Melissa Urban
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Juliet: [2:14] Welcome to The Ready State Podcast.

Melissa: [2:18] I am thrilled to be here talking to you after so many years.

Kelly: [2:21] You know, I am tickled because I know you pre fame, pre access of the world shifting with your crazy brain and all the amazing work you’ve done. So look, you are — you have to live under a rock to not have heard of Whole30. Of all of the potential diet, nutrition, behavior change plans that have been out in the world, I run into Whole30 the most. Congratulations.

Melissa: [2:55] Thank you so much. It’s so nice to hear that. Yes, we go way, way back. It’s been probably 10 years. I sat in on one of your first mobility certs before it was an actual cert, so —

Kelly: [3:06] Sorry about that.

Melissa: [3:08] No, no, no, it was —

Kelly: [3:09] Not going to get that time back.

Melissa: [3:10] I still have a huge love of mobility now. But yes, I really appreciate you saying that. Whole30 has been definitely kind of a slow burn. It started very underground and sort of word of mouth. And now it’s really nice to see that it feels almost like a household name. 

Juliet: [3:24] It really has. And again, I just want to echo congratulations. Before we really start asking you about The Whole30 and nutrition in general, and this is going to be a broad question, but tell us a little bit about your background, and just specifically what were you doing before you started Whole30.

Melissa: [3:42] Yeah. Well, for about five years I was a drug addict. And that’s really where my story starts. I spent a lot of years in my early 20’s using. And it wasn’t until I entered into recovery that I started really paying attention to things like what I ate. I got into exercising. I mean I hadn’t set foot in a gym a day in my life. I came from what was the least healthy place you could imagine. And in order to kind of maintain my recovery, I realized I had to change everything about my life. And that’s where my dive into nutrition and health and wellness and fitness came from.

So before I co-founded Whole30, I was running a CrossFit gym and I was very heavily entrenched in the CrossFit community. So I was traveling for CrossFit kettlebell certs, teaching for Jeff Martone. Mike Burgener taught me to snatch in his garage. I was traveling with Jeff Tucker learning about gymnastics, writing articles for the CrossFit Journal. And I had my own affiliate for a while back in New Hampshire called CrossFit 603. And The Whole30 was created in this kind of world of CrossFit, really just as like a two-person self-experiment after going to one of Robb Wolf’s nutrition seminars and hearing him talk about the impact of an anti-inflammatory diet on things like exercise and recovery. 

Juliet: [5:01] Can you tell me what the least healthy place was? You said you grew up in the least healthy place. So I just, I was curious what that means and where that was.

Melissa: [5:08] You know, after some trauma at 16, I really was searching for a way to escape, to numb my feelings, to avoid processing what had happened to me. And when I found drugs at 18 it was like the perfect escape. And I really dove in as hard and as fast as you could imagine. I joke that I only dated drug dealers for five years. But that’s not a joke. Like they had access to everything I wanted and that’s who I kind of connected myself with. So I didn’t have any one drug of choice. I kind of used them all. My claims to fame are that I never did crack and that I never shot up. But anything else was fair game. And I was very functional when I used. Friendships and a boyfriend. And it wasn’t really until the last year of my addiction that the wheels significantly started falling off my bus. But no aspect of that was healthy. And that was really the very dark hole that I crawled out of. 

Kelly: [6:07] What’s so important, and I want people to understand this, is that you are an expert in changing behavior, and that your experience pre owning a gym, and then being in this gym environment where you’re seeing people on the continuum of self-medication and self-treatment with food and sleep and all the other things that people contend with. The hallmark about what’s amazing for me about Whole30 is that it’s a behavior first change that recognizes it takes a minute to change behavior. Can you talk about the genesis of Whole30 because that’s for me what’s so amazing about your story, is that you became an expert at understanding that it takes a minute and it’s difficult to change behavior. And then maybe that’s one of the reasons Whole30 makes sense. And explain where the name Whole30 came from.

