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RHR: The Best Ways to Support Diet Change—with Melissa Hartwig


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When someone changes from a “Standard American Diet” to a whole foods diet that cuts out things like grains, dairy, and sugar, the results can be dramatic. Today I talk with Melissa Hartwig, founder of Whole30, to discuss the best ways to help people make the leap to “real” food.

Revolution Health Radio podcast, Chris Kresser

In this episode, we discuss:

  • The inspiration behind the Whole30 diet
  • The psychological component to diet
  • Accepting the responsibility for change, without blame
  • More evidence on how diet impacts health
  • How important it is to support change in different ways
  • Melissa’s two new books
  • Using the concept of food reward for weight loss

Show notes:

Chris Kresser: Hey, everybody. Welcome to another episode of Revolution Health Radio. Today I’m really excited to welcome Melissa Hartwig, founder of Whole30. I can’t believe we haven’t had you on the show, Melissa.

Melissa Hartwig: Well, you and I have talked so often at events and behind the scenes. But yeah, I’m really excited to get an invite and chat with you formally.

Chris Kresser: Yes. I feel like the timing is perfect because, as most of my listeners know, I just released a book about, among other things, the importance of diet and lifestyle behavior change in preventing and reversing chronic disease and addressing the epidemic of chronic disease that we’re suffering from. Of course, Melissa, this is something that’s very close to your heart and something that you believe in and have practiced and preached for many, many years now with the Whole30 program. As a way of diving into this topic of how to change diet, in particular, in a powerful way that not only prevents disease but even reverses it after it’s already occurred, why don’t you just … I think a lot of people who are listening to this of course have heard of Whole30, but for those that haven’t, why don’t you just talk a little bit about how this originated. I think you have your own interesting story, and this came out of your own personal experience, I know, and then what the Whole30 is, and we’ll go from there.

The Inspiration behind the Whole30 Diet

Melissa Hartwig: Yes. “Interesting” is a very polite way to put it. A lot of times people say, “Have you always been healthy?” And my answer is “No.” My interest in health and fitness actually came as a result of crisis, as you know. Crisis often drives change, and I was a drug addict for about four or five years in college and then after and have been clean for almost 18 years now, but it was when I got out of rehab and realized that I had to change every aspect of my life in order to stay clean and kind of protect myself and build a buffer between me and my impulses, urges, and addictions that I found health and fitness. I got into it through CrossFit, doing triathlons, and started with, like, a body-for-lifestyle diet, and then Zone-style diet, and then discovered Robb Wolf and Paleo. It all just sort of tripped along in my own personal growth in trying to become a healthy person with healthy habits.

Making the leap to real food—insights from Melissa Hartwig of Whole30

The Whole30 was just another one of those self-experiments. We had just gone to a Robb Wolf seminar where he was talking about these dietary factors that can influence everything from digestion to chronic pain to energy to sleep to performance in the gym, which was really important to me, and at the end of the seminar he said, “Just try it for 30 days.” That’s exactly what we did. We just said, “Okay, let’s do this 30-day experiment where we pull out these dietary factors that are really commonly problematic, and the science bears this out. Let’s pull them out and see what happens.”

I wanted to see what would happen to my athletic performance. I wasn’t overweight. I wasn’t trying to change body composition. I just kind of, maybe I’ll do better in the gym, and what that 30-day experiment highlighted for me was all of the ways in which my relationship with food and my habits around food were profoundly dysfunctional. I don’t think I ever would have become aware of it had I not stripped out the stuff that I was using for comfort, reward, sometimes punishment, and to self-soothe and release anxiety. In the absence of those foods for 30 days, I was forced to both acknowledge the unhealthy way I was using and find other ways to kind of comfort myself, reward myself, and show myself love. It was just such a powerful experience for me that I decided to share it on my blog, and that was July 2009. That was the start of the first official Whole30.

Chris Kresser: Cool. And since then millions of people around the world have gone through it and it’s become a fantastic entry point for a lot of people, not just an entry point, a refresh … a lot of people do an approach like this if they started to slide a little bit over time, and we all know that happens, so it’s not just a starting place. It’s also something that people can come back to over and over to recharge, recommit, basically.

The Psychological Component to Diet

Melissa Hartwig: Yes. And it’s funny, I really don’t see having to repeat Whole30 as any sort of failure, moral failing, willpower failure, or that you’re not really trying. What we’re talking about is trying to reverse decades of less-healthy habits, unhealthy emotional connection to food, and all of the physiological effects that happen when we eat these modern, super-normally stimulating, calorie-dense, nutrient-poor foods. You’re not going to do that in 30 days, so I really love that people feel like they can come back and kind of get that reset, get that touchdown, that grounding, and then go on and kind of live their food freedom in between programs.

