By Whole30 Certified Coach and Registered Nurse Cyndy Lay

Food Freedom Forever.  Sounds great right? For many, yes.  For me, not so much. Actually, not at ALL. In my head, I hear the word forever in a booming villainous voice filled with doom. I know I can’t make healthy food decisions forever, so logically my brain thinks: I might as well go get an ice cream sundae.

I know that’s probably not the normal reaction. I also know that it has a great deal to do with how my head works, and my sobriety.

Take It In Small Pieces

I had my last drink on October 22, 2010. At no point on October 23, 2010, or any day since then have I said that I have quit drinking forever.  In 2010, the thought of never drinking again was terrifying to me. I had to take it in small pieces or I felt defeated before I even started.  

At first, I didn’t drink for five minutes at a time. Then I worked up to an hour at a time, until I was able to think of it in terms of 24 hours. If you’re counting, I’ve made it through more than 3,000 of those 24-hour days, and I still only think of my “not drinking” in these terms: I will not pick up a drink today.

Please note, it took me a LONG time to learn that. I attended my first 12-step meeting at the age of 21, but didn’t pick up a one-year chip until I was 39. I can be quite a slow learner! 

What Was My Problem?

My experiences with Whole30 are rooted in my experiences in sobriety. I’ve never had a hard time doing a Whole30 (or a mini-reset) because there is a defined time period. On the one hand, I’m sober, so there’s one less thing to give up! Plus, I can go without sugar, dairy, legumes, grains and treat for 30 days without breaking a sweat. I’ve done it 10 times in 5 years and it’s hardly an effort anymore.  

On the other hand, taking away the rules of Whole30 and stepping into my own Food Freedom has been more challenging for me. Over the course of 5 years, through my Whole30 and reintroduction experiences, I have learned that I can occasionally splurge on a bit of gluten or dairy, but too much sends me reeling with tummy troubles and migraines. I’ve learned I do well with non-gluten grains and most legumes, but soy is my arch-enemy. I know without a doubt that I feel better when I avoid added sugar and too many treats. 

All of this information might lead you to believe that I have used the information I’ve learned over the last 5 years to craft my own Food Freedom. And that is true, but it is honestly only within the last six months that I have truly been able to thrive.  

My Whole30 experiences helped me to see the physical relationship my body has with food, and which foods were best for me to avoid. But I still wasn’t dealing with the emotional bond I have with food. In my sobriety, I turned to food for comfort.

Bad day? Have a donut. Great day? Have some cake. Celebrate an accomplishment? Dinner with all the appetizers, loaded baked potato, and dessert. Each time, I paid physically with how I felt after indulging, but the cycle continued. 

I frustrated myself beyond belief. How could I be so compliant on Whole30 and so “off the rails” in Food Freedom? When I read Food Freedom Forever or listened to it on Audible, everything that Melissa Urban said made sense to me. Much like Whole30, I understand the logic and reasoning. What was my problem?    

Taking Food Freedom One Moment At A Time

Quite simply, and with a tremendous amount of self-knowledge and self-love, my problem was me. Each time I have tried to find my Food Freedom, I have looked down the road, seen myself as a beacon of Food Freedom (please note: this mental picture includes my being thinner and more in shape with perfect hair, make-up, and a tan).  Five minutes later, I think “I can’t do this forever, so why start.” Cue the donut.  

Then one day, it changed. I dropped off my daughter at school and wanted to drown whatever sorrows I thought I had in a donut … except I didn’t want to start the cycle again. I didn’t want to have the donut, which would lead to so many more food choices that I didn’t want to make.  

So I took a different route home and skipped the donut. I made healthier food choices that day. I make healthy food choices most days all day long. Sometimes I want to indulge and I do. The difference is that now I have learned that, for me, I have to approach my Food Freedom as a daily practice in a mindful way, not a set-in-stone “forever” approach.  

Today’s food choices are not about tomorrow’s food choices or yesterday’s food choices.  Today I have Food Freedom, and that is what I can manage.

Header image by The Mitchell Photo Collection


Cyndy Lay is a Registered Nurse with a passion for helping others take control of their own health. Cyndy found Whole30 in 2013 after being diagnosed with Ulcerative Colitis. Through two Whole30 rounds each year and the lessons learned, she was able to eliminate her daily medication with the lessons she learned through multiple Whole30 rounds.

She recently celebrated 8 years of sobriety and loves to share the lessons of Whole30 with others in recovery. Cyndy resides in the Fort Worth, TX area with her husband, three children and two puppies.

She resides at the newly launched The Whole Pickle, works part-time as a nurse, is pursuing an education degree, and a host of hobbies including photography, writing, and stand up comedy.

“All the art of living lies in a fine mingling of letting go and holding on.” Havelock Ellis