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 woman who struggles with her Whole9 life after coming home from business trips, and a man who wants to talk to his friends and family about the Whole30 without sounding judgmental or preachy.

Dear Melissa,

I’ve been following a Whole9 template for three years, and it’s changed my life. I love the way I feel when eating paleo and readily notice the benefits: clearer skin, healthier digestion, and lessened anxiety. But I also travel often on business (at least once a month), and although I usually pass on the bread basket and do my best to order paleo-friendly dishes without stressing to the max, my clean eating habits definitely slip when I’m on the road.

I work in the food industry, and my boss and other colleagues love good, quality food as much as I do (although their idea of quality leans more toward handmade pasta than organic veggies), so I’m often surrounded by icky options on trade show floors, and our dinners out tend to be large and lavish. I’m OK with all of this, at least emotionally—I say no to all booth samples just because they’re there and fuel myself with nuts and jerky instead, and I’m at peace when I decide to indulge with a glass or two of wine or a bite of dessert, even if it contains gluten, and luckily, I’m not too physically miserable for splurging.

But when I get home, my brain screams (quietly, but constantly) for treats. I’m often tired and running low on energy and motivation after a business trip. I typically return to my Whole9 template, eating optimal protein choices, drinking water, choosing an array of veggies and healthy fats and eliminating snacks and treats because I feel better with those three meals. Yet I also “ease myself back into” my regular routine with a gluten-free muffin here, an Americano with heavy cream there, some dark chocolate or just a little white rice with that Thai order…and within a few days, I realize that my pleasure center is winning over my good intentions.

I want to break this cycle, but I also want to practice self-care, and at first glance, I convince myself by saying that a muffin costs less than a massage, even if I pay physically and emotionally in the end. How can I reframe my thoughts so that “reward” doesn’t equal food/drink? What can I do to continue enjoying food without letting it rule my brain? And how can I do this firmly, but self-lovingly? –B.W., Portland, OR

Dear B.W.,

Welcome to every business trip I’ve ever taken. The stress of travel can take its toll, and the temptation to “relax” and “treat yourself” while you’re on the road can be great. It sounds like you’ve found the perfect balance while traveling, however—avoiding things just because they’re there, and making a conscious, deliberate, guilt-free decision to indulge when you decide it’s really worth it.  That’s half the battle, and it sounds like your Whole30 experience(s) and time “riding your own bike” have helped you settle into a mentally and physically healthy routine that works for you.

Coming home, however, can be tough. You’re still tired from travel, you’re still in the mindset of treating yourself, and the Sugar Dragon is rearing his ugly head, thanks to the indulgences you’ve fed him while on the road. So what are your options? Ease back into a healthy routine with some less bad indulgences, as you’ve been doing… which hasn’t been working, and makes you unhappy. Or go cold-turkey back into a Whole30 when you get home, which may feel like a “punishment” for enjoying yourself while traveling—a very unhealthy mindset, and one we do not encourage.

Luckily, I think there is a way to get back to healthy eating the minute you get back home (firmly) while still treating yourself well (lovingly). It starts with your mindset when you leave for your trip.

You have to start each trip with the idea that you will not comfort yourself, treat yourself, or offset the stress of travel with less healthy food. That is not what food is for. Food is for nourishment, for energy, for enjoyment and pleasure… not for comfort. When you dine out with your colleagues, choose to indulge because something on the menu looks so exotic, special, or delicious that you just can’t pass it up (you may never return to this restaurant again), or because it’s a social celebration in which you choose to participate (cheers to good business).

What you don’t do is eat the bread, drink the wine, or order dessert because you’re tired, hungry, under-slept, and miss your husband/dog/own bed. You don’t ever, ever do that. And if you catch yourself trying to do that, use the last three years of experience to stop yourself in your tracks and say to yourself, “This is not a good enough reason to eat something that makes me less healthy.”

Ask yourself, “If I were home, well-slept, not stressed, on my normal routine… would I eat this?” If the answer is no, you pass, sister. PASS. Each and every time, just like you do on the trade show floor.

If the answer is yes, I would eat this, then you need to make sure you consciously reframe why you are eating this food. If your first instinct is to say, “I’m exhausted and stressed—dessert sounds like a treat” then you need to pause, and reframe by saying, “I’m not eating this because I’m tired, I’m eating it because I love s’mores, and this grown-up whiskey version looks too amazing and delicious to pass up.”

Reframing what happens when you are on the road then helps you reframe what happens when you arrive back home. See, if you’re eating less healthy food on the road because it helps you offset the stress of travel, what’s to prevent you from eating less healthy food when you get back home, still feeling stressed? But if you’re indulging on the road because food is special, exotic, celebratory, then those same reasons no longer apply back in your own kitchen. That gluten-free muffin from the corner bakery? Not special. That sweetened coconut milk creamer from Whole Foods? Not exotic. Eating that dark chocolate all by yourself while watching TV? Not a celebration.

