Welcome to Dear Melissa, where we answer your questions about transitioning into or or maintaining a healthy Whole9 life, helping you figure out how to make this lifestyle work in the real world. Today, we’re talking to a man who keeps caving to his in-law’s pressure, and a woman who just can’t seem to make her way into the kitchen.

Dear Melissa,

My wife and I did the Whole30 last year, and for the past three years, I’ve been regularly eating a Paleo diet. My in-laws are definitely not on the same page as I am regarding my nutrition, or nutrition in general. Most Sundays my wife, two children, and I venture to their house for a home-cooked meal. However, every time I don’t take a bite of bread, each time I skip the noodles. I get hounded. “Oh, are you on some sort of diet? Are you not eating this? Why? What’s going on? Are you doing a cleanse?”

It’s so annoying… and it’s been going on for two to three years! It’s to the point that I just eat the damn stuff so the conversation isn’t brought up again. I’ve talked about it, given them research to read, and still nothing. My father-in-law had a heart attack about six years ago and they told him to cut back on cholesterol and saturated fat and eat the “heart healthy grains.” This doesn’t support my case because he grew up eating eggs, bacon, and meat (but with the grains and all, too).

What do I do? I’m tired of having to explain my diet all the time. I’m 33 years old, can’t I just eat what I want? –D.C., Rapid City, SD

Dear D.C.,

Oh dear. Don’t you know that every time you eat bread, the terrorists win?

Okay, I’m not actually calling your in-laws terrorists. I’m sure they are lovely, well-intentioned people. However, to be honest, you kind of brought this situation on yourself. Three years ago, when you showed up at their house and said, “No thank you” to the bread, you should have stuck to your guns. Yes, I know how hard it is to do that when your in-laws are berating you in front of your wife and kids. I’m sure there’s pressure to just eat the damn bread, already, and let us get back to our nice dinner. I’m sure it would be so much easier for everyone if you just gave in.

So you did. And that set the precedent for all those dinners yet to come.

See, that first time, you said you don’t eat bread. And they said, “Oh, are you on some sort of diet? Blah blah blah.” And then you ate the bread. So how serious could your convictions be? Do you blame them for being confused each time you come to dinner, say you don’t eat bread, and then eat the bread?

Maybe, from their perspective, they think you’re just trying to be “good,” but secretly really want the bread. Or they feel bad that you are depriving yourself of something so tasty, and it’s up to them to give you “permission” to enjoy yourself with the bread. See what I’m saying? You’ve sent mixed messages, D.C., and it’s no wonder you’re stuck in the same situation three years later.

The good news is that you can break the pattern right now, with your very next dinner. Serve yourself the foods you do eat, and skip those you don’t. When they start in with their “blah blah blah,” you politely say, “I just don’t want any, thank you. This steak looks delicious.” And then you stick to it, at all costs. You keep saying “no thank you” until they finally give up or the meal ends, whichever comes first. You praise the parts of the meal you did eat, and thank them for a lovely dinner (whether it was or not). And then you go home and give yourself a self-five, because you just made next week’s dinner that much easier.

It’s probably best if you discuss this with your wife ahead of time, and ask for her support. You can explain that you’ve been giving in because it makes dinner easier, but you feel like it’s time to stop compromising your health, and you hope she can support your actions. Explain that you’re not going to make a big deal about it, and you’ll make sure dinner is still really fun and pleasant for everyone. If you can get her on board, your battle will be ten times easier. (If you can’t, you’ll have to weigh whether it’s more trouble to have your in-laws and your wife upset with you, or to just eat the bread. Only you can make that call.)

If you decide to move forward with this plan, the key is sticking to your convictions. If just once you cave and eat the bread, you start all the way over, do not pass Go, do not collect $200. As you said, D.C., you’re a 33 year old man, and you can eat what you want to eat. So put on your big-boy pants, and just say no!

Best in health,

Dear Melissa,

My problem is cooking… I can’t seem to manage it. My husband and I go shopping and buy healthy food (grass-fed beef, pastured eggs and chicken, fish, and veggies) but I then don’t know what the heck to do with it, or I forget to take it out of the freezer, etc.

We go food shopping at four food stores – Whole Foods, Trader Joes, Sprouts, and Ralphs or Target, but it’s like I’m genetically programmed not to cook. (I’m kidding, but not.)

Both hubby and I can’t eat out any more—the thought of any fast food or restaurant around here makes us sick to our stomach. I know I have to get back to eating Paleo as I’ve gained weight and I’m back on muscle relaxers for chronic pain.

