Welcome to Dear Melissa, where we answer your questions about transitioning into or or maintaining a healthy Whole9 life, helping you figure out how to make this lifestyle work in the real world. Today, we’re talking to a woman who isn’t sure she can stick to healthy eating given her significant other’s habits, and a woman who just can’t seem to make it past Day 10 of her Whole30.
I’d really like to start Paleo eating, but I allow my significant other’s eating style to get in the way. He doesn’t like fruits or veggies except potatoes (he’s a super-supertaster and the bitter notes overwhelm other flavors for him). He’ll eat ground beef, sausage, bacon, boneless chicken, and the very occasional steak. Most of the advice I see surrounding similar issues is to cook a base meal for the family, remove the grain, and double the veggies on one’s plate, but that just doesn’t work in this case.
I feel like I have to cook for him or he’ll just eat Taco Bell or Hot Pockets, as he has neither the ability to cook nor the desire to learn. This also sets me up to fail because willpower can only get you by for so long before you give in and eat the pasta dish you prepared for your partner. I welcome your suggestions. – A.S., Phoenix, AZ
The first question I have is, why the h-e-double-el are you making him pasta if you’re trying to eat Paleo?
The first thing you have to do is give up this false sense of responsibility you have shouldered for your significant other’s health and well-being. I’m going to assume that he is a grown man—in which case, it is not your responsibility to cook for him because he has “neither the ability nor the desire.” Grown-ups have to do all kinds of things they don’t like or want to do. Like pay bills. Mow the lawn. Cook food. So you can free yourself from that burden right there, because if you don’t cook for him, the man’s not going to let himself starve.
Of course, he may resort to Taco Bell or Hot Pockets for his own meals—but you have to let that go, too. You are only responsible for (and can only control) your own health. If he doesn’t feel the need to do better than Gorditas and microwavable food-like products, you can’t make him do better. However, that doesn’t mean you have to enable this behavior by cooking a grown, capable man a separate (less healthy) meal that you yourself aren’t going to eat. (Not to mention, ain’t nobody got time for that.)
Having said that, I think it’s nice that you want to cook for your guy, and the best-case scenario is that you make the situation work. Here’s a script you can use to try to come together on this issue in the least painless way possible. Make the conversation about you, find a way to compromise, and make it as personal as you can.
“I’m going to start eating healthier, because (fill in personal emotional and physical reasons here). That means I’ll be cooking meat, veggies, fruit, and healthy fats for dinner. I’ll mostly cook meats I know you like, and I know you don’t like a lot of vegetables, but what if I bake or roast you a potato next to my sweet potato or other veggies? That way, we’re both eating good food, and we get to eat together. And who knows—maybe you’ll try my roasted carrots* and discover you love them!”
Fingers crossed that it works—but if it doesn’t, then you need to cook your own healthy, delicious meals, and let him know that he can either eat what you make him, or fend for himself. That also means that you’re going to have to accept that, just as you have the right to cook healthy, he has the right to eat crap—and you’re going to have figure out a way to deal with that, and not let it push you off the rails. Maybe that means eating separately on those nights when he brings home fast-food, or asking him to help you maintain your new healthy plan by not offering you a nacho off his plate. Ultimately, however, he can’t make you cave—so you need to accept responsibility for your own health choices, just as you’re asking him to.
The good news? After a month of eating Paleo, Taco Bell won’t even look good anymore.
Best in health,
*Super-tasters tend to have issues with bitterness, acidity, and sweetness. Many do best with roasted vegetables—just coat in coconut oil, olive oil, or butter, add some salt, and roast until they start to caramelize (turn brown). The roasting, plus a bit of salt, may make veggies like broccoli, cauliflower, or even kale manageable for your supertaster S.O.
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-Whole 30 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 Whole 30. 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 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, visualize how you will handle it. Remember that in the past, giving in didn’t make you feel better. Knowing it’s only temporary, create a Day 10 plan to distract yourself, boost your self-confidence with activities or social encounters, keep yourself well fed with Good Food so you’re not trying to fight these cravings while hungry. And 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,
Do you want to add your two cents? We welcome your input! Share your best advice for A.S. and A.W. in comments.
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Remember, we aren’t answering technical questions via this column, nor are we able to offer you specific advice about your medical issue, health condition, or body composition.