Melissa Hartwig: Food Freedom Forever, Beating Addiction & The Whole30

If you could change your relationship with food in just 30 days, would you do it?:

If you could change your relationship with food in just 30 days, would you do it?

Our guest today is Melissa Hartwig, #1 best-selling author and certified sports nutritionist, whose books It Starts with Food and The Whole30 have transformed millions of lives across the globe.

On the show with Melissa, you’ll learn:

  • Why you should ask yourself, “How much can I get away with?”
  • How you can prepare real food (even if you’ve never cooked before)
  • One thing you must do when you eat at a restaurant
  • How to make social media a positive force in your life
  • And much more…


Abel: Melissa Hartwig is a Certified Sports Nutritionist and no. 1 New York Times best-selling co-author of The Whole30 and It Starts with Food. She’s been featured by Dr Oz, The Today Show, Shape, Outside and many more.

According to Instagram, Melissa is a fan of sushi in Salt Lake City, but not a huge fan of emojis and pictures of your cats. Melissa, thank you so much for joining us.

Thanks for having me!

Abel: Whether we realize it or not, most of us use food like drugs. We don’t think about food like drugs, though, and The Whole30 teaches us to reexamine our relationship with food.

Can you give us a brief explanation of what the Whole30 is?

You can think of the Whole30 like pushing the reset button on your health, your habits, and your relationship with food. For 30 days, you’re going to completely eliminate foods that the scientific literature and our clinical experience have shown to be commonly problematic in one of four areas: your cravings and your relationship with food, your metabolism, your digestion, and your immune system.

You’re going to pull all this stuff out for 30 days, and you’re going to pay attention to what changes in the absence of these potentially problematic foods.

What happens to your energy, your sleep, your skin, your mood, your bloating, your digestion, aches and pains, any number of medical symptoms or issues, your cravings. At the end of the 30 days, you then bring those foods back into your diet one at a time, really carefully and systematically, kind of like a scientific experiment, so you can evaluate what happens when you bring certain things back in.

How does it impact your energy? Your really solid sleep? Your nonexistent cravings?

Maybe you had an ache or pain—does it come back when you add the food back in? Through this process, you’re able to identify and really create the perfect diet for you, because there’s no “one size fits all.”

What works well for you won’t work for me… and vice versa. There’s no one-size-fits-all.

This is the way for you to experiment and figure out which foods make you less healthy, and then make the determination about how much, how often, and when to include those foods in your life in a way that feels really balanced and sustainable, and that is always keeping you in touch with your health and fitness goals, and how awesome you want to look and feel.


Abel: Many people have never tried an elimination diet. One of the most interesting things that happened to me when I started eating clean was that, and this happens to so many people out there, you go from feeling fine to realizing that, “Oh, no. I ate this food and it really doesn’t agree with me.” It trashed me the next day, or my skin broke out, or sleep was terrible.

What is something surprising people experience the first time they eliminate problem foods from their diet?

The idea of awareness is huge… and awareness is both a blessing and a curse.

Most people come into it thinking, “I feel pretty good.” A lot of people say, “I feel good. I feel pretty good. My energy is pretty good. I’m pretty healthy.” And then all of a sudden, you strip these foods out and it’s like, “Oh my goodness. This thing that I was eating was making my shoulder achy, and this thing that I was eating was making my skin break out.” You don’t necessarily make that connection.

I think once people realize how good they can feel, when you bring that stuff back into your diet and there’s any flip from how you feel at the end of a Whole30, you seriously reevaluate whether that food is worth it or not. It’s good, but is it so good that I lose how incredible I look, how incredible I feel, the quality of life I have right now? More often than not, the answer is no. It’s just not worth it anymore.

Abel: Right. For you personally, what foods just don’t work?

I’ve done seven or eight Whole30s. I did the first one in 2009, so I’m seven years into it, and my definition of “worth it” is always changing.

Wine is a really good example. If you had asked me two years ago, I would have said a really good wine that I like is always worth it. No problem, no issue. Today, I’m really hard-pressed to have a glass of wine or definitely any more than a glass, because I feel so good, and wine really makes me feel not that great. That’s changing.