Which means you can stick to the same exact set of guidelines while traveling that you do at home, get right back to squeaky clean eating without feeling like you are depriving or punishing yourself, and no longer stretch out the Sugar Dragon’s reign by slipping in un-special treats here and there when you return.

Consistency makes the brain happy. “Rules” that make sense makes the brain happy. So, simply reframe what happens in the beginning of your trip, to make the end of your trip that much easier.

Best in health,

Dear Melissa,

First, I want to thank you and Dallas for doing what you do. Since completing a Whole30 in January of this year, I have been eating (mostly) clean and have never felt better. My family and friends have noticed a difference and are always curious about my eating habits; however, I’m not sure the best way to lead them in the right direction without sounding self-righteous. This is especially true for my parents, who have both been overweight their entire adult lives. It’s a very touchy subject and one that most people don’t like taking advice about — especially if they’ve tried every “diet” under the sun over the years. How do I talk to my family about how to change their food habits without hurting their feelings or preaching? –L.R., Dallas, TX

Dear L.R.,

When people first discover something so amazing, something so life-changing as the Whole30, they do have the tendency to preach, proselytize, and otherwise annoy the crap out of anyone within a 100 foot radius. (We sure did, when we first figured it out.) The program has helped you so tremendously, and there are people in your life who so desperately need it… your first instinct is to tie them to a chair and verbally waterboard them with details until they agree to give the program a try. (Okay, maybe you wouldn’t go that far… but I’ve got some friends and family members for whom I would seriously consider that technique.)

The problem is, your friends and family may not be ready to hear the information, and preaching to that particular choir, you run the risk of sounding judgmental; offending instead of inspiring them. Here are some guidelines for sharing the Good Food word in a way that won’t get you divorced, de-friended, ex-communicated, or fired.

First, always, always, always let them come to you. Wait until they show an interest in what you’re doing, ask you about how you’re eating, or say, “You look great, what’s your secret?” People who aren’t ready really aren’t ready, and there is nothing you can do to persuade someone who isn’t ready, or doesn’t see the need to change. No matter how much your parents might need this information, until they decide there is a problem, they need to do something about it, and they are ready to take the first step, your “advice” is unsolicited and unwelcome.

If and when people do ask you for help, advice, or guidance, make sure the setting is right for this kind of conversation. The dinner table is never, ever the right setting. Talking about people’s food choices while they’re eating less healthy food (most likely) is a recipe for disaster, and they may not give you another chance. Say, “I’d be happy to tell you more about how I’m eating after lunch—grab me this afternoon, we’ll go for a walk and chat. How was your son’s baseball game?” Scope out people’s emotional state, too, before you start talking. I’ve had people ask me, “So what’s with this crazy diet of yours?” in a very belligerent, aggressive way—and that’s totally different context than people asking in a friendly, open, curious way. Respond with details to the latter, not the former.

If the time is right to have the conversation, look for something you two have in common, something you can talk about with respect to the program that will resonate with them. When talking to your Mom, it’s probably not helpful to say, “Eating this way helped me cut my 5K time by five minutes,” but saying, “Eating this way, I’m never hungry, and I’m losing weight without cutting calories” may resonate.

If you know that person has a health condition or specific concern that you don’t share, feel free to share similar results from “your friend.” (We’ve got tons of testimonials on our website and in our Whole30 forum—scope them out for inspiration.) For example, you could say, “I was just reading about this woman who healed her shoulder tendonitis with this way of eating too—it was a really inspiring story, it made me think of you.” (Then, if they ask for more information, send them the link with a note that says you’d love to answer any questions they have about the program—no pressure, no confrontation.)

Along the same lines, when you’re talking to people, always phrase things in terms of you, not them. Say, “My seasonal allergies went away completely when I started eating like this.” Don’t say, “Your allergies are so bad—you should really try this diet, it will probably help.” You may think this is helpful—after all, you’re just addressing the problems they’ve already acknowledged—but the “you” statements puts people on the defensive, and that never leads to productive conversation.

Finally, know when to walk away. Drop some good information (or give them a copy of It Starts With Food), let them know where to go if they want help or to talk more about the program, and then give them some time and space to think about it. When pressured, people will always revert back to comfortable, familiar behaviors—making a decision to do something new on the fly feels too scary. So back off, allow the information you gave them to sink in, and make yourself available if and when they come back to you.

You can’t do it for them (although I know you wish you could!), but by following these guidelines, you should be able to better share the Good Food word in a way that is truly productive.

Best in health,

Is this good advice? Do you want to add your two cents? We welcome your input! Share your best advice for B.W. and L.R. 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.