The Five Stages of (Food) Grief
As I was loudly and enthusiastically complaining to my patient husband, I realized that (for me, and maybe you too) switching to a Whole9 eating style required the loss (pretty much death) of my old eating patterns. And whenever there is a loss you encounter the five stages of grief. Sure, I’ve joked about mourning the loss of cupcakes…maybe more than once… but I never really gave it much thought. Then, as I really contemplated it, I realized that every stage of grief was (and still is, as things adapt and change) identifiable in our lifestyle transition.
This is especially applicable to those of who have are just beginning a Whole30 program. Switching up your eating habits, even for 30 days, takes major adjustment. You’ll notice that every area of your life begins to change, and some changes are easier than others. Take heart knowing that the rest of us are right there with you, no matter how many times we’ve done this.
The first stage of grief is denial – denial of the loss and isolation from usual social contacts.I’m sure we all remember the day we stumbled across that magic piece of information, the proverbial straw, that convinced us once and for all to go full throttle into this diet-style. Chances are that the information was so novel, and so impactful, that in a single moment it trumped our old habits and made this healthier eating plan a priority. We cleared out our cupboards and cleaned out our fridges. We replaced our usual BYO work lunches of frozen Healthy Choice meals and leftover spaghetti with grilled organic pasture raised chicken and steamed broccoli with coconut oil and gluten-free soy-free tamari.I’m willing to bet all your friends noticed the change. I’m also willing to bet that you fielded way too much, “Don’t you miss bread?” and, “I could never give up pasta!” There were probably even a few, “All that saturated fat will give you a heart attack!” and “Eating so much meat will give you cancer.” folks in the mix. But we would hear none of that. Oh, no! We had found the light and it had overtaken the darkness of cupcakes and chocolate pudding in our hearts. So we answered their comments with our vehement reassurances of, “Oh I wouldn’t change a thing! This is so easy. I don’t even miss my afternoon half-caff, all skim, no foam caramel macchiato with extra whip. Really! I’m fine! This is awesome!”
Eventually, though, that enthusiasm becomes hard to maintain. As much as we have convinced ourselves that giving up all the food we’ve ever known and loved is no biggie, it’s hard to withstand the constant ogling and questioning. It’s no fun to be the girl eating the salad with no dressing while everyone else stuffs themselves with the pasta of their choice. And so we start to pull away a little. Soon, we’re not going out for drinks after work and we only put in an appearance at the monthly office birthday party. We’re looking and feeling better than ever, but we’ve distanced ourselves from all but our closest (and maybe even those) friends and family.
Next, we get angry.I don’t know about you, but this stage was pretty intense for me. Here’s how it usually went down:
- Get stressed out by something. I have two preschoolers, a new business, a house, a husband, a dinosaur of a dog… pick one, any one.
- Convince yourself that you deserve a treat. Can you say, “coping mechanism”? I’m trying to do this less, but it’s always a hard fight.
- Eat something you know you shouldn’t. In the early days it was usually pizza, but now that I can’t tolerate ANY gluten (insert curse word), it’s usually candy of some sort.
- Have terrible, horrible reaction.
- Get really ticked off because all you want is to eat like a normal person for one stinkin’ day, crapdangit!
Next up is bargaining. This is where we begin to compromise our standards.Okay, so we’ve moved from complete denial through complete ticked-off-ity and now we’re ready to bargain. In my house, this bargaining took the form of compromise. “Okay, so I know I can’t eat real donuts without serious consequences, but what about coconut flourdonuts?” You Google every food you’ve lost, only adding the prefix “paleo,” and try to resurrect the ones you love in more acceptable form.This is where the little cracks slip in and before you know it you’re having Gluten-Free Friday – everything is game-on as long as it’s gluten free (I may have done that once or twice). You waste half your budget on mysterious flours said to have magical properties that, if combined in just the right way, cooperate to produce a slightly more glutinous reaction and some black magic juju.
This leads to three things a) bags under your eyes from late night muffin-baking sessions; 2) bags on your porch filled with the failed results of said sessions and, c) the stark realization that no matter how hard you try you will never be able to achieve the same double mondo chocolate chunk cookie you made before.
Whole30ers: Watch it with this phase. Use the food lists in your Success Guide and online to help you fight the urge to compromise on the rules. No matter how much you want to compromise during this stage, it’s not worth bailing on your Whole30. And don’t think no one sees you standing in the kitchen late at night, sneaking a little honey into your Super Paleo Crunch Granola. You see you and the guilt will eat you alive.
And so you cry. Enter the sadness phase.No matter how much healthier you feel eating this way, it really is sobering to know that you can’t go back to what you used to do without serious consequences – physical, mental, emotional. When everyone at work goes out for cupcakes, I can get a cup of coffee. While everyone dives into the pizza at lunch, I eat my leftover pot roast. Sometimes it is lonely, and sometimes it is depressing.At one point, I stopped cooking, stopped caring about food at all. I didn’t eat enough of anything, I couldn’t work out the way I had before. I didn’t even want to. My kiddos survived on grass-fed hamburgers, steamed broccoli and frozen peas. But they survived. At this point, it’s okay to cry and to actually mourn the death of your old lifestyle. Change – especially such a big lifestyle change – is not something to be undertaken lightly. In fact, I don’t trust those types who just fly through the transition. It’s not natural. But eventually, fairly quickly actually, this phase passes and normalcy returns.
And finally, you accept and you adjust.Once you’re done feeling sorry for yourself, you begin the phase of actually adjusting to your new lifestyle. This is where you learn what does and doesn’t work for your family and where you’re willing to make compromises (ahem…peanut butter). You learn how to become more efficient with tools like the crockpot and meal plans. And, you begin to make the connection between your ability to control what you eat and your ability to control how you feel. This is where you feel fully comfortable in your new skin. You’re able to explain your diet decisions without too much science or shameless proselytizing. You can simply answer “yep” when someone asks if that’s a Tupperware container full whipped cream, and if you are indeed going to eat it. All. With a spoon. This is acceptance. This is comfortable. And this? This is good.
Robin Strathdee, our Whole9 Director of Communications, has a B.S. in Print Journalism from Missouri State University. She has used her education and training everywhere from corporate conference rooms to her own kitchen table – where she authors the blog Confessions of a Paleolithic Drama Queen – and is currently pursuing her entrepreneurial dreams as owner of a freelance communications company.