You’re reading a Dear Melissa Replay, where we re-post some of the most popular entries in Melissa Hartwig’s regular Whole30 advice column. Dear Melissa addresses your questions and concerns 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, we’re focusing on a woman who just can’t seem to make it past Day 10 of her Whole30, no matter what she tries.
I have attempted at least four or five Whole 30’s in the past few years, with always the same result—a strong start and an abysmal failure after a moment of weakness hits around Day 10. I start with the best of intentions, but then after the first week I start thinking things like, “This is too extreme…I can be moderate with my intake of “non-Whole30 foods,” and “Well, ten days is long enough…”
My overall eating is mostly healthy, but I’m pretty sure I have a sugar addiction, which might be why I can never make it past Day 10 of a Whole30. What advice do you have for someone like me who knows that it would be a great thing to do the full 30 days but can’t seem to get over the Day 10 hump? –M.W., Atlanta, GA
There’s a science-y term for what you’re experiencing: extinction burst. Any time you quit something cold-turkey, your brain will make a last-ditch effort to return you to your habit. Once you become accustomed to a reward (like sugar), your brain gets really, really mad when you can’t have it, and tends to throw a temper-tantrum as a final, desperate attempt to get rewarded again.
In the case of a sugar addiction and the Whole30, your brain is not your friend. Which is why, after ten whole days of no sugar, it will start to tell you sweet, sweet lies. “You’ve turned the corner—you can moderate now!” And because you weren’t aware your brain was trying to trick you on purpose, you’ve been listening.
But now, you’re onto it. (Your brain, that is.) And the good news is, this phenomenon is only temporary. Once the child realizes a temper tantrum in the middle of Target isn’t going to get him the candy bar, the temper tantrum is history, right? So your job, during your next Whole30 attempt, is to expect the tantrum, let it run its course, but don’t buy the candy bar.
You know it’s coming around Day 10. And I’d venture to say that Day 10 is now a very important, very symbolic day in your Whole30 journey. I’m betting once you make it to Day 11, it’s smoother sailing from there, because you’ve finally beaten your arch-nemesis—yay!
During your next Whole30, in the days leading up to Day 10, remember that this tantrum is coming. Visualize what will happen, the lies your brain will tell you, the begging/pleading/screaming/sulking it will do to get its reward. And then, make an if/then plan for how you will handle it. (See page 26 in The Whole30 for details.) Remember that in the past, giving in didn’t make you feel better. Know it’s only temporary, create a Day 10 plan to distract yourself, boost your self-confidence with activities or social encounters, and keep yourself well fed with Good Food so you’re not trying to fight these cravings while hungry. And add a bonus to keep you extra-motivated; schedule a massage, a pedicure, or a fun exercise class on Day 11, so you’ll have something to look forward to when you turn that symbolic corner.
Day 10 is no longer this mysterious, scary, unbeatable force battling against your Whole30 success. It’s just a snotty, overtired two-year-old in a Target, whining for a bag of M&Ms. Not so scary anymore, is it? You’ve got this, A.W.!
Best in health,
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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 Hartwig is a Certified Sports Nutritionist, and the author of the New York Times bestselling books 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, Outside, SELF, and Shape as the co-founder of the Whole30 program. Melissa lives in Salt Lake City, UT.
Photo credit: Taylor Gage, She Thrives Blog