I quit the Whole 30. Twice.
I don’t like being given a long list of foods that I absolutely cannot eat, especially when I’ve experienced no obvious ill effects from eating them. Plus, like Oprah…
Okay, more accurately, I love cheese. Bread is pretty awesome too, though, and neither of them is allowed on the Whole 30. Also forbidden: rice, corn, peas, beans, honey, quinoa, greek yogurt, and more, even if they’re organic, unprocessed, whole grain, etc. etc. etc.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I completely support elimination diets for people who experience digestive distress or other symptoms. I don’t doubt that there is a connection between gut health and overall well-being. I even think that the highly structured “reset” of the Whole 30 can help some people establish healthier habits overall. Still, I’m not convinced that it’s for me.
I’m a perfectionist. I’ve struggled with some degree of body dysmorphia since my pre-teen years, and I’ve even dealt with the occasional binge episode. I hate to fail, and the reason I quit the Whole 30 (both times) was because I couldn’t follow “The Rules” perfectly. The thing about the Whole 30 is that there’s no room for error. No grace.
Melissa Hartwig, co-creator of the Whole 30 is known for her “tough love” approach. Oh, you made breakfast that consists of nothing but pumpkin puree and eggs, but it looks like pancakes? FAILURE. Start over. You had one bite of a donut in a moment of weakness, but then threw the rest in the trash because you realized that you didn’t really want or need it? FAILURE. Start over. The donut was Paleo? STILL A FAILURE. Start over.
This kind of all-or-nothing approach launches me into a destructive mindset where I start to see certain foods as “good” or “bad,” and honestly, the whole thing strikes me as the epitome of RESTRICTION. That’s why I was shocked when I saw that Hartwig wrote a book that touts the Whole 30 as part of a journey to “food freedom.” The book is called Food Freedom Forever: Letting Go of Bad Habits, Guilt, and Anxiety Around Food.
I checked the eBook out from my local library (through Overdrive, which–side note–is my new favorite app). I expected to hate it, but I was curious, so here we are.
Throughout the book, Hartwig emphasizes the importance of a “reset,” which she says needs to meet certain requirements that are, not surprisingly, pretty similar to the Whole 30. She even suggests that you might choose to follow an even more restrictive protocol such as AIP or SCD depending upon your particular needs. “Okay, Melissa,” I thought, “how does that translate to food freedom”?
She goes on to explain that this “reset” allows her (and, allegedly, everyone who uses it) to get a better sense of whether certain foods “work” for her individual body and, ultimately, whether or not she wants to include them in her diet. She says that some foods activate her “Sugar Dragon” (cute), and others cause straight-up pain and suffering. She claims that the “reset” allows her to recognize and re-evaluate these foods. The reset isn’t a one-time thing, but a sort of “safety zone” that she can return to whenever she feels like she has “lost control” of her relationship with food. This seems somewhat reasonable in theory, and I think it might be a perfect approach for some individuals, but I don’t feel like I need a reset to know that if I eat a lot of sugar, I want a lot more sugar. If I drink a giant milkshake (Hello, dairy + sugar), I’ll have a stomachache and probably regret my choice. Even without a reset, I am constantly fine-tuning my nutrition and taking note of how I feel. Still, I was able to find some useful things in the book.
First, I loved the post-reset description of what food freedom should look like. Hartwig talks about her love for Cadbury Creme Eggs and cupcakes (#relatable) and explains that, when presented with the opportunity for a treat, she simply pauses to ask herself if the treat is “worth it.” Now, this isn’t the same kind of thing as telling yourself that an Oreo is equivalent to 1200 jumping jacks or saying, “A moment on the lips, a lifetime on the hips!!” Instead, it’s about whether or not you ACTUALLY want that treat in that particular moment. I’ve caught myself eating for a lot of reasons–boredom, loneliness, social anxiety–and in many of those situations, whatever I was eating wasn’t really worth it. This is not because I had to do a million sit-ups to burn off the calories or because I had long-term negative health effects from those individual instances, but because I didn’t actually ENJOY what I was eating. She even talks about how the first bite of something might be totally worth it, while the sixth bite might not. You can change your mind partway through. Asking yourself if something is “worth it” is a simple tool to encourage mindfulness while eating, and I can absolutely get behind that.
Second, I liked the section where Hartwig talks about how to keep your eating habits from being socially isolating. When I attempted the Whole 30, I quickly discovered that it was hard to participate in social gatherings. Though it still seems like any of the “resets” mentioned in the book would make you an annoying dining partner, Hartwig did manage to convince me that it’s not only possible, but preferable, to continue socializing as normal during any kind of concerted healthy eating effort. She even gives specific strategies about how to talk to friends and family members who might not understand what you’re doing.
Finally, I appreciated Hartwig’s conversational tone. A few things, such as her strict anti-emoji social media policy, made me roll my eyes, but on the whole, I felt like the book was easy to read and very approachable.
Will I personally try a strict “reset”? Probably not. Still, I would recommend Food Freedom Forever to anyone who is looking to improve their relationship with food AND who is willing to read with a proverbial grain of salt. A reset might not be a good idea for everyone, and that is 100% OKAY. If it sounds like a great fit, that’s okay too.
If you’ve tried the Whole 30 (or if you would NEVER try it), I would love to hear about it in the comments.
If you want to learn more about the Whole 30, here are some of Hartwig’s other books:
*The links above are Amazon affiliate links. If you purchase through these links, I’ll receive a small commission. Thanks for your support!