Melissa: [6:59] Yeah. That’s such a great point. You know, in my experience and the reason I so freely talk about my experience with drug addiction is that from a psychological perspective, drugs and food are not that different. And in the beginning, you know, when I first did my very first Whole30, before it was even called Whole30, I had such a dramatic and profound and permanent change to my emotional relationship with food and my body as a result of this self-experiment. It was the first time in my life I was able to get off the scale and out of the mirror. It was the first time in my life that I realized that there were times I was using food the way I used to use drugs, to numb, to punish, to reward, to self-soothe, to relieve anxiety. It was such a powerful realization and it really helped me connect these ideas of like it doesn’t matter what you’re numbing with or self-soothing with or reliving anxiety with, if it’s not a healthy coping mechanism, it’s not serving you. 

So going into creation of The Whole30, we’ve got rules and there are things that you do eat and things that you don’t eat for 30 days. But bigger picture than that, we are really focusing on resetting people’s habits and emotional relationship with food. And there’s a lot of psychology and habit research built into the program. There’s a ton of recovery language built into the program, which is something I didn’t even realize I was doing at the time. Only in retrospect when people started coming up to me at seminars in the early days saying, are you in recovery because I’m a friend of Bill W.’s and I’m hearing a lot of language here, that I realized how much of my own experience was built into what The Whole30 has to offer.

And Whole30 is a really nice, round name for this idea of a 30-day self-experiment where you’re taking into account not just your health but your habits and your emotional relationship with food. But in reality, The Whole30 is about so much more than just food.

Kelly: [8:52] You know, I don’t know if I’ve talked about this before, ever. I don’t even know if I’ve even said this to Juliet. I think she knows it. I went to visit my crazy father. My mom was a single working mom and I was maybe a first grader. And I went and stayed with him in New Mexico. He was a fighter pilot. And I was alone a lot and in crazy Great Santini kind of situations. And I came back to my mom probably 30 pounds heavier. And I got off the airplane and my mom was like whoa, like what happened. And I had learned to self soothe with food. And that was the first time I ever realized — I mean in retrospect now I’m like oh, why was I a little fat kid with a bowl cut and a girl’s name. I mean, you know. Like I have this — I can completely relate to what you’re saying about feeling better. And even to this day, I love cookies. And sometimes I feel safe when I feel full.

Melissa: [9:44] Yes. Gosh. When I used to do individual consulting, one of the first questions I would ask my clients is what’s your first memory of food. And invariably, it goes back to childhood. It’s every time mom and dad fought, my dad would take me out for ice cream. Or mom wouldn’t let me eat any sweets because she was always dieting. So I would hide cookies under my bed. And it’s like it’s so telling and such a sort of premonition for why we all have such a  messed up relationship with food as adults. It was learned, it was modeled. Society makes it so easy for us to lean on food. It encourages us to lean on food and booze for comfort and reward. The foods that these scientists are making today are supernormally stimulating and calorie dense and nutritionally light, that promote overconsumption and craving. We’re in this perfect tornado of you’re going to have a messed up relationship with food and it’s really hard to break that cycle. And that’s really what Whole30 aims to do.

Juliet: [10:41] You know, before we go — I have like 25 questions, but before we go on, could you just describe from like a nuts and bolts standpoint what The Whole30 is? Like if I were going to do it tomorrow, what would I expect? What is the program? What does it look like? I mean I know it’s 30 days but can you expand upon really the specifics of what people are doing on it.

Kelly: [11:02] The principles.

Juliet: [11:02] Yeah.

Melissa: [11:03] Yeah. Yeah. So I mentioned The Whole30, it’s not a diet, it’s not a weight loss program, or a cleanse or a detox. It’s a real reset for your health habits and relationship with food. At its heart, at its foundation, The Whole30 is built on the framework of an elimination diet, which has been around since the 1920s. And most doctors consider elimination diets the gold standard, even today with all the lab work we have, for identifying food sensitivities. 

So the premise of The Whole30 is that there are foods that are in your diet currently, even the stuff that you might consider healthy, that could be having a negative impact on how you look, how you feel, your quality of life. And the way to know how these foods impact you is to pull them out of your diet, see what happens, reintroduce them at the end very carefully and systematically, and compare your experience. So what The Whole30 does is for 30 days we eliminate food that the scientific literature and my now 10 years of clinical experience show have been very commonly problematic to varying degrees across a broad range of people. And because these foods can be problematic, I’m going to say to you as part of your self-experiment, why don’t you pull them out for a month. We’re going to eat lots of real, whole, nutrient dense food, we’re not going to count calories, we’re not going to restrict calories, you’re never going to be hungry. But we’re going to pull these foods out and see what happens to your energy, your sleep, your mood, your attention span, your digestion, your skin, aches and pains, your allergies, all of this stuff. Let’s see what happens if we pull these potentially problematic foods out. 

