Episode 07: Melissa Urban (she/her)
Melissa Hartwig is the Whole30 co-founder and CEO, and specializes in helping people change their relationship with food and create life-long, healthy habits through her New York Times best-selling books, podcast, and Instagram account. In this “Dear Melissa” three-part episode, Melissa explores whether you really have to say yes to that social invitation (especially if you don’t want to), how your love language can shine a light on the most effective self-care practices for you, and how to recover from a food freedom fumble without doing another Whole30.
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 some of your questions Dear Melissa style. We’ll explore whether you really have to say yes to that social invitation you received, how your love language can shine a light on the most effective self care practices for you, and how to recover from a food freedom fumble without doing another Whole30. Today’s theme is introspection. Taking a pause, exploring your feelings, tuning out the noise and taking the right kind of action for you. I hope by exploring these stories, you’ll have your own light bulb moment and be able to shift your perspective, hold your boundaries and successfully do the thing. This Dear Melissa comes from Amanda on Instagram. She writes, Dear Melissa, I need help with self care, particularly around saying no. When work family, friends or life events come up that I don’t want to go to or feel to drain, to attend. I always feel like I have to go like they’re all obligations.
That’s a really great question, Amanda. In fact, when I asked you recently what topics you wanted me to cover in these dear Melissa segments, boundaries, how to set them, how to hold them was the number one requested topic. I think this idea of setting boundaries around saying no, it’s a difficult one. If you’re a Gretchen Rubin obliger. Obligers respond very well to external expectations. So if someone invites you, you feel like they expect you to come and it’s very hard to resist that. It’s also very hard for obligers to uphold their inner expectation, which is, I actually need to take care of myself right now and saying no to this event would be self care. I do not have this problem. I’m a Gretchen Rubin upholder. I’ve never been a people pleaser. It’s not hard for me to say no. It’s very easy for me to evaluate my own need for self care against this opportunity to attend whatever event happens to be around the corner.
But I have learned some tricks along the way because it’s not always easy, especially when family or work are involved. And so I’ve learned some ways to kind of help me figure out whether I really do need to say yes or whether I can hold my boundary and stick to my self care. One thing you can do is question the stressful thoughts associated with attending the event. So the first one you could question is, I have to attend this event. Is that true? Like, do you really have to attend the event? If it’s your own wedding or your mom’s 50th birthday party or a mandatory work meeting, then yes, you probably have to be there, but when you really think about it in my own life, I would say 92% of my social invitations are actually optional. I don’t have to go, so thinking about do I really have to attend this event helps me understand the significance of the event, the impact…
If I do say no and I can then weigh that against my need for self care. You can also question the stressful thought, I don’t want to attend this event. Ask yourself, is that true? Do you really not want to attend or maybe is there just a particular circumstance in that event that you’re avoiding? Like I don’t want to be out late tonight or my conservative uncle and I are going to fight again or I don’t want to have to talk about my breakup. If there’s a specific circumstance that is preventing you from wanting to attend or is draining your capacity to attend, now you can ask yourself can I do anything to mitigate that? I might want to go to this thing if it wasn’t for this factor. So can you create an if/then plan. Like if someone asks about my breakup then I’ll say it’s been tough but I’m getting through it…
Let’s talk about something else. Or maybe you can tell your mom to run point if you know this family member you disagree with starts running their mouth, or you can set an expectation early that you can only pop in for awhile. So if you don’t want to be out late, yeah, I’d love to come. I can only stay for about an hour or so. And then if you find yourself having a great time, there’s no reason you can’t stay for longer. So questioning the stressful thought around the event might help you get clarity around whether you do actually want to go and what the consequences might be if you don’t go. In fact, that’s one of my very favorite tricks and it’s something that my dad taught me a couple months ago. So I was up against my book deadline, but I was also battling the symptoms of my concussion and I was working myself into the ground to get the book deadline done and work on the podcast and work on the website redesign and keep my kid alive.
And I was doing all of this to the detriment of my own health. So my dad was visiting one weekend and I mentioned during the weekend that I might pop upstairs to write for an hour. And he knew about the book deadline and he looked at me and he said, what’s going to happen if you don’t? And I was like, what do you mean? And he’s like, what’s going to happen if you don’t turn the book in on time? And immediately I was like, oh well it’s going to be awful. I’m under contract and I have to turn it in on time and if I’ve never met, never missed a deadline in my life and he interrupted me and he was like, what’s going to happen if you don’t? And when I really sat and thought about it, I said, nothing. I’m going to tell my editor I need a few more days and he’s going to say no problem. And that was like an eye opening light bulb moment for me because I feel like before we ask ourselves this question, what’s going to happen if you don’t, we tend to like have this airy cloud of dread surrounding what would happen if we said no.
