Welcome to Dear Melissa, where I answer your questions 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, I’m talking to those of you with a Whole30 buddy who’s kind of bringing you down, and wondering what to do about it.
My husband is “being supportive” and doing the Whole30 with me. Great. Except he’s miserable. We’re on Day 5, and his headache from Day 1 is still with him. I’ve had no ill effects, feeling great, but it’s hard to stay focused with him being miserable. I’ve even suggested he stop the program because he’s actually less supportive by being miserable than he would be if he let me do this on my own. But no…he’s going to “soldier on” for me. What now? –T., Waldorf, MD
I’m going to address this from a general “Someone is doing the Whole30 with me for support, but they’re miserable, and it’s totally killing my vibe, what do I do?” perspective, because I bet this happens often, and it doesn’t have to be your spouse for it to be a difficult situation.
Also, there will be tough love. Not yet. But it’s coming.
So let me restate your situation: a loved one/friend/co-worker (“friend”) said they’d do the Whole30 with you, for support. You’re happily cruising on through. They’re struggling and unhappy—so much so that it’s totally bringing you down.
Point #1: This is Whole30.
As we clearly warn you about in the Whole30 Timeline (page 32 in The Whole30), the first week on the Whole30 is generally not very pretty. On Day 5, headaches, unhappiness, and crankypants is fully expected. You’re not feeling it (yay!), but you should have suspected this was coming, so why are you surprised?
The good news is that in just a few days, your friend should have turned the corner and be feeling much better. And who knows—the Timeline isn’t absolute, and you could be the one feeling crappy in a few days, on a delayed schedule. So channel your inner Mother Theresa and find some patience. Stick it out a few more days, and I’m pretty sure they’ll be in a new phase, almost surely for the better.
Your internal coping strategy: Be empathetic, be patient, and offer them the support they offered you. If they haven’t read through the full Timeline, lend them your book or point it out to them, so they’ll feel better about the space their in, knowing it’s totally normal. And no matter what, be nice, because at some point down the line your roles could (and probably will) be reversed.
Try saying*: “I’m sorry you’re having a hard time right now, but remember, this is totally normal! Your body is going through a lot of changes right now, but the good news is that it should only last another day or two. I’m here for you, and I’m proud of you for sticking it out. In the meantime, want to go for a walk/watch a movie/hit the bookstore/play some golf?”
*This speech is a little Stepford, but I have also given speeches that start with, “Suck it up, you giant whiner…” and ends with a kale salad and a butt-slap. Channel your inner Braveheart and come up with motivation that will work for them.
Point #2: Their Whole30 is none of your business.
Here’s where we start getting a little tough lovey… their program is none of your business, and your Whole30 is fully your own responsibility. They get to decide how their program goes, and how they respond to it. If they want to look on the bright side, awesome for them. If they choose to be miserable through the whole first week, so be it. But their misery cannot have any impact on you unless you choose to carry it.
If you’re annoyed, it’s because you’re letting yourself be annoyed. If you’re getting bummed out, it’s because you’re letting yourself be bummed out. If you’re less motivated, it’s because you’re allowing your motivation to slip. Bottom line: own your stuff.
If you find them being passive-aggressive or outright resentful because they did this for you and you’re having an easy time and they’re miserable, politely insist they keep that, because it sure ain’t yours.
Your internal coping strategy: Remind yourself of all the reasons you took on the Whole30 in the first place, and silently give yourself a self-five for doing so well so far. Start tracking small victories, non-scale victories, and progress you’re seeing, no matter how small. Start a calendar count-down, subscribe to the Whole30 Daily (we’ll catch you up), and find other ways to keep yourself excited, motivated, and inspired to finish strong.
Try saying: Nothing. Just listen, repeat back to them what they told you, and ask if you can help. “Yes, I get that you’re cranky and have no energy. What can I do?” And then help, if you can. If they become resentful or accusatory, politely but firmly say, “I’m sorry you’re having a hard time. You’re free to do whatever you want—our friendship isn’t dependent on you finishing the Whole30. You’ll have to make the decision that is right for you. Sleep on it*, and let me know what you want to do in the morning.”
*This is tricky implementation of the habit research I’ve done, and you’re being a good friend by suggesting they shouldn’t quit right now, but can tomorrow if they still want to. You can score points by mentioning this sneaky act of kindness once they’re feeling better.
Point #3: It’s not all about you.
Here’s where I get really tough lovey (always heavy on the lovey, remember). You suggesting that they stop the program because their misery is impacting you isn’t actually a very nice thing to do, so please don’t do that again.
They started the Whole30 for their own reasons, including supporting you. But I bet their reasons also include being healthier, happier, and finding food freedom. They knew it would be hard, but it was important to you, so it became important to them. So you can’t strongly suggest in a weak moment that they give up because you find their difficulties inconvenient.
They wanted to support you, so it’s your job to support them. Period. That doesn’t mean carrying their stuff or letting them try to make you feel bad about doing so well or having it so easy. Feel free to deny or call them out on that behavior, if it comes up. But it does mean you need to be patient, and empathetic, and kind, and supportive, whatever that looks like—whether they choose to end their Whole30 or soldier on.
Your internal coping strategy: Be nice, and remember this isn’t all about you—it’s about their health and happiness too. Keep in mind the emotional ties, habits, and behaviors they have to overcome to be successful with the program. Find empathy. And if nothing else, do it for the karma, because at some point you’re going to be craving/puffy/cranky and they’re going to be feeling awesome and you’re really going to need the good juju.
Try saying: Something vulnerable. Have an actual conversation about where you both are. Talk about what they are finding the hardest, what you are the most afraid of, what you both hope to see in yourselves on Day 31. Forge a connection, because that in-person social interaction is the one of the most powerful stress mediators, and you really can make someone feel better with a sincere kind word, a moment of authentic connection, and a really good hug.*
*Especially the hug. Man, do I love hugs.
Best in health (and a big virtual hug after all that tough love),
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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 book 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, Redbook, and Shape as the co-founder of Whole9 and the Whole30 program. Melissa lives in Salt Lake City, UT.
Photo credit: Taylor Gage, She Thrives Blog