And then at the end when you reintroduce them, if you pull dairy out and your skin clears up, and you reintroduce it and your skin breaks out, that gives you really valuable information about how that food works for you. So every dietician and nutrition expert in the world says there is no one size fits all, you have to figure out what works for you. And everyone’s like yeah, yeah, yeah, I get it, that sounds cool. How do I figure out what works for me?

Juliet: [12:58] I just have one funny story to tell you. And I love the idea of actually just testing your own body through an elimination diet. I actually did one of those online food sensitivity tests. And I did a phone consult. And at food item number 75, I said hey, could I stop you for a second. Are you telling me that I’m allergic to food? And what I have learned, at least in my own experience, is that if I am not feeling well, there’s usually a few obvious culprits, and I really just need to trust my feeling and my own body and not necessarily rely on some random test like that. 

Melissa: [13:36] Yeah. And it’s so hard with those food sensitivity tests because if you’re going into it with like gut permeability or what is generally known as a leaky gut, you’re going to react to stuff that you may not actually have a problem with. But it’s reacting because it’s getting through that gut into your immune system. So that’s why an elimination diet can be so incredibly impactful. Because it may not show up. As good as our lab testing is, it may not show up on a lab test. There may be confounding factors, like I can eat this under some situations, but if I’m under stress, this is going to impact me so much more. And it really puts the power back in your hands. You’re not reliant on some lab test or a doctor to tell you what you should or shouldn’t do. You get to decide for yourself how these foods impact you and whether or not they’re worth it to keep eating.

Kelly: [14:25] I run into people all the time who have, I don’t know, they’re maybe, they’re like four-time alumnis, five-time alumnis of Whole30. They go through, they do a really good job. They sort of bring consciousness to how they feel when they eat, right? Just the same way we should bring consciousness to how we feel when we sleep. Or if we go out drinking, how do we feel the next day? I mean you can make those associations. And what I really appreciate is that really it cleans up, for lack of a better word, it reguides people’s eating habits, and then sometimes they fall off the wagon, and then all they do is go back into, hey, how do I reset consciousness around this. Has that been your experience? Or I mean I have to feel like of all the eating regimens I’ve seen, you guys must have the highest adherence of them all.

Melissa: [15:12] We do have incredible adherence to the program. And that’s in part because at this point Whole30 is 10 years old. I’ve created so many resources. Hundreds of thousands of recipes available for free. There’s downloadable PDFs, there’s a forum. We have a group of 250 Whole30 certified coaches. And because the rules are so black and white, they’re so on or off, they’re so very well constructed and supported, people jump into it. And they jump into The Whole30 much like they jump into like a gyn community, right? You’ve got a group of like minded people, you belong to something bigger than yourself, you’re all on the same journey, you’ve all got the same growth mindset. So people definitely do adhere to the program really well. 

And the vast majority of people who do a Whole30 are able to successfully complete it. We also have an entire program for what you do when The Whole30 is over because honestly, it’s pretty easy to do something for 30 days. What’s a lot harder is taking that and actually turning it into a sustainable lifestyle. And so we do have a ton of support in that area as well. But it’s really comforting for people to know that if a vacation or a stressful event or the holidays knocks them off their healthy eating game, they can always come back to The Whole30 where they know that they’re going to reset and feel their best and regain their energy and start sleeping better and feel more confident.

Kelly: [16:31] Well, I just want to say — Juliet’s got a question for you, but I just want to say that I think it’s really nice of you and generous of you to say that anyone can do anything for 30 days. I think that is a miracle already in and of itself. And even when I’m like oh, just eliminate sugar, I had a reaction. I was like I can’t do it. I won’t do it. 

Melissa: [16:48] Yeah. I don’t mean —

Juliet: [16:50] That’s because you’re addicted.