Chris Kresser: Yes. All major religions have, or most have, fasting or periods of fasting built into that. What I think is interesting, Whole30 is not a fasting program, but it has a similar impact in the sense of highlighting the unhealthy ways that we can relate to food and the roles that food plays in our life that go way beyond just meeting nutrient needs that you just spoke to in your own experience. A program like Whole30 is really interesting in that regard because it’s not just about food and diet and the relationship between food and diet and physical physiological health; it’s also, as you shared, a lot about emotional, behavioral, and psychological health too.

Melissa Hartwig: It’s about food, but it’s not really about food, and that’s what people discover, I think, when they take on the program, as they start out really paying attention to the technicalities and the food itself, and then they discover that there’s really so much more to the mindset, the commitment, and the relationship.

Chris Kresser: Right. It becomes kind of a framework or a vehicle for all of these other very positive changes that people are making in their life, and perhaps most importantly, just raising their awareness about, because that’s so much of what it’s about, isn’t it, a lot of people don’t even think much about the way that food impacts their health. I mean, that sounds crazy for a lot of people who are listening to this show because most of your listeners and readers and mine too do, but we all know that a lot of people don’t.

I went on Joe Rogan’s show recently, and one of the interesting outcomes of that was hearing from a lot of people on Twitter that quite transparently and frankly just said, “Wow, I’d never really thought about this stuff before.” This is kind of blowing my mind. For all of us, we tend to forget that the majority of people out there are not thinking about this, so Whole30 as a vehicle for raising people’s awareness about the relationship between their behavior, their diet, and their lifestyle with their health is a major thing.

Melissa Hartwig: Yes. You’ve hit the nail on the head. You tell someone who has a horrible hacking cough that they should quit smoking, and they go, “Oh yeah, I make that connection. I probably should.” You tell someone who suffers from migraines or chronic pain or an autoimmune condition that maybe the food they’re putting on their plate is making their symptoms worse, and that is a much harder connection to draw until they have the personal experience. That’s really what the Whole30 is all about, is giving them that personalized self-experiment to help them draw the connections for themselves.

Chris Kresser: Right. Which is why Robb always emphasizes, “Just try it.” Don’t take my word for it. Just try it. Do it. It’s 30 days. Come on. There are a lot of other things that people have done that are a lot harder than that.

Melissa Hartwig: Yes, exactly.

Chris Kresser: Childbirth, for example.

Melissa Hartwig: Childbirth is harder, yes. That’s one of the most famous lines in the Whole30, yes. Drinking your coffee black, right, it’s not that hard.

Accepting the Responsibility for Change, without Blame

Chris Kresser: Not only is lack of awareness, actually … can be pushback, which I am sure you’ve received too, but I talked on Joe Rogan about … we actually watched a commercial about Humira, which is a drug that’s used for autoimmune diseases like Crohn’s and IBD. We’re talking about it in the context of how dangerous it can be. Now, certainly, I didn’t argue that it wasn’t necessary in some situations, and it can be part of a recovery program, but it was amazing to see some of the pushback on Twitter and social media, like, “How dare you assume that diet changes could treat Crohn’s as effectively as Humira?” Because this is really built into our culture, this idea that these diseases require drugs to treat them, and I think some people actually feel threatened or offended if you suggest that diet change could be part of the solution because, perhaps, there is in that some feeling of personal guilt or responsibility, whereas if that’s not possible and you just have to take a drug, I don’t have to look as carefully at my own diet and behavior.

Melissa Hartwig: Yes. That is such an interesting conversation. It’s something I’ve come across in seminars where the people who are the most resistant to the idea are usually the people who are the sickest. I had a woman in a seminar once with MS. Her husband really encouraged her to go because he had heard some great testimonials, and she was so resistant to the idea, and I think, and you would know, working so closely with patients, that if you change your diet and things get better, then that forces you to accept the fact that some of your behaviors contributed to the condition getting worse, and that is scary. That is your responsibility. It’s easier to say, “I have a disease. It was foisted upon me. There is nothing I can do and I’m relying on these medical experts and these pharmaceuticals to treat me.” It’s kind of the two sides of the same coin. If you can use it to get better, then that means that what you were doing perhaps contributed to you feeling poorly, and that’s hard to accept for a lot of people.

