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’m talking to a woman who is concerned that she’s too dependent on fruit during her Whole30.
Because I am gluten-free and have other food sensitivities, switching to the Whole30 rules wasn’t too huge a change. However, I have come to realize… I feel like I have a fruit addiction! I am not breaking my Whole30 vows, however, it is really upsetting when I ‘binge’ on fruit. Fruit is something that I have always included liberally in my diet, because it was my only real sugar intake. I do not drink fruit juice or eat dried fruit, just fresh. I notice it changes how I feel though, and I’m wondering… would it be good to limit myself to preset one serving a day, or eliminate fruit altogether? –Kathleen, Gig Harbor, WA
Note: this advice pertains to those without any history of diagnosed or suspected eating disorders. If this question were in the context of the Whole30 rules triggering old disordered eating patterns (which it was not, based on my conversations with Kathleen), my advice would have been to immediately cease the Whole30 and seek out the support of a trained counselor. Please refer to our series on the Whole30 and eating disorders for more.
First, good for you for noticing that your relationship with fruit may be taking you to a less healthy place. While there is nothing wrong with eating fruit—even lots of fruit in a day, especially when it’s summer and local/fresh/in season—the word “binge” has me concerned. That seems to indicate that you are eating fruit in an out-of-control manner, and eating more than you intend, automatically and/or emotionally. And that’s not a healthy place to be with any food, even healthy foods like fruit.
In The Whole30, we talk about fruit in our FAQ (page 81-82). Our concerns with eating fresh, whole fruit isn’t about the sugar content or the carbs—it’s about how you’re eating it, and why. We want to make sure you’re not leaning on fruit to satisfy your sugar cravings, as that won’t help you change your dessert or sugar habits. We also want to make sure you’re always feeling in control when you’re eating fruit—or any food, for that matter, even Whole30 fare.
There are some Whole30 foods that are easier to overdo than others—almond or sunflower seed butters, roasted salted nuts, dried fruit (especially dates), frozen fruit (like grapes), dried-fruit-and-nut bars (like Larabars)… we encourage people to include these foods cautiously in their Whole30, as they are as salty/fatty/sweet as you can get while still adhering to the program guidelines.
But we’ve seen plenty of people leaning far too hard on fresh fruit too, or eating it in way that makes them feel psychologically less healthy; thus our encouragement to always choose and eat your Whole30 food with conscious awareness.
You could eliminate all fruit from your diet completely at this time and still be optimally healthy. If you’re eating a wide variety of nutrient-dense vegetables with every meal, you’re getting adequate micronutrition, and as long as you’re deliberately including enough carb-dense veggies, you’ll be able to maintain your activity levels and energy even without fruit. But now it’s time for some tough love…
Will eliminating fruit solve the problem, or will you just find something else that’s sweet and Whole30-approved and transfer your emotional eating to that food?
I don’t think this is about the fruit. Which brings some good news—you don’t have to stop eating sweet, delicious, nutritious fruit! You just have to redefine your relationship with sweets and “treats,” because you are definitely thinking of fruit as your only available treat right now.
I have a three-part recommendation: first, make a rule that fruit isn’t to be eaten by itself; second, identify a set portion up front that you know both suits your meal planning needs and doesn’t make you feel bad, physically or emotionally, and third, practice mindful eating with fruit or other sweet “treats.”
Part one: include fruit as part of your meals, never eaten on its own as a snack, dessert, or treat. (Fruit by itself isn’t very satiating anyway—no wonder you tend to overeat!) Throw blueberries into your morning egg scramble, add diced apple to your salad at lunch, or pan-fry some plantains as a side dish with your steak and veggies for dinner, but always make fruit part of a complete meal, not the star of the show.
Two, figure out the amount of fruit that suits your meal planning requirements and keeps you feeling good physically and mentally. If there are foods you tend to overeat more than others (grapes and berries are a common culprit), pull out the right serving for you, include them in your meal, and don’t go back for seconds of just the fruit if you’re still “hungry.” (If you’re genuinely still hungry, you’ll want more of everything. If you don’t want more eggs or avocado, but you’d totally eat more grapes, you’re just craving!)
This, especially when combined with tip #1, should quickly help you redefine your relationship with fruit. However, there may come a time when you simply want a bowl of berries with toasted coconut, or are out at the farmer’s market and want to sample their grapes, cherries, and peaches. That’s why we have this last recommendation.
In those instances, ask yourself, “Am I reaching for fruit to satisfy a sugar craving or fill some emotional void right now?” If necessary, create a “two minute rule” around fruit: consider making the bowl of berries with coconut milk, and then wait a few minutes before you actually prepare it to give yourself the time and space needed to determine whether you’re eating it for the right reasons (it’s delicious, I’m legitimately hungry, I’m making a conscious decision to eat something delicious, I’ll feel good about this choice ) or the wrong reasons (I’m anxious, I’m stressed, my Sugar Dragon is roaring).
Remember, hoovering a big bowl of berries because you’re stressed and that’s the sweetest stuff on hand is really not a big deal physiologically. You’re talking about eating nutrient-dense real food—a pint (or two) of cherries may give you a bellyache, but it’s not going to send you spiraling into metabolic derangement! My concern is that after the cherries, I don’t want you to feel guilty or beat yourself up about your lack of control or “automatic” consumption, sending yourself deeper into the stress-overconsumption-guilt/shame spiral in which so many of us live (pre-Whole30).
I think if you practice this three-tiered approach, you’ll redefine your relationship with fruit, put your Sugar Dragon back to sleep, and find you’re more in control of your food choices—one of the primary goals of the Whole30 program.
I wish you the best in health.
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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.
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, Redbook, and Woman’s World as the co-founder of the Whole30 program. Melissa lives in Salt Lake City, UT.
Header photo credit: Taylor Gage, She Thrives Blog. Bio photo credit: Jordan Ison