More than a few readers find my blog by searching for keywords around the Trim Healthy Mama eating plan (hi!). I found THM after my 7th child was born. It helped me lose those final, stubborn pregnancy pounds. However, I’ve abandoned the plan for good. Here’s why I stopped doing Trim Healthy Mama.
Diet Culture? Not a Fan
Diet culture wasn’t part of my vernacular 7 years ago when I learned of the THM eating plan. But now that it is, I don’t want to support it. Know better, do better, right?
The idea of intuitive eating really appeals to me. I love that so many nutritionists and dietitians are promoting a saner way of thinking about food. In times of my life when I embraced an intuitive (rather than over-thinking) approach, I was happier and healthier.
Separating Carbs and Fats is No Fun
The Trim Healthy Mama diet requires eating meals based on either protein + fat, OR protein + carbs. Sounds easy enough.
The problem is, carbs and fats together are what makes food delicious and satisfying! Bread without butter, pasta without olive oil, beans without cheese? The THM rules suck the fun out of eating, and eating should be pleasurable, full stop.
Mindfulness is essential to intuitive eating. Turns out, when we focus on pleasure and are fully in the moment, we eat less. (Les madames were right all along, bien sur.)
Because protein + fat meals (in THM parlance, “S” for satisfying) are so much tastier, I found myself eating them most of the time. That meant I wasn’t eating enough carbohydrates. This is a common issue. Many of the THM Facebook posts center around the question, “how can I eat more E (carb) meals?!“. I wasn’t alone in that struggle.
Not eating enough carbs is a huge problem for me. It causes my mood and energy to tank. But as I said, who wants rice without butter? Or oatmeal without a little cream? Boring and tasteless.
Sugar Alternatives Taste Like Sadness*
There were very few THM dessert recipes I enjoyed. Out of the dozens I tried, only 2-3 actually tasted good. I much prefer to indulge in a little sugar from time to time. I found that making sugar “forbidden” increased my cravings.
According to my research, stevia in small amounts is likely safe. But the other artificial sweeteners used in THM are probably a bad idea.
*p.s. if you get this reference, I’ll send you a Littmus lozenge. 😉
Trim Healthy Mama Means Always Thinking About Food
Planning THM “on plan” requires doing more planning, shopping, and thinking about food than a typical person does. Even if one does their best to avoid specialty ingredients, it’s simply more fuss to cook “on plan”. Eating out “on plan” is no fun either.
In addition, some of the THM substitutions simply aren’t acceptable to one’s family. Cauli mash ain’t foolin’ nobody. Ha! My kiddos crave real spuds. Keeping one’s family happy necessitated even more time in the kitchen preparing separate dishes. Ain’t nobody got time.
Trim Healthy Mama Makes It Harder to Eat Frugally
Grocery store prices are going up. At a recent budget meeting, I told hubby my goal was to not allow our spending to go up with it. That means getting creative about saving money on groceries again. Trim Healthy Mama makes that harder to do.
One way to eat frugally is doing what I call “taking one for the team“. (This means eating random bits and bobs in the fridge that no one else wants). Doing that “on plan” is nigh on impossible.
Other budget-friendly foods include rice, potatoes, pasta, bread; all difficult to eat on THM. I don’t enjoy “on plan” sprouted or spongy low-carb bread. I buy handmade loaves from a local bakery like a proper wanna-be French girl, and I savor every bite and sigh a lot while eating it. That’s the kind of religious experience I want around eating, not THM fundie lite, spankyouverymuch.
Nutritionists Have Little Good to Say About Trim Healthy Mama
Google searches show that bona fide experts in the field of nutrition have very little positive to say about the Trim Healthy Mama eating plan.
The sisters (Serene and Pearl, creators of the THM merch empire) admit they have no education in the area of medicine or nutrition. Their books pull from their own (cough cough *anecdotal not evidence-based*) experiences with various diets and reading books and studies.
The problem? It’s extraordinarily difficult to understand medical journals as a layperson. Reporters and bloggers often muck it up when they try to paraphrase research studies, often arriving at precisely the opposite conclusion the researchers found. Therefore a health book written by uneducated people really should be taken with a grain of salt. If the diet “works”, it’s because the follower is eating fewer calories, period.
