Dr. Ruscio interviews Melissa Hartwig, co-creator of The Whole30, in this episode of the podcast. Melissa specializes in helping people change their relationship with food and create life-long, healthy habits.
If you need help with finding the right diet for you, click here.
Dr. R’s Fast Facts
- Moderation depends on context. Beginners to the paleo diet will likely do best with a strict approach. Those who have been eating healthy for a while can afford some moderation.
- Diet before exercise.
- If you can only do one, emphasize food type before food quality. Whole foods take precedence over organic.
- If you don’t respond to a paleo-type diet initially: Try more a restrictive diet, guidelines here; See a functional medicine practitioner for an evaluation.
- With practice, you can determine little tricks to make healthy food prep easily fit into your day.
- Focus on unprocessed meats, fresh vegetables, healthy fats and some fruits.
Melissa Hartwig intro…..1:24
The Whole30 all or nothing approach…..7:07
Avoiding sensationalism and dogma in health and wellness…..16:33
Goal setting and goal shielding…..30:45
A look at Melissa’s typical day of food…..33:02
Important lifestyle factors…..40:00
Best and worst thing Melissa has done for her health lately…..41:32
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Melissa Hartwig how to get started on the Paleo Diet
Welcome to Dr. Ruscio Radio, discussing the cutting edge of health, nutrition, and functional medicine. To make sure you’re up today on this and other important topics, visit DrRuscio.com and sign up to receive weekly updates. That’s D-R-R-U-S-C-I-O.com.
The following discussion is for educational purposes only, and is not intended to diagnose or treat any disease. Please do not apply any of this information without first speaking to your doctor.
Now, let’s head to the show!
Dr. Michael Ruscio: Hey, folks. Welcome to Dr. Ruscio Radio. This is Michael Ruscio. And I am here with my good friend, and probably the best head of hair in the paleo movement, Melissa Hartwig. Melissa, thanks for being on the show.
Melissa Hartwig: Really? That’s how you open? Really?
DR: You’ve got to give credit where credit is due.
MH: People on Instagram really love my hair. I can’t explain it.
DR: I’ve heard and I’ve seen. It’s no joke. If you haven’t, Google Melissa Hartwig and the nice head of hair.
MH: Thank you so much. So, those are literally my only professional credentials, that my hair is really nice.
Melissa Hartwig intro
DR: While we are on that topic, I am sure everyone knows who you are, as you are on the backend of two New York Times bestsellers. But, why don’t you tell people a little bit about who you are and what you are doing and all that good stuff.
MH: Sure. So, I am the co-creator of the Whole30 program, which is a thirty-day nutrition reset based on the framework of the paleo diet. But, we’ve got some pretty specific protocols designed to change your health, your habits, and your relationship with food.
I’ve written two books on the subject: the first was called It Starts With Food – that came out about three years ago; and then the second is called The Whole30 – and that came out April of this year. So, we’ve got a website. We’ve got an online community. We’ve got a really thriving social media community, and that’s really where I spend most of my time. So, I’m connecting with people, I’m developing resources, I travel quite a bit and do speaking and events. I’m a certified sports nutritionist, but I’m not really doing a lot of one-on-one consulting. At this point, my focus is really on growing the community, providing more resources, figuring out how we can reach more people, and kind of continue to change the paradigm and change lives one at a time.
DR: Right. And I really wanted to have you come on to do, maybe, a prequel to the podcast we did previously called Finding Your Ideal Diet (1a), because when I went back and reflected on the episode, I think it’s a good episode for people that are getting more advanced with their diet, but we really glossed over ‘Here’s how you just kind of get started with the whole dietary thing.’
So, this, I think, will be a great chance to bring in your perspective on this, which is how to get people started on a healthy diets. Again, I you’re in an excellent position with your experience and your interfacing with all the people in your community about what works, what doesn’t work, and all that good stuff.
DR: So, I promised you I would lead with my couple thoughts on this. We actually have differing opinions on some of these things, and I think it will be good for us to describe, ‘I feel X because of this justification, and you feel the opposite of X.’ I think it’ll be good to air those differences because I think it will help people depending on what position they are in figure out what we to go.
DR: So, I will lead off with some of my notes and thoughts on if you’re trying to get started on a healthy diet, what can you do? Again, my perspective (is) a little different than yours. Mine in the clinic with a little bit of a different population. Mine is: it’s not all or nothing, and the reason why I emphasize that with my patients is because oftentimes people come in and they are bridging on becoming a dietary fanatic. They are just so wound; they’ve stopped socializing, they’ve stopped going out with friends, they freak out about anything that may be outside of the dietary guidelines. And it really almost becomes a pseudo-eating disorder where it’s too much.
So, I like to tell people that, as long as you are nailing these concepts 80-90 percent of the time, if you have an occasional slip up, that’s OK. Don’t freak out about it. You are still going to be making good, forward progress.
Another one is, after you’ve gone through the initial 30 days or so of going on a elimination-type diet, when you bring food back in, I’m a really big believer in just listening to your body. I’m not a huge advocate of food allergy testing, and I’ve written and done video about this elsewhere. But, I think the most cost-effective, most accurate way is just listening to your body. Again, that’s controversial, but that’s my opinion.
