deliberately excluding, however, you may want to let someone know how you are feeling. “I’ve tried to be accommodating, but you guys continue to choose activities and locations where you know I’m not comfortable. That makes me feel excluded, and makes it awkward to hang out with you.” Perhaps calling them out will be the wake-up call they need to change their behavior—or they’ll react defensively or angrily, in which case, no loss, as you were done with their behavior as it was. But hey, at least you’ll have spoken your truth, and can walk away knowing there was nothing more you could have done to save the friendship.

There is a season…

When I think back over my own life, I’ve had “seasons” of friendships—times when I was tight with a certain group, and then things change (people move, get married, have babies, join a different gym) and you just drift apart. And it makes sense as you go through this massive period of personal growth with your diet and lifestyle that the people you choose to surround yourself with will change as well. It’s not a failure of the friendship, it’s just human nature to want to be around people who support and encourage our best selves.

So don’t write your friends off yet—but don’t stick around so long that your own goals are in jeopardy. Take care of YOU first, even if that means letting go of some things (or people) who are no longer serving you.

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. 3-15a small 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, 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

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