Episode 03: Melissa Urban (she/her)
Melissa Hartwig is a Certified Sports Nutritionist who specializes in helping people change their relationship with food and create life-long, healthy habits. She is the co-creator of the original Whole30 program, a four-time New York Times bestselling author (It Starts With Food, The Whole30, Food Freedom Forever, and The Whole30 Cookbook). She has been featured by Dr. Oz, Good Morning America, the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, Details, Shape, Outside, and SELF, and ranked #27 on Greatists Top 100 Most Influential People in Health and Fitness in 2017. Melissa has presented more than 150 health and nutrition seminars worldwide, and is a prominent keynote speaker on social media and branding, health trends, and entrepreneurship.
In this “Dear Melissa” episode, Melissa explains whether staying on the Whole30 longer than 30 days is the way to achieve additional weight loss goals, how mentally “rehearsing for disasters” when you find things going well in your life can backfire so hard, and how to gracefully but firmly respond to people asking if you’re pregnant because you turned down a drink.
Watch Brené Brown’s Netflix special, The Call to Courage
Connect with @brenebrown on Instagram
Work with a Byron Katie-certified facilitator
Connect with @byron.katie on Instagram
“I’m not drinking right now” on Instagram
Hi, my name is Melissa Urban and you’re listening to Do the Thing, a podcast where we explore what’s been missing every time you’ve tried to make a change and make it stick. Today I’m answering three of your questions. Dear Melissa style. We’ll discuss whether staying on the Whole30 longer than 30 days is the way to achieve additional weight loss goals; how mentally rehearsing for disaster when you find things going well in your life can backfire so hard; and how to gracefully but firmly respond to people asking if you’re pregnant because you turned down a drink. There’s a common thread in all of these discussions about the stories we tell ourselves in stressful situations. I hope by exploring these stories, you’ll have your own light bulb moment and be able to hold your boundaries, shift your perspective, and successfully Do the Thing. The first Dear Melissa Question I’ll answer today…
I’ve received so many times since the release of Food Freedom Forever in 2016. It goes like this, Dear Melissa, if I still have additional weight to lose, shouldn’t I just stay on the Whole30? Can I really afford to move into food freedom? And the essence of the question is actually this, if I have additional weight to lose, do I get to move into food freedom? The premise of this question is, I’m doing the Whole30, I know it’s not a weight loss diet, but by changing my habits and my health and my emotional relationship with food, I have lost weight. And if I still have more weight to lose, shouldn’t I just stay in the rules of the program to facilitate me achieving that goal? And the answer is no. In fact, there are so many reasons why staying on the Whole30 because you have a goal weight in mind is actually counterproductive to that goal.
So the first thing I’ll say is this, I am not going to tell you not to have a weight loss goal. That is your business. And though I will encourage you to approach your health goals in general from a place of self love and self care, to do it healthfully and sustainably to really think about all of the other factors that go into health and wellness and happiness besides body weight. I’m not going to tell you not to have a weight loss goal, that’s entirely up to you, but I will tell you that if you do still have weight to lose according to your own definition, staying on the Whole30 is not the answer. First, if you decide to stay on the Whole30 until you reach your goal weight, what does that sound like to you? You’re on a diet. The Whole30 is no longer a reset.
It’s no longer an elimination diet. It’s no longer about changing your health and your habits and your emotional relationship with food. You’ve now essentially turn the Whole30 into just another crappy diet, which has never worked for you before. So thinking about the Whole30… even if for the first 30 days you do it for the right reasons and in the right way and you’re really embracing the spirit and intention of the program, if you extend to a Whole60 or a Whole90 specifically to see if you can lose more weight, you are now bastardizing the program to the point where it will not be effective for your purpose. Because it wasn’t built for this and you didn’t sign up for it for this. So don’t try to shove this kind of weight loss goal into the framework of the Whole30 because it’s not gonna work, because it’s never worked before.
You know, it also feels to me very punishing. Do I get to move into food freedom if I still have weight to lose? No, you do not. You must stay in the Whole30 until you achieve your goal weight. That is your punishment for your body weight? Like, that’s not the language or the intention or the mindset that we embrace that Whole30 and that’s not the mindset that you embraced when you began the Whole30. This is not about punishing yourself. It’s not about assigning worth or value to your body weight. And so even asking the question makes it seem as though you feel like you still need to be punished for your body weight, and that is not at all the message that I want to send through the Whole30. Another reason I don’t want you staying on the Whole30 with the express intention of losing more weight is that staying on the program for this reason keeps you obsessing about your body weight.