Something else I think is really practical for people is that I prefer people to focus on food type before food quality, meaning if you can only do one, I would say food type first, rather than food quality. What I mean by that is you could do a whole, fresh produce before organic produce, meaning I’d rather you’d have fresh peas that were conventional, rather than having canned peas that were organic, right?
DR: So, if you have a priority choice to make there, I would say the type of food before the quality. So the type being fresh, and the quality being commercial versus organic.
That same concept applies for meats. I’d rather you have conventional non-processed meats than organic processed meat. The ideal there is probably going to be fresh, whole foods that are locally grown and preferably organic. But, again, sometimes you have to make concessions along our way, or people can only do one thing or the other. So that’s my priority allocation, there.
On a psychological note, I like to coach people into not thinking of this as a restriction – meaning you’re depriving yourself of of all these things; rather you choose to eat different foods that make you feel better, and that you have the control to deviate anytime you want – if you’re at a birthday party or a dinner. But, you generally choose not to because you feel so much better when you eat these healthier foods. So, it’s not the psychology of restriction and deprivation; it’s more a proactive thing because you feel so much better.
I think one of the bottom lines – if you can make most of what you eat fresh fruits and vegetables, unprocessed meats, you are really in the ballpark.
Finally, if you don’t respond, you can do a more restrictive diet. We laid out those guidelines in our last podcast. If you don’t respond after that more restrictive diet, you’d probably want to get to a good Functional Medicine doctor and have an evaluation.
So, I’ve got all my hot air out of the way…
The Whole30 all or nothing approach
MH: So, I am going to go disagree, agree, agree, agree, agree. Right? Most of those points – and I may have you come back and kind of repeat them so I can touch on them – most of those we’re in complete agreement with.
The first one, where you talk about how it’s for your clientele, your patients, it is not an all-or-nothing approach. Obviously, that’s the complete antithesis of the Whole30 program, right? It’s a 30-day elimination diet, and we really demand that people follow the rules 100 percent – no cheats, no slips, no special occasion. Part of that is from, of course, the scientific perspective or of the physiological perspective of, you’re doing an elimination diet, you have to completely eliminate the foods to which you may be sensitive or having reactions to to be able to evaluate your life with them in your life without them, right? There’s a physiological reason.
From a psychological reason, we focus so much on habit and change, and one of my really key areas of research is change, and the psychology of change, and habit research, and willpower. That is my focus. And what we find in studies is that black-and-white changes are actually easier for the brain to process, right? It almost takes the decision-making out of the executive function part of the brain and move it’s back into sort of habit territory.
MH: You’re not talking about moderation, you’re not talking about doing less or doing better. You’re talking about a very clear and concise set of black and white rules for people to kind of get on board and follow.
MH: But I think, to backup even a step further, our populations are different. So, people are coming to you, and you get to work with and very specifically one-on-one. And generally, by the time I’m seeking out a Functional Medicine doctor, I’m sick. I’m not going to come see you if I’m just, like, not sleeping awesome and I’d like to lose five pounds. Generally, people come to you because they’re sick – maybe they tried other stuff. They’ve done something like a Whole30, or they’ve done a GAPS diet, or an SCD, or Paleo AIP – they;ve done a bunch of different strategies, cobbling it together, and they are finally at the point where nothing is working, and they really want some help. And maybe that’s a gross oversimplification of your population. But, in general, you probably get more people like that than I do.
DR: Uh-huh. Just to interject one quick thing there. Some of these people keep trying to ratchet the dietary nut harder and harder and harder. A lot of times, and this is a good encapsulation of where I make my recommendation from – a lot of times, they are trying to force a dietary solution to a non-dietary problem. I have to tell a lot of my patients that, ‘Listen, your diet right now actually is pretty good. The fact that you are not feeling I don’t think is because of diet. So, you can quite beating yourself up a little bit on this. You can relax a little bit. And let’s go to work on finding the underlying cause of your non-responsiveness.
MH: Yeah, exactly. That’s exactly what I’m getting. Exactly, that makes total sense. What I have to do is, with the Whole30, create one big-picture dietary protocol, with one set of rules, one set of recommendations, that works for hundreds of thousands of people as well as it can.
MH: So, it’s a different strategy; it’s a different target. People are not…people are coming to me sick. I do have people who got on the Whole30 because they’re trying to control symptoms with autoimmune conditions, or chronic fatigue, or chronic pain, or diabetes, any metabolic syndrome stuff. But, I also have people who come because they have really dysfunctional relationship with food, because they have bad habits and cravings that they feel like they’re not in control of their food choices, their energy is down, they’d gained a little bit of weight, they don’t feel as good as they could, they’re not sleeping as well… You don’t have to be sick to come to the Whole30.
Because of that, I take this all-or-nothing approach, again, because of the reasons that I’ve outline; but also because, in order to create a really effective protocol that works for so many people, there have to be really clear expectations.
MH: It has to be black and white, it has to be all or nothing, it has to be, like, these are the rules – stick to them. Once I get that out there, then I am able to actually provide a lot of support and resources, because everyone is doing the exact same thing at the exact same time.
So you know, the one caveat we have with these super black or white rules is that, if you come to me with a history of disordered eating or eating disorders, the Whole30 can be a trigger for that population.