Chris Kresser: That’s right. It’s hard to accept because I think what happens there is that gets unfortunately tied up with guilt rather than to responsibility, and I understand responsibility to mean “ability to respond.” “I have the ability to respond to this,” not “I’m to blame,” and that blame and shame, I think, that comes with that guilt becomes a major obstacle. And so, the way I like to talk about that with patients or people is just to say, is to split those apart. You can become aware of your responsibility without accepting or taking on blame, guilt, or shame. Just the recognition that yes, unknowingly you made choices around diet that, by the way, hundreds of millions or billions of other people are making every day because it’s just part of our culture. It’s the way that we were brought up. It’s not your fault, in the same way that the way that you are parented and how you were born and how you were raised as a kid is not your fault. Let’s actually recognize the contribution that your choices have made without you taking on that whole story of blame because I think that’s what becomes the obstacle for people actually, taking responsibility and getting past that.

Melissa Hartwig: Can you imagine if every healthcare practitioner had that conversation with their patients? Can you imagine how much better people would get? I’ve not heard a doctor or a healthcare practitioner outside of our community address a health condition, or even food, in that manner, and there’s so much guilt, shame, and morality attached to it and what we eat, the effect it has on our body, and that’s the conversation we need to be having. I love it.

Chris Kresser: It’s definitely very much the conversation that we need to be having. Frankly, it may not be a conversation that people have with their doctor very often. It’s probably going to be a conversation that they have with their health coach or their nutritionist, which is why I am such a believer that we need more of that kind of work in our approach to chronic disease because doctors, they just may not be the ones to have that conversation.

More Evidence on How Diet Impacts Health

Chris Kresser: Going back to the Humira example, aside from what we just said, which I think is the most important piece, the other piece that I pointed out in my response is actually, we do have proof that diet can be as effective as Humira and steroids, or at least play a big role, and you’re probably aware of the study that was recently published at UCSD on AIP, which is the first peer-reviewed study on AIP, showing that it was remarkably effective in patients with inflammatory bowel disease. I mean, a Whole30 is not AIP. AIP is a little bit more restrictive and more specific, but it’s a very similar approach, and there is objective peer-reviewed evidence showing that this isn’t just in our heads. It actually can reverse disease, even some of the most serious diseases.

Melissa Hartwig: Yes. You can say, perhaps, all day long, “I’ve got eight years and thousands of pieces of clinical evidence to show the exact same thing,” but it’s really nice to have a paper to back it up.

Chris Kresser: Absolutely, yes. It’s an important part of our framework, and so the anecdotal experience, I think, is crucial and shouldn’t be discounted just because it’s not in a peer-reviewed journal, but at the same time it’s not enough to lead to widespread adoption within the conventional medicine community, if that’s what we’re hoping for. I’m not somebody who gets too hung up on that. I think change is going to happen in a lot of different ways, but certainly having a study to point to is helpful.

Melissa Hartwig: It is. It’s huge. Yes.

How Important It Is to Support Change in Different Ways

Chris Kresser: So let’s talk a little bit about, you’ve been doing this for a while now, since 2009, and here we are in 2017, so almost a decade later. I’m sure you’ve learned a bit about the Whole30, how to make it effective and what works and doesn’t work. I know that’s partly why you wrote two new books, which we’re going to be talking about shortly, but why don’t you tell us a little bit about what you have learned over that period of time.

Melissa Hartwig: Yes. The program itself, the rules, the structure, the foods you eliminate, the foods that you eat haven’t changed that much in the last eight years. We’ve added a few things back in because they were originally eliminated, just because we were being super dogmatic about it, like white potatoes, and we’ve made a few little tweaks because today’s convenience and modern foods in the “Paleo realm” are way different than they looked like even four or five years ago. There are a lot more Paleo treats, convenience foods, and chips and all this other stuff, so we’ve had to kind of address that, but the rules themselves haven’t changed. What has changed dramatically is my voice in the program, and I think my understanding is how people need to be supported. When we started in 2009, our primary audience was CrossFit. I was very involved in the CrossFit community. I was traveling, coaching kettlebells. I was writing for the CrossFit Journal, and you tell a group of CrossFitters, “Hey, here’s your thing for 30 days. It’s going to be hard, but you need to suck it up and do it because it’s going to be good for you,” and they’re on board. They don’t do anything else. You tell them it’s going to be hard and they’re, like, “Sweet” and roll up their sleeves.