I can’t help but wonder why the sisters have dieted so much to begin with, considering they both appear painfully thin. My intention is not to criticize their physical appearance. But it raises the question, why are rail-thin women dieting in the first place? I legitimately wonder whether they’re orthorexic.
The Most Important Reason Why I Stopped Doing Trim Healthy Mama: Connection to Above Rubies/Quiverfull/Gothardism/IBLP
Serene and Pearl’s mother is Nancy Campbell, publisher of the Above Rubies publication. Above Rubies promotes THM but not the other way around, probably because the controversy surrounding AR would seriously hurt the THM business, which has grown from books to food, skincare, makeup, CBD and other supplements, kitchenware, and a licensed coaching business.
Above Rubies is aligned with Quiverfull/Gothardite/IBLP/the Pearls. Fundamentalist, evangelical, patriarchal, baby-beating cults.
(Note: I’m respectful of everyone’s right to choose their religious belief, but not all religious behavior is worthy of respect, legal or permissible. Any comments in support of the above-named groups will be immediately deleted.)
AR is not an organization I want to give any financial support to, even in the most roundabout way. I won’t link to AR here, but encourage you to do your own research about this organization and what they stand for.
A few places to start:
The Child Catchers: Rescue, Trafficking, and the New Gospel of Adoption – a shocking chronicle of abuses perpetrated by evangelicals in the area of international adoption. Don’t want to buy the book? Read this discussion.
Orphan Fever: The Evangelical Movement’s Adoption Obsession – this expose (and the book linked above) mentions Serene Allison, co-author of Trim Healthy Mama.
Trim Healthy Mama: Is It a Cult?
Cults are my latest literary obsession and I can recite the definitions by heart at this point.
THM itself is a wee bit culty. The many rules, the talk of foods being “naughty” or “cheat” meals, the intimations that fat is sinful, the shame felt by people who leave it – it’s all very legalistic in tone.
The first THM rule book was SO out and out culty, the sisters wrote another without all the fundie stuff. Check out the Amazon reviews to see what I mean. Honorable mention for off-the-charts cringe: The section called “Semen- Gotta Love It!“. Look ladies, I have 7 babies and am no prude, but that brought up a mental image I didn’t need to have about your “husbandly owner”. And no dear reader, I’m not making this stuff up.
One of the hallmarks of a cult is: the leaders cannot be criticized. Ever. When I asked for more information about the adoption debacle in a THM forum, I was shamed and verbally attacked. Never mind the evidence, our savior leaders are flawless! Everything on the internet is lies! Now drink your KoolAid, I mean Good Girl Moonshine, or else!
Did you know that if you wear rose-colored glasses, you can’t see red flags?
How I Maintain a Healthy Weight Without Trim Healthy Mama
That will be a topic for another post! This one’s long enough.
What are your thoughts? Were you once a follower of Trim Healthy Mama and quit? Why?
I got blocked years ago for posting that everyone should do their own research on what is good for THEIR body and not just follow a plan or use an ingredient blindly. Question everything. Ohhh, they didn’t like that — even though you bring up the admission that they aren’t dietitians of any form! Wayyyy culty.
Thanks for your comment Rebekah! Not being “allowed” to research is a huge red flag isn’t it?
Thank you so much for writing this! I just cannot get started because there is so much to always have to plan and think about. I know the plan and have been lurking for about 4 1/2 years. I have so many opinions about things and I know that you are not allowed to question things. How can you “own it”? The sweeteners are rough on me too and I am looking for a better fit, closer to Paleo with intuitive eating.