Melissa: [16:52] Yeah. I don’t mean to suggest that it’s easy. It is not easy, right? The most famous line of The Whole30 says this is not hard, right? Fighting cancer is hard. Birthing a baby is hard. Losing a parent is hard. Drinking your coffee black is not hard. But the very next line —

Kelly: [17:08] Not eating chips and tortillas. Right. I get it.

Melissa: [17:12] But it is hard and we know that it’s hard and it’s very — that’s why we have so much support around it because food is not just food. Food is emotional and it’s love and it’s comfort and all the things we already talked about.

Juliet: [17:23] Is there a certain population in your now 10-year experience that is seeing the best results on Whole30, you know, old versus young, male, female, or is it universally working for all populations?

Melissa: [17:40] You know, there is only one population group for whom The Whole30 is contraindicated right out of the gate, and those are people who have a history of disordered eating or eating disorders. The rules of The Whole30 are very strict and they can be triggering. So if that’s your context, The Whole30 is not the program for you unless it’s under the supervision of like a trained counselor. For those who do The Whole30, you know, it’s very –universally it works really, really well. And the testimonials we get are almost carbon copies of each other in terms of energy and sleep and mood and cravings and self-confidence. 

But where I’m really seeing a thriving population right now is my parents’ generation, your parents’ generation, you know. It’s the people who are in their 60’s and maybe 70’s who are on a couple different medications and their doctors have told them that they’re just going to have to settle for being on these meds and they’re going to have to settle for the aches and pains and the loss of vitality. And they do a Whole30 a lot of times at the urging of their kids or grandkids. And they take their whole life back. They come off their medication where they’ve reversed their type 2 diabetes. It’s not a medical treatment plan but amazing things happen when you change the food that you put on your plate. And it’s so cool to see that population feel like they have a new lease on life.

Kelly: [18:56] One of the things that I think is really interesting and compelling is that you are in a legitimate strength and conditioning environment. You guys are great coaches. I don’t think that people appreciate that you’re a behavior ninja change coach around nutrition. But you’re also a great movement coach. And I know you can do that piece too. I think, feel like we’ve sold a lot of health as you’ve just got to move more, right? It’s always about moving more, exercising more intensely. And on this other side, clearly there is something that was missing. And sometimes as we’re trying to untangle this fitness, wellness, live to be 100 phenomenon for people, we think it’s a lot simpler than high-intensity exercise. Has that been your experience, that people see much more profound changes when they really understand food and how food affects their bodies than working out harder?

Melissa: [19:53] It’s not going to be universal because there will be some people who are like I started an exercise routine and that’s where my love of nutrition came from. That was me when I first started out. But what I have come to realize is that food and our relationship with food is so foundational to every other area of our life. And when we feel out of control with food, it spills over. How we show up with food is how we show up everywhere. And if we feel out of control and addicted and beating ourselves up about it, we’ve got guilt and shame around our eating habits, that spills over and shows up in other areas in our life. We feel less in control. We feel less confident. 

I find that looking at your relationship with food and doing a program like The Whole30, even if you don’t exercise at all, has such an incredible positive benefit and spillover everywhere. So what I find is people do The Whole30, they feel so much better, they’re in control of their food, they feel like they’re nourishing themselves from a place of self-love, and it inevitably makes them say what else can I do. Can I start going for walks? Can I start meditating? Can I start taking a cold shower in the morning? Can I go back to school? Can I dump my toxic boyfriend? They start asking these questions because it empowers them and it gives them so much forward momentum. So the name of my first book is It Starts with Food and I definitely have come to believe that I think it does.

Juliet: [21:15] You know, at the very beginning of this conversation you talked about how you were consulting with people on a one on one basis, you would always have them reflect back on their original experience with food and how so many people seemed to have pretty messed up relationships with food that started when they were kids. And I’m really aware of that as a parent, especially of two girls. And we already have a daughter that’s already 15, and hopefully we haven’t already messed that up. But you know, I try as a mom in particular to be so quiet about any food program or diet or anything I’m trying because obviously we’re in this health and fitness space and you’re our friend so we want to try The Whole30 or our friends are doing the Keto diet or whatever it is. And in a way I just sort of try to do my own experimenting outside the eyes of my daughters because I just want them to develop a healthy relationship with food. Anyway, it’s complicated for me being in this health and fitness space and making sure I protect them and help them develop a healthy relationship with food. First of all, what are your thoughts on that, and would it ever be appropriate for a kid to do The Whole30?

