Maria recently completed the Whole30 for a second time. With the stress of the wedding, then eating out a ton on our honeymoon, then relying on quick take-out meals when getting her classroom set up, Maria felt like she'd really fallen off the wagon of eating well and taking care of herself. So, she decided to get back to basics and do another month with the Whole30. I did not join Maria in the Whole30 (I basically just dipped my toes in the water), but I have learned a lot about what it is like living with someone who is on the Whole30 and how to be a supportive partner during their 30 days.
You might be scratching your head and wondering, “What the heck is the Whole30?” The Whole30 website invites people to “think of it as a short-term nutritional reset, designed to help you put an end to unhealthy cravings and habits, restore a healthy metabolism, heal your digestive tract, and balance your immune system.” There are a number of foods that cannot be eaten on the Whole30, but the basics are no grains, no dairy, no legumes, no alcohol and no sugar. At all. And if you cheat, you have to start your 30 days all over again. It sounds intense and a little crazy, but Dallas and Melissa Hartwig do a great job of explaining why they have these rules in the first place in their book, It Starts with Food.
After two rounds of standing by Maria's side while she did the Whole30, I have some advice to share on how to be a supportive partner for a Whole30 even if you're not following the program yourself.
Eat the Same Meals
If your significant other is doing the Whole30, eat what she is eating. I have a few reasons for this. First, it's a heck of lot easier to cook one meal for two rather than two different meals at the same time. When your better half is on the Whole30, it means a lot of home cooking in the kitchen. A lot. You will get tired of being in the kitchen so much. So make things easier on yourself and cook only one meal rather than two.
Second: if you do it right, the food is really good. There are some nitty-gritty rules on things you can and can't eat, but one thing you can eat is meat. And, oh boy, do you eat a lot of meat on the Whole30. I had more steak in one month of the Whole30 than I did in probably the four months leading up to it. It ends up being an expensive month, but you will eat some good food. I really recommend getting a good Whole30 cookbook like The Whole30 to help you find some really good recipes. Maria and I will eat some of the recipes out of that book even when she's not doing the Whole30. They were that good.
Lastly, your partner is going to be eating this food. For the sake of your relationship, it can't hurt to eat it along with her, at least when you are eating together. Trust me; she'll appreciate it.
Be Prepared for a Tired Partner
At the end of the day, your partner is going to be exhausted (and possibly a little cranky). I think there are two main reasons for this. First, there is no added sugar on the Whole30 and snacking between meals is discouraged, which means there is no mid-afternoon or evening snacks to pick you up when your energy is flagging. Another rule of the program is no caffeine after noon. So, when your partner hits that mid-afternoon energy slump, all she can do is power through, come home and get to bed early.
Maria tells me that the energy adjustment is pretty bad at the beginning of the month. As your body struggles to adapt to a lot less sugar, you basically go through sugar withdrawal. Then, as you get used to it, you have a lot of energy during the day (Whole30 participants call this “tiger blood”), but you crash hard at the end of the day. Maria also told me frequently that she wished I could come to school with her because she had so much energy and was in the best mood at school during the day, but there was very little energy left when I arrived home at night.
So: be forewarned and behave accordingly (i.e., be extra nice and understanding).
Budget for a Higher than Normal Grocery Bill
This is something else you need to factor in and be aware of. If your partner wants to stick to the spirit of the Whole30 as closely as possible, you are looking at all organic produce and meats and several specialty items from health food stores. There are ways to minimize those expenses (Maria has a wonderful blog post with tons of tips right here), but it still will cost more. So you need to adjust your budget to cover those added costs.
Incorporate it into Your Regular Diet
You probably scoff right now. Why would you eat that food when you don't have to? The first time Maria did the Whole30, I would have laughed if someone had told me that. However, there are some important eating lessons I have learned from Maria doing the Whole30. First, cutting down on carbs helps keep off a lot of weight. Yes, they are delicious and I haven't entirely eliminated them from my diet. I had tomato soup with noodles for lunch the other day and a Jimmy John's sandwich recently, too. But you just really don't need that many carbs and when you eat more, it contributes to weight gain.
There is one thing you probably do need more of in your meals: fat. More and more studies are showing that fat is not bad for you. And further, when you include a little extra fat, like half an avocado or a handful of nuts, you feel full longer. Just ask Maria: if I don't eat something extra with our eggs for breakfast, I'm hungry again within two hours. And if I don't eat something soon, I start to get hangry. Eating some fatty foods helps keep hungry Rob away.
While I never did the Whole30 completely with Maria, I supported her when she was doing it. And I think that helped strengthen our marriage. It also didn't hurt that I lost some weight along the way. :)