You know, for the first 30 days you are embracing the spirit and intention of the program. You were looking for non scale victories. You were identifying all the areas in your life, including habits and your emotional relationship with food that we’re getting better. But staying on the program specifically because you think you have more weight to lose now means you’re on the program for weight loss and the only thing you’re going to be focused on is your body weight. So on day 36 on 63 on 91 you’re continually monitoring, looking for changes that you hope to see by staying on the program longer, and you’ve lost all focus on all of the other things that made the Whole30 so magical in the first place. This is the analogy I like to use. If you plant an apple tree in your backyard and you water it and you give it sunshine and everything it needs to grow, but then twice a day you go outside and you stare really hard at the place where you planted the seed…
You are going to be a few things. You’re going to be exhausted from focusing so much on looking for progress with this apple tree, you’re going to be stressed because you can’t see the changes that are happening underneath the ground, and soon enough after going outside day after day and not seeing progress, you’ll be thinking, this isn’t working, why isn’t it working? And then you’ll be tempted to change your strategy. Maybe you’ll water it more or maybe you’ll give it more sunshine or less sunshine. Maybe you’ll try a new fertilizer. Maybe you’ll abandon the apple tree altogether and decide to plant a pear tree because clearly growing an apple tree isn’t working for you. You have a really solid three part Food Freedom plan designed to help you take what you’ve learned on the Whole30 and transition that experience into a long-term sustainable lifestyle that will help you achieve all of your health and wellness goals…
But now you are abandoning that because you’re back to this hyper focus on weight loss and you’re punishing yourself for your body weight by staying on the Whole30. To look so closely every single day at your body comp will make you crazy. And you won’t see progress because these things move slowly, so I don’t want you on this scale. Even if you’re not on the scale. I don’t want you taking constant selfies and constantly comparing angles in the mirror. The more obsessive you are about your body weight, the more likely you are to take your Whole30 to an unhealthy place. You’ll cut calories, you’ll cut carbs, you’ll cut fat, you’ll start intermittent fasting. Maybe you’ll add carb cycling or keto approach and all of a sudden the good plan that you had, the three part Food Freedom plan, the apple tree that you were watering that just needed time and patience, you essentially gave up on it. You didn’t give it the time and patience that it deserved. You didn’t trust in the process. You were too focused on one thing and not at all focused on the big picture and there’s a really good chance that you’re not going to see those apples grow now. All right. I have so much more to say on this and when we come back from a short break, I’m going to talk about the game changer during your Whole30 when it comes to long-term sustainable weight loss. Spoiler, it wasn’t the weight you lost.
We’re back on Do the Thing where I’m talking about food freedom. If you have additional weight loss goals essentially up until this point I have said it is not a good idea to stay on the Whole30 specifically because you want to lose more weight and I’ve outlined a whole bunch of reasons why that’s a terrible strategy both from a mindset standpoint and from a practical standpoint, but I want to make one more point. Losing the weight you lost during the Whole30 isn’t the game changer in terms of your long term weight loss goals. It’s what you learned during the program, the habits you changed, the balance you’ve created, the non scale victories, you racked up the emotional relationship with food that you evaluated and dissected and improved. Those are the game changer from your Whole30 experience.
It’s not about the weight that you lost during that program. In fact, the sentiment is echoed by many people in our community. Marci left a comment on one of my posts saying “most of the weight I lost after I did Whole30 was mental and emotional. In those 30 days, I only lost three pounds, but the bad habits I’d broke resulted in losing another 30 plus.” Whole30 certified coach Bailey Fischer echoes that sentiment saying “the Whole30 didn’t make me lose weight by living in the rules forever. It taught me how to live healthy in a way that made me feel good afterward.” So I think that’s a really important point to make is that this is not a weight loss program. It is not about the weight you lose, it’s about everything you gain during the Whole30 that sets you up to really rock your food freedom plan.