Melissa: [22:33] So I’m a parent as well. I have a 7-year-old son. And he’s never done a Whole30. Now he kind of — he basically eats the way I eat anyway and he has kind of out of the womb. We haven’t done a lot of sugar with him. We don’t do grains. We don’t do dairy. He eats the way we eat. But I’ve never put him on a strict Whole30 because he doesn’t have a need. He doesn’t have a medical condition. He doesn’t have a behavioral condition that may benefit from a really strict elimination plan. 

I know there are lots of parents and lots of healthcare providers who have recommended a Whole30 or an elimination diet for kids. And it’s almost always to try to identify causes or those foods that may be contributing to a specific condition. Eczema, asthma, allergies. We’ve heard some amazing testimonials for behavior issues, sensory processing issues. And if that’s the case, if you are trying to figure out as a parent whether your child’s diet is contributing to one of these kind of debilitating conditions, then you can certainly frame it as a self-experiment around trying to figure out what these triggers are. You know, every time you go out on the playground and you gasp and you have to use your inhaler, I know it super bums you out. And it’s really hard for me to watch you having a hard time breathing. I think maybe some of the food we’re eating may be hindering your breathing. So we’re going to do a little experiment where we change our food for a couple weeks and see if it helps your breathing. And if it does, then we have a lot more information about how you can breathe easier, right? That’s a really good way to frame it. 

We’re not talking about weight loss. We’re not talking about diet. We’re not talking about restriction. We’re talking about this self-experiment. I do think it’s really tricky with kids. And I do think it’s every parent’s own very personal decision about whether to do a Whole30, whether to model that for your kids, whether to include the kids. There are lots of families who bring their kids along for the ride because mom and dad cook and kids eat what mom and dad cook, and so therefore they’re along for the ride. I certainly don’t think a Whole30 approach would hurt a kid. You’re eating meat, vegetables, fruit, natural healthy fats. It’s a good kind of wholesome, whole food-based approach. But whether or not you structure it as we are doing a Whole30 or whether or not you decide to share your experience with your kids, it’s very personal.

Kelly: [24:47] So I said earlier that I thought The Whole30 was like the pinnacle of reasonableness around reintroducing your relationship to food. And I hope if you were just listening to that explanation you can see why Whole30 is so successful. Because the way the sensitivity, the unpacking of the tight emotional relationships, it’s all baked into this incredible program. I mean just the way you even described that then is beautiful. 

If you took a second, I go into the Instagram universe, and I’m sort of shocked by what I see. I think we’re at sort of peak wellness, peak fitness nonsense and silliness. Are there large trends, without having to — we always talk positive. But are you seeing any trends in sort of cultural food besides skyrocketing obesity rates and skyrocketing diabetes rates and all the other processed foods, are you seeing things that you think we need to get ahead on that are really scary? And more importantly also, what do you think we’re starting to get right?

Melissa: [25:52] I think we’re starting to get right the idea that if we just focused on the basics like buying real food and learning how to cook. I’m seeing a lot of overlap. And you’re looking at various kinds of diets, you’re looking at Whole30, you’re looking at a Keto approach, you’re looking at intermittent fasting, you’re looking at carnivore, and veganism. What they have in common is that we’re eating real food and we’re cooking. Those are really excellent places to start. And people ask me if you could only give one healthy eating tip, what would it be. And it’s like cook food at home. I think we’re doing that right. 

What I think is missing, and social media kind of contributes to this quite a bit, is just this lack of context, this lack of understanding that context matters. That just because this nutrition approach worked really well for this person doesn’t mean that you can shove that square box into your round hole. So you know, if you’re an avid CrossFitter and you also play soccer, a ketogenic approach may not be the right fit for your kind of athletic activity. And you should take a look at the context in which you want to apply these things. There’s kind of a funneling of dietary approaches that are meant for very specific populations, usually around a medical condition, like Keto, or intermittent fasting, or even carnivore, that then somehow get watered down through this game of telephone through social media to this is a really good weight loss strategy for everyone. 

