Welcome to Dear Melissa, where I answer your questions about transitioning into or completing a Whole30, successfully sticking to your new Food Freedom habits, and figuring out how to make this lifestyle work in the real world. Today, we’re working with a woman who is desperate to get back on the road with her Whole30, but just can’t seem to take her (emotional) car out of park.
I am in a paleo, Whole30 FUNK… a big, nasty, funk! I did my first Whole30 from October to November 2013 and loved it! My entire family was on board; we made family meals together and even brought our Whole30 lunch with us when out and about for an entire day of outlet mall shopping. When we finished our Whole30 right before Thanksgiving, we were able to stay on track with Paleo life all the way through the holidays without too much indulgence.
Now it is the new year and I’ve fallen off the bandwagon. Things have not been going my way so far this year and my old emotional eating habits have found a way back into my life. What tips do you have for finding motivation again? I love how I feel when I’m eating Whole30, but I just can’t seem to kick this old habit to the curb again. Please help! –S., St. Louis, MO
We’ve all been there… you know you’re not where you want to be. You have a clear plan for how to get there. But you just can’t pull the car out of the driveway. Why do we do this? It seems so obvious to our rational selves. I feel like crap. If I do this, I’ll feel way better. Yes, let’s change, starting now!
And then nothing changes.
What’s Going on Under the Hood
Unfortunately, in this place, there are things going on under the hood that prevent you from starting your engine. I’m not a psychologist, so I won’t get into the idea that people do things for a reason—usually emotionally-based—and if there wasn’t an emotional payoff, you wouldn’t keep doing it. (Although I think there’s something to working through this stuff with a trained counselor, especially if you notice a pattern popping up over and over again.)
I will, however, talk about the physical and mental consequences of over-consuming calorically-dense, nutritionally-sparse foods with no brakes.
Psychologically, your brain remembers the reward and pleasure that comes with the sugar, salt, and fat hits, and creates (or reinforces) habit loops designed to promote cravings. Hormonally, the blood sugar roller-coaster you’ve been on leads to energy spikes and crashes, drives more sugar cravings, and moves you back towards metabolic reliance on sugar instead of fat. Emotionally, you’re back in the same craving-guilt-shame-remorse cycle that makes you so unhappy with yourself and your choices that you continue to need the comfort that these sugary hits promise you they’ll provide.
And all the while, you’re sitting in your driveway with the keys in the engine, crying into a bag of Doritos and listening to “Everybody Hurts” on repeat.
Deep breath. It’s okay. You’re not actually stuck, you’re just so overwhelmed by the idea of getting to your destination that you can’t even get started. So let’s get you started.
On the Road Again
First, you’re now back on the Whole30. Yes, now. Right now. With your next bite of food, you’re back on. If you’ve done a Whole30 before, you’ve got food in your house that is compatible. Start eating it.
But here’s the trick…
Just for one meal. You only have to go back to the Whole30 for one meal. How easy is that? You can wrap your head around that—one Whole30 meal. Tell yourself that right now, for your next meal, you’ll make it Whole30. The meal after that, if you really, really want it to, can be popcorn and Cadbury Crème Eggs… but this meal is Whole30.
Proceed. Cook yourself some good food. Enjoy it. Allow yourself to feel the smug satisfaction that comes from doing something so incredibly healthy. High-five yourself for a job well done.
And then repeat this same strategy for each and every meal. Tell yourself that just for this meal, you’re going to make it Whole30. The next meal can totally be double-cheese pizza and Nutella-slathered Oreos if you want it, but this meal is Whole30.
Repeat. Repeat. Repeat, until you realize that you’re actually cruisin’ up the Whole30 freeway. (See what we just did there?) By now, you’ve distanced yourself from the empty reward of foods with no brakes, begun to correct your blood sugar regulation and restore hormonal balance, and given yourself a break from the emotional roller-coaster you’ve been on. And once you’ve got enough distance from the cravings, you can stop doing your little trick at every meal. (Or keep doing it for every meal, if it helps. This is one of my favorite motivational tools when I’m trying to change a habit.)
In summary: this is not as hard as you’ve made it out to be in your head. You know what works (the Whole30), and you know how to do it. So just do it—but don’t allow yourself to be overwhelmed. Get back on the road one mile at a time, until your cravings and negative self-talk are just a speck in your rear-view mirror.
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 Urban 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; and the upcoming Food Freedom Forever. 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: Marie Carmel Photography