I’m currently doing my third Whole 30 (the other two were way back three years ago), and honestly, I was a little nervous about starting it. I knew I could handle the cooking—I had plenty of favorite recipes to choose from—and I certainly knew I could handle the discipline of following the rules. I’m a classic type-A personality, a true Upholder, and an Enneagram type 1. I am HERE for all the rules.
But it was actually the rules that made my first two Whole 30 experiences so unhealthy. Back in the day, I was chasing hard after the perfect body, and the only thing that got me within striking distance was Whole 30. Note to my former self: if you have to eat perfectly to maintain your goal weight, it’s not the weight your body wants to be at.
I became totally obsessive, so much so that when the 30 days ended, I was terrified. Instead of diving face first into a piece of cake, I waited another two days before nibbling a square of dark chocolate. I was afraid of putting the weight back on, and I was afraid of what I’d eat if I didn’t have a set of rules to follow.
When the idea to do another Whole 30 popped into my head a few months ago, I questioned whether it was really healthy for me, given how much it had messed with my mind and fed my inner drive for perfection the other times I’d done it. But I was feeling so sluggish and unhealthy, and I wanted to stop making mindless eating choices, so I decided to go for it, knowing I could stop at any time. (Or could I?)
Last Sunday, we went out with some dear friends and their two kids for Mod Pizza and Menchie’s frozen yogurt, my very favorite combination. I was planning to eat a salad, and honestly, I wasn’t that sad about it. Another unhealthy mindset I used to nurse was this idea that I’d never have a chance to eat a certain food again.
It’s why I put so much pressure on myself when ordering at a restaurant and why I struggle to stop after just one donut: I have this irrational fear that I’ll never get another opportunity to eat this delicious, delightful thing that’s in front of me. (Funnily enough, shortly after I realized this about myself, I heard Laura Tremaine mention the very same thing on Sorta Awesome, which was not surprising because she’s a fellow ISFJ/Type 1. We are really delightful people.)
Over the last few months, through a lot of focused self-talk, I’ve found freedom from this belief. I think that’s what has made this round of Whole 30 so much easier than the first two—I’m not hung up on all the foods I can’t have right now. In some ways, this has even felt like a release from food-based decision fatigue.
As we were getting ready to leave for the restaurant, I began to think about what I’d like to have on my salad, and I felt my stomach lurch. I had eaten a salad for lunch every day for the past three weeks, and I had no desire to eat another one now. I started to entertain the idea of breaking the rules, but I quickly stopped myself. No! Whole 30 isn’t hard; suck it up. You won’t take yourself seriously if you break the rules. Whole 30 is sacred, and you can’t ruin that for yourself.
And then it hit me: I’ve done two perfect, “successful” Whole 30s, and this one wasn’t even feeling that hard. I knew I had the discipline to eat a salad that night and be one step closer to another perfect round. I also knew that if I made a conscious decision to eat pizza that night, I would not face the temptation to snack a little here and there next week because I’d already “blown it.” I was certain that I’d be able to get back on the wagon and finish strong.
I had to ask myself these questions, and even more difficult, I had to answer honestly: Which option is the more difficult one to swallow? Which one goes against my inclinations, my unhealthy mindsets? Which option do I stand to learn the most from?
Spoiler alert: It definitely was not the follow-the-rules option.
As it turns out, what this Whole 30 held for me was not more discipline (I have it in spades), nor ten pounds of weight loss (the scale hasn’t budged), nor a miracle cure for a health ailment (I’m doing alright).
What I needed to learn from this Whole 30 was that I could consciously break the rules and still be kind to myself.
So I ate the pizza, piled high with extra cheese and spicy sausage and plenty of onion. I devoured the frozen yogurt hidden beneath an absurd amount of marshmallow sauce and Oreo crumbles.
And when I looked in the mirror that night, I felt genuine affection for the whole person looking back at me.