And I worry about that. I worry about people taking those on, not considering the context, not making sure that they’re doing it the right way. Like there’s a good way to do carnivore, and there’s a not good way to do carnivore. And then I worry about them bouncing from fad to fad or trend to trend without ever really settling into how is this working for me and spending enough time with it and getting enough I guess experience with it to determine what works for them. So that’s I think my biggest fear is just the lack of contextual information that we see around some of these trends right now.

Juliet: [27:49] Yeah, and I love that you say there’s not really a one size fits all. I mean I think a lot of these approaches depend on your personality and what you’re trying to do athletically and what your weight gain or weight loss goals are. So I love your comment about context. I think that’s so important.

Kelly: [28:05] I have not found an eating regimen that’s regrown my hair. 

Juliet: [28:11] I just have to tell you a quick story. This is mostly to give you props, isn’t really a question. But we took our daughters to see Star Wars in January. And we are hardcore food smugglers when we go to the movies. And we carry in bags and bags of food. And so I was there on my phone ordering everybody some Chipotle. And I scrolled down and I was like no way, I can get a Whole30 Chipotle burrito bowl. So you know, I’ve obviously seen The Whole30 label on different products at Whole Foods and other places, but for some reason I found that to be particularly striking. And I guess I sort of have a question out of that. Why do you think The Whole30 has resonated so well both with people and then also with a gigantic corporation like Chipotle?

Melissa: [29:00] I know. It’s so cool. That Chipotle bowl, man, that was like the culmination of two years of work and me feeling like okay, I can go home now. I have my name on a Chipotle bowl. I think it’s a couple things. I think for one, The Whole30 brand is like the lowest common denominator for a huge group of people. So if you eat Paleo, if you eat Primal, if you eat gluten free, if you’re dairy free, or if you just feed your family a low sugar food, you see The Whole30 label and you automatically know it fits your eating style. So like that’s one really appealing thing for retailers and for organizations, is that they know that with just that one little symbol, they’re going to reach this really broad group of people. 

I also think The Whole30 community is huge and fiercely loyal and very, very vocal. And what they love to see are companies who want to take good care of them. So when Chipotle rolls out a couple Whole30 bowls and the community says, oh, the carne asada is awesome, but we would love to have chicken, and then Chipotle goes and changes their formulation and rolls out chicken this year, the community takes notice. And they want to support companies who are taking good care of them. 

So it’s like this win, win, win where we get great brand exposure. We get to connect our community with these organizations who really deeply care about their health and their wellness, and then companies get this influx of this army of fiercely loyal supporters who will only buy your brand of salad dressing until the day they die because you’ve been taking such good care of them. So it’s kind of like a win, win, win all around. 

Kelly: [30:34] Well, and I just want to appreciate again because it’s something that we spend so much time thinking about, is meeting people where they are and removing the barriers to adherence. It’s really difficult be on some of these austere eating regimens and then go out into the world. And it’s really reasonable to help people, guide them to make easy choices where they don’t have to think. It’s less decision and so smart to integrate this sort of very principled eating into the things where people find themselves at a mall. It’s brilliant.

Melissa: [31:06] Yeah. I mean you want people who travel a lot for work, who are invited out for lunch with their friends, or who are staying with their in-laws in a strange town. I don’t want that to be a make or break for your Whole30 experience. So the fact that we’ve got frozen meals in Walmart and we’ve got these Chipotle bowls, and approved EPIC bars, or CHOMPS snack sticks, or Primal Kitchen Dressing, it does make it easier. Those convenience products for sure take a lot of the guesswork out of okay, I’m in a hurry and I need something fast. I know this works for me.

Kelly: [31:42] And I just wanted — the caveat is that that has never been your message. I mean your message has been cook whole foods at home. But the reality is that people find themselves in the world.

Melissa: [31:52] Yeah. It’s so funny that you say that because 10 years ago when you knew me, I would have been so much more dogmatic about this.

Kelly: [31:58] Oh, me too.