From my very first Whole30, dairy—specifically like goat cheese and soft cheeses—I will never eat ever. I don’t care if the Pope himself offers me goat cheese. I’m like, “No, thank you, Your Holiness.” Because they make me feel so terrible. That was not something I was aware of before I did the first program.

Abel: What was it about goat cheese that did you in?

Everyone’s going to be different with this. Some people with dairy, it makes your allergies act up and you get really mucousy and really stuffy. For some people, it makes your skin break out. For some people, it creates asthma and breathing issues. For me, it’s all digestive. I could go into detail, but I will not. It’s kind of like, picture the scene from Alien, where the thing is bursting out of his belly. That’s basically me with goat cheese.

Abel: I love cheese, but it’s easy to go overboard. What are other common foods that could be causing problems?

Well, whole grains are a really big one. Whole grains have been touted for their fiber benefits, and vitamin and mineral benefits. We’re not saying that these foods are good or bad. I’m not saying there’s nothing good to be found in these foods. I’m saying they’re really commonly problematic in both the scientific literature and across a broad range of people… and I’ve got hundreds of thousands of experiences now to kind of pull from. I don’t know whether they’re good for you.

Pull them out and add them back in. I think grains, particularly gluten grains, are really closely correlated with everything from depression and seasonal affective disorder—Dr. Emily Deans writes a lot about psychiatric conditions and correlation with grain consumption—to digestive issues, skin issues, inflammatory issues like joint tendonitis, bursitis, migraines. Pulling it out and putting it back in is the way for you to figure out if there are some connections between how you’re feeling and what you’re eating in ways that you wouldn’t necessarily associate with your food.

Abel: Right, and grains are an interesting category of foods. I found through experimentation that different grains affect me in unique ways.

We visited Thailand recently, where you don’t really have the option of eliminating grains. Rice is served with literally everything. We also knew some foods there probably had MSG or other junk in the sauces, and it’s hard to get around that. We noticed that the rice didn’t affect us negatively, but when I eat modern wheat, it’s like a punch in the gut. It doesn’t work.

Similar thing with beer. I can drink certain wines and they’re okay—not most wines, but natural wines are fine in moderation. But beer, it tastes great, it’s wonderful, but then I feel bloated, sluggish, have digestive issues, hangovers, and get the aches and pains that you’re talking about. And man, once you get used to living without fatigue, brain fog, and aches and pains, you find that it’s really not worth it.

It really isn’t.

Abel: What else do people learn from elimination diets?

I think identifying what some of your gateway foods are has been a real shocker for some people.

During the elimination period, you’re not just eliminating foods according to the technicalities of the rules: “Don’t eat this ingredient, don’t eat that.” We have some structure built into the Whole30 that basically addresses people’s emotional relationships with food. So, for example, you’re not allowed to consume recreations of junk food or treats or sweets made with technically “approved” ingredients.

Meaning you can’t figure out how to make a Whole30 pancake or Whole30 ice cream or Whole30 brownies, right? Because that’s not going to facilitate you in changing your habits or your relationship with food. And I think people coming off the program are really surprised at how much those foods were sort of a slippery slide into feeling totally out of control with their food again.

Abel: So that’s a huge wake-up call for a lot of people.

The food might not have an immediate impact physiologically, but if it’s making you crave more, if it’s making you feel less in control of your food, if you feel guilt or shame when you eat this food because you’re not totally in control while you’re consuming it, those are all really important things to pay attention to also.

What would be an example of someone who might not realize they have an issue with food, but it is starting to control them?

When you think about the idea of sugar addiction or the people who are seriously addicted, they self-describe as, “I’m food addicted,” or “sugar addicted.” That’s sort of one category of food and those people realize they are just totally out of control with their food.

But a lot of people will look at that and say, “Well, I’m not that bad. I eat a little chocolate here and there, I do a little bit of this here and there, but I’m not like that.” And I think again, when you take this stuff away, it helps people realize (as it did for me during my Whole30), how much I’m using food as reward, as comfort, to self-soothe, as a proxy for love.