MH: We didn’t write it with that population in mind. I’ve got an extensive number of resources on the website for for that population – what to do with your coming to us with that history, what to do if you get in the middle of your Whole30 and you find you’ve taken it into unhealthy territory – how identify about. What to do. So, with that one caveat.
For the general population, I’ve found that these black and white rules – and they are really strict; all or nothing protocol, because, remember, it is only 30 days. It works really, really well across a very broad range of people, to give them pretty spectacular results.
DR: Absolutely. I think, hopefully for people listening, it will help you feel better about where you are the spectrum and the corresponding plan for where you are on that position on the spectrum.
Dr: As that as a transition point, Why don’t we launch into now more of what you do and what your recommendations are, (and) what you found works really well.
MH: Sure. The reason we start with food, and the reason I would always recommend if somebody came to me said, ‘Hey, I want to get healthier. Where should I start?’ Typically, people either think of diet or exercise, and exercise is often kind of their first go-to. But, I always recommend people start with food for a couple different reasons: one, the impact that your diet has on your overall health. Of course, I think you would agree that it is far more impactful than exercise or meditation or, you know, most of the things that people would think of as healthy effort. Two, it’s really about the control factor. So, you know there are so many aspects of our life that we don’t have control over. It would be lovely to try to focus on getting more sleep. But, if you have a newborn baby, good luck with that. It would be really excellent to try to exercise. But, if your schedule is really crazy, it might be challenging. Same thing with stress management. We can’t always control the stressors. But, you can always control the food that you put in your mouth.
So, you know, because it got such a huge impact, and because it’s something you can always control.
What we discovered through the Whole30 is that the sense of power and self-efficacy that comes with feeling like you are finally in control of your food choices just spilled over into every other area of your life. So, because of all of those different factors, we feel like starting with your diet is really the best place to go. And I will recommend I think everyone should do a Whole30, with, of course, exceptions given medical histories or specific conditions. But in general, I don’t think there’s anyone that wouldn’t benefit from the idea of a whole-foods based, nutrient-dense diet designed to minimize inflammation, heal the gut, restore a healthy metabolism, promote a healthy relationship with food.
The idea of the Whole30 is that you eliminate these foods so that you can identify the ones that are potentially less healthy for you. Once you go through the elimination and reintroduction, you’re then able to take that information – what you’ve learned – and the determination of, ‘Hey, this food doesn’t impact me in a healthy way,’ or, ‘This food gives me this symptom,’ or, ‘This food I can actually enjoy once in a while, and I don’t have any really discernible affects.’ You take that with you into the rest of your life, and then you’re able to make very conscious, deliberate decisions about creating a healthy, balanced diet for you in a way that feels very sustainable, very rewarding, very pleasure driven – because we don’t want to take that out of your food experience, but in a way that is at least intelligent about continuing to move you forward into improved health or better finance; whatever your goals.
DR: That reminds me of a quote from Brian Tracy. Brian Tracy’s written a lot of business and management books, and sales books, and human resource development books. He’s a fairly prolific author; when I was younger, I really studied him quite closely. He has a quote that essentially reads, “You feel good about yourself to the degree to which you feel you have control over your life.”
DR: I think that definitely applies to diet. If you feel like you have control over your diet, you feel like you have control over life – and you feel better about yourself. That’s a key, key point.
MH: So much, and so many people have battled with this. By the time you get to something like the Whole30, you’ve got decades of food-related associations; you’ve got decades of habit and emotional relationships with food, and bonding with certain people in your life only over junk food. You have all of these different things that you’re …you know, baggage that you’re coming to the table with. The cycle of cravings and over-consumption and stress, and cravings, over-consumption, and stress is such a difficult cycle to break out of without a really structured, well-thought-out protocol, and all of the support that needs to go along with that to make that happen. So, I think having control of your food is so critical. We’ve seen it, like I said, spill over into every other area of life, where people are like, ‘Man, I feel like I’ve got this food stuff down now. What else can I do? Can I start sleeping better? Can I start exercising? Can I do some specific testing with the Functional Medicine doctor? Because, I am mostly there but not quite there yet. Whatever it is, it gives people the confidence to move forward with those other initiatives.
Avoiding sensationalism and dogma in health and wellness
DR: Sure, sure. And it almost reminds me of what we were talking about before we went on air, which is this double-edged sword that is created by motivation to get healthier. I think it’s terrific that people want to take steps after they change their diet to get healthier. But then, one of the things we were talking about is sometimes in the same space there’s this sensationalism, where first it was fish oil was a solution to everything. Then it was vitamin D and everything. Now it’s maybe gluten or the carb renaissance. I think that we need to be very diligent in this community about not supporting sensationalist ideals or authors or researchers, because that only fuels the very biased, dogmatic sort of approach. Unfortunately, like any marketplace, if the market – if the consumers – reward that sort of ideology, that’s going to propagate.
