Welcome to Dear Melissa, where Melissa Hartwig addresses your questions and concerns about transitioning into or completing a Whole30, successfully sticking to your new healthy habits, and figuring out how to make this lifestyle work in the real world. This post is part of Melissa Hartwig’s regular Whole30 advice column, and today, we’re talking to Louise, who feels so wonderful that she is wondering if she could stay on the Whole30 forever.
I have been on the Whole30 program for 103 days without one slip. NOT ONE! Today is my birthday and I have most definitely beaten the sugar dragon, as I have not had any sugar, even today! I am sticking right to the advice in It Starts With Food, and my body is changing in very positive ways. My family and friends are astonished and proud of me.
My question is this: Can I stay on the program for the rest of my life? I’m 53 years old, extremely discipline, and have always been interested in my health. I do not take any medicine—none! I am now the picture of health for sure, and I strongly believe that food is the best medicine for everybody. I look forward to any advice you can share. –Louis., Boston MA
First, congratulations! One hundred days of Whole30 is no small feat—and over your birthday, no less. You should be really proud of your efforts, and I’m glad to hear you are reaping the benefits of your hard work. Now, on to your question: Can you do the Whole30 for the rest of your life? I’ll give you my two-part answer.
The Theoretical Answer: Yes, you totally could.
If you really wanted to, you could absolutely do the Whole30 for the rest of your life. Not only that, you could do the Whole30 forever and be optimally healthy.
Unlike other “diet” programs, the Whole30 has no temporary induction period, doesn’t restrict calories, and provides you with an abundance of the vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients, and fiber essential for good health. (If you want a detailed illustration of nutrition in a typical Whole30 day, refer to page 109 in It Starts With Food.)
In fact, were you to stay on the Whole30 forever, we think you’d be as healthy as you could possibly be on any eating plan, because our program maximizes nutrients while minimizing gut disruption and inflammation. You’d be eating tons of nutrient-dense foods, absorbing all of those great nutrients, and keeping your metabolism and immune system in a healthy balance.
In addition, you’d still be able to enjoy delicious, rewarding foods without worrying about the “no brakes” effect of processed junk foods. Those Whole30 rewarding foods come with built-in brakes—fiber, water, protein, fat, and micronutrients—which means you can enjoy, indulge, and not get sucked into the regret/guilt/shame cycle you used to be stuck in with the “comfort foods” you used to eat.
Finally, don’t just take our word for it—believe in the hundreds of medical professionals (including Dr. Matt Mechtenberg) who say the Whole30 is both safe and healthy, even beyond the initial 30-day period.
So in summary, yes, you could do the Whole30 every day for the rest of your life. But we don’t think you should.
The Practical Answer: We wouldn’t encourage it.
From a practical perspective, following the Whole30 rules every single day could get pretty stressful. Some things would just become second nature—the longer you do the program, the easier it would be to make compatible choices at restaurants, while traveling, or at a friend’s house for dinner. But do you really want to go through the Whole30 Inquisition with every waiter you ever talk to for the rest of your life? There will probably come a time when you’ll be okay saying, “I eat no vegetable oil at home, so I’m just not going to sweat my burger being cooked in soybean oil,” or “this balsamic sauce probably has some sugar, but I just don’t feel like a plain chicken breast today.” And that’s okay—in fact, we’d say that’s mentally healthy.
In addition, while the Whole30 is totally doable for a 30, 60, or 90 day period, it wasn’t designed to be a part of your everyday life forever. You may wish to permanently eliminate some of the really ugly things the Whole30 leaves out (like gluten), but you also may discover that other technically off-plan foods (like vanilla extract, cooking wine, or chewing gum) probably aren’t that big a deal once in a while. This is all a part of taking what you learned on the program (awareness, label-reading skills, and self-examination) and applying these things in the real world, in your own individual context.
Finally, and most important, doing the Whole30 for the rest of your life would completely eliminate the opportunity to indulge in some truly extraordinary, truly special off-plan foods. Think fresh pasta in Italy, the homemade birthday cake your co-workers made, a champagne toast at your best friend’s wedding, or Gram’s famous baklava at Christmas… these are times when you at least want the option to choose to indulge. I’m not saying you would have to eat or drink those things, I’m just saying I’d want you to feel like you could if you wanted to.
Remember, at some point, you have to take the things you’ve learned on the program out into the real world, and make your own decisions about what you think is “worth it” or not. If you never practice—if you always use the rules of the Whole30 to make those decisions for you—you are never truly riding your own bike. Not to mention, you’ll probably miss out on some pretty amazing culinary, social, or family opportunities because of our rules.
So how do you balance your desire to eat as healthy as possible and keep feeling amazing with the freedom to indulge if and when you so choose? Here’s what we do:
We eat Whole30 all the time, as a regular course of our meals, with one exception—I’m not super picky about added sugar. I’ll add ketchup to my burger, or eat the chicken sausage even if there’s a little sugar. While I’m always aware of my ingredients, I don’t worry about a little added sugar in meat or veggies at this point. Why? Because my sugar dragon is well under control, thanks to the Whole30.
I keep on eating like that, day in and day out, feeling very happy with my meals, until something pops up that is so special, so delicious, so worth it that I decide to indulge. Maybe it’s the hermits Mom brings for her visit, or the peanut butter pudding the Whisknladle in La Jolla (no longer on the menu—sadness), or the fresh hand-made corn tortillas while on vacation in Mexico.
So I’m all happy with my Whole30-ish meals day after day, until something super special comes along, and I make a conscious, deliberate decision to indulge. I enjoy it, and I reap the mental or physical consequences (because sometimes, there are consequences), but there is no guilt, shame, or remorse, because I made a choice. Then I go right back to Whole30 eating, happy to have had the experience, and just as happy to be back to my normally scheduled healthy eating plan.
Sometimes, those indulgences happen once a month. Some weeks, I may ingulge three times a day (like when I’m on vacation in Napa). But as long as I am making an educated, conscious, deliberate decision about what to eat, when to eat it, and how much to enjoy, my life is totally balanced, totally healthy, and totally delicious.
That’s how I think you could do the Whole30 (ish) for the rest of your life—and have the best of both worlds. Whatever you decide, I wish you the best in health.
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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.
Melissa Hartwig is a Certified Sports Nutritionist, and the author of the New York Times bestselling books It Starts With Food and The Whole30: The 30-Day Guide to Total Health and Food Freedom. She has been featured in the Wall Street Journal, Details, Outside, SELF, and Shape as the co-founder of the Whole30 program. Melissa lives in Salt Lake City, UT.
Photo credit: Taylor Gage, She Thrives Blog