I think that is really surprising to a lot of people. You may not be feeling out of control, like you can stop after eating half a chocolate bar, you don’t have to eat the whole thing. Or if someone says, “Oh no, there’s none of that left,” you’re not going to pitch a fit and run to 7-Eleven at 11 o’clock at night to get a candy bar. But are you automatically reaching for these foods when you’re in pain, when you’re sad, when you’re lonely, when you’re anxious, when you’re bored? That is, in a sense, being out of control or not having alternate coping mechanisms.

Are you automatically reaching for a candy bar when you’re lonely, when you’re anxious, when you’re bored? That is, in a sense, being out of control.

Abel: But nature abhors a vacuum. When you eliminate foods someone was using as a crutch, where does that leave them? How do you help them focus on moving forward?

So, this where the “no recreating sweets and treats” comes in, because if you take away people’s cookies, they’re going to want to replace them with other cookies.

Habit, willpower, and the psychology of change is a huge area of research for me. So, what we do during the program and the support that we offer is we remind people that it’s not just about the technicalities of the rules—it’s about changing your habits, changing the big picture.

If you have dessert every single night and then you go on the Whole30, and every night after dinner, you’re having a big bowl of strawberries and coconut milk and toasted coconut and cacao chips, it’s technically Whole30 compliant. It’s actually a really healthy choice, but you’re still feeding that habit of dessert. What we encourage people to do is take a look at that behavior and say, “What are you looking for in this scenario? What’s the reward? Do you want a little you time? Do you want a little comfort? Are you feeling anxious? And what else can you do?”

Then we give people a ton of examples. What else can you do in that moment to satisfy that need without reaching for any food whatsoever?


Abel: How do you get people to realize, “This is worth it”?

This is a really loaded question, because according to the stages of change, if someone is still in the precontemplation phase, where they’re not willing to admit that there’s an issue, and that something needs to change, there’s literally nothing you can do.

So barring that, assuming that somebody is contemplating, they’re preparing, they’re thinking about it, what you’ll hear a lot is, “It sounds like a logical argument.” They’ll say, “Oh, I don’t have time to do all this prepping and cooking.” Or, “I wouldn’t know what to do at the grocery store.” Or, “I travel too much. I don’t know what to do while I travel.” It sounds like a logical argument and what most people will do is try to fix that problem. “Okay. Oh. Well, there’s this great meal-planning service that I’ll sign you up for that takes care of meal planning.” Or, “Oh, there’s this awesome shopping list, I’ll go grocery shopping with you.”

The problem is that you can’t win an emotional argument with logic. And almost all the time when people come up with these things like, “I can’t do it because…” they’re really saying, “I’m scared. It gives me anxiety.” I’m not sure how—there’s some emotional reason behind it. So you’re not going to be able to answer their concerns with logic.

This is where you need to say, “What about this freaks you out? What do you think is going to be the hardest part of this program? How can I support you through this difficult transition? What have you done in the past that hasn’t worked? And why do you think this is maybe going to be something different for you?

So addressing some of their emotional concerns can really go a long way toward tipping the balance of getting them feeling comfortable enough to be on board.

Abel: And at the end of a Whole30, everything is 100 percent rainbows and butterflies, right? Not exactly.

Seriously, though, you said this is something you’ve been doing for seven years, that you’re always evolving.

Too many people are like, “It’s January. I’m doing this.” And then two weeks later, of course, motivation is gone. How do you make this a lifelong journey?

That is exactly what my next book is about. Food Freedom Forever comes out October 4 this year, and it’s all about how to take any short-term dietary intervention (whether it’s the Whole30 or a self-designed vegan reset or gluten-free, whatever your short-term intervention is), and turn what you learn into a lifetime of healthy habits.

