Welcome to Dear Melissa, where I answer your questions about transitioning into or completing a Whole30, successfully sticking to your new healthy habits, and figuring out how to make this lifestyle work in the real world. Today, I’m talking to those of you with an unruly spouse who, despite your best efforts, just doesn’t lend enough support you during your program together.
My husband and I are on Day 7 of our first Whole30 program, and we joined by just winging it! I’ve read what I can online and have Googled recipes here and there. I am a busy mom of three, so I make big batches for leftovers. I am not easily bored with real food but my husband is. We have gotten into an argument due to his negative comments regarding his boredom. I have asked him to look up recipes or better yet, cook some meals himself! I find myself trying to please him but then feel overwhelmed as I’m trying to save us money and I just don’t have much time to get creative. In this situation, I’m thinking it were a better idea to go at this alone, I find this more burdensome as I feel like I’m babysitting him. Is this normal with married couples and this program? –S., San Diego CA
I’m not a marriage therapist, but I sometimes think I should be! Doing the Whole30 together can provide incredible benefits, but can pose some serious challenges. In fact, sometimes doing the Whole30 together actually makes it more difficult! Tips from the preceding link might help somewhere down the line, but I don’t want you to give up on him just yet.
Take the High Road
First, Days 1-11 of the program are the hardest, and I wouldn’t be surprised if his crankiness was just a product of the Timeline, due to cravings, blood sugar dysregulation, and the general discomfort that comes along with trying to wean yourself off hyper-palatable foods. Perhaps if you just let it roll, you’ll find his attitude much improved once he gets over the hump. However, that could take a few days, and it doesn’t sound like you have the patience (or emotional capacity) to wait it out, so let’s take some action here.
First, invite him to have a discussion about your Whole30 meal plan during a time when you’re both relaxed, and AWAY from food. Go for a walk, sit down after dinner when you’re both feeling comfortable, or find 15 minutes while the kids are playing to have a conversation. Again, do not do this at the dinner table. Food is the hot-button issue here, and you want to have this conversation on neutral ground.
Second, let him know that you hear his feedback (even if all you want to do is get him to see YOUR side of the story). “Honey, I know you’re bored with your food. I’m craving stuff, and I’m sure you are too, and it must make doing this harder if you’re not feeling satisfied with your meals.” Give him a minute to share his side of the story, and remember not to take this personally. This is not about you; it has everything to do with him. So acknowledge his experience as valid, even if it’s not your experience.
This will be hard. I get it, trust me. So make sure you’re in a good place and feeling generous before you initiate this conversation, because if you retreat into defensiveness here, you have no hope of creating a plan that will actually work. He’s struggling. This is hard. Find some compassion, then talk.
Make a Plan
Next, ask him how he’d like to change the situation. Don’t offer your solutions right away—let him tell you what he needs. “What could we do to make this a better experience for you?” (That word “we” is important—he has to participate here, and you want to remind him that you’re a team.) If he says, “I don’t know, I’m just unhappy,” you’ll have to press him. “I understand, but if we can’t come up with a plan together to make it better, that won’t change. What could we do? Let’s brainstorm together.”
Maybe he’ll surprise you here. Maybe, hearing that you’re honoring his feelings and not getting defensive, he’ll offer to do some recipe research, cook some meals, or take over the responsibility of adding variety to the basic dishes you cook. That would be cool.
Maybe he won’t do that, but he will push the plan back on you. “You’re the one who wanted to do this—I’m just supporting you.” Okaaaay. Take a deep breath, because we can work with this. In this case, you should have some ideas at the ready. Here are a few, but make sure whatever you offer actually works for you:
- Meal plan together on Sunday nights, so you can be sure to include something new and exciting in each week
- He takes over dinner Tuesday and Thursday, getting as creative as he likes
- He presents you with two new recipes a week from his Google or cookbook* searches, and you agree to work them into rotation—with a compromise that the leftovers will still be the next day’s lunch
- He’s on “dressing and sauce” duty, making three new sauces each week to add variety to basic chicken, burgers, salmon, or vegetables. (This could be a total game-changer.)
- He grocery shops; buying new, interesting fruits, vegetables, spice mixtures, or other ingredients to keep meals varied.
*I recommend The Whole30, of course, as it’s the only book where 100% of the recipes are Whole30 compliant. Still, Well Fed, Frugal Paleo Cookbook, and Paleo Takes 5 or Fewer also have quick, easy, Whole30-friendly meals—just read your ingredients like you read your labels.
If none of this works… if you still can’t come up with a good plan to keep him Whole30-happier and he’s still having a hard time with the idea of 23 more days of this, it’s time to follow the advice I gave you in the My Whole30 Buddy is a Downer article. “I’m sorry we can’t seem to find anything that works for you. I know there are three more weeks to go. What would you like to do?”
He may decide to suck it up and keep going, in which case, that’s his decision—but he doesn’t get to play the helpless victim again. “Okay, so we’re in this together! If you want to revisit any of these meal planning ideas down the road, just let me know.” He may decide to quit, in which case, that’s his decision—but now you have to ask for his support as you finish, as described in the Downer article. “I understand, and I won’t hold it against you—I appreciate you trying. I’m going to keep going, though, so here’s what I’ll need from you—will you help me?”
Aside: if he decides to quit and you continue on, now is NOT the time to talk about your cooking strategy going forward. Saying something like “That’s fine, but I’m still only cooking Whole30 meals for dinner” is going to sound punitive, not supportive. Save that conversation for another time—also not over food.
Finally, remember you and your husband just may not be in the same place with changing diet and your habits. If now isn’t the right time for him, that’s okay. I always advocate leading by quiet example, so perhaps seeing you succeed with the program and come out the other side happier and healthier will inspire him to give it another shot. The only person you are responsible for is you, so don’t let anyone’s actions deter your commitment to yourself, and changing your relationship with food.
Best in health,
Melissa Hartwig is a Certified Sports Nutritionist, and the author of the New York Times bestselling books It Starts With Food and The Whole30: The 30-Day Guide to Total Health and Food Freedom. She has been featured in the Wall Street Journal, Details, Outside, SELF, and Shape as the co-founder of the Whole30 program. Melissa lives in Salt Lake City, UT.
Photo credit: Taylor Gage, She Thrives Blog