When they started sending their moms… and I remember exactly when this happened, it was a January seminar, 2013, in Philadelphia, and I remember looking out over our nutrition seminar audience and there are a lot of 50- to 60-year-olds in our crowd. This is different, and it was people who said, “My nephew told me I had to come,” or, “My daughter brought me here,” or, “I knew someone who did it and they told me I should come listen,” and that’s really when I knew the tone and the voice had changed. I began to realize that people need so much more support than I had imagined, that this is a very scary proposition on changing your diet and your relationship with food.

There’s still a place, you know, Whole30 is very famous for our tough love, and there is still a time and a place for that, but I wheeled it very carefully and I wheeled it very heavily on the love side. There’s a little bit of tough, and I’m hoping people find that inspiring and motivating, but my job for the last four years has been, what can I do to support you? What do you need? What resource can I create? What video can I make? What article can I write? What book can I bring to life? What do you need to feel like you are supported in every aspect of this program? The physical, the emotional, the psychological, the spiritual—what can I give you?

Chris Kresser: I think that’s really wise. As a clinician who of course has worked with thousands of patients at this point, everyone’s approach to behavior change is different, and as you pointed out, most of us and myself included, my patients especially, initially were the people who were the most motivated, the sickest, had tried everything, and I was their sort of final hope, and those patients are willing to do anything and they will comply with every recommendation that I make. Working with that population is really rewarding and easy in some ways because the compliance doesn’t become an issue.

Later, as my practice grew, we hired more clinicians, more people learned about my work, and we got the same issue, like, the moms and the cousins and people who were not as connected to the work and frankly, not as sick and not as motivated to make the changes, and I just started re-evaluating how I approach things. Part of what we did was we brought on a health coach who is getting training in behavior change and things like motivational interviewing and positive psychology because we came to realize that for the general population, just telling people what to do is not going to be very effective.

Melissa Hartwig: No.

Chris Kresser: There’s a guy, Bruce Fordyce, I think, who is at University of Washington, and he has a quote that I like: “Patient education is to behavior change as spaghetti is to a brick wall.” Try to keep in mind the CrossFitters and the hard-core, chronic illness community and Paleo folks who are super motivated, yes they can do it. But for others, they need a little bit more handholding and support. I think that’s really smart, and it’s clear that came out of your own experience working with people.

Melissa Hartwig: It did. Gosh, there’s so much of my background between my own addiction and recovery between my real areas of interest in research, especially for a few of the more recent books I’ve written, have been behavior change, psychology of change, habit, willpower, and those are real big interests. There have been a few tools that have come out lately. Gretchen Rubin’s Four Tendencies is like a game-changer in terms of me figuring out how to talk to Whole30-ers. Even with your patients, you have to say the same thing six different ways until you find a way that clicks for them. You have to be willing to flex your conversation style, your personality, and take your ego to get the message across.

I think you asked kind of what’s changed over the last few years; I think many years ago I used to say, “This is just my style. I’m a little tough love. I’m a little hardcore, and if it offends you or you don’t get it, then that’s your problem.” And guess what, that’s not your problem, that’s my problem because my job is to inspire change. And if I am not doing that in a large section of my population, I need to figure out how to flex my personality, my communication style, and my intentions to get my message across. Otherwise, I’m just shooting myself in the foot, and so that was a lesson I learned the hard way a few times, and I’m much, much better with that now.

Chris Kresser: Great. That’s an important one. It’s not just … even, I would say, “their problem” or “your problem” or “my problem as a practitioner,” it’s actually all of our problem because if we don’t reverse this epidemic of chronic disease, it doesn’t just have personal individual consequences. It’s not just about my health is not going to get better, your health is not going to get better—it’s about our kids living shorter lifespans than we are. It’s about our country actually becoming bankrupt because it can’t pay for the burden of chronic disease. I don’t actually even think it’s an exaggeration to say that it’s about the survival of our species, at least as we currently understand it. These are things that we’re taking on that are much bigger than ourselves as individuals, and even much bigger than our communities, that we talk about. I have really come to see this as a significant threat to human existence and our ability to thrive as a species.

Melissa Hartwig: Yes. I agree with you, I do, and gosh, the way that we do that is just like one person at a time or hopefully a thousand people or a million people who read the books and buy into the program. But it can, I guess, feel a little overwhelming when you think about it like that. But then when you think about how much headway you can make just by really connecting with people, whether that’s one on one or your online community or at an event that you’re attending, really connecting in a way that it’s open, authentic, vulnerable, and having those tough conversations that you mentioned about the guilt and the shame, I think that’s how I envision inspiring change.