DR: But if the consumers are more critical, then it changes the marketplace. And actually, Sean Croxton just did an interview with this gentleman who wrote a book called The Gluten Lie, which I really appreciated a lot of his insights. Again, I don’t get into this whole thing about is gluten legitimate or not. I’ve written about this elsewhere. But, he brought up a lot of good challenges that really challenge the sensationalism that accompanied some of the gluten-free movement. He had very good points. He wasn’t anti-gluten, just to give people that. And then, Sean Croxton had Dr. Tom O’Brien on for a follow-up rebuttal episode, and it was great to see how critical Sean Croxton was challenging some of the dogmas that we have in this movement, and saying, ‘Maybe we are a little bit wrong about this. Maybe we were a little bit sensationalist about this.’ It was great – just this one book really fueled this more critical dialogue about gluten, so…
DR: Definitely something I think is important. We were even talking about doing a follow-up podcast about that at some point.
MH: I think it’s definitely podcast worthy. I think we could easily talk for a half-hour on that.
MH: I see a lot of that too, when people are starting to or thinking about, ‘How do I get started with a healthy diet?’ What I see would be people coming into a general paleo-style diet, or doing some reading, or doing some research. You have all these different options available to you, right? You can do a Whole30. You could do a general paleo framework. You could do a primal framework. But, a Whole30 is not particularly sexy. Like, it’s moderate protein, moderate fat, moderate carbs, three meals a day; like, there’s nothing really very sensationalistic about it. We’ve never really…it’s not a weight loss program. We don’t make a ton of crazy promises. There are some other protocols…I think people get the idea that, like, more is better, right? It’s not better is better, because that’s really what’s better. But people think more is better. So, if the Whole30 is good, but they still want to lose a little bit more weight, or maybe they’re not sure. ‘Oh, I am really tired. Maybe I have an autoimmune condition that my doctors missed.’
And then you have all these options. You’ve got paleo AIP available. You’ve got specific carbohydrate diet. You’ve got a GAPS diet. And this is where I see people starting to go off the rails. My favorite line is, like, if it’s not working, unplug it and plug it back in, right? You don’t have to get all crazy fancy pants. You don’t have to go crazy town into all of your different strategies and hybrid theories. Just start with a Whole30. It’s really basic, it’s really simple, it’s really while outlined. Start there. If that works for you, then you know you are on the right track. If it gets you most of the way but not all the way, there are other more detailed options available for you. But, this is where the kind of clients start coming to you is – they dabble in the Whole30, but then they they thing, “Well, Whole30, but if I also eliminate nuts, seeds, eggs and nightshade, I’ll be maybe that much closer to where I want to be. Well, that’s not quite working, so maybe I will eliminate coffee and do a low fodmap protocol. Well, that’s not quite working, so maybe I need to go to something like GAPS. By the time they get to you, A. they’ve done so many different things that you have no idea what’s working and what’s not working; and B., they are neurotic. As well they should be because they’re really trying to take on so many different protocols. And don’t even get me started if they’re trying to throw different exercise protocols on top of this.
DR: I completely agree, and I think it’s important for the Functional Medicine provider not to prey upon that motivation or that neuroticism, or whatever you want to call it. Sometimes I think it’s really important for a Functional Medicine provider to be able to say, ‘Listen, I know you just read a bunch of stuff about mercury toxicity. But, based on my workup, and what have you, that’s really not an issue for you.
DR: Sometimes half of what I have to do – or maybe more like 30 percent of what I have to do – is talk people out of testing and treatments that they’ve read about elsewhere.
DR: I think it’s important just to echo one more time – I’ve said this before – you go through this learning cycle where whatever you are learning about at the moment, everything is caused by, and everything is solved by, addressing that thing.
DR: Doctors go through that too, right? Everyone does, but a doctor has gone through all these things in a very intensive period of study, and hopefully codified these things into a clinical model where he knows what to do first, and what to do second, and what to do for whom. I think that’s really important because, unfortunately, one of my main pet peeves with Functional Medicine is that doctors prey upon the overwillingness of people in this space to do testing and treatment. Sometimes it’s and what to do for MS the report is forcing women meet at peace with functional medicine is that doctors prey upon the over willingness of people to do testing to treatment. Sometimes it is definitely needed. But, sometimes you can do a really great service to patient by saving them from needing to do a unnecessary or unwarranted testing and treatment.
DR: So, we are digressing here a ton. I love it, but we are way off the tracks here. Can you bring us back to – because I don’t know if everyone knows, or maybe if they do, they would appreciate a refresher on – what are the dietary and lifestyle principles that you guys supply in the Whole30?
MH: So, the Whole30 is really just about dietary strategy – well actually, that’s not true. I guess we do have some lifestyle stuff related to habit and change. What we focus on are essentially changing your health, your habits, and your relationship with food.
So, from a food perspective, we kind of follow a general paleo framework, where you are eating, for 30 days, meat, seafood and eggs, vegetables and fruit, natural healthy fats, herbs and spices – that should be pretty familiar to most people who are familiar with paleo.
We do have a couple other parameters, mostly centered around people’s emotional relationship with food. So, one of the things we don’t allow would be – which is very commonly seen in the general paleo sphere – are these alternative flour, like muffins and cookies and candy and cakes and ice creams, and these paleo-fied baked goods and such. We don’t do that on the Whole30. Again, from a psychological perspective, your brain doesn’t know the know the difference between a almond flour pancake in a regular pancake. And if we are really trying to change our habits, and to eliminate what we call food with no breaks, right? The stuff that once you start eating, you just can’t stop eating…
DR: I like that term.