And trust me when I tell you that built into the three part Food Freedom plan are self-regulators, that will help you accomplish your long-term goals, even if that’s a weight loss goal. Here’s how that works. Food Freedom rests on two simple questions. Is it worth it and do I want it? Those are the questions you’re gonna ask yourself every time you’re faced with eating a food or drinking a drink that has the potential to make you less healthy, that has the potential to derail your long-term health and wellness goals. But is it worth it/do I want it varies. It varies from person to person, but it also varies from moment to moment. So for example, if I’m about to do a huge television event, my is it worth it is really narrow; very little is worth it for me in that moment because I have to look and feel my to feel confident going into that experience. Where if I’m just home hanging out with my family and my mom bakes, my favorite chocolate chip walnut cake and I don’t have anything to do or anywhere to be, yeah, that’s definitely gonna be worth it for me and my, is it worth it,…
Do I want it is a lot broader. If you still have weight loss goals, your, is it worth it? Do I want it? will moderate based on your goals but not in the old diet mentality way. You’re not going to be thinking about it from the perspective of can I afford to eat these calories or did I exercise enough to earn this? We don’t do that anymore. You’ve completed the Whole30 and now you’ve got a different mindset around food and your relationship with food and your relationship with your body. Now you’re asking yourself questions like, is it worth it? Will this fire up my sugar dragon? Is it going to leave me feeling bloated and discouraged? Am I fooling myself into believing it’s worth it when I know it isn’t, which is a huge hit to your self confidence? You will think long and hard about whether or not something is special enough to sacrifice your long-term goals for that short term reward that is built right into the Food Freedom plan.
But what it does, what moving into this Food Freedom plan does for you and what practicing your Food Freedom plan will do for you is it allows you to look at your favorite foods, the special stuff, the traditional stuff, the stuff that has real value or meaning to you, the things that are so delicious, you don’t want to have to pass them up and answer, yes it’s worth it. Yes I want it. And then you get to enjoy it as you should. You get to share in the tradition, show yourself love, but you will moderate based on how much do I need to eat in this moment to satisfy this experience. And is it still worth it to have more than one? You know, maybe eat one, but then you ask yourself is the second one worth it? And the answer is no because you’ve satisfied the experience, but you’re still keeping your long-term health and wellness goals in mind.
And that’s how you can move into Food Freedom and still honor those goals while not continuing to live under my rules, while not punishing yourself with the Whole30, while not restricting arbitrarily specifically for weight loss. I want you to have that experience. Practicing in your Food Freedom is going to give you the skillset to not only achieve those weight loss goals, but sustain them long term. And that’s really what we’re after. We are after these health and happiness and wellness gains in a way that feels completely balanced and sustainable for the rest of our lives. And you’re not going to get there if you stay on the Whole30 forever. So I hope that helps all of you who are thinking about continuing to lose weight while pursuing your Food Freedom. For more information, you can read all about my three part Food Freedom plan in Food Freedom Forever. I’ll make sure to link to all of those resources in the show notes.
This dear Melissa question comes from M. on Instagram. Don’t you get afraid that sharing how good you have it will somehow jinx it? I was watching Brene Brown’s Netflix special and what she said about rehearsing disasters in the midst of something joyful really resonated with me. How do you not do it or if you do, how do you keep it in check? This is such a good question and it’s something that I think is like a universal human experience. I was the queen of rehearsing disasters before I started to do all my therapy and before I found Byron Katie’s work, I would get into the shower and start spinning out a story usually about my partner or something he did or something he said that was hurtful or create a distance, and I would go so deep down the rabbit hole of crafting this imaginary scenario that by the time I got out of the shower I was mad at him for something he hadn’t even done and I did this regularly, like constantly.
I was thinking about these stories, imagining the worst case scenarios and rehearsing for these disasters. I think I did it for a few reasons. The first is that with my past, with the trauma and the addiction and the recovery, I didn’t really trust when things were going well. I felt like, especially from my experience with addiction, when you had the high, you always had the crash and I think in kind of brought that through, carry that through with me into my regular life, such that when things were going really, really well, I always expected the other shoe to drop like, well, things are so good right now that that means something horrible is coming my way. And so I was anticipating that. I also think that I believed that if I rehearsed enough for these disasters, if I thought them through deeply enough, if I imagined every worst case scenario possible and really got into it, how would I feel?
How would we handle it? What would happen afterward? that I would somehow be better prepared if it actually did happen. And of course I’ve come to realize that neither of those things are true. There’s not always a crash after something good. And rehearsing for a disaster doesn’t actually make you better prepared. So how did I unlearn this behavior, because I don’t do this anymore? I think the first thing was finding the work of Byron Katie. She talks about the fact that there are three kinds business, my business, your business and God’s business and the only place where you have power is if you stay in your business. I can’t control my partner, what he says or what he does. That is not my business. How he chooses to act and behave and speak, not my business. So being all up in his business, worrying about what he’s going to do or what he’s saying or how he’s behaving means that nobody is minding mine.