I actually do not appreciate this post… it makes me wonder what your deeper hurt is… there are so many people out there sharing their beliefs and trying to get others to follow and at the end of the day we all have to choose… in a culture where we are literally dying from over consumption of sugar which leads to inflammation which is the root cause of most of our diseases, I find it ironic that you are bad mouthing people who are trying to help others see another way. I personally have been following them for years and I have never really focused on separating carbs and fats but I most definitely have changed my life from being off of sugar and white flour ( which turns into sugar). I’m pretty sure any nutritionist would get behind that. As for their personal lives, I’m thankful for their honesty and openness with what they do share and personally am a little jealous of the way they can do life as a close knit community. Right now our culture is telling us ‘you do you’ …but that’s the opposite of what you’re criticizing. I’m just wondering what you were hoping to accomplish with this post… when we attack and try to hurt others it is usually stems from our own hurt inside. I hope you can find true peace .
You hit the nail on the head!! THM is expensive and took up way too much thinking time to have a snack, meal, or even a drink!! The desserts were definitely not my favorite, and carbs and fat together is what helps make a meal satiating. I felt hungry all. the. time when following the THM plan. And yes, cauli mash can NOT replace mashed potatoes!
I’m not trying to get anyone to follow my beliefs. I’m sharing research here, and anyone can do what they like with it.
I have not come across a nutritionist who recommends THM. Happy to hear more about them if you’re willing to share.
One can certainly lower their sugar intake without supporting the THM business. I’ve been doing that successfully my whole life.
Thanks for sharing your thoughts Mandy. THM is confusing and overwhelming for so many people. You’re definitely not alone in that!
I’ll continue following the cult ? it healed my body and allowed me to carry my first of five babies naturally to full term. You do you though.
Good you’ve found what works for you.
I find this post is a rather sad one. Although I do not follow all of the THM rules I greatly appreciate Pearl and Serene’s commitment to helping others and sharing the truths of what they have found both nutritionally and also in what they have shared about the human need for positivity in order to experience optimum health. They would be the first to tell you to do your own research, referring freely to the sources where they found their information so that anyone can do just that. And if it’s so hard to understand what we read on the internet how do any of us who have no special degree in these things, know that we’re reading anything correctly?? Is that not the point of articles and studies, to explain to the public what has been found? One thing that has especially blessed me, is Pearl and Serene’s openness. They admit when they see they’ve made mistakes. It sounds to me like you have learned a lot of truth by following THM (such as needing more carbs). Pearl and Serene never said you can’t have potatoes or rice with butter, they only teach the truth about the fact that you probably won’t lose weight on it and then teach you how to do it so that you can lose weight if you want to. If THM sweeteners such as sugar alcohols do not agree with you, no one is saying you have to eat them and in fact I know of people on the Keto diet who say the same things. There’s nothing cultish or rule oriented about giving truthful guidelines for those who want to follow them if they choose. Paleo or Keto have just as many or more guidelines. It is totally everyone’s own choice whether they want to follow a particular diet or not. Perhaps Serene and Pearl are too skinny (I’ve sometimes thought so myself), that doesn’t mean we can’t apply the principles they teach in our own way. Are we going to stop listening to any other doctors and nutritionist just because many of them are too skinny as well? We are only accountable for our own choices. Perhaps Serene and Pearl make mistakes in the way they live their lives (don’t we all?) but I truly believe they are trying, right along with the rest of us, to do what they believe is right and a help to their fellow people as best they can.
Your experience is different than mine. The title of the post was, “Why *I* Stopped…” not “Why YOU should …”.
Appreciate the comment!
Ashton Mullins says
You write as if Pearl and Serene set out to create a toxic, money-making culture around their way of eating and that simply is false. This blog post goes into great detail on criticisms (health and personal) of Pearl and Serene WITHOUT at all explaining the history of THM or their hearts behind it… which is very misleading to someone who has never tried THM or knows nothing about it.
THM was never created to become as big as it is today. It was simply two sisters passionate about finding what worked best for them nutritionally. They explored a lot of different diets before stumbling onto this one. Once they found it, they were excited and shared what they were doing with their friends (who doesn’t do that?). Word of mouth caught on and they wrote a book to give out because they were simply tired of always explaining their way of eating. Was this first book meant to be a huge selling, health revolutionary diet book? I think the bad grammar and not great writing in it suggests otherwise. They wrote it like it was supposed to be a sit down explanation with friends. Did they mean to have a huge voice in the health world? No, like you said, they don’t have any health education; they were just passionate about finding something that worked well for them and people were naturally interested.