If you could change your relationship with food in just 30 days, would you do it?:

You can do anything for 30 days. @MelissaHartwig_ Click To Tweet

Anybody can follow a set of rules, and you can either white-knuckle your way through it or really throw yourself into it and embrace it, and do well. But life happens, vacations happen, stress happens, holidays happen. And eventually, you will find yourself back in old habits, because there’s no 30-day intervention that’s going to replace decades of associations and relationships and habits with food. So what I want to tell people is that it’s expected that you’re going to fall back into old habits and it’s totally okay. And it doesn’t mean you’re a failure. Here is a three-step plan for getting you back on track, and working through this cycle in a way that keeps you staying in balance for longer and longer, the more experience you have with the program.

Abel: You don’t want to trap yourself into a situation where you’re saying, “These foods are good. These foods are bad. I’m set now.” It’s never like that.

No. It’s never like that. The foods aren’t good or bad. They’re always unknown. Period. And even when you think you know, like I said, my definition of “worth it” is always changing. I’m still playing around with food.

The other day, for the first time in a really long time, I had some cheese. It didn’t go well. But I’m still playing around with it because my gut is healthier, my immune system is healthier, and I’ve had experiences where I’ve been able to reintroduce stuff and it actually goes really well. And I’m like, “Cool. Now, my diet is expanded.”

It’s a lifelong process, and people just have to buy into the idea that you’re always playing around with it. You’re always experimenting. But it can also be really fun. It doesn’t have to be this stressful, weird relationship.

Abel: How do you make a healthy lifestyle fun? Especially if you’re making such a big change.

In terms of keeping it a lifestyle, the way I like to describe it is that my goal is to have the broadest diet possible while still feeling good as often as I want, and looking as good as I want to look. So for me, finding that line is really fun.

Can I get away with a second glass of wine? Actually, yes, I can. Awesome.

Can I get away with a glass of wine and a cupcake? Yes, I can. Fantastic.

Can I get away with a glass of wine, a cupcake, and a piece of cheese? No. Alright, well, that’s my line.

So I’m always playing around with it, and I’m always experimenting. I’m bringing foods back in that I haven’t tried in a while, I’m trying new recipes, and I’m doing things in combination. I’m always leaning in with the goal of, “How much can I get away with and still feel fantastic?” And that’s a really fun process.

How much can I get away with and still feel fantastic? @MelissaHartwig_ Click To Tweet

Abel: It is a fun process. It’s fun and painful…

It can be.

Abel: But that pain is a teacher, right?


Abel: You have to find the edges to understand where they are. Then make your way back to the sweet spot. That’s where you can live. Every once in awhile, test the edges again, and see what might work for you, but be honest with yourself when it doesn’t.

Of course, as you age, you might not be able to get away with what you used to get away with. But instead of saying, “I still can,” or “I’m not that fat,” it’s important to recognize that this is a process, and we’re all deeply human, and quite flawed… and it’s best to find out what those flaws are.

One of the things I’m excited about is genetic testing, and looking at how different nutrients really affect you in a unique way compared to someone else. Anyone who says they have it figured out will very shortly be proven wrong.

There’s just so much we don’t know in terms of the science, and there’s so much we don’t know in terms of the way food interacts synergistically in the body. And then, like you said, my context is always changing. My environment, my stress levels, my sleep, my physicality, my training, my muscle mass, my fat mass… all of that is always in flux. So what happens is that I tend to find a sweet spot, and I can hang out there for three or four months, and feel like everything is clicking, and then all of a sudden, the wheels start falling off the bus, because things have changed.

So I react, and I figure out what needs to change. Do I need to change my training? Do I need to train more, train less? Do I need to eat more, eat less? Whatever that looks like.

Abel: As a fit woman, how do you make sure you’re fueling correctly and not damaging your hormones, especially if you are physically active?

I’ve messed this up so much in the past, and I’ve dug a hole for myself in terms of hormonal balance and adrenals with overtraining, undereating, over-stressing. I’m really, at this point, super aware of what my body likes, what I do well with, and what I don’t do well with.

I’ve been working on two books at once, I’m a half-time single mom, I’m running this business; I don’t have the capacity to do a lot of high-intensity training. So I don’t, right? I just don’t do it. I do a lot of heavy stuff, I do a lot of bodyweight stuff. I do a lot of long, slow, distance hiking out in the mountains.