Melissa: [31:59] I would have said make all your own stuff at home, cook all your own food at home, you don’t need to go out to eat, you can kind of figure it out. You know what changed that, is becoming a parent and realizing that, right, not everyone has the luxury of being able to cook and prepare all your meals from scratch at home. And there are some nights where it’s like the best that I can do is an Applegate Hotdog and some leftover sweet potato —

Kelly: [32:20] Killed it.

Melissa: [32:20] On a plastic dinosaur plate. And that’s good enough. Yeah. So I’m way less dogmatic about it now. I want everyone to feel like they can do the program if they want to and if that means you’re getting a Chipotle bowl once a week because you just can’t even with meal planning, I am so okay with that. 

Kelly: [32:34] Yeah. It’s not the limiting factor.

Melissa: [32:35] No.

Juliet: [32:36] I actually follow a bunch of people who do and photograph their meal planning on Instagram. And literally and universally not one of them has a child. You know, on Sunday I’m taking my kids to sports practice and hopefully buying healthy food that we can cook during the week and running around like crazy. And I one hundred percent do not have four hours to meal prep for my entire week. 

Melissa: [33:01] Yes. Right. Exactly. And like let’s not let perfect be the enemy of good. There are people who have more money than time. And for those people, go buy a compliant salad dressing, go buy all the convenience foods you want, and just like get your Whole30 done. For people who are on a budget, we have tons of resources for how to make your own salad dressing and how to make your own mayo. It takes like five minutes and it’s so much less expensive. So we’re kind of hitting both ends of the bell curve because accessibility is really important to us.

Kelly: [33:29] Yeah, it really is. I mean, so much about I think sometimes wellness and health feels like it’s an element of privilege and not an issue of social justice, is that people are really good products of their experience, and I don’t know who taught you to eat, who taught you how to cook. You know, we have seen for example one of your principles of cooking food and sitting down and eating together. That is a hallmark of all the elite groups we work with, is once a week at least they all sit down and eat off of real plates because they can, and they make it a priority. I mean it’s so fun to see what we’ve learned around sort of high-level performance, elite human performance, come back to this foundation. When I open up Whole30 and revisit it again and again and again for my own self, I’m always shocked to see that the kernels have always been there.

Juliet: [34:26] So Melissa, you have an awesome podcast called Do The Thing where you cover a lot of topics. But we listened to one episode where you talked about navigating giving up drinking, which is a constant in our life. And one of the things that we particularly loved that you talked about is dealing with the discomfort other people have when you give up drinking, which has been our own experience. I wouldn’t say that Kelly and I don’t drink at all, but we barely drink. And we certainly see that that choice makes people around us uncomfortable. So I just wondered if you could talk a little bit about the drinking thing.

Melissa: [35:07] Yeah. It’s so interesting. So of course, if you’re on The Whole30, you’re not having alcohol for 30 days. So not drinking is kind of built into The Whole30 program. And I always talked about this idea about how to deal with this idea of peer pressure and stuff on The Whole30. But if you’re on The Whole30 it’s a lot easier because people say do you want a drink, and you say no, I’m on The Whole30, I’m really committed to that. And you’ve got this built in excuse. 

For people like you or people like me who just decided one day 18 months ago that I wasn’t going to drink anymore, it’s a lot more complicated. And you can make people feel bad about what they’re doing just by rolling up to the bar and ordering a sparkling water with a lime. And it’s so important to understand that their experience with alcohol and how they are choosing to receive the fact that you are not drinking is not your problem. That is not anything that you have to pick up and carry. You do not have to accept the weight of their judgment. Anything that they may say in response to your not drinking, something like oh, you’re no fun, or oh, you’re too good, you’re too much of an athlete to just have one beer, whatever that crap is that comes out of their mouth, it’s like judgement is a mirror not a window. 

And it is just reflecting back on their own relationship with alcohol, their own insecurities around that relationship. Maybe they are taking a look at things that they see you do, and they think to themselves I could do that or I should do that but I’m not able or ready to. Whatever their reaction is, it’s like not yours to pick up and carry. And I think that can be really, really freeing in helping people respond to peer pressure, judgment, or overt sabotage from other people trying to get you to drink when you just don’t want to.