Right? It’s my first reaction when my dad asked the question, which is, oh my gosh, everything will be horrible. It’s going to fall apart. Life is going to end as we know it. But if we really dial in on the question, when I really stopped to think about it and came back with concrete realistic answers, I realized that saying, no, I didn’t actually have major repercussions. So you know it won’t always be like this, sometimes saying no will actually be problematic. Like you can’t say no to your sister’s wedding even if you don’t really want to go, you kind of have to show up. But in most cases the actual consequences of saying no are probably pretty minor. Like you might miss the opportunity to connect with coworkers at the happy hour or you might get some good natured flack at the next family event for skipping out or you might hand the book in a few days late, but once you realize the world isn’t going to end, you may feel empowered to weigh the consequences of saying no against the benefits you’ll gain from holding your boundaries and sticking to your self care.
In that instance, I did take the weekend off. I did spend it with my family. I did hand the book in a couple of days late and literally nothing happened. Like, what a wow moment for me. Slow clap for my dad. Now, after going through some of these tricks, if you do decide to say no to the event, please don’t make up some kind of like generic excuse or lie or fake illness to get out of it. You need to practice sticking up for yourself and holding your boundaries. And that has to start here. So if you do decide to say no, tell the truth and keep it personal. You can say things like, my schedule has been really full and I’m rundown. I really need a night at home, or I wish I could, but you guys are getting started too late and I’ve got to get up early in the morning…
Sleep is really important to me right now. You can also leave yourself an out when you get the invitation if you’re not sure whether you’ll have the energy come event day. So I recently gave this advice to a friend of mine who travels a lot for business. Every time he travels, he’s fielding invitations from people saying, Oh, I see you’re in my town. Do you want to meet for dinner? And he texted me from the road a couple of weeks ago and he said, how do you handle this? Like I know I’m in your town, I know we’re friends, but I have a really busy schedule and I don’t know if I’m going to be up for this. So what I said to him was just say that, hey, texter. My schedule is pretty full when I’m in town, but if I have the capacity for a meetup, I’ll send you a text and if you happen to be free, I’d love to get together.
So no expectations. It leaves the door open should you decide you do want to attend. But now you don’t have this obligation during a time where you are already probably, you know, stressed or over tired or slightly rundown. Finally, if you’ve been a people pleaser all your life, don’t be surprised when people get mad when you start setting boundaries and holding them. They are very used to you responding the way you’ve always responded and they know they can count on you even if they’re kind of taking advantage or even if you don’t want to do it. And when you change that behavior and you start standing up for yourself and putting yourself care first, they may not like it, but remember their reaction is not your problem. Stay in your integrity, communicate effectively and openly, but hold fast. You might find that releasing the expectation that every time they ask you have to go makes you even more willing to say yes. So there you go Amanda. I hope that advice helps. Thank you so much for writing in to Do the Thing and Dear Melissa.
This Dear Melissa came from a bunch of you on Instagram after listening to a recent podcast interview I gave. It wasn’t my podcast, not this one. I was talking on another podcast about the idea of self care and I brought up about knowing your love language can really help you effectuate good self care practices. And a bunch of you after listening to the podcast asked me to extrapolate on that. So I thought I would take some time to do that today. The Five Love Languages is a book by Gary Chapman. It’s pretty old. It’s been around for quite a long time, and it’s kind of a foundational self-help text, much like the four tendencies by Gretchen Rubin talks about four different archetypes or personality styles around how you respond to inner and outer expectation.
The Five Love Languages book explains five different archetypes based on the ways we recognize and appreciate being shown love. And knowing your love language, what love looks like to you, can help your partner more effectively communicate their love and affection for you. And knowing your partner’s love language or your child’s or your friends can help you show them love in a way that they can also recognize. So knowing your love language can be very helpful in relationships, all sorts of relationships. But it can also be very helpful when you’re thinking about how to show yourself care. So let me talk about the five love languages as outlined in the book by Gary Chapman. The first is words of affirmation. So this would be saying things like, I love you. You look beautiful, you’re amazing. I’m so proud of you. These words of affirmation really fill you up and you recognize this as an act of love.
The next is acts of service, so this might be taking out the garbage or changing the furnace filter or getting your car washed for you or making your wife lunch little acts throughout the day to show the person that you’re thinking of them and maybe taking small actions or relieving small burdens. That’s a way that we can receive and express love. The third is receiving gifts, so this might be bringing a loved one or a best friend, a flowers bringing you a coffee, you know, leaving a handwritten note card on the dresser. Those are ways that you can receive and express love. The fourth is quality time. You know, putting your phone away to really be present with your partner when they’re talking or carving out time for date nights or going on a walk together with your kid. This quality time is another way that we can receive and express love.