I do post a lot of fitness-y stuff. And I do a lot of yoga, so I am training right now based on my context, and I’m way more gentle with my body than I’ve ever been. It used to be that I would just beat myself into the ground, because I could. And because I felt like that was progress. And now, it’s like if I wake up and I don’t feel like going to the gym, I’ll go for a walk. Or I’ll go to yoga class, or I won’t do anything, and that’s totally okay too.

I think people really need to pay attention to context. Like, it’s great that my next door neighbor, who’s my age and my kind of body type and has my family situation, can go to the Crossfit gym two days a week. But her life is not mine. So I need to just kind of keep my context in my head, and figure out what I can do to keep myself healthy, because if I’m not healthy, I’m no good to anyone. Like you, my readers, my peers, my son, my family, my friends.

My top priority is making sure that I’m healthy.

Abel: We were talking about this before the interview, how writing a book is basically the worst thing you could ever do for your health, but Melissa begs to differ. Tell us how you did it.

I escaped this third book just as healthy, if not healthier, fitter, more well-rested, and more energized as I did going into it, which is the first time I can say that. The first two books? Not a chance. The first book almost killed me.

And there is such irony in writing a book about health and fitness and then digging yourself into the ground, wrecking yourself in the process. But I knew going into it that some things would have to change in order for me to maintain my top priorities. So I focused on sleep, and exercise, and really super healthy eating. Those were the three things I got at all times, no matter what.

And what I had to sacrifice in the process was socialization with family and friends, basically. So there were long stretches of time where I only went out once a week, I only saw people very sporadically. I would keep in touch via text or via phone calls, but I had to turn down a lot of social opportunities so I could go to bed early, so I could get up in the morning and train.

But because I prioritized that way, I was able to focus on all my work stuff, and get my book done, and turn it in on time. I could maintain a great relationship with my son and my family when they were in town, and keep myself super fit and healthy. I don’t feel like I lost any health whatsoever writing this book. It only took four years for me to figure out how to do that.

Abel: Well that’s the beauty of experience, right? When you first write a book, or you first try to get in shape, or revamp your diet, you don’t know what you’re doing, you don’t know what to expect, you don’t know how long it’ll take. You don’t if it’ll work at all. And a lot of times, you don’t think it will.

We have this disconnect where we think, “Of course, it could work for other people, but I don’t think this would work for me. There is something different about me.” But then over the course of time, you start to learn that there are principles that work pretty much across the board. This is a process, and we can make it happen if we follow a proven plan. And that’s the good news for everyone out there, whether you are writing a book or not.

Health gets simpler and more straightforward over time. You can get one step ahead of it because you know what it takes to sleep well, to eat well, to exercise. You know what works well for your body. You don’t have to think about it anymore. You don’t have to wonder what you’re doing. You just have to wake up and do it… Or simply go to bed early instead of staying up late night after night because you know it’s better for you.

What separates the people who succeed for a lifetime from those who fall off the wagon?

The way you’re thinking about this process is really important. So if you’re thinking about it in terms of, “I’m going on a diet, I’m going off the diet, I’m moderating,” these are all buzzwords that have really negative connotations.

When you go on a diet and off a diet, cravings reappear. You feel like you deserve a reward or a treat, and then when you fall back into old habits, you feel like a failure, and you have to come back to it. Thinking about it, the word that keeps coming to mind is “grace.” Like just giving yourself a little more grace. That it’s a process, that there will be ups and downs. That it’s a cycle, that you’re going to do really, really well, and then fall back into old habits, but here’s how you’re going to get yourself back to a place where you’re feeling good again.

It’s just this lifelong process, a cycle… and it’s progress, not perfection.


I also really love the idea of people adopting a growth mindset. We talked about this on our panel at Paleo f(x)—this idea that characteristics or traits about yourself are not fixed. Just because as a kid someone told you that you weren’t athletic doesn’t mean you can’t develop the skills to become athletic. And it’s the same thing with being healthy. Embodying this idea that “I am a healthy person living a healthy lifestyle” makes a huge difference in how people see themselves, and how motivated they are to pursue other healthy efforts in their life.