Juliet: [36:48] Yeah. I really appreciate that. And I wonder and sort of assume, one of the things I see is that a lot of people feel terribly from drinking all the time, but they feel terribly all the time. And so they don’t know anymore that they feel bad because they wake up every day feeling bad, and so that becomes their new normal. And I’m wondering if just the mere fact of giving up alcohol for 30 days on The Whole30 gives people a little perspective on that. You know, just if that alone isn’t just a huge way that people feel better.

Melissa: [37:22] Oh, it’s huge. Huge. People come back to either they give up alcohol and at the end of the 30 days, they’re like I miss it so much less than I thought I would and I kind of don’t want to reintroduce it right away because I feel so good and I don’t want to do anything to mess it up. When I reintroduce, when I give up alcohol for a couple months and then have even one glass of wine, a half of glass of wine, it messes with my sleep so much, which messes with my mood and my energy the next day and my workout the next day. And it’s like this giant cascade effect where I’m just — it’s not worth it. So yeah, I think Whole30 can be an incredibly powerful experience for people to evaluate not only their relationship with food but also with alcohol.

Kelly: [38:05] Well, you know, what I have always loved is that you shift the locus of control back to the person and you’re like don’t take my word for it, see for yourself. What an experiment because the worst thing that happens is you just start drinking again and you eat the cookies again, you know what I mean. And really just the fact that you’re like hey, let us know, let yourself know how do you feel when you eat this way and how do you feel when you don’t eat this way. I just can’t recommend and wholeheartedly endorse the way you’ve been talking about food for the last decade.

Melissa: [38:38] Oh, I appreciate that so much. I really do want The Whole30 to be an empowering experience. So often, we feel so disempowered when it comes to food. We feel disempowered when it comes to our health. We’re looking to outsiders like nutrition experts or our doctors to kind of like fix us and make us feel better. And I went people to have that experience of no, no, no, do the self-experiment, figure it out for yourself, make your own set of rules and guidelines and conscientious decisions and then you get to decide exactly how good you want to look and feel while still enjoying the stuff that makes life worth it.

Kelly: [39:12] Amazing.

Juliet: [39:13] So Melissa, you obviously have a thousand balls in the air. But tell us what’s next, what are you looking forward to, what are you up to next?

Melissa: [39:20] Yeah. Well, we’re working on always a bunch of community initiatives for The Whole30. So we have some great partnerships right now. Obviously Chipotle is really exciting. We have a group of about 250 Whole30 certified coaches and that is just continuing to grow. These are people all across the country who provide boots on the ground in person social support for The Whole30. So if you want to do their program and nobody at your gym or your church group or in your family wants to do it, you can seek out a coach and work with them, and they’ve been fantastic for that. 

On my own personal front, I really love doing the podcast. I’m talking about things that are very tangential to food but not necessarily about food. I’m talking about entreprenuering and self-care and addiction and recovery and boundaries and relationships and basically just like sharing all the stuff I’ve learned in therapy for the last couple decades. So all of that stuff is definitely keeping me busy.

Kelly: [40:15] Well, it’s funny how it all — you know, it is relationship based and connected. I have friends like you and Robb Wolf and I was like I don’t need to touch nutrition. It’s not my thing. But it turns out I can’t talk about your tissue health and the fact that you don’t sleep and you’re totally inflamed and you move like crap and get injured unless I talk about nutrition. So thank you so much for doing so much of the heavy lifting. Where — I mean obviously you have to be under a rock to not hear Whole30 and just Google Whole30. But where would we send people to learn more about this experiment, self-experimenting mecca?

Melissa: [40:49] So The Whole30, it’s really important for me to point out, is available completely for free on our website. The entire program is free. A bunch of PDF resources are free. The forum is free. Tons of blog articles. Tons of recipes.

Kelly: [41:00] Fantastic.

Melissa: [41:00] Like you can do the whole program and only buy your food. So everything is available at that’s all of our social media handles, @whole30. And I’m primarily active on Instagram, and you can find me @melissau.

Kelly: [41:16] Amazing.

Juliet: [41:16] Awesome. Thank you again so much, Melissa.

Kelly: [41:18] It’s wonderful to hear your voice.

Melissa: [41:20] It’s so good to reconnect with you both too. Thank you so much for having me.

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