MH: Yeah, I stole it from Jay Staton, who is a good friend of mine – he’s a genius, too. But anyway, we eliminate those. Again, we are forcing you not just take a look at what you are eating, but your behaviors around what you are eating, why you are eating it, how you’re eating it – the emotional state that you are in. While you could do a Whole30 with nothing but, like, nut-butters, and dried dates, and bacon – technically, you could still be compliant with the program, but (those aren’t) the kinds of behaviors we want to encourage.
So, we really force people to look outside of just the technicalities of the program, which is I think another reason why people are so successful -it’s that you can focus on just the technicalities, but if you’re not really changing your habits and changing your relationship with food, there’s very little in that 30 days that you are going to do that will stick. And, what we really want is for this to stick, right? Anyone who is coming to us saying, ‘How do I start getting healthier? How do I start changing my diet?’ I think a really important part of the conversation is whatever you do with us, there’s no, like…it’s not a start and an end point. It’s not just 30 days and then your kind of sayonara, on your own.
There has been some super interesting habit research with flight attendants and smokers. What they wanted to study was whether flight attendants on an eight-hour flight had cravings far worse than flight attendants on a one-hour flight, right? The idea would be, we yeah, on a really long flight, you would find that cravings would probably be way worse. Interestingly, what they found was that self-reported cravings were exactly the same on both flights in the last like 15 to 30 minutes of the flight. So, what they found was that it wasn’t necessarily the duration of the flight, it was that once the brain get a reminder that reward is on the horizon, that’s when these old behaviors and the cravings come back.
MH: So, when you apply that to something like the Whole30, or any dietary intervention, we really encourage people not to think of it like it’s 30 days. This is just the first step in this lifelong process of learning about how food interacts with you, figuring out what’s worth it, and what isn’t worth it, for you, determining how you want to build your perfect diet in life after your Whole30, and how that’s going to change as you change, and your goals change, and your context changes. Like, not thinking about it as having an endpoint, but thinking about just as one step in this really long lifetime journey of continuing to very slowly improve and change and develop and promote this healthy relationship with food.
DR: I agree. It this old adage which is, essentially, health is like a garden, were cultivated it. You don’t just build it in a day – it’s something that you constantly cultivate and feed. I think that’s a really, really key point. Just reflecting on my own experience, when I was first transitioning onto a healthy diet, one of the things it was key for me was just figuring out how to do all the stuff quickly, right?
DR: At first, you were like, ‘Gosh, how do I make these vegetables? And how do I make these dishes? Do I steam? Do I bake? What do I do? How long will it keep in the refrigerator? When do I shop? All these things that seemed so minuscule. But after a little while, I got so smooth with it that I could eat fresh food every day, and I just worked it into my schedule, so was just very, very flowing. I think that can be one of the key pieces of just this first 30 days: is just learning how to get out of the rhythm of, ‘OK, every day at lunch I walked down to this restaurant and get this crap meal.’ And now, ‘How can I get our of the rat pattern, and get into myself into a pattern where, ‘OK, the best time time for me to prepare food for tomorrow will be after the gym, before the kids get home from school. I’ve got that 45 minute window, and that’s when I can take care of it. And also, I can, you know, talk to my mom or my mother-in-law on the phone with this hands-free headset. Little thins sound so simple. But, there are little ways in your schedule making it work for you, I think are one of the most important part of remember them on the phone with his history has a little thing sounds so the simple but those little ways of things in your settlement work for you I think your most important parts of the first 30 days.
MH: So critical, so critical. What we tell people is, like, is A. it gets a lot easier with practice, obviously; B. your only job in these 30 days – and I’m in a go back to your point of, like, food choices versus food equality – your only job in these 30 days is to eat good food. So, if that means, like, you’ve got a toddler clinging to your leg and you’re microwaving a couple 100 percent grass-fed hot dogs and some leftover sweet potatoes spears, and throwing it on a bed of baby kale, and dumping some homemade ranch on it, that is totally OK. You have to make fancy meal; it doesn’t have to be crazy recipes. This is real life; not everything has to be organic, and grass fed, and, you know, hand slaughtered by Spanish virgins under a hunter’s moon, bathed in unicorn tears, right?
MH: It doesn’t have to be like that. Those are very natural progressions. As your food choices start to get easier, and it starts to become very automatic with bringing my own lunch, and making my own breakfast, and whipping up dinner. Then people naturally, gradually start gravitating towards, ‘Where’s my food coming from? Where’s the quality? Can shop locally? Is this in season?
You don’t have to do the most perfect dietary intervention ever created. Just figure out how to eat good food for 30 days in a row and you’ll be in such good shape.
DR: Exactly. I think there is a lot of little things wrapped up in that same sort of thinking. A few things to come to mind would be: do I have to all my water? I’d love for you to drink filtered water, but you don’t have to throw all these possible changes in at once.
DR: And another one: I hear people say sometimes, “I heard Teflon is bad. Do I have to change over all my pots and pans while start this diet?”