Abel: At a super meta-level, “As a human, you are approximately 16 trillion electrons.” You really could be anything. That can be an empowering way to think about it.

It’s really, really true. And I think feeling in control of your food for the first time in what may be decades, for a lot of people, it changes everything. Your self-efficacy, your self-confidence. That spills into every other area of your life where it’s really natural for people to say, “Now what can I do? I wonder if I could start exercising. I wonder if I could meditate. I want to take that college class. I want to reduce my stress level.” I think such a good and powerful place to start is with food.

Abel: That’s why I am here right now. I’ve been doing this show for five years now. I cleaned up my diet, learned a few things about science and physiology and the way the body works. And I was like, “This is so powerful. There is no way I can do anything else anymore.” This isn’t a career, it’s a calling.

I love seeing other people get their diet and nutrition, and thus their health, under control… and then they are like, “Look at all the other things I could do.”

They start to make serious changes to their lives, change careers, start a family, whatever it is, it is a powerful, powerful thing. What have you seen from people in your community?

Hearing the stories, it’s so cool that people are like, “My relationships have changed. I’m a better wife, I’m better mother, I’m a better family member. I have improved my communications. We spend more time in the kitchen together. We spend more time outside together.”

So seeing relationships change is the main thing, seeing people who make career changes that you’ve talked about, looking at people who are like, “I ditched my crappy corporate job and now I’m becoming a health coach.” Or, “I’m becoming a nutritionist.” Or, “I’m pursuing a personal training certification, because this is my love and this my passion.” That’s amazing.

People talk about their self-confidence changing, that they used to be shy and meek and didn’t want to socialize with other people and just felt like their self-worth was in the tank. And then they come alive, just because they change the food they put on their plate. I firmly believe there is no area of your life that it won’t influence in a really positive way.

Abel: When you’re eating squeaky clean for the first time in your life, it’s not easy. It takes effort and willpower. It takes mental energy. But it helps you build discipline. You’re training yourself. And when you come out of it, it’s like that little bit of struggle or that little bit of making it hard on yourself is enough to make everything else that much easier. After I ran a few marathons, my definition of “difficult” completely recalibrated.

When you do have a sense of control and you practice it, you know it’s good for you, and you do it every day with every meal, all of a sudden you can bring that to anywhere else in your life and be a much better person in your relationship, or a much better mother or father. It teaches you something. Right?

It does, so much. This is the most famous line of the Whole30 rules, and this line has been in there since 2009. I wrote it in April 2009: “This is not hard.”

Beating cancer is hard. Quitting heroin is hard. Birthing a baby is hard. Drinking your coffee black for 30 days is not hard.

And it’s a little bit of cheeky tough love, because that’s my voice, but it’s also meant to empower people. And there is something about taking on something as challenging as the Whole30, or any short-term dietary intervention, and knowing going into it that there are going to be major challenges and it’s going to be tough and it’s going to be emotional, and then seeing it through.

The sense of self-confidence and power that comes from that experience is so incredibly valuable. Sure, you get all these benefits from eating healthier and that’s amazing, but doing something that you know is going to be hard and then actually seeing it through one hundred percent? You feel like you’re on top of the world. You’re unstoppable.


Abel: You earned it. You can feel good about that and use it to propel you forward.

Now, before we run out of time, how do you take beginners in the kitchen and get real food in front of them?

Part of it is just having a ton of resources. We’ve got a ton of free resources going all the way back to the beginning where we assume that people have never cooked or don’t know how to cook, and don’t really even know about real food and what to buy, and what this strange-looking root vegetable is.

