Welcome to Dear Melissa, where I answer your questions about transitioning into or completing a Whole30, successfully sticking to your new Food Freedom habits, and figuring out how to make this lifestyle work in the real world. Today, we’re answering the #1 question on everyone’s mind, in three-part format. (This is Part 2, so go back and read Part 1 first, please.)

Dear Melissa,

How do you eat?

Love, Everyone

Dear Everyone,

In part 1 of this article, I mentioned that just because I eat this way does not mean you should eat this way. In fact, I think I made myself perfectly clear when I said, “You should not eat what I eat.” If you have to go back and read that article first, please do so before continuing, just so we’re all on the same page.

Now that we’ve got that out of the way, here’s how I eat on a regular basis.

First, my three meals a day are all, with few exceptions, pretty much Whole30. I no longer hold to the “zero added sugar” rule in my day-to-day life—there’s sugar in my ketchup, my maple chicken sausage, and the tamarind sauce I use to make pad thai, and I don’t worry about that one bit, probably because I don’t add sugar to anything. Really, I’ve been racking my brain on this—I don’t use any form of added sweetener at all, except for one dish where I bake salmon in maple syrup, coconut aminos, and ginger.

The meals I prepare at home are grain-free, dairy-free (save butter—I don’t bother to clarify it anymore), and legume-free. I follow our meal planning template. I eat a palm-plus of protein with each meal, a heap of vegetables, some fruit (a lot more in summer), and natural fats. So in my daily life, I actually do eat the way we recommend you eat when you’re on the Whole30.

My daily exception is heavy whipping cream in my decaf. We buy pastured, organic cream (usually Strauss brand), and I only use a little, because I don’t like the taste if I use too much. (FYI, I’ve been caffeine-free for just about four years now.)

I don’t sweat eating white rice or white potatoes. If I go out for sushi, I bring my own coconut aminos, but eat rolls with rice. I don’t do French fries very often, but at home we’ll mash or roast our own white potatoes. I have no physical or psychological issues with these foods, and my context would allow me to eat them pretty regularly without any negative metabolic consequences.

I avoid gluten unless it’s really, really special. Gluten makes me look pregnant, and makes me sad and anxious for a few days after I eat it. Really. That’s one of the things I figured out by around my fourth Whole30, and most of the time the mental consequences are just not worth it. I don’t eat gluten-free grains like oats or quinoa—I don’t miss them, so I don’t bother to include them in my diet. I’ll eat corn occasionally, usually in the form of hot buttered popcorn or tortilla chips with salsa and guacamole. Popcorn is one of my favorite treats, and I use an entire stick of butter in each bowl. Literally. Lately, I’ve noticed if I eat corn too frequently I’m prone to a histamine response (hives), so I keep my intake limited—popcorn no more than once a week.

I always avoid soy. It’s just not worth the potential downsides. I’ll eat peanuts occasionally, but only if they really add to the meal (like the green papaya salad at our favorite sushi restaurant). I avoid all cheese—soft cheese like the plague. Goat cheese makes me feel like I have an alien in my belly. I would politely decline a dish containing goat cheese even if it was lovingly prepared by the Pope, Oprah, or Ryan Reynolds. (I’d be sad about that last one, though.)

I never drink milk, eat cottage cheese, or yogurt. I used to do a pastured, organic, plain sheep’s milk yogurt, but then I figured out it wasn’t okay for my digestive tract. Dairy and I just don’t agree, which makes it really easy to not miss it.

Needless to say, I never, ever eat pizza.

I don’t drink alcohol much anymore. It’s practically never worth it, as even small amounts make me feel like junk the next day. I maybe have one beverage every month or two. It’s almost always Prosecco with a splash of St. Germain, because it’s delicious and makes me feel glamorous. I rarely finish the glass and I never order two.

I never bake, Paleo or otherwise. It’s not because we feel like we have to live up to our anti-Pancake Rule reputation, it’s because we’re just not into baked goods—never have been. Cookies, muffins, breads, or pancakes just don’t do it for Dallas or me. Honestly. Meh. We’ve made a Paleo banana bread a few times when we have company over, and once I made sweet potato brownies for a Christmas party. Oh, and Dallas made one batch of Paleo pancakes one morning when his Mom was visiting. They were okay. Thus ends our illustrious Paleo baking career.

I will indulge when something amazingly delicious or special comes along, but I don’t plan for these things, like “Oh, on Sunday I’ll let myself eat something delicious.” I keep on eating as normal until something so special or so gorgeous comes along that I make a conscious decision right there on the spot that it’s worth it to indulge. Sometimes it happens three times a week, sometimes it won’t happen for a few weeks in a row. Usually, I will have only a small amount. I often don’t even finish the “treat,” because I’m the person who can legitimately just have a few bites and leave the rest if I feel satisfied. I know you hate me for that, but I have other issues, I assure you.

The most S.A.D. thing I’ve eaten in the last month are Cadbury Crème Eggs. They’re not even close to real food, but I love them because my Mom always put them in my Easter basket and I find the texture incredible, so I’ve decided they’re worth it. When I eat one, I savor it. I eat it slowly, I don’t apologize (even though Dallas thinks they’re gross), and I am still just as happy with myself after eating it as I was before I peeled the wrapper.

So there you have it—this is what I eat. Post thoughts, questions, or gasps of horror that I’m not Whole30 all the time to comments.

Best in health,

P.S. Ready for the last and final installment of this three-part series? Read Part 3 of “Dear Melissa, How Do You Eat?

Got a question for Melissa? Submit it using this handy form.

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.

3-15a small

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

Photo credit: Marie Carmel Photography

Published by Melissa Urban

Melissa Urban is a 7x New York Times bestselling author (including the #1 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.