This article is part of our special Food Freedom resources meant to support you during the global COVID-19 pandemic. Click here to see our entire collection of resources. It is also the second part in our “How Melissa Urban Eats” series. Click here for Part 2.
How do you eat during a pandemic? Love, Everyone
None of us have experience in this area, thank goodness. But I’m a quick study, and I’m leaning on 11 years of Whole30 and food freedom experience to guide me. Here’s the gist:
As of now, I haven’t felt like I need another strict Whole30. I’ve been successfully navigating my Food Freedom plan, and I only want to return to the Whole30 when I feel like I really need it. I enjoy eating according to my own personal “rules” and so far, I’ve been able to balance enjoying some of my worth-it foods with staying energetic, sleeping well, and feeling good.
Well. With one exception.
This is Real Life
My family adopted the “stay home” protocol early, even before the CDC recommended limiting gatherings to less than 10 people. But about a week in, I had a day of pure panic. I had four huge events cancel in the same week. I saw people hoarding water and toilet paper. (I hadn’t been to the grocery store in days.) I let the news cycle, the uncertainty, and the notice that my son’s school was closing immediately throw me into a tailspin.
On that day, I gave myself permission to eat All the Things. I didn’t ask myself if it was worth it. I didn’t care if I even wanted it. If it was sweet, crunchy, or I could slather it in butter, I ate it. (Note, I don’t keep much candy, chips, or baked goods at home, so my junk food Rumspringa was relatively tame.) STILL, it was comfort eating plain and simple, and though I didn’t binge or feel out of control, I also didn’t give a crap about my FF plan.
Yes, even I have days like this. The difference is, I don’t let it throw me.
I woke up the next day feeling like junk, which I knew would happen. So I gave myself a hug for doing the best I could on a really hard day, then returned to my normally scheduled food freedom plan. I didn’t beat myself up, and I didn’t react by throwing myself into a strict Whole30 (I still didn’t need one), but I didn’t let it continue into Carb-a-palooza, either. I just returned to business as usual.
Modifying for the Situation
However, things aren’t really business as usual these days, are they? Which means my “stay at home” Food Freedom plan looks a little different too. Here are the things I have modified while we shelter in place:
- The bulk of my meals are still Whole30, as they always are. I know this works for me.
- The FF foods that I eat as part of a meal (white rice, Siete coconut-cassava tortillas, maple chicken sausage) are still a part of my daily routine. These are health-promoting for me, with no down sides.
- Snacks are carefully considered. It’s way too easy for me to mindlessly plow through a bag of Siete tortilla chips, so if I do need a snack, I make it protein-forward, like a meat stick, hard-boiled eggs, or chicken salad. (And if I’m not hungry for THAT, I’m not actually hungry, I’m just having a craving. It’s a good litmus test.)
- After dinner, I’m most vulnerable. This is when I’m most likely to get anxious and numb with a peanut butter cup (worth it in other circumstances, but stress-eaten before bed, not so much). Plus, I sleep better when I don’t eat sugar after dinner. I’ve taken to brushing my teeth as soon as my kid goes to bed, as a signal that eating time is done. It also helps me remember my “why” for not raiding the pantry late at night.
- My “is it worth it?” bar is VERY HIGH. My fitness routine is disrupted, my son is cranky and underfoot, my in-person support (AKA, grandma and grandpa) is gone, and the weather has been rainy, snowy, and windy. I NEED to feel good in this situation. I need to sleep well, have rocking energy, and not feel bloated or moody. That means so many treats that would normally be worth it just aren’t right now.
- I’m still enjoying some FF sweets in a way that works for me. I have Kind granola bars that I love but don’t fire up my Sugar Dragon, gluten-free flax muffins that are an awesome side with my morning frittata, and there are Cadbury Crème Eggs just waiting for the perfect moment in my pantry. I’m just VERY deliberate about when and how I eat these, because I know timing, mindset, and portion makes a difference.
It’s YOUR Food Freedom
Remember, MY Food Freedom is not YOUR Food Freedom. I share this as an exercise, so you can see how I think about these decisions during this difficult time, but that’s not to say you should adopt these same strategies. Ask yourself these four questions to establish your own sustainable FF plan during your staying-at-home period:
- What is my “why” for conscientiously and deliberately working my Food Freedom plan during the pandemic? (Pro tip: write this down and stick it on the fridge or pantry. Let it guide your “worth it” decisions.)
- What foods or drinks are 100% NOT worth it right now, knowing how they make me feel, and knowing my margin for tolerance of negative factors is small right now? Write those down to, and commit to keeping them out of the house. (I’m looking at you, alcohol.)
- What food freedom things can I keep eating or drinking, because they support my health, have little to no negative down-sides, and restricting them is unnecessary? Don’t pull things out if you don’t need to!
- Do I need to create rules for myself from a place of self-care to help me stay true to my FF plan, or can I realistically just take it as it comes? (Rules might include no sweets after dinner, snacks must contain protein, or no skipping breakfast.)
Now We Show Grace
Finally, now is the best time to show yourself grace. We are all adapting to what feels like constantly-changing circumstances, and under stress, we are biologically hard-wired to crave. These factors all may work against our best intentions, or the best-laid Food Freedom plans. Which means you won’t always get your “worth it” decision right. You won’t always be conscientious. You won’t always make choices that help you feel your best. Like me that one tough day, you may find yourself having popcorn and kombucha for dinner.
This is all okay.
I promise that success in this particular environment doesn’t come from always getting it right. Oh no—not in today’s world. Pandemic Food Freedom success is always returning to your center, asking yourself, “is this serving me?” and continuing the make the best decisions you can under the circumstances.
Hear me clearly: Just committing (or re-committing) to working your FF plan IS THE SUCCESS.
If you genuinely get stuck and you really feel like accountability and structure would serve your highest interest, you can always jump into a full or mini-Whole30 reset. That will always be available to you. For now, though, keep working that FF plan, stay connected to the book or audio version of Food Freedom Forever to help you stay focused, and continue connecting with us here as the Whole30 HQ team, our Certified Coaches, and our community gather around our virtual table to offer each other support, advice, encouragement, and most of all, grace.
FOOD FREEDOM FOREVER
Letting Go of Bad Habits, Guilt, and Anxiety Around Food
End the yo-yo dieting cycle… forever. Welcome to the Food Freedom plan.
Millions of people have successfully completed the groundbreaking Whole30 program and radically transformed their energy, sleep, cravings, waistline, and health. Now, Food Freedom Forever offers real solutions for anyone stuck in the exhausting cycle of yo-yo dieting and the resulting stress, weight gain, uncontrollable cravings, and health complaints. In her newest book, best-selling author Melissa Hartwig defines true “food freedom” as being in control of the food you eat, instead of food controlling you.
Food Freedom Forever gives you everything you need for achieving dietary success, for today and for the rest of your healthy life. Melissa Hartwig’s information is spot on in terms of its scientific validity, and wonderfully approachable in terms of its implementation. — DAVID PERLMUTTER, MD, Author, #1 New York Times Bestseller, Grain Brain