Shopping with pantry-stocking guides. The Whole30 book has an entire section in the middle called “Kitchen Fundamentals,” which is how to hard boil an egg, how to grill a chicken breast, how to bake some salmon. Because I think the message needs to be, real food doesn’t have to be super fancy, crazy recipes, tons of spices, really advanced. I call them ingredient meals. You take really healthy ingredients, you cook them in ways that are pleasing, you put them on a plate. My meals on Instagram are probably the most boring meals of any Paleo expert out there. But this is how I eat. I will grill a chicken breast, I’ll throw some Tessemae’s hot sauce on top, then I’m going to roast some sweet potatoes and cauliflower and I’m going to throw it on a plate, and that’s my dinner. And it’s delicious and satisfying, but it doesn’t have to be complicated.

Abel: What about eating out, though?

Practice. You can take me to literally any restaurant, and I will find something totally fine to eat. It may not be exactly what I want, and it may not be the most interesting meal, but it just takes some practice. And the more you practice, the more confident you are.

The vegetarian going into a meal doesn’t feel funny saying to the waiter, “Hey, I’m a vegetarian, which meals are appropriate?” It’s the same for me when I go in and I say, “Hey, I don’t eat any gluten or dairy, is there anything hidden in this order that I’m not seeing?” It’s not hard. Be really matter-of-fact, smile a lot, be really polite, ask for what you want, be gracious if they don’t get it right, and tip really, really well. And the more you practice, the easier it gets.

Abel: I’ll tell you what, when we first started eating clean years ago, the wait staff tended to be a lot snarkier than they are now. And it was not very cool back before I think like, 2010-ish, to be healthy, or to eat healthy in public. Or to eat vegetables in general.

Now, it’s so great, because you’re probably not going to be the first one asking for your meal gluten-free, or dairy-free, or wheat-free, or grain-free. Whatever it tends to be. Meat free, GMO-free, sugar-free. Anything.

Restaurants have heard it before and they’re catching on that the way they’re going to grow is by nourishing the health nuts. And if people are asking for food that specific—yes, they might be picky eaters, but that’s because they’ve found out that it’s worth it.

I was doing some hiking up in Banff a couple of weeks ago and was at this restaurant and this dish looked amazing, it was this shrimp and a ton of different vegetables on pasta. So I was sitting at the bar and I just said to the waiter, “Hey, I would love this dish, but I don’t do any pasta. Can you just throw it on some steamed spinach instead?” And he was like, “We’ve never done that before.” And I was like, “I know, I’m just curious if you could.” And he’s like, “I think so.” So he went back and he was like, “Yeah, we can do that for you.” And the whole restaurant got really excited at this new preparation. When the dish came out, everyone at the bar was like, “Wow, that looks really good.” And I’m like, “I know.” And it was delicious.

I think the more you do that, the more restaurants understand that, “Hey, this is actually in demand.” And the people who are ordering this are actually really nice and really cool about it, too.

Abel: Now, what do you tell people when they say, “Real food, fresh food is too expensive for me.”

It depends on who’s saying that, right? If it’s like a single mom working two jobs in a food desert, she’s got an argument. If it’s somebody who’s Snapchatting this question to me and I know you have an iPhone, I’m going to say it’s a matter of priority.

So it is more expensive than eating at McDonald’s every day. There’s no two ways around it. But there’s nothing I wouldn’t give up in terms of my life and the luxuries I have, to be able to put really good food in my body. And I think that’s something that just kind of comes with time.

The healthier you eat, the better you feel, the more willing you are to spend money on things like grass-fed and organic, or specialty items like ghee. I think there are also, though, some really good cost-cutting measures that you can implement so it doesn’t have to be crazy expensive.

Frozen vegetables, frozen seafood. Not everything has to be organic and local. Go to your farmers market, get a CSA, make your own ghee or clarified butter instead of buying it in the jar. There are a lot of things you can do to make it more affordable, but I think for most people, it’s really just a priority issue. And if it becomes a priority, then it will happen.

Abel: You can make it happen. You can find a way to save a ton of money eating real food too. You mentioned some, but there are so many ways to do it, and I think you’re totally right. It’s all about priorities.


Abel: You do such a wonderful job with Whole30 on social media. You’re using it to build community and improve people’s lives.

Do you have tips for how we can be a force for good on social media?

