Dear Melissa,

I started the program with most of the information I thought I needed, as I work in a health food store and my co-workers and boss are very supportive of my choices and advocates of the program. But the more I read I am a little discouraged. I was a smoker. I quit a few days into the Whole30. I now know the recommendation is to stop before, was that cheating? Also, the more I’ve read, the more I make changes and tweak things. Like grapeseed oil mayo does not trump olive oil mayo, and fruit cannot be my substitute dessert craving.

The more I read the guiltier I felt. I have not cheated on sugars, alcohol, breads, etc. but do I need to restart because I didn’t read the book first? Please tell me how to proceed. –Kristin, Memphis TN

Kristin,

I need you to take a REALLY DEEP BREATH HERE. You are doing awesome on your Whole30. And you know it’s true, because I’m the best person to certify that. Your only job for 30 days is to stick to the Whole30 rules, 100%. And you’re doing it! Yay for you—this Whole30 is an excellent Whole30, and there is zero reason to start over.

Feel better? Now, let’s talk about what’s happening here.

It’s common to feel overwhelmed when you take on a new habit. Our tendency is to want to jump in with both feet, knowing everything there is to know about our new health pursuit, and making EVERY possible change we could make. Essentially you want to be an expert in this pursuit, like, IMMEDIATELY… never mind the fact that you never even heard of the Whole30 a week ago.

Logically, this is silly. No one gets their learner’s permit at age 15 and says, “I should be ready for NASCAR by the end of the month!” So why are you expecting yourself to achieve a lifetime of food freedom habits in just 30 days?

Today

Your only job right now, with your Whole30 “learner’s permit,” is to stick to the rules for 30 straight days. That’s it!

Now if along the way you notice some compliant habits that aren’t serving you (like fruit for dessert), feel free to note them or change them. But that doesn’t mean you’re failing the program! You’re just going above and beyond, expanding your Whole30 consciousness. (Same with the smoking—while we recommend quitting before you start, the fact that you quit just a few days in is HUGE! Congratulate yourself—no need to feel guilty here.)

Down the Road

That having been said, the Whole30 is just the first step in a life-long path of discovering your food freedom. As you become more familiar with the program’s rules, philosophy, and community, your own consciousness around food, your relationship with food, your body, and the environment will expand. This is the natural pattern of things.

To go back to the driving analogy, once shifting, checking the mirrors, and signaling are automatic, you can start to pay attention to the scenery, change the radio station, or carry on a conversation with your co-pilot. Same with the Whole30! As you get further along in your Whole30/food freedom journey, you’ll start to notice even more nuances to the program and your relationship with food. The food choices become easy, which frees up capacity for you to start diving into things like seasonal or local shopping, grapeseed oil vs. avocado oil for cooking, or playing around with how much fruit (and when) is right for you.

There is No “Perfect” Whole30

So if you find yourself feeling guilty for not getting every aspect of your Whole30 absolutely perfect—stop! No one expects you to, so don’t put that burden on yourself. Stick to the rules. Engage with the community. Be proud of your efforts. And know that the more you stay connected to the process (even after your Whole30 is over), the better you’ll be able to dial in what works for YOUR food freedom.

Best in health,
Melissa

P.S. For more reinforcement, see How To Do the Perfect Whole30, and read Food Freedom Forever

Got a question for Melissa? Submit it here.

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 a 5-time New York Times bestselling author (It Starts With Food; The Whole30; Food Freedom Forever; The Whole30 Cookbook; The Whole30 Day by Day; and The Whole30 Fast and Easy Cookbook). She has been featured in the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Forbes, 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