Chris Kresser: Absolutely. This is why I have become a passionate believer in health coaching and why I think it really will be a huge part of this movement to reinvent healthcare because the average visit with a primary care provider today is between eight and 12 minutes. There’s not enough time for that conversation that we’re referring to in that 12-minute visit, and certainly we can take steps to try to lengthen those visits, and I advocate for that in the book.

But if you have a health coach that’s trained in how to establish trust and rapport, how to build a strong relationship with their client, if they’re trained in motivational interviewing, which is helping people to discover their own motivation for change instead of just telling them why they should change it, all we have to do is think about our own experience of people telling us what to do and remembering how we reacted to that to see how effective that is. And then, you know, evidence-based principles of behavior change, which of course Gretchen talks about in her book, and there are many other books about shrinking the change and the importance of tools and technology and other resources that we can make available that actually support people in making change, which we’re going to talk about very shortly in your new book.

There are so many things we can do that we can provide to people to enable them and support them in making the change, and so it’s just awesome to hear that you have moved in this direction because I think your impact is going to be that much more. In fact, it’s already been enormous, but it’s just going to become even more. You’re going to reach so many more people with this approach.

Melissa Hartwig: Yes. Thank you. I think one of the things we learned really early on was that you cannot win an emotional argument with logic.

Chris Kresser: Especially on the internet.

Melissa Hartwig: Yup. I think that’s been a guiding principle of our approach for many years now.

Wish your work came with Melissa’s job description: inspire change? It can. That’s exactly what health coaches do. Like the Whole30 program, they help people make the connection between their lifestyle and their well-being, and then provide the resources and support those clients need to live happier, healthier lives. Become a health coach and join the movement to reinvent healthcare and stop chronic disease, one person at a time.

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Melissa’s Two New Books

Chris Kresser: Great. So let’s use that as a segue to talk about your new books. You have one book which really does seem like it’s arisen exactly out of this conversation that we’ve been having—how do you provide people with more support and the equivalent of handholding for them that you can do in a book in a virtual kind of setting and then how you actually make it possible. People are busy, that’s something that there is no disagreement on, and so they don’t necessarily have four hours to spend in the kitchen preparing all of their meals and it’s not easy to eat up with Whole30. How do you have it actually quickly figure out some meals that they can put together that turn this from, ”Oh, my God, how am I going to ever do this?” to “Oh, I could actually probably pull this off.”

Melissa Hartwig: Yes, exactly. Whole30 Day By Day, which is kind of a 30-day guide to your Whole30, the general idea came out in an email service that we released in 2012 where everyone who signed up for the email service got an email every day of their Whole30 full of some motivation, some support, and some tips. It was wildly successful and that was borne from habit research that shows that the more closely connected people stay to the process and the more accountability they have, the better chance they have of sticking with a new habit long term. There’s some built-in accountability at the bottom of every email. You are expected to check a button that says either, “I did it. I stuck to my Whole30 today,” or, “I went off plan and I need to start over.” For a lot of people, knowing that accountability is there is a real motivator to you to kind of push through some more difficult times in addition to all the other support we offer. And so the thing that that program was missing, though, was a journaling or reflection component, and obviously, the idea of writing down goals, writing down progress, staying connected to your growth mindset by journaling, reflecting, or writing is a very important piece, and that’s where the idea for Day by Day came from. I’ve been researching it for a few years now. After having watched thousands of people go through the program, I can basically tell you where you are on any given day with eerie accuracy, and obviously, there’s discrepancy. Everybody’s program looks a little different. But generally speaking, if you’re on Day 10, I know how you’re feeling and I can tell you what you need to kind of get through what we call one of the hardest days. All of that went into Day by Day, so there is a timeline, what to expect on this day; there’s Melissa’s Motivation, where I’m basically perched on the side of your bed speaking directly to you every morning to get you off and running for your day. There’s a habit hack, there’s a tip, there’s a FAQ, there are some community inspirations, and then there’s a few pages of guided reflection, and at the end of every day there’s a box you have to check that said, “I did it. Whole30 Day 10 is in the bag.”

