I just realized it’s been almost a year since I’ve so much as thought about this blog. Maybe this post should be re-titled “Why I never stick with anything, ever.”, but then I would feel bad about myself so I’m going to just keep going and maybe come back to acknowledge this at a later time. My sentiment lately has been to just keep going even when things are messy and imperfect. Which is exactly what this is about. Bear with me… because this is also about giving up what is no longer serving you.
If you know anything about me, you know that I don’t do middle grounds or grey areas. I decide on something and I go all in (or all out). It’s part of what made things like Whole30 so appealing to me in the beginning. The rules are laid out clearly for you and you stick to it 100% for exactly 30 days. No middle ground. No half-assed commitment. You are all in, or all out. If there were ever a program to match my personality completely, here it is.
There is also an enormous downside to having this kind of personality though. It makes it really hard to show yourself any kind of grace when you inevitably do all of the most human things possible– which is to say– you fail, you quit, you change your mind, you get 100% committed to something and quickly learn that it’s not actually what you need or want. There is so much value in hard commitment. There is also so much value in knowing when something isn’t serving you, and there is absolutely no value in committing to something that isn’t serving you simply based on the principal that you’ve committed to it.
For those of you familiar with Gretchen Rubin’s work, I am what she calls a “Questioner”, meaning that I will always uphold my internal commitments because I’ve likely questioned in depth why I have made this commitment. I don’t feel obligated to things that other people expect of me, unless I find a good internal reason for it myself.*
Knowing this helps me dissect the reasons I ever quit something. When it comes to Whole30, the answer seems to simple to me in hind sight–I didn’t need it.
The first time I ever did Whole30, over a year ago, was successful. I stuck to it 100% for 30 days. I loved it. It changed my relationship with food for the better. It aligned my actions with my values. It helped me foster healthy habits that I still to this day keep. It did exactly what it was designed to do.
After that, it was all up to me. This is exactly how it’s supposed to work. There is no one size fits all. After your 30 days are over, you get to learn for yourself what works and what doesn’t. After a few months, I was pretty much there. Until this other thing started to sneak in… guilt. Food guilt. The worst kind of guilt. Since Paleo had become my “gold standard” for what I consider healthy eating, I started to feel mentally awful whenever I would go through phases where my eating didn’t align with that.
Fortunately, I’ve never spent very much time or energy beating myself up about my choices. Ultimately, I like to own these things. I never feel bad about eating something I know isn’t the healthiest. What I don’t like is not feeling like I’m in control of my own decisions. It is for this reason that I’ve come back to Whole30, twice, and also the reason why I have quit halfway through both times.
“Food Freedom”, as it has been coined, isn’t a black and white concept. Which is why it’s hard for me, and probably so many others. I’ve learned though, in the last few months, that I am way better at it than I give myself credit for. The only reason I keep feeling like I “need” to do Whole30 is because Food Freedom sometimes gets really hard and I want to jump for that “reset” button. Once I do that however, I always quickly remember that; I am better at this than I thought, I have more control than I realize, and just because it isn’t Whole30 doesn’t mean it’s bad for me.
Here’s the other side of that coin… just because you’re doing Whole30 doesn’t necessarily mean that you are doing something good for yourself. I need to be careful about what I mean by this because I do still believe that it’s a great program for those truly looking to change their relationship with food, create better habits, and evaluate for themselves in the long run what works and what doesn’t.
Here is the thing about my specific situation though– I have already learned these things. It is only a matter of exercising them. Whether I am on Whole30 or not, it is only a matter of exercising them. In the most recent round that I did… I was not doing that at all. I was doing it because things were starting to get hard, and it mostly had nothing to do with habits or food or fitness and everything to do with the fact that I have a mental illness that is there no matter how much kale I eat or how long I can hold my headstands for. I was looking for food habits to help something that very often cannot be helped. I was looking for a black and white “solution” (not quite a solution, but at least something to help) to something that can sometimes change dramatically from day to day.
I wasn’t evaluating what might actually be good for me in the moment, but rather hoping that a “reset” of habits would provide a structure that would better foster good mental health. There is no actual reset though. Like I said, these things look different from day to day. Some days that means I eat really well without any effort at all. Some days it only means that I remember to eat anything at all before I have a complete blood sugar meltdown (which is also sometimes harder than it sounds for reasons I cannot explain). It also means that sometimes having pizza and drinks with friends is WAY healthier than eating eggs and sweet potatoes all by myself. This is, essentially, the entire purpose of Whole30–to get to this point. It’s not about never eating a slice of cake ever again… it’s about evaluating what is best for you in the moment.
I have been depriving myself of this freedom for reasons that still aren’t entirely clear to me and that go much farther into mental health issues than I particularly care to go in this specific post. Which is exactly why quitting has felt so good to my often over-committed self. Because I am a Questioner, I just LOVE saying no to things I don’t like. I’m lucky in that I never feel obligated to say yes to things I don’t actually want to do (like not eating beans for 10 more days even though my body loves beans and they’re so much easier for me to make than roasting a chicken for protein just because I decided to do something 20 days ago that is no longer serving me in this exact moment)
Being this way is both a blessing and a curse. It helps me stay committed to things that I truly and wholeheartedly want. However, it also fosters guilt in situations where I end up changing my mind about something (which happens often) and it often keeps me doing something that isn’t good for me for longer than I ever care to admit. Fortunately, my stubborn nature also prohibits me from sticking with these things for too terribly long. Eventually something inside me just goes, “NO!” and there is just no arguing with it. Listening to myself on a day to day basis is way more important than any kind of pre-concieved notion of what is going to be good for me, regardless of how definitively I decided on it. Deciding on something yesterday doesn’t always mean that it’s still good for you today. It makes good habits that much harder, but also SO much more worth it.
*if you’re unfamiliar with Gretchin Rubins, I highly recommend her book “Better Than Before”. It was such a powerful tool for me in realizing everything I talk about in this post– about knowing what kind of tendencies you have in order to form habits that work for YOU as opposed to a one size fits all regimen. Very eye opening. Much recommendation. Wow.