Adventures in Whole30

My Biggest Whole30 Failure Wasn't a Failure at All

Image Credit: Gina Eykemans

This entire week I’ve been sharing my experience of doing the Whole30 program, but I haven’t talked too in-depth about my Whole30 failures. So, you guys … can I tell you a secret? I cheated. Like, really truly fell off the wagon for a minute. The thing is, it ended up not feeling like a failure at all. Now, before the diehard Whole30 crowd comes out of the woodwork to write me curt letters of disappointment or throw proverbial rotten tomatoes, let me explain.

On the fifth eve of my Whole30, I ventured into San Francisco to attend my husband's boss' birthday party. She was turning 40, and in true San Francisco style, she rented out the back room of some way-too-hip-for-me bourbon bar that doubled as a speakeasy. The room was exceedingly narrow, dimly lit, and filled with strangers. I walked in and immediately began to sweat — not just a little, either. It was a very unladylike slick of anxious sweat that decided to pool between my shoulder blades and cling to my dress.

I’m claustrophobic, so I felt as if I was in some sort of booze-drenched, tiny-room nightmare. I took some deep breaths and tried to masquerade as a normal adult human that didn’t feel as if she was about to die in a tiny, Prohibition-themed, back-alley bourbon bar. Did I mention I like bourbon? Because, I do — a lot. Did I mention it was a very expensive open bar? Yeah, that too.

Before heading out for this soirée, I fed myself a sensible Whole30-approved dinner and decided I would heroically sip on sparkling water with lime. But that’s not exactly how it all unfolded. My husband’s coworker, probably noticing my questionably sweaty bangs and look of panic, gave me a glass of something pricey that had been aged in a one-of-a-kind, gold-encrusted mahogany barrel, and blessed by Bolivian wood nymphs (perhaps an exaggeration, but this stuff was fancy), and I started sipping.

Fast forward to the next morning as I awoke crying with an aggressive hangover; my head throbbed in my ears. I shook my husband awake and through tears told him I was probably dying. This is not the triumphant part of the story, if you’ve already guessed. This, my friends, very much felt like failure. It turns out when you’re eating really cleanly, it only takes a little bit of bourbon to make you feel like you’ve been poisoned. I don’t recommend it.

It was after I had rehydrated myself and rejoined the land of the living that I made the executive decision to just let it go and carry on with my program. I understand this isn’t exactly how things are supposed to go. I’ve read the stringent rules, and the strict no-cheating policy — I get it. But for me, it was deeper than that. Yes, by Whole30 standards I had failed, but on a personal level, it was a chance to be kind to myself. Something that I rarely take the time to do.

I try to be a compassionate and understanding human being in my day-to-day life. If you talk to me about your struggles, I will most likely embrace you and make you a batch of soup. I have empathy for others, but historically I do not hold the same sort of compassion for myself. I’m a diehard perfectionist with a judgmental inner voice. Maybe you have one of these voices too — the kind of voice that chimes in with you’re not good enough and other gospels of self-doubt. I don’t like this voice much, so I’m trying to shift and change in order to reclaim this part of my brain and flood it with nicer words and more positive truths. It felt counterintuitive to me to beat myself up in the process of trying to do something nice for my body.

I set out on this Whole30 journey with an intention to heal and feel better. Sure, I made a mistake. No, I wouldn’t make it again. (Gosh, my headache was relentless.) And yes, I might have tacked on a couple days to my Whole30 sentence to make up for my personal bourbon-fest, but being militant with my already perfection-hungry self didn’t seem as valuable as patting myself on the back and being understanding. So I drank more water, took it easy, and told myself I would do better tomorrow. In a plan that is designed to be rigid and heavy on the tough love, I managed to find some compassion and the strength to decide I am not my failures or struggles, but rather the sum of all of the positive intentions behind them. I am enough, and that doesn’t have to look like perfection. Not for 30 days — not ever.