Chris Kresser: Nice. I’m a big nerd when it comes to learning theory. I studied a lot of learning theory and behavior change theory before I created my ADAPT clinician training program. One of the things that I learned that I know you’re aware of based on how you designed this is that taking action on something that we’ve learned is one of the best ways to solidify that learning and make it practical in your life. So whether it be writing something down in a journal, reflecting on it, or actually going and doing the pantry clean-out, these kinds of steps, instead of just reading the book, I mean, it’s so easy for us, and I’m sure we’ve all done this, to just read the book—“Oh that’s interesting, that’s nice”—and then you put the book on the bookshelf and that’s it. I mean, it’s not actually going to change your behavior. But if you are taking action on it by journaling, reflecting, or carrying out recommended steps in bite-size pieces, which this program has always been structured in that way, you’re so much more likely to succeed. This has been proven over and over again in the research literature on behavior change, which is extensive. I think a lot of people are surprised to find this out. We’re not just making this stuff up. There is actually a lot of research and evidence that goes into successful behavior change, and it sounds like that’s really been part of your journey in terms of writing this book.

Melissa Hartwig: Yes. It has been, and I find it super fascinating because obviously, with my personal experience with addiction and recovery, and a lot of the habit research is done on people who are trying to quit smoking, quit drinking or quit drugs, which is I’ve always said from a psychological perspective in terms of the kind of cycle and the emotional state it puts us in, and the guilt and shame and the over-consumption, drugs and food are not necessarily that different. And so, yes, I really enjoy reading that stuff, and I enjoy reading a book, hearing a theory, and thinking, “How can I apply this to my Whole30-ers?” “Okay, we’ll put a little box at the end to check,” or, “We’ll include extra credit every day, something that you can do to help you prep for the next day so that you wake up feeling like you have a plan,” because the brain really likes the plan, and yes, I kind of geek out on that stuff too.

Chris Kresser: Cool. I can see that and it’s necessary. If you’re really serious about behavior change, which you are, you have to consider this stuff, and you learned the hard way, I think, in the past of, like you said, your story about how just saying this is my style, and if you don’t like it, hit the road. That works, but it’ll mean you’ll only be effective in reaching a certain number of people who respond well to that style. They’re definitely out there, but I know your goal is to reach a much bigger audience, and this is how you’re doing it.

The second book is the Whole30 Fast and Easy Cookbook. You have 150 delicious everyday recipes, which I think, every day is important in there because if you’re having a dinner party, that’s one thing. You’ve got a few hours maybe to be in the kitchen, listen to some music, and prepare the food. But for most people, “everyday” means “Oh, my God. I just got home from work. I have to pick up the kids, then I got to get to the store, get back home, and get dinner on the table in an hour,” all of that. So tell us about this.

Melissa Hartwig: So, that’s another way that my thought process has evolved. Just over the last few years, I’ve been a huge fan of the idea of letting good enough be good enough. Not every Whole30 meal needs to be an Instagram-worthy religious experience where you’ve hand-harvested your own kale under a hunter’s moon and roasted it in unicorn style. Sometimes, and I’m going to give this as an example, last night’s dinner was cold leftover roasted butternut squash eaten straight out of the glass serving container, I did use a fork, and a couple Applegate Farms hot dogs with some mustard, and I think there were some sautéed spinach in there somewhere. That was my dinner because I had a really richly scheduled day and I was doing meal prep at the same time. Is it ideal? Is it the most nourishing? Is it the most lovingly prepared? No, but man, was it good enough, and that’s what Fast and Easy is all about. Ways for you to get breakfast, lunch, and dinner on the table in a way that is satisfying and in a way that doesn’t sacrifice flavor, but it doesn’t keep you stuck in what we call “good food jail.” We want you to be enjoying the benefits of your Whole30, not stuck in the kitchen all the time, and we’ve pulled about 10 contributors from the Whole30 community to share some of their favorite recipes too. That was a cookbook I was really excited about.

Chris Kresser: Cool. Having good recipes that you like and are easy to prepare, you can’t underestimate the importance of that impact. I can really make the difference between somebody doing it and not doing it because if they looked through the book and they’re like, “There’s no way I could ever pull these off. I’m not very experienced with cooking,” or, “I just don’t have time to do that,” they’re probably not even going to consider doing the program.

Melissa Hartwig: Exactly. And again, we’re really focused on accessibility right now. So it only uses ingredients that you can find at any old grocery store. You don’t need a super-specialty food store. You don’t need a super-specialty list of kitchen gadgets. A slow cooker is one of the most expensive and most transformative appliances I think you can have in your kitchen, a total game-changer.

Chris Kresser: Game-changer.

Melissa Hartwig: Yes. So it’s just all about, again, reaching as broad an audience as possible and showing them this is what Whole30 looks like. Sometimes it’s Applegate Farms hot dogs and cold leftover butternut squash, but I stuck to my commitment and I didn’t order pizza. I didn’t have popcorn and wine for dinner.

