July 21, 2023

Dear Melissa: My food freedom—A day in the life of MU

Melissa, a long-haired smiling woman, and text that says Dear Melissa

Every week, I get at least a few questions along the lines of, “But how do YOU eat?” You’re always interested in how I navigate my own food freedom, and my FF plan is always evolving based on my context, goals, and health. So I thought I’d share some updated specifics and my current day-to-day thought process as we head into the back half of summer.

An important reminder—MY food freedom is not YOUR food freedom. Just because oatmeal is worth it for me doesn’t mean it is (or should be) for you. Just because I’m doing no gluten at home doesn’t mean you should forgo your homemade sourdough. Your Whole30 elimination and reintroduction identified the unique ways that foods interact with your body. Those lessons will be different for everyone, which means no two people’s Food Freedom plans will look exactly the same. Read this through a generalized lens, and see which parts of my decision-making process inspire you in navigating your own Food Freedom plan.

Current context

One common theme you’ll see here: My “is it worth it?” bar is lower right now than it has been in the past. This summer, I’m feeling stronger and  more energetic than ever. My post-concussion symptoms are few and far between. I’m not traveling for work at ALL! I’m able to get out into nature every week, my stress levels are reasonable and well-managed, I’m sleeping like a champ, my digestion is like a Swiss-running train, and my WHOOP band says my HRV and recovery have been awesome

All of this means that right now, I’m more likely to say “Yes, that’s going to be worth it,” knowing I have a lot of margin right now. That gourmet ice cream that isn’t worth it when I’m on a book tour is worth it on a relaxing hot summer day at home. (I can handle the temporary digestive disruption, and I know I’ll bounce back fast.) That won’t always be the case. If my health, work, activity, or stress levels change, that “worth it” bar might rise real fast—so I’m enjoying it while it lasts. 

6:30 AM: I took Henry for a slow 6-mile trail run in a local canyon this morning. I never eat before runs, but I did sip on water with Grapefruit LMNT electrolytes (which have a tiny amount of stevia) during my run. Since I’m quite fat-adapted, I can do activities like this on an empty stomach without energy disruptions.

9:00 AM: I got home, showered, and whipped up a MUD/WTR coffee alternative with a splash of the new sweetened nutpods. I love this small touch of sweetness in my morning and I’ve found it doesn’t give me any sugar cravings. While I sipped, I reheated breakfast.

I love Whole30 “ground meat with stuff” in the morning. I cook ground meat (beef, chicken, turkey, etc.) and a ton of sautéed mixed veggies, then add a hefty drizzle of sauce over the top. Meat tides me over longer than eggs in the A.M., and I know the kiss of death for my energy and mood is a big hit of sugar in the morning, so you’ll never catch me eating gluten-free pancakes or waffles. On this day, I had leftover ground beef with puffy sweet potato wedges, peppers, and onions over arugula, drowned in Whole30 Approved Noble Made Medium Hot Sauce. (This breakfast was 100% Whole30 compatible.)

I also love Kreatures of Habit high-protein oatmeal for breakfast. It’s a complete meal in a pouch and ready in just two minutes, with 30 grams (!) of plant-based protein. Oats work very well for my activity levels and digestion, so if I’m short on time, this is my go-to breakfast.

12:00 PM: I always find a natural break for lunch between 11:30 AM and 1:00 PM, as my creativity at work fizzles out and my brain needs a break. Lunch is usually a Whole30 base with some food freedom sides. I often eat a Whole30 chili, frittata, or protein salad, and throw in a side of white rice, black beans, or a Siete cassava tortilla. I run better on more carbs, so I factor them in pretty regularly. 

For a while I was on a potato chip kick–I’m a big fan of Kettle chips, and they’ve never been food-with-no-brakes for me. I can have two handfuls and be satisfied, and that amount doesn’t have any negative consequences. (Pepperoncini or Jalapeno are my faves.) However, I’m not into them lately–instead I’m into Brad’s Veggie Chips as a crunchy side, sometimes dipped in Whole30 Approved Kite Hill Chive Cream Cheese. I also eat a lot of baby carrots and snap peas and hummus with lunch.

Today, I had a leftover Whole30 veggie frittata with a side of arugula and a hefty drizzle of Whole30 Approved Primal Kitchen Ranch, plus some baby carrots and a torn-up Siete tortilla dipped in hummus. 

3:30 PM: I eat a mini-meal here, because I’m active and I need something between lunch and dinner. Sometimes this is deli turkey (sometimes a honey maple, sometimes Whole30 Approved Applegate), lettuce, and sliced apple wrapped in a Siete tortilla. Today I ate two meat sticks (I’m very into Chomps Turkey Pepperoni right now) dipped into (again) Kite Hill Cream Cheese, a handful of honey pistachios, and a side of tortilla chips with mango salsa. My digestion does much better with corn tortilla chips than the alternative flour versions, and again, they’re not food with no brakes for me.