Their products tell a similar story. People who followed the plan want them. They kept asking for them because when this plan came out, there were not as many easily available health food options like pure stevia. People on the plan go crazy over them BECAUSE they make their diet easier and the products are not expensive for how pure their ingredients are.
They also are very honest with what they are learning and have very publicly admitted to mistakes in their understandings of foods. They also give more frugal ways to make their baking blend at home and even have podcast episodes about how to do the plan with no special ingredients and on a tight budget. Their heart behind this was never about profit, but to share a way of eating that revolutionized their well being. Its popularity is very organic. It’s okay if you don’t agree with their religion or lifestyle choices, but it’s not cool as a writer to mislead your readers on their true intentions and history of this diet. It’s also fine that THM doesn’t work with you and your family. I hope you find an alternative that better suits you.
Hi Ashton. I have no problem with someone making money with their ideas, that’s not at all what this post expressed. I also know the culture of Facebook groups is mostly out of their control. The information I link to is out there and it is well researched. It’s up to the individual to come to their own conclusions about how they spend their money and what causes they support. I’m humble enough to admit I was wrong when new information came to light, which is why I’m publicly admitting that. Others choose to ignore evidence and continue with their narrative to avoid painful cognitive dissonance.
Just because you don’t agree with everything THM doesn’t mean you should be so unkind. I’m sure there are “intuitive eating” advocates out there who are into the occult or who practice abortion, but I don’t see you dismissing intuitive eating based on those views?
Also IE has its problems too. Make sure to take off *those* rose colored glasses every now and again too 😉 Not every eating plan is perfect.
Hey Carrie! I found this post after listening to their podcast.
I am in remission from anorexia and still find myself drawn to their plan. That part of me loves the overthinking and the idea of being able to eat sweets and stuff without gaining weight. Unfortunately, I have also found a lot of the foods and division of fuels to be unsatisfying and sad. Unlike the sisters, i agree that you can eat “off plan” food and still have a pretty healthy diet. For so many of us, focusing on keeping our diet SUPER healthy isn’t best. The stress it causes me to try to stay on plan is more harmful for my health than the “off plan” foods. I still love salads and quinoa, but sometimes I like a burger with a bun lol ? (and i mean a real bun, not the bun-like concoctions).
For the women who find the plan doable and satisfying without turning it into seriously disordered eating, more power to them! I just wish they would respect that this isn’t possible for everyone.
Hi Amanda, thanks so much for your comment. My heart goes out to you as someone recovering from an eating disorder. It would be a huge concern of mine to venture into this eating plan, personally.
Carrie, just curious, what happened since you February 2, 2022, when you posted “ What I Ate Today, Trim Healthy Mama” on http://laslimfemme.com?
I have been listening to these ladies for over 3 years. And guess what. I don’t even do the diet. I did it for two months back in the day. I have never felt judgment from their podcasts or videos or Facebook. They are a breath of fresh air weekly. They give me encouragement for life and make me smile.
I am not a fan of ad hominem. It’s disrespectful as well as lacking logic. You are free to follow what ever you want. But ripping on the character of others as an excuse to do so is unkind.
I have never viewed education as a means of authority or professionalism. I view experience as a means for authority and professionalism. Not that education is not good. It can help. But we can ? educate ourselves. Any homeschool mom knows the merit in this. Our world has it so backwards.
I never understand the reasoning behind ripping on others. I just don’t see how it profits anyone. If I decide not to follow something. I can explain my reasoning without dragging people through the mud. I am sure you can as well.
Hi Claudia, I understand your cognitive dissonance because I’ve felt the pain of that too. And I didn’t engage in mud slinging. The mud is already out there, I am pointing it out so others don’t step in it.
Research happened. It takes courage and humility to change one’s mind when confronted with new information, no?
Shannon Smith says
I’ve looked into it several times as an alternative to the usual low-carb way of eating I normally try to adhere to… I think I actually first heard about it from your blog posts! But I just could never get on board. As you mentioned in this post, I could never reconcile the thought of carbs and fats being separated. You can have one but not the other in the same meal? Didn’t make sense. Didn’t sound like it would taste good. And it seemed super complicated to keep track of! I don’t have the time or energy for all those rules.
