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 wondering how to handle the festivities of a wedding without falling face-first into a champagne fountain.

Dear Melissa,

I’m on day 29 of my first ever Whole30! I am super glad to say it was a really awesome experience. I plan to continue a relatively strict paleo plan as I try to continue healing my gut and mitigate digestive distress.

I am writing because I have six weddings to attend (out of town!) in the next few months. I have to travel for each wedding and stay in a hotel, which means a lot of dining out and little to no access to a kitchen. I won’t have any control over the dinner menu at each wedding, and I’ll be surrounded by tons of old friends and family who will be drinking. And you can bet there will be an open bar at every single shindig.

I’m really committed to eating clean in my everyday life, but I’m afraid my brain has designated each wedding as a special occasion, worthy of splurge. Am I giving myself permission to off-road? I mentally feel like I am justified in having drinks or less healthy options because it’s a once-in-a-lifetime event. I feel if I “ban” myself from alcohol and unclean foods, I am going to have less fun than I normally would, and even worse, set myself up for failure because I feel sure eventually I would “give in.”

Any advice on how to navigate this? I feel like I can easily pass on the cake, but how do I convince myself champagne isn’t worth it? –E.T., Washington DC


First, sister, take a deep breath. It’s just a piece of cake, or a glass of champagne. It’s not life or death, and your self-worth isn’t measured by whether or not you eat a bite or take a sip. So let’s just start with the idea that this isn’t such a big deal that you need to get yourself all in a kafuffle, okay?

That having been said, I’m not trying to brush off your concerns. I know it’s hard to come off a Whole30 and be faced with navigating tricky situations like out-of-town weddings. And habit research shows that having a plan makes the brain feel at ease—so good for you for thinking about this before you show up at the reception. But a good plan for off-roading always includes some flexibility.

You can’t possibly know today whether you’ll feel like eating the cake or drinking the champagne at an event happening weeks from now. Think about it—if I said, “What do you want for dinner a week from next Tuesday?” you’d have no idea! Tastes change, moods change, and you need to be able to address each wedding situation on the fly, in the manner that works for you right then and there.

So we’re not going to create a plan for each wedding today. Instead, we’re going to create a plan for how you are going to deal with each situation individually, as it happens. For each event, you are going to evaluate the food and drink options when you arrive, based on (a) whether they’re worth it, (b) whether it’s a special enough occasion to warrant you going off-road, and (c) whether you want to. All three of those criterion should be met before you eat the cake or drink the champagne.

Maybe you show up at the wedding and the cake isn’t your favorite flavor, or you get so caught up dancing that you forget to hit the bar, or you simply decide on that day that you feel really good, and you don’t need to go off-plan to enjoy the event. In those cases, skip it! You’ve just concluded for yourself that you’re not missing out on anything. However, if you show up at the reception and the cake looks amazing, the champagne is calling your name, and you really want to let loose and not think about your diet for the day—go for it. And if that happens at all six weddings this year, that’s okay!

The key, as always, is making a conscious, deliberate decision at each stage of the game. Is it worth it, is this special, do I really want it? If you follow this plan when you arrive at each event, then you are assured of zero guilt, zero remorse after your indulgences. Of course, you may experience consequences, like a headache or a resurgence of the Sugar Dragon, but that’s the price of admission. And because you’re evaluating each instance when it happens, you’re not “banning” yourself from indulging (which could lead to an inner rebellion that leaves you Drinking All the Things), nor are you guaranteeing you’ll go off plan because you’re “allowing” it ahead of time (leading to you eating something unhealthy that you don’t even want, just because you told yourself you could.)

Finally, a word of warning—it’s all too easy for your brain to trick you into believing you’re in “vacation mode” the second you leave the house for an event like this. To combat this, I throw in a Whole5 or a Whole7 before the event, eat squeaky-clean during my travels, and save my evaluations of indulgences for the main event. There’s nothing special about the dessert offerings at the Applebee’s you hit for lunch when you arrive in town, so don’t even waste your time contemplating it. That’s how I keep one special event from turning into a week-long carbapalooza.

Best in health—and enjoy your weddings!

Is this good advice? Do you want to add your two cents? We welcome your input! Share your best advice for E.T. 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.