6:30 PM: Dinner is organically the lightest meal of our day, and it’s almost always Whole30-based. This is the meal where I’m most likely to make an actual recipe, but ingredient meals are always a hit around here. We’ll often do spaghetti squash or zoodles with meatballs in pasta sauce. (I often make Banza chickpea pasta for my son, but it makes me super bloated.) We also just got an air fryer, so air-fried salmon bites or chicken wings and sweet potato fries are another favorite.

On this night per my 10-year-old’s request, we’re having the Smoky Sweet Potato Chili from The Whole30 Slow Cooker (Yes it’s 95 degrees outside, and no he does not care.) We’re serving it with Kite Hill Sour Cream (which is not Whole30 compatible, but very delicious) and a side of gluten-free cheese bread from a local restaurant. The chili will be just as good for breakfast tomorrow, so that’s probably what I’ll eat.

8:00 PM: I have recognized that eating after dinner is the fastest way to diminish my sleep quality, so at this point in my Food Freedom  journey, I just don’t do it.  I eat plenty during the day, and because I’m so well-fed and managing my stress well, I’m not having cravings, and don’t feel a need to eat before bed. Instead, I’ll sip on cold sparkling water, or occasionally make some herbal tea.

On weekends if we’re up later watching a movie, I’ll make a bowl of microwave popcorn with lots of melted butter, salt, and nutritional yeast. This is super satisfying, and as I split a bag with my son and Henry (our dog loves popcorn) it’s just the right amount. Sometimes I’ll even toss a few peanut M&Ms into my bowl. It’s divine, and if you’re on a Whole30 right now I’m sorry.

The other thing that I might also eat after dinner if I’m legit still hungry is a rice cake or gluten-free toast with a generous slathering of peanut butter. It’s light in my belly, doesn’t stir up cravings, and the fat before bed is much more conducive to sleep than a whackload of carbs. (My digestion does much better with peanut butter than almond butter–which I figured out during a few Whole30’s. It was unexpected but I trust my gut, literally.)

A sidebar on fun foods

As I explained in a recent XOMU newsletter, of course I also enjoy chocolate, chips, and other fun foods, and keep some of my favorites around the house regularly. I’ve never been a “if it’s in the house, I have to eat it” kind of person. I buy things I know from experience are generally worth it, and if the mood strikes me, I’ll eat it—just not before bed. 

Right now I have a bag of those Lindt balls, some Cadbury Eggs (from months ago, shhhhhh), a bottle of Magic Shell (chocolate, not chocolate fudge), and a bag of Target’s Monster trail mix in my pantry. I can have this stuff lying around and not feel like it’s calling to me from behind the pantry door, so I don’t mind stocking up and just letting it sit there. Still, I often hide it from my husband and child because they WILL eat it, and then I get disappointed when I want some a week later and it’s gone. (Are you even a parent if you’re not hiding your most special treats?)

In summary…

Here are some takeaways from my “day in the life”:

  • Most of my food is still Whole30 Approved or compatible. I know it works well for me, it’s easy to stick to the brands I know and love, and it makes me feel my best. 
  • I eat a lot, and I eat a lot of carbs, on purpose. This is what works for me, my genetics and my activity levels. This does not mean YOU should eat more (or less) of anything. Don’t take any of what I’ve written here prescriptively, because my “ideal” diet right now wouldn’t be ideal for anyone else.
  • I’m constantly evaluating whether or not it’s worth it. Every day, every meal, because things are always changing. If the peanut butter cup was worth it last week, I don’t just assume it’ll be worth it again today. It’s a super-fast question I ask myself in the moment, but every time I check in with what would serve Future Melissa the best, I strengthen my commitment to my Food Freedom plan, and remind myself that I can trust myself to make the best decisions for me.
  • I don’t always “get it right,” and that’s part of Food Freedom, too! (The last ice cream I said yes to was NOT worth it, sadly.) But how will I learn if I don’t take chances, try something new, and commit to learning from the experience? There is no expectation of a “perfect” Food Freedom plan, but success is staying committed to asking yourself, “Is it worth it, do I want it?” and letting the results gently guide future decisions.

I hope this “day in the life” helps to give you ideas for evaluating your own Food Freedom, and reassures you that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to successfully navigating your FF plan. The only thing I left out of my timeline are all of the moments where I show myself grace for doing the best I can in what has been an exceptionally stressful few years. That shows up all day, every day, and I hope it does for you, too.

XO Melissa