Sharing well-documented facts isn’t unkind. It makes some people uncomfortable, but for me personally, I’d rather know the truth of a matter than be fooled by nice-sounding falsehoods.
I really think THM created an eating disorder (binge eating) in me. I did lose a good amount of weight on it several years back, but actually my mental health was in shambles. I was a mom of 3 little ones at the time, and honestly I probably should’ve been eating more. I was alwayssssssss hungry, and would hurry up and eat my meal, just so my 3 hours would start sooner (for the next meal!) I was constantly cooking, prepping, researching, and if I was on the road, I would take a quest bar and eat that as a meal as it was on plan (at the time.)
Actually, in the beginning, I wasn’t hungry at the 3 hour marks, but because the rule was to eat, I would make myself eat! Then, I guess I’m trained my body to do that!
I had headaches all the time, once in Wal Mart, I almost passed out from what I assume was low blood sugar or something. I felt so painfully hungry, I went and bought a bag of M&M’s at the checkout, ate them, sat down a minute and then was fine. When I started introducing non thm foods back into my diet, I started gaining quickly. I’ve gained ALL the weight, PLUS a bunch, BACK. I’ve tried many time to follow the plan again, but I can’t because I feel so painfully hungry…so to fix that, I eat more, but that turns into binge eating to fill that void. It’s really a vicious cycle. Yet when I eat, say, bread with butter, or beans with cheese and rice, I’m full for longer! All I know is them created an unhealthy relationship with food for me.
Hi friend! You didn’t say what your name was ?
Your experience sounds similar to mine. THM made me food obsessed and wasn’t at all “food freedom”. And I did struggle with low blood sugar unless I did S “helpers”.
For me now I’m able to maintain my weight quite easily by taking a more intuitive approach and not forbidding ANY food, just being mindful of portion size.
I also walk a little every day and lift weights a couple of times a week – nothing crazy just challenging myself a bit at the gym.
I hope you find what works for you! Thanks so much for sharing your experience.
I both like and dislike THM – I have not particularly been on the plan for about three years now. I developed orthorexia because of this “lifestyle” BUT! … It has helped me become healthier, finalize my allergies, and made me enjoy vegetables and fruits where as before, I was not too fond of those food groups.
I am no longer as food obsessed as I was. I no longer think of food 24/7 – I have room for other things to worry about. I still make some of their recipes, I am still in the groups (on my other FB page) but I no longer use it as a full time thing in my life. It’s a guideline for a healthier life.
Am I mixing FP, S, E and doing lots of crossovers? Yes. Am I happier and definitely healthier? Yes.
I gained back who I was and control over food by doing a year of nutrition and dietetics schooling *dropped out/planning on doing it again* – but I don’t follow one specific diet anymore. I was a diet hopper and now I’m a diet mixer. One thing I focus on the most is filling my plate with protein, carbs, and fruit/veg (especially for dinner if I don’t get enough during the day) – not one or the other.
It’s been about four years into recovery, and I can finally say that I have enough food freedom and control now that I can look up and read about THM/add in THM recipes or others like Keto and Paleo and not get sucked into it again.
Thanks for sharing your experience! I love finding reminders of why THM is not a full-time sustainable life for those days I get stuck in my ED mind.
I appreciate this article and all the comments. I followed serenes raw food journey, I tried it for a little while but it was way too much work. I was annoyed that after selling lots of books, she didn’t make it public (through the AR magazine where most of her sales came from) that the raw food had made her very sick. I wasn’t doing it myself but I thought it terrible that others might be still following it. I did do THM for a while, but I didn’t like that EVERYDAY the sisters were in my head space. Nothing against them but I figure thinking about people who aren’t your family or friends every day isn’t healthy.
I read the first part of your article with interest but then as your tone changed (cough cough), and your sarcasm came out into the light, I had less respect for the whole read. Stick to the facts, m’aam, just the facts.