DR: And, again, it’s this neuroticism that can grow. Yes, it is true that there’s been documentation of Teflon not being healthy for you. But gosh, I will bet you dollars to donuts any day that if we did a randomize controlled trial, and we got people on whole foods compared to keeping them on unhealthy foods, and had them cooking in only ceramic, the people on the whole foods would be doing a heck of a lot better.
DR: So, that wouldn’t be an area where you start. And, hopefully, this is resonating with people. You just have to start with some of these core principles. And them, exactly like you said, then we can find – or, back to my analogy earlier, cultivate the garden with more and more advanced baby steps toward this constant refinement.
Goal setting and goal shielding
MH: Yes. And I really encourage people to, based on habit research, not to throw too many different goals onto the field at the same time. If you really want to improve your diet and do a dietary intervention – awesome. But don’t also take on the goal of a Couch to 5K program and a yoga class at the same time, because there’s this really interesting phenomenon called goal shielding where your brain can really only focus on one priority at a time, in terms of goals, and will literally block the others out in an effort to kind of accomplish your main objective. So, if you’ve got three or four out there…it’s one of the reasons New Year’s resolutions never go anywhere. You can’t focus on all of these different goals at once. And some of them are often competing or competing for your time, your resources. So, just pick one thing – and if you’re going to pick that one thing, I recommend diet. Just let that become more effortless and more more natural and easier. Then, very naturally, you will want to see what else you can do in your life to make yourself feel healthier. It’s this positive circle where you eat better, you feel better, which makes you want to do better, which makes you want to eat better. That naturally just spills over into other areas.
DR: Right, yeah. It’s just a practical approach. I think what people really need is a practical approach. Because if not, you can, like we’ve been talking about, easily overwhelm yourself into not doing anything.
MH: Yes. And we don’t want to overwhelm anyone. We really want to give people the impression, because it’s totally true, that something like the Whole30 is completely doable, anyone can do it, it’s not that hard. That’s one of the most famous lines in the program – birthing a baby is hard; beating cancer is hard; quitting heroin is hard; drinking your coffee black for 30 days is not hard.
MH: We just want to put it into perspective that it’s really attainable for absolutely everyone.
DR: Right, the woe is me kind of philosophy we sometimes find…
MH: Well, a little bit. I know it seems overwhelming. But, with the right support network, with the right resources, with the right internal motivation, and finding the right program for you, I think it’s really something that is not only completely doable, but also has the potential to be life-changing in a way that very few events in your lifetime often.
DR: Right. OK, I like it.
A look at Melissa’s typical day of food
DR: Now, a typical day: maybe it could be a typical 30 day, maybe it could be a typical Melissa day. What kind of picture can you paint? Let’s say someone is sitting at home, and they’re contemplating changing their diet in this direction, but they are trying to visualize what a typical day would look like? Can you paint that picture for us?
MH: Totally, totally. So, I kind of joke that I tend to Groundhog Day certain meals. I keep things pretty simple, like, rotate through the same 12 or 15 meals all the time. I have a list on my fridge of meals that I love, so when I get in a pinch, I just run through them.
My breakfast tends to be about the same every day. I’ll do a couple eggs – so, I usually eat three eggs. Sometimes I will poach them, sometimes I’ll fry them, sometimes I will scramble them. I will kind of mix it up to keep from getting too, too bored. A little bit of avocado. I will either eat some leftover veggies from the night before, or, like, some fresh fruit. If it’s summertime, I’ll do a side of berries. I basically bathe everything in hot sauce, everything in hot sauce all of the time. That’s a pretty typical breakfast, right? You’ve got your eggs; sometimes I’ll throw some chicken sausage in there.
I am also just as likely for breakfast to eat like the burgers I made last night, the leftover burgers. I really want to encourage people to think outside the box of traditional breakfast meals. You can have a steak for breakfast, and I do it, and it’s amazing. But that’s a pretty typical breakfast.
For lunch, I tend to do…
DR: I am sorry. I just want to interject…I hate to cut off your flow.
DR: I just was reminded of something. Mike T. Nelson was on recently, and I’m not sure if we were on-air for this or not. But, he said – and I thought this was brilliant – he will challenge some of his clients to have non-breakfast foods for breakfast, but then have breakfast for lunch.
MH: Yeah. Right, right.
DR: I thought that was genius. OK, you are not cutting out the breakfast – just have breakfast for lunch, and have lunch for breakfast, and that supplants this programming of we cab only have this for breakfast. I though that was a really ingenious way of achieving that.
MH: It is! I think that’s an awesome idea. I think a lot of people love the idea of breakfast for dinner, too. For some reason, there’s something kind of comforting and really fun about breakfast for dinner. So, mix it up. Throw all kinds of different stuff in there.
So, for lunch I tend to always have some kind of protein already made and on hand. So, I’ll make like a big chicken salad one day, or salmon salad, or tuna salad. Or I will have a rotisserie chicken that I’ve picked clean, and I’ve got just plain chicken that I’ll throw over a salad. But, I always have some kind of protein – hard-boiled eggs (are) totally ready to go in the fridge at all times. I tend to make my lunch with those ‘it’s already made/it’s convenient/it’s easy. Or I will throw a can of salmon or tuna over a big salad. I will put it in a lettuce roll. I will have fruit in the salad, a bunch of raw vegetables in the salad, a bunch of, you know, make-my-own salad dressings. I tend to do some kind of salad, or big, hearty, but pre-made something for lunch, which is pretty simple.