And the fifth love language is physical touch. So this is all forms of physical affection, not just sexual. It’s holding hands, it’s hugging, kissing. It’s when I, you know, scratch my son’s back because he asks me to do it before bed. That’s another way that many of us receive and recognize love. So five different love languages. There’s a test online that you can take, but I bet all of you have some sense of, Oh yeah, you know, when my partner does that or when my child does that, or when my best friend does that, it really makes me feel loved. So it makes sense that if you prefer to receive love in one particular form, that your self care should also take that same form. I’m always saying, buy yourself flowers, and I find buying myself flowers does register as love, but if you don’t recognize getting flowers as a form of love, that’s not going to be very helpful for you.
This is why affirmations can feel really empowering for some, but hold very little meaning for other people because you’re just not speaking your own language. So in those self care practices, think about what is my love language and how can I translate my love language with other people into showing myself love. Some of them are easier to translate than others, but let’s talk about each of the love languages and how you might apply self care. Words of affirmation, this can include like writing yourself an uplifting note or gratitude. Journaling that centers around your success or good qualities. It might be nipping negative self talk in the bud. You know, really quickly saying that’s not being very kind to myself. What else can I say? So words of affirmation, you can certainly give yourself these positive words, uplifting words, these pep talks. But one thing to be careful of here, I’ve read many, many articles about how the general idea of positive thinking, where you blindly tell yourself the perfect best case scenario can actually backfire as self care.
I read a great article when I was researching this podcast by licensed clinical social worker. Melanie Wilding about how these like super uber perfect affirmations like I’m already wildly successful actually backfires. It leads to war inside your head. If you’re insecure about things like your financial status or level of accomplishments. So these positive like Secret-style affirmations where if you say it, it will come actually don’t work for many of us. Instead she recommends focusing on progress, not perfection. So instead of saying I’m already successful, you could say I’m working hard and that’s what counts. Or you could try releasing statements. So instead of saying, I am perfectly calm and at peace when you know darn well you’re not, you could say something like, I’m feeling anxious right now and that’s okay. You know, these are words of affirmation that are actually meaningful because you’re checking in with yourself before you say them out loud.
You can also back up these affirmations with actions. So you could say something like, I am working hard today. I’ll tackle that budget I’ve been putting off. And that’s actually an act of service, which fits perfectly with the next avenue for self care. You know, many of us have a primary love language, but we also can recognize love in secondary languages. So the idea of a word of affirmation followed with an act of service may be incredibly powerful for you. Acts of service can include taking time to make yourself a healthy meal, tidying and area of your house that’s annoying or represents the rest of your life. So for me, that’s my kitchen. If my kitchen is clean, I feel like the rest of my life is in order and if my kitchen is a mess, it kind of makes me feel like the rest of my life is a mess.
You can schedule that appointment you’ve been putting off, you can go to that therapy session. I think about acts of service as anything that tunes up my body, like flossing my teeth or stretching or going to bed an hour early. Just remember that even healthy pursuits can become unhealthy if you’re doing it from a place of punishment. So forcing yourself to wake up at 4:00 AM for that gym session because you ate the ice cream last night or filling up your whole day with all the things you’ve been putting off as punishment for procrastinating will probably feel more like revenge than self care. Acts of service can be a wonderful way to show yourself love, but ask yourself the question, is this actually serving me? Is it serving the greater good and my intention to be kind and graceful to myself right now because if it’s not, it’s not really self care.
Gifts are perhaps the easiest self care, love language. So buy yourself flowers. Get the book you’ve been eyeing. Even replacing the ratty old sponge in my kitchen with a brand new one can feel like a small act of love. The problem with gifts is that we can easily slip into this like treat yourself mentality and you end up going into debt or having stress or guilt over your purchases. So remember, buying something that feels good in the moment but creates guilt or shame or regret later is not self love. If you find that gifts are your love language, but you find yourself using your gift preference as a way to numb or avoid conflict or if buying yourself something is the only way you know how to show yourself love, then that’s not self care, that’s just running away.
