Food is deeply personal and emotional.
I’ve heard a variation of that sentiment no less than a hundred times as I’ve gone through Whole30. It’s been a frequent source of annoyance to me. Every phrase that accompanies the idea is an cliche that insinuates that humans aren’t capable of making conscious decisions: “Eating ice cream right out of the carton when you’re upset” or “Pouring a drink after a long day at work” and “Eating the whole pan of brownies all by yourself”. Been there, heard that. Shut up. My food does not control me.
Unbeknownst to me, the correlation between food and emotion was going to get extremely intense for both Tim and myself during Whole30 -and for reasons we never would have predicted. But a scary admittance to the hospital by my father-in-law for a heart attack (and subsequently a major but successful coronary bypass graft surgery) will do that to you. Nope, we really didn’t see that coming.
A large part of grief and coping is finding comfort. As it turns out, comfort tends to be best buddies with familiarity and routines. A favorite pair of sweatpants, your husbands T-shirt, a cozy blanket, and (of course) food. I’ll level with you: there’s just nothing reassuring about a salad. Or LaCroix. Or roasted beets (particularly when you’re brand new to roasted beets). Even in the dead of summer, I’ve been finding myself wanting lasagna or chicken noodle soup or some extra cheesy pizza; foods that remind me of family and memories and safety. And difficult times really do make you want a drink. Just a little something to take off the edge, help you relax or give your mind a break. Whole30 foods by design do not offer these comforts.
We seriously considered quitting- if only for a matter of convenience. Who the hell wants to grill up some salmon and asparagus when you get home from the hospital? Not me. Making a Whole30 approved meal from the hospital cafeteria was close to impossible. And no snacking while waiting for a 5 hours surgery? Not exactly ideal. And don’t even get me started on vending machines. Besides, who really cares about food at a time like that?
But the more we thought about it, the more we realized that Whole30 was probably more of a benefit during a difficult time than a hindrance.
We couldn’t rely on food or drinks (drinks in particular) to help us process complicated emotions. Trust me, we wanted to. But instead of a scotch and some wine, we had a good hug and a cry or two. A major part of Whole30 is breaking emotional food cycles and habits- this was a huge test of that willpower. We passed!
We didn’t sit around eating junk just because it was convenient. This would have been so easy at the hospital. I would have had a minimum of two cookies and a bag of chips on surgery day alone if I would have been able to. There’s no way that would have helped the situation.
We neither overate or forgot to ate due to emotions and stress. Food isn’t usually the first thing on your mind when you’re worried or upset. But Whole30 made sure we ate (and ate something healthy) and stopped me from eating my emotions at the same time.
And finally, there’s nothing like a scary health incident to make you realize that you want to live as healthy as possible for as long as you can. There are so many health-related things in our lives we can’t control. Often we’re at the hands of biology, genetics, accidents, etc. But we can control what we eat and how we treat ourselves. Someday that could be the difference between a trip to the hospital or a trip to Italy. Or decades of trips to the pharmacy vs decades med-free. If I can do my part to help my health and my future, then I have to do it.
It reminds me a bit of a (controversial) quote from It Starts With Food:
“It is NOT hard. Please don’t tell us this program is hard. Quitting heroin is hard. Beating cancer is hard. Birthing a baby is hard. Drinking your coffee black. Is. Not. Hard.”
I thought that was a totally jerky comment when I first read it. But now I know that’s very, very true. Whole30 isn’t easy, but it’s a hell of a lot easier than most real life scenarios. And it might just help you through one someday.