I think the tone is really important. It comes from the top down, right? We’ve always been really consistent with our voice and with our message. We really try to walk our talk.

We’re not a weight-loss program, so you’re not going to see any bikini pictures, any before-and-afters. Or, “Here’s how much weight I lost” on the Whole30 feed. We’re really careful about monitoring comments and we don’t delete or sensor, but if somebody approaches something from a negative perspective, we will say something.

We posted a testimonial once and somebody was like, “That looks like it’s fake. There’s no way she could do that before-and-after.” And it was like either be supportive or don’t say anything at all.

I think from a personal perspective, I unfollow people who don’t lift me up. If I find myself comparing, if I find myself feeling worse about my life for having followed this person in my feed, I just don’t follow them. I think the unfollow button is super powerful. I think it can be really easy to get overwhelmed with all of the different messages coming your way, it’s like this paralysis by analysis. So, I just pick a handful of people that I really like and I trust in their messages, who are really consistently saying what I need to hear, and those are the people I listen to. And I’m not searching for hours and hours listening to what 700 different people have to say about health or fitness.

And then I really try only to contribute in social media in a really positive way. If I don’t have anything nice to say, I don’t say anything at all. I don’t react defensively. I’m not calling people out. I accept criticism in a way that I hope is graceful and respond to it, and I really stay engaged authentically with my community.

Abel: And you have a wonderful balance between true professional and complete goofball. I love that.

Thanks. People don’t want to connect with a brand. They want to connect with you. They don’t want to connect with “Fat-Burning Man,” they want to know you. They want to know a little bit about who you are and what makes you tick, and what you like.

So, I share things on my social media feed that are personal but not intimate. I’ve drawn this down where you won’t see pictures of my kid, you won’t hear anything about my dating life, but I’m happy to share with you my hikes, and my struggles, and my challenges, and my gym experiences, and what I’m eating and all that stuff. I want people to get to know me and I want to do it in a way that hopefully comes across as authentic, because what you see is what you get on social with me.

Abel: What you do is inspiring millions. Melissa. Thank you so much.


Discover how to drop fat with chocolate, bacon, and cheesecake. Plus: learn the 3 worst foods you should NEVER eat and the 7 best exercises for rapid fat loss. Click below to to claim your FREE gift ($17 value)!


You can find Melissa on all the social media: Facebook, Twitter @whole30, Instagram, the Whole30 Instagram, and on Snapchat as hartwig_melissa. You can also find everything on, including info about the launch of Food Freedom Forever.


Are you one of the thousands of people doing “everything right,” only to find yourself struggling to lose a single pound? That’s because the diet and fitness industry is full of false claims and products that do nothing more than lean down your wallet.

It’s hard to know who to trust. A few years ago, I made shocking discoveries about my own health. I changed my life with real food and exercise.

No doctors. No gimmicks. No killing myself on the treadmill. I actually lost fat by exercising less.

Here’s a great update that just came in from a lovely Fat-Burning Tribe member, Ambriel, whom Alyson and I met this year in Austin.

She says:

Finally broke through the plateau that started back at the end of June. I am officially 20 lbs from my goal weight and I’m hoping to reach it by my 44th birthday in November! Thanks to the Tribe and The Wild Diet this year has been has been more awesome than I ever could’ve imagined!!! Sending a big thank you to all of the tribe for your support throughout this journey!!!!

If Ambriel can do it, you can, too. What will you achieve this month? Get started below.


What did you think of this interview with Melissa? Leave a comment below to let us know!

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  1. Mansal Denton says:

    Great podcast! Love the Whole 30. My girlfriend and I have done it multiple times and always found ourselves learning about our addictions as a result. I think it really is important to call these things addictions so as to not lie to oneself, but without the connotations and shame that often comes with addiction.

  2. I found your book at the library this weekend and I am excited to finish it. I’m a HUGE fan of Melissa and the Whole 30 (and Food Freedom Forever) and I’m glad that you did this interview. I’m blessed to have found both of you as resources for taking my life back from food. (I’m a little overweight, but I’m a LOT obsessed with food)

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