Welcome to Dear Melissa, where I answer your questions about transitioning into or completing a Whole30, successfully sticking to your new healthy habits, and figuring out how to make this lifestyle work in the real world. Today, I’ll explain why you should always do the Whole30 100% by-the-book, even if you’re convinced certain foods or drinks don’t negatively impact you.


Dear Melissa, 

I am on day 7 of Whole30 and LOVE it and the way I feel.  I will complete the program as outlined, however, I wonder once I begin adding the food groups back – for example, reintroducing Splenda in my tea or coffee – and find that I have no adverse effects, can I go BACK on Whole30 and include the Splenda in my plan?  Or do I have to give up Splenda again for 30 days? –Carole, Olympia, WA 

Dear Carole,

The short answer is that every Whole30 you complete must follow our rules 100%, or it’s not really the Whole30. This means even if you think Splenda doesn’t impact you one bit, you still need to leave it out of your next Whole30 program. Why?

1. Because Rules

First, the rules are the rules. If you want to do the program (and set an example for others who may take inspiration from your journey), you follow our guidelines. Otherwise, it’s not the Whole30. And that’s all I have to say about that.

2. Because Results

Just because something doesn’t give you an immediate, tangible reaction doesn’t mean it’s not having a sneaky impact on your cravings, metabolism, digestion, or immune system. While you’ll occasionally have a super direct correlation (I eat gluten and the next morning, like clockwork, I look three months pregnant), often the impact of these less healthy foods is cumulative—the more you indulge, the more the subtle effects will pile up, often without us even noticing that it’s happening. Except one day you wake up and you realize you don’t feel that awesome and you’re kind of tired and not sleeping as well and your skin doesn’t look as glowing and what the heck happened?

I want each and every Whole30 experiment to be a full system reset. Eliminate the impact some of these less healthy foods may have been having on you without you even realizing it. See if the “normal” you’ve been accustomed to is really as good as it gets, or if you can feel, look, and live so much better. Go back to what works, because Splenda will be there when your 30 days are over, and you have so much more to gain than slightly sweeter coffee.

3. Because Awareness

Finally, you may be surprised at the continued increase in awareness that multiple Whole30’s will deliver. Sure, you’ve done a Whole30 or two, and you think you understand how foods impact you. But what you don’t realize is that each cycle brings with it a depth of awareness you didn’t have the last time—nuances that you weren’t able to notice until now. (See Lesson #4 in Five Things Melissa Hartwig Learned from the Whole30)

Often people report foods that “didn’t bother them” after their first or second Whole30 do, in fact, have subtle effects that they only began to notice after subsequent rounds. Things that were part of my everyday diet before my last Whole30 all of a sudden became so-not-worth-it after this last experience, because I had a new framework and increased level of awareness with which to make the comparison.

It’s entirely possible that your beloved Splenda is worth it in this moment, but after your next Whole30, you’ll decide it’s just not: you feel better without it, your cravings are more in control without it, you just didn’t miss it. And wouldn’t that be a good thing? Of course, it’s also possible that you’ll do your Whole30 Splenda-free, reintroduce it, and decide it’s still worth it. In that case, good for you. You’ve lost nothing by eliminating it in the first place, and you’ve just confirmed that Splenda does, in fact, have a role in life after your Whole30. (For now, at least.)

Do the Whole30

In summary, we ask that each and every Whole30 be by-the-books, to give you the opportunity to maximally benefit from each experience and continue to increase your awareness. So pack up the Splenda for your next 30 days. Pay careful attention to what happens without it during your program, even though you’ve done this once before, and how it impacts you (especially your cravings and caffeine consumption) during reintroduction. Your results (and health) will thank you for it.


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Remember, we aren’t answering questions about the Whole30 rules via this column (use the forum!), nor are we able to offer you specific advice about your medical issue, health condition, or body composition.

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Melissa Hartwig is a Certified Sports Nutritionist, and the author of the New York Times bestselling book It Starts With Food and The Whole30: The 30-Day Guide to Total Health and Food Freedom. She has been featured in the Wall Street Journal, Details, Outside, Redbook, and Shape as the co-founder of Whole9 and the Whole30 program. Melissa lives in Salt Lake City, UT.

Photo credit: Taylor Gage, She Thrives Blog