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 needs to un-wine her weekly unwind, and another who is tired of being the “weird girl” at social dinners.


Dear Melissa,

I’ve made several starts at Whole 30 and haven’t made it past the two week mark.  I’m currently on Day 4 and I want to be successful this time. My issue is with habits around routine weekly treat days that include alcohol, junk food, and bonding with my husband.

Over the years I’ve had weight loss success to varying degrees with calorie restriction during the week followed by a weekly treat day on the week-end. Unfortunately, treat day is comprised of way too much alcohol supplemented by junk food (and  followed by a hangover day with more junk food).  My husband and I would enjoy this free-for-all together—at this point, it is a well-established ritual in our household.

Obviously, I know this behavior is not healthy, but I just can’t seem to stop myself from migrating back to the comfort of these behaviors. I can blame my husband for his “support” when he tells me to go ahead and have a glass of wine and my favorite treat—after all, I work hard and deserve it.  However, the reality is that I know this is something I want to do for me and I should be strong enough to deflect those kinds of comments.

I need some solid advice on how to recreate rituals in support of lifestyle change.  Should I scrap my weekly unwind?  If so, how in the world do I accomplish that?  -H.M., Abbotsford, BC, Canada

Dear H.M.,

You and your husband have created a dynamic whereby you associate de-stressing and sharing quality time together with junk food and wine. The solution isn’t to scrap the “unwind”—the solution is to de-couple “ quality time” with “crappy food.” You can’t blame your husband for his encouragement to go ahead and indulge—after all, if you indulge, it makes him feel better about his indulgences too. So it’s up to you to steer this ship in a different direction. Don’t scrap the ritual—just the parts of the ritual that, for you, take away from its intention (feeling better and relaxing).

The first step is having an honest conversation with him about why you need this behavior to change. To really make him hear you, make it personal, speak from the heart, and ask for his input. You might say something like:

“I’ve been tired/stressed/feeling heavy/etc. lately, and I think if I ate differently, I would feel a whole lot better. I really need your help*, though. I love our weekly “unwind” ritual, but the stuff we eat and drink makes me feel worse the day after—not better. I’m going to do the Whole30 again, so can you think of some other way I can unwind and connect with you on our treat days that doesn’t involve junk food and wine?”

*Notice in this script, you are asking for his help. Twice. Men love to problem-solve, so present him with a problem and ask for his help to fix it. Also, be as specific as you can about how your “treat” days make you feel—tell him how hard it is to rein in your Sugar Dragon and how mentally stressful that is for you, tell him how it makes you tired and grumpy for days after, tell him it makes you less interested in sex because you feel fat and bloated. The more personal, the better.

Have a few ideas for your revised “treat days” in mind—activities that don’t revolve around food; things that you both really enjoy and find relaxing. Maybe on your unwind day, you unplug the phone and sit around watching movies all day, or take off to the lake, or go shopping for that new couch you’ve been talking about. And be willing to compromise here—going to the gun range may not be your idea of unwinding, but if your husband loves the idea, and it would keep you both from the wine and junk food, you’ve got a winning situation.

However, expect some pushback from your hubby. Chances are, he’ll still want to drink his wine and eat his Bon-Bons on your “treat” day—and that’s going to have to be okay. He’s a big boy, and he makes his own choices, so address this up front: “If you still want to indulge that day, that’s totally fine. But please, knowing that I’m trying to make some changes for me and our family, don’t ask me to join you. I really need your help to make it through the first two weeks, because I know I’ll be tempted… but this is something I am really committed to doing for me, and for us.”

And then steel your resolve, sister, because even without your husband’s offerings, it’s going to be a hard month. Plus, if you give in after your “I am really committed to this” speech, you’ll lose all credibility going forward—and this pattern will be even harder to break. Know that when that treat day rolls around, your brain will be screaming at you to go ahead and indulge (the power of habit)—so be prepared with some strategies to counteract the pull. Every day you just say no makes you stronger, and makes that longstanding association weaker.

Best in health,
Melissa


Dear Melissa,

How can I continue eating Paleo at every meal when 2-3 times per week I’m at the mercy of other folks’ cooking? We eat at lots of pot lucks, picnics, have meals at friends’ houses, etc. It gets tiring having to turn down an offer to join, eat only one Paleo-friendly dish (that I bring), or eat before I go and then not eat with everyone else. Food prices in Sitka are sky-high, and that means I can’t always afford to make enough of a Paleo dish to share with a large group. People are understanding, but it makes me feel left out. Unfortunately, this also means I off-road, sometimes without even realizing it at first, more often than I’d like. It gets tiring constantly having to ask people what’s in the food they make. –A.P., Sitka, AK

Dear A.P.,

Now you know how the vegans feel. It’s really hard to have such specific food preferences, and unlike vegetarianism (which everyone generally accepts as a valid preference), being a Paleo-conscientious-omnivore is a more complicated diet to explain. Your question is, “How can I continue to eat Paleo when 2-3 times per week, I’m at the mercy of other folks’ cooking?” The answer is, you may not… but I’ll do my best to help you get close.

Step One: Improve your communication skills. Do what you can to make your friends understand your preferences ahead of time, well before the dinner or meal. If they are really friends, they’ll want to make a meal you’ll enjoy, and be able to eat. It can be as simple  as saying, “What are you making tomorrow night? Oh, that sounds great! Hey, make a little extra salad for me, could you? I’ll be skipping the rice.”  Help them understand they generally don’t need to cook anything different for you—just add a few more veggies to the dish.*

Ask the pot-luck organizers what kinds of dishes will be included, so you’ll know what to bring. If you don’t see any protein dishes you can eat, you’ll know to bring a frittata. (Eggs are your cheapest protein, in general.) If someone is bringing burgers and dogs, you’re good to supply some extra veggies.

*If they’re making lasagna and garlic bread, however (or any other one-pot dish that you just can’t eat around), you’ll have to decide whether it’s better to beg off that evening’s engagement, or go with the flow and get gluten-bombed. Remember, it’s always a choice.

Step Two: Define your own criteria for what’s okay to let slide during these meals, and what isn’t. For example, when I dine at friends’ houses, I don’t sweat added sugar in the dressing or marinade, white rice or potatoes, or soy sauce. I usually draw the line at gluten grains, although when friends made us homemade pasta, I had a small serving, preferring to take the hit to my system rather than offend them. I draw a hard line at cheese or milk, however—it often turns my stomach inside-out.  I’ll tell the host ahead of time I can’t eat it, and if a dish pops up with dairy in it, I politely decline. Having these parameters in my head ahead of time makes it easier to decision-make on the fly.

Step Three: Own your decisions. If you were Celiac, or allergic to dairy, or vegan, you’d feel a lot more comfortable asking what’s in a dish and explaining your preferences. You have to adopt the same attitude with Paleo, within the limits you’ve set for yourself in Step Two. If that means declining some social obligations, so be it. If it means going, having fun, but not eating much, so be it. (How does the vegan handle being invited to a pig roast?) Yes, it sucks to feel left out, but that’s the price you pay for making grown-up not-easy decisions and taking responsibility for your own health. The good news is that if you successfully complete these steps, you’ll be able to enjoy these social situations a whole lot more.

Best in health,
Melissa


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