I have no power in that situation because I have no control. Rehearsing disaster, thinking about this worst case scenario, whether it is you losing your job or your partner being unfaithful or something terrible happening to your child, that’s God’s business, and if I’m all up in his or her business, I’m not minding my own, which means I also have no power. So learning to stay in my business, all I have power, all I have control over is what is right now and how I’m choosing to respond to what is. That is the only place where I have power. And recognizing that and reminding myself to stay in my business and stay in my power has been very helpful in not spinning into these stories wondering what other people are going to do are rehearsing disaster. I’ve also come to realize very clearly, because disaster happened, that practicing for these bad times doesn’t make me any more prepared and doesn’t make me any more worthy to handle it when it does. So with one of my partners in the past, infidelity was something I worried about a lot, and I was so anxious that this relationship was going to fall apart because my partner was going to be unfaithful.
And when I tell you that thinking about and worrying about his behavior and actions was like another full time job. It was so incredibly stressful. I was constantly worrying and anxious and stressed and, and reacting, believing these thoughts that one day my partner was going to be unfaithful. And then it happened, and I discovered infidelity, and it wasn’t any easier to handle because I had been spending so many years thinking about it and planning for it and imagining it and bracing myself for it. It wasn’t any easier. It ran me over like a truck. So I’d spent all this time thinking about it and planning for it and preparing for it, thinking that that was going to help protect myself. And then I discovered that it didn’t. And I’m thinking now back to this quote that I saw on Instagram not too long ago that said if you stress too much about something before it happens, you essentially go through it twice.
And that also hit me like a truck, cause that’s exactly I did. I spent years of my life putting myself through this incredibly stressful brain situation of imagining and planning and rehearsing this disaster. And then when it happened I had to handle it all over again and it didn’t brace me. It didn’t prepare me. It did not protect me. And one thing I think that I’m good at now is once I realized that behavior isn’t serving me and the way that I think it’s going to, it’s very easy to drop that behavior. I think that A is going to give me B, and if I have a repeated experience that A doesn’t give me B, I’m very clear now in looking at it and saying, okay well the definition of insanity is continuing to do the same thing over and over and expecting a different response.
A doesn’t give me B, so what else can I do? And that’s what happened when I found Byron Katie’s work and started practicing her work is I stopped thinking about how can I protect myself in this moment by rehearsing disaster because it doesn’t work. There’s something else I discovered through Byron Katie’s work and I’m going to spell it out and then I will give you an example cause I think it will resonate. I discovered that the way I behaved when I was fearful of a situation coming true very often precipitated the very situation I was afraid of. So what do I mean by that? When I was in such a fearful state that my partner was going to be unfaithful, when I believed this stressful thought that my partner was going to be unfaithful someday. How did I behave when I believed that thought? Well, I would grow quiet and distant and cold.
I wouldn’t want to connect. I wouldn’t want to communicate. I was suspicious of him. I was very jealous. I behaved in such a way that I created the very distance in the relationship that I was afraid of because of course, if I’m distant and cold and uncommunicative and didn’t want to connect physically or emotionally, of course that’s going to create distance in the relationship. I’m not saying the way that I behaved is why he did what he did. Of course not. That’s 100% on him. It’s completely in his power and he accepts full responsibility, but it is ironic that when our relationship was going well, my constant rehearsing for this impending doom that was to come cause me to behave in such a way that I created the very distance I was so afraid of. I essentially wasted portions of our relationship creating distance because I wasn’t willing to lean into the joy and accept things the way that they were, which in that moment we’re actually pretty good and I think this is all a very relatable circumstance.
I think anybody who has rehearsed for disaster or predicted impending doom can understand or see how the way you behave in that situation. Anytime we feel fearful or we feel vulnerable or we feel like we’ve left ourselves exposed and unprotected, the natural response to that story too, that impending disaster is to hold up and protect ourselves. It’s to create distance. It’s to close off. It’s to no longer be vulnerable. It’s to not connect. It’s to maybe push other people away or disengage. And by behaving in that fashion, when we believe that story, we then end up creating the exact circumstance that we are so afraid of. That’s the irony. Ask yourself, as my Byron Katie practitioner will do with me when I’m in a session, how do you behave when you believe this stressful story? And by thinking about that, oh man, when I believe this, I’m behaving in this way…
but what I want to actually do is accept what is and not tell myself a story at all about it, you can change the way you behave, which can change the very dynamic of the situation in and of itself. So those are some ways that I have learned to stay present in the moment and not rehearsed disaster to what Brene Brown calls lean into joy. And here’s one last thing that I’ll leave you with in her Netflix special Brene talks about the one thing that her research participants all had in common. Those participants who were able to fully lean into joy is gratitude. They practiced gratitude that in that moment where everything is going well, I’m in Moab with my family. The sun is shining, the weather is perfect, everyone is happy, no one is tired, my head feels good. Like this is the moment to accept that joy and lean into it.