Quality time as a love language can include blocking out me time during the day. So ask someone to watch your kids so you can go to Target by yourself. Let me tell you, that is basically a vacation. You can put your phone on do not disturb while you read a book or tidy up around the house just to avoid the intrusion. You can go for a walk or a bike ride or I love hiking alone. It’s blocking out time just for you to do things that recharge you and that fill you up. This can be really hard for Gretchen Rubin obligers who tend to bend to other’s expectations and have a really hard time setting boundaries. So I just think back to the advice my friend Jason gave me a few years ago when we were talking about entrepreneuring and making it all work. And he said, Melissa, you have to pay yourself first. And I would tell all of you, if quality time is your love language, you have to pay yourself first.
If you’re exhausted and frazzled and you haven’t had any time to recharge, you’re going to be ineffective and effective at home with your kids, with your spouse, with your job, with your community action. You’re just not going to be full to have anything to give to them. It might be hard to set these boundaries at first and others might not be used to you sticking up for yourself and may not like it, but you need this time for you so you can come back happier and calmer and more grounded and be better prepared to jump in and serve. Physical touch can be the most difficult love language when it comes to self care, and this is my love language, so I’ve thought a lot about physical touch as self care. If your love language is physical touch, it almost always makes you feel like you need someone else to be present.
Holding my own hand doesn’t feel the same. The obvious ones are a massage or acupuncture or other body work, but I want to practice self care more than just once a week. And I don’t know a lot of people who have the money or time for like daily massages. I also consider a healthy gym session or a yoga class, a form of physical touch, but I don’t know that everyone would that happens to work for me because I’m in my body using my body. I’ve got the physical presence of like barbells or a mat or turf like it works for me, but I’m just sort of sharing options. You know, you can take this idea of love language, like you can stretch it as far as you want if it works for you. Another obvious one is masturbation. I never see masturbation outlined in these like cheerful illustrated Instagram posts that talk about self care.
But this is the original form of self love. And even if you have a live in partner, and even if you love your sex life, this is still a healthy, normal, fun practice. So let’s not overlook it. But having physical hands on you, whether they’re yours or someone else’s isn’t the only way you can feel loved from physical contact. Again, as this is my love language, I’ve explored a ton and here are some other things that I’ve found really worked for me. I have a ton of fuzzy, soft blankets all over my house. I have some light ones and I have some heavy ones. Even if you like gravity blankets that are 10 or 15 pounds and I find curling up with these either at night or while I’m reading or watching a movie counts as physical contact for me, like it feels really good on my skin.
It makes me feel really supported and cozy. I also have a few pairs of reading some books. I bought these at Indigo Canada and they’re geniusly branded. Basically they’re just really thick, fuzzy scrunchy socks with like a super soft fake fur on the inside and when I throw them on I feel like they’re as good as a hug. The same applies to heavy hooded sweatshirts and knit beanies. I’ll wear these year round just because they feel good and for me, baths and showers totally count as physical connection and self care. I stay in them as long as I want. I make them as hot or as cold as I want. I use scrubs and brushes and loofahs. All of these things feel like physical connection even though I’m doing them by myself and because of that they have become a regular part of my recognized self care practices.
So the next time you’re thinking about self care, ask yourself, am I speaking my love language here? It might be really fun to take a look at your love language and some of the examples I’ve cited here and start adding some of them in to see if it feels like you’re paying more attention to self care and you’re feeling a greater benefit from your self care practices. It’s not that you can’t cross over into other self care areas. I love buying myself flowers even though gifts given in my relationship isn’t really something I care about getting. But maybe knowing your love language is the thing you’ve been missing in crafting a sustainable, really gratifying self care practice.
(Jess, via voicemail) Hi, I have a question can either be used for a Dear Melissa or as a topic on the podcast. How you determine whether or not to do another Whole30 or a mini-reset? I’ve done three Whole30s and I feel like I’ve got the rules down pat. I understand them, once I get on it I do great, but my food freedom tends to fall flat at some point every single time. So I’d like to do a mini reset, but I’m not really sure if I would get the full effect out of it. But then the last time I did a Whole30 I didn’t feel like I needed the whole thing, so I’d like to know how you know which one you need.
That was a fantastic question from Jess about the role of a mini reset. Now just before I answer your question, let me just give everyone some background about what a mini reset is. It’s just like it sounds, it’s essentially taking the Whole30 the rules, following them 100% by the book for a period of time, less than 30 days. Now there’s no set number of days for a mini reset. You might do it for seven or 10 or 14 but the role of a mini reset is essentially to act as a bridge between your food freedom and the full Whole30 plan. So for people who are solid in their food freedom, they’ve done multiple whole30’s, they’re successfully working their food freedom plan. They feel like they’re eating a healthy balance and looking and feeling exactly as good as they want to look and feel, but something in their life throws them off the path, whether it’s a stressful event or a vacation or some business travel.