And then dinner: I tend to cook big for dinner. I really like cooking. I find chopping vegetables very soothing; it is like good stress relief for me. But, I tend to keep my dinners pretty simple, too. We have, in my house, we have a two-year old son, and we have in my house what we call Eat Like a Toddler Night.
DR: I like it, I like it already.
MH: You can’t really tell the difference between his plate and my plate, right? I’ve got two, you know, Applegate Farms’ chicken sausages cut up. I’ve got a big bed of zucchini noodles or spaghetti squash. I’ve got some roasted tomatoes, roasted red peppers, and artichoke hearts. And I’ve made a homemade pesto. I throw the whole thing on a plate, and I cover it with the sauce, and it’s great. And, it’s not that hard to do, and leftovers are amazing. I really like these dinners that take me, like, 15-20 minutes, tops, to put together.
I’ll often bale or make like double of my meal, and eat the last half either for lunch or breakfast the next morning. I tend to batch-cook a lot. So, I’ll cook two pounds of ground beef, and I’ll season half of it with, like, mexi spices and half of it Italian with a tomato sauce, oregano, and thyme, and basil, and garlic. Then I’ve got two different meals, but I’ve only made one pot of food. So, it’s all these little tricks like this that help me feel like I’m not a slave to my kitchen. I don’t have to cook these super fancy fresh meals from scratch all the time. And, I think you’d be hard-pressed to find a listener who hasn’t eaten some semblance of what I just said for dinner, or breakfast or lunch one day. So, that’s pretty typical.
DR: Now, are you lower carb? It sounds like you are a little bit more moderate-to-low end, but do you know where you are on the spectrum?
MH: I think I am probably more on the lower end, not on purpose. I’m not a huge fruit person. I definitely try to eat some sweet potato, acorn squash, or butternut squash every day. I’m not doing any high-intensity work right now though. All of my exercising and conditioning in the gym I am doing a lot of long, slow distance stuff, like hiking, and a lot of walking. And then, most of my stuff in the gym – if doing any ballistic work, like, with cattle bells or metabolic conditioning, it’s all really short. So, I don’t actually need a lot of carbohydrates for my activity level at this point. And, personally, I tend to function better on a little bit of a lower carb diet.
I’ve done a lot of playing around with that; it suits my context. And if and when I ever get back into the gym and start really going harder, I am going to need to very purposefully bump that up by eating more carbed-up veggies, more plantains, more fruit.
DR: Right. Interesting aside there: we are going to be having Christopher Gardner, whom is a Ph.D over at Stanford on the show soon. He published a study a few years back that I’ve cited numerous times called The A-to-Z Weight Loss Trial. They tried to figure out what type of carbohydrate load was best. He’s doing a follow-up study now where, again, they are trying to answer the question, ‘What kind of carbohydrate load works best?’ Saying it more accurately, ‘What type of person will do best on what sort of carbohydrate load?’ They’ve been screening for genetic polymorphisms, and for microbiotal levels, and they are trying to correlate how, you know, maybe if we find these polymorphisms with this microbiota it predicts, you’ll do better on a higher carb diet, a lower-carb diet or what have you. So, that is coming down the pike – I think that will be super interesting.
MH: Very cool.
DR: Everyone, I think, knows my thoughts – I am not on either end of the carbohydrates arguments. I think we all have certain spots on the spectrum where we fall.
MH: Yep, I totally agree. You can’t take context out of it. So you can’t just say, ‘Oh, well all of my friends – or Melissa, or whatever – she used a low-carb diet, and she’s pretty lean. That’s how I am going to eat.’ (But) if your context doesn’t support that…
You know, I have friends who are just as healthy, just as active, just as lean, and they eat a higher-carb diet, and it works great for them. None of this, of course, works in isolation. You’ve always got to take into consideration what’s going on in the rest of your life.
Important lifestyle factors
DR: What a about, to kind of bring this toward a close – what about lifestyle factors that are in the Whole30, or the Whole9, or just that you think are really important and you want to mention?
MH: So, Whole30 is our 30-day dietary intervention, but Whole9 is the big picture of how we think about health big picture. And, we’ve got nine factors that we think all come together and work very synergistically to move people for optimal health. Of those nine factors, the three most important in order, in terms of what we address with people, are nutrition – of course diet, which is what we do with the Whole30. Sleep would be No. 2, and then healthy movement. And healthy movement isn’t just exercise; it encompasses things like recovery, active recovery, and stretching, and mobility, and and so many of these factors overlap, you know? We also talk about stress management. We talk about outdoor exposure. We talk about socialization. And, there’s a huge overlap in all of them
But, if somebody gets through a dietary protocol, and they are like, ‘Cool, I am feeling great. I’ve got self-confidence, a lot of self-efficacy, what else can I look at?’ The next thing we shuttle people to is sleep, because, as you know, and I just listened to your podcast with our mutual friend, Dan Pardi, sleep is just so incredibly critical for, like, literally everything. Most people undervalue it, and, basically, nobody is getting enough.
DR: Yeah, agreed.