Chris Kresser: It’s super important to know part of this is just getting more familiar with these different kinds of foods and different ways of putting them together that are as simple and satisfying. Because somebody might not even think of that because they’ve never gone to a restaurant and ordered that on the menu or their mom never did that, and so they don’t even actually consider putting those things together and the value of having recipes. It’s not just the recipes themselves, I find, in terms of following the specific recipe, but recipes can also just give you ideas, like, “Oh, wow. I see how they put those things together, so I could just do that and put those things together.” For me, at least, that’s often how I use recipes. I don’t necessarily even follow them by the letter. I just use them as inspiration.

Melissa Hartwig: That’s exactly what I do. I have kind of like templates, so like, ground meat with stuff over stuff, and it’s like, “Okay, do I ground beef or ground chicken? Who cares?” What do I have in my fridge? I’m just, “Sauté them. What can I stick it on? Do I have zucchini noodles? Do I have some steamed spinach? Do I have butternut squash?” It’s just a template, and then people can get creative. It’s a way to use leftovers, which saves money and shopping time. It’s almost like the Bill-Gates-turtleneck-and-jeans of eating healthy. Just keep it simple and just swap stuff out, and then that’s one less thing you have to think about. I love that idea.

Chris Kresser: The template approach is awesome. That’s definitely how we do it around here, and it’s an important way, I think, for people to make use of what they have and not have to prepare something from scratch every time. Now we know there are certain foods that in some ways might be beneficial that eat left over because they form different types of starches. Leftovers can get a bad rep, but they actually can be a really useful part of the overall approach.

Melissa Hartwig: Yes, see that’s an added benefit for me. I’m just going to eat them because they’re in my fridge and it means I don’t have to cook one more time.

Chris Kresser: Exactly.

Melissa Hartwig: Also, I think it was Steve Jobs who wore the turtleneck and jeans!

Chris Kresser: It was Steve Jobs. A lot of the most effective people—Barack Obama was pretty famous for only wearing a couple of suits, and he actually spoke about it. He talked about decision fatigue, which is a well-known reality that we only have a certain amount of mental energy to make decisions, and if you spend it all on “what shoes am I going to wear and what clothes to wear?” then you have less left over. In the context of food, I think just having some cookbooks around that you can quickly look at to give you some ideas is another way of dealing with that decision fatigue. It just makes it easier.

Melissa Hartwig: I totally agree, and you don’t have to eat the exact same meal every single day. But if you’ve got a template and you’re swapping out veggies and fruit based on what’s in season or what you happen to have on hand or what was at the farmer’s market, that’s an automatic good balancing of micronutrients too.

Chris Kresser: That’s right. And you know what, even if you do the same or close to the same meal for a few times in a row, it’s not the end of the world.

Melissa Hartwig: No.

Using the Concept of Food Reward for Weight Loss

Chris Kresser: I’ll give you a little secret that’s actually one of my most powerful advanced weight loss strategies with patients.

Melissa Hartwig: It is?

Chris Kresser: It is.

Melissa Hartwig: Okay, tell me.

Chris Kresser: All right. You know I think of the concept of food reward, because you mentioned it earlier, and variety is one of the key characteristics that drives reward value. So the easiest way to think about that is, you might have heard Robb Wolf tell the story of the guy who won the ice-cream-eating competition. Have you heard this?

Melissa Hartwig: No.

Chris Kresser: Okay. You can see it on YouTube. Robb will send you the link if you ping him. So this guy is in an ice-cream-eating competition, and you can watch it on YouTube, and it’s literally a kitchen sink full of ice cream. It’s the most disgusting thing in the world.

Melissa Hartwig: Oh, my goodness.

Chris Kresser: But he’s eating, and he’s making progress. He’s about 70 percent of the way through, and you can see him visibly start to turn green and he looks like he’s going to vomit and he’s slowing down, he can’t do it. The way that he is able to finish is by ordering French fries and eating the French fries, and most people when they hear this they’re like, “What? That doesn’t make any sense.”

Melissa Hartwig: No, I get it.

Chris Kresser: Yes. You get it because it’s the salty, crispy, totally different texture and flavor of that food provided enough variety for him to then go back and eat more of the sweet ice cream. And so, if a patient is having trouble losing weight, one of the strategies that I’ll have them do is just eat the same meal for two or three days in a row because there is no variety there, you’re eating the same thing over and over, and what will happen is you only eat exactly what you need to meet your nutrition needs. It’s far, far less likely that overeating will happen when you’re eating the same foods over and over again.

