The Unexpected Impact Whole30 Had On My Love Life

I knew I'd miss wine. I didn't see this part coming.
Illustration: Damon Dahlen/HuffPost Photos: Lindsay Holmes

I know what you’re thinking: Stories about doing the Whole30 in January are about as groundbreaking as florals for spring.

And you’re right. These days, it’s impossible to scour the internet without coming across some iteration of an “I Tried Whole30 And Here’s What Happened” story. The restrictive eating program, which cuts out most of the foods and things you love, claims to reset your physical and psychological relationship with food over the course of 30 days.

It’s not uncommon these days to find glowing testimonials about the benefits of forgoing dairy, alcohol, added sugar, processed foods, grains and legumes in your diet for a short period of time. And I’m one of those people you’ll hear them from, too.

Everything I read about the program came to fruition for me ― from the sugar withdrawal headaches in the beginning to a phenomenon the program calls “tiger blood” ― a feeling that washes over you somewhere around Day 16 that makes you feel invincible. I feel like a completely new person.

But something else happened during that month, and it hit me harder than those first glorious sips of wine I took when I was finished: My entire outlook and understanding of dating was flipped on its head.

First things first: I am a legitimately horrible dater. I let 99 percent of my Bumble matches (when I even get them) expire into the depths of the internet. I cringe at the thought of small talk with anybody, let alone a potential love interest. In the event that I do end up with a date, there is about a 99.9 percent chance I’m showing up at least one glass of wine in. Whole30 prohibits alcohol of any kind ― which is, in other words, my worst dating nightmare.

My anxieties around dating are not unique, of course, but the sheer terror of meeting someone, especially someone from the internet, transforms the (sometimes too) confident woman I usually am into an unsure, awkward and babbling shell of myself on a first date.

In worrying about things like my appearance, how I’m coming across and if I’m making a good impression, I use alcohol as a crutch. It’s amazing what a couple of old fashioneds can do for one’s confidence. It’s equally amazing what they can do to someone’s perception of how a date is going.

I end up, more often than not, doing things I wouldn’t do sober. Like, for example, bringing someone home with me and (sometimes) regretting it later. I don’t take the opportunity to actually get to know someone, or more importantly, figure out if I even like them on a date. I’m too busy trying to get them to like me.

Through my work in therapy, I have also learned that I have both a desire for immediate intimacy and abandonment issues that prevent me from wanting to stay too close to anyone. It’s a pretty obvious combo, I’ve realized, for a person who lost a parent at an early age, but I never realized how it was affecting my dating style, which I always just wrote off as being “bad.”

I blame a lot of my struggles with dating on feeling unattractive. Feeling unattractive makes me feel self-conscious meeting new people. Feeling self-conscious makes me drink. And so it goes.

Being reliant on liquid courage meant I opened up quickly, let my guard down and engaged in a false intimacy that for other people comes in a couple of months and not a couple of hours. I would then complain about a person getting too comfortable too soon, something that has happened many times in my adult dating life. I did not take a beat to realize that some of my behavior might have enabled that comfort. (For the record, I’m not blaming myself here. Just saying it’s not always a one-way street).

“With booze out of the picture, I was able to focus on the conversation, and more importantly, what I was getting out of it."”

Because of my default dating behavior, I originally made a decision to stop dating completely during the Whole30. I didn’t feel like explaining to people that I wasn’t drinking, and I certainly didn’t feel like going on a date without a glass of wine.

But for some reason ― call it the tiger blood ― I decided to put myself out there again somewhere around the middle of the program. I chatted with one of my matches, and planned for a coffee date that week.

With booze out of the picture, I was able to focus on the conversation, and more importantly, what I was getting out of it. I was able to determine if I didn’t like the way a person was behaving, something I’m too good at ignoring after a couple of drinks. In some ways, not drinking actually took the pressure way off. There is more of an easy exit when it’s just coffee (how many coffees can one person drink?), and a smaller time commitment made the experience pretty enjoyable.

Now, with my Whole30 experience behind me, I’m leaving a few other things behind, too. Dairy, for one. And boozy first dates, for another. I’m hardly an expert, and have yet to plan another first date ― sober or not sober ― since. But I am grateful to the program for changing my perception of dating, and more importantly of myself.