Best and worst thing Melissa has done for her health lately
DR: I want to ask you the question I ask all guests. And I gave you warning about this, so you could have some time to ruminate on it. I want to ask you, in just a second, what the, maybe, and I am just terming this loosely. But, maybe, was the most unhealthy thing that you’ve done lately? And was the healthiest thing that you’ve done lately? Because, I want people to know that us researchers and authors and what have you, whom always talk about all this health stuff, yeah, we’re also human at the same time. Sometimes you do stupid things and kick up our heels and whatever. I think it is important for people to see that side.
But, before I do that, I wanted to ask you about a rumor that I heard.
MH: Oh no.
DR: The rumor was that you’re a cupcake connoisseur.
MH: Oh my goodness.
DR: Is that true?
MH: Ahhhh….I really love cupcakes. I really like…you know, there aren’t a ton of things in terms of the baked goods that consider worth it – you will never catch me eating pancakes, waffles, cookies, brownies, whatever. But, man, do I love a good cupcake. Yes, that rumor is true.
DR: Well, if you are ever in the area – the Walnut Creek/San Fransisco Bay area – there is shop called Kara’s Cupcakes. They have gluten-free cupcakes that are out of this world. So, when I occasionally, just need a day to veg out and turn my brain off, and maybe just do a movie marathon, I will be there with a cup of whole milk and two of these cookies while you can get me to cupcakes. a
MH: Wow. So, you can skip the milk – get me two cupcakes. I’m just going to eat the tops off them, because it’s really all about the frosting.
DR: All right. Now, so what are the least and most healthy things you’ve done lately?
MH: The least healthy thing, speaking of sleep, is just forgoing sleep in favor of connecting with people, and, like, going out and having fun. So, I’ve been on the road a lot. Like, my travel schedule since the book came out in April, my travel schedule has been really…like, I’ve been so richly schedule. And so, I am traveling, and I’m working, and I have friends almost everywhere I travel, because I’ve traveled so much historically. And so, I go out and I get m work done, and I do my book signing, or I do my full day of media, and then I should go to bed early and just get a good night’s sleep, because I’ve got to do it all again in the morning. But, I will forgo sleep on the road to connect with people I care about, or people I have a really good time with, or to go take myself out for a nice dinner. I will stay up late and definitely forgo sleep. So, that’s the one thing I have been not super good about, especially because it’s summertime now. I find in the summer I just have a harder time falling asleep earlier, because it stays light so much later. So, the worst thing I’ve been doing for my health is, like, absolutely ignoring Dan Pardi’s advice about sticking to a really consistent sleep schedule, and I’ve been, like, blowing out of the water. And, I’ve had a few ridiculously late, but so incredibly fun, nights that it’s been totally worth it.
So, that’s the worst.
The best is that, when I come home, I am forgoing a whole lot of kind of like fun and excitement to basically just like turtle and hermit and take really good care of myself. So, you know, I came home from my last trip – I got 11 hours of sleep on Sunday night. I slept in, I took it easy at the gym, I’m eating tons of really, really good food. I’m, you know, staying almost exclusively on a Whole30 template. I’m managing my stress. I’m checking in with my therapist. I am doing all of the things when I’m home that I need to you at the expense of maybe missing some kind of opportunities to connect with people here, go out, have a late night. I want to sit downstairs and catch up Game of Thrones, and I’m like, it’s time to turn this off and go to bed.
So, there has to be some balance there. Like, you can – I can charge the credit card, and charge it and charge it, but when I get home, if I’m not paying it off, I’m eventually go health bankrupt, and that’s not a position I can afford to be in when my job is to provide health guidance for so many people.
DR: Sure. It sounds like you have that reasonable balance, where you’re doing your core stuff in a very healthy manner. And so, you can afford to have those late nights or what have you. Good. I am glad you are having some fun and kicking up your heels a little bit, as Robb Wolf would say.
MH:Yes, it was totally worth it.
DR: So, is there anything you are working on, anything you want to make people aware, and where can people track you down if they hear or see more of you?
MH: Yeah. So, people can connect with us at whole30.com – that’s ‘w-h-o-l-e-‘ and the number ‘3-0’ .com. All of our social media is also just ‘@Whole30’. If you’re interested in starting some kind of dietary protocol, and you’re looking for a community that’s super supportive, tons of resources, lots of stuff available for free, like really positive, really encouraging – I think we’ve got the best online community on the whole Internet.
And then, if you want to connect with me personally, I have a personal Instagram feed – it’s @Melissa_Hartwig. And I share…I definitely am really open about being, like, authentic, and normal, and human. You know, I’m not perfect. I do kick my heals up. I think I’ve got a good sense of my hilltop I’ve got a good know I think I have a good sense of what’s worth it and what isn’t. But, when I mess up, I share that. I talk about things that are outside of Whole30 that I think people maybe will, eventually, gravitate towards when their Whole30 is over. Things like the concept of balance, and the concept of perfection, and the concept of entrepreneurship.
So, I like connecting with people through there as well.
DR: Cool. Well, there you have it, folks. That is Melissa Hartwig. Like I said, best hair in the paleo movement.
DR: So, look her up if you haven’t done so yet. Melissa, thank you so much for coming on the show.
MH: Thank you so much for having me. This was really fun.
DR: All right. My pleasure. Take care.
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