When the Going Gets Tough: What the Whole30 Is Teaching Me About Comfort Food

I started the Whole30 at an interesting time in my life. Everything was going great. My twenty-third year of life was just beginning; I was finally settled into a great apartment, a great job, and a great relationship. Because everything was going so well, it seemed like the perfect time to adopt a healthier lifestyle, so my relationship with food could become as good as everything else in my life.

But, as they often do, things turned sour quickly.

As my work and personal relationships began to take a hit, I found myself desperately trying to cling to some sort of order. I think that's what’s keeping me on the Whole30 straight and narrow. I know if I were to cheat, I would feel even worse about the state of things. I would feel as if I have no control over any aspect of my life; so I’m staying the course. And so far, I’ve learned two important lessons.

First, and somewhat obviously, I’ve found that I can maintain relatively clear head in times of ultimate stress, thanks in part to my diet. There are times I don’t feel like eating—times it takes everything I have just to scarf down a few bites of dinner. But I know that putting the right nutrients into my body makes me feel better, so I swallow. There are also times I want to cheat—this past week, I wanted so desperately to cope with my stress with a bottle of wine and a bag of Dove dark chocolates—but I know those “rewards” would just make me feel worse.

(Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying you should never treat yourself to chocolate and wine when you’re down in the dumps; whether science can prove it or not, the combination is good for the soul.)

But secondly, and more importantly, I discovered what they say is true: Your life won’t magically get better if you “just lose 10 more pounds.”

Let me elaborate.

I think there is a common belief, whether rational or not, that if we just lose 5, 10, 15 more pounds, our life will turn around. If only we were thinner, we would be less stressed. If we were prettier, our relationships wouldn’t feel so broken., etc. The reality is none of these things are true.

The Whole30 is the perfect example that although you can change your life quite a bit by changing your eating habits, things don’t magically fall into place once you drop 10 pounds or stop drinking alcohol. Here I am, in the midst of the Whole30, eating healthy, whole foods and losing weight… but my life doesn’t feel any better. In fact, in a lot of ways, it feels like my life is getting worse. And that’s hard for me.

With every “bad” day that passes, I keep thinking, “I’m trying so hard! I’m eating so healthy! I haven’t cheated! Why aren’t things amazing, like they should be?” And it’s because the factors in my life that are starting to take a toll on my mental health can’t be controlled by food.

My digestion, energy levels, and even mood can be impacted by what I eat, but a coworker I butt heads with and a boyfriend who no longer wants to be with me can’t be. I could eat vegetables and superfoods the rest of my life, but that doesn’t mean I’d get to date my ex again, or that I’d move up the ladder in my career. I have to put in the work in every aspect of my life if I want to feel happy, healthy, and balanced.

I think we forget that. We all want bandaid fixes; a quick fix that takes away whatever temporary pain we’re feeling. We think, “OK, work sucks, my relationship sucks, I’m broke. Is there anything I can control?”

So we find something—anything—to latch onto.

For me, during the past month, that thing has been food. It’s been the Whole30. (And I have loved it. I love the foods, I love the lifestyle, and physically, I do feel better.)

But now it’s time to face my other issues with as much fervor as I’ve given the Whole30.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned lately, it’s that good things take time. There are no quick fixes. No matter if it’s our diet, our jobs, our relationships, it takes time, commitment, and as positive an attitude as we can muster to get where we want to be.

I know now there is no easy way, so I am learning to enjoy the journey.