Melissa Hartwig: I like that tip so much, and I’m actually thinking about it from a perspective breaking the dessert habit for people because I have so many people who say, “I feel like my meal is not complete until I have something sweet,” and very often it’s because your dinner was kind of savory, and then you want that offset, either texture or flavor. It’s something crunchy, it’s something a little bit sweet, maybe a little salty. So I actually think that will be a great strategy for breaking that habit too.

Chris Kresser: Yes. The way I explain this to people too is if you think of two plates and one has a baked potato with no fat or salt and the other has potato chips, which do you think is easier to overeat? It’s obvious, nobody gets that wrong. You’ll eat as much as you need to satisfy your hunger, but no more, and with the potato chips, most people will just keep eating it until they’re gone, and the reason for that is the variety. It’s triggering all the mechanisms—salty, crunchy, fat. It’s triggering all those reward circuits in our brain. These are not necessary for many people. Many people, just doing Whole30 or something like that is enough to lose weight, but I just bring it up in the context of we’re talking about leftovers and eating similar meals like, yes, it’s interesting. I believe we should enjoy food as much as we can. At the same time, there is no rule that says that we can’t eat the same meal twice in a row if we’re busy and we have other things that are important.

Melissa Hartwig: Yes, totally. Again, it goes back to the idea of letting good enough be good enough. One of my strategies for sticking to your healthy eating commitment on the Whole30 or in your food freedom is to cook double what you normally would and just eat the same thing for breakfast the next morning or lunch the next day and maybe you remix it a little bit by putting a different side dish on it or putting it over a salad. But yes, these are lifesaving strategies for people who want to make eating real food in our busy modern world actually work.

Chris Kresser: Totally, 100 percent. I think by the time this show comes out, your books will already be available, so tell us where people can find these books.

Melissa Hartwig: Yes. They’ll be out December 5th, and they’re available anywhere books are sold. We’ve got big support from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Target, Costco, Indigo in Canada, and Books-A-Million, and they’ll be available via ebook. Support your local bookstore or order online. I’ll be doing an event in Los Angeles the night of December 5th when the books come out, and then I’ll be doing a big book tour through the month of January to support it.

Chris Kresser: All right. Try some quick and easy recipes yourself during that period.

Melissa Hartwig: I sure will, yes.

Chris Kresser: Great. Well, thanks so much for joining us everybody. Check out these books. We have the Whole30 Day by Day: Your Daily Guide to Whole30 Success and the Whole30 Fast and Easy Cookbook: 150 Simply Delicious Everyday Recipes For Your Whole30. Melissa has been a powerful force for change in this movement for almost a decade now with the Whole30 program, and millions of people around the world have been super successful. I have tons of patients who come to me who have started on this path with the Whole30, and so it’s really such a great service that you’ve been providing, Melissa, and I know these new books will help people, even people who are experienced and who have already done it, to just make it that much easier and more effective to do.

Melissa Hartwig: Thank you so much. Especially coming from you, that means a lot. I appreciate it.

Chris Kresser: My pleasure. So I’ll probably see you in our once-a-year annual in-person sighting at Paleo f(x) next year.

Melissa Hartwig: I know, exactly. But it would be nice if it were more than once a year!

Chris Kresser: Maybe somehow we’ll figure that out.

Melissa Hartwig: Can’t wait.

Chris Kresser: Wish you the best with the book launches. I know how challenging that can be in terms of time.

Melissa Hartwig: Thank you so much, and congratulations on Unconventional Medicine. I’m looking forward to sharing that with both my new Whole30-certified coaches because I’ve got a lot of MDs and NDs, and I think they’ll really love it, but also just my community in general. I think your voice is really missing in terms of traditional healthcare practitioners, and I know that they will feel very reassured knowing that there’s someone out there who will actually speak to them at that level.

Chris Kresser: Great. Well, I appreciate that, and I look forward to seeing you soon, whenever that is.

Melissa Hartwig: Sounds good. Thanks.

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  1. Great episode.

    Chris is absolutely right, my unwillingness to accept responsibility for a very important aspect of my life – my diet affected me for many years.
    I was only able to gain back control once I decided that I am fully responsible for my health, the way I look and how I feel about myself. I put together a plan (didn’t know about the Whole30 diet back then), started paying A LOT more attention to what goes in my plate and allowed myself a cheat day once a week. You know, to help with the cravings and my occasional weak moments. I succeeded losing 20 pounds in the very first month. Moreover, I also gained more energy, confidence and admiring looks.

    Thanks for all you do, Chris