How does a non-cook start to enjoy cooking? It’s a do or die situation at this point. –L.F., Seal Beach, CA

Dear L.F.,

First, take a deep breath. You are a smart, capable, creative woman. You are more than qualified to make yourself dinner—but for some reason, you’ve let the process intimidate you. The first thing you need to understand is that you’re making it more complicated than it really is. It’s just cooking. You’ve managed harder things in your life, I’m sure of it, so stop being afraid of this and roll up your sleeves. You’re going to cook dinner no later than Monday night, and you are going to rock it. (That’s an order. That’s what you get for writing to me. I expect a photo of your meal on our Facebook page, too.)

That having been said, cooking is a skill like any other, and requires planning, preparation, and practice. Here are some tips to help you feel more confident before you even set foot in the kitchen. First, you appear to have the grocery shopping nailed, but I can practically guarantee where you fall down in terms of actually cooking the food. It’s 5:30 PM in the L.F. household, you and your hubby are home from a long day at work, and you’re both tired and hungry.

“What do you want for dinner?”
“I don’t know. What do you want for dinner?”
“I don’t know. We could make that steak, I guess. What could we make with it?”
“I don’t know.”
“Want to just go out?”

Whipping up an on-the-fly dinner based on ingredients you happen to have in your kitchen isn’t an easy task for newbie chefs, and being hungry complicates this process by 173%. (Science.) So for the next week, take the guess-work out of your meals by planning a week’s worth of dinners ahead of time. Sit down with your husband, flip through some Paleo recipe books or scan some Pinterest boards, and write down your next five dinners. Be specific! “Tuesday, we’ll grill a steak, roast some sweet potatoes, and make a garden salad.” Post this on your fridge, so you’ll both know what the plan looks like.

Remember, you don’t always have to cook from a recipe, either. The example meal I used above isn’t as much a recipe as it is ingredients—and that’s the perfect place to start. Taking on something too time-consuming, using fancypants ingredients you don’t have, or attempting complicated cooking techniques is sure to leave you frustrated, so stick to healthy foods and simple meals until you have this cooking thing down.

From your meal plan, make a shopping list, and get everything you’ll need for each dinner (or your first few dinners, if you shop more than once a week). Don’t leave anything out, because at this point realizing you forgot the sweet potato may be enough to throw you off your game–and send you running for Thai take-out.

When it comes time to actually cook, plan on an entire hour for cooking and clean-up. (Better to overestimate than underestimate.) Make it a fun experience. Do it together, play some music, throw open the windows, and follow The Plan. Don’t stress about everything coming out at the same time (it might not), everything being cooked perfectly (it might not), and leaving a giant mess in the kitchen (you’ll probably use every bowl, cutting board, and knife you own). Your only job is to get ‘er done. Cook your meal, eat your food, high-five each other for a job well done, and bask in the warm glow of success. You cooked! Yay! That wasn’t so hard, was it?

Honestly, L.F., I think we just need to get you a win in this category to start your cooking ball rolling. Get one meal under your belt and the second (and third, and fourth) will be that much easier. However, I think it’s unrealistic to expect you to turn into a domestic goddess, cooking every single meal at home from scratch. Talk about your plan with your husband—how often will you dine out? Will you compromise some nights by “making” healthy meals you don’t have to prepare yourself, like Pre-Made Paleo? Is it okay to throw some eggs and frozen veggies in a pan on those nights when you’re both too tired to really cook, but you still want to eat a healthy meal at home? How often will you allow that to happen?

Before you know it, you’ll be testing out fancypants recipes, inviting your friends over for dinner parties, and feeling better, healthier, and more energetic than ever. Bon appétit!

Best in health,

Is this good advice? Do you want to add your two cents? We welcome your input! Share your best advice for D.C. and L.F. in comments.

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Remember, we aren’t answering technical questions via this column, nor are we able to offer you specific advice about your medical issue, health condition, or body composition.

Published by Melissa Urban

Melissa Urban is a 7x New York Times bestselling author (including the # bestselling The Whole30) who specializes in helping people establish healthy boundaries and successfully navigate habit change. She has been featured by the New York Times, People, the Wall Street Journal, Forbes, The Today Show, and Good Morning America, and is a prominent keynote speaker on boundaries, building community, health trends, and entrepreneurship. She lives in Salt Lake City, UT with her husband, son, and a poodle named Henry.

Melissa Urban

Co-Founder / CEO

Melissa Urban is a 7x New York Times bestselling author (including the # bestselling The Whole30) who specializes in helping people establish healthy boundaries and successfully navigate habit change. She has been featured by the New York Times, People, the Wall Street Journal, Forbes, The Today Show, and Good Morning America, and is a prominent keynote speaker on boundaries, building community, health trends, and entrepreneurship. She lives in Salt Lake City, UT with her husband, son, and a poodle named Henry.