You might just need a little bit of help getting back to your place of this food freedom balance. And I don’t always want you to immediately jump back into the full Whole30. So a mini reset as a really nice way to come back to the structure of the Whole30 the rules, which can feel kind of freeing and very comfortable. The program that you know helps you look and feel your best, but you only stay there for as long as you need for you to feel back in control of your food, for your tiger blood to kick in for your energy to come back and for you to be sleeping better. And once you get to that point, no matter how many days in you are, you’re going to say, okay, that worked exactly as I wanted it to work. Now I’m going to reintroduce and go right back into my food freedom.
Now for those of you thinking, sign me up for this mini reset. Why do I even have to do a Whole30 in the first place? Hold your horses. If you are new to the Whole30 or you’ve strayed so far from your food freedom plan that you feel like you’ve lost all the benefits that the Whole30 brought you. A mini reset is not the answer. Believe me, if I could have created a program called the whole10 and just offered that instead of a full Whole30 I would have because it would have been three times as successful. But that’s not the case. Think back to your very first Whole30 how much fun were the first 10 days. Not that fun. If you employ a mini reset, but you’re not ready or in the wrong context, you’re going to end up with all of the negative effects and none of the benefits.
And that’s like a total lose lose. So if you’re new to the program or if you have strayed really far from your food freedom path, you want to do a full Whole30 and enjoy all of the benefits that full 30 days has to offer. But for others, a mini reset may be appropriate. And here’s where, Jess, I’m going to answer your question. You’ve done three Whole30’s, you’ve got the rules down pat. You do great when you’re on the program and in your food freedom, but at some point, inevitably your food freedom kind of starts to like go off the rails. Here’s what I want you to do in terms of priority. Your very first line of attack is to see if you can create your own rules within your food freedom plan to help you get back to a healthy. Here’s an example.
I haven’t done a full Whole30 or a mini reset in a few years, but every year when I go out on book tour, my food freedom kind of falls apart. I am traveling a ton. I don’t have access to my own food. I’m up late, I’m stressed. Sometimes I get sick and I find that I’m snacking more often than I want to. I mean any more chocolate than I want to and I’m just not looking or feeling my best when I come home from book tour instead of returning to the Whole30 I just create my own set of rules within my food freedom. So I get home and I say, okay, Melissa, no more snacking between meals. You’re going to stop eating every single night by 6:00 PM if you want something after dinner, you can make some herbal tea and no more Justin’s peanut butter cups and that’s not a Whole30 for me.
I’m probably still eating white rice. I’m probably still eating hummus. There’s still sugar in my chicken sausage, but I’m creating my own rules within this framework of food freedom and just by sticking to those, I’m able to get back to my food freedom plan without ever needing to go back to the Whole30 if you can dig into your food freedom plan a little bit more and see yourself, where are the areas where I feel like I’m sliding, where I feel out of control with food or I know it’s impacting my energy or my sleep or my self confidence? What can I tighten up within my own boundaries? Then do that. That way you’re still working your own food freedom plan. You’re just putting a little bit more structure around it temporarily until you feel like you’re back in balance. Now. If you do that and that doesn’t work, then your next strategy is to employ a mini reset.
I would plan on probably starting off with five days. I rarely see people who can get away with doing less than five. You generally need like a few days of routine before you feel back on your game, so start with five, but if at the end of five days you’re sleeping great, your energy is great, your tiger blood is back and you’re like, this is what it feels like. I’ve got this now. Then great. Get off reintroduced, go back to your food freedom. Perfect. You’ve nailed it. If you’re not quite there in five days then just keep going and maybe you need 10 or maybe you need 14 but once you get that feeling of, Oh yeah, this is my Whole30 groove, I know exactly what this feels like and I am good to go. Then immediately move back into reintroduction and your food freedom plan. Spend as little time in the Whole30 as you need.
If that doesn’t work, then just keep going and give yourself the full 30 days. But I don’t want you to gravitate towards always returning to the full program. It should be like, in case of emergency break glass and that’s your full Whole30 the purpose of the program is for you to spend as much time in your food freedom as possible, returning to the Whole30 as little as possible, ideally not ever again because you’re so successful at managing your food freedom plan. So just that’s your hierarchy. If in your food freedom you feel like you’re starting to slide back into old habits, try to create your own rules within your food freedom plan. If that doesn’t work, employ a mini reset and then if that doesn’t work and you’ve really given it your best shot, you can always return to the full Whole30 to get you back in that place of healthy balance, feeling in control of your food, looking and feeling exactly as good as you want to look and feel. So I hope that helps you navigate your food freedom more successfully. Thank you for the fantastic question, Jess.
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.