What I need to do is just be grateful. This is what is in this moment and it won’t be like this forever and it’s going to change and fluctuate. Happiness changes and fluctuates, right? Maybe there is a shoe that’s going to drop at some point, but I have no control over that and that’s not even my business anyway. My business is here in this moment with the people that I love experiencing this joy in the way to lean into it is just to be grateful and I promised with practice and attentiveness, that gets easier and more natural and it feels better too. So, M., I hope that helps. Thank you so much for writing to Dear Melissa on Do the Thing. All right, we’re going to take a short break. When we come back. I’m going to answer a woman’s question about how to respond when asked if your pregnant every time you turned down a glass of wine. We’ll be right back on Do the thing.
Here is a question from K. on Instagram who’s doing another round of the Whole30. She writes, I’m ready with my “I’m not drinking right now” line, however I’m nervous the next question will be, are you pregnant? I want more than anything to be pregnant, but it’s not in the cards right now and this is definitely a tender area for me. Do I go on the offense and say “new meds” or something or do I just brace for impact? This is a really common occurrence for women of childbearing age who choose not to drink alcohol at a social situation. People feel like it’s perfectly appropriate to ask or joke about whether your pregnant and what they don’t understand is that this is an incredibly sensitive subject for so many reasons. There could be things happening behind the scenes that you are completely unaware of and that make asking this question really difficult or hurtful for people.
You know the person you’re talking to may have just had a miscarriage or may have lost a child. Maybe they’re going through really stressful fertility treatments or maybe they made the decision not to have kids and they’re feeling a lot of stress and pressure from their families. For whatever reason, it is inappropriate to ask this question, and if you have been the recipient of this question, I think it’s important to send the message that this is not inappropriate response to me turning down a glass of wine. Now there are one of two ways you could do it. One is a little bit more sensitive and a little softer and the other is far more direct. So the softer way to respond is just to say, that’s a sensitive subject actually, but no, I’m not. In this response, you’ve answered their question, but you’ve also let them know in a very gentle fashion that this is a delicate area and something that you are not willing to explore further with them. In the more direct response, you’re going to essentially just look at them and say, that’s a rather personal question, don’t you think?
And that’s it. You’re not answering their question because it’s none of their business and you’re letting them know in no uncertain terms that that is not a topic you are willing to entertain. I’m partial to the last option. I am a Gretchen Rubin upholder. It’s very easy and appropriate for me to hold my boundaries and I feel like that response sends a very direct message that not only is this conversation not going to go any further, but you need to think twice before using that approach when someone in your presence turns down alcohol. If you’re a Gretchen Rubin Obliger, you may find that a little bit more of a softer or more graceful approach just feels better to you. So you might go the first route where you acknowledge that it’s sensitive, but also answer their question. In either approach, you get to tell yourself a story about that person’s intentions.
You can tell a story that this person is just, they’re such a jerk. They’re giving you a hard time, they’re pressuring you and they’re just not a good person for asking the question. But if you believe that story, you may respond in a manner that is a little bit more aggressive, a little bit more snarky, a little bit more defensive, and you may make the situation worse. You may precipitate ongoing conflict in that moment around this topic of you not drinking. You could also choose to tell yourself a story that the person’s intentions were good, they just didn’t realize what a sensitive subject this was. And you can then respond in a more graceful way to answer them and educate them in a way that doesn’t feel so confrontational. Now obviously impact matters more than intention, but I can tell you from thousands of one on one engagements with total strangers on the Internet through the Whole30 I’ve come to believe and it’s proven true that most people’s intentions are good, that they just don’t understand their impact.
And if I respond more gracefully, giving them the benefit of the doubt, not only is the engagement I have with them more pleasant, but they are far more receptive to hearing my message. And in this case, the message you’re trying to send is this is a question that you should not bring up in social situations. Hard stop. And if a more graceful and softer approach helps them hear that message and respond to the next woman in their presence who turns down alcohol in a different way, then your mission is accomplished. So I hope that helps you k in these what could be awkward situations and I wish you the best of luck in your Whole30.
Thanks for listening!
Continue the conversation with me @melissa_hartwig on Instagram. If you have a question for Dear Melissa or a topic idea for the show, leave me a voicemail at (321) 209-1480.
Do the Thing is part of ‘The Onward Project,’ a family of podcasts brought together by Gretchen Rubin—all about how to make your life better. Check out the other Onward Project podcasts– Happier with Gretchen Rubin